This was a fairly last minute trip to Wellington to meet up with some old school friends (most of whom I had not seen since I finished school) but of course I could not miss the opportunity to get a little exploring in.
I was focused on walking and after doing some investigation, I discovered that Wellington has lots of great walks not far from the city. It seemed fate that my accommodation (a private room in the YHA as I could not face a dorm or the extortionate price of the hotels in the city) looked out at the Mt Victoria lookout, so it seemed only right that as soon as I arrived, I changed and headed out.
I am grateful to say it appeared more daunting than it was, clearly my weekly hill walks are paying off. There were a few steep parts but in general it was a fair steady walk up to the lookout for a lovely view over the city. I went back down another way and ended with a lovely walk along Oriental Parade – along the sea front and little man made beach.
The next day I had decided to catch a ferry across the harbour to Days Bay. The area was initially the fortified Maori village of Otuamotoro, before being settled by George Day in 1841. It soon became a day trip and weekend resort for Wellingtonians and a wharf was built in 1895.
I was already starting to regret the idea as I was sitting waiting for the ferry, coffee in hand as an icy wind blasted around the corner and I was praying the crossing would not be too rough. 🥴 It was a pretty choppy crossing (took around 35 minutes in total) but rugged up in all my layers I was ok as long as I sat outside 🥴. I should note that it is mandatory now to wear masks on public transport – buses, trains, planes and of course ferries (always a pain for facial recognition on the phone 🥴) but despite that I was one of the few with a mask!
Most of the other passengers on the ferry got off at Matiu/Somes Island, the largest of 3 islands in Wellington Harbour. It has various walks with a great combination of wildlife, history and views but I didn’t really have time to explore this, and Days Bay so carried on. The sea got rougher on the last part of the journey, and I was glad to reach Days Bay – a cute little seaside village.
I had planned what I had thought would be a nice easy walk in the East Harbour Regional Park, part of a network of 5 regional parks established to provide outdoor recreation opportunities. Of course, the area has been popular with walkers long before the formation of the regional park – right back to the late 1800’s. It turned out, my easy walk through the mature beech and rata forest was more of a serious hike with some scrambling up the steepest parts and at times I was worried I would not make it back to the wharf in time for my planned ferry! Thankfully I did but was absolutely shattered and it was worth it for the lovely views from the walk and back towards the city.
Back on the ‘barf’ boat, (my personal name for it) and I was surprised to see that it had a bar on it (remember it was only doing a 35 minute journey) and a group of young people bought a bottle of sparkling wine and planned to drink it out of champagne flutes – they went to the top deck so I have no idea how successful they were in the very choppy seas 🥴
After a wonderful night catching up with old friends, I could not resist one last walk – this time up to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens – it was a bit of a hike up the hill to start but then lovely walks and views from the gardens themselves. I loved the way they indicate the tracks with lovely insets in the pathways – I did the kowhai track for the views – past observatory’s old and new and gun emplacements.
I barely made a dent in the 25 hectares of gardens and pathways (some established 150 years ago) before it was time to catch the cable car back down. Another icon of Wellington dating back to 1902, most people probably would have caught the cable car up, but I am a glutton for punishment these days 😂! But catching it down meant I was back in the city in 5 minutes 👍🏻
It was great to see Tuis and Kereru in the trees around the gardens. The nearby native sanctuary of Zealandia has done wonders for the Wellington native bird populations. What a stunning morning for it.
For a long time I have been itching to head south. Not quite as far south as Stewart Island but south to Dunedin and beyond to the Catlins, an area that covers the south east corner of the South Island. I finally made it during the Easter break (which in New Zealand includes the Friday and the Monday), and better yet, I had managed to persuade my partner to come with me – winning all around lol.
We left Christchurch just after midday on Thursday, hoping to avoid the worst of the Easter weekend traffic. Our plan worked and despite the multitude of trucks and campervans we had to pass, we arrived into Dunedin around 5pm – just in time to join the city rush hour traffic! Fortunately we did not have to far to go to our ocean front hotel, right on the esplanade of St Clair – the seaside suburb of the city.
We didn’t have an ocean front room (to expensive) but our room was lovely and we could see the sea from our balcony 👍🏻. The tide was right in and somewhat wild but despite that there were a number of surfers braving the waves. I wasn’t aware when booking the hotel, but apparently, St Clair Beach is a very popular with surfers, having New Zealand’s most consistent surf break and this weekend, they were hosting the South Island Surfing Championships!
After settling in to the room, we made the short walk to the local shops to get some food for our drive tomorrow and fish and chips and wine for our dinner – pure class 😂 and we enjoyed a quiet night in, in preparation of our early start the next day for our Catlins day trip.
I had spent many hours mapping and planning our day (yes, I am that person) and had an itinerary down to the 5 minute intervals 🥴, including tracking weather and tides (which is a must for some of our stops) lol. As we left the city in the still almost darkness (it was almost 8am) it was raining! I prayed the weather websites I had consulted had it right and that it would clear up.
First stop was a petrol station to stock up on coffee, breakfast and fuel to make sure we were ready for a day on the road with virtually no shops and little phone reception – it was still overcast and raining, not boding well for our first viewpoint 🥴
We left the city on State Highway 1, the longest and most significant road in New Zealand running the length of both islands. Not surprisingly it is a good road and in this area, runs through picturesque farm land. We tuned off the main road to head towards our first stop at Nugget Point.
Nugget Point gets its name from the gold nugget shaped rocks (some imagination is needed to see this shape) just of the headland. From the car park area, it is just a short, relatively easy walk up to the lighthouse, which was built in 1869 and the viewing platform over the ‘nuggets’.
Thankfully the sky had cleared and although it was not sunny, it was still beautiful with the sun breaking through the clouds on to the sea. It was windy though and I could not stay on the exposed part of the viewing platform for too long with fear of being blown off lol! There is a small sign near the track which describes Nugget Point as the “meeting place of rock and waves and wind and tide” – I think that sums it up nicely.
Back on the picturesque road again and the rain started again. Of course, rain + sun = 🌈👍🏻.
Now there are many waterfalls in the Catlins, and if you have more time, you could spend an entire day visiting waterfalls alone. Our one day whistle stop tour means we had to choose one, and we chose Purakaunui Falls.
The falls were only a short 10 minute walk from the carpark, through a native podocarp and beech forest filled with beautiful bird song and just as we reached the falls, the clouds parted and blue sky appeared above the waterfall for the perfect picture 😁. The waterfall is 20 metres tall and cascades over 3 tiers. Apparently, it is one of New Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls and even appears on a postage stamp (if you remember those things lol).
It may be worth noting that there is no phone reception in much of this area, so we were relying on the offline maps.me app to get around and we were initially concerned when it directed us along an unsealed road … but never fear, we finally made it out on the main road and we were soon at our next stop at the Lost Gypsy caravan were we had a quick break to caffeinate again 😂and grab an amazing freshly baked hot cross bun. The caravan itself (and ‘museum’ in the surrounding area) is a weird collection of ‘automata and curios’ (one person’s junk is another person’s treasure) which definitely worth exploring if you have the time.
Back on the road and we had a quick stop at the Florence Hill look out for a view over the perfectly curved Tautuku Beach and out to the Southern Ocean before continuing on a few kilometres to the car park for Cathedral Caves. We paid our small fee for the car park (more of a donation towards the maintance etc.) and headed down the track through the bush towards the beach.
The caves are only accessible 3 hours per day around low tide so planning was essential to make sure we were here at the right time. It is also closed during the winter months. It took us around 10 minutes down the bush lined track and 10 minutes along a beautiful wide wind swept beach – thankfully the sun was out again and it was not too cold. I loved the bush lined beach.
There were a few people around, but not too many and we managed to avoid the larger family group which would have ruined all my photos 😂.
The caves themselves have been gouged out of the Jurassic sandstone cliffs by the waves over tens of thousands of years and it is worth taking a torch (or ensuring your phone has a torch on it) if you want to explore the back of the caves. They are up to 30 metres in height, resembling cathedrals (with some imagination).
It only took 12 minutes to walk/trot back up from the beach to the car park – my weekly hill walks must be paying off 👍🏻.
Just as we got back to the car park, it started to rain … the heaviest rain we had had during the day. In fact, come to think of it, it seemed to rain every time we were in the car lol.
Our final stop was Curio Bay. The home the endangered yellow eyed penguins and an incredible petrified forest. Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of the day to see the penguins as they typically come in from their day at sea near dusk. Of course, to see the petrified forest, we needed to be there around low tide and they did not correspond.
The petrified forest dates back to the Jurassic period and the tree fossils you can see today, are approximately 170 million years old. It was incredible that you can still see the rings of the trees in the ‘stone’. The trees are the ancestors of Kauri and Matai, and were alive when New Zealand was part of Gondwanaland … if only those trees could talk. It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining and the contrast of colours between the sky, the sea and the rocks was stunning.
Just a short walk from Curio Day is Porpoise Bay. You can probably guess that it is common to see Hectors dolphins in the bay. We found a spot overlooking the bay to park up for lunch but unfortunately there were no dolphins today. Before our long drive back to Dunedin, we took a quick look at the view point over Curio Bay – guess what, it started raining and the wind picked up again, just as I was trying to take photos of birds in the distance but the wind was blowing me around on the exposed headland. Again that amazing combination of sun and rain resulted in a rainbow into sea 🌈.
We had an uneventful 2.5 hour drive back to Dunedin (if you don’t count the massive flock of sheep slowly making their way down the road) and the surf competition was still going (it started early in the morning). We watched it for a little while before enjoying a well earned meal at Spirit House, an Asian fusion restaurant just a few minutes from our hotel – I highly recommend it if you are in the area.
The next morning we had planned to have a relaxed morning and go for a walk but I woke to see red reflected in the windows of the houses across from us – that was it, I was dressed and out of there in a minute and boy was it worth it, what a beautiful sunrise. (Not quite the pyjama clad dash I did in Stewart Island – at least this time I had clothes on 👍🏻 lol).
It was a lovely walk around to the Sir Leonard Wright lookout. The walk took us along St Clair beach, through parks and a little along an ocean front road and then back along the beach – 8 km in total. It was a great start to the day.
We headed back to the room to shower and change before driving into the city. I bought a 50c map from the Information Centre and did a little self-guided heritage walk. Unfortunately, the map didn’t give much information and had pretty poor photos showing the buildings, but it did give me some structure to my roaming so I guess it was worth the 50c?? lol
Dunedin’s history dates back to the arrival of Māori in around 1100AD. Little evidence is left of their time here, in a place they called Ōtepoti, but it is considered that they survived on seal and moa. Almost 600 years later, in 1770, Capitan Cook arrived in the area, quickly followed by European sealers and whalers decimating the local wildlife populations.
The 1800’s brought the gold rush and a Scottish settlement, that turned in to New Zealand’s first city in 1865. It was also the largest and richest city at the time. The new settlers tried to replicate Edinburgh and many of the buildings from that time give the city the character it has today. The name Dunedin come from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh – Dùn Èideann. Apparently the ornate Victorian and Edwardian buildings are regarded the best collect of such architecture in the Southern Hemisphere. Dunedin is also home of New Zealand’s first university – Otago, which was founded in 1869.
My walk ended up at the at the First Church, built in 1873 – the last time I was here photographing the church was 8 years ago, in the snow!!! This time I was fortunate to have some sunshine 👍🏻
From the city, I drove out to the peninsula to Larnch Castle – a mock castle with beautiful views and stunning gardens with plants from all around the world. Unlike the map I had in town, the entrance fee (you can pay to just look around the gardens or the gardens and castle) to the castle provides you with a brochure that has lots of information about the castle and grounds.
Despite all the “Scottishness”, the castle has no real Scottish roots and Larnch was actually born in Australia and lived most of his life there or in New Zealand. (At that time, these settlers still considered themselves British despite never setting foot in the mother country.)
Apparently, it is New Zealand’s only ‘castle” and was built by European mast craftsmen in 1871 by William Larnch for his wife Eliza. No expense was spared. Unfortunately, over the years the castle and grounds was left and both were in poor condition when purchased by the Barker family in 1967. They have spent the subsequent decades restoring both the castle and gardens to their former glory (and beyond the case of the gardens) and the entrance fees allows them to continue this work.
The final thing on my list for the day was a walk to Tunnel Beach, a beach just outside of the city. OMG, the path down was so steep and I was already dreading the walk back up just a few minutes in to the walk down! This is another beach that you can only access 2 hours either side of low tide. On this day, low tide was 4.30pm and the track and its nearby on road parking was already busy at 3pm!
After the steep path down, I reached the tunnel which was narrow and dark (it is a tunnel after all 🥴) but it was all worth it when I made it to the to the beautiful beach surrounded by cliffs
By the time I got back to our hotel, I had most definitely earned pizza for dinner!
Our final morning and it was 19c at 6.30am so I was up early again for a final walk along the sea front and beach. The sunrise was not as nice as the day before but was so warm and beautiful and surfers were already out warming up for their competition.
Sadly it was then time to get packed and head north, not without a short stop for lunch at the Fishwife at Moeraki village (yes, it is near the Moeraki Boulders). They have great chips and are amazing for fresh Crays (if you like that kind of thing lol).
Its worth noting that Dunedin has so much more to do than just the mostly outdoorsy things I did. It has a great museum, brewery tours, albatross and penguin colonies, wildlife boat cruises – definitely something for everyone!
FYI this is not a normal blog, much shorter (and perhaps sweeter lol) than normal but I decided it was worth writing even if only as a place holder for the photos!
Now, all good Kiwi summer holidays should have three things – a beach, a boat and a bach (“Pronounced ‘batch’, it is a term Kiwis commonly used for a holiday home. Often located by the sea, river, lake or forest, baches are all about kicking back. They offer the perfect range of accommodation to allow you to holiday like New Zealanders do.” – thanks www.newzealand.com for that thorough definition)! Now I do not have any of these things, nor do I know people with a bach! But thankfully, I do know people with boats and New Zealand has plenty of wonderful beaches which are free, so my kiwi summer is saved 😂.
I grew up with English parents so although we always had great summer camping holidays, we never had the boating/water skiing holidays that others had. Luckily my brother now has a boat (as do some of his friends) and has family holidays like this and every now and then we join them and their friends for a few days. This year we were based in Waikawa – a small bay around from Picton at the start of the stunning Marlborough Sounds.
Picton is a small town and a gateway to both the Marlborough Sounds and the North Island via the Inter Island ferries that plough through the Cook Straight. Incredibly the Marlborough Sounds boosts 1/5th of New Zealand’s coastline (from the map you can see how) and only 1% of the population lol. Picton’s population is less than 5,000 which swells massively in the summer. Sadly, it has been badly affected by the lack of tourists over the last year (it used to get over 40 cruise ships a year stop in its deep water harbour) but hopefully it will bounce back as the world returns to normal (fingers crossed).
No holiday in Picton or the Marlborough Sounds is complete with other the drive up the coast. Though there are still road works and repairs going on from the massive earthquake that hit the area in 2016 (which closed much of the road for many months) it is still a stunning journey as you travel up the coast, along the beautiful turquoise Pacific Ocean (the photo does not do it justice) and then inland pass the vineyards, even with the intermittent rain.
Day 1 was the perfect day. This involved getting in the boat (which our friends keep in the marina here) and heading out to find the perfect bush lined deserted bay to set up for the day which happened to be in Kaipakirikiri Bay (according to my trusty maps.me). And the soundtrack to this perfect day … bird song and the perfectly clear water lapping the shores.
As relaxing as it may sounds, a fully day of sun and sea is exhausting lol. Even more so for those riding the biscuit (not sure why it is called that, but it is basically an inflatable ring they you sit or lie on and get towed behind the boat) or water skiing – neither of which was me 😂. I could not even ‘spot’ from the boat (too busy taking photos) without injury. The call is supposed to be ‘skier down’, not ‘spotter down’ 🥴.
After a perfect day on the beach, we tried out a spot of fishing on the way home, but the wind and swell had come up and we gave up after a few attempts. (I also did not fish but spent my time taking photos of jelly fish lol.)
On our second and last day it was a much more moody morning, but we were out again and explored some of the hundreds of beautiful bays and inlets with bush down to the beach. It was a bit to cold for water sports, so fishing was on the agenda – again unsuccessfully.
As the seas got rougher, we decided to stop off at the lovely Lochmara Lodge, one of the many small resorts in the Sounds, accessible only by boat. Their marketing slogan is “Just like Fiji, but cooler…” – so true lol.
It has 14 rooms and a waterfront café which was a lovely place to spend an hour or two over a beer or a coffee. They also have an underwater observatory and 11 acres of land which I hope to get back to explore one day.
It is probably worth noting you can still enjoy the joy that is the Marlborough Sounds even if you don’t have access to a boat, as there are ferries/water taxis and also the post boat which you can jump on to move around the bays.
Returning to the mainland we headed back in to Picton for the afternoon, where they were having their annual Maritime Festival which, not surprisingly celebrates maritime history of the region. Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal, and it very soon turned into torrential, wind blown rain! That was our cue to head to the pub!
Picton was original the site of a Māori Pa called Waitohi (Wai meaning water, and Tohi meaning a ritual given to warriors before battle). When the British arrived, they realised how valuable the deep water harbour was, and ‘purchased’ the land from the local Māori who relocated their pa to Waikawa Bay (where I was staying).
And just like that it was time to head home. That coastal route home did not disappoint. After stopping briefly to check out the seals at Ohau Point we stopped again to watch a huge pod of dolphins just of the coast – 100s of them. You know when the family is out for a nice Sunday walk and 2 of the kids are crazy – constant jumping and twisting 😂😂. What a perfect end to the trip.
Our ride for the afternoon was a 4WD bus operated by Farewell Spit Eco tours. They have been operating tours to the spit for over 70 years, and are the only company licensed to do so. You are not allowed to drive on the spit, so the only way you can see it all is to take their tour – and it was definitely worth it.
Despite the lack of international tourists, they were operating 3 buses on this day, so they are clearly still doing good business with kiwis exploring their own backyard. Charles, a strapping Dutchman (who had lived in NZ for many years) was our guide for the day. He described himself as guide, driver, photographer and part time dairy farmer from Motueka lol.
As we headed west out of Collingwood, Charles told us all about the area and interesting bits and pieces about what we were passing. We started with a brief lesson on Mt Burnet, New Zealand’s only dolomite mine (who knew!). Dolomite is a hardened limestone and has a high magnesium content and is used in fertiliser and cattle supplements (to combat magnesium deficiencies). It is also used to purify steel.
If we blinked, we would have missed the tiny town of Pākawau, another relic of the coal mining industry in the region, dating back to 1840. Today it is home to the Westhaven Littleneck clam beds and processing factory. The clams are wild caught, stored in a pool to ensure they are not full of sand before being heat treated and snap frozen – they are then shipped all over the world.
Like Pākawau, Pūponga was also fairly easy to miss. At the height of the coal mining, the town was home to over 500 people as well as being the main port in the Golden Bay area. Today just a handful of people live there. The old wharf, once the longest in the Southern Hemisphere at 1km long, is long gone except for a few wooden pillars. The coal was taken down the pier by a small train – a 6 tonne diesel powered train (affectionately known as Donald) would take coal to the coal barges sitting in the man-made channels.
When no longer in use, ‘Donald’ the Locomotive (who had arrived in New Zealand from Scotland in 1901) was abandoned in the water and left to rust away until he was rescued in recent years by members of the Blenheim Riverside Railway Society who spent thousands of hours restoring him to his former glory.
From ‘Port’ Pūponga we travelled inland, across the top end of the island towards out first spot at Cape Farewell, the northern most tip of the South Island. We passed the site of a large Maori Pā (a hill fort) where there had been numerous big battles until the infamous chief Te Rauparaha arrived on one of his many invasions, destroyed the Pā and killed everyone!
Cape Farewell was the last point of New Zealand that Captain Cook and his crew saw when they departed in 1770 (well thought out place names strike again!). We always consider the South Island being directly south of the North Island, when in fact they overlap quiet significantly and this point of the South Island is actually in line with Palmerston North in the North Island!
After an early attempt to drill for oil, which thankfully failed, much of the land in the area now provides a buffer to Farewell Split – this land today is partially farmed as well as allowing forest regeneration.
We had time for a brief walk around the cliff tops and take in the view, thankfully there were no mosquitos or sand flies … because it was too windy 🥴😬.
As we got back onto the bus and travelled towards the spit, Charles told us that there can be 14,000 black swans on farewell spit in season, self-populated from Australia in 1840s. Apparently New Zealand use to have its own species of swan which was extinct before Europeans arrived – as with most of New Zealand’s extinct birds, it was much bigger and heavier than the modern day swans from Australia. I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to have Moas, Haast Eagles and giant swans wandering around.
At around 30km long, Farewell Spit is the longest sand spit in New Zealand (growing annually) and today it is a nature reserve of international importance due to the bird sanctuary and wetlands. The public can only access the first 4km (by foot) unless on a tour with Farewell Spit Eco tours (or part of DoC or Maritime NZ). In fact, its status of international importance means it is more tightly managed than national parks with a few of the rules being that you can not smoke, nor can you remove anything from the Spit (though I think I had a fair amount of Spit sand in my shoes by the end of the day).
At the beginning of the Spit is Triangle Flats, according to Charles this was the site of large Maori battles and numerous tools, weapons and parts of large wakas (canoes) have been found in and around the area. Apparently, the settlements here were not large, but both Abel Tasman and James Cook wrote about being approached by many waka filled with men (not particularly welcoming) – names such as Murderers Bay tells the story. (Apparently, it was all just a big misunderstanding -the local iwi performed a haka (basically a war dance) and blew a conch shell and the Europeans thought it was a greeting rather than a warning and replied with a trumpet fanfare – a clear declaration of war!) It is though that the Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri were killed off in an invasion by another tribe in the early 1800s.
Back on the Spit and we discussed how tidal the area is (the tides dictate what time the tours go) – being 2,000 hectares at high tide and 10,000 at low tide which is part of what makes it an important feeding ground for birds. In fact, the region has a higher biomass than a rain forest with over 90 species of birds, crabs, insects etc.
The base of the Spit used to be farmed, as well as being a popular area for hunting of birds until it became a nature reserve in 1938. It is not only a Ramsar Site – a list of Wetlands of International importance which provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of such sites but also a Flyway Reserve Network Site, a network of wetlands with significant importance for migratory shorebirds.
We crossed over the Spit from the sheltered wetland southern side to the sandy, exposed northern side where Charles had to get out from time to time to check the sand conditions before driving on to the sand. It was beautiful with kilometres of white sandy beaches and on this side, we are facing north, straight towards Mt Taranaki (if we could see) it.
Our first stop was right on the base of the Spit at Fossil Point, which holds fossils from an old riverbed from the Cretaceous period (a mere 40 million years ago). Fossil hunting was only interrupted by the random seals camouflaged as they lay around by the rocks. The weather had started to turn a little and it had started to spit so we jumped back on the bus and heading further down the beach, past the public access area and beyond. 👍🏻👍🏻
As we drove slowly down the Spit, Charles pointed out just a few of the birds we spotted, including Godwits (Charles was really excited to see them.) Did you know that Godwits have the longest migratory flight of any flapping bird, taking 9 days from Alaska to NZ non-stop, losing half their body weight during the journey? Legend says that a Godwit sat on the shoulder of legendry Maori voyager Kupe, guiding him to Aotearoa.
We also saw dotterels, variable oyster catchers, black back gulls and Caspian terns (the largest tern in the world) hanging amongst white fronted terns who are almost identical except for size (Caspian tern being almost twice the size of the other). The White fronted terns have only just started breeding again on the spit 👍🏻 Unfortunately, there are no photos as we didn’t stop and there was rain on the windows of the bus. 😢
According to Charles, variable oyster catches have the fastest growing beak in the bird world – 0.4mm a day!! They are also show resource polymorphism – their beak can change shape depending on the food source. They can be long and sharp for ‘stabbing’ food, or short and stout for shovelling. Sounds to me like Charles Darwin should have done a study on Farewell Spit as well as in the Galapagos Islands!
Charles was clearly very passionate about the history and wildlife of the area that he enthusiastically educated us about on the drive.
We passed a massive tree stump which was washed up in a flood in 2010. On the stump was 2 pied shags – the story goes that they arrived on the stump, as there never used to be pied shags on the Spit before the arrival of the stump!
The Spit is currently growing, getting longer and wider. Some think it will eventually attach itself to another island or piece of land as it continues to grow. It is clear how much it has grown when we got to the lighthouse compound – which use to be at the end of the spit and is now a number of kilometres inland! However, it is highly likely that some of the sand will blow away again! Only time will tell.
Towards the end of the Spit, there was no vegetation – nearer the base of the Spit, Maram grass had been planted over the years to stop the erosion of the dunes (they move roughly 30 metres per year). That said, it is believed that the part of the spit was once covered in forest and moa bones have been found in nearby Maori middens.
Despite Abel Tasman clearly mapping the Spit, lots of ships have beached on it (Captain Cook did not see it at all due to poor weather), so in 1870, a 30m high lighthouse was built on the end of it, in a compound with 4 houses. (As I previously mentioned, when built, the lighthouse was on the end of the Spit!)
As nothing would grow in the sandy ground, with no fresh water, all suppliers for the lighthouse keepers and their families have to brought down the Spit by horse and they were always digging the house out of the moving sands. It was apparently the least desirable lighthouse posting in the country!
In 1890, one of the lighthouse keepers started getting soil from town every couple of weeks and planted a windbreak of macrocarpa trees that we still see around the compound today. This protected the compound from the wind and sand and enabled the families based there to start grow some of their own produce.
In 1897, the wooden lighthouse was replaced with a steel lighthouse, which was converted to electric in the 1930s. The electricity was only for the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers and their families were not allowed to use it till 1957. The last lighthouse keeper left in 1984 (from what use to take 3 keepers to maintain), with the original electric light being replaced in 1999.
Anything orange on today’s lighthouse is from the original lighthouse and the feet are painted red – why you ask? Apparently, it was in support of the Team New Zealand in the Americas Cup champaign – Sir Peter Blake started a traditional of red socks in 1995 in support of the team.
After taking a break for afternoon tea in one of the old houses, we were back on the bus and back down to the beach.
In the distance, we saw what I thought was a dog running across the beach, it was in fact a seal (which makes far more sense). I have never seen a seal run so fast, when it reached a small area of water, it skidded across on its belly before jumping back on its flippers and continuing to run. We think it was chasing another one we had seen nearby – males are very territorial!
A little further down the Spit is a large Gannet colony housing over 10,000 birds. It is in fact the only gannet colony at sea level (they are normally on high rocks over the sea). Farewell Spit Eco tours actually run another tour specifically to see the Gannets but as we have a few minutes to spare Charles decided to do a sneaky drive down the Spit to see some of the Gannets flying around and the colony in the distance …. the wind had picked up and this open end of the spit was incredibly windswept. The sand blasted us as we stepped out of the bus but at least the sun was shining, and I was happy to have the opportunity to see them.
Our final stop on the Spit was at the sand dunes and the highest point of the island, where we had some time to walk up the dunes (or run in my young energetic nephew’s case)! It was great fun (and my nephew’s favourite part of the day) and I enjoyed the amazing patterns in the wet sand.
The wind continued as we drove back down the Spit, and the surface sand was now being blown along – it looked like we were driving through a river of sand with currents running through it.
It had been a long day, but I highly recommended the tour.
OK – it was not quite Christmas but Boxing Day – the day after Christmas that I set of with my nephew. (Just as a side note, there appears to be no clear reason why the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, but the most common explanation appears to be that it is because it was the day off for servants so they could visit their families (back in the day in the UK) and the day when they received a gift (or Christmas box) from their employer.)
It was typical Christchurch Christmas weather – raining and cold (yes, it is summer!) 😂 We quickly packed up the car with way too much stuff (the theme of all my road trips) and headed out on my annual Aunty/nephew road trip – this year we headed north to Marahau.
I thought it was cold when we left Christchurch, but the temperature dropped to 8.5 degrees through Lewis Pass, clearly no one told the weather gods it is summer 🤦🏻♀️!!
We stopped in Murchison for some lunch at the Commercial Café (which I recommend), one of the many buildings in the town dating back to the town’s gold mining past during the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. It was a great little café, and it is a perfect location to stop as it was just over halfway into the journey. From here it was only another 1.5 hours driving to get to our final destination – unfortunately the last 30 minutes of that was stuck behind a milk truck – a trait of a classic kiwi road trip!!
Marahau is a small town on the north coast of the South Island which is a starting point for the Abel Tasman National Park either by foot or water taxi. The Māori meaning of the name Marahau is ‘windy garden’, apparently once a site for growing crops. Today it is a popular summer holiday destination with a permanent population of around 500.
We arrived at the campground and got the tent up just before the heavy rain started – oh and the thunder. In all honesty it was a great thunderstorm (which I love), and it was topped off by an incredible rainbow across the bay – huge and full of colour. Not surprisingly, I abandoned my dinner to run across the road to take a photo of it lol.
We had time for a quick walk before we headed back to the tent, just in time for the rain to start up again, so the rest of the evening was spent snuggled under blankets with some wine in my enamel mug (for me) in real camping style – this is truly shaping up to be a classic kiwi holiday 😂.
The joys of camping, as the rain continued the water level rose and the ground sheet stood no chance against the growing puddle … soon water started seeping through the front part of the tent and pooling on the floor. We made sure everything not waterproof was off the floor on top of the chairs and retired to our ‘sleeping chamber’ with camp stretches in the hope that the roof did not start leaking before the rain stopped – it was a waiting game as to which would happen first! On the bright side we had missed a massive hailstorm that hit the neighbouring town 🥴
The rain calmed and we survived the night (although it was clear my one season sleeping bag – that one season being summer was not going to cut it!) and we woke to a sunny albeit not hot, morning.
Thankfully, the pond around (and a little in) the tent had dried up by morning and we managed to get most stuff dry whilst having breakfast, before heading out for a short walk in the Abel Tasman National park – well, me a walk, my nephew a run as he is an athlete in training (he is only 14 but competes in distance running at a national level so had a training schedule to keep to) I most certainly am not an athlete😂!
It had started off as a cool day, but I got warm fast walking and I was obviously over dressed lol. The walk was beautiful walk, and I loved the flax in flower and all the tuis feeding on the nectar. I was obsessed with trying to get the perfect shot (I think I did ok).
My walk took me on a short part of the Abel Tasman Great walk (I have done other parts of it on another trip but never the whole thing). This time I passed Porters Beach and ended up at Stu’s Lookout – I am not sure who Stu is, but I thank him for this lovely lookout.
After our run/walk we stopped for a drink in the lovely Park Cafe, right by the car park to the national park before taking a gentle stroll along the shore to the campground for some lunch and a relaxing afternoon. We have a couple of full days coming up so wanted to enjoy some down time too.
We had a better night’s sleep without the threat of floating away, which I was grateful for as we had a big day ahead. We set off relatively early for our day trip further around the coast. It wasn’t such a long drive but included the infamous Takaka Hill which is very windy and well known for its frequent slips in heavy rain leading to constant roadworks and lane closures!
Our first stop was at Te Waikoropupū (Māori for “bubbling water”) Springs (locally known as Pupū Springs), the largest freshwater springs in the country which contains some of the clearest water ever measured, some say the clearest (as measured in 1993 by NIWA, finding the visibility to be 63 metres!). To maintain the clearness of the water it is forbidden to have any contact with the water – this includes fishing, swimming, diving, boating, drinking etc.
After walking through the small information area, it is just a short 30 minute walk through the bush to the view platform over the springs – there is lots of water bubbling up (can you believe 14,000 litres of water gush out of the spring every second … yes, every second!) and yes, they are very, very clear.
The site is sacred to the local Māori (Ngāti Rārua) and a place of cultural and spiritual significance with the springs representing the life blood of Papatuanuku, the Earth Goddess and the tears of Ramgini, the Sky God.
It’s probably worth noting that there is no charge to visit the springs so definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.
From the Springs it was only a short 30 minute drive to the small town of Collingwood in the Golden Bay area. One of New Zealand’s oldest towns, it was originally settled in 1852 and grew substantially after the discovery of gold deposits nearby. Unfortunately, the gold rush was short lived in the area and it was only a few years before the gold miners moved on to other parts of the country in search of richer mines.
The town went on to have a second boom with the establishment of coal mines in the area. In fact, it was even considered as a possible capital ‘city’ when the British were looking for a more central location (they settled on Wellington).
Over the years, the town has suffered a number of large fires destroying most of the original buildings. Today, the town has had a bit of a resurgence due to its close proximity to Kahurangi National Park and it being the starting point for trips to Farewell Spit (or Onetahua) – this is reason we were here. We had a little time before our tour started so we had a brief walk around the town (which to be honest only takes 10 minutes lol) and to have some lunch. I probably spent more time admiring the Pohutakawa in bloom (I love them!)
To avoid boring you with a very very long blog post, this trip will form the next blog – something for you to look forward to.
After sitting in a car or on a bus most of the previous day, we decided to do something a little more active for our last day, Sea Kayaking – it sounded like fun at the time 🥴 There are a number of companies that offer similar kayaking experiences and hire kayaks for self-guided tour, but we decided to go on a guided tour with Marahau Sea Kayaking which was based just across the road from the campground.
After kitting up (in so much gear I could barely move) and having our safety briefing, we loaded the kayaks up on the trail and headed down to the river at the end of town. Apparently, they normally enter from a sand spit but decided to try the river on this day. And so our small crew – our lovely Canadian guide, a couple from the US who live in Nelson and us, jumped in our kayaks and had a calm and relaxed paddle down the river as we got used to the boats and headed towards the river mouth and the sea … I guess it is called sea kayaking for a reason right?
Out at sea we travelled down the coast, into a small lagoon around Apple Tree Bay (we were fortunate with the tides which allowed us to get in the narrow access point into the lagoon). From here it was decided that we would cross the small channel to Adele Island, a small pest free island that is a sanctuary for birds and seals.
The winds had picked up a bit and as soon as we left the relative shelter of the coastline it was really hard work paddling across this small section of open ocean and I was exhausted by the time we reached the island and dreaded the return journey!! I was so happy when we finally got back to Observation Beach for a rest with some snacks and a drink.
It was a lovely little beach and picture perfect – one of the other small groups on the beach was playing some Six60 – a New Zealand band and to me, their music is the sound of summer.
We had opted to do the half day kayaking which meant from here we caught one of the water taxis back to Marahau. Not only did we get in the water taxi, but they also had to stack the kayaks on the back, making it so heavy that a couple of the crew had to get off and push the boat off the beach. Back in Marahau, the boat drove straight on to the waiting trailer – waiting in a long line of trailers towed by tractors in the shallow waters of the incoming tide. And the final leg of the journey was ‘Road boating’ 😂 – sitting in the boat, which is sitting on the trailer as the tractor drives it back to base lol.
It was a great end to a lovely few days having a true kiwi summer break.
We had a calm night, and we woke to a beautiful morning surrounded by mountains, bush and bird sound from the shores of nearby Anchor Island. Nothing like Ulva but more than anywhere else, yet another perfect morning as it has been every day for my morning coffee. It was made even more perfect by a couple of dolphins swimming around the boat and some little blue penguins in the distance – what more could you ask for. After such a beautiful start, I popped outside after breakfast and it was raining ☔️ah, Fiordland.
Our outing this morning was going to take us to around Luncheon Cove and on to Anchor Island. Anchor Island is highly protected which means the numbers of people on shore at one time are limited and the logistics of this seemed far more difficult than it should have been 🤦🏻♀️ lol. I was in the last group to depart the ship. On the downside this mean a lot of waiting around as we did not get off until almost 10am, on the upside by this time it had stopped raining!
We spent some time looking at the fur seals lounging around on the rocks and relaxing in the water before it was our turn to land on Anchor Island at Luncheon Cove (apparently Captain Cook had lunch here one day, hence the name!). In 1792, 14 men (though some accounts say 11 men were left) were dropped off at this same spot by the Sealer ship Britannia with the intent of spending a few months catching the abundant fur seals in the area. They were left with building materials to build not only a house to live in, but another boat, in case the Britannia could not come back to collect them.
The house and boat they built here are considered the first European house/settlement and boat built in New Zealand. Despite their boat building success, the Britannia did come back to pick them (and their 4,500 seal skins – of course that translates to 4,500 less fur seals!!) 10 months later so the nearly completed 52 ft long boat was left in the small creek on Anchor Island.
So, when the men were not busy building (and making beer out of Rimu leaves), they were sealing and killed 100s and 1000s of the local fur seal population. Seals were greatly prized and Captain Cook even made the following entry in his diary in 1773“ Thursday 22nd. In the PM I went with a party a Seal hunting, the surf was so high that we could only land in one place where we killed Ten, these animals serve us for three purposes, the skins we use for our rigging, the fatt makes oyle for our lamps and the flesh we eat, their harslets (heart and liver) are equal to that of a hog and the flesh of some of them eats little inferior to beef steakes, nay I believe we should think it superior could we get the better of prejudice.”
(The journals of Captain James Cook: the voyage of the Resolution and Adventure, 1772–1775, edited by J. C. Beaglehole. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961, p. 126)
Sealing in the area carried on until 1946, but thankfully the population of seals has built back up today and we saw many in the area, including one who had a bit of a stand off with one of my boat mates!
But the story of the boat did not end when the original group of sealers were picked up. Two years later another ship, the Endeavour, came to the area and the crew finished the build. They named their ‘new’ boat the Providence and sailed it to Norfolk Island.
Today, Anchor Island is particularly important to the conservation efforts of endangered species. In particular the Kakapo which were introduced to the island in 2006, having been cleared of the last of the predators in 2005 (all the deer were removed in 2007). In the 2015 breeding season they had 38 chicks on Anchor Island and today there is a population of 80 young Kakapo on the island. Unfortunately, they are nocturnal so there was little to no chance of seeing one whilst on the island. Apparently there use to be one who came out to ‘greet’ visitors to the island, but they removed it to an island that is not open to the public as they were worried someone would ‘steal’ it!
We had a short walk on the island but to be honest I would have preferred just to sit some quietly and listen and watch the birds rather than go on the walk-through mud and learn and see nothing special. It was also hot going, dressed for zodiacs and then hiking, but I shouldn’t complain, it was beautiful, and I am so fortunate to be able to visit such important places.
When our time on shore was over, we jumped back in the Zodiac for another trip around the islands, this time there were a lot of fur seals, including some pups and also Fiordland Crested penguins swimming around in the water. We also past a number of crayfish launches (similar to the one the chef had sourced the crayfish for dinner) – they often have helipads on top of their pontoons, so their fresh catch can be taken to Te Anau by helicopter!
Back on board and there were a group of 3 penguins on the rocks, near the ship but a little too far for decent photos. They were so cute jumping around trying to decide whether to go in the water or not 😂 (well, that’s what it looked like to me)!
During lunch the ship moved again – stepping out of the ship every time after we move is like stepping out into a new world – this time we were anchored off Pigeon Island, truly the birthplace of conservation in New Zealand. Pigeon Island is where Richard Henry set up home when working on his conservation efforts on Resolution Island.
Richard Henry was an Irishman who came to New Zealand in the late 1870’s and got a job as a rabbit shooter on a sheep farm. When he saw the damage stoats, ferrets and weasels were doing to the native bird population, he predicted that they could wipe out the entire population. He believed the birds would be safer on offshore islands, and although his ideas formed the basis for much of today’s conservation efforts of native species, his efforts to keep the predators at bay, were futile.
In 1894, Richard Henry was appointed custodian and caretaker of Resolution Island in Fiordland which became New Zealand’s first island reserve for native wildlife. He set up home on Pigeon Island and built a house and a Kakapo pen, the remains of which we can see today. He left Fiordland in 1908 and became caretaker of a new reserve on Kapiti Island – both Kapiti and Resolution remain key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.
Pigeon Island is another restricted island, this time, only 12 people were allowed on shore at one time, so we had limited time to explore this beautiful little island. We were joined by a chirpy saddleback (saddlebacks were only introduced a couple of years ago and appear to be doing well.) It is definitely clear to see how much more birdlife there is on the pest free islands and Pigeon Island was no exception. Sadly, there were also many sand flies whilst waiting for to leave the beach 😫!
Back on the ship and it was already time to start packing, and a celebratory Kir Royale and cheese board on the bow to toast to the last night of the trip. It was beautiful weather … sunny and warm, just like the first evening we celebrated on the bow, just a short 6 days before. It was so warm, some people jumped in the water, including the captain of the ship and the naked chef – literally 🥴!! I did not join them as I am a complete wuss when it comes to cold water!
Before dinner we had one final evening recap of the day and the trip as a whole. It was amazing to be reminded of all the amazing places we had been in the short 6 days on the ship. Apparently, adversity and revelation weld a group together, thankfully we had had not much adversity but lots of revelation.
After our final dinner, most of us headed back up to deck to enjoy the journey out of the Sounds into Foveaux Strait. We started the day with dolphins, and we ended the day with dolphins, a flock of sooty shearwaters and the odd albatross soaring around the boat. It was beautiful but, not surprisingly it started to get rough as we made our way around the infamous Puysegur Point and that was my cue to head to bed!!
Most of the night was relatively calm despite the 3 hours rocking and rolling to start … and we were very soon heading in to port at Bluff (after we passed a couple of albatrosses waving goodbye) for a 7.30 landing. We had had a pilot on board for the whole trip (a requirement for a ship this size) so we did not have to wait for one when we arrive in port and could just sail straight in.
It has been a great trip and I think we had been particularly lucky with the weather. Apparently, we 3-4 metre swells at worst, sounds terrible to me but apparently it is nothing to the seasoned seafarers!
Phone reception had come back over night and everyone was back on their phones – me to change my flight from 4pm to 11am given that we were be in port so early. It is always so refreshing to have a break from the internet.
Shortly after breakfast we were ready to depart and was waved off by the crew who lined up on the wharf to say their farewells. They trip was short, but incredibly sweet and I have already got my eye on some future journeys with Heritage Expeditions.
NB: Photos really don’t do this area justice – no photo can really depict the grandeur of the lush green forest covered mountains and the deep green colour of the water. Yet another place I would love to spend more time.
After a relatively good sleep despite the rolling (or pitching as we boat people say lol), we woke up in a perfectly calm inlet of Open Cove, at the entrance to Thompson Sound. Of course, my phone still thinks I am in Vladivostok and after asking around, it appears this is the first time it has happened, and no one seems to know what’s up 🤔. I continued my morning coffee with a view this morning, this time my view was of beautiful cloud topped mountains flowing down into the sea.
We were out in the zodiacs by 9am and we zipped around the northern end of the sound and then down a beautiful Pandora River. As with yesterday, the tide was on our side, otherwise we would not have got very far down the shallow river. It was beautiful and peaceful, and the river was lined with beautiful bush including flowering rata, kamahi and orchids. We were welcomed to the wonderful Fiordland weather with sun, rain and hail all in about 30 minutes 🤔. It seemed crazy as it was not that cold. Another great Fiordland feature was also out to greet us – sandflies, so many sandflies!! Luckily, we were pretty much covered from head to toe with our wet weather gear so there was not a lot of opportunity from them to bite.
From Pandora River, we continued on our expedition to Neck Cove where we jumped out in the shallows and went for a bit of a bush whack … a serious bush whack in some cases where there were no tracks at all. (FYI bush whacking normally refers to walking through the bush where there is actually no track – I guess it means you have to ‘whack’ away the bush lol.) It was fun and the bush was beautiful though it took some time to find a decent route out to the beach (avoiding the swamp), but we finally made it back and on to the boat for time to dry off before lunch. As we ate the ship headed into Blanket Bay, part of Doubtful Sound, where we dropped anchor.
After lunch we were back out in the zodiacs for a couple of hours zipping around the bays of Secretary Island with a short stop on one of the small beaches. Secretary Island is one of New Zealand’s most important islands for conservation as it has always been free of possums and rodents. Subsequently it has been cleared of deer and stoats (a great challenge given the very steep and densely forested slopes) making it one of the largest pest free islands and populations of endangered species have been relocated there.
It is interesting how localised weather is in this region. We could watch the rain showers pass down the valleys and across the fiord (and across us too of course 🥴) but thankfully there was not too much rain and we did not get too wet.
We had another evening recap before dinner, and boy what a dinner it was. We had passed a couple of small crayfishing operations during the day and the chef had taken it upon himself to negotiate a large number of crays for 2 bottles of Russian vodka (I did hear numerous versions of what it he actually swapped for the crays, but in every version, Russian vodka was gratefully received by these remote fishermen lol). The fresh crayfish went down a treat with my fellow passengers – if only I liked crayfish lol.
Why are some areas called ‘Sounds” and others ‘Fiords” I hear you ask? It is an interesting question, and I was keen to learn that a Sound is a drowned river valley whilst a Fiord is formed in a valley left behind by a glacier … of course in Fiordland, there was once many glaciers along the coastline.
After dinner I headed back on deck as it was a stunning evening to leave Doubtful Sound and head back out to the ocean as the sun set – but I did have to make sure I was back in my bed before we got out past the headlands and it got rough again 🥴
Day 5 and we work up in Cascade Cove in Dusky Sound, having travelled through the Acheron Passage during the night. I had slept well again with only a few hours of rolling during the night and it was yet another beautiful morning, a perfect morning for the helicopter flight some of us had booked.
I was in the first group that set of in the zodiac to the floating helipad and into the helicopter. We then flew up the sound and landed on the top of Mt Pender (at 1100m above sea level) where we were met by Ross, an ex-senior DOC ranger who told us all about the region. From here there was spectacular views of Dusky Sound and some of the 360 islands it contains.
Despite being almost summer, there had been some snow on the peaks of the mountains around us and it there was definitely a brisk chill in the area. Too soon our time on the top was over and we could also see a weather front coming in from the sea as we headed back to the barge for the next group to go up. It was such a special experience, and I was certain that my photos would not do it justice (I was right)!
We had a quick zodiac cruise around Pickersgill Harbour and the historic Astronomers Point before heading back to ship. Astronomers Point is the site of a temporary observatory set up during Capitan Cooks second voyage in 1773. It is significant because they were testing new technology and it was considered the most accurately located place on the globe at the time.
Cook and his crew, having just sailed through Antarctica, cleared about an acre of forest and set up camp for provisioning and ship repairs. They even set up a brewery, using Rimu and manuka leaves to make beer with the hope of preventing scurvy during their 5 week stay.
Having had an early start, we were all back on board before 10am and we set sail deeper into Dusky Sound It was beautiful travelling down the sound with snow-capped mountains in various shades of blue and grey. We sailed through Cooks Passage and past Long Island, through water so clear you could see the Little Blue penguins popping up from time to time, as well as see them swimming under water!
We anchored just off Cooper Island in Sportsman Cove and had time for a pre-lunch zodiac cruise, passing the tiny but beautiful Shags Island which was covered in flowering Rata. Have I mentioned the sand flies 🥴🤔🥴 – we were keen not to stop for very long as every time we did, the sandflies would swarm in! Despite that, it was wonderful to be completely surrounded by native bush. (It was frustrating that my maps were still showing that I was in a Russia as I had planned to use them to pinpoint our location in these small coves and bays 🤦🏻♀️.)
As we had lunch we started sailing again. I must say, meals were always interesting as there was a great mix of people on board. Most were very well travelled, many were very experienced trampers, other were birders and/or botanists and about half had been on Heritage Expedition trips before.
A weather front was moving in as we sailed down the Acheron Passage, the wind picked up as we watched the rain travel down the valleys. Thankfully the sea was not as we were in still in the sheltered fiords and by late afternoon, we were anchored in the protected Duck Cove.
The day finished with a great lecture from one of our guides, Lindsay Wilson. Lindsay has a long history of working with the Department of Conservation in the Fiordland area and gave us some wonderful insights into conservation in the Dusky Sound area.
Fiordland National Park is the largest national park in New Zealand, established in 1952 and it plays an incredibly important role in conservation in New Zealand. In fact, it is considered the birthplace of conservation when in 1890, when Richard Henry set up a New Zealand’s first island sanctuary on Resolution Island and single handedly rowed more than 500 Kakapo and kiwi to this and other island sanctuaries in the area. (FYI Resolution Island is New Zealand’s 5th largest island.) He even used a muzzled dog to help him track down the birds on the mainland.
Unfortunately, he had underestimated the distance stoats, ferrets and weasels could swim, however his techniques of using conservation dogs and relocating endangered species to predator free islands is still key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.
Today a number of the islands in Fiordland have been cleared of pests and in fact Anchor Island today is home to half the world’s population of Kakapo!! (I should note that of course they are endemic to New Zealand and therefore the entire world’s population is in New Zealand lol)
I looked forward to exploring the area more in the morning.
After a good night’s sleep moored in the very calm Paterson’s Inlet, I woke up to a beautiful view of Ulva island (I didn’t make it for sunrise which is now around 5am 🥴). The air was also full of bird song from the island. Fun fact, Paterson Inlet is the inlet with the most shoreline in the Southern Hemisphere!
After a big buffet breakfast we got ready for our first on shore expedition to Ulva Island and being the first day everyone was ready early for our 8am departure – raring to go.
Initial comparisons of small vs big expedition ships (the bigger ship being the one I went to Antarctica on in 2014/15) – the bigger ship had a dedicated muck room for getting dressed in your outside gear rather than 3 people trying to do that in our small room (it’s not that bad but difficult if we are all trying to get ready at the same time (which we inevitably were). Secondly on the big ship we typically exited the ship at sea level straight into the zodiacs … on this ship there we steep stairs to decent. Nothing that I could not deal with though.
Now, if you are a regular reader, you will know I had been to Ulva Island just a few short weeks previous but it is definitely the kind of place that I could return to multiple times and, as with nature, every time would be different. All 50 of us disembarked the zodiacs on to the small wharf at Post Office Cove and we were able to choose which group we wanted to join – fast walkers, moderate walkers and potterers.
All the guides were provided by Ulva’s Guided Walks (who I had used the last time I was there) and I recognised one of the guides as Ulva herself and immediately decided I would join her group regardless of which one it was! Ulva Goodwille is well known on Stewart Island (she is named after Ulva Island) and she has even written a book about Ulva Island (which I was lucky enough to get a signed copy when I visited the last time). She is a direct descendant of the first Maori people of Stewart Island and is clearly very passionate about the island and it’s inhabitants.
It turned out, Ulva was leading the potterers group which was fine by me and it was even better because there was only 5 people in the group as opposed to the other groups that had 20 or so. We did not have to potterer far to come across two Red Crowned Kakariki feeding chicks in a hole in the tree – we could not see the chicks but they were definitely keeping their parents busy.
The whole island was filled with amazing bellbird song, occasionally interrupted by three saddlebacks, who, according to Ulva (who clearly speaks Saddleback lol) were all very angry!! We saw kereru, bellbirds and tuis doing ‘zoomies’ through the trees. We tasted some of the sooty mould (odd I know 😂) which tasted very sweet and learnt about the 73 species of endemic coprosma (only found in New Zealand) which can be identified by the dots up the centre of the leaf (see the photo).
In hindsight perhaps it was a little too ‘pottery’ for me but I loved all the stories Ulva was sharing with us. One of my favourites was the story of the Kaka, who used to have a red head, but the Kakariki stole the red feathers, so now Kaka have white feathers on their head and why the Kakariki are always “laughing” 😂.
Slightly more factual stories included her theory that saddlebacks could be flightless in 1000 years as they hate to fly and will avoid it if they can! They nest on the ground and ‘run’ up branches rather than fly. Of course, the existence of predator free islands like Ulva are the only place they can truly live this way and survive.
We learnt about the Robin’s who at this time of the year have ‘brooder patches’, where they pull out some breast feathers so their skin is closer to their eggs. It was clear that most are sitting on eggs currently.
We passed massive 500 year old Rimu trees and tiny orchids, so tiny they were easy to miss. There were almost no orchids in bloom when I was on the island before, but this time there were a few more including tiny green hooded orchids and bamboo orchids.
As we were admiring a morepork, who was comfortable tuck up in the incredible root system of a large South Rata tree (morepork are owls and therefore predominately nocturnal), a tui swooped in and dive bombed it! The morepork are predators and the tui must have eggs or chicks nearby that it was protecting. We didn’t see where the morepork went and never saw it again.
Back down near the beach we came across a Rifleman’s nest (New Zealand’s smallest bird). There was a tiny feather near the entrance but sadly we did not see the bird themselves … instead we got to watch some battling weka! The weka wars went on for some time before one of them gave up and wandered off lol.
It was a beautiful morning on Ulva Island but too soon it was time to head back to the ship and as we had lunch, the ship moved around to Kaipipi Bay, one of the many small bays that line Paterson’s Inlet. From here we headed back on to land for a walk back to Oban. We ended up walking along the last stretch of the Rakiura 3 day track down into town along with those who had actually done the 3 day walk 😂. They look exhausted but happy and we bumped into them again cooling off their tired feet in the ocean.
It was a warm sunny day and Oban, and the town was very busy (as was the bar) so I just decided to chill a little by the beach, fascinated by the amazing colours and patterns in the sand and it was not long before it was time to get the zodiac back to the ship which was now anchored in the harbour just offshore.
Settling into our onboard routine, we had a recap of the day in the bar before another great dinner. One of the staff had been asking around about the jellyfish from the previous night. Apparently, they were speckled jellyfish and at this time of year there are many of them due to additional nutrients in the water.
During the early hours of the morning, we moved again, this time around to the eastern coast of Stewart Island at Port Adventure (the movement made a nice little swell to rock me to sleep lol) and we work to another beautiful morning which I started with coffee on the deck before breakfast. It also helped that breakfast was not until 7.30 (rather than 6.45 the day before though we are clearly getting into the routine of boat life).
Weirdly, by morning, my phone was saying the time was 4.30am rather than 7.30am 🤔🤔 but when I went in to the world time it had the right time for Wellington – had we changed times zones over night?? No… apparently the ship (from Vladivostok) has some technology that phones are picking up … so it is showing the time in Vladivostok 🥴 or are we on the way to Vladivostok – technology is wonderful but weird … even my offline maps thought we were in Russia and all my photos show they were taken in Vladivostok?!? Thank goodness I was not relying on the alarm to wake up!!
By 8.45 (New Zealand time) we were out on the water in the zodiacs (there are enough zodiacs for everyone onboard to be out on the water at the same time) and started cruising around some of the bays, passing a few Little Blue penguins in the water and some Foveaux Shags chilling out in the trees. Apparently, they can be black or black and white!
As we cruised along the southern arm of the bay, we spotted our first Fiordland Crested penguin, hiding out under a branch on the side of the water and spotted kaka flying overhead. We admired white fronted terns and variable oyster catchers, all posed on a small group of rocks. It was so peaceful and calm when we turned the engines off … it was also warm – too warm for all the clothes I was wearing when we were going slow, but I was grateful for them when we picked up some speed!
We had a brief land stop at the Port Adventure Hunters hut (to give the crew time for a quick outboard motor repair) and I spent the time admiring the beach with its beautiful mixture of coloured shells, rocks and seaweed.
With all the zodiacs back in working order, we headed down beautiful Heron River – it had a real central/ South American vibe to it, with jungle on both sides of the dark river – I almost expect to see alligators in the water, or monkeys in the trees.
As the river narrowed and shallowed, I ended up helping Heidi our guide row the zodiac (as it was too shallow to use the outboards) – but at least I avoided having to get in to push us over rocks in the really shallow parts 👍🏻 lol. Apparently, the plan had been to try and get as far down the river to see a waterfall … we did, and it was about 10 cm high 😂😂
Back on the ship and we quickly lifted the anchor and set sail as we sat down for lunch. After all the paddling efforts of the morning I was ravenously hungry and I was surprised when my phone pinged during lunch, meaning I had reception (which we don’t have for much of the trip). It seems we had abandoned the route we were supposed to take around the south of Stewart island and instead went back past Oban (hence the phone reception) and along the north coast. I understand that sometimes things have to change, particularly on trips like this, but it was disappointing they we could not do the plan but also that they really did not tell us about it …
We spent the afternoon at sea in somewhat choppy water so had a couple of lectures – I missed the first one of Maori settlement of Auckland Islands (we are not going there, and I was exhausted after my paddling exploits of the morning), the second was on the Southern Ocean which we were experiencing so I did go to that one – key takeaway for me is that the southern ocean is the biggest ‘continuous’ ocean in the world. It was certainly continuously moving at this time!
We did a drive by of the Solander Islands, a group of 3 rocky islands that are the tips of an extinct volcano that is believed to have last erupted between 150,000 and 400,000 years ago. It is believed that it is the size of Mt Taranaki, the rest of which is submerged. It was named after one of Cooks botanists – clearly Solander was not as popular as Banks who got a large peninsular (was thought to be an island at the time), Solander basically got a lump of granite in a remote part of the ocean!
It was beautiful sight with the dramatic skies – albatross and giant petrel soaring around the ship and sealions frolicking in the sea around us. It was truly beautiful and remote part of our wonderful big backyard that not many people get to see.
We then set sail across to the mainland (the South Island that is😂). I decided to forego dinner (though I was disappointed to be missing out on rib eye steak) but it was pretty rough by my standards and getting around the ship was tough. It was definitely the roughest seas I had had in my limited sailing career (although many onboard had seen much worse). Apparently, the crew and staff enjoyed a rather large dinner as many people did not eat!!
The level of excitement for this trip was akin to that of an overseas trip, and technical I would be crossing the seas 😂. Packing even involved the ‘big boy’ bag coming out, probably unnecessarily but why not – why I need to take as much for a week as I did for 4 months a couple of years ago don’t I 🥴.
Bear with me as this 7 day trip will be a number of blogs – not sure how many yet, we will just have to see how much I write lol.
I had been following the Christchurch based Heritage Expedition trips for some time – particularly with an eye on trips in the South Pacific and north east Russia – and of course their Antarctica trips, and as with all tour operators worldwide, Covid had decimated the majority of their clients (overseas guests). Fortunately for me, that meant it freed up time and trips for the humble kiwi in our big backyard – I jumped at the opportunity to explore remote parts of country you can only see by sea.
The arrival of my ship even made the news as the first passenger ship (and it predominately Russian crew) granted permission to enter the country through the Covid border restrictions – it arrived just 8 days before my departure which added to the excitement.
And so, I was back on a plane to Invercargill (for the second time in 2 months) and this time it was a fully masked flight. I had been wearing one on my last couple of flights, but it was now mandatory on all flights – better safe than sorry 👍🏻.
The New Zealand small town syndrome set in before I even left the airport, as I bumped into a girl I had followed and chatted with on social media when I was in the UK and she was in Spain. She had finally got back to New Zealand a few months earlier with her German boyfriend – it’s always nice to meet someone in person.
In Invercargill, I got a shuttle to the ‘joining’ hotel, unfortunately it was a long way from the main part of the town, so I had to kill some time in the bar 😂 till the meeting time. At least I could sit down, have something to eat and drink.
Now we knew the crew was covid free as they had spent over 40 days at sea getting here and had had 3 covid tests, but what about the passengers? I had nightmares about it becoming the ‘covid ship’ and being trapped for weeks! To ensure this did not happen we had had to complete a health declaration 10 days and 2 days before departure, just noting if we had any symptoms …. and before boarding the bus (to get to the boat) they had medical staff checking our temperature, throat and lungs (breathing) to deem us ‘fit for travel’ – thankfully I passed 🥳😂 (New Zealand did not have any reported cases of Covid in the community at this time so the medical check was just an extra precaution.)
To be honest, it was all a bit disorganised, with no real clear instruction as to what we were supposed to do – I stumbled across the medical ‘line’ as I wandered around the reception area of the hotel, and once cleared medically there was no further instruction, so I just found a comfortable seat and read by book … I could have mingled but decided that there was plenty of time for that when we were on our way.
My tactic of sitting alone ended up getting me targeted for an interview … there were a fair amount of press around as it was the first passenger ‘cruise’ to go head in a covid world … I was not sure it would ever see the print or tv, but I hope the photos/ videos were not close ups – I hadn’t even brushed my hair 😂😂! (FYI – there was an article with a photo, as well as a TV segment!)
Just prior to departure we had a so called ‘bag security check’, although there was no real check, we just had to identify our bags and were assigned our cabin number which we had to remember 😂 – then there was a little more standing around before we boarded the bus and headed to Bluff – the southern most point of the South Island and the departure point for our boat.
Finally, onboard and I found my cabin which was small but with plenty of storage (which is necessary as you need to be able to put everything secure in rougher seas). I was in a triple berth (the cheapest option) but was lucky enough to get the single bed (as opposed to the bunk) and soon met my room mates Helen (who I had chatted with briefly at the hotel) and Anne.
After a quick introduction to the staff (all who said how grateful they were to be back at work) we were finally on our way and heading out of the harbour and into Foveaux Strait just after 5pm. Apparently, the Strait (which I flew over just a few weeks earlier) can be rough, and the boat certainly had some movement to it, but it was not too bad. We had a little time to stand on the deck and enjoy the views before heading back down the stairs into the lecture room for the all important safety briefing.
The safety briefing was followed by an ‘abandon ship’ drill where we actually had to get in the lifeboat – now I have been on a number of boat trips in recent years and although we have had safety drills, actually getting in the lifeboat was a first for me! It looks like it would be a cramped few hours or days …. if we ever actually had to use them!!!
Just over 2 hours sailing and we were anchored in Paterson Bay, Stewart Island. Where we were treated to a great 3 course dinner, followed by champagne on the deck to toast the first expedition of the season. It was a beautiful and warm evening as the sun set, and we could hear bird song from nearby Ulva Island. The ship was also surrounded by jellyfish, so many jellyfish – no one knew why?? Unfortunately, I could not get any good photos as trying to focus through water and at almost transparent jellyfish is challenging lol.
And we finished the first day on the boat being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship in the sheltered waters.
Just before I finish of this first blog, let me show you around the boat and show you how things work ….
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel that started life as the Professor Khromov in Vladivostok, Russia in 1984. Despite the name change, the Professor’s photo still has pride of place on the wall. I had hoped to find out who Professor Khromov actually was, but I have had no luck with my internet searches.
The ship only takes 50 passengers in a variety of cabins (and it was full, including a two man film crew from TVNZ who would be filming a number of articles for the TV news later in the week), but I had opted for the el cheapo (who am I fooling, none of the cabins were cheap!) triple cabin with shared bathroom facilities. With the poor ship plumbing, it was back to no toilet paper in the toilet but in a bin next to it (like in much of South America). Annoyingly it takes me a week to get used to but I did my best lol. Thankfully the room did have a small porthole so at least we could assess the weather in the morning before heading upstairs.
Except for when we were going in and out of port, the bridge was open for us to visit. Most of the crew were Russian and did not speak English so there was not much conversation to be had but there was a great view from the elevated vantage point.
There was a small bar/library area where you could get coffee/tea/biscuits all day, and more importantly a sneaky gin and tonic in the evening before dinner. It was here we would meet to recap on the day and for the expedition staff (and the keen birders among us) to make note of the species they spotted during the day. As a side note, if you get a chance to try this Black Robin gin – do it, it was amazing!
Another important room is of course the dining room, split in to two parts, each side of the small galley. Here we had a buffet breakfast, a two course lunch and a three course dinner – of which we could choose the main (which we did at lunchtime). The food was great and there was always plenty of it. Definitely nothing to complain about, although sometimes the meal times could drag on a bit, though it was a nice opportunity to socialise and chat with fellow travellers about the day.
As part of their commitment to ensuring the ship was Covid free, we had to have our temperature taken before every meal. Basically, you just had to stand in front of a camera attached to a TV screen which would take your temperature and advise if you were in the normal range. I must admit I am not sure how effective it was, but no one ever tested in the red zone (which meant they needed to go and see the onboard doctor – who gets to come along for free in return for performing any medical duties required).
Finally, on the lower level we had the small lecture room where, not surprisingly we had lectures, not that there was a lot of opportunity on this trip as we were normally out and about.
The procedure for excursions was similar to that of my Antarctic cruise a few years ago. We had been lent gumboots (or muck boats as they are called on the ship) and we would get dressed in them, waterproof pants and jackets for our zodiac trips (all trips, whether than were land or zodiac, started with a ride in a zodiac as we never stopped anywhere with a wharf or jetty we could use).
Once dressed in our Zodiac gear (and seriously over heating lol) we had to put on our life jackets and turn our personal tag on a board (everyone was allocated a number) to show that we had left the boat. The final step was boot/shoe washing (to avoid any biodiversity hazards which was not so important on this trip but a big deal in the sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctica).
Once all that was done, we had to wait on either port or starboard side (the corridors and areas along the side of the boat on the outside were very narrow so you needed to go out the opposite door to where we were boarding, around the stern (and the boat washing station) to get to the gang plank queue. And of course, we had to do all of that in reverse when coming back on to the boat!
Unfortunately, with such a short trip some people are only just getting use to procedure lol.
This trip was first planned for August, but an Auckland lockdown meant it was delayed until November as most flights to Auckland were cancelled. (As I write this I have just had another trip cancelled because of another Auckland lockdown – probably something we need to get used to!) It was disappointing to have to delay the trip but my first trip to the North Island since I got back to New Zealand was not to disappoint. Starting with the flight up and the AMAZING view of Mt Taranaki. As always, I was grateful for my window seat.
I picked up my rental car (currently it seems rental cars out of Auckland are pretty cheap which is great) and had decided to do a bit of a ‘tiki tour’ – that is, taking the long way round to my destination. This route took me along the coast of the Hauraki Gulf and through cute coastal towns like Kawakawa Bay and Miranda.
By this point I was long overdue a break and something to eat so I stopped at the Buggar Café in Pipiroa, just outside Thames – yes, you read me right, the Buggar Café! Its philosophy is “Laugh a little” and the bathroom in particular had a number of amusing posters and photos. My favourite was detailing “Useful Bugger sayings” (just in case we could not think of any ourselves lol).
Refreshed from my stop, I next drove over the ranges which border the Coromandel Forest Park where I stopped briefly for a quick walk up to a viewpoint, before heading down the other side to the east coast and the small but perfectly formed beachside town of Whangamata. (Small and perfectly formed towns was a bit of a theme to this weekend lol.)
Whangamata has a perfect combination of sand, surf and native bush which the population of around 5,000 can enjoy year round – in the summer holidays the population can swell to over 20,000!! I decided it must be time for another break and a quick walk on the beach and look around the shops. There is something about being on holiday that means I am always eager to buy things that I might not even consider when I am at home – not that they are bad purchase lol!
The final leg of my journey for the day took me through Waihi (where I would return to the next day) and on to Waikino and the rural log cabin that was to be my home for the next couple of nights. It was a beautiful place, set in a beautiful rural outlook – fields, an orchard full of olive trees and a babbling brook … ok, it was a river but babbling brook sounds so much more literary right? One of the best (or perhaps the worst) things about the place was that there was no phone reception – total peace.
Despite the sun earlier in the day it was fairly overcast, and the rain set in during the afternoon – I have probably mentioned it somewhere else in a blog, just how much I love rain on a tin roof! I could listen to it for hours (and I did lol). When the rain stopped, I went for a short walk down to the river – the fresh, wet farm smell was just so good! I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but I love it.
I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the other ladies on the retreat (did I mention it was a retreat – not that I know what a retreat actually is!) making homemade pizza and mulled wine. Although we are now well into spring, remember this trip was original planned for mid-winter so mulled wine made sense then. Both were delicious.
The next morning, I woke early (as I do) so I got up and went out for a short walk along the road just outside the house and passed the Waitawheta Valley tram track walk (the tram track used to provide the gold mining industry with timber). It was so peaceful and still – only the sound of the river and birds. I had hoped the river crossing on the map (yay for maps.me and their offline maps again) was a bridge, but it was actually a ford and I was not prepared to get my feed wet at this time of the day 😂. Instead I spent far too long taking close up photos of plants with the morning dew on, as the sun came up over the hills. It could not have been a more perfect time to be out and about.
After breakfast we headed into Waihi, a small town founded around the gold mining industry – it actually won New Zealand’s most beautiful small town in 2019. The gold and silver mining industry still exists today with both open cast and underground mining – giving Waihi the nickname of New Zealand’s “Heart of Gold”. The Waihi goldmine is actually New Zealand’s richest gold mine!
We started by having a walk around the town centre (it did not take long), starting at the old Cornish Pumphouse. It was built in 1904, based on the ones used in the tin mines in Cornwall (hence the name) and at the time it was built, it was the pride of the New Zealand mining industry ensuring the nearby mine had sufficient water, providing up to 7000 litres per minute!!
Despite its success, it was used for less than 10 years as in 1913 the Waihi Goldmining Company built the first hydro electric power station on the Waikato river and pumped the water 80kms to the mine. At the time, the miners did not trust electricity so kept the pumphouse in working order until 1929 just in case it was needed.
From 1930, the pumphouse was stripped of machinery and left as it was until the 1960s when one of the underground shafts collapsed, leaving the pumphouse on unstable land. It was fenced off due to the danger but in 2006, it was decided to preserve it and therefore it needed to be moved. The move of only 300m was an engineering feat in itself. Today the pumphouse is an icon of the town’s mining heritage.
If you walk up the small hill next to the pumphouse you can look down on the vast Martha open cast mine. You really can only tell the vastness of it when you see a truck halfway down which looks absolutely tiny. There is also underground mining that tunnels underneath the town, which have caused some concern to the people who live above it.
After our short history lesson, we headed to ‘Laughing Pottery’, where we were to learn how to ‘pot’ lol. Andrew, chief potter (not sure if that is actually a thing) taught us all about the origins of his clay and the process it goes through to get from the clay you dig out of the ground to the clay your make things out off – it was a surprising long process that I won’t bore you with!
Next up was learning how to make things. I can firmly state it is definitely not as easy as the pros make it look!! Nevertheless I managed to make 2 pretty decent looking bowls and a mug which will be fired and glazed (in a colour of my choice) over the next couple of weeks and sent on to me. It was a fun experience, and I can’t wait to see the finished products (Finished product is included in the photos above – not to shabby if I do say so myself lol.
We had time for a walk around some of the cute shops in the busy little town before we were back on the road and into the nearby Karangahake Gorge and the quirky Talisman café for lunch.
Just across the busy road from the café is the start of a number of walks around the Karangahake Gorge itself. These days the gorge is mostly a thoroughfare to get from Paeroa to Waihi, or perhaps somewhere to stop for a short walk, but it was once a bustling gold mining town. The walks take you past some of the remains of buildings, along the old mining tram ways and through some of the old tunnels. We did the short Windows Walk which is one of the favourites, not only because it is an easy 2.5km loop, but because of the wonderful views of the gorge through the ‘windows’.
Having had a bit of walk, we were ready for the next stop at the Karangahake Winery Estate. A lovely winery set just up the hill from the river. Despite the forecast, it had turned in to a lovely warm day, so we sat outside in the sun enjoying some lovely nibbles and a freshly brewed Mead – “Session” Mead as opposed to “Sack” Mead which I had sampled in Kyrgyzstan (feel free to check out that blog – All things Kyrgyz 101). Chantelle, the owner and brewer of the mead explained that “sack” mead is what you drink before you go and sack a village (going back to its Viking roots). It is very strong and very alcoholic 😂!! “Session” mead on the other hand is something you could drink for a “session” – so it tends to be much lower in alcohol, lighter and fizzier – it was delicious and refreshing and definitely more drinkable than the Kyrgyz sack mead!
Chantelle said it was her best batch yet!!
Our final stop for the afternoon was at the beautiful Owharoa Falls, in the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park and just off State Highway 2. From the road it is just a short walk to the waterfall’s base were you get a view of the small but perfectly formed falls. Now I mentioned previously that it was much warmer than I had expected it to be, but it was definitely not warm enough for swimming as a couple of people were doing lol. I was definitely not inclined to join them.
It had been a busy day and we had a couple of hours downtime before we headed back to Waihi, this time to Waihi Beach for dinner at the beachside Flatwhite Waihi Beach. It overlooked the beautiful long stretch of Waihi Beach, despite the overcast weather it was still beautiful.
The rain set in during the evening and back at the log cabin, I fell asleep to the wonderful sound of rain on the tin roof (again).
The following morning was the last of my short getaway and we were back at Waihi Beach for a morning Yoga session at The Nest. Now, I am not really a yoga person, but the yoga tent was in such beautiful gardens and it was so peaceful I found it all very relaxing … until the ducklings started running around the deck around the tent 😂 the pitter patter of their little feet round and round just made me laugh. 😂
After yoga I had time for a coffee and a short walk on the beach – after the rainy night, it was a beautiful day, and you could see as my Mt Manganui … I just wished I could stay longer, but sadly no. I had to get back to the house to get packed up and head back to Auckland. Thankfully I did have time for a quick stop in Paeroa, the home to the ‘world famous in New Zealand’ Lemon & Paeroa and get a mandatory photo of the giant L&P bottle.
Yet another great long weekend, exploring my big back yard.