The Covid years … when the world stood still

2020-2022

It seems when the world stood still, I did not!!

When the borders closed back in March 2020, the thought of no overseas holidays for an indefinite length of time was daunting for me and anyone like me who has a passion for travel. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to explore the world – just looking back over the 100+ blog posts from the last 4 years is a good indication of that lol

But, looking back at it now, what an amazing opportunity it has been to explore New Zealand.  I may have got around to many of my trips at one point or another, but certainly not so soon …. It was also a great opportunity for kiwis to enjoy some of the main tourist sites without them being swamped with international tourists.

I’ve travelled solo and in groups. I have travelled from the far north to the far south, from east to west coasts and back again. I have gone on retreats, trips with friends, old and new, and family.   I’ve travelled by car, plane, helicopter, bus, boat, bike and foot. I have stayed in hostels and huts, hotels and motels, ship cabins and let’s not forget camping and glamping. I have hiked in the mountains, the coastlines and the bush, spotted kiwis and other native birds and wildlife in the wild and I have chased sunrises, rainbows, reflections and waterfalls all over the country. 

Of course, just because the borders are opening and I am counting the days till I am back out in the world exploring, it does not mean my days exploring my beautiful homeland are over. It has truly been a blessing in disguise to have this special time and I will continue to explore New Zealand, just interspersed with international explorations ❤️ Thanks New Zealand for the beauty and joy you continue to give me. 

And with only a few short weeks till I head off on my first international expedition for some time, normal blog service will resume shortly😂

(I think I did a lot of travel but when I look at the map below there is clearer a lot more to do lol)

  • June 2020 – MacKenzie Country, South Island
  • July 2020 – Glacier Country, South Island
  • August 2020 – Kamamea/West Port, West Coast, South Island
  • October 2020 – Akaroa & Flea Bay, Banks Peninsula, South Island
  • October 2020 – Rakiura/Stewart Island
  • November 2020 – Waikino, Waikato, North Island
  • November 2020 – Unseen Fiordland and Stewart Island expedition Cruise, South Island
  • December 2020 – Tasman District, South Island
  • January 2021 – Picton & the Marlborough Sounds, South Island
  • April 2021 – Dunedin & the Catlin, South Island
  • April 2021 – Wellington, North Island
  • May 2021 – Bay of Plenty, North Island
  • June 2021 – Wanaka, South Island
  • July 2021 – Bay of Islands, North Island
  • November 2021 – Rotorua to Taupo, East Cape Road trip, North Island
  • December 2021 – Mt Cook & Tekapo, South Island
  • March 2022 – Wellington & the Wairarapa, North Island
  • June 2022 – Fiordland, South Island
  • August 2022 – Mt Cook & Tekapo, South Island

Hanging in the Hooker Valley

August 2022

What a start to a trip 🤦🏻‍♀️ … a few months ago, one of the ladies I had been doing some weekend walks with suggested that we do a walk to overnight in the Hooker Hut, a lesser known hut on the very popular track near Aoraki Mt Cook.  

Despite it being not very well know, it only sleeps 8 people, so is often booked up, particularly in the weekends and so we could only get 3 beds on a Friday night in August – I was one of the lucky 3 who got a spot!!

I was really excited about this mini getaway and I had been tracking the weather from as far out as you could and it was looking good. Sunny (and freezing) after a good dumping of snow earlier in the week.  I had also spent way too much money on a new sleeping bag and walking poles (both of which I hope I will get good use out of).  Have I said I was excited about this lol.

We were heading off early with Heidi, who lived the furthest north driving and doing the pick ups as she headed south – great plan … until her car would not start!  She waited 10-15 minutes and it still would not start 🤦🏻‍♀️ unfortunately she really wanted to drive herself and had to call AA, so it was decided that Katherine and I would head off together and Heidi would join us if/ when she could!!

It was a beautiful day and lots of snowy vistas made it an easy drive.  After a quick stop in Geraldine and Tekapo and of course the obligatory photo stops, we arrived at the White Horse Campground in Aoraki Mt Cook national park just after midday.   (If you are a regularly reader, you will know that this was the site of a rainy camping trip between Xmas and new year at the end of last year.)

We had lunch and kitted up, ready for our walk which started along the wonderful Hooker Valley track.  This was the 3rd time I had done the walk and the first time I could actually see Mt Cook – it was such a stunning day.

Quite a few people we passed, asked us where we were going as we had bags much bigger than was necessary on the easy 2-3 hour walk – it didn’t help that I had a kettle hanging off the back of my bag (as Heidi was supposed to bring a pot and with her not coming, it was a last minute addition).   Not one of those who asked even knew that there was a hut there and one guy even point blank told us that we were wrong and that there was no hut!!! That’s how much of a hidden gem it is!

Even the instructions to get to the hut on the official Department of Conversation website were vague and luckily I had printed off someone’s blog which gave step by step directions.

We stepped off the track just after the picnic table on to a slightly trodden path through the tussuck.  It turns out there is now a small arrow on the boardwalk pointing to it but it is probably not something you would notice unless you were looking for it. 

Thankfully, it also seems they have put more orange marker posts out now, than there were when the blog writer did the walk, but you still had to keep a good eye out for them in the tussock as the track was not well  formed and it is definitely not a hut you could stumble across accidentally (which makes all the more special). 

It was a great sight to see the cute green and orange hut with the surrounded by the most stunning view of Aoraki Mt Cook – I would definitely get a heart full of mountain views on this trip.

The Hooker Hut has existed in its current state and location only since 2021 when it was placed there, fully refurbished, but it’s interesting life began in 1910.  At that time it was located on the moraine wall beside the Hooker Glacier.  By 1948 it was in very poor condition due to the severe alpine weather and lack of maintenance.  Its demise hastened by the receding of the glacier which created cracks in the building. 

And so started its numerous relocations.  First uphill from its original location (by plane and parachuted to the new site) in 1961 and then again in 1994 as the moraine wall cracked further.  Not long after its second move, heavy rain washed out the track to access it, and then, the final straw was an avalanche striking the hut in 2004.

In 2015 it was dismantled, flown in sections to nearby Twizel where the restoration took place.  Covid 19 lockdowns and weather delayed the reassembly but finally in 2021 the hut was back in its new location.

The hut sleeps 8 (in bunks with mattresses), and has a wood burning fire (with a good stock of wood onsite) and a gas cooker – it is actually pretty well kitted out for a DoC hut.  The toilet is a nice long drop (if you can use nice and long drop in the same sentence) set a little way away from the hut.  Everywhere has an amazing view – the picnic table on the deck, the bedroom, the kitchen/dinning room and of course the toilet. 

As the first people to arrive for the day, we got our pick of the beds, we set up our sleeping bags etc. and put the kettle on for a cuppa and a relaxing afternoon admiring the views.

The temperature dropped quickly as the sun started to go down and we soon were ready to try and light the fire.  It took a few attempts and we were grateful (for the second time) for the blog I had printed out as we used the paper it was printed on to help start the fire 🤣

By the end of the day our hut mates had arrived, a Japanese family (living in Christchurch) and a French guy in New Zealand on holiday for 1 month.  (We were more and more grateful him as the time went on – you will see why.)

We were quick to get the kettle on the boil to rehydrate the dehydrated meals and lots of cups of hot fruit tea as the sunset and the temperature continued to drop (apparently to -7 overnight)!  The meal was not amazing but it was ok and it filled a hole.

Thankfully, the family took over the fire care so we could just relax and enjoy the sunset and headed to the warmth of our sleeping bags to wait for the moon and stars to rise.  The moon was a huge full moon and long before it rose above the mountains, it lit the snow covered mountains around us and they glistened in it’s light – it was incredible.

Finally the moon rose above the mountains (just after 9pm) and by 1.30am when I got up to go to the toilet, the night was almost as bright as day – no torch needed. It was so bright that the only star visible to the naked eye was a planet – Neptune (thanks to my star walk app)

It was just so surreal being surrounded by the glowing snow, the bright moon and hearing avalanches crackling off in the distance (this was basically happening every hour or so around the valley).

And let’s not forget our possum friend. A huge friendly possum who clearly had no fear of people, coming right up on to the deck to see what food scraps he could find!!  Of course, I had to explain to all the foreigners how terrible they are for New Zealand despite their cuteness.

I did not have a terrible night’s sleep and was nice and cosy in my new sleeping bag.  It helped that the French guy volunteered to get up every couple of hours to put more wood on the fire to keep the hut warm (first ‘grateful for the French guy’ moment).   As always, I woke up early, got up just after 7am and headed off to the Hooker Lake at the end of the track before all the day walkers came in.  It was just beautiful sitting in silence by the frozen lake, watching the rising sun hit the tips of the peaks around us.

We headed back to the hut for coffee and breakfast but discovered that the water tank had frozen over (should have thought about that knowing it was going to be so cold)!  Thankfully French guy to the rescue (wish I had asked him his name lol).  He had to climb to the top and break the ice from the top to fill out kettles and water bottles.  (‘grateful for the French guy’ moment two)! 🤣

It was such a wonderful night and I will definitely book again for next year – it’s truly a million $ view with a $25 per person price tag 👍🏻

On our way back to the main track we passed some guys kitted up with skis and climbing gear – they were going to climb up one of the mountains and ski  down – and I thought I was being adventurous spending the night in the hut 🤣 – they put me to shame.

Back at the car park it was nice to de-backpack and take off some layers before heading over to the next valley to see the Tasman Glacier and Lake (where I went on a boat in December).  We went up to the look out to see the ‘blue lakes’ which today are decidedly green.   Accordingly to the sign, they were named in mid 1800’s when they were filled by the glacial meltwater making them that wonderful turquoise blue.   Unfortunately today, as the glacier has receded so much, the meltwater no longer flows in to the lake and the lakes are predominately filled by rain water which supports the growth of green algae – making the lakes … well … green lol.

From the Blue Lakes look out we continued on to the look out over Tasman Lake and the Tasman Glacier – it was a bit of a walk up it was worth it.

By this time we were ready for some proper food, so we headed up to the Hermitage for lunch before heading back to Tekapo to meet up with Heidi, the 3rd member of our party who finally made it to Tekapo after missing the hut last night.

I thought we had had enough ‘wows’ for one weekend, but Tekapo was putting it on for us too.  We were staying in a cabin by the lake and it we had such a great view of the snow covered mountains reflecting in the lake.   And we all know I do love a good reflection.

After a soak in the hot pools we had a lovely dinner and I stopped to admire the huge moon again, this time shining over the lake.   

The night time view was not to be outdone by the dawn.  I was lucky to wake up just in time as I headed down to the toilet at 6.30am, just when the sky was the most stunning pink and purple hues overs the lake.  It was perfect timing as it did not last long and the pink hues soon turned to yellow/orange. 

After a beautiful morning walk along the waterfront and breakfast as my favourite Tekapo spot (the Greedy Cow Café) we jumped in the car for the 3 hour drive home.  What a weekend – I don’t think I have said ‘this is perfect’ or ‘just stunning’ so much in 2 days in a long time 😂 (I should probably mention that Heidi’s car was making strange noises so we left her in Tekapo – waiting for the AA again!)

Milford Sound and homeward bound

June 2022

Part 2 of my Fiordland roadie saw be setting off from Te Anau on my adventure to the world famous Milford Sound, another misnamed fiord, but probably the most well known. There was supposed to be lots to see on the 120km drive so I gave myself plenty of time to catch the 1 pm boat. 

Unfortunately, about halfway into my drive the forecasted rain came down hard, meaning a number of my stops were very short and others could not happen at all.   The so called Mirror lakes had no mirror but it was still a beautiful wetland with mountain views and I took a few other quick photos out of the car window of the changing landscapes lol.

Despite the rain and low cloud, it was still a stunning drive surrounded by snow-capped peaks and waterfalls everywhere cascading down the side of the cliffs around me.  It’s worth noting that the road is often closed in the winter months due to snow and the risk of avalanches, but thankfully not this day!

The gateway to Milford is through the one way Homer tunnel (which was a little bit scary) – construction on the tunnel started in 1935, 5 men with pickaxes carving away at the rock.  In all, it took 19 years of what was basically hard labour in harsh conditions (with a short interlude for WWII) to complete the 1.2 km tunnel through the Darran mountain range (part of the Southern Alps). 

The tunnel opened in 1954 and although it is wide enough for a bus and a small vehicle to pass each other, traffic lights operate to keep it flowing one way at a time (particularly during the busy months when there are lots of large tourist buses going backward and forward).

As you exit the tunnel through the bare rock tunnel, it is like arriving in a new world. Incredible views down the Cleddau Valley and noise of rushing water from all the waterfalls surrounding me.  It is not uncommon for the weather to be different from one side of the tunnel to the other – I guess that is not that odd as you are basically crossing the mountain range.  It is not far from here, down the steep winding road in to the ‘town’ of Milford Sound.

Because I did not stop as much as I had planned, I arrived early and hoped I would be able to catch an earlier boat, but it was just pulling out as I arrived at the pier.  You should probably know that you have to park about 10-15 minutes’ walk away – and that you have to pay $25 for that pleasure!!  I guess the massive car park near the wharf is reserved for all the buses??  Today, it sits eerily empty.  I can’t image how horrible it would be if the massive bus park was filled with buses and thousands of people. 

As I had a couple of hours to kill, I took some time to wander around near the wharf.   Turns out I was lucky to have this time as the rain stopped for a while and the cloud had cleared enough that I got a beautiful view of the fiord and Mitre Peak even a little blue sky adding to some lovely reflections.  I spotted a beautiful white heron or Kōtuku and … wait for it …. a double rainbow 🌈🌈.

Māori people discovered the sound over 1000 years ago, trekking over the mountains to fish, hunt and collect pounamu or green stone.  These traditional tracks now form part of today’s Milford Track.

Early European settlers didn’t realise that the sound flowed out to the sea and in fact, the sea entrance is so well hidden, Captain Cook missed it twice on his explorations of the New Zealand coastline.  It was settled by a Scotsman called Donald Sutherland in 1877, and he lived there alone envisaging a large city being built.  He was joined by his new wife in 1890 and they built the first hotel in Milford Sound to accommodate people arriving on what is now the Milford Track.   It was even visited by Rudyard Kipling in the 1890’s who declared it ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.

The opening of the Homer Tunnel in 1954 bought with its hordes of visitors with much easier road vehicle access.

As well as it’s natural beauty, Milford Sound is known for its sandflies.  They say people there are very friendly and always waving at people passing by – of course they are not waving at people, they are trying to wave away the sandflies.  Thankfully they are nowhere near as bad in the winter but still making their presence known.  I loved the Māori legend of the sandfly or Te Namu ….

As the legend goes, the demigod Tū Te Rakiwhānoa carved the fiords of Fiordland with his digging stick, culminating with his finest masterpiece of Piopiotahi or Milford Sound.  When Hine-nui-te-po, the Goddess of death inspected his work, she feared that it was so beautiful, humans would forget their mortality when they looked upon it.  So she introduced sandflies or Te Namu to remind them not to linger!!  Whatever the reason, I think it was pretty successful lol.

Back outside the Ferry terminal (under cover of course), I had my lunch.  It was beautiful listening to the light (and sometimes heavy) rain falling, nearby waterfalls and the distance bird song. 

Not surprisingly, Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth with an annual rainfall of 6,700mm!!!  And the cloud came down as I waited for my boat … then they changed boats at the last minute to a much smaller one (apparently the other one was having engine trouble) and it did not look anywhere near as good with not so many outdoor covered areas, but they did give us a free coffee voucher 🥴🤔😂

It was a far cry from the picture perfect day on Doubtful Sound, but everyone tells me that a rainy day in Milford is a good day as all the waterfalls are turned on and there were so many waterfalls and crazy blue/turquoise water. 

There were gannets soaring around and the other 2 or 3 boats around the sound showed just how vast the mountains around us were.  The boats take you right up to the big waterfalls – so close you could get pretty wet if you stood right at the front of the boat.  😂🤦🏻‍♀️

The rain got heavier as we headed back toward the ferry terminal, and you could barely make out the mountains around us.  It was misty and moody and also kind of cool.   The final stop was to see Bowen Falls.  A large waterfall near the ‘town’ that actually provides fresh water for the area. 

I was glad I was not driving back to Te Anau today … instead it was time to check in to Milford Sound lodge, the only open accommodation in Milford Sound and it does not come cheap! One night here was more expensive than 5 nights at my lovely 70’s motel room back in Te Anau, but we all have to treat ourselves from time to time, right? 

It was a lovely room, looking out over the rushing river and I was treated to rain, a rainbow and the most incredible thunderstorm with the thunder bouncing off the surrounding mountains.   I must say I had an amazing night’s sleep. 

The following morning, breakfast was delivered to the room, and I ate it looking out at my beautiful view and even though it was still raining I quickly then donned my rain poncho and drove down to the free park to do the lovely waterfront walk.  (I could have done it from the hotel but a slippery log as a bridge across a raging stream put me off.)

I had thought about finding the ‘Insta famous’ swing but it was raining, and I could not be bothered … I still had stunning views from everywhere.  There was really no need for a man made swing in front of it lol.

To drive on the road to Milford Sound in the winter you must carry chains (for your car tyres), thankfully I didn’t need them, but snow was forecast for the next day and I did see that the road was closed so I was definitely lucky with the weather (despite all the rain). 🥶❄️🌨

Speaking of rain, there was more torrential rain to come on the way home, as well as a low mist and a temperature of -4C!!!  But the cloud lifted as I passed the Mirror Lakes again, so I stopped to see if they were better than the day before … and they were much better – not perfect but still beautiful and worth the stop. 

For my last day in Te Anau, I had my final tour with RealNZ to see the Glow worm caves (I purchased a package that included the Doubtful Sound tour, the boat trip in Milford Sound and this tour and it was well worth it).  It was also nice not to have to drive for a day.

And so, I boarded another boat, this time from Te Anau, again a big boat with not a lot of people and we sailed across the lake.  Have I mentioned that Lake Te Anau is New Zealand’s second largest lake, and it is 66km long and a maximum depth of 417m.  Like the fiords in the area, it has been formed by glaciers that use to cover the area.

Upon disembarking, we headed up to a small information centre where we had a short briefing before we walked the short distance to the cave system.  The glow worm caves are 250m long and part of a much larger Aurora Cave system.  Carved from limestone, starting 30-35 million years ago and continuing today, the section we visited is only around 12,000 years old. 

A short way into the caves we boarded a small boat and floated through the caves in pitch black admiring the 100s of worms and their little glowing strings.  Unfortunately we could not take photos in this part of the caves so as to not disturb the glow worms so you will just have to take my word for how good it was. 

I have been to glow worm caves before, but I was not aware that they are actually endemic to New Zealand.  There is a different species that can be found in Australia, but they are nowhere else in the world.  What special little worms (actually larvae) they are lol.

There was a nice little bush walk and a beautiful view back across the lake to the snowy mountains before the boat trip back across the lake and another lake front walk in the sunshine.

Friday morning and my time in the south had come to the end so I hit the road north.  There were weather warnings for most of the South Island, including snow, so I was glad I had picked a different route home – it is longer but avoided the highest passes and thankfully it meant I did not have delays or issues because of snow or ice.

I passed through a number of small Otago towns, some with some pretty big claims e.g. Mossburn = Deer Capital of New Zealand, Lumsden = The Hub of Northern Southland and let’s not forget Heriot = Where Great Things begin.🤔

As I crossed from Southland into Otago, the rolling farmland turned in to orchards and then down through historic mining towns.  I stopped off in the tiny town of St Bathans where I had lunch in the famous Vulcan Hotel (built in 1882)– allegedly the country’s most famous haunted building and then headed to Naseby, another small ex-mining town.  Oh, and apparently Naseby is “2000ft above worry’s”!

I ended up in Wedderburn where I was staying the night.  If I thought St Bathans and Naseby were small, Wedderburn was a ‘blink and you miss it’ kind of place.  It was basically a pub and a town sign. 

I was staying in the cute little cottages of Wedderburn Cottages with a lovely view over farmland out to snow topped hills.  It was run by a fourth generation Central Otago farming family, and it was a lovely spot to spend the night with a sky full of stars – not sure I have seen them since my first night 😂

I started my drive home on a beautiful but freezing morning.  There was not too much to see on this route, but I did stop by a lovely old stone bridge (I am a sucker for a reflection) – it turns out that this was Bowker Bridge, the last of the arched original stone bridges on the old coach road.  It was actually in use until 1962 when the new bridge was opened. 

I swapped the snowy mountains for the coastal road, and I had no plan to stop on the way up the coast, but I could not resist a quick boulder stop at Moeraki.  It was such a beautiful morning, and I was the only person on the beach, so I was so glad I stopped.  A perfect last stop on perfect trip.

Fiordland fun

June 2022

It was road trip time again, and this was definitely a trip I had wanted to do before tourists start coming back in big numbers.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, as tough as it has been to be restricted to travel only in New Zealand over the last couple of years, it has been amazing to be able to explore the country without it being swamped with tourists. 

I headed off on a beautiful crisp winter morning and officially the first weekend of winter.  I had told myself I would not stop at Tekapo and Lake Pukaki for photos as I have a million photos of both those spots but I could not help myself, it was just so pretty. (I also had to do the mandatory stop at Lake Ruataniwha for the perfect reflection shot.)

I was spending the first night in Cromwell, just to break up the driving  – around 5 hours a day is pretty much my concentration limit when it comes to driving on my own, no matter how loud I play my music lol. 

Today, Cromwell is a small town with a population of around 7,000 and is known for its stone fruit orchards and vineyards, but in the past it was a thriving goldmining town know as ‘The Junction’ as it sat at the junction of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers.  In 1992, with the construction of the Clyde Dam and the creation of Lake Dunstan, the town was moved to its current location.  This included moving the heritage precinct where you can still visit the original town buildings, some dating back to 1860.

I spent some time exploring the Heritage Precinct before heading in to the new town, where it seems the most interesting thing to see is the giant fruit lol!  It was only 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon and most of the shops were closed so I popped into the supermarket and topped up with fuel in preparation for tomorrow’s drive. 

My accommodation for the night was just a little out of town and was a lovely little studio room with views over a vineyard.  I settled in for a relaxing night with a local red wine and admired the amazing sky full of stars and the Milky Way – the kind of sky you can only get without light pollution.  I even managed to get some half decent photos on my phone which was amazing.

I opened my blinds early on a very cold and frosty morning so I could enjoy watching the day break from my bed – it was looking beautiful until I looked the other direction and saw it was even more stunning with red clouds and low mist hanging over the fruit trees and valleys.

It looked so beautiful, I had to jump in my car (jacket over pyjamas) and drive in that direction … unfortunately it could not happen in a hurry due to the heavy frost on the car!  I took a few photos from the road before it was safe to drive for a couple of other views.  Sadly the deep red had lessen by that point but what a stunning morning.

Day two’s drive started through the Kawarau gorge, famous for being the home to the first commercial bungy jump in the world and then I took a quick detour to the historic Arrowtown.  It was passed its autumn colour prime but it is still always so pretty and worth a giving it time even if just for a quick wander around the historic town or along the river.

From Arrowtown I headed towards Lake Wakatipu but instead of turning right towards Queenstown, I turned left and drove around the other arm of the lake.   The  road then took me through farm lands and on to alpine tussock.  The rain that was forecasted started about 20 minutes out of my final destination, Te Anau.

As it was too early to check in, I stopped for lunch in town and to admire a rainbow – though it was not a particularly pretty setting – over the local Four Square (small supermarket) lol.  Finally. After checking in to my very dated motel (it was really well priced, great location and the staff were lovely) the rain had subsided a little so I went for a walk and I am so glad I did – yet another rainbow, this time with a lovely setting and reflected in the lake.

Te Anau (Place of the Swirling Waters) sits on the shore of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island and it is a great starting place for exploring Fiordland National Park.  With a population of around 3,000 people it is small but perfectly formed and in the summer welcomes thousands of holiday makers.

The morning dawned, calm and still, and although the sunrise was behind me but I still had to go for a quick lake front walk.  The forecast was for lots of rain so needed to make the most of any time it was not raining.  A lake front coffee was the perfect way to start the day.

I had a short 20 minute drive to Manapouri to join my trip for the day, but it was such a beautiful morning, I could not drive the  20 minutes without stopping multi times to admire the views and take photos.

If Te Anau is a small town, Manapouri is a tiny town, with a population of under 300 but is the gateway to Doubtful Sound, which is the reason I was there.  I was joining the Real NZ tour to the sound for the day and was pleased to see that there was only a small group of people on the trip today – great for people like me who doesn’t like crowds 👍🏻😂 (Probably not so great for the tour company.)

The famed Fiordland sandflies started to appear while I was waiting for the boat. The positive of coming in winter is that most of you is already covered up 👍🏻😂.

I had been to Doubtful Sound just a couple of years ago on the expedition cruise but from the sea end and his time I was to visit it from the landside which starts in the Waiau River – once the second largest river in the country before crossing Lake Manapouri. 

Created during the last ice age, 20,000 years ago, the lake is 440m deep in some place and considered one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes.  In the 1960’s the government proposed raising the level of the lake by 30m as part of a hydroelectric development, and this was meet with New Zealand’s largest conservation protest of the time.  The outcome was the lake level was not raised and an independent body called the “Guardians of Lake Manapouri” was created.  Still today, they monitor the lake levels to ensure its levels mimic normal fluctuation.

We travelled across the beautiful lake from west to east, in to the morning mist and out the outside.  It was bitterly cold on the top deck, but so beautiful.  Even more so when the sun came up over the mountains.  I took so many photos and we had not even reached the sounds lol.

On the east side of the lake we docked at the wharf near the underground hydro power station (which was still built despite them being unable to raise the lake level).  Completed in 1971, it utilises the 230m drop between the western arm of the Lake and the Deep Cove branch of Doubtful Sound, 10km away (and my destination).  Its hard to image such a massive construction project in such a remote location – smaller vehicles and machinery etc. came on a barge across the lake, heavy machinery came on road which we were about to travel, from Deep Cove.  

We had some time in the power station’s information centre before boarding a bus for the drive over Wilmot Pass, the lowest pass through the Southern Alps at only 671m.  The road was constructed to facilitate the building of the power station, and is the only road on the New Zealand mainland, not connected to the roading network.

The road across the pass was beautiful – views over the Spey Valley, waterfalls, lots of incredible moss covered rocks and native birds.   Our first look at Doubtful Sound from the Wilmot Pass look out was incredible.  Apparently, 2 out of every 3 days it is raining and/or the lookout is in cloud, today it was not. So much stunningness already ❤️💚 Mother Nature is AMAZING.

Just a little reminder – despite it’s name, Doubtful Sound (and in fact all the ‘sounds’ in Fiordland) are actually fiords and not sounds!  A sound is a flooded river valley, whilst these fiords are flooded glacial valleys.

Having reached Deep Cove (population 2), we boarded the next boat.  Big enough to take 150 passengers so just right for our group of 26 👍🏻.  We had almost 3 hours on the boat and it was stunning – beautiful calm water, beautiful reflections, incredible waterfalls with their own little rainbows.

As we travelled through the sound and out towards the sea it got a little rough, but we only stayed long enough to spot the fur seals chilling on the rocks.  They are so well camouflaged but the more you look, the more you see. We also saw Buller’s mollyhawks  (a small albatross species) and gannets soaring on the wind currents. 

Returning from the sea, the waters became calm again and there were reflections for days 💚.  We took advantage of this by having a 5 minute “sound of silence”.  We all chose a place on the deck to stand or sit, the boat engine was turned off and we just stood still taking in nature at her best, the silence broke by the occasional bird song from bush clad cliffs and the distant rush of water from nearby waterfalls. Personally, I could have stayed like that for hours.

We had time to stop and admire one last waterfall and see where the hydro power plant water outlet was, where the dark fresh water (from the lake on the other side of the mountains) pours into the sea water and too soon we were back on the bus over the pass (but not without having another stop at the lookout  point which was just as stunning as the morning) and then back on the boat across the Lake Manapouri. It really was 7 hours of blissful beauty and a trip I highly recommend. 

  

Cruising the Coromandel

April 2022

Part 2 of my holiday of 2 parts and I was back in Auckland to pick up my little hybrid car for the next few days.  It was a real shock to go from the roads of Great Barrier Island to driving on the vast Auckland motorways and I was glad to be out of the city as soon as I could get out.

The Coromandel Peninsula is, not surprisingly, a peninsula stretching 85km long and 40km wide at its widest point.  My first stop was to be Thames, at the bottom of the peninsula and only 1.5 hours drive from Auckland.   Unfortunately, I did not have any time to explore the former gold mining town as I was only here for the evening and I didn’t realise that my accommodation was out of town, up a long narrow winding road surrounded by bush – just like being back on Great Barrier Island lol. 

It looked like the rain had followed me as it had started to rain lightly as I headed out.  After a quick stop at the ruins of the Burke Street Wharf (once part of a large harbour scheme of the 1920’s, until the harbour silted up, making it unusable and leaving it to rot) I met a friend for dinner and a lovely catch up. 

After a good night’s sleep in the most comfortable bed, I headed north along the beautiful, windy road, following along the coast and through small seaside communities.  The sun was even shining … but it didn’t last long 😂.  

I had spotted a waterfall on the map that did not seem far off my route and so I took a detour inland to Waiau Falls – was it worth the drive down the narrow windy dirt road 🤔🤔🤔?  I am not sure it was, but it was still pretty.

I arrived in Coromandel (the town, not the Peninsula) with a population of less than 2,000 people, just in time for a quick photo of a beautiful rainbow over the harbour before I drove the short distance to Driving Creek. 

Driving Creek is a unique attraction and the inspiration of Barry Brickell, a local potter who started it as a location of his pottery studio.  He used the clay from the land around him, and began building train tracks to go further up the hill to source more clay.  Today the site still has a pottery studio and shop, a predator free nature reserve, New Zealand’s only narrow gauge mountain railway line which takes you on a ride through regenerated kauri forest and an amazing ziplining experience.

As I arrived at the site, the skies opened and the rain came down, thankfully it did not last long and by the time my Ziplining experience was about to start it had cleared up.  The experience (all 2.5 hours of it) was so much fun – we got kitted up with our harnesses and then set off on the train up to the top of the hill.  From here we took 8 different ziplines down (a couple upside down if you chose to lol).  Between the ziplines there were short walks with some great information panels, explaining the gold mining and kauri felling that took place in the area.  The regenerating Kauri and other native bush that we see today was planted by Barry and his mates over the last 40-50 years. 

With no time to waste, I had a quick lunch before driving over the Coromandel Ranges to the east coast of the peninsula (only around a 30 minute drive) to make the pilgrimage to New Chums beach (also known as Wainuiototo Bay)– once voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches and described as “pristine curved perfection”.

There are no buildings, no roads and no infrastructure and the only way to get there is to walk from the north end of neighbouring Whangapoua beach (a beauty of a beach in its own right).  After crossing the stream (easiest to do at or near low tide), you walk along the rocky peninsula and the over the ridge covered in nikau and pōhutakawa.

The rocks were a killer to walk on and I spotted a track just off the rocks.  Unfortunately, the track was really muddy, and it was not long till my sandals were bogged down in mud – so I decided to go back to the rocks, but now my feet were slipping in the muddy sandals – I could not win!!! 

Finally, over the ridge I came out on the beautiful, famed beach, the skies were not blue, but the beach was a stunning, long white sand beach surrounded by bush clad cliffs with only a couple of other people on it.  Was this one worth the effort??? Yes, I think so, but the photos do not do it justice 🎉🎉 (and the walk back was a little easier once I had cleaned off my sandals in the sea!)

Back in Coromandel (on the west side of the peninsula) I got some dinner and checked in to my accommodation. As with Thames, it is nice but too far out of town to be able to walk in 🤦🏻‍♀️.  Still it gave me a great view of the sunset over the harbour (the motel was called Harbour View 👍🏻).

I was awake before 7 the next day so decided to do one of the small walks in the area – the Kauri Block walk.  It is an easy loop track through regenerating bush with a lovely view from an old pa site.  It was overcast but not rainy – warm and a little humid with mist hanging in valleys.

The walk took me over the ridge and down almost to town and then back along the waterfront road around to my motel.  The water was like silk, so calm but I was surprised that there are not more birds.  There are a few fantails but not much else – not in the bush or on the shore (had seen loads of shore birds on the drive up) but none here. 

I took a quick amble around the cute little town, admiring the great street art) before heading back to the same dirt road I had driven down the day before looking for the waterfall (why do I do this to myself!!).  At the time, I did not realise that just past the mediocre waterfall was a Kauri Grove, home to most of the remaining mature Kauri on the Coromandel peninsula.

Now, this was well worth the dodgy road.  The rain had stopped, and the reserve had great tracks and boardwalks that lead you up to the massive trees.  The bush around the Kauri was beautiful, rain drops dripping from the trees, a roaring river and bird song filled the air.  The Kauri themselves were spectacular and there were some great information panels.  According to the information, the oldest Kauri in this grove is around 600 years old (and around 2m wide!) and the oldest on record was 4,000 years old when it ‘died’.  They also have a unique Siamese Kauri, when what had started as two, joined together as they grew into each other’s space. 

Funnily enough, this terrible road was actually the alternate road across the ranges and over to Whitianga, so I braved it and went all the way lol. 

Whitianga looks so fancy, so many beautiful boats moored in the harbour, and lots of development going on to create the kind of houses on canals where you can park your boat outside your house!  It also had a real tropic feel and it was so humid.  I popped into the museum for some respite. It is in fact the ‘coolest’ building in town as it once housed the town’s diary (where they made butter) and there was built to keep cool inside.

I took a quick walk around the waterfront, had a bite to eat, before driving the last 30 minutes to Hahei my final destination and were I would stay for my last 3 nights. I was instantly thrilled with this decision. 

Hahei has a permanent population of around 300 people, swelling by almost 10 times that many in peak tourist season.  I dropped my bag and quickly walked the few minutes down to the beautiful Hahei beach.  It is a small bay, but the beach was beautiful.  It has a real tropical vibe with hibiscus flowers lining the road – I love this so much. 

As if the beach and the hibiscus was not enough, my accommodation was right next to gelato shop called Little Lato – it was amazing, and I was convinced that I may just eat there the whole time I was there lol.  Having done some research, it is award winning gelato and is unfortunately, only currently available in the North Island (or perhaps that is a good thing). 

As is my habit, I was early to bed and early to rise – a 5.30am start for a sunset mission.  Hahei is the starting point for the walk to the world famous Cathedral Cove.    It can only be accessed by foot or boat, and the walk, starting just near my accommodation, takes around 45 minutes.

I set off in the dark and it was worth the early start for a couple of reasons – firstly, there was a unique planet alignment visible in the pre-dawn eastern sky with Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in alignment and it was visible to the naked eye.  Secondly the pre-dawn sky and sunrise at Cathedral Cove itself was amazing.  There were only a couple of other people who had made the early morning effort.  It was not only sunrise, but also low tide which meant you could walk right through the arch (which is not always possible at high tide). 

By the time I left, the tide was already coming in so that you had to time your run through the arch.  It was a beautiful walk back now I could see things and the sunlight filtering through the bush.  I enjoyed the company of a family of about 30 Californian Quail who ran along the track in front of me for some time before remembering they could fly.  I also took the opportunity to stop off at the other little bays – Stingray and Gemstone.

Back in Hahei it was time for coffee and breakfast and a change in to shorts for a relaxing morning on the beach.  It turned out that there was an Ocean swim event on – lots of crazy people 😂 not all in wetsuits, ready to set out on a 4km swim to Cathedral Cove and back.  (They probably think that I am crazy walking around to cathedral cove at 5.30am 🤔😂).  It was refreshing to have almost a full day to relax as my normal holiday mode is definitely on the go morning and afternoon. 

I had one more sunrise mission on my trip, this time to Hot Water Beach – another famous tourist destination (which I would avoid like the plague if there were a lot of tourists in the country)!  It is here that the volcanic activity that created the peninsula creates hot springs where the water seeps through the fissures in the base rock.  2 hours either side of low tide, you can dig a hole in the sand and create your own ‘hot’ pool’.

I was lucky that low tide corresponded with sunrise (as with the day before), but there was still only a small amount of beach to dig as the tide, despite being low, was still pretty high.  There were only a few other people this early and it took 4 of them to dig and fortify a hole from the sea but no spot was unscathed from the waves of the now incoming tide. Not sure if the tide normally goes out further or what??

I was happy to find a warm patch for my feet and watch the day begin.  It was beautiful with the steam rising from the sand, but not as nice sunrise as the day before and by 6.50am there were already more people than there was space on the beach, so I decided just to take a walk along the 2km beach.  There were a few surfers out by the time I walked back along the beach, waiting with anticipation for a decent wave.

My final activity for this trip was a ride on the Hahei Explorer.  A small boat adventure that takes you along the coast, exploring hidden sea caves, offshore islands and Cathedral Cove from sea.  The trip normally departs from Hahei beach, but the swell was too much, so I had to drive about 15 minutes to Cooks Beach.  I wasn’t mad about it as I took the opportunity so see the lovely bay and stop at Shakespeare’s lookout for a great view down the coast.

Part of the area around Cathedral Cove is a marine reserve, the Whanganui A Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve and the boat trip was a great way to see all the bays, including Cathedral Cove from a different angle.  (Apparently it is New Zealand’s most photographed geological features.)

The seas were that inviting turquoise blue and there were plenty of people enjoying them from the beautiful small bays, and some mighty big snapper swimming around safely in the reserve.  Across from the mainland, we jetted around Mahurangi Island.  The home of a sheep farm until the 1970’s, it is now uninhabited and home to regenerating forest in the hope of becoming an offshore refuge for native bird life.

It was really choppy on the way back across the sea to Cooks Beach … and was a lot of fun. 

Back in Hahei for my final evening a took a final walk on the beach and headed back to the gelato shop to have my favourites (I didn’t quite get through all the flavours but did a remarkable job at trying if I do say so myself) lol.

My last morning saw me take a relaxed drive down the east coast (with a beautiful rainbow) and back over the ranges to Auckland (well it was relaxed until a car skid across the road in front of me, spun around and smacked into the bush on the side of road – thankfully everyone was ok).  There were lots of sign’s warning that the road was “slippery when wet” and they were lucky there was no one coming up the hill the other direction.

I can add the Coromandel Peninsula to the list of beautiful parts of the New Zealand that I must return too.

A Great Barrier blog

April 2022

This trip was to be a trip of two parts – starting with 5 days on Aotea Great Barrier Island (not to be mistaken for the reef which is over 2000 kilometres away! (Buckle in as it a bit of a long one lol)

It started with a crazy early flight but it was on a big plane with a drinks service – I hadn’t seen either for a while.   The benefit of a flight at this time was a stunning sunrise and I had photo overload before I got off my first flight 🤦🏻‍♀️.

After a 3 hour wait at Auckland airport I was thrilled to be boarding the 12 seater Cessna Caravan, in seat 1A right behind the pilot, for the 30 minute flight over the city and out over the Hauraki Gulf.  The clouds started to roll in as we neared Aotea/Great Barrier Island so it a little bumpy on the way down to the small airfield. 

Great Barrier Island is the 6th largest island in New Zealand at 285 square kilometres and sits around 100 kilometres north east of Auckland on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf.  The island was first settled by the early Polynesian settlers, including the first of those great travellers – Kupe.  He named the island Okupe (which remains the name of one of the settlements on the island today).

Captain Cook arrived as part of his 1768-1771 expedition, naming the island Great Barrier Island due to the shelter it provides to the Hauraki Gulf.  In the 1800’s it was a hub for “boom and bust” industries – kauri forestry, mining (cooper, silver and gold) and whaling.  Apparently, descendants of some of these early European settlers still live in on the island today.

Around 1000 people live on the completely “off the grid” island, with many more “commuting” between their houses on the mainland and their island holiday homes.

Within about 30 minutes of landing I had picked up by bag, walked the couple of minutes to the car rental office and was ready to hit the road (there is no public transport so you either need a car, or be ready to hitch hike your way around).  I made a short stop at Medlands Beach, just by the airport, a pretty but exposed east coast surf beach. It is a beautiful long beach worthy of a walk, before I tackled my first Great Barrier Island hill, over to the settlement of Tryphena where I was staying. 

When I picked up the rental car, the guy at the office warned me about the roads and stressed to stay on the left hand side.  Many of the island roads are narrow and windy and when you take a blind corner only to come face to face with someone travelling at speed on your side of the road, it is rarely going to end well!  Thankfully I never found myself in this situation. 

Tryphena is one of the main settlements on the island.  Made up of golden sandy bays (well at least when the tide is out), which apparently are great for swimming and although I was not tempted, I did see a few people taking a dip.  My accommodation at Manuka Lodge was simple but everything I needed, including a lovely view over Mulberry Grove (one of the 3 bays).   Despite being a little overcast it was still warm and so peaceful. 

I walked just a few minutes from my lodge down to the waterfront and did a little bird spotting as the sun started to set.  I love that there are lots of signs around the road, warning drivers of Pateke crossing the road.  Pateke, or Brown Teal are small endemic dabbling ducks, once common place but now endangered.  I use to breed them for release to the wild during my time at the Otorahanga Kiwi House and I was excited to see them in the wild as they are very cute.  I spotted my first one quickly, though it was hanging out with a couple of mallards (apparently they interbreed which is problematic for the dwindling population). 

I spotted Kingfishers, fantails flitting around presumably catching insects (insects that I could not see and that I hoped where not biting me 🥴), terns (white fronted I think), Banded rails, Paradise Shell ducks – all these birds warmed my geeky bird spotting heart and I enjoyed the sunset with them.

Back in my room after sunset and the sound of kaka filled the air – so many and so loud!  The next morning they dominated the dawn chorus (not that you can call kakas screeching ‘song’) and I watched an incredible moon set across the bay from the comfort of my balcony.

The main activity for all Great Barrier getaways is the “great” outdoors and I was keen to get out and explore.  The forecast was not good and the promised rain was threatening but at the warmth continued.

I am lucky enough to have a friend (who I met on a trip a couple of years ago) who was almost a ‘local’ and I drove up the gravel road to catch up her at their house – I learn over the next few days that many roads on the island turn in gravel/dirt roads at some point!

We walked down to Whalers Lookout at the southern end of the island.  From here there is an amazing view over the Coville Channel and back to the Coromandel and not surprisingly it was once a spot where whalers of the 1950s/60s would spot whales.  It was beautiful but we had to take care not to be blown off the end in the gale force winds.  At least the Gannets were making the most of the winds, soaring high.   Surviving the winds we went back to her place for tea and freshly baked scones which were perfect.

Refreshed, I was keen to get to see as much I could before the rain set in.  First stop was a short walk to Station Rock.  This is one of the highest points at the southern end of the island and from here you get amazing views to both sides of the and down it’s length.

From here I headed down to some of the main spots on the eastern side of the island, firstly the so called Mermaid pools.  Supposedly picture perfect rock pools, perfect for swimming … in my reality it was blowing a gale and the sea was rough, coming over the rocks.  Not exactly like the pictures lol.

I then drove back along Medlands beach, eying up some of the lovely ‘Bachs’ in the area before grabbing an amazing burger from Swallow Burgers, one of the little food trucks near the airport.  The burger was huge, way too big when I was to head back to my friend’s place for dinner.  It was a great evening of new friends and a home caught dinner of local fish, crayfish and venison.  It was easy to forget about the gales and rain outside.

The rain and wind had not let up by the next morning, but I wasn’t going to stay in the room so I got all my wet weather together and jumped into car and drove to Whangaparapara, a small settlement further north on the western side of the island, but which requires you to cross to the eastern side and drive north, before being able to cross back again.  About half way along the road, it became unsealed and I was a little nervous in rain but got there in one piece. 

I took shelter from the rain, in a small shed which was basically the local information centre.  Whangaparapara was once the industrial centre of the island – for mining, timber milling and whaling.  It was actually home to the largest mill in the southern hemisphere in the early 1900’s when it not only processed timber from the island but from Northland and the Coromandel as well.

The shed also has lots of photos of the whaling industry that operated here until the 1960’s.  These days it is just a picturesque holiday spot for boaties and campers alike.  I can imagine it is stunning when the sun is out 🥴 (I think that will be the theme of the next couple of days.) 

It was now time to don the waterproofs for a short walk down the tramline track (used by the Kauri milling industry) to Kauri Falls, a small but perfectly formed waterfall.  What little Kauri that survived the timber industry is now threatened by Kauri dieback disease. A fungus like pathogen that kills Kauri trees that is spread through soil movement, that includes soil on footwear.  For this reason, as you enter and exit separate areas of the island, there are footwear cleaning stations where you scrub, wash and disinfect your shoes to avoid spreading soil from one area to the other. 

Back in the car and back over the hill, my next stop was one of the most popular on the island, the Kaitoke Hot pools.  Natural, undeveloped hot pools that vary in temperature, water volume and quality from day to day.  The pools are about a lovely 30 minute stroll from the road along a well maintained track and passed the Kaitoke wetlands (which forms part of the famous Aotea Track). 

There are no changing rooms anywhere near the pools, so I made a quick roadside change (there is a small porta loo by the road but the road was quiet and it was easier just to change behind the car) but as it turns out, I  needn’t have bothered.   There were a couple of large groups at the hot springs (who had just finished the long walk) so I decided just to soak my feet in the warm water – a real natural beauty.  There are other smaller pools but I had passed a small group on the way in who had said the others were not that warm so I did not bother explore any further. 

Back on the sealed road, the rain was still coming down so I decided to visit some of the island’s few indoor attractions.  Firstly the Aotea Community Art Gallery and Grays Homestead Museum, then the quirky Milk, Honey & Grain museum a quirky old building crammed with artifacts from the islands past.  Finally headed back over the hill to Tryphena to visit the Elephant Gallery in Puriri Bay, which sells a number of unique arts and crafts from various talented islanders.

My final full down day on the island dawned and the weather forecast the same – rain, some heavy downpours and winds.  But I was not going to let that stop me and I headed out again – stopped to get some fuel before my drive, $3.99 a litre 🤯- my mind was literally blown but there was very little option, so I just put a few litres and hit the road. 

 

My plan for the day was to head to Port Fitzroy, to the north of the island with some stops on the way.  My first detour was on a side road to Harataonga Bay, of course it was a narrow winding dirt road and I started questioning my life choices half way down but had committed to it and there was no way to turn around.  I made it down to the campground and took a short walk over farmland to beach.  Not too much to see in the weather conditions so I was quickly back in the car and back up the winding road.

As I went further north the mist came down – or I went up, and I decided to leave my stops till the way back – thinking it can’t get any worse lol. 

I arrived in Port Fitzroy and it was lovely.  A beautiful harbour surrounded by bush clad hills and perfect blue water – just imagine how perfect it would be if the sun was shining 🤯.  I decided to do a short walk and spotted one on the map call the Old Lady Track which sounded perfect except I was thwarted in the first few metres by a stream crossing I did not want to do 😂.  Instead I headed in to the predator proof fenced area of Glenfern Sanctuary and did a short walk.  It started raining again just as I set off so decided against doing the full 2 hour loop.

My next stop was in the small town of Okiwi and the lovely little Okiwi Park.   It is a more formal park with picnic tables and cute information boards created by children at the nearby school. It was so peaceful with a babbling brook and bird song (I think I heard kakariki) and I could have stay for hours if it was not pouring with rain.

You know when I said I did not think the weather could get any worse … I was wrong. It was raining pretty continuously now 🥴 and the mist appeared to be even lower. So completely kitted out in my wet weather gear, I set off on the walk to the Windy Canyon, one of the most popular walks on the island.  I had only planned to walk to the look out, but it was not actually marked (or I missed it in the mist) so the stairs of death I ascended were unnecessary.  Thankfully I checked my maps.me before I went too far and saw that I had already passed it.  Admittedly it as not the “Instagram” views but it was still pretty spectacular

Lessons I learnt from this walk – my raincoat is not waterproof in the slightest!! I won’t name names, but it was not cheap (but is not new and this probably its first intensive test).  But my Salewa walking shoes were amazingly waterproof and kept my toes dry 🎉.

On my last night I finally made it down to my ‘local’ for dinner – the local Irish pub (there is one everywhere) – the Currach Irish pub.  It was even run by an Irish woman and clearly is the place to be as there were more cars parked outside than I think I have seen the whole time I have been here lol.  I hadn’t booked a table and with the rain outside, the small pub was packed so I had a quick dinner and got out before the people who had reserved the tables arrived.

On my final morning it was not sunny but it was not raining so set out for a walk around the three Tryphena bays – Mulberry Grove (where I am staying), Gooseberry Flat and Pah Beach.  There was a lovely walkway around the crystal clear turquoise sea front path and over the small hills in between the bays.  I spotted a few more Pateke, settling in for the day (they are nocturnal) and watched a couple of black variable oyster catchers bullying a pied (black and white one).  They are very territorial, and I am sure they were not picking on it because it was different – I am sure that is just a terrible human trait!!

It was sadly time to finish packing and headed back over the hill for the last time.  Thankfully the fuel price on the east side of the island was a bargin at $3.85/ltr and I had to fill the car for drop off and make the short walk to the airfield.  When I arrived, there was a power cut, so check ins were done manually with no boarding passes – there are only 14 people on plane so no real problem 😂)

Despite the rain, it was a wonderful little off the grid get away and yet another place I want to come back to – perhaps when the sun was shining and when the Pohutukawa are flowering ❤️👍🏻

A wild 24 hours from Wellington

March 2022

I wasn’t planning to write about this weekend as it was just a weekend to catch up with friends, but we did so much in a short time I could not miss sharing …

I normally travel on the Friday afternoon, but this weekend had cheaper flights travelling up from Christchurch to Wellington on the Saturday morning so the fun started as soon as I arrived as we headed straight out to Eastbourne, a small seaside suburb on the eastern peninsula of Wellington harbour.  It’s a cute little place with adorable bird mosaics down the main street and it was a great place for a quick coffee and to stock up on some food for lunch before we set off.

Just passed Eastbourne the road for public vehicles ends and we hired e-bikes from Wildfinder – a great little hire place strategically placed just at the end of the road.    We were soon off on the Pencarrow Coastal trail on our bikes, with a vague plan to go to Pencarrow Lighthouse.  There are miles of roads and tracks that you can explore on bike or foot, and we had not really looked in to it too much.  We would reach a junction and make a decision at the time. 

It was beautiful ride, along the rugged coastline with amazing views across to the city and over to South Island.   We soon reached the lower Pencarrow Lighthouse and decided to continue further along the track.  Pausing to look a shipwreck of the SS Paiaka, shipwrecked in 1906.  It now stands as a memorial to everyone lost along this rugged, wild coastline. 

It was here we chatted to another group of riders who recommended we continue further around the track and so we did – it was definitely the right decision when we reach Baring Lighthouse, sitting head on Baring Head.  With an amazing view, and the sun shining it was the perfect spot for lunch. 

Baring Head Lighthouse was first lit in 1935 and served as an approach light for Wellington Harbour from the Cook Straight.  Prior to that, ships were guided by the much older Pencarrow Head lighthouse, the first major lighthouse to be built in New Zealand, in 1859 (and which is no longer in use).

We pushed those e-bikes to their top speeds on the way back and it was so much fun zooming along the gravel roads. 

Back in the car we headed over the Rimataka ranges towards the Wairarapa and Lake Onoke (Lake Ferry) where we were to spend the night – yay for friends with friends with baches by the sea lol.  Lake Ferry is a sleepy little fishing village, but it can get busy in the summer when the camp ground is full of holiday makers – but the rest of the year, it is really only those who have baches or holiday homes in the area, most of whom come over the hill from Wellington for weekends. 

The other great thing about friends with friends with baches at Lake Ferry, is that they also have a beach buggy – not sure that is the correct for it, but it is basically a buggy to drive on the beach … so beach buggy it is.  We had so much fun driving down the beach as the sun was setting – even when I had to take a turn sitting in the tray at the back.  The beach of Palliser Bay is a wild with massive waves crashing down, with the sun going down it was beautiful. 

We had dinner at the only place in ‘town’ – Lake Ferry Hotel, it was so quiet, despite being a Saturday night, but perhaps we were early.  We needed an early night as we were having an early start on Sunday as I had convinced my friends that getting up for sunrise was a great idea!! 

Not only did we have to get up for sunrise, but we had to drive 45 minutes to the Cape Palliser lighthouse – ‘the’ sunrise spot on the south coast of the North Island.  It was definitely worth the effort as the morning was beautiful and we were in time to get up the 250+ stairs to the lighthouse to see the sunrise. 

Cape Palliser lighthouse is a cast iron lighthouse that has stood on this cliff since 1897.  As with all lighthouses, it started off life as an oil burning lamp, being converted to kerosene in 1954, and then mains power in 1967.  Originally there were no stairs (until 1912) and the lighthouse keeper had to carry/drag the oil/kerosene up the steep hill to the lighthouse.  The lighthouse was finally automated 1986 and the lighthouse keeper was withdrawn.

Once light, we could enjoy the drive back along the rugged coastline and our first stop was to see some seals we had seen from the road.  What I did not realise at the time, but Cape Palliser is home to the North Island’s largest fur seal colony and despite being out of season (which is apparently November to January), there were so many pups.  They were everywhere, hiding in and under the bushes and out in the open … some sleeping, some playing, some annoying their mums.    Seals as far as the eye can see – they were so adorable

I also got to do a little bit of bird spotting, seeing kingfisher and a big group of California quail on the road side.  It was hard to believe that I had not even arrived in Wellington 24 hours before and yet we had done so much.

We continued back along the coast, through small fishing villages, past groups of surfers (is there a collective noun for surfers?) and stopped  at the Pūtangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve where we followed the stream bed up towards the pinnacles.  We then headed up the canyon side to the look out over the ‘pinnacles’.    These are apparently one of New Zealand’s best examples of ‘badlands erosion’.  I won’t bore you with the detail of the geological history of the formation of the pinnacles as it is about 8 millions years long, but it is probably important to know that it was a location for some of the Lord of the Rings movies lol!

Walking up the stream bed was an easy walk with fantails flitting around us.  You do have to cross the stream a few times so you may need to be prepared to get your feet wet if it has been raining and the stream is higher.  The walk up the hill to the ridge was not so easy, but worth it for the view (though the lighting wasn’t ideal for photos). 

We followed the the Ridge track back down to the carpark and were grateful we went so early as a large groups of oldies in campvans (‘adventure before dementia’ is the new hashtag lol) had just turned up and were starting the walk as we finished. 

By the time we got back Lake Ferry we were starving and ready for a well earned lunch. And just like that the weekend was drawing to an end and it was time to head back in to Wellington and home to Christchurch.

What a wonderful Wellington and Wairarapa weekend (I do love alliteration)

Mountains, lakes and stars

December 2021

This year’s annual Aunty & nephew Christmas road trip hit the road on the day after Christmas day.   My planning had been hampered somewhat by the closer of the New Zealand YHA youth hostels (another victim of the pandemic I assume).  I had booked to stay in youth hostels for the get away – 2 nights in Mt Cook Village and 2 nights at Lake Tekapo.  A month out from Christmas, it was a real scramble to try and find alternative accommodation and I could not afford 4 nights in hotels so settled for 2 nights camping and 2 nights in a hotel.  I had forgotten just how much extra stuff you need to take for camping!!

It was a lovely drive to our first stop at Mt Cook Village.  I had considered staying all 4 nights in at Lake Tekapo which was only just over an hours drive away, but I had envisioned waking up in the morning surrounded by the beautiful mountains and keas playing around me.

Mt Cook Village sits within Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, at the end of State Highway 80 and right at the foot of the tallest mountains in the Southern Alps.   There is a population of around 220 and all of those either work within the hospitality industry or in the national park itself.  You do have to be prepared as there are no shops here, just a couple of small cafes, a number of hotels/motels (many were closed as the country was still closed to tourists) and a Department of Conservation (DOC) campground. 

The clouds were building up as we drove down the shores of Lake Pukaki and in to the village and by the time we arrived at the White Horse Hill campsite it had started to spit with rain.  We quickly got our tents up (in a spot we had hoped was fairly sheltered) and as the rain was still light (and was forecast to get much heavier) we decided to take one of the many short walks in the area – the Kea Point Track.

The track meanders through subalpine grasslands and scrub and ends at a viewing deck with a lovely view to Mt Sefton, the Mueller Glacier Lake and the Mueller Glacier moraine wall. You can also normally see Aoraki/Mt Cook from this spot, but it was hiding behind the cloud.    The beautiful calm of the mountains was pierced by loud call of a couple of keas, circling high above.  (At least I can say I did see kea, even if it was from a distance).  Back towards camp the sun was still trying it’s best to push through (with varying success) but I did result to a lovely rainbow.

DOC camps are pretty basic – this one has no shower but a couple of small toilet blocks and a main block with a kitchen (bring your own camp stove)/dining room and bathroom.   With not much else to do in the rain, we spent some time in the kitchen, cooking our dinner – a camping favourite of what I call deconstructed nachos – basically baked beans (in this case a lovely smoky BBQ variety) eaten with corn chips and sprinkled with cheese, washed down with an enamel mug of wine – kiwi camping at its best.

It was a terrible night – strong winds and rain. Despite being in a relatively sheltered area, half the pegs were pulled out of the ground (the ground was pretty rocky and it had been hard to get the pegs out in the first place).  It was really a classic kiwi Christmas – torrential rain and 11c 🤦🏻‍♀️(of course you need to remember it is summer).

So, what do you do when you are camping at Mt Cook village in non stop rain??  Thankfully there is a great little museum (with beautiful stain glass windows) and at the Hermitage Hotel, there is the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre – another small museum and movie theatre where we enjoyed a couple of movies about the alpine search and rescue team and Sir Edmund Hillary and, most importantly, a café.

After a bad night in the tent, I had thought about trying to get a room for the night and asked at the hotel.  “Yes, we have a room they said, not too expensive – just $1000 a night 😂😂😂”.  No wonder they have a room, without international tourists who is paying this!!! We would just have to brave on more night with our $15 camping site.

Our second (and last) night camping was not as bad as the first, but I didn’t get my dream of opening the tent to a beautiful day in the mountains with kea playing … but at least the rain had stopped lol. 

As it was our last morning in the mountains, we had a 6am start to walk the Hooker Valley track.  Perhaps one of the most famous short walks in New Zealand, and if not, definitely one of the most Instafamous (i.e. famous on Instagram).  The morning was beautiful but moody, a little rain, a little cold but lovely.  

Our early start, the poor weather and the lack of tourists, all meant it was pretty quiet and we only past a few other people on our way to and from the end of the track at the Hooker Lake.  A beautiful glacier lake, at the foot of the Hooker Glacier (which we could just spot through the cloud at the end of the lake.  It was still so peaceful and beautiful, with small icebergs (broken off from the glacier) and the grey/blue glacier melt water.  Sadly we did miss the picture perfect view of Aoraki Mt Cook but I guess that is another reason to do the track again one day (I took some artistic license in the photo below lol).

Back at the campground (the Hooker Valley track starts at the camp ground) it was time to pack up the soaking wet tents before heading back to the Hermitage Hotel to meet our guide for our tour with Glacier Explorers.  

Glacier Explorers operate a unique tour to the Tasman Glacier Lake were we get on a boat to explore the glacier and it’s lake.  Interestingly, the Tasman Glacier lake is relatively new.  If you came here in the early 1970’s, there would have been no lake at all, but as the glacier receded, the melt water formed the lake up to the terminal moraine (which shows where the foot of the glacier was when the lake was formed). 

Sadly, due to the effects of global warming the lake is rapidly increasing in size as the glacier calves and melts.  In fact you can’t actually go to close to the glacier in the boats, in case a chunk of ice “calves” off the glacier and drops in to the lake. Depending on the size, these chunks of ice can then become icebergs floating in the lake for some time before they melt.  Some of the icebergs in the lake were huge!  Apparently it is one of the only lakes in the world that contains icebergs.

Probably worth mentioning that the Tasman Glacier is the biggest in New Zealand, stretching around 24kms long and with a depth of over 600m!!  It forms a vertical ice wall at one end of the lake – from the lake it towers around 30-40m high, it is crazy to think that the majority of the glacier depth is actually below the lake level – 100s of metres below.

Many of the icebergs were full of rock and sediment (which you also see on top of the low part of the glacier) and it was really interesting to learn about this incredible glacial landscape.  Every day on the lake is different as the icebergs move around the lake and twist and turn in the water.

Towards the end of our time on the water, the cloud finally cleared briefly and we saw a mountains around the glacier.  Thankfully the clearer sky stayed around long enough to see have a view of Aoraki Mt Cook from Mt Cook Village when we got back there – I was so happy to get to see her before we left.   For now, our time in Mt Cook Village was over and we headed back to Lake Tekapo and the joy of a hotel room for the next couple of nights.

The weather forecast was still not great, so we took advantage of some sun to walk around the peninsula and explore part of the area I had never been to before.   It had rained overnight and my shoes were soaked in the first 50 metres🤦🏻‍♀️ but it was a lovely walk, with many of those “instafamous” but pesky lupins in flower and looking pretty.

It was not easy to find the route with no real track and sometimes hard to find the markers even on the open farm land – and don’t forget to keep your eyes on the ground to watch out for sheep poo and rabbit holes.  Despite this, the views were beautiful to the north end of the lake and the mountains beyond who had popped out from behind clouds.  It truly was sooooo beautiful – the water was so blue it was hard to believe it was real.

Back in the car, we decided just to drive around a little, exploring the back roads and small dirt roads in the area.  We came across Lake Alexandria inlet, a small lake not far from Lake Tekapo with a few houses and a camp ground.  I was excited to find a crested grebe nesting site here.  Most of them were still sitting on eggs rather than cute chicks but it was still cool to see. 

I should probably mention, the Australasian crested grebe can be found in Australia and the South Island of New Zealand but in both countries are a vulnerable species so it is wonderful to see a breeding population.

From the inlet of Lake Alexandria, we then drove around to the other end of the lake where there was a small community of houses and again some camping areas.  It was so peaceful and despite being only 15C, it was sunny and felt much warmer.  It’s hard to believe that just 10-15 minutes drive from the tourist hub of Tekapo, is this small peaceful area.

Our last night was one of the highlights – late night star gazing at the Tekapo Hot Springs.  Tekapo is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky reserve but in summer in New Zealand you need to stay up pretty late to make the best of the dark sky.  For us, this meant our Star Gazing experience started at midnight 🤦🏻‍♀️!! (There was an earlier session starting at 10pm but it was fully booked when I booked us in, so midnight it was.)

Despite it being a little cloudy, we started off looking through their big telescopes, with the resident astrologists but unfortunately the clouds continued to roll in and before long we had to abandon the reality of the telescopes for a some indoor virtual reality. We put on the headsets and settled in for around 30 minutes of a virtual reality session about the stars and the myths and legends around them. 

From there we got changed and headed into the hot pools.  They had some sort of floating hammocks so we could lie back in the hot pools, looking up to the wonder of the night skies.  Thankfully the clouds had cleared a little and our personal astrologers continued their stories.

It was a wonderful experience despite the very late night (we got back to the hotel just after 2am) and the cloud.  Something I would definitely recommend, and do again if I had the opportunity.

After a well deserved lie in, we had a couple of quick stops on the way back to Christchurch.  First at Burkes Pass, a small historic village at the foot of the pass over to Lake Tekapo and the rest of the Mackenzie region.  It was a well known pass to the Māori, and the European settlement was established in 1855.  Back then, it was considered the “last outpost of civilization”.

Many of the buildings of that time remain today, and there is a short heritage walk you can do to explore some of those early sites, including a small wooden church which is considered the oldest union church in the country (established in 1872).

Finally a stop at Fairlie – for a pie from the famous Fairlie Bakehouse.  There was a longish queue at the bakery (which is not unusual) but it was fast moving and we were soon well fed and on our way home after another great little kiwi road trip.

East Cape Road trip Part 9 – Final days (finally 😂)

November 2022

Despite the poor weather forecast I had one thing planned for my time in Taupo – a trip to see the Ngatoroirangi Rock Carvings.   You can only see the carvings from the water and I had booked to go on one of the two boat tours that take you the short distance out to see them.  Unfortunately, at 9pm the night before the trip, I received a text to say it was cancelled due to boat problems – but they could give me a refund or put me on another boat doing the same trip. As I only had one day I opted to take the other boat.

So instead of going on a big modern catamaran (with lots of space – great for social distancing) I was now going on a small replica steamboat – the Ernst Kemp (built in 1980 to look like a 1920s steamboat) less than half the size- and now of course with more people which was not ideal!

A had time to kill before my boat trip to have a quick walk around town.  Lake Taupo was formed 27,000 years ago as a result of a huge volcanic eruption and it has erupted 29 times since then, most recently 1,800 years ago.  Many years later (around 800-900 years ago) Nagtoroirangi and his people settled around the lake but struggled due to the unfertile soil and harsh winters.  In 1869, the European Armed Constabulary settled in the area, creating the Tapuaeharuru redoubt (apparently a redoubt is an earthwork fort).  There is not much left to see of the original settlements by either the Maori or Europeans beyond a few trenches in the ground.

It wasn’t until the 1950s when the town started to flourish, once the crap soil had been cleared.  This made way for successful farming and forestry business, as well as geothermal and hydro electric power schemes.  Today it is a hugely successful tourist hub too.

The town has some great street art, and pretty rubbish bins and drain covers!!  I love these little details.  One of my favourite pieces was a decorated handrail with the following text … “Seek the treasure you value most dearly:  if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain”.  This beautiful verse was in Maori, English and braille.

One of Taupo’s claims to fame is that it has the world’s coolest McDonalds – well that is what they say anyway, having been chosen from over 34,000 restaurants worldwide.  What is so cool about it you ask??  Well, half of it is in an airplane!  As if I needed an excuse to go 🤦🏻‍♀️

The skies had cleared a little by the time I was to board my boat trip, and thankfully the small boat was not full – only 15 people and perspex screens between seats.  I was starting to question if there really was a problem with the other boat, or if they just decided it was not worth running it with a handful of people 🤔. How cynical am I 😂

The marina is sits at the start of the mighty Waikato river, the longest river in New Zealand and apparently the only New Zealand river that flows north.  As we headed out to the lake it was a little choppy and the clearer weather did not last long.  The wind, intermittent rain and choppy water surface made taking photos fun lol.

The Ngatoroirangi Maori Rock Carvings were carved by local artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and a team of artists over four years in the 1970s.  The main carving depicts Ngatoroirangi, the earliest settler of the region, and surrounding his image are many smaller carvings depicting guardians or ancestors of the local tribe.  Some of the smaller carvings take some time to spot in the rocks but are worth it when you do.

I overheard the captain and assistant talking about how bad they expected the 2pm sailing to be if/when the wind picks up so I was glad I had done the trip when I did. 

I didn’t trust the weather for my next outing so instead of waking I drove to Huka Falls, the other ‘must do’ activity when in Taupo and it is apparently one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions. 

You can hear the falls long before you see them – as the narrowing of the Waikato River (from 100m wide to 15m wide) causes a quarter of a million litres of water per second to flow (with great force) through the gorge and down the 11m drop.  It really is quite an incredible sight. 

I took a small walk from the view point and along one of the tracks along the river bank  – 1 minute sun, next minute rain 🥴.  I do love the smell of bush after rain.   It is clearly not a pest free area as a large rat ran across the track in front of me interrupting my relaxing, though slightly damp stroll.

Finally, at the end of the day,  the sun came out properly.  Just in time for sunset – not just on the day but in my road trip.  I am so happy I got to take the trip.  Most things went to plan, somethings didn’t, but it all worked out in the end – almost 900km driven, taking in the full length of State Highway 35, the Thermal Explorer Highway and part of the Pacific Coast Highway.  What a beautiful country I am lucky enough to call home❤️

East Cape Part 8 – From Coast to Lake

November 2021

My final day on the coast and finally the sunrise I had been waiting for … all those early alarms were worth it (or not 😂). It was still hazy, but the sky was generally clear and for the first time the only colour in the sky was not grey 😂❤️.  Of course, I live on the east coast at home and see some beautiful sunrises but here it is 10 minutes earlier 😂.

As always, sunsets change – bright colours first (about 40 minutes before the actual sunrise), then beautiful colour reflections in the waters of low tide.  About 10 minutes before the sunrise time, the sun started to poke up from the horizon.  It was so red when it first rose and perfectly reflected in the sea.   It was absolutely stunning.  As always with sunrises (and sunsets) I find myself with that age old dilemma, how many photos are too many 🤔(there is a right answer and it is that there are never too many 😂). 

What a perfect way to finish up my time on the east coast.

I packed up the car and headed back through Gisborne and inland.   My first stop was Rere Waterfalls, a 45 minute drive out of Gisborne.   The falls are on the Wharekopae River and although they are only 5 metres high, they are 20 metres wide and very picturesque.  There is a lovely area there to have a picnic too if you are that way inclined.

From here, I travelled out of Tairawhiti and into the Hawkes Bay region.  It was a beautiful drive through vineyards and fields of newly planted corn.  There lots of wineries in the area and it was a shame I was driving… and that it was 10am in the morning lol.

I didn’t have a long drive today, and my final destination was the Morere Hot Springs – I had seen the hot springs described as “a treat not to be missed”.  Apparently the springs produce 250,000 litres of hot sea water each day which is piped to pools set in the 364 hectares of rain forest.  There is also a lot of history here, as the hot springs were used by the local Māori for healing, long before they were discovered by Europeans in 1884. Sadly, I was not able to enjoy their healing power myself on this day.

Because of their level 2 Covid restrictions, the Nikau pools (the ones I had come for which are set in the bush) were closed unless you were in a group of 5 or more.  Because there are no cameras, they could not guarantee the required social distancing – it did not matter that I was the only person in the place, and they did not get the irony of that!   The cold pool was also closed.

Because it was still so early in the day, I decided to at least take a walk around the Nikau Forest (around a 30 minute walk) which was beautiful.  It is actually one of the last remaining tracts of coastal native forest on the East Coast.   It was a lovely walk, but I probably could have done a similar one for free (rather than the $10 paid to get in – at least they have reduced the price from $18 because only 1 of the 3 pools were actually available).   

The lovely walk took me passed the empty pools that I was not allowed to use before I left – as I did not fancy sitting in a hot pool in an enclosed building with no view – I can do that at home – it’s called a bath 😂🥴

My accommodation at the Morere Hot Springs Lodge was, not surprisingly, just across the road and now I was way too early for check in – I decided to give it a go and thankfully my cabin was ready for me.  My simple but well equipped cabin was located in peaceful farmland, and it was lovely.

There was nothing in the way of shops or cafes in Morere (well there was a café, but it was not open) so I decided to take a drive and headed to Mahia beach on Mahia Peninsula for lunch.  It was a nice little town with lots of houses that look like they are holiday/weekend homes and I can imagine it is packed in the summer.

If you are thinking the name sounds familiar, it may be because it is the home of Rocket Lab’s missile launch complex, or perhaps because it is one of the rare sports on the east coast famous for its sunsets (rare because the sunset sets in the west, but the angle and location of the peninsula enables it to get a decent sunset and sunrise).   Sadly, I don’t think I will be bothered coming back in 5 hours after my early start – and we all know sunrises are my ‘thing’ 👍🏻.

After a peaceful night in my lovely accommodation, I continued my way back inland, through small towns and passed small maraes, stopping in Wairoa for breakfast.   The main attraction of Wairoa is the Portland Island lighthouse, strategically placed by the river.  It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the country and not surprisingly, used to sit on Portland Island, just off the coast of the Mahia Peninsula.  In 1957 it was moved to Wairoa where its history has been preserved.

From here I left the Pacific Coast road, back to the Thermal Explorer highway.  I could have gone a longer way via lakes and waterfalls, but that came with lots of windy mountainous roads, and I was feeling pretty tired by this point.  I was surprised how tired I was as I have done lots of trips as busy and as long, if not longer … but then I remembered I don’t drive on many of those, so during the driving time I can be relaxing or dozing.  Not like the concentration it requires to drive on some of these roads (well all roads really) lol.

There was not a lot of stopping today.  There were not many places to stop, no shops or toilets. I also did not want to be passed by slow trucks/campers I had patiently passed and on top of that it was raining and cloudy.  I did take the risk to stop at one scenic lookout which turned out to be the pretty impressive Waipunga waterfall (- even in the rain 🥴😂).

And so, I arrived in Taupo same day covid did 🤦🏻‍♀️ so social distancing was the plan!