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! 

East cape part 7 – The heart of Tairāwhiti Gisborne

November 2021

Another morning of no sunrise 🤦🏻‍♀️ but at least this time I did not even have to get out of bed to see it was not going to happen 👍🏻.   It was a beautiful peaceful night, with the sounds and smells of the sea on my ‘door step’.  That was until just after 6am when the traffic from the nearby road started building.

A little later in the morning I joined the traffic on the short 15 minute drive to the city of Gisborne.  I should note that there is no mobile phone reception at the campground, great wifi, but no mobile reception. But drive just a couple of minutes over the hill to the next bay and the reception is back.  Also just over the hill was a beautiful long beaches with lots of surfers on the water.

Not surprisingly, even in that short journey I stopped a couple of times, including a stop for brunch at Zephyr in the small beachside suburb of Wainui.  It had been recommended by the campground and had a great chilled laid back vibe.   The food and coffee were great too.  I was surprised how many people were there (and not working) on a Thursday morning 🤔.  The sun was just starting to push through and the beaches in the area were beautiful.

Gisborne, or Gizzy as it is affectionately know is a small city with a population of around 40,000.  It is also know as Tairāwhiti, which means the light shines on the water .

The area was first populated by Polynesian voyagers over 700 years ago and subsequently Captain Cook when he landed with a party of men in 1769. Sadly, as with many landings of these early European visitors, it resulted in the death of a number of the already settled Māori.   From these humble and somewhat tragic beginnings, the settlement of Turanga grew up on the banks of Tuanganui River, initially settled by European traders and whalers. The town was formally laid out in 1870 and the name was changed from Turanga to Gisborne (after the colonial secretary of the time), apparently to avoid confusion with Tauranga.

This first visit also lead to the Captain Cook calling the region Poverty Bay, as they had to leave with no provisions after the deaths of the local Māori – he wrote “Because it afforded us no one thing we wanted”.

I walked along the Tupapa Heritage Trail.  The physical information panels, along with the accompanying app gave me a great insight in to the history of the area.  It was a lovely and informative walk, along the wide broadwalk that ran along the seaside and then down along the river.  The beach was full of debris, showing the full force of the storms the week before.

As is normal for me when I walk, my mind wandered as I thought about what I was seeing …

Did you know that some Pohutakawa trees have “beards”? These are actually matted clumps of aerial roots.  Typically the appear in trees growing on banks and rocky cliffs where the “beards” can search crevices for additional soil and moisture (although in reality they rarely reach the ground).  It is also believed that only some species or in fact hybrids grow these.  It has certainly been common in many of the trees I have seen in the region. 

 I also started to consider if the fog/low cloud that had been around the last few days was actually “vog”.  I had seen an article in the news about there being vog in the region.  More often seen in Hawaii, vog is smog or haze caused by volcanic dust and gases.  As I had seen further up the coast, Whakaari/White Island is always active and in fact, I had had a whiff of sulphur the day before when I started the Cook Cove walk🤔🤔🤔 Just some of the things I wonder about when I wander lol.

I actually combined the Tupapa walk with a Street Art walk (with a leaflet I had picked up at the Information Centre) and enjoyed looking for the beautiful pieces around the town centre, all created by local artists.

The last part of the Tupapa walk was across the river and I was not keen on such a long walk (across the river and back) so I drove to the other side.  I had planned to walk up the small hill to the local view point, but could not find anywhere to park so kept driving around to the small bays around the coastline. 

I did find parking on the way back towards town so I stopped and made the short walk up Kaiti Hill in Titirangi Reserve – more stairs that almost killed me 😂.  Nice view though so probably worth the effort (and there was finally a Pohutakawa in bloom)! 

The small parking area was right by Puhi Kai Iti/Cook Landing National Historic Reserve.  A small reserve commemorating both the first landing of Cook in 1769 and the Horouta and Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru wakas.  These stories are told through beautiful sculptures and interpretation panels.  There were also 9 poles in remembrance of the 9 Māori killed by Cooks crew during that first landing.  I had no idea this reserve was there and I was so glad I took the time to head across the river.

After a quick stop at the supermarket, I headed back towards my beautiful tent, stopping at Makorori Beach to eat lunch whilst watching the surfers in the bay.   Back at camp, I spent the afternoon enjoying my waterfront view (and watching sea kayaks battling out through the channel and current) and exploring the very cool rock formations at low tide. Nature is a wonderful thing.

East Cape Escape Part 6 –  Tolaga Bay to Tatapouri

November 2021

I had decided not to try for sunrise this morning and it was the right choice as I woke up to another overcast morning.   I only had a short drive today and I had such a comfortable bed, with the forecast had shown it would not clear up till around 10am, I went back to bed!

I thought fuel on Te Araroa was expensive, in Tolaga Bay it was $2.68 per litre – another 20c more than in Te Araroa. Thank goodness I did not wait for here to fill up. (It is odd writing this just a few short months later and fuel prices are pushing $3 per litre all over the country, in some places more!)

Before starting my short drive, I had decided to do one of the walks in the area –  the Cooks Cove Walkway.   Not surprisingly, it was named after the Cove that Captain Cook visited in 1769 as part of his circumnavigation of New Zealand on the Endeavour.  There were some great information panels at the beginning of the track, telling about both the Māori and European history of the area.

Unfortunately, the track started with more stairs!!!  I was definitely over stairs after the walk to the lighthouse the day before … thankfully they did not last too long and I was soon walking through open farmland.  (It is worth noting that some of the walk is through private farmlands and is closed from August through to October to allow for the lambing season.)

A short way into the track there was a lovely view over Tolaga Bay and a memorial called “Te Pourewa” or “The Beacon of Light” (apparently it is lit up at night). The sculpture is 12 metres high and commemorates Tupaia, the Tahitian navigator and priest who arrived in Cooks Cove (Opoutama) in 1769 on the Endeavour with Capitan Cook.

From here the walk took me through the farmlands, passing a family of wild (well, I assume they were wild) turkey and into regenerating bush.  As on Whale Island a few days before, there was so many Kanuka plants in flower, and the bees filled the air with the buzzing.  What with them and the singing birds, I was glad I had forgotten my headphones.  Some of the grassy areas were pretty boggy/muddy and with the track not being very well worn, it was sometimes hard to find the route – I had to search in the distance for that yellow marker pole. 

Back in the bush and there were a lot more stairs as I worked my way down towards the cove (but not before a stop at a look out, giving a beautiful view of the cove below)– it did not look forward going up all the stairs on the way back. 🤦🏻‍♀️

The first point of interest  was a “Hole in the Wall” or “Te Kotare-o-te-whenua”.  Someone even erected a lovely photo frame to ensure you got the just the right shot.  Joseph Banks, the Botanist on the Endeavour back in 1769 even wrote about it.  He said “In pursuing a valley bounded on each side by steep hills we saw also an extraordinary natural curiosity … a most noble arch or Cavern through the face of a rock leading directly to the sea.”  He went on to describe it as the “most magnificent surprise”.   Clearly he had spent a long time at sea lol.

There was a small track down the side of the “hole” so if the time is right, you can walk right through it.

From the hole, the last stretch of the track was across open farm land dotted with sheep and was very wet under foot. 

Did you know, Cooks Cove is one of the few examples in New Zealand of an archaeological site that spans the full duration of human occupation.  I didn’t!   The local iwi (Te Aitanga Hauiti) used the area to fish and gather shellfish as well as grow crops.  The stories of the arrival of Cook and the Endeavour were passed down through generations, particularly about Tupaia, the Tahitian chief who was on the ship.  Children were even named after him.  And of course 100’s of years later a monument was erected in his honour at the top of the hill.   

By this time, the cloud had mostly cleared but it was still not sunny so I didn’t stick around too long.  Partly because it was to wet to sit down anyway and partly because I was cleared disturbing today’s local inhabitants – Canadian guess and oyster catchers!

I almost missed a signpost that directed me up another hill to a historic monument (to a place where Cook and his crew gathered wood, water and collected plants) and great view over the cove.  I was intrigued by a pond covered in crazy red algae but still have no idea what it was!

I was the only person around and I was enjoying the peace, broken only by the local wildlife including bees, Fantails, Tui and a noisy white faced heron landing on its nearby nest.  

Just as I was about to start on the track back, the sun came out, so I turned around and walked back up the hill 🤦🏻‍♀️… and that is why I end up walking 1 km more than the track actually is 😂(the actual track is about 5.8KM).   With the sun out, the walk back was much warmer, I was actually glad I had started in the cloud.

Unfortunately the local food truck (recommended on all the websites) was closed so before leaving Tolaga Bay I stopped back in the town to search again for food.  This time I was more successful and I found “Off the Grid” cafe a small caravan with a great selection.  I grabbed an iced coffee and a sandwich (yay) and headed back to the beach by the wharf to eat. 

My drive today was only 35 minutes and I took a short detour to Whāngārā.  Legend has it, the great voyager Paikea arrived here after traveling across the ocean from Hawaiki on the back of the whale.  If you think this story sounds familiar, it may be because this is the basis of the 2002 movie The Whale Rider.  And, Whāngārā was the location of much of the filming.

The small township was on a private road so I could not get very close, but it looked beautiful, right on the waterfront and I could see the image of Paikea on his whale on top of the Marae.   

My accommodation at Tatapouri Bay was the one I was looking forward to the most on my trip – a glamping tent, right in the water’s edge.  I wasn’t disappointed as the tent and the view were beautiful.

Before the day was over, I had one more fun thing planned – a reef ecology tour with Dive Tatapouri.   I was the only person booked on the tour that afternoon (tour times are based on the tides) which was great (for me, probably not so much for team) so it was quick and easy to get kitted up in waders and with a stick (to help balance yourself as you wade out in the shallows) before heading out into on to the seabed in the shallow water.

It didn’t take long before the rays started arriving – we were visited by 3 eagle rays and 3 short tailed rays of various sizes, and the guide knew them all by their size and behaviour and had names for them all.  I am always concerned with things like this, where wild animals are fed to attract them to interact with people. 

I asked my guide about this, and he told me that they only feed them small amounts and they don’t believe it is enough to impact their natural feeding behaviour.  He certainly seemed passionate about them, and they also seemed to enjoy it.  A couple of them behaving rather like dogs or cats, rubbing around our legs.   And of course, they can come and go as they please.

It was a unique way to spend an hour and learn a little about our beautiful wildlife.

Back at the campground, as if the tent could not get any better, I discovered it had fairy lights around the central pole 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻.  I loved it and had a great night’s sleep listening to the ocean on my doorstep.

East Cape Part 5 – Te Araroa to Tolaga Bay

November 2021

You have to be pretty dedicated to see sunrise in New Zealand in the summer and I am!

When you search the internet for things to see and do on an East Cape Road trip, one thing that always comes up is a visit to the East Cape lighthouse at sunrise.   It is one of the first places in the world to see the sun each day (did you know people flew by Concorde to see the sunrise on Jan 1, 2000!) and the sunrise is supposed to be amazing. 

So as dedicated as I am, I was up at 4.30am to a beautiful clear sky full of stars for the 35 minute drive along some less than ideal narrow gravel roads in the dark. Thankfully I only passed a couple of other people going the other way, one being a huge logging truck I had to pull off the road for! 

The forecast was looking good the night before, but during the last 10 minutes of the drive, the drizzly mist set in … and it was here to stay 🥲. I climbed the 800 steps to the top of the hill, and the base of the lighthouse and I could not even see the sea right in front of me 🤦🏻‍♀️. To top it off, I had forgotten to bring the coffee I had made up in my travel mug to bring for the top! 

Thankfully I did have my raincoat so I could sit on the wet bench and enjoy the serenity of the moment – the bird dawn chorus and the sea crashing on rocks somewhere below.

Built in 1922, the East Cape lighthouse is situated on the eastern most point of New Zealand.  It was originally lit with a paraffin oil burning lamp which was replaced to diesel generated electricity in 1954.  In 1971 the lighthouse was connected to the mains power before being fully automated in 1985.  It is hard to image that at one time, this was originally a three keeper station as there is little left to indicate there was once housing on the site. 

I was so engrossed in the serenity of the moment, I didn’t realise I was getting bitten until it was too late 🤦🏻‍♀️ why on earth was I wearing shorts? I NEVER wear shorts 🥴😂 Despite the biting insects and cloud I stayed for around 30 minutes hoping for a break in the cloud, but it was not to be. Thankfully I have a couple more sunrise opportunities (none at a lighthouse on the eastern most point though) so fingers crossed I will get one worth the early morning for.

It was nice to be able to see the road and surrounding scenery on the way back though I still had to drive fairly slowly.  Firstly, due to animals on the road (horses and hares lol).  Secondly due to some damaged parts of the road due to storms the previous week (it was good to see that the repairs were already underway).  Lastly due to the stunning scenery – towering cliffs, waterfalls and a beautiful, rugged coastline.

Back in Te Araroa, it was still very early but thankfully the Four Square was opening (for anyone reading not familiar with New Zealand, Four Square’s are a small town supermarket chain) so I managed to pick up a breakfast fit for a Queen – a can of cold coffee and a Ruatoria steak and cheese pie!  I had certainly earnt it.  I also took the opportunity to top up the car with fuel – seemed to be small town prices at $2.48 a litre, significantly higher than in larger towns!  I was grateful that my rental car was a hybrid so was not using too much petrol. 

While planning this trip I discovered Te Araroa’s claim to fame it that it is the birthplace of Sir Āpirana Ngata.  Born in 1874, he was the first Māori to complete a degree at a New Zealand university, graduating with a MA and a law degree. 

Upon completion of his education, he returned to the East Cape and made a great contribution to Māori cultural and economic revival in the area and around the country for which he received a knighthood in 1927.  To honour Sir Āpirana’s legacy his face is now proudly printed on New Zealand’s $50 note. 

After a quick stop back at my hotel to shower and finish packing, I started on the day’s leg of my journey – from Hicks Bay to Tolaga Bay.  Approximately 125km or 2 hours.  Again, I had a list of sights and stops on the way and again, not all were 100% successful lol.

My first stop was in the small town of Tikitiki to see “Tikitiki’s jewel” – St Mary’s church.  It was built between 1924 and 1926 under the guidance of Sir Āpirana (from Te Araroa).  It is a non-denominational church and thanks to Sir Āpirana, it integrates Māori architecture into its design and windows. Today it’s considered a Category 1 Historic Place.   Unfortunately, the church was closed and there was no one around so had a look around the outside (which was still nice) before moving on

Some observations about this part of rural New Zealand – horses are a common form of transport for school children (I am all for this – in fact I would happily ride a horse if that was an acceptable form of transport … and if I had a horse).  I was also puzzled by the number of derelict houses in these small towns.  Perhaps a sign of times with people having to move to the cities for work.

Next up was a stop at Tokomarau Bay, where I had planned to have lunch at the tavern.  It was an amazing spot, reminding me of Hawaii with towering cliffs in background.  Unfortunately, the tavern, although open, was not serving food.  Maybe because it is too quiet or maybe because it is for sale?  Either way the only other option was the fish and chip shop!

It’s not surprising there is an obesity problem in some of our rural communities – fried food and pies appear to be the most accessible food!!  (Full disclosure, there was a small supermarket, but I didn’t go there 🥴).  Fried food in hand, I headed down to the shore to have lunch with a view.  It was a beautiful bay and beautiful day, now I had escaped the cloud of the morning.  And of course, I am still a week or two early for the pohutakawa to be in flower😂.

Tolaga bay was my destination for the day and upon arrival I went straight to the main attraction – the wharf.  Not just any wharf, a 660m long wharf that is believed to be one of the longest concrete wharfs in the Southern Hemisphere.  It was built in 1929 to allow large coastal trading ships to off and onload goods to the area before the more modern sealed roads were built.  (Apparently there was also one at Hicks Bay and Tokomaru Bay but there is little left of these ones.)  Ironically, much of the cargo that was offloaded on the wharf was road building equipment that helped construct the road through to Gisborne, leaving the wharf redundant.

As in Te Araroa, I had struggled to get accommodation in Tolaga Bay. Who knows why – perhaps a combination of there not being much and some places being closed? I ended up at an Airbnb just out of the town on a horse training farm (Uawa Equine on AirBnB)- it was simple but beautiful and peaceful.

Had a relaxing afternoon/evening at my accommodation making friends with the locals – 3 dogs who seemed to take turns at coming over to hang out (although there were probably around 6-7 dogs in total), but my favourites were a little black cat (who was very needy) and a pet lamb.

I attempted to find something for dinner in town but gave up.  There was a place calling itself a supermarket, but it was barely a dairy 🤦🏻‍♀️ and the only other option was fried food again!  Instead, I fell back on some good old pot noodles I had stocked up on for just this kind of occasion.

I truly had a great night’s sleep in the peace.

East Cape Escape – Part 4:  Ōpōtiki to Te Araroa

November 2021

Despite not having an early start planned, true to form I was up early so decided to go for a walk to explore Ōpōtiki and stretch my legs before I got back in the car for the day’s driving.

Ōpōtiki is the gateway to State Highway 35, which takes you around the East Cape of the North Island and had a large Māori population before Europeans arrived – it is thought to be the location of some of the earliest Māori arrivals.  It was also home to a number of bloody battles in the Māori tribal wars.  So much so, when European missionaries made an initial attempt to reach the town in 1821 they went straight back to Tauranga when they walked in to the “carnage of a just-concluded battle”. 

The missionaries  returned in 1839 and from 1840 to the 1860’s they struggled to continue to “spread the word” as the hostiles continued.   European whalers and traders also became active along this part of the coast around the same time, but it was not until after the fighting (of the New Zealand Land Wars) ceased in the 1860’s that European settlement truly started in Ōpōtiki, initially as a military settlement.

As part of their discharge, the European soldiers were given 50+ acres of land (which was not really their land to give away) depending on their rank.  The land proved fertile and the town became the Government centre in the Bay of Plenty.  Today Ōpōtiki is a relatively quiet town with a population of approximately 5,000.

My early morning walk really just consisted of a ‘wander’ – I completely lost my sense of direction as I strolled down quiet beautiful tree lined street (not sure what they were but they were bursting with fragrant flowers).  From here I found the Otara River and followed the pathway along it.  Past slides and rope swings (it must be fun in the summer) with beautiful views back to the Urewera ranges in the distance.  There are also a number of bike trails in the area as part of the Motu Trails.

As always I got a little distracted with the little things.  Flax flowers just coming into bloom and already surrounded by busy bees with full pollen sacs.  And let’s not forget the cool bollards.

Back on the main road, there were lots of bordered up shops 🥲sadly it is a normal sign in small town New Zealand these days.  On the flip side, many of the historic buildings have been well maintained giving you an insight in to the history of what was a busy town – hard to imagine it given the quiet streets I was walking around (ok – it was still 7.30am on a Monday morning).  Definitely no other ‘tourists’ around and people must have thought I was mad taking all my photos. 😂  I loved the street art by local school children which brightened up the town.

I happened across the Ōpōtiki Museum just as they opened so decided to take a look around.  Like most small town museums it was packed full of ‘stuff’ – match boxes, saddlery, tractors, stuffed animals, machinery, dolls …..  Not an exhibit but I was intrigued by a sign requesting patrons to ‘please remove stiletto shoes to protect varnished floor’ – just how many people turn up in stiletto heels around here??

Despite all the ‘stuff’ on the ground floor, the other 2 floors (yes there were 2 whole floors and a mezzanine) has some really interesting information about the history of the town – both Māori and European, as well as information about the journey of the Treaty of Waitangi in the region in May 1840.  (For more on the Treaty of Waitangi, check out my blog from July 2021 Now to the North(land).  They also have a great collection of old photos depicting historical town life.

After some breakfast I was ready to hit the road and I set off down the Pacific Coast Highway towards my next stop – approximately 150km or just over 2 hours away.  I had a list of places to stop and sites to see and some were more successful with than others lol.  My first stop was supposed to be at Torere Beach to see a carved Māori gateway at the entrance to school.  Unfortunately there were road works right outside the school, and it was clearly playtime and the children were all outside – I did not want to appear to be some kind of stalker so I drove straight past.

The road was beautiful and lined with large pohutakawa (yep – I was still 1-2 weeks early for them to all be in flower).  I would definitely have a lot more photos if I was not driving or if there were more places to pull over and stop (one of the problems of solo road trips).

My first proper stop was at the small town of Raukokore at its beautiful white stone church – Christ Church.  The church was designed by Scottish man, Duncan Stirling in 1894 and went on to marry a local chief in the church on 1896 and build other churches and buildings around the East Cape.

A Macadamia farm I had hoped to visit was not open so I headed straight to my planned lunch stop at Waihua Bay – ‘world famous in New Zealand’ for being the location for the filming of the 2010 movie Boy, and the home town of its director and actor Taika Waititi (who is actually world famous for his work on Thor movies amongst others).  Interestingly he was actually born in Raukokore – my previous stop.

Just like in the movie, the ‘boys’ were out hanging in front of the General Store which had been featured in the movie, so I didn’t want to take a photo 🥴 .  Instead I had some lunch and a short walk along the water front, which was beautiful before driving the last stretch of driving for the day. Thankfully the ‘boys’ left before I did so I got my shot lol.

As a child, we had had a family holiday travelling along this coast and I had fond memories of staying at the Holiday Park in Te Araroa, so had decided to stay there on this trip – talk about a nostalgia failure!  The place was run down, they were completely unprepared for me and I didn’t feel particularly comfortable.

As they were not ready for me, I said I would go down to ‘town’ to get some supplies and then I would come back.  What I was actually doing was going to ‘town’ to consider my options which were actually very limited!  I took a quick break from worrying about where I would spend the night to see what is supposedly the oldest pohutakawa tree in the country – Te Waha-o-Rerekohu which is approximately 600 years old.   

Te Araroa has a population of approximately 600 people, so it was not surprising there was no other accommodation to be found.  I needed to stay in the area and the only place anywhere near was a motel, back towards Hicks Bay so I backtracked and got a room there.  It ended up being a much more expensive night than planned but worth it to be comfortable.  When I called the other place to say I wasn’t staying, they apologised for not being ready and offered to refund me – I said not to bother as it was only fair for them to keep it as I ‘cancelled’ very late – and it was pretty cheap and everyone in tourism is doing it tough these days.

My new room was on the hill overlooking Hicks Bay which was lovely but the room was hot with the sun streaming in so I sat on the deck by the reception with a cold cider enjoying the breeze and relaxed for the rest of the late afternoon.  It was not quite the evening beach vibes I had been anticipating but there was a beautiful sunset nevertheless and I had a good sleep in a comfy room 👍🏻

My lesson for the day was learnt – don’t set your expectations too high when trying to relive a past memory!!

East Cape Escape – Part 3: Flora, fauna and sauna

November 2021

This morning I was off on the road trip part of my road trip (lol) around the Tairāwhiti region – first stop was Whakatane via a lovely road around lakes and through small towns.  But my one and only reason for coming to Whakatane was to do a day trip to Moutohorā or Whale Island. 

Moutohorā is one of the most restricted pest free sanctuaries in New Zealand.  It is situated just 9km of the coast of Whakatane, not far from Whakaari/White Island which is now world famous for its eruption in December 2019 which killed 22 people.  It is just over 1.4km2 and is the remnant of an eroded volcano.  There are still geothermal areas on the island today (which is one of the highlights of the visit).

There is evidence of early Māori and European settlements, including an unsuccessful whaling station (catching only one whale 🥴), mining of sulphur (which was too poor quality) and then rock for construction of the Whakatane Harbour wall (in 1915). 

In 1965 the island was declared a wildlife refuge and once goats were cleared, a planting programme planted 12,000 native trees and grasses.  Today the island is free of not only goats, but rats, cats and rabbits (there were apparently up to ½ million and were used by Cray fisherman for bait) and is a safe haven for 190 native species. 

Because of its pest free status, bio security checks are an important part of the boating process for all passengers.  In the “Biosecurity Caravan” we had to empty our bags to ensure there were no pests, followed by checks of our shoes for soil and seeds and finally we walked through a tray of disinfectant before boarding the boat. 

It was a beautiful warm day, already 18c and sunny before we set off out through the heads at the mouth of the Whakatane River and passed The Lady on the Rock statue on top of Turuturu Rock.  The statue commemorates the bravery of Wairaka, the daughter of Toroa, the captain of the first waka to arrive in Whakatāne after a long and dangerous journey from Hawaiki (their ancestral homeland).  As the men went ashore, the canoe started to draft back out to sea and Wairaka grabbed the paddle to bring the waka back to shore (it was forbidden for women to handle a canoe!)  She cried our “Kia Whakatāne au I ahau” – I will act the part of a man – hence the name of the city.

I was travelling with White Island Tours – the only way you can visit the island (unless you work for the Department of Conservation).  Not surprisingly, they are the main company that used to run the tours to Whakaari White Island prior to the eruption and were on the island at the time, losing staff members.  One of our guides had been on the island earlier in the morning – as the volcano quietly smoking away in the distance, I can’t imagine what is must have been like to have been on the water the day it erupted … or to continue to see it every day!

After a quick 15 minute boat ride, we landed on Moutohorā.  There is no wharf or jetty so need to be prepared to get wet feed as you wade ashore.  Unfortunately we were about 1-2 weeks too early for the full bloom of the Pohutukawa tress which covered the islands.  Luckily there were a handful that bloomed early and where already surrounded by beautiful tuis👍🏻.

The island is a wonderful haven for New Zealand’s wildlife and it was not long before our guide pointed out a juvenile common gecko (in a purpose built ‘gecko hotel’ – really just a small, covered area, which is easy to lift to spy on the current guests).  Did you know that New Zealand geckos, unlike other reptiles around the world, give birth to live young rather than eggs.  It is believed to be an adaption to adjust to the colder climates.  They are not only slow breeding, but they are also long lived – living up to 50 years.

The air was full of bird song, but even louder was the hum of bees around the flowering kanuka.  I am not sure I have ever heard so many bees. 

As we walked through the island (the guides in bare feet lol 🥴) we passed (or were passed by) North Island Saddlebacks – remember I met their South Island cousins on Stewart Island back in 2020.  Here the juveniles are born with their ‘saddle’ markings as opposed to the South Islands one who do not develop it until they are older.

The highlight of the day for me (although the whole day was a highlight) was seeing my first Tuatara in the wild 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻.  Tuatara are endemic to New Zealand and are the only survivors of an ancient lineage of reptiles whose ancestors lived along side dinosaurs, over 220 million years ago.

They used to live throughout the country, but populations were decimated by rats etc. and today are now only found in predator proof fenced sanctuaries and offshore islands.   They are active mainly at night but also come out during the day to bask in the sun.  To avoid being eaten by adults, juveniles tend to feed during the day!! 

Females can lay 6-8 eggs per year and are buried to keep warm and as with some other reptiles, the egg temperature can determine the sex of the young.  Once hatched they have to fend for themselves and if they survive ‘childhood’ they can live between 80-100 years.  

Did I mention just how excited I was to see them??  I had seen them before in wildlife parks (in fact I used to work at a park where we breed them), but never in their natural habitat.  It was really a thrill for me.

Kiwis have been introduced to the island, but they have not breed well, no one really knows why but it is possible they are competing for burrows with grey faced petrels that also nest in burrows on the ground.   We actually passed the bodies of a couple of petrels along the way – apparently, they are terrible at landing, often using trees/bushes to break their fall, sometimes this does not work for them!

After a walk around some of the tracks we stopped by the hut for some lunch (it used to be possible to stay the night but now it is only used for rangers).  I only had snacks rather than lunch so was finished quickly and took the opportunity to hang around by the flowering Pohutukawa’s (right by the toilet lol) watching the tuis attracted by the flowers.  I was also lucky enough to spot some of the resident Kakariki (a green parrot) but not close enough to get a photo.

From lunch we took one of the tracks around the side of the island and down to Sulphur Bay – not surprisingly the remaining geothermal area on the island.  There were once pools in the area, but they were buried by a landslide, but you can still see the steam vents and you can definitely smell the sulphur.

The geothermal activity makes this an incredible ‘hot water beach’, you can actually see the sand bubbling in some areas it is so hot – it actually felt like I scalded my feet at one point 🥴.   The idea is to dig a hole in the sand, the perfect depth so you get right temperature water in your self made hot pool – too shallow and it was way too hot, too deep and it was too cold!   There are hot water beaches in other parts of the country, but it is rare that you find one which you can have all to yourself.

It was beautiful sitting on the beach in the sun, soaking my feet in the hot water while watching isolatied rain showers across the mainland.  What a way to spend the day.

As we headed back towards the boat, which was waiting for us at another beach, there was word of a whale sighting so instead of heading back to town, we headed out to sea.  It was already 1.45pm and they had said we would be back by 1.30pm – no one was complaining though.   On our impromptu boat trip, we saw diving petrels and penguins in the water 👍🏻 but sadly no whales today.  It was great to see the island from the sea as well, with its interesting rock formations and NZ fur seals lazying around the shore line.

We finally arrived back back in Whakatane over an hour late – what an amazing trip which I highly recommend.

Back on the mainland it was time to hit the road as I still had some driving to do before my stop for the night.   I could not pass up the opportunity to stop at what is apparently New Zealand’s favourite beach, Ohope Beach.  It was pretty impressive with 11 kilometres of beautiful sand beach, despite being a little windswept today.  The Ohope spit itself is approximately 6 kilometres long and only 300m wide at its narrowest, making it very easy to walk from the beach on one side to the Ohiwa estuary on the other.

I was starving by this point, so stopped to have some lunch at the General Store, overlooking the estuary.  Unfortunately it really only had fried food (which becomes a theme for the trip) so fried food it was!

I’d been lucky to avoid the rain so far, but it finally came down as I was driving my last leg for the day.  Despite the rain it was a lovely 35 minute drive around the estuary and through small rural villages to my stop for the night at Opotiki. 

East Cape Escape – Part 2: Hot water hunting

October 2021

From the Waimangu Volcanic Area, I had about 30 minutes to race back towards town to Te Puia, just on the outskirts of the city to visit some more hot water!  In my rush, I parked in the wrong car park (it seems that they have two and I had parked in the overflow one for when they are busy … they were not busy🤦🏻‍♀️), thankfully it was only a few minutes’ walk to the entrance.  In fact, they were so quiet, I was greeted ‘Kia Ora Elaine’ as I walked in the door ❤️.

Straight off their website “Te Puia is home to the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, Pōhutu, as well as the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute – training the next generation of young artists for over 54 years.”   I chose to join one of their guided experiences which took me through the park including the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute and the Kiwi Conservation Centre.

I was joined by 3 others from Wellington, and we started in the Marae (Māori meeting house & courtyard) where Kahu, our local guide explained the intricacies and of the meanings of parts of the marae and the beautiful carvings inside it.  Kahu also told us of the hardships Covid has caused on tourist attractions such as this – pre-covid, Te Puia was averaging 7,000 visitors a day (their record was 100,000 visitors in one day)!  Today, they had around 30!  As much as I am enjoying the New Zealand tourist attractions in peace and quiet, it’s hard to imagine the impact the lack of tourists has had on tourism operators and their staff.

Light rain started just as we got inside the meeting house (it had been threatening most of the morning) which was perfect timing and Kahu took the time to tell us stories of the local’s iwi or tribes.  He also explained how the building represents the body of an ancestor e.g., the rafters are the rib cage.  This particular marae was built in 1970 and student carvers from around the country carved an ancestor from their area so each part of the building has a different design.  The building took 10 years to complete as the carvers had to keep going out to get additional work to pay for it!

From here we walked up towards the Arts & Crafts Institute, through a pathway flanked by 8 carved figures.  All important in the Māori legends of creation.  The most famous, or perhaps now world ‘infamous’ thanks to the movie Moana, is Maui- the trickster who is credited with the creation of New Zealand (the South Island being his canoe and the North Island the fish he caught with his infamous hook taken from his grandmother’s jawbone)!

The New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute is the home of the national school of carving (bone, pounamu (green stone) and wood) and weaving and is tasked with preserving, promoting and perpetuating Māori.  Young Māori from all around the country apply (or are normally nominated by their Iwi) to train at the Institute and can spend 2-3 years training. 

We started in the carving area and the tutors explained to us the process of the training and the carving itself.  There was a lot of information but some particular notes that stuck with me were:

  • Bone carvers start training on stone before moving on to whale bone (gifted by local Iwi or tribes from stranded whales) and green stone.  7.5 out of 10 on the ‘most hardness scale’ 😂 is greenstone.
  • The Hei Tiki, which is a common site on Maraes and in tourist shops represent the first man 
  • The wood they were carving was a 1,700 year old Totara log found in a swamp!! 
  • The Carving school follows the old traditions and admits men only … other carving schools accept women but not this one
  • The students in the weaving school spend their first months learning about the patterns and the stories they tell as well as the products they use to weave e.g., flax before starting to weave.   They also learn how to harvest the flax and collect feathers.
  • As with the carving school, the weaving school try to do things as traditionally as possible, even down to scrapping the flax with muscle shells.

The final stop on this part of the tour was the Āhua Gallery – where some of the works made in the schools are on display and for sale.  Many beautiful and very, very, very expensive items.

From here we headed down to the Kiwi Conservation Centre nocturnal house where they have 3 resident kiwis.  The conservation centre is part of the national breeding for release programme but unfortunately the Kiwi ‘keeper’ was not availability to tell us about them, and Kahu, who I had told previously I had worked at another Kiwi conservation centre in a previous life, asked me to tell the others a bit about the kiwi and the conservation programme – sadly he did not offer me a discount for the work I did lol

And finally, we reached the main attraction – the geothermal area.   Te Puia has 60 hectares of native bush, geyser and mud pools and is home to the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere – the Pōhutu geyser.  Apparently when they are not many people in the grounds, the children from the local village swim in the warm streams (not the 140C parts of course) but they can not do it when people are around as there are signs everywhere saying don’t go near the water lol. Kahu had to call ahead to say we were coming!

The landscape here was crazy, just how I would imagine the moon looks like but with steam everywhere.  Bubbling mud and water exploding from the ground.  To round off the tour, we got to enjoy delicious steam pudding which had been cooked in an ‘oven’ in the steam. 

Unfortunately, my free time exploring the area was cut short as the rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived and it arrived hard just as the tour ended!  Despite the abrupt ending, the tour was so worth it and Kahu our guide was awesome.  Highly recommended.

To make up for getting soaked running back to the far away carpark to my car, I drove a short distance out of town to the “Secret Spot” (a woman I had chatted with on the morning boat tour, told me about it).  It turned out it was no secret lol but was a lovely Spa with private hot tubs for hire.  They also have small tubs to soak your feet for free – well, the price of a drink, and after the almost 20,000 steps 😂 I had walked during the day it was lovely place to enjoy a drink.  The rain has eased up, but the thunder was still rolling in the distance.

My final stop on my whistle stop tour of Rotorua was the Redwood Treetop walk in the Whakarewarewa Forest, just outside of the city.  You can do this during the day, but I choose to go at night (I believe you can get a combined ticket if you have the time to do both).   Given the very few people I had seen at the sites during the day, I was surprised by how busy it was, but I managed to weave my way around some of the slower people on the narrow swing bridges.  I was not wowed by it, but it was nice, and the lights/lanterns were cool (designed by world-renowned designer and sustainability champion David Trubridge).  Perhaps it would be better to go during the day when you can read the signs and learn more about the area. 

Next stop …. the coast.