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! 

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!!