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)

Kiwi summers be like …

Picton – January 2021

FYI this is not a normal blog, much shorter (and perhaps sweeter lol) than normal but I decided it was worth writing even if only as a place holder for the photos!

Now, all good Kiwi summer holidays should have three things – a beach, a boat and a bach (“Pronounced ‘batch’, it is a term Kiwis commonly used for a holiday home. Often located by the sea, river, lake or forest, baches are all about kicking back. They offer the perfect range of accommodation to allow you to holiday like New Zealanders do.” – thanks www.newzealand.com for that thorough definition)!  Now I do not have any of these things, nor do I know people with a bach!  But thankfully, I do know people with boats and New Zealand has plenty of wonderful beaches which are free, so my kiwi summer is saved 😂.

I grew up with English parents so although we always had great summer camping holidays, we never had the boating/water skiing holidays that others had.  Luckily my brother now has a boat (as do some of his friends) and has family holidays like this and every now and then we join them and their friends for a few days. This year we were based in Waikawa – a small bay around from Picton at the start of the stunning Marlborough Sounds.

Picton is a small town and a gateway to both the Marlborough Sounds and the North Island via the Inter Island ferries that plough through the Cook Straight.  Incredibly the Marlborough Sounds boosts 1/5th of New Zealand’s coastline (from the map you can see how) and only 1% of the population lol.  Picton’s population is less than 5,000 which swells massively in the summer.  Sadly, it has been badly affected by the lack of tourists over the last year (it used to get over 40 cruise ships a year stop in its deep water harbour) but hopefully it will bounce back as the world returns to normal (fingers crossed).

No holiday in Picton or the Marlborough Sounds is complete with other the drive up the coast.  Though there are still road works and repairs going on from the massive earthquake that hit the area in 2016 (which closed much of the road for many months) it is still a stunning journey as you travel up the coast, along the beautiful turquoise Pacific Ocean (the photo does not do it justice) and then inland pass the vineyards, even with the intermittent rain.

Day 1 was the perfect day.  This involved getting in the boat (which our friends keep in the marina here) and heading out to find the perfect bush lined deserted bay to set up for the day which happened to be in Kaipakirikiri Bay (according to my trusty maps.me).  And the soundtrack to this perfect day … bird song and the perfectly clear water lapping the shores.

As relaxing as it may sounds, a fully day of sun and sea is exhausting lol.  Even more so for those riding the biscuit (not sure why it is called that, but it is basically an inflatable ring they you sit or lie on and get towed behind the boat) or water skiing – neither of which was me 😂.  I could not even ‘spot’ from the boat (too busy taking photos) without injury. The call is supposed to be ‘skier down’, not ‘spotter down’ 🥴.

After a perfect day on the beach, we tried out a spot of fishing on the way home, but the wind and swell had come up and we gave up after a few attempts.  (I also did not fish but spent my time taking photos of jelly fish lol.)

On our second and last day it was a much more moody morning, but we were out again and explored some of the hundreds of beautiful bays and inlets with bush down to the beach.  It was a bit to cold for water sports, so fishing was on the agenda – again unsuccessfully.

As the seas got rougher, we decided to stop off at the lovely Lochmara Lodge, one of the many small resorts in the Sounds, accessible only by boat.  Their marketing slogan is “Just like Fiji, but cooler…”  – so true lol.

It has 14 rooms and a waterfront café which was a lovely place to spend an hour or two over a beer or a coffee.  They also have an underwater observatory and 11 acres of land which I hope to get back to explore one day.

It is probably worth noting you can still enjoy the joy that is the Marlborough Sounds even if you don’t have access to a boat, as there are ferries/water taxis and also the post boat which you can jump on to move around the bays.

Returning to the mainland we headed back in to Picton for the afternoon, where they were having their annual Maritime Festival which, not surprisingly celebrates maritime history of the region.  Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal, and it very soon turned into torrential, wind blown rain!  That was our cue to head to the pub!

Picton was original the site of a Māori Pa called Waitohi (Wai meaning water, and Tohi meaning a ritual given to warriors before battle).  When the British arrived, they realised how valuable the deep water harbour was, and ‘purchased’ the land from the local Māori who relocated their pa to Waikawa Bay (where I was staying).

And just like that it was time to head home.  That coastal route home did not disappoint.  After stopping briefly to check out the seals at Ohau Point we stopped again to watch a huge pod of dolphins just of the coast – 100s of them.  You know when the family is out for a nice Sunday walk and 2 of the kids are crazy – constant jumping and twisting 😂😂.  What a perfect end to the trip.

Unseen Fiorland and Stewart Island (Part 4) – The final chapter

We had a calm night, and we woke to a beautiful morning surrounded by mountains, bush and bird sound from the shores of nearby Anchor Island.   Nothing like Ulva but more than anywhere else, yet another perfect morning as it has been every day for my morning coffee.  It was made even more perfect by a couple of dolphins swimming around the boat and some little blue penguins in the distance – what more could you ask for.  After such a beautiful start, I popped outside after breakfast and it was raining ☔️ah, Fiordland. 

Our outing this morning was going to take us to around Luncheon Cove and on to Anchor Island.  Anchor Island is highly protected which means the numbers of people on shore at one time are limited and the logistics of this seemed far more difficult than it should have been 🤦🏻‍♀️ lol. I was in the last group to depart the ship.  On the downside this mean a lot of waiting around as we did not get off until almost 10am, on the upside by this time it had stopped raining!

We spent some time looking at the fur seals lounging around on the rocks and relaxing in the water before it was our turn to land on Anchor Island at Luncheon Cove (apparently Captain Cook had lunch here one day, hence the name!).  In 1792, 14 men (though some accounts say 11 men were left) were dropped off at this same spot by the Sealer ship Britannia with the intent of spending a few months catching the abundant fur seals in the area.  They were left with building materials to build not only a house to live in, but another boat, in case the Britannia could not come back to collect them. 

The house and boat they built here are considered the first European house/settlement and boat built in New Zealand.  Despite their boat building success, the Britannia did come back to pick them (and their 4,500 seal skins – of course that translates to 4,500 less fur seals!!) 10 months later so the nearly completed 52 ft long boat was left in the small creek on Anchor Island.

So, when the men were not busy building (and making beer out of Rimu leaves), they were sealing and killed 100s and 1000s of the local fur seal population.  Seals were greatly prized and Captain Cook even made the following entry in his diary in 1773“ Thursday 22nd.  In the PM I went with a party a Seal hunting, the surf was so high that we could only land in one place where we killed Ten, these animals serve us for three purposes, the skins we use for our rigging, the fatt makes oyle for our lamps and the flesh we eat, their harslets (heart and liver) are equal to that of a hog and the flesh of some of them eats little inferior to beef steakes, nay I believe we should think it superior could we get the better of prejudice.”

(The journals of Captain James Cook: the voyage of the Resolution and Adventure, 1772–1775, edited by J. C. Beaglehole. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961, p. 126)

Sealing in the area carried on until 1946, but thankfully the population of seals has built back up today and we saw many in the area, including one who had a bit of a stand off with one of my boat mates!

But the story of the boat did not end when the original group of sealers were picked up.  Two years later another ship, the Endeavour, came to the area and the crew finished the build.  They named their ‘new’ boat the Providence and sailed it to Norfolk Island.

Today, Anchor Island is particularly important to the conservation efforts of endangered species.  In particular the Kakapo which were introduced to the island in 2006, having been cleared of the last of the predators in 2005 (all the deer were removed in 2007).  In the 2015 breeding season they had 38 chicks on Anchor Island and today there is a population of 80 young Kakapo on the island.   Unfortunately, they are nocturnal so there was little to no chance of seeing one whilst on the island.  Apparently there use to be one who came out to ‘greet’ visitors to the island, but they removed it to an island that is not open to the public as they were worried someone would ‘steal’ it!

We had a short walk on the island but to be honest I would have preferred just to sit some quietly and listen and watch the birds rather than go on the walk-through mud and learn and see nothing special.   It was also hot going, dressed for zodiacs and then hiking, but I shouldn’t complain, it was beautiful, and I am so fortunate to be able to visit such important places.

When our time on shore was over, we jumped back in the Zodiac for another trip around the islands, this time there were a lot of fur seals, including some pups and also Fiordland Crested penguins swimming around in the water. We also past a number of crayfish launches (similar to the one the chef had sourced the crayfish for dinner) – they often have helipads on top of their pontoons, so their fresh catch can be taken to Te Anau by helicopter!

Back on board and there were a group of 3 penguins on the rocks, near the ship but a little too far for decent photos.  They were so cute jumping around trying to decide whether to go in the water or not 😂 (well, that’s what it looked like to me)!

During lunch the ship moved again – stepping out of the ship every time after we move is like stepping out into a new world – this time we were anchored off Pigeon Island, truly the birthplace of conservation in New Zealand.  Pigeon Island is where Richard Henry set up home when working on his conservation efforts on Resolution Island. 

Richard Henry was an Irishman who came to New Zealand in the late 1870’s and got a job as a rabbit shooter on a sheep farm.  When he saw the damage stoats, ferrets and weasels were doing to the native bird population, he predicted that they could wipe out the entire population.  He believed the birds would be safer on offshore islands, and although his ideas formed the basis for much of today’s conservation efforts of native species, his efforts to keep the predators at bay, were futile.

In 1894, Richard Henry was appointed custodian and caretaker of Resolution Island in Fiordland which became New Zealand’s first island reserve for native wildlife.  He set up home on Pigeon Island and built a house and a Kakapo pen, the remains of which we can see today.  He left Fiordland in 1908 and became caretaker of a new reserve on Kapiti Island – both Kapiti and Resolution remain key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.

Pigeon Island is another restricted island, this time, only 12 people were allowed on shore at one time, so we had limited time to explore this beautiful little island.  We were joined by a chirpy saddleback (saddlebacks were only introduced a couple of years ago and appear to be doing well.)  It is definitely clear to see how much more birdlife there is on the pest free islands and Pigeon Island was no exception.  Sadly, there were also many sand flies whilst waiting for to leave the beach 😫!

Back on the ship and it was already time to start packing, and a celebratory Kir Royale and cheese board on the bow to toast to the last night of the trip.  It was beautiful weather … sunny and warm, just like the first evening we celebrated on the bow, just a short 6 days before.  It was so warm, some people jumped in the water, including the captain of the ship and the naked chef – literally   🥴!!  I did not join them as I am a complete wuss when it comes to cold water!

Before dinner we had one final evening recap of the day and the trip as a whole.  It was amazing to be reminded of all the amazing places we had been in the short 6 days on the ship.  Apparently, adversity and revelation weld a group together, thankfully we had had not much adversity but lots of revelation.

After our final dinner, most of us headed back up to deck to enjoy the journey out of the Sounds into Foveaux Strait.  We started the day with dolphins, and we ended the day with dolphins, a flock of sooty shearwaters and the odd albatross soaring around the boat.  It was beautiful but, not surprisingly it started to get rough as we made our way around the infamous Puysegur Point and that was my cue to head to bed!!

Most of the night was relatively calm despite the 3 hours rocking and rolling to start … and we were very soon heading in to port at Bluff (after we passed a couple of albatrosses waving goodbye) for a 7.30 landing.  We had had a pilot on board for the whole trip (a requirement for a ship this size) so we did not have to wait for one when we arrive in port and could just sail straight in.

It has been a great trip and I think we had been particularly lucky with the weather.  Apparently, we 3-4 metre swells at worst, sounds terrible to me but apparently it is nothing to the seasoned seafarers!

Phone reception had come back over night and everyone was back on their phones – me to change my flight from 4pm to 11am given that we were be in port so early.  It is always so refreshing to have a break from the internet.

Shortly after breakfast we were ready to depart and was waved off by the crew who lined up on the wharf to say their farewells.  They trip was short, but incredibly sweet and I have already got my eye on some future journeys with Heritage Expeditions. 

NB: Photos really don’t do this area justice – no photo can really depict the grandeur of the lush green forest covered mountains and the deep green colour of the water. Yet another place I would love to spend more time.