Now to the North(land)

July 2021

Now, I am a planner!! I enjoy nothing better than researching trips, pulling together spreadsheets of options and costs – I feel no shame about my need to plan lol.  Unfortunately, sometimes the best laid plans do not pan out and you just need to roll with it – this was one of those trips 🥴. After last year’s birthday trip took us through the snowy mountains to the West Coast of the South Island (remember the snow chain debacle 🤦🏻‍♀️), this year we headed north in the hope of some winter sun … 

Most people (including me), consider Auckland as ‘the north’ of New Zealand, but in fact there is another 400+km (5-6 hours driving) north of the city.  On this trip we were heading in to Northland, going about 3 hours north of Auckland to Paihia in the beautiful Bay of Islands.

Often considered the birthplace of modern New Zealand, the Bay of Islands is where the first European settlers arrived and is home to Waitangi, the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (more about that later).  And as the name suggests, there are 144 islands in the bay and the sub-tropical climate makes it a popular holiday destination.

It was a beautiful crisp morning for our departure from Christchurch, making for a beautiful flight with perfect photo opportunities.  In stark contrast, Auckland was hidden in fog, which delayed our landing by about 10 minutes but we were soon down, bags in hand and picked up by Snap rentals to get our car and hit the road. 

Despite being a Saturday morning, there was so much traffic driving through the city 🤦🏻‍♀️.  Thankfully we were driving north out of the city where the traffic was not so bad, but I just can’t understand why so many people where driving into the city on a Saturday morning???? 

Our Paihia Airbnb host had given us some tips and had recommended taking a short detour along the scenic, coastal route north, taking us through the small town of Orewa where we took a quick pit stop to grab a coffee and admire the moody but beautiful beach. 

Back on the northern part of the Hibiscus Coast Highway (the same road I took last year from Auckland west to Thames), it was not long before we arrived at Otuihau Whangarei Falls, just outside of Whangarei.    The falls are 26.3 metres high, falling over basalt cliffs and there is a beautiful easy walk around the falls. 

Much to my partners annoyance (lol) I was determined to have one more stop on our drive north, at the small quirky town of Kawakawa to see the public toilets.  Yes, you read that right, I wanted to stop to see the public toilets! 

The Hundertwasser Toilets are the most photographed toilets in New Zealand and are considered to be an international work of art (one of the few toilet blocks with that honour – not surprising I guess).   The toilets were designed by Austrian architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived in the area.  They were built in 1999 using recycled materials from the community and even including a living tree.  It would have been rude not to use the facilities whilst I checked them out lol.

Finally we arrived in Paihia – our destination for this trip.  Our Airbnb apartment was lovely. A short walk to town and a great view out to the sea.  We arrived late in the afternoon so we walked down in to town for some dinner and drinks.  It was a beautiful night with a full moon and the wharf and lights looking lovely.

After a quick early morning sunrise run/walk along the water front, it was not without trepidation we set off for our boat cruise to the famous Hole in the Rock.  It was already pretty windy and the sea looked a little choppy, even in the harbour, but we had bought discounted tickets earlier in the week and this day was the only option.

The trepidation was well founded – we boarded the boat which was already bouncing around in the protected harbour – and the first announcement they made was …. “It’s going to be really rough out there and we probably won’t make it to the Hole in the Rock!!  Get off now if you are not up for that!” So we got off  and thankfully received a full refund.  Instead of the boat trip, we decided to walk the 30 minutes along the waterfront to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bay of Islands is considered the birth place of modern New Zealand.  Firstly due to the fact that this is where the earliest European settlers settled and because it is where the Te Tiriti o Waitangi (or Treaty of Waitangi) was signed in 1840 – for that reason, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of the most symbolically important places in New Zealand. 

The site was home to the first British government representative, James Busby, but prior to the European settlers arriving, it was an important seasonal gathering site for the local Ngāpuhi iwi.  In fact, in one of the earliest recorded land agreements between Māori and the settlers, they allowed the Church Missonary Society to hold 50 acres of the current Waitangi site.

Not surprisingly, the Treaty was as controversial at the time as it has been in more recent years and ‘vigorous discussion’ took place at the Treaty grounds prior to signing by the local Māori leaders.  It was eventually signed and taken around the country for other leaders to sign, making New Zealand the first Pacific island nation to be under European control.

In 1990, Queen Elizabeth the II said of the Treaty ” Today, we are strong enough and honest enough to admit that the Treaty has been imperfectly observed. Look upon it as a legacy of promise. It can be a guide to … all those whose collective sense of justice, fairness and tolerance will shape the future.”

Today, it is the site of the annual Treaty of Waitangi anniversary events, and is a popular tourist attraction.  It has a great museum which explains the history of the early settlers, both Māori and European, as well as shedding some light on the complexities of the Treaty itself.

From here, you can spend hours wandering around the beautiful grounds, exploring Treaty House (which was the original residence of the Busby family) and the Te Whare Runanga, the beautifully carved meeting house.  If you time it right you can enjoy a performance from the local Kapa Haka group – unfortunately we did not time it right as a performance was already part way through.

The flagstaff on the large lawn, looking out to sea, marks the spot where the Treaty was fist signed on 6 February 1840.  The current flagstaff was erected in 1934 and flies the 3 official flags that New Zealand has had since 1834 – the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (the first flag), the Union Jack (the national flag from 1840) and today’s New Zealand flag which dates back to 1902.

Don’t miss the walk down to the small beach to see Ngātokimatawhaorua, the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.  The 35m canoe and it 76 paddlers is launched each year on Waitangi Day as part of the days events.

It was lovely walk back to Paihia, this time along the beach as the tide was out (when the tide is in, the water is right up against the sea wall) and we headed to one of the many great food options in town – CBK (Craft Bar Kitchen) right on the water front was our choice for lunch before a relaxing afternoon – we are on holiday after all lol.

After a night of rain, the sunrise the next morning was beautiful and hazy – it really felt and looked like the tropics and I often struggle to believe that this is even New Zealand?  I made the most of it by heading out for another morning walk /run. Despite feeling so energised first thing in the morning, it did not last long and so decided to take it easy for the rest of the day.  We took a relaxing walk to town and caught the ferry, the 15 minutes across the bay to Russell.

Russell stared life as a small coastal seasonal Māori village, with a number of important Pas on the surrounding hills guarding the approach.  When the Europeans arrived, the used the area as a shore station for shipping. 

As the town grew, it was nicknamed the “Hell hole of the Pacific” due to the nature of it’s settlers – an unsavoury mixture of deserting sailors, escaped convicts, prostitutes and grog sellers. Captain Cook had spread the word about the “most noble anchorage” and it became a popular hub for whalers stopping in for suppliers from the local Māori and European settlers. Many of the buildings in the town still date back to the early 1800s. For European buildings in New Zealand, that is pretty much as old as it gets. One of the most famous buildings is the Duke of Marlborough pub whose tag line is “refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827” (though the building has burnt down and has been rebuilt twice since then).

Russell was considered of such importance, it was named the first capital of New Zealand in 1840. In 1841 the capital was moved to Auckland but even today, the sleepy little town it still retains it glory as the first capital lol.

The weather was not great and it was raining on and off so we did not stay long before heading back across the bay to Paihia for the rest of the afternoon.  Thankfully it was not cold – not sure it gets cold in this far north (I may need to consider a move lol).

On what was supposed to be our final full day in Paihia, our plans started to completely unravel!  As I was still not feeling well we decided to leave Paihia a day early so we did not have to make the drive early the following morning.  But, before heading to Auckland we took a quick detour to the town of Kerikeri (the largest town in Northland), where there were a number of things I wanted to see.

First stop was Rainbow Falls or Waianiwaniwa, a 27 metre single drop waterfall.  It is only a short walk from the car park to the viewing platform and not surprisingly, it is well known for it’s rainbows in the spray from the water, and yes, there was a rainbow.  Our next stop was a medical centre, as I was feeling even worse by this stage!!  Unfortunately, they could not see me and told us to go to Whangarei Hospital – 1 hour away!!  Thankfully it was on the way to Auckland so we skipped all the other sites and headed south

I was seen quickly at the very efficient hospital and the strong painkillers they gave me helped me survived the rest of the drive to Auckland and home to Christchurch – I was disappointed that we did not get to do all that was planned … but in hindsight it was lucky we got away at all! (Thankfully there were a lot of rainbows and a lovely sunset on the journey to keep my spirits up.)

(Footnote:  They day after we got home I was admitted to hospital and ended staying there for a week (though I am fully recovered now).  So not only were we lucky we got away, but perhaps even more so, lucky we got home!!!)

Cruising the Catlins (and Dunedin)

April 2021

For a long time I have been itching to head south.  Not quite as far south as Stewart Island but south to Dunedin and beyond to the Catlins, an area that covers the south east corner of the South Island.  I finally made it during the Easter break (which in New Zealand includes the Friday and the Monday), and better yet, I had managed to persuade my partner to come with me – winning all around lol.

We left Christchurch just after midday on Thursday, hoping to avoid the worst of the Easter weekend traffic.  Our plan worked and despite the multitude of trucks and campervans we had to pass, we arrived into Dunedin around 5pm – just in time to join the city rush hour traffic!  Fortunately we did not have to far to go to our ocean front hotel, right on the esplanade of St Clair – the seaside suburb of the city. 

We didn’t have an ocean front room (to expensive) but our room was lovely and we could see the sea from our balcony 👍🏻.  The tide was right in and somewhat wild but despite that there were a number of surfers braving the waves.  I wasn’t aware when booking the hotel, but apparently, St Clair Beach is a very popular with surfers, having New Zealand’s most consistent surf break and this weekend, they were hosting the South Island Surfing Championships! 

After settling in to the room, we made the short walk to the local shops to get some food for our drive tomorrow  and fish and chips and wine for our dinner – pure class 😂 and we enjoyed a quiet night in, in preparation of our early start the next day for our Catlins day trip.

I had spent many hours mapping and planning our day (yes, I am that person) and had an itinerary down to the 5 minute intervals 🥴, including tracking weather and tides (which is a must for some of our stops) lol.  As we left the city in the still almost darkness (it was almost 8am) it was raining! I prayed the weather websites I had consulted had it right and that it would clear up.

First stop was a petrol station to stock up on coffee, breakfast and fuel to make sure we were ready for a day on the road with virtually no shops and little phone reception – it was still overcast and raining, not boding well for our first viewpoint 🥴

We left the city on State Highway 1, the longest and most significant road in New Zealand running the length of both islands.  Not surprisingly it is a good road and in this area, runs through picturesque farm land.  We tuned off the main road to head towards our first stop at Nugget Point.

Nugget Point gets its name from the gold nugget shaped rocks (some imagination is needed to see this shape) just of the headland.   From the car park area, it is just a short, relatively easy walk up to the lighthouse, which was built in 1869 and the viewing platform over the ‘nuggets’.   

Thankfully the sky had cleared and although it was not sunny, it was still beautiful with the sun breaking through the clouds on to the sea.   It was windy though and I could not stay on the exposed part of the viewing platform for too long with fear of being blown off lol!  There is a small sign near the track which describes Nugget Point as the “meeting place of rock and waves and wind and tide” – I think that sums it up nicely.

Back on the picturesque road again and the rain started again.  Of course, rain + sun = 🌈👍🏻.

Now there are many waterfalls in the Catlins, and if you have more time, you could spend an entire day visiting waterfalls alone.  Our one day whistle stop tour means we had to choose one, and we chose Purakaunui Falls. 

The falls were only a short 10 minute walk from the carpark, through a native podocarp and beech forest filled with beautiful bird song and just as we reached the falls, the clouds parted and blue sky appeared above the waterfall for the perfect picture 😁.   The waterfall is 20 metres tall and cascades over 3 tiers.  Apparently, it is one of New Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls and even appears on a postage stamp (if you remember those things lol).

It may be worth noting that there is no phone reception in much of this area, so we were relying on the offline maps.me app to get around and we were initially concerned when it directed us along an unsealed road … but never fear, we finally made it out on the main road and we were soon at our next stop at the Lost Gypsy caravan were we had a quick break to caffeinate again 😂and grab an amazing freshly baked hot cross bun.   The caravan itself (and ‘museum’ in the surrounding area) is a weird collection of ‘automata and curios’ (one person’s junk is another person’s treasure) which definitely worth exploring if you have the time.

Back on the road and we had a quick stop at the Florence Hill look out for a view over the perfectly curved Tautuku Beach and out to the Southern Ocean before continuing on a few kilometres to the car park for Cathedral Caves.  We paid our small fee for the car park (more of a donation towards the maintance etc.) and headed down the track through the bush towards the beach.

The caves are only accessible 3 hours per day around low tide so planning was essential to make sure we were here at the right time.  It is also closed during the winter months.  It took us around 10 minutes down the bush lined track and 10 minutes along a beautiful wide wind swept beach – thankfully the sun was out again and it was not too cold.  I loved the bush lined beach.

There were a few people around, but not too many and we managed to avoid the larger family group which would have ruined all my photos 😂. 

The caves themselves have been gouged out of the Jurassic sandstone cliffs by the waves over tens of thousands of years and it is worth taking a torch (or ensuring your phone has a torch on it) if you want to explore the back of the caves.  They are up to 30 metres in height, resembling cathedrals (with some imagination).

It only took 12 minutes to walk/trot back up from the beach to the car park – my weekly hill walks must be paying off 👍🏻.

Just as we got back to the car park, it started to rain … the heaviest rain we had had during the day.  In fact, come to think of it, it seemed to rain every time we were in the car lol.

Our final stop was Curio Bay.  The home the endangered yellow eyed penguins and an incredible petrified forest.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of the day to see the penguins as they typically come in from their day at sea near dusk.  Of course, to see the petrified forest, we needed to be there around low tide and they did not correspond. 

The petrified forest dates back to the Jurassic period and the tree fossils you can see today, are approximately 170 million years old.  It was incredible that you can still see the rings of the trees in the ‘stone’.  The trees are the ancestors of Kauri and Matai, and were alive when New Zealand was part of Gondwanaland … if only those trees could talk.  It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining and the contrast of colours between the sky, the sea and the rocks was stunning. 

Just a short walk from Curio Day is Porpoise Bay.  You can probably guess that it is common to see Hectors dolphins in the bay.  We found a spot overlooking the bay to park up for lunch but unfortunately there were no dolphins today.  Before our long drive back to Dunedin, we took a  quick look at the view point over Curio Bay – guess what, it started raining and the wind picked up again, just as I was trying to take photos of birds in the distance but the wind was blowing me around on the exposed headland.   Again that amazing combination of sun and rain resulted in a  rainbow into sea 🌈.

We had an uneventful 2.5 hour drive back to Dunedin (if you don’t count the massive flock of sheep slowly making their way down the road) and the surf competition was still going (it started early in the morning).  We watched it for a little while before enjoying a well earned meal at Spirit House, an Asian fusion restaurant just a few minutes from our hotel – I highly recommend it if you are in the area. 

The next morning we had planned to have a relaxed morning and go for a walk but I woke to see red reflected in the windows of the houses across from us – that was it, I was dressed and out of there in a minute and boy was it worth it, what a beautiful sunrise.  (Not quite the pyjama clad dash I did in Stewart Island – at least this time I had clothes on 👍🏻 lol).

It was a lovely walk around to the Sir Leonard Wright lookout.   The walk took us along St Clair beach, through parks and a little along an ocean front road and then back along the beach – 8 km in total.  It was a great start to the day.

We headed back to the room to shower and change before driving into the city.  I bought a 50c map from the Information Centre and did a little self-guided heritage walk.  Unfortunately, the map didn’t give much information and had pretty poor photos showing the buildings, but it did give me some structure to my roaming so I guess it was worth the 50c?? lol

Dunedin’s history dates back to the arrival of Māori in around 1100AD.  Little evidence is left of their time here, in a place they called Ōtepoti, but it is considered that they survived on seal and moa.  Almost 600 years later, in 1770, Capitan Cook arrived in the area, quickly followed by European sealers and whalers decimating the local wildlife populations.   

The 1800’s brought the gold rush and a Scottish settlement, that turned in to New Zealand’s first city in 1865.  It was also the largest and richest city at the time.   The new settlers tried to replicate Edinburgh and many of the buildings from that time give the city the character it has today.  The name Dunedin come from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh – Dùn Èideann.   Apparently the ornate Victorian and Edwardian buildings are regarded the best collect of such architecture in the Southern Hemisphere.  Dunedin is also home of New Zealand’s first university – Otago, which was founded in 1869.

My walk ended up at the at the First Church, built in 1873 – the last time I was here photographing the church was 8 years ago, in the snow!!! This time I was fortunate to have some sunshine 👍🏻

From the city, I drove out to the peninsula to Larnch Castle – a mock castle with beautiful views and stunning gardens with plants from all around the world.  Unlike the map I had in town, the entrance fee (you can pay to just look around the gardens or the gardens and castle) to the castle provides you with a brochure that has lots of information about the castle and grounds.

Despite all the “Scottishness”, the castle has no real Scottish roots and Larnch was actually born in Australia and lived most of his life there or in New Zealand.   (At that time, these settlers still considered themselves British despite never setting foot in the mother country.)

Apparently, it is New Zealand’s only ‘castle” and was built by European mast craftsmen in 1871 by William Larnch for his wife Eliza.  No expense was spared.  Unfortunately, over the years the castle and grounds was left and both were in poor condition when purchased by the Barker family in 1967.   They have spent the subsequent decades restoring both the castle and gardens to their former glory (and beyond the case of the gardens) and the entrance fees allows them to continue this work.

The final thing on my list for the day was a walk to Tunnel Beach, a beach just outside of the city.  OMG, the path down was so steep and I was already dreading the walk back up just a few minutes in to the walk down!  This is another beach that you can only access 2 hours either side of low tide.  On this day, low tide was 4.30pm and the track and its nearby on road parking was already busy at 3pm!   

After the steep path down, I reached the tunnel which was narrow and dark (it is a tunnel after all  🥴) but it was all worth it when I made it to the to the beautiful beach surrounded by cliffs

By the time I got back to our hotel, I had most definitely earned pizza for dinner!

Our final morning and it was 19c at 6.30am so I was up early again for a final walk along the sea front and beach.  The sunrise was not as nice as the day before but was so warm and beautiful and surfers were already out warming up for their competition.

Sadly it was then time to get packed and head north, not without a short stop for lunch at the Fishwife at Moeraki village (yes, it is near the Moeraki Boulders).  They have great chips and are amazing for fresh Crays (if you like that kind of thing lol).

Its worth noting that Dunedin has so much more to do than just the mostly outdoorsy things I did.  It has a great museum, brewery tours, albatross and penguin colonies, wildlife boat cruises – definitely something for everyone!

The wild, wild west

(August 2020)

On my last trip to the West Coast of the South Island I headed south to the glaciers, on this trip (this time solo) I headed on the road less travelled – heading north to Karamea, the northern most town on the road north.

It was going to be a long driving day for me on my own, so I headed out early which isn’t always a great idea as I went through a couple of areas of thick fog before heading into the mountains and through Lewis Pass.   I made sure I had a few stops to keep fresh, firstly in the small town of Reefton for some lunch and then again as I passed through Buller Gorge – made friends with a weka who clearly was after food (people must feed it the way it came running up to me 😔).  My final stop was another quick one in Westport before the final 1.5 hour drive through tiny towns (as with many of the west coast towns, many were once booming mining towns) and windy narrow roads.

After a total of about 5.5 hours of driving, I reached Karamea (population 700) and checked in at my cute Air BnB cottage in time for a nap (driving is exhausting you know) before heading down to the beach to find a sunset spot.  Back on the rugged west coast and I have the beaches to myself.  Talk about social distancing at its best!  Probably worth noting, New Zealand had had a community outbreak of COVID-19 a few days early.  Thankfully (for me) it was in Auckland, but in response the city had quickly been moved back into Level 3 (of the NZ Covid response) and the rest of the country into Level 2.  I was grateful I could still get away and had checked with the Air BnB hosts that they were ok with me still coming and to be honest, my whole trip was pretty much planned to be completely solo with little interaction anyway.

I had planned to end my day with a soak in my outdoor tub but unfortunately the lights around it were not working 😠 – I contacted the host and they had promised that they would be fixed for the next evening, as it was one of the main reasons for booking the accommodation. (It still looked pretty in the daylight without the lights.)  FYI, I will travel for lots of reasons, outdoor hot tubs are one of them lol.

I thought the windy roads between Karamea and Westport were tough going, but they were a walk in the park compared to the road I had to take into the Ōpārara Basin in the Kahurangi National Park.   The road was unsealed and one lane in many areas, oh and don’t forget all the blind corners!  Thankfully, I only passed one car on the way in.

Kahurangi National Park is New Zealand’s second largest national park, and one of the newest, created in 1996.  The area has massive importance due it its diverse flora and fauna, as well as it’s ancient geology.  Incredibly its flora is the most diverse of any national park in the country!!

I came to the Ōpārara Basin to see some of the 25 million year old limestone caves and arches but was met by beautiful bird song as I set of on the short walk to the Moria Gate.  The bush here was like a primeval lost world (being far enough north and low enough altitude to avoid the worst effects of the more recent ice ages) and the track had sections where hanging moss covered everything around the track and with the winter morning sunlight filtering through the trees it was stunning.  I was the only person on the track, and I loved it!

There were weka running around on the track, completely unafraid but probably trying to suss out what they could steal from me 🥴.  I have early childhood memories of thieving wekas (stealing shells we would leave outside) so they always bring a smile to my face.  I then had a visit from my first South Island robin, I was so excited I high-fived myself (so sad I know but hey, there was no one else around). 

The Moria Gate arch was well worth the scramble through the cave to get under it – oddly named back in 1984 after the gate in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I have not read the books so I can’t comment on the similarity lol.  That aside, it was stunning, with tannin filled water – that is water that basically looks like tea from minerals leached out of the soil and stalactites hanging from the ceiling.

Back out on the tracking, they have cute Moa footprint stepping stones on part of the track.  Moa used to live in the area, and you can see bones in some places (although I sadly did not spot any).  Just in case you are not familiar with them, Moa are extinct cousins of Ostrich who used to roam New Zealand up until about 500 years ago.  There were numerous species, the largest of which could get up to about 2 metres in height!!!  I can only imagine what it would have been like to bump into one of those on a bush walk? lol

The walk to the Moria gate was only a short one but not surprisingly it took me much longer than it was supposed to as I keep stopping to listen to the birds and study the moss growing on the trees 😂.  No problem, I had all morning. 

The next spot on this short walk was the ‘Mirror Tarn’.  Now I was not sure what a tarn is, but I found a spot by the river where there was an incredible reflection.  There were no signs and it was not exactly on a track, more of a well-worn path – but nope 🤔 – it was not the Mirror Tarn which was further on the track but nowhere near as good as the first one – maybe still not enough sun? 

It was still nice, but I wish they had a bench or two at the nice spots so I could just sit for a bit and I needed to be careful of not trying to step out too far as the track just turned in to bog and then ‘tarn’ 🥴 (which turns out to be a small lake).

As I neared the end of the track a helicopter shattered the peace – they were bringing in rocks to extend the track, so you don’t have to walk along the road back to the car park. The workers seemed shocked to see me 😂.

Not surprisingly there was no phone reception in the area and in this scenario I use Maps.me.  As long as you download the required maps when you do have Wi-Fi/reception, it has all the walking tracks as well as roads so I could see where I was at any time.  I also used it a lot when travelling abroad (back when that was a thing) I did not have coverage. 

The next track I took was to the Ōpārara arch.  It was not such a good track – with some stairs, some muddy parts and some track maintenance going on.  My map seemed to show a look out past the arch but there did not appear to be any marked path, so after making a couple of attempts to go further I gave up on the rocky, slippery track! I spoke to a couple of the track workers who said I had gone as far as there was to go.

The Ōpārara arch is much bigger that the Moria arch (200 metres deep, 49 meters wide and 37 metres high) but as you can only go in halfway, you can’t really see the full effect like the other one.  It is reputed to be the largest limestone arch in Australasia so definitely worth the short walk, particularly when you are joined by a couple of cheeky robins – they always make everything worthwhile.

And so, from bush to beach and I headed to back to the sea and then headed north to the end of the road – as far north as you can drive on the West Coast.  It was an amazing drive as the road turns in to a dirt track, lined by wonderful Nikau palms.  At the end of the road is where you find the start of the Heaphy track, one of New Zealand’s great walks.

It was beautiful and warm by this time, despite being mid-winter and there were a few more people around (I mean like 5 people rather than the 2 I had seen in the morning lol) and about a gazillion sandflies 🤦🏻‍♀️. 

I had decided to walk a short part of the Heaphy track (about an hour) to a beach called Scott’s Beach and after I had seen it from the lookout I could not get there fast enough – the 30 minutes seemed to take forever – I kept looking at my watch am asking myself was I there yet?  lol

I spent a little time at in the picnic area near the beach, taking Miromiro (or Tomtit) photos and eating my scrogen (normally a mixture of nuts, dried fruit and small bits of chocolate to give some energy on hikes, though my was more just a bag of chocolate with a few nuts 😂)!!  I sat there till the sandflies got the better of me and I walked back through the Nikau Palm walk – although you can find Nikau palms all over the place on the coast it real gives a real tropical feel and smell – I just love it.  

Back at the car park/campground I sat at a bench to finish my lunch, closely watched by a weka – clearly the lack of mobile reception in the area means they had not received the COVID level changes and 2m social distancing requirements lol. 

Public Service Announcement: As I was spending the day on my own, in areas of no mobile reception, I made sure I had all weather clothing, some snacks and that my partner knew exactly where I was going and when I expected to be back just in case I had an accident of some sort.  Despite its beauty, the wilderness can also through you a curve ball when you least expect it, so it is important to be prepared for all eventualities.

I drove back to Karamea and stopped to check out a statue on the way into the town – it depicts Maori chief Te Maia ‘riding’ a Hōkioi or Haast Eagle, the biggest eagle that ever flew.  They had a wingspan of up to 3 metres and preyed on Moa (which I discussed earlier) amongst other things (including, allegedly, small children). They became extinct around the same time as the Moa.

The Hōkioi is the spiritual guardian of the Karamea estuary and the statue is of Te Maia Kahurangi – the man-eagle riding his Hōkioi ‘brother’.  In a nutshell, Te Maia ended up resting in a Hōkio nest, next to its egg, during one of his long hot walks.  When the egg hatched, he helped raise it and they became ‘brothers’ and it learnt to fly with Te Maia on it’s back, regularly flying around the area.

Back at my cottage and the tub lights had been fixed and I managed to get a 30 minute soak before the rain came down!  But believe me it was a magical 30 minutes under the lights and the beautiful flowers, listening to the Wekas calling in the distance.

The next morning and I was back on the road, heading back south towards Westport, Museum in Westport.  It’s hard to believe the how busy all the small towns I had just driven through used to be!

Just south of Westport and I made my way up to the Lighthouse at Cape Foulwind (named by Captain Cook due to the atrocious weather that obscured it from his view in 1770).  There is an easy walk from the Lighthouse to the seal colony at Tauranga Bay, but I decided just to head up to the Lighthouse from one end and then drive to the other end and walk into the seal colony from there.  It was a beautiful day and a beautiful track, and I was remaindered, yet again, what a beautiful country I am lucky enough to call home.   

I spent some time watching a few seal pups playing in a small pool just below the track, as the adults lazed in the sun, but a fellow walker pointed out a group of young seals in a pool on a small offshore island and I am so glad she did.  They were going crazy, jumping and diving and splashing about.  It was just at the limit of my camera zoom so there are no good photos, but I could have watched them playing for hours.

Of course, I could not watch them for hours as I had to drive a little further down the coast and check in to my next Air BnB cottage – and it was amazing.  Just a small, but perfectly formed studio room with a view out to sea.  I had a quick walk on the beach, stopping to watch a couple of surfers before returning to my room to enjoy the sunset from my deck with a glass of wine. 

As the sun set, the sky filled with thousands of stars and the Milky way was clear.  I had planned to try and take some star photos, but my camera was just not up for it.  I had downloaded an app on my phone to try and take photos with that – the outcome was better than the camera but still not great lol.  Despite the photography fail, it was amazing just sitting there in the darkness, listening to nature.  The sea and the wekas calling (from somewhere very close).  No light or noise pollution. (There are stars in this photo – honest lol)

The last day of my trip came around far too soon, and after a quick walk on the beach I was ready for the drive home.  At the last minute (literally at the intersection) I decided to take the southern route home which would take me along the Great Ocean Road and through Arthur’s Pass.  The route should have only taken me 10 minutes longer than the northern route, but with all the stops that was not the case 🤔😂

The diversion was definitely worth it as I got to stop at the Truman track.  A short track just off the road which takes you down to an amazing hidden beach.  Incredible rock formations and a small waterfall which was practically its own little ecosystem – oh and don’t forget the sandflies.  It was hard work working through the thick lay of tiny stones, but it was worth the effort – particularly when I saw penguin tracks.

I made another quick stop at Punakaiki to see the famous Pancake Rocks without the bus loads of international tourists and then on through the mountains (passing some great reflections in the alpine lakes) and homeward bound.