Hanging in the Hooker Valley

August 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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 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.