Blog 168 HOLIDAY 2017 Cont. Diary Part 3 The "Big Trip" with pals, April - June
By keef and annie hellinger, Dec 4 2021 7.32 am
Saturday 1 April Beacon Hill
A lovely warm sunny day. I did some washing & we prepared for a BBQ round the pool. Keef & I went swimming in the pool & tried to clean up some leaves from the pool after the previous nights storm. At 2pm Chris, Allyson & Laura arrived for the BBQ – burgers in cobs with cheese & bacon, chicken on skewers, green salad, red & yellow salad. Laura had brought along some homemade lamingtons- yummy- & we also had rock melon. Steve arrived later as he had some customers for his eco boat (self-drive electric powered boats for hire). We’d saved some food for Steve. They all left around 8pm in the car to return to Wollstencraft, on the north shore, where Laura & Steve live. K & I went to bed early as a busy travelling day ahead tomorrow.
Sunday 2 April Beacon Hill to Broadmeadow, northern NSW
Got up really early today as off to Newcastle, NSW on the train to meet my cousin Susan & husband John (Browne). I’ve not seen Susan for 45 years ( I was 18 & just returned from Australia with family. We walked to the bus stop at the top of Beacon Hill Road at 7.30am for the bus due at 7.50 to take us to Wynyard Station in Sydney CBD. The bus was 20 mins late so we were worried we would miss our train.
Once at Wynyard we took a train a couple of stops to Central station & then got on a two tier train all the way to Broadmeadow, just south of Newcastle in northern NSW. The train was packed because on a Sunday you can travel on buses & trains in NSW for $2.50 per person – a bargain. The bus journey into Sydney took an hour & the trains took 2½ hours. At 11.45 we arrived at Broadmeadow station & could not see Susan & John so waited for a few minutes. We realised there was another station exit via the tunnel which gave access to a street on the other side of the railway line.
Luckily Susan & John were there with their car & John said “Are you the Hellingers?” We finally met up after all these years & they were very welcoming. John drove us to their triple level duplex apartment a few miles away, just off the main Pacific Highway at Merrywhether Heights where we chatted & then had lunch (chicken thighs, salad, asparagus, giant couscous with peppers & onion & wine. Susan & John were very friendly & both were retired. They had moved to NSW from Perth, WA to be near their daughter Hannah, her husband & children. We took along a box of chocs & some red wine. Unfortunately red wine brings out a rash on their faces & they only drink white wine. The lunch was lovely & we continued catching up the years until 5.20 & then they drove us back to the station. Susan & John had just had my other two cousins Janet & Rob to stay with them for 3 weeks but they left to return to Canada 10 days before we arrived.
Unfortunately we just missed the train & had to wait ¾ hr for the next one to Sydney. Another train went past heading for Brisbane which was an overnight train journey of 6 hrs from Sydney. Susan & John joined us on the platform as they realised we’d missed the train. It was lovely to meet up with them & we invited them to stay if they came to the UK. Their daughter Georgia lives in Glasgow & she is a musician (plays the flute). Keef & I read our Kindles on the return journey to Sydney as it was dark. We had seen the country towns, bush & Hawkesbury River on the journey up this morning.
After arriving in Sydney we caught another train to Circular Quay & then the Manly ferry to Manly. We stopped off at KFC in Manly for a snack & then got a taxi back to our apartment at 10.10pm. A very long day & a lot of travel but worth it to meet up with my cousin.
Monday 3 April Beacon Hill
Did washing & ironing. We packed in the afternoon & the weather was not good enough to swim in the pool. Watched TV & read our Kindles.
Tuesday 4 April Travel from to Sydney airport to Tasmania to stay with John & Diana
Got up at 3.45am, showered & had a quick breakfast. Keef called an Uber taxi at 4.30am to request a pick-up & to take us to Sydney airport. We were annoyed to find a text to us from the Uber taxi driver saying he had cancelled. We had been waiting with our luggage on the pavement in the dark and rain. Keef called Uber again to order another taxi. We were not impressed with Uber – this was the first time we had used them.
This time the Uber guy did turn up & was very friendly (he was a Civil Engineering student from Sri Lanka doing his Masters in Sydney & taxi driving between 5am -12 noon to earn some money). He dropped us at Terminal 2 & the Jet Star flight was ½ hour late departing. The pilot apologised for the delay stating that the plane was “messy” after returning from Tasmania & the cleaners were still cleaning. Not an efficient service. All drinks & snacks on this flight were not free. The plane eventually left at 8am.
At Launceston we collected our hire car (white Toyota Yashi 4 door hatchback) & set off at 9.45am via Evendale & Campbell Town & then took the scenic route to the east coast (as recommended by Diana). Diana is Keef’s 2nd cousin & we had visited her & John twice before in 2008 & 2013 when they lived in Huonville, Tasmania. This time they had had a house built on some land near Swansea which we had not seen before.
We drove to Campbell Town, an old town with a history of convicts & settlers. It had an 1836 red brick bridge built by convicts over the Elizabeth River. We visited the Tourist Info centre & had a pie & coffee in the local bakery as we’d been up for hours. At Evandale a lot of English trees had autumn tints & the air was cooler & fresher than Sydney. It felt a bit like England but the fields were bone dry & the grass was yellow due to drought. Some local Aussies said it was just coming into winter now.
We saw a few Tasmanian Devils dead at the side of the road (killed at night by traffic). The roads were empty & scenery was lovely – lots of mountain ridges but few rivers & streams. We stopped at Bicheno on the coast to buy flowers & chocs for John & Diana. They are both 79 & had bought a 5 acre plot of grassland & had a house built from scratch, with the same floor plan as their previous house in the Huon valley except this time the kitchen was open-plan. Their house was very nice with white & pink roses round the verandah. Diana had given us directions to their house which was a few minutes inland from Swansea, their nearest town on the coast. We arrived at John & Diana’s at 4.30pm – a long journey travelling from 4.30am (although we had stopped for about 1+ ¾ hrs for breaks, including breakfast in Campbell Town). It was nice to see them again & we all had some tea, cake & a catch-up (we had last done a Skype with them before we left England.
We stored our big bags in their garage which had recently been built. They had been busy planting trees & John had done all the internal & external painting of the house himself. Diana cooked Flathead fish fillets (Aussie fish) in breadcrumbs with salad & homemade plum pie for dessert. We went to bed at 10pm as very tired – been awake for 18¼ hours since early this morning.
Wednesday 5 April Tasmania
Diana cooked us a full English breakfast. We all went in the hire car to 9 Mile Beach, Spikey Bridge (built by convicts), Spikey Beach & Rocky Hill Lookout over the bay towards Freycinet National Park. Warm weather today 24c with a gentle breeze.
The beaches we visited were empty, with pristine sand & no parking fees (unlike Sydney). This eastern coast of Tasmania has so many quiet, sandy beaches & small sleepy settlements with hardly any shops, cafes or restaurants. John told us that there were 8 areas on the island where the water was unsafe to drink so people had to boil water or buy bottled water – not very 21st century.
Tasmania does not seem to cater much for tourists compared to mainland Australia & we think it’s behind the times (40 years behind!). I expect a lot of Tasmanians like it this way – sleepy with not much going on. Certainly compared to having just left Sydney where people rushing around the massive city & suburbs must raise stress levels We noticed no wind farms at all on our car journeys & no solar panels on people’s roofs. Even petrol stations are few & far between & public transport was not visible. Wi-fi is not available in some small settlements & our sat-nav kept saying ‘GPS signal lost’ when we were in the country. There is only one road down the east coast by the Tasman Sea– the Tasman Highway- and there’s not much work available with mainly retired people living here. Keef & I like Tassie as it’s so different from the mainland & this is our 3rd visit. Most Aussies we’ve talked to in various States have never been to Tassie.
It takes John & Diana 2 hours by car to reach Hobart or Launceston where they do their main shopping. Swansea does have a school, small library, 2 small IGA supermarkets, petrol station, fish & chip shop, a small museum & tourist info in the old schoolhouse, plus a motel & backpackers hostel. The seafood restaurant & hairdressers had closed down. There were a lot of houses & land for sale. John & Diana live about ½ mile from the main coastal road & near them there some new homes being built on large plots of land. Lots of fields nearby with long tinder dry grass & bush further away.
Keef & I took lots of photos & we all returned back to John & Diana’s for tea & homemade walnut cake (Mary Berry had better watch out!) For dinner John cooked two delicious curries – chicken korma & beef rojan josh, with lentil dahl, poppadoms & naan bread. Watched TV for the rest of the evening.
Thursday 6 April Tasmania
Warm weather again. Diana cooked pancakes & maple syrup for breakfast. I seem to have picked up germs from the plane – have a cold, runny nose & stye on my inner eyelid. This is the second cold I’ve had on this big trip. We went out for the day to Freycinet National park, north of Swansea. We parked at the Visitors Centre & as J & D had an annual parks pass, we checked with the park staff that we could use it on the hire car – normal cost would be $24 per vehicle. This was twice the price of a day pass in other National Parks on the mainland.
Took a photo of a stuffed wombat in the visitors centre – will email it to Charlie & Edie. We did a walk through the trees down to the bay and beach. Beautiful views – boats moored in crystal clear waters & the very large rocky isthmus called The Hazards. The walk to the famous Wineglass Bay takes 2 hours each way & is very arduous as it cuts across the isthmus, so we decided against this.
We drove along a winding mountain road with ravines & bush on one side to Tourville Lighthouse where there was a circular boardwalk from the car park. There were spectacular views of the other side of The Hazards, a bit of Wineglass Bay & looking across the Tasman Sea. Didn’t see any whales or dolphins. We drove to Coles bay, a small settlement with few shops. From Coles Bay it’s 1,000kms to South Island, New Zealand. Had coffee & cake in a café. Lots of wasps around here. There were several holiday homes & a boat launch.
Keef drove back to Swansea pier & jetty where we took some photos. John cooked prawn lasse, a Singapore dish, with soup, noodles, beans & prawns which we’d not had before – will have to do this recipe when we get home. Diana produced a homemade apricot pie with icecream. Waistbands were straining – slumped in front of the TV.
Friday 7 April Tasmania
Drove along the coast in a southerly direction towards Orford. We stopped at Triabunna Marina to look at the boats – fishing & leisure. Crayfish & prawns are fished from here. There’s a ferry to Maria island $50 per person which was a bit expensive. The Parks department are trying to introduce & breed Tasmanian Devils & wombats on the island. There used to be a penal colony there. A 4 hr boat trip with lunch cost $195 per person (or £121 pp)- all far too expensive. Before we left the UK Keef & I had seen a TV series on Australian islands with Martin Clunes as the presenter & Maria Island was one of the episodes.
Whilst walking round the marina we noticed the smell of burning in the air & a smoke haze. Apparently the grass in the Hobart area was being burnt off to prevent bushfires but the wind was spreading the smoke halfway up the island. Apparently the fire brigade do the burning off. Unfortunately the smoke haze ruined the views of Freycinet & the inland mountains today. Just as well we saw Freycinet yesterday.
We drove to Orford along the Tasman Highway & went into a café for coffee & cake. Apart from the café there’s a restaurant, a bridge over a river, a petrol station & some houses. We returned back along the highway a short distance & parked at Raspins Spit beach. This was named after a settler family called Raspins. We walked along the beautiful beach (hardly anyone around) which was full of shells & empty crab shells.
We returned to Swansea & went into the small museum there which was housed in the old school & schoolhouse attached. Interesting history of settlers & convicts in the area. Went back to J & D’s for tea & cake. Diana cooked chicken breasts with mushroom sauce, vegs & potatoes dauphinoise & we ate the last of the apricot pie with homemade vanilla icecream. Went to bed at 10pm as getting up early tomorrow.
Saturday 8 April Tasmania to Sydney
Got up at 4.45am & still dark. Had showers & muesli for breakfast. John & Diana got up too. We said our farewells & thanked them for looking after us so well (the seat belts on the plane might be a little tight going back to Sydney). Yesterday John had kindly given us a painting of Wineglass Bay which he had done & it was carefully wrapped up at the bottom of one of the big bags. It was just beginning to get light outside & a lovely sunrise.
We set off through Swansea north & took the Lake Leake road through the countryside which goes through Campbell Town. The direct journey took 2 hours to the airport. Saw lots of grey wallabies eating grass at the side of the road + a few dead ones too. Stopped on route very briefly at Campbell Town bakery again & bought 2 bacon & egg flans to eat at the airport. Once we hit the Midland Highway at Campbell Town the road was easier to drive as it was straighter.
Keef got stopped by the Police doing 80kms in a 40kms temporary speed limit area where people were just setting up traffic cones in preparation for the Tasmanian speed car race today at Symonds Flat. Two policemen stopped us & one of them had a radar gun. K gave them his driving licence & they saw we were British tourists. Luckily Keef got a warning letter & a telling off (the policeman said he needed a “kick up the bum” & he had “avoided a hefty fine”. They probably let him off because the reduced speed limit signs were not much in evidence apart from one by the main entrance to the racetrack & there was no warning further back the state highway of changed speed restrictions for the day. Relieved we did not get a massive fine.
After that bit of excitement we checked in the hire car at Launceston airport (we had driven 680kms total in Tasmania). We ate our bacon & egg flans & got our flight to Sydney at 9.30am which took 1½ hrs. When we arrived in Sydney we had to wait quite a while for our hotel shuttle bus. Eventually we got into our hotel room at 1pm.
Checked our e-mails & the BBQ invite for later that day from Chris, Allyson, Laura & Steve was cancelled as Steve was renting out his eco boats again. Just as well, because we were tired having got up before dawn & we would have had to get a taxi back to the airport, a train into Sydney, a ferry to Woolwich on the North Shore which would have been a further 2 hrs+ travelling. Also my cold & stye problem in my left eye over the last 3 days was not so good (Diana had given me a soothing eye lotion to use). Hope no one catches my germs.
We booked our hotel in England – Ibis Budget – a compact room with wet room ensuite, TV on wall & kettle for tea etc. We went out for a late lunch to Kentucky Fried Chicken 2 mins walk away. At the hotel reception we booked our hotel shuttle bus for 7.50am the next day to Terminal 1 for the flight to Auckland. Read our Kindles & went down to the lobby seating area to read the newspapers. At 7.45pm we popped out for a coffee & doughnuts at Krispie Kreme Doughnuts (USA company). The coffee was Ok but the doughnuts were dire – sickly- yuk- never eat these again! This was our evening meal too.
Things got even worse. When we got back to the hotel one of the two lifts wasn’t working. E-mail from Leanne to tell us that Keef had received a letter in England saying he had to pay a speeding fine from the police in Portland, Victoria!!!! Oh dear. Fine was $194/ £113.15. He had driven the motorhome 6kms per hr over the 60kms speed limit. To compensate for this additional trauma, Leanne sent a nice photo of Craig holding Edie who was wearing his sunglasses. Keef was in the dog house. Watched TV.
Things got even worse. At midnight the hotel fire alarms went off. The fire brigade arrived with blue lights flashing – turned out to be a false alarm (probably someone smoking in their room set it off). After all that it took me ages to get to sleep & another early start tomorrow as we’re flying to New Zealand.
Sunday 9 April Sydney to Auckland
Got up at at 6.35am & had our showers & tea. Trying to take our bags down in the lift took a while because the other lift was still out of order from yesterday. We got the shuttle bus from our hotel to Terminal 1 at Sydney airport. The airport was very busy as people were travelling because of Easter next week. Queued up for ages at the Quantas desk & took even longer to go through passport control & security. Chaos - the flights were all late & the plane going to Bali changed its departure gate twice. Then the planes by the gates had to change areas & the announcement on the public address system said that the planes & late planes had caused overcrowding on the tarmac. All very confusing for passengers.
A Japanese elderly couple stupidly lost their carry-on bag & were fretting about it to the airport staff & wandering about looking for it! Because of this they held up their plane to Singapore as all the other passengers had already boarded. They never found the bag as they could not retrace their movements & were frogmarched through the departure gate by the airport staff. Goodness knows what became of the ‘unattended baggage’.
Our plane was delayed by 45 minutes. Met up with Chris & Allyson who were sad to leave Laura & Steve. Whilst we were in Tasmania they had gone with L & S to Parkes, inland NSW, to see the radio telescope/ museum there & had stayed at a rented homestead. They went on to the Blue Mountains & did some bush walking near the Three Sisters at Katoomba & also near Wentworth Falls. The plane left Sydney at 12 noon & we got a good view of Botany Bay, the harbour & sandy beaches as we headed for Auckland.
The flight took 2½ hrs & we had to turn our watches forward 2 hours. Had lunch & an icecream on the Quantas plane. It was quite a small plane with 3 seats on either side of the aisle. Watched some films during the journey. When we arrived at Auckland we queued for over an hour waiting to go through the bio-hazard checks on people’s luggage. There are very strict regulations in NZ about not bringing food, soil, honey, insects, plants etc. As Chris & Allyson had done some bush walking in NSW they had to declare this (or $400 NZ fine) & then they had their shoes checked by the bio-hazard staff for soil & backpack checked for insects/food.
We seemed to have spent half the day queuing & hanging around airports. When we were finally waiting for our shuttle bus outside it got dark- it was 6pm by now. We arrived at the Kiwi Motel (shuttle bus cost us $6 each) & checked in which was fairly quick. Keef & I had stayed at this motel on two previous occasions in the past. Our room was spacious with TV & ensuite shower. Had showers & then we all went for dinner at 8pm.
I had Italian chicken with mushrooms & cream sauce & the others all had curry & rice. Another guest gave us a bottle of white Auckland wine & a bottle of beer as they were flying out tomorrow & couldn’t take the drinks with them. The staff at reception & the restaurant were friendly & helpful. In fact the receptionist gave us all some free airport shuttle bus tickets for the next day as we were all aged over 50 – result!!!! Very kind of them.
We all felt tired so returned to our rooms & shared the wine. I spotted a large green praying mantis on the fabric headboard attached to the bed! Keef took some photos & then I scooped it onto a tissue & put it outside on the window ledge. Tomorrow afternoon we’re flying to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
Monday 10 April Auckland to Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Our flight to Rarotonga in the South Pacific was not part of our round the world ticket & Keef had to book this separately in England. The plane left Auckland at 4.30pm ( Virgin Australia) & it took 4 hours. We arrived at 10.30pm & apart from turning our watches forward 2 hours we had crossed the international date line. This meant we gained a day but would lose it on our return to Auckland – found it difficult to get my head round this time travel.
By the time we cleared customs & bio-hazard questions we collected our hire car which we’d booked in England. We were staying in the Raina Beach House, Titikaveka & it proved tricky to find in the dark as not well signposted. Eventually at midnight we found the right house & had a cup of tea as we were so thirsty (we were not allowed to bring any water into the country). Had a cool shower before turning in.
Monday again/ Groundhog Day
We all unpacked our bags. I did some laundry & we went for a dip in the lagoon right outside our holiday house. There was a narrow sandy beach at the bottom of some steps from the garden. Beautiful day. Chris got one of the 2 canoes from the garden & went off paddling. I saw lots of sea cucumbers on the sandy sea bed & had to be careful not to tread on them. The water in the lagoon was warm & the coral reef was some distance away but very loud surf. The wall of water breaking over the reef was visible from the shore. Chris, Allyson & Keef saw some brightly coloured fish.
After swimming we drove into Avarua, the main town in Rarotonga (also the capital of the Cook Islands). We went past the long white bungalow that was the Cook Islands Parliament. The Queen has a representative here although the Cooks became independent in 1967 (50 years ago). The NZ government helps to ‘administer’ & assist when required to do so. There’s also a NZ High Commission here.
We had lunch near the harbour sitting outside a small shack, next to lots of other eateries. The food was excellent – Chris & Allyson had fish of the day with rice & salad, Keef had chicken with peanut butter sauce, salad & rice & I had a toasted cheese & ham sandwich. Keef & I were very thirsty was it was getting very hot so we shared a litre of tropical fruit juice. We walked along to the small harbour with a few small ships moored. One ship was loading cargo to be shipped to one of the other 14 islands in the Cooks. Rarotonga is the main island in the group so has the post office & airport link with New Zealand. There was a cruise ship moored out in the bay.
We went to a supermarket for food shopping. Prices were high as most goods were imported apart from local produce. We returned to the beach house & had another swim in the lagoon. Snorkel equipment was provided @ $5NZ a day. The currency is Kiwi dollars apart from a one, two & three dollar coin. The $2 coin was triangular in shape (decided to keep one as a souvenir). We all sat out on the wooden decking – beautiful view of the lagoon & reef. Later on Chris & Keef had a toast sandwich but Allyson & I weren’t hungry. It gets dark about 6pm here but there was no sunset tonight. Apparently the best sunsets are on the east of the island. Lovely & relaxing listening to the waves lapping on the beach & the distant surf pounding on the reef. Chris did some star gazing when the clouds cleared.
Tuesday 11 April Rarotonga
The big waves crashing on the reef today meant that the sand was churned up in the lagoon. Also the sea came up almost to the top of the narrow beach. Chris, Allyson & Keef went snorkelling whilst I paddled. After breakfast & showers we drove back into Avarua along the west coast. We looked at the shops, including gift & pearl shops & saw the new Court House building. Also walked past Banana Court, which was a hotel built in 1905. In those days there weren’t many shops & houses & a photo board outside the building showed the main street in 1905 with mainly palm trees, vegetation & not much else.
The airport was built in the early 1970s which brought in more tourists, especially from New Zealand. Now the main street has one & two storey buildings, apart from the tall Court House. The people were very friendly & helpful. Went into the tourist info & Allyson looked at the pearl shops. The black pearls are cultured pearls farmed on one of the other islands. The locals all greet everyone with Kia Orana (hello) & many local women wear floral garlands on their heads. The language spoken is similar to Maori. Keef & I thought that Rarotonga looked more prosperous than Vanua Levu (Fiji), Western Samoa and Tonga & the homes looked more sturdily built with well-kept gardens. A lot of the locals use mopeds to get around & to go to work.
We went to Trader Jacks, a bar by the sea, & had some drinks & then drove back through town to a micro brewery run by a local family. On the walls were framed black & white photos of the town in the early days. There were lots of free range chickens wandering round the streets. Cockerels start crowing before dawn at 5am (I was woken up on our first morning). Not seen any pigs wandering about like they do in other Pacific islands.
There is one main road round the island which is 32kms long/20 mls & also an inner road which goes part of the way round. The island was once volcanic & has some tall peaks now covered in rainforest. We saw volcanic black lava remains on our local beach. The island is popular for weddings/ honeymoons & probably a lot of Aussies & Kiwis go there.
We drove back to the beach house & at 5pm started cooking the marinated chicken pieces we’d bought in the supermarket. The gas oven ignited but would not stay on so we had to use the electric oven to pre-cook the chicken before putting it on the BBQ. Had salad & some huge rolls from the local bakery with the chicken. Allyson & I wrote our diaries (I had to catch up since we flew from Auckland) & we read our Kindles. Raining outside so we sat indoors.
During the night there was a massive rain storm with strong winds. The torrential rain woke us up as well as the doors rattling. Keef got back to sleep. At 4 am I wandered round the house checking that the glass louvres on the windows were not letting the rain in. Still awake at 6.45am when the lightning started & then came the thunder at 7.30. Eventually I dropped off to sleep & slept in until 10.45am!! Before we left Auckland we heard about a tropical cyclone forming in the Vanuatu area expected to be Category 3. It was named Cyclone Cook but as it was much further to the north of the Cooks we were not bothered about it reaching us, although the stormy weather meant that we were getting the peripheral wind & rain. Before we booked the Cook Islands part of the trip I checked when the cyclone season started & ended - November- March.
Wednesday 12 April Rarotonga
Had a late breakfast. Chris & Keef went snorkelling but saw no fish as the strong winds had stirred up the sand in the lagoon. I read my Kindle on the chaise longue on the decking (Bill Bryson’s ‘One Summer’ about events in the USA in 1927. We all decided to visit the botanical gardens & walked there as it was near the beach house. Very tropical & well-kept even though the ground was a little soggy in places after last night’s storm. Most of the heavy rain had drained away – no wonder there is dense rainforest in the centre of the island. We took lots of photos then went to the café in the gardens to sample their ‘world famous’ lemon meringue cheesecake pie with two scoops of vanilla icecream & fresh tropical fruit slices – yummy. We all walked back to the beach house for a cup of tea.
At 5pm we set off by car to see a children’s singing & dancing show in Avarua. The lady at the tourist info centre recommended the show to us, as there would be traditional songs & dances by teams of local schoolchildren competing. We went to the second evening of the competition & the event was held in the Cultural Centre arena – a big building with a large stage, & tiered seating around three sides with wooden louvre shutters to let the breeze in & rows of seating in front of the stage. Lots of families were eating snacks from the food stalls outside the arena. The tickets cost $10 per person & although tourist info told us the show started at 6pm it didn’t start until 6.30pm. Chris & Allyson had booked us all in to a local restaurant called Little Polynesian (a small resort as well) at 7.30 so unfortunately we all had to leave after 45 mins during the intermission.
The competition was wonderful as the children of varying ages sang traditional Cook Islands songs & danced accompanied by drums & ukuleles. The boys & girls wore traditional Cook Islands grass skirts with the girls having flower garlands in their hair. A lot of women in the audience also wore floral garlands. We saw two school teams perform & they ranged in age from nursery to teens. The little 3 & 4 year olds looked so sweet in their grass skirts & most of them hadn’t a clue about the singing/dancing but stood near the edge of the stage with their teacher. The teachers & some of the teenagers stood at the back & played the music. The audience were told not to take photos or videos because of the young children performing. It was well worth seeing the performances even though it was cut short by our departure.
Drove back to the Little Polynesian & had a nice two course meal under an open fale with palm thatched roof on the terrace next to the swimming pool. I had smoked marlin fishcakes with a lime hollandaise sauce & homemade chutney as the starter & then chicken breast stuffed with island spinach served with rice & vegetables. We all enjoyed our mneals & then Keef drove us back along the main road to the beach house.
We had a cup of tea & Allyson & I caught up with our diaries. There was wi-fi at the house but there were charges so we didn’t think it was worth doing for 7 days & would probably have been too slow anyway. We could catch up with friends & family when we returned to Auckland. During the night there was more heavy rain drumming on the roof & the wind increased. Don’t think I’ve had a proper nights sleep since I arrived here due to storms, thunder & cockerels. Also I got badly bitten on my arms & legs when we were at the botanical gardens today & they were itchy at night. Keef didn’t sleep that well either.
Thursday 13 April Rarotonga
I was woken at 8.25am by the cockerel crowing in the garden. The chickens are free range & I’m thinking of guiding them towards the oven, especially that cockerel. Had a shower & sat on the decking & read my Kindle. The others all went snorkelling. Chris showed Keef & I some tropical fish on his underwater videocam. Rain showers.
The two guys next door who did the cleaning & changed the towels brought us bananas, coconut & today they brought another coconut & a large chunk of jackfruit. It was overcast & rainy for most of the day with the occasional dry period. Keef & I did some tourist stuff in the car & Chris & Allyson went for a long walk along the coast road & a road up to Wigmore’s Waterfall. It was named after a landowner here.
Keef & I drove along the coast road on the east side of the island through Muri, a tourist area with some small resorts, cafes, burger bar, beach bars etc. We stopped at a church in Matavera but it started raining again. We stopped in Avarua again & saw a very old church c 1834 which had walls 3 feet thick to withstand the annual cyclones. The local chief had a gravestone by the main door & his ‘Palace of Makea’ was a large wooden building opposite the church in a grassy field but this was closed.
We then went to the Museum of the Cook Islands (+library) in Avarua but this was closed for Easter. In the gardens there was an original outrigger canoe on display under cover. Across the road was the small University of the South Pacific which was also closed for Easter (students have to pay tuition fees there). We walked into the main reception area where there were some replicas of traditional wooden canoes & carved wooden statues, plus a board which listed all the graduates for that year. Obviously a very small uni as there were not that many names listed.
We drove to the Takamoa Theological College through impressive large wrought iron gates to a large lawned area by a car park. The white colonial building in the grounds was the original headquarters of the Church Missionary Society in the Cook Islands. On a stone monument at the front of the building was a list of all the missionaries & quite a lot of them were converted local people who were sent out to other islands to preach & convert the people. The monument listed several missionaries who were ‘martyred’ – i.e killed by the locals & eaten. Quite a dangerous career being a missionary in these parts. Sailors used to fear being shipwrecked on these South Pacific islands because they knew they would be killed & eaten – they called the islands the ‘cannibal isles’.
We visited the National Museum in another part of the main town and it was open today – hooray! We were hoping to find out about the people & their culture. Some interesting old black & white photos of local chiefs & missionaries – all in Victorian clothes & suits – how they managed wearing long sleeved heavy serge suits & dresses with jackets in the heat & humidity I don’t know. The Victorians loved to put their own cultural values above those of the locals – would the Cook Islanders be considered to be ‘converted to God’ by dressing the same as the British? Why didn’t the Brits relax their dress & wear loose linen clothes in this climate? Mad dogs & Englishmen phrase comes to mind.
We also saw some wood artifacts – carved statues, weapons, a stool with serrated shell tied on the front for scraping out coconuts (genius design) & some beautiful woven fine straw hats made by local crafts people. A lot of the museum had an exhibition about Cook Islanders who had served in WWI in France, Gallipoli & North Africa. A lot of them died of malaria & some died in the trenches in France. Some came from Rarotonga & a few were from the outlying islands & each soldier had a photo on the wall.
The Islanders were used as navvies to dig the trenches as the British did not want to train them to handle guns & Munitions. These men were very young and had all volunteered to go to war, even though it was on the other side of the world & in the middle of nowhere. Strange that they felt so compelled to enlist in a war that had no immediate effect on them, their families or environment & yet did they feel a sense of duty to the Commonwealth & Britain to do so? Some of the men were buried in war graves in France. Several received bravery awards – the Military Medal & Distinguished Service Cross. ANZAC day is commemorated in this museum in Rarotonga. Keef & I returned to the beach house around dusk & later Chris & Keef drove to get us all some fish & chips which we ate indoors.
Friday 14 April Good Friday Rarotonga
Weather still overcast & rainy but the sea was clear for snorkelling & kayaking. Chris & Allyson did a walk along the coast road to Muri & K & I drove around the inner road. We visited the same waterfall as C & A & there were people sitting in the pool on a ledge at the bottom of the waterfall, which was not very high. A girl told us that the pool was 8 feet deep & she dived off the ledge as the locals said it was OK to do so.
Along the inner ring road were houses, small fields of taro, papaya, cassava & orange trees. We saw a breadfruit tree with large fruit like melons. Also saw small goats, a couple of cows & some pigs tied to a tree with a long leash of rope. We noticed that so many houses had shipping containers in the front gardens. We thought that these were used as emergency quarters during a cyclone but would not be much good for a tsunami. There is a tsunami escape route on the south side of the island which is a road built especially towards higher ground. There are also tsunami sirens that act as a warning to the population.
We came out at Avarua along the inner ring road and passed a cinema where families were just leaving & tucking into fast food at stalls located outside. We took some photos of the Cook Islands Parliament building.
Drove back along the east coast looking for Chris & Allyson walking back as there were no buses on Good Friday. Didn’t see them, so we returned to the beach house & found they had just got back from their walk. Keef cooked spiced kumara (NZ variety of sweet potato) & omelettes & I made a salad using up the leftovers as we were returning to NZ on Sunday evening.
Saturday 15 April Rarotonga
Much better weather today (we must have caught the far edge of the Vanuatu cyclone to the NW of us. We had an early breakfast & drove into Avarua for the weekly market. Lots of colourful market stalls selling everything from black pearls/ shell jewelry, handmade ukuleles, straw hats, food, smoothies, beach wraps (pareo), clothing etc. There were performers who did a show on the raised stage – adults & older children who sang, danced & played various styles of drum. The drummers had won lots of annual music awards representing the Cook Is in South Pacific competitions, including every year for the past 5 years. There was a voluntary collection of money from the audience which went towards travel expenses of local children doing a school pupil swap in USA, Oz & NZ so they could see other parts of the world.
The entertainment was great, they allowed photos/videos to be taken & in between light drizzle showers the sun came out. Very high U.V & also became extremely humid. Had a lovely fruit smoothie at a market stall. Allyson bought some black pearl gifts for her family & some small artwork prints. We all walked along to the Tourist Info to ask about a music afternoon at the beach from 2.30-9.30 that we’d heard about. She wasn’t clear about it, so sounded a bit hit & miss. Walked on to Trader Jacks bar for a drink but they were closed (why on a Saturday afternoon?) Walked back to Foodland supermarket & bought some cereal & fruit juice, then drove to the lager micro brewery again on the outskirts of town.
Humidity today has been excessive & as we have no internet we’ve no idea of temperatures. Thought we’d return to the beach house & a welcome swim in the lagoon to cool off. Very refreshing having dripped sweat all afternoon.
Chris & Allyson decided to take the car & drive along the inner ring road which we said was worth an explore & told them about the missionary colonial building in Avarua. On the way back they had spotted a popular burger bar in Muri which would be ideal for the evening meal. We all had cup of tea & showers & went to the burger bar. Decided to bring the food back to the house as the wet weather had increased the mosquito population. Very nice burgers. We all did some packing, had showers again & went to bed.
Sunday 16 April Rarotonga to Auckland
Got up at 8am & the phone rang at 8.15. When I answered it was Tanya (the beach house owner) contacting us about our departure. Yesterday Keef had negotiated an extension to 11am for us to stay on longer than 10am as Tanya had told him that new visitors were arriving at 2pm today. She rang today to change this, saying for an additional cost we could stay until 7pm tonight. Our flight back to Auckland was at 11.15pm so it would be much better for us to stay here all day than to load up the hire car with all our bags & spend hours in a bar. C & A thought this was a good idea too, so we agreed to extend the rental until 7pm & then the male cleaners could come in then.
Keef & I went to put some fuel in the car at the local garage & shop. We bought 2 oranges (they were green on the outside but still looked like oranges inside). We heard singing in the local church which was beautiful, so got our camera & Allyson’s camera to take some photos of the locals in the church, one of the oldest in Rarotonga. We looked through the open windows & everyone was in their Sunday best with flower garlands/straw hats worn by the women. Saw some NZ tourists that we’d met on the beach the other day sitting on a pew.
Spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking photos, watching kite surfers, a canoeist on an outrigger canoe, beach walking & reading. For lunch we had smoked marlin slices on toast & leftover nibbles & fruit.
Keef & I had booked the restaurant at the Little Polynesian resort again for 7.15pm. We had showers, completed our last minute packing, then drove along to the restaurant. Had a nice meal & chatted to our waitress who was from Fiji. I had marlin fishcakes again, chicken salad & vanilla bean brulee with alcohol infused pineapple pieces. We set off to the airport. It was 28c & very humid. We’d had rain showers during the meal & at the airport. The plane was delayed an hour – it had come from Sydney via Auckland – so we didn’t leave Rarotonga until 12.15.
The airline was Virgin Australia & not much room in the seats or leg room. I was seated next to the window & as it was dark there was no view at take-off. Tried to sleep after completing the NZ arrival bio-hazard security cards with the long list of what you could not bring into the country. Probably managed about 1½ hrs sleep. The flight took 4 hours to Auckland & as we crossed the international date line again we lost a day – Easter Monday. When we landed it was Tuesday 2.30am.
We got through the bio-security check at Auckland airport very quickly this time & then went to collect our 3rd bag which we had left at Left Luggage for that week. Eventually the guy there found our bag & we got a taxi to the Airport Gateway Hotel at 3.45am. Knackered & went to bed.
Tuesday 18 April Auckland, North Island
Slept well until 9am & so did Chris & Allyson. It was a good idea to stay at the hotel near the airport as it was open 24/7. The receptionist ordered us a taxi into the city centre, to the Ramada Hotel. We went to the café next door for a coffee & snack & were joined by Chris & Allyson. Then we all walked down towards the harbour & went to the transport centre (Brittomart) to find out about buses. We decided it wasn’t worth getting an electronic bus pass for only 3 days in Auckland. Allyson booked tickets on her phone to see a laser light show with Pink Floyd music. It was held at 7.30pm at the Stardome, One Tree Hill Domain near Newmarket, a suburb of Auckland. We planned on getting a bus to see the show that evening.
Walked to the ferry terminal & looked at the harbour trips/ferry to Rangitoto Island. Keef & I had been to Auckland twice before so Chris & Allyson did some sightseeing round the harbour & city centre & we did a short walk along the harbour front & then returned to our hotel to catch up on our e-mails & online banking as we had no wi-fi in the Cook Islands. I did some laundry as there was a washing machine & dryer in the ensuite bathroom (I picked the hotel because of this & also it was in the city centre so we didn’t need a bus).
At 6pm we all met up in the hotel reception & walked to the bus stop. Caught a bus out to Newmarket, a residential area with a few shops. Had some fast food – I had hoki fish & chips & the others had Turkish kebabs. Walked to the Stardome nearby & had a glass of wine (included in the ticket). The music/laser light show started dead on time at 7.30pm & our seats tilted back so we were gazing at the domed ceiling. It was amazing – music was Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd & the coloured laser lights were brilliant, projecting complicated pattern on the ceiling a bit like a childs kaleidoscope. There was an intermission where we had another glass of wine & some savoury nibbles. Chatted to a bloke who was South African living in Auckland. Part 2 of the show was The Wall with graphics & lasers. We all thoroughly enjoyed the show & then caught a bus back to the city centre at 10.45pm. I have finally got rid of the cold that I caught in Tassie – hooray!
Wednesday 19 April Auckland
Amazed to read in the tourist/map booklet that one third of New Zealand’s population lives in Auckland – i.e over 4 million. Chris & Allyson were keen to do the coast to coast walk today - 16kms across the city & suburbs (4- 5 hr hike) so Keef & I booked tickets to go to Rangitoto Island on the ferry & do the Volcanic Explorer tour. As we had some time before getting the 12.15am ferry we walked along the harbour towards the marina & fish market. There was a large cruise liner in dock called the Emerald princess which we’d seen in Sydney. Very sunny weather today. Silo Park was the marina area & there was a lift-up vehicle & pedestrian bridge which let large tall yachts through from the harbour to the moorings.
Bumped into Sarah, the daughter of Pete & Sue, who had been back-packing around NZ. Chris & Allyson knew that she was in Auckland & were hoping to meet up with her. We invited her to join us all at a Korean BBQ restaurant around 7pm that evening. She said she would contact Allyson to confirm the meal was arranged.
Keef & I got the ferry to Rangitoto, an island in the Hauraki Gulf beyond Auckland harbour. The island was an extinct volcano which had erupted from the sea bed 600 years ago (in the 14th c) in two massive explosions 10-15 years apart. It’s the largest volcano in the Auckland area with its cone rising 260m (850 ft) high. Apparently local Maori tribes (ini) were present at the time of the eruptions as human footprints were found between layers of volcanic ash.
The island is managed by the Department of Conservation & has a ranger living on it in a small house, although there is no water or electricity available. We got on a tourist road train pulled by a tractor & the ranger took us on a tour around the island & gave an interesting commentary. We saw lava fields – black clinker which was very rocky & would have been extremely difficult to walk across. Prisoners had built the road round the island by flattening the lava rock in the 1920. A lot of the island is forest & shrubs – it was surprising that plants could grow in that environment. The island has NZ’s largest Pohutukawa tree forest (this tree has amazing red flowers at Christmas time).
The road train stopped at the base of the volcano summit & we started to climb the 300 wooden steps towards the crater rim. It was hard work climbing & Keef had to give up halfway through because of his bad knees. I took the camera & carried on & it took me another ½ hour of climbing to reach the top. I took photos of the 360 degree panoramic views of Auckland, the Hauraki Gulf & islands & a container ship.
After a few minutes of catching my breath, I started the descent as the warden on the tour said we had to be back by 2.30 prompt. It took me another 30 minutes to rush back. The steps were each 9” high – so hard work. The rest of the island tour took us past mangroves & views of Auckland across the sea. The ferry returning to Auckland was very packed & the wind made the sea quite choppy.
In the evening we went with C & A to meet Sarah at the Korean BBQ restaurant at 7.10pm. The place was busy & on each table was a wok & gas burner. We selected various meats & vegetables from the buffet to cook in the wok & you could choose various sauces, rice & noodles as well. You could go back to the buffet as much as you liked. Sarah said she liked NZ & had stayed in backpacker hostels. She was flying on to Sydney early the next morning. We had a nice evening & meal.
Thursday 20 April Auckland
Keef & I had never visited Devonport, a Victorian seaside town across the harbour from the city, so we wanted to see it this trip. Took the ferry across (only 15mins) to the small town & wandered around the shops & bought some gifts for the family. There is an extinct volcano behind the town called Mount Victoria, plus two other smaller ones. Mount Victoria looked like a small grassy hill. There is the NZ naval base near Devonport as well. The town seemed laid-back with a relaxed vibe & it had several small beaches. Its painted wooden Victorian villas only cost $1.5 million- $2.5m in the estate agent window. I had my hair cut in a local hairdressers (only $30 - £15.50). Visited several craft shops & we had lunch in a café (beef lasagne, chips & coffee). We caught the ferry back to the city & got a bus to the National Art Gallery.
We spent 1½ hours there. Saw some amazing life-like oil paintings of Maori chiefs & elders, including women. Two people were 102 years old with black facial tattoos. Also the gallery had a Monet & Picasso painting & Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Not impressed with modern NZ art & the video portraits of people. Keef had tummy trouble so we didn’t go out for another meal & just had a sandwich & some salad which we ate back at the hotel.
Chris & Allyson had had a good day – they had got the ferry to Rangitoto & walked to the crater (2hrs return). Keef rang his Mum for 25 mins (Skype call). E-mailed the rest of our family & checked our e-mails.
Friday 21 April Auckland to Orewa
Got up at 7am & had showers & breakfast in our room (no restaurant in this hotel). At 10am we got a taxi to take us to Britz Motorhomes which was near the airport. Having checked that we had all got the right equipment supplied with our two vans, we set off across Auckland to join the A1 motorway to Orewa, north of the city. At 1pm we checked in at the Top 10 campsite first to book our pitches, did the food shopping at Countdown & then returned to the campsite.
Had sandwich/crisps for lunch at 3pm. Then we unpacked our bags & sorted ourselves out. Our motorhome is a Britz 2 person, fairly new looking inside with a Mercedes Benz engine. Chris & Allyson did the dinner – ratatouille & baked kumara with wine. We looked at the map for planning our route.
Saturday 22 April Orewa to Whangarei
We all had a short walk along the beach at Orewa. It brought back happy memories for Keef & I as Craig, Doug & Phoenix started our month’s tour of North Island here in December 2007. Orewa is a lovely coastal town, although there was a notice near the beach stating the safe routes to avoid a tsunami!
We drove the Hibiscus Coast Highway from Orewa to Wellsford, stopping for a break at Puhoi historic village. Lovely scenery – rolling hills, tall tree ferns & pohutukawa trees. We went to Mangawhai Heads for another break from driving. Walked on the sandy beach & watched paragliders jump off a tall hill above the beach. Very warm & sunny, with a sea breeze by the sea. We stopped again further on at Ruakaka Beach & got a view of some islands & coast – again a beautiful white sandy beach.
We stopped the night around 5pm in Whangarei Top 10 campsite. Kiwis call Whangerei (pronounced Fangari) a city, but by English standards it was just a large town. Keef still not well – a dicky tummy which he’s had since the Art Gallery visit in Auckland.
Sunday 23 April Whangerei to Russell
Keef had no dinner last night & no breakfast either as still tummy trouble. Allyson seems to have got over her tummy problems too. We visited the marina (aka town basin by locals) & walked along the boardwalk. We watched a glass blower at work at the back of a craft gallery. He made some lovely coloured vases but they were too heavy to pack & would have got broken. Went into Pac n Save supermarket to get some more milk & bread etc.
We drove the coastal road to Tutukaka & Matapouri. The Tutukaka Coast is rated as one of the top coastal destinations on the planet by National Geographic Traveller. The beaches here are pristine with white sand. We stopped at Kawakawa for a break & to see the famous architect designed toilets in the small town. They were covered everywhere in broken tiles mosaics (not the actual loos though!) There were some other quirky mosaic objects in the town such as a mosaic tile sofa, street lamp & flower containers – took photos.
Lovely scenery on the route. We took the car ferry across the bay to Russell (cost $12.50 for our van) & arrived at the Russell Top 10 campsite. We got two pitches next to each other on the ‘bay view’ tier. The campsite is on the side of a steep hill (we had camped here 4 years ago). Saw a weka walking around our pitches (was he the same bird as last time?). Had spaghetti Bolognese for dinner, although Keef’s stomach still not good so he had nothing to eat.
Monday 24 April Russell
We had booked 2 nights at the campsite. Chris & Allyson went for a walk in the town & Keef& I drove to Rawhiti where we saw a beautiful carved wood Marae. The Marae is where Maori people can get together as a community & the building also has spiritual meaning for them. The wood carvings depicted a war canoe, strange looking faces and dolphins. Took some photos & as no one was around we peeped through the windows. We saw some lovely shrubs in people’s gardens such as hibiscus & bottlebrush trees etc.
We then returned to Russell, a small & attractive town once dubbed the ‘hellhole of the Pacific’ because of the drunken sailors & whalers & general lawlessness. Nowadays the local policeman lives in a lovely wooden heritage building in front of the jetty, complete with white picket fence. The houses in the town looked like white Cape Cod wooden ones with white picket fences in the front gardens & some had verandahs.
Keef was still feeling ill. We met up with Chris & Allyson eating fish & chips by the jetty about 4pm. There was no point in going out to a restaurant in town as we’d planned so instead we had cheese & biscuits back at the motorhomes (but not for K). Later when it was dark Keef & I went looking for kiwi but didn’t see any. We could hear them calling out in the woods. Not many stars out tonight.
Tuesday 25 April Russell to near Cape Reinga ANZAC Day Public Holiday in NZ
Set off at 10am. C & A did not want to go across the bay on the car ferry again, so wanted to drive the 40kms round instead. Took a shorter route along gravel roads, through a forest up a mountain & zig-zagged down again. Beautiful warm day & we only saw a couple of cars going the other way. We saw a few birds of prey & a kingfisher. The route took us 1hr 20 mins but was scenic, although very bumpy. This area of Northland has a lot of Maori communities, & we drove past a few settlements & the Maraes. We stopped briefly in a car park at Paihia, Bay of Islands, for the loo & Chris bought 3 pies. K & I had been to Paihia in 2007 with Craig & Doug & we had gone on a boat trip to see the dolphins. K still unwell.
Stopped again at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds further round the bay & took some photos. In 1840 the British had conned some of the Maori chiefs into signing a treaty which would protect them & assist with ‘governance’. 35 chiefs signed i.e put their mark on the document. The treaty document had been translated into Maori the previous night by Henry Williams, an English missionary. The English version of the treaty stated that the British under Queen Victoria had ‘sovereignty’ of New Zealand i.e it became British owned. The British were desperate to acquire NZ before the French did (the French had visited the country & were very interested in it too).
In modern times the Maori people have lodged around 2,000 claims to date against the NZ government to get their ancestral lands back. In the 19thc Maori people had no concept of selling land or even another country taking them over. Some of the Maori chiefs never even signed the treaty. Some of the claims have been settled by the Waitangi Tribunal & others are still ongoing. Probably a contentious issue especially if Kiwi farmers have to give up their land & presume they would be given compensation by the government. A bit of a historical mess which has had major repercussions.
We continued driving along the scenic Twin Coast Discovery Highway to Whangaroa, the marlin fishing capital of NZ & ate our pies for lunch. No fishermen around but 4 years ago K & I saw two massive marlin being weighed on the jetty & craned onto the fishermen’s ute. Saw Mangonui again (heritage town) & then did a quick detour & stopped to take photos at the iconic Ninety Mile Beach on the shores of the Tasman Sea (west coast of North Island). There were a few cars/utes driving along the beach (officially designated as a road) & only 55 mls long but in the 19thc they didn’t have accurate surveying equipment).
Lovely scenery up to the ‘top end’ of North Island – hilly, volcanic, massive sand dunes. We stayed the night at a DoC campsite (Dept of Conservation) 3kms south of Cape Reinga. It was a very steep descent down a thin twisty gravel road to the bay. The campsite was situated very close to the beach but was very basic in amenities. The overnight fees were cheap - we had to put our cash payment in an envelope with the vehicle reggo & our address & post it into a box. There were quite a few people staying – campers/backpackers & other motorhomes. I went for a walk on the sandy beach which had lava rocks at one end.
Gets dark at 6.15 now. After dinner we looked at the stars & milky way as it was a clear sky. It’s very warm during the day but noticed that the nights are cooler. We’re in Autumn season at the moment & a Kiwi lady told us that winter starts on 1 June, which is when we leave NZ for Singapore. Keef & I went kiwi spotting with a torch as we were in a wilderness area but Keef got bored after 2 mins.
Wednesday 26 April Cape Reinga to Ahipara
At 10am we were about to set off to drive to Cape Reinga but Chris discovered there was a front flat tyre by on the drivers side. He tried to fix it but the jack that came with the motorhome was not tall enough as the van was on grass/soil. Also he discovered that the spare wheel underneath the van had no tread left. Not good. We decided that K & I would drive back to the nearest garage to ring Britz & get breakdown help as no mobile phone signal at the campsite, which was in the middle of no where.
We drove 20kms to the nearest garage & Keef used their phone to ring Britz. They said they would get a breakdown vehicle to change the tyre & then Chris would need to drive to Kaitaia to a tyre replacement garage by 5pm.
We still wanted to carry on to Cape Reinga as we were only 3kms away. We parked in the car park & walked down the path to the lighthouse, seeing spectacular views of the coast all the way. Very sunny. Met a friendly Kiwi family by the lighthouse & they took a group photo of us. The car park & lighthouse were free for tourists unlike lighthouses in Australia which charged fees. Then we went on to Te Paki sand dunes which were MASSIVE. Kids & adults were having a fun time sand surfing down the steep sides & quite entertaining watching them. Took some photos. Left the sand dunes at 3pm & got to the tyre place at 4.30pm.
The garage decided to repair the tear in the tyre rather than replace it & charged the cost to Britz. We decided that to drive to the next Top 10 site Kaihu was too far away as it was already 5pm. Instead K & I suggested we go to the Kiwi Family Park at Ahipara, a few kms away, as we’d stayed there 4 years ago. We arrived at the campsite an hour before it got dark. K & I went to get our van’s water tank filled up & had to unblock the waste water tank as there was sediment in the bottom. We put the hosepipe down the kitchen sink plug hole which made the waste water drainage more free flowing.
Allyson & Keef had stomach upsets still so only Chris & I had dinner. Then we got out the maps to discuss route plans. We wanted to go back to the east coast, Coromandel & Papamoa Beach as there were areas we hadn’t seen & Chris & Allyson wanted to see Rotorua & the glow-worm caves in the central region of the island, which we had visited 10 years ago. Decided to drive our own routes & meet up in the Top 10 campsite at Wellington on 9 May. We gave Allyson our free booking ticket for the Waitomo glow-worm caves so they had two tickets (part of the Britz hire package included 1 person’s free entry to the caves). Once we’d sorted out our plans we checked our e-mails & read our Kindles.
Thursday 27 April Ahipara to Baldrock Farm,betw Brynderwyn & Kaiwaka off Highway 1
Left the Kiwi Park campsite at 9.10am hoping to catch the 10am ferry across Hokianga harbour heading south. We passed the most spectacular scenery from Ahipara to Kohukotu along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway on the west coast. It took us past ancient volcanoes, old Maori Pa (fortifications on top of hills), deep valleys, Kauri forests with giant trees & tree ferns, & evidence of ancient tiered farming by Maoris on the sides of steep hills. At Kohukotu we got the 11am small 24 hr vehicle ferry across to Rawene which took 15 minutes. The road to the ferry from Ahipara was very twisty & parts had cracks in the tarmac from earth tremors. There were very low clouds in the hills that we drove through.
Hokianga harbour was where the first Maoris arrived in New Zealand in their large war canoes (waka) from Polynesia, based on their oral traditions. They had crossed the Pacific by using the stars to navigate & came across the massive harbour with its narrow entrance.
From Rawene we followed the road to Opononi which was famous for its friendly dolphin in the bay between 1955-56 which interacted with the local people. There was a statue dedicated to the well-loved dolphin called ‘Opo’.
Another small village called Omapere edged the harbour with views across to giant sand dunes. We drove to the lookout point near the harbour heads & did a short walk to get the views. As we neared the town of Dargaville the land flattened out for farming kumara (NZ sweet potato. In the town we stopped by the Wairoa River near the boat jetty. The river walk was blocked off so we went food shopping in Countdown to get supplies for the Coromandel as we knew there were not many shops/supermarkets on that peninsular.
Saw Chris & Allyson in the car park- they had just been to the local garage to have the brake pads checked on their motorhome as a warning light on the dashboard had been on permanently. The van had to be raised up & all 4 wheels were removed. Apparently everything was OK with the brakes. They thought that they would have to drive back to Britz in Auckland to have the brakes checked, but Britz directed them to a garage in Dargaville instead. C & A were heading towards Rotorua.
We set off again to Brynderwyn & down Highway 1 to near Kaiwaka where we decided to stop for the night at 5pm. We turned off to Baldrock Farm, 100 acres with hilly fields & some cows & lots of hens wandering about. Called in at the bungalow & the female owner was very pleasant. Her great grandfather had been Mayor of Nottingham! We paid a small fee & then drove along a track, up a couple of hills, through some trees & parked on top of another hill with lovely views. The outside dunny/toilet was in a tiny hut which looked like a Swedish sauna. We were the only people there, although there were some other campers (Japanese, Austrian & German) near the bungalow. It was very quiet as we were well away from the bungalow & highway.
Keef was feeling much better today – he had 3 meals so his stomach is OK now. He’d been ill since the previous Thursday when we were in Auckland (7 days ago). Not sure what caused the stomach bug but I had been OK, so a mystery.
Friday 28 April Baldrock Farm to Shelly Beach, Coromandel
Got up at 7am – lovely views from the hill top this morning. Had cereal & drove along the track back to the farm car park where there was a hot shower/loo which we used. The hens were pecking round our van. Drove back to the main highway & saw several wild bush turkeys. Took the scenic route again after Wellesford towards Helensville.
Saw massive sculptures in a farmer’s fields & we stopped at a high lookout with 180 degree views down the valley towards the sea. Bright & sunny again – we’ve had good weather since arriving in NZ. Noticed a sweet honey scent on the breeze – is this from Manuka trees/shrubs? We stopped for a break at Helensville railway station for coffee – it had a café in the old waiting room & a large verandah outside.
After Helensville the countryside flattened out & there were orchards & farms. We skirted round Auckland on Highway 16 so did not need to pass over the harbour bridge. Headed towards Manukau on Highway 1 & then turned off at Pokeno to Thames, on the Coromandel Peninsular. We had done the Coromandel twice before but we love the scenery there & its listed as one of the top areas for New Zealanders to visit. Volcanoes & lava rocks on the beaches on the west side of the Coromandel, with views across the Firth of Thames.
We had lunch at Thames, an old gold rush town c 1880. It retains an aura of a wild west cowboy town with the hotels & buildings & also above the main shops. Gold was found nearby which caused a rush by prospectors eager to make their fortune. We parked the motorhome by the Victorian bandstand & ancient pohutukawa trees. Very sunny so we sat outside on the picnic chairs.
After lunch we drove along the narrow twisty road along the coast. The road edge had a 10 foot drop to the rocky lava beach. There had been earth landslides on one part of the road (caused by either rain or earth tremors) which roadwork teams were clearing away. The road then climbed up a steep mountain with fantastic views at various laybys/ lookouts towards the coast & islands in the sea. We saw Coromandel Town & then went to the Top 10 campsite at Shelly Beach where we filled up the van’s water tank, had tea & went for a beach walk – dark sand with lots of white shells. Keef said he had a dicky stomach again. The toilet/shower facilities here were very good & hardly anyone on this campsite.
Saturday 29 April Shelly Beach, nr Colville to Waihi Beach
Got up at 7am, had showers/ breakfast & left at 9.10 to drive to Port Jackson in Cape Colville, the most northerly point on the Coromandel & off the beaten track. We had not managed to do go further than Colville on our past trips. We had sought advice about whether we could drive to Port Jackson in a motorhome & the lady at the campsite said that although part of the route was gravel it was quite level so not too bumpy for driving. The road was part tarmac/ part gravel but it was rather misty & drizzly so the views were not too good. The route was twisty & passed the Tibetan Buddhist retreat & Colville itself – a few houses, general store & post office.
There were a few ‘wash-outs’ & areas where the earth bank at the side of the road had collapsed. There were lots of very old pohutukawa trees which were so weathered by the sea winds that the trunks had bent & they were growing sideways. Saw some people fishing on rocks at the bottom of a small cliff. Very few cars along the road. At Port Jackson there were just 3 houses & views of a small volcanic island. The trip took us 1½ hours to drive to Port Jackson because of the narrow windy gravel road & at one point we had to cross a ford.
On the return journey we were slightly quicker & returned to Coromandel Town, then took the road which climbed over the Coromandel Range. In the past we’d done the route in sunny weather but today it was still rainy & misty. Drove through Whitianga & Mercury Bay along the Pacific Coast Highway (tourist scenic route). Now the rain had stopped – sunshine! Can’t complain – this was the most rain we have had since we arrived in NZ.
At Tairua we saw houses built up the sides of an extinct volcano (took photos). We arrived at the Top 10 campsite at Waihi Beach at 5pm. Not impressed with the facilities – we were put near the beach. There was a grubby concrete floor in the unisex toilets & 3 showers. It started raining heavily & got quite windy. We stayed in the motorhome & checked our e-mails etc & looked at the CCTV at the front of our house & saw Dave, our next door neighbour doing some gardening – riveting viewing!!! Craig had sent us a photo of himself, Leanne & Edie sitting in our lounge, so glad the house was OK.
Sunday 30 April Waihi Beach to Papamoa Beach
Re-filled our van’s water tank & then K & I went into reception to complain about the quality of the facilities. They were not clean & the campsite was one of the most expensive we’d stayed in – supposed to be 5*, had a pool & gym & was virtually on the beach. Keef complained that we were only given 250mb of wi-fi when we should have been given 500mb. Not impressed with the price they charged at this site too. Left Waihi Beach at 10am & drove along the Pacific Coast Highway through Katikati, the mural town. Lots of huge painted murals on the sides of buildings depicting the town’s history. Keef took some photos, although we had been through the town four years ago. We avoided the toll road round Tauranga & saw the marina there & port. Not very scenic – industrial with oil terminals.
Further along the coast we came to Mount Manganui on the coast & this was a nice town set at the base of a large extinct volcano. The bay was called Pilot Bay & weather was very sunny but quite breezy. Had a walk & bought some boysenberry icecreams – very nice – you can’t get this type of icecream in England. Crossed to the Pacific beach side of Mt Mangonui & sat on a bench with a great view of the long golden sand beach stretching down the Bay of Plenty to Papamoa Beach & beyond. Some expensive looking homes along this coast.
We continued on to Papamoa Beach & did some shopping at Countdown supermarket. Then we checked into the Papamoa Beach Resort, our favourite campsite. It was no longer a Top 10 site which stopped 2 years ago but the resort reception still had our names & address on their computer records from 4 years ago!! We had also stayed there 10 years ago, so this was our 3rd visit as we liked it so much. Arrived at 2.15pm & got a pitch (S5 Beach Road) by the beach with a view of the sea. Keef cooked us a bacon & egg cob for lunch. He chatted to the man in the caravan on the next pitch who was originally from Bucks, UK & had emigrated with his wife & daughter 14 years ago.
I did some laundry & hung it on the washing lines as weather was good, then we went for a walk along the beach. Not many people around as Autumn & no school holidays. I cooked prawns& noodles with satay sauce after Keef had downloaded his photos from the camera to the laptop & checked & paid the credit card bill. We had booked 2 nights at this campsite.
Monday 1 May Papamoa Beach
Had leisurely breakfast & the man in the caravan came for a chat for 2 hours!! He could talk for England & he did!!! He was a painter/decorator & had been living with his wife in the caravan whilst waiting for planning permission for the house they were going to build. His adult daughter had played for NZ in underwater hockey (aka Octo Push) which we had never heard of as a sport.
Keef had caught the sun as his face had gone a bit red. We went for a walk round the campsite & to the local shop where we bought icecreams. Keef cooked pasta carbonara with bacon, leftover lamb & spicy sausage. It was extremely cold in the van overnight even though we had a duvet (a thin summer duvet).
Tuesday 2 May Papamoa Beach to Lake Taupo
We left the campsite at 9.10am after cereal & toast for breakfast. Drove through Te Puke, a town surrounded by kiwi fruit farms. We had visited Kiwi 360 World 10 years ago. Saw some men going to pick the kiwi fruit which is packed & sent all over the world. Along the coast route we saw Whale island & White Island, which is a live volcano in the sea. Took some photos of the volcano belching smoke. Drove through Whakatane, a busy & prosperous town which has a 40% Maori population according to the tourist book. The town boasts a waterfall which is in the main street. Today there was no water running down the rock face. The town was busy with lots of shops, cafes, a cinema & theatre.
We turned back to see Edgecumbe, a rather tatty town which had recently been flooded by Cyclone Cook, which we’d seen on the news whilst in Auckland. A bridge had been damaged & lots of homes flooded when the Rangitaiki River burst its banks due to very heavy rain. We left the coast & took a small inland road through forestry land. Men were felling trees with chainsaws & loading up lorries with the logs. Further on there was a sign saying the road was closed but we asked at a garage & it had just re-opened that lunchtime. The river had burst its banks & washed away the road, so the local council had put down tons of gravel to rebuild it.
Stopped for lunch by a beautiful picnic spot by Lake Aniwhenua. The trees had autumn colours & we ate lunch on our chairs outside as it was so warm & sunny. There were a few other motorhomes there as well. The lake had a small concrete dam & the water was channelled through a sluice to create hydro-electric power. The power station was accessed across the top of the dam & was cleverly hidden in some trees so not visible. We decided not to walk to the power station but it was a lovely picnic spot in the middle of no where. Went on to Murupara, a small residential village with a secondary school where all the school kids had finished for the day & were walking home. Rather a rundown town we thought & no jobs for people in that vicinity.
The road passed through dense forests & then we came to a thermal area where steam was rising from water in a ditch at the side of the road. Other steam vents were also visible in the area. This was because we were south east of Rotorua. We took a side road through Broadlands ( dairy farming area) & Rotokawa. We arrived in Taupo at 4.45pm & parked in the town. Bought some boysenberry icecreams & walked down to Lake Taupo. Saw some long rowing boats & in the distance the massive volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. Some had snow on the summits & low cloud. Taupo had not changed much at all from when we’d visited twice before in the summer but it was quieter today as it’s Autumn, so no crowds.
The lake is huge – the biggest in NZ & Australia. The evening was drawing in as we were walking around & it was getting chilly. We left Taupo & drove along the east side of the lake towards Turangi. We spotted a reserve by the side of Lake Taupo where other motorhomes had parked up for the night. It was free to stay & motorhomes that were self-contained were allowed to park there for up to 4 nights. We parked our motorhome right by the lake edge & watched the sun go down beyond the volcanoes. Had soup, cheese & biscuits for dinner. The waves lapping against the shore were quite loud – we were only about 5 feet away from the edge of the lake.
Wednesday 3 May Lake Taupo to Whakapapa
Left at 10am & drove around the lake towards Turangi. We spotted where we did trout fishing by a bridge & stream 10 years ago with Craig, Phoenix & Doug. Brought back happy memories of our holiday together although we never did catch any trout! Taupo & Turangi are allegedly the best places in the world to do trout fishing. At Turangi we got fuel, shopping at New World supermarket & some lovely steak & cheese pies at the local bakery, which we had for lunch later.
After Turangi we took the road to Rangipo & then the Desert Road across bleak moorland. We stopped the van for lunch at a lay-by with a view of Mt Ruapehu (2,797m high) in sunshine. However, the clouds/ drizzle/mist set in & the weather turned nasty. Whilst we were sitting having our lunch in the van there was a cracking noise/ big thud under the van. Must have been an earth tremor as there were no other vehicles around. No cracks under our van. Suddenly the weather improved with blue sky & clouds in the distance so we decided to go to Whakapapa Village & camp there for the night. We drove through Waioru, a NZ army base & army museum in the town & turned off to Ohakune, the carrot capital of NZ with a naff giant plastic carrot plonked in the middle of the town. K took a naff photo.
The weather changed again – raining & misty. Could hardly see the volcanoes - Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings) or Mt Ruapehu. Went past the Chateau Tongariro & arrived at 5pm at the campsite in pouring rain. It cost $42 with electric hook-up to stay but good facilities & hot showers. It rained all evening non-stop. We had to switch on the electric blow heater provided by Britz as very cold.
Thursday 4 May Whakapapa Village to Hastings on east coast
Had hot showers & breakfast. Went to the dump station to get rid of our waste water & fill up with fresh water & saw Chris & Allyson there! We thought they had left Whakapapa heading to Taupo but they were there for 3 nights. They had done the 6½ hr Tama Lakes walk which luckily was in good weather so got good views of the scenery. Craig, Doug & Phoenix had done the same walk 10 years ago which took them 7 hrs return as they went for a swim in one of the lakes before returning. The campsite at Whakapapa had not changed one bit after 10 years. Nice to catch up with C & A over a coffee in the local café after we had all looked at the local visitors centre opposite. K & I bought a poster of Tongariro N.P aerial view of the 3 volcanoes for $22. Chris & Allyson said they had visited Rotorua, then west to Waitomo caves & then SE to Tongariro National Park. They were off to Taupo next & we suggested they drive the road to Mt Ruapehu where there was a ski resort & chair lift to get the view. Also we told them about the free camping by Lake Taupo & suggested they visit Hukka Falls.
We had planned our route to head towards the Pacific coast as the weather was better there. We drove back through national Park village, Ohakune & Waiouru again, & then to Taihape where we got fuel. The helpful lady at the garage filled up our gas container (cost $5.78) even though we’d only used up 1/5 of the 5 litres in the container when full. We assume that Britz had filled up the gas cylinder before our trip but had no way of knowing if this was so. Sunny weather & warm.
After Taihape we took a route across country towards Hastings on the Pacific coast & Hawke Bay. The road was called ‘Gentle Annie’ & was not marked as a tourist route. This route was fab – it went through spectacular scenery for 161 kms, some of it gentle green hobbit hills & across the Rangitikei River. We stopped for lunch at Moawhango, a small Maori farming community with a Marae. Sheep & cattle in the fields & at one point the road was blocked by a very large flock of sheep being moved to another field by a man on a quad bike & his sheepdogs.
A lot of the deciduous trees such as maples & poplars (both not native to NZ) were turning lovely red & yellow autumn colours. Traffic on this road was negligible with a few cars. As we crossed the Ruahine Range the mountains & deep valleys increased & the road was winding & a little bit steep in places. We could see the Ngarurora River hundreds of feet below us in the valley. The mountains were covered in forest & logging was in operation in some places. We thought that apart from Northlands & Tongariro National Park, this road was the most scenic in North Island & well worth the drive.
We ended the journey through Flaxmere, a semi industrial town, & then on to the Top 10 campsite in Hastings, a coastal town, where we arrived just after 5pm. The campsite was almost empty so we were told to choose our own pitch. We went to get some fish & chips locally & ate them back at the site – lovely Blue Cod fish with crisp batter & chips. Now it was getting dark before 6pm. Checked our e-mails & I downloaded some magazines on my i-pad. It rained during the night & I was woken up by another earth tremor/ sharp jolt in the early hours. Had another tremor at 6.40am – Keef slept through it all!!! This was the third earthquake I felt in North Island. They don’t call New Zealand the ‘shaky isles’ for nothing!
NB Looked up the Hastings earthquake –I felt some aftershocks following a ‘moderate’ quake which took place 17 days earlier on 17 April at 5.32pm. It was 4.6 magnitude & the epicentre was 30kms SE of Hastings & was 26kms deep. This earthquake was felt in Auckland & Christchurch.
Friday 5 May Hastings & local area
After a leisurely breakfast we headed into Hastings to go to the bank & do some shopping. Hastings is a very green town with lots of shrubs/trees/ hanging baskets & water fountains. The railway line runs through the town square & crosses the main shopping street. We chatted to a lady in the tourist info centre which was situated in part of an old department store. The store had been re-built after the massive earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) which decimated Napier & Hastings on 3 February 1931 at 10.47am. Both towns were levelled & 256 people were killed in Hastings. She said that the ground sank by over a metre. In the town of Napier the quake caused a huge fire which razed it to the ground.
Hastings has had other big quakes – 6.9 on 16/9/1932, 6.1 in 1951, 6.1 in 1993. 5.9 in 2008 which caused $5 million in damage as the epicentre was only 10kms south of the town centre.
The tourist info lady also told us about another disaster which hit the town in August & September 2016 when 5,200 residents fell ill from a water-borne disease called campylobacteriosis. This was the largest outbreak of this disease to have ever occurred in NZ. She also told us that Hastings was on a high tsunami alert following recent earthquakes in Japan & Indonesia. All along the NZ Pacific coastline there are tsunami signs advising where to go to quickly reach higher ground. The signs also inform people about signs to look out for if there is a quake that lasts longer than 1 minute or if you cannot stand up as this could lead to a tsunami wave hitting the shoreline. There are also tsunami sirens that sound if there is danger of one occurring due to an earthquake. www.geonet.org.nz lists earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides & tsunamis in NZ. Rather a woeful story about this town, but we found the people there very chatty, helpful & friendly. We met a retired man who had emigrated from Southampton with his parents when he was a child & had settled in Hastings.
After doing some food shopping at Countdown, we drove to Te Mata, a 399m high peak above Hastings & Havelock North, which we had visited some years ago. We remembered the road to the viewing area car park at the top was very narrow & twisty. The views from the top were spectacular & we ate our lunch up there. It was a bit windy but very sunny & we could see the top of Mt Ruapehu 2,797m high peeping over the Ruahine Range 1733m high & Hawke Bay. Hang gliders jump from the top but no one was doing it today. Well worth a second visit.
After Te Mata we visited Ocean Beach & had a walk there – few people around & a lot of empty holiday homes (bachs). Then on to Waimarama & Bare Island with a rocky bay & more holiday homes. A sign by the shore warned of rips, wash backs & large holes in the sea bed by the rocks so dangerous for swimming. We called in at a small private campsite near there to possibly stay there that night but it was more expensive than the Top 10 in Hastings & did not look good. We decided to return to the Top 10 site for another night & arrived at 4.30pm. We had some filter coffee & some tropical fruit cake which we’d bought in the supermarket today.
Saturday 6 May Hastings to Waipukurau
We re-visited some gardens again at Duart House in Havelock North. The roses were out this time & smelt lovely. Palm trees, orange & lemon trees & the Virginia Creeper on the verandah rails was a glorious red colour (see photos). We last visited the gardens about 10 years ago. The house is owned by the local council & is only used for wedding receptions & bookings for parties, meetings etc but the gardens were free for anyone to look around. A croquet club use the lawn at the side of the house. The house is surrounded by more modern houses but it’s a lovely heritage building, built in c1854 by the McLean family who were sheep farmers.
Then we drove to Arataki Honey Centre in Havelock North & watched a film about bees & enjoyed sampling 12 different types of honey on display. We saw bees in an indoor hive & could sample various products made from Manuka honey such as body lotions, hand cream etc. Manuka honey is expensive & prized for its health benefits & its anti-bacterial qualities. The bees collect the nectar from the pink flowers of the Manuka Tree (Tea Tree), native to NZ. A very educational & enjoyable visit.
Then we drove to Kairakau Beach through sheep stations, green hills & twisty roads that had earthquake cracks (some were repaired by filling in with tar. This beach was by a river outlet with small cliffs. The Pacific Ocean waves were quite strong & the beach had a lot of driftwood & tree branches thrown up on it by storms. A lot of the houses at Kairakau were holiday bachs & the community was virtually deserted. We walked along the grassy shore & noticed that one of the homes had a sign on the fence which said ‘Here lives a friendly fisherman with his best ever catch’ which we assumed was his wife!! There were various mosaic murals around including a tiled mosaic sofa, a hopscotch squares game for kids & a blue & white mirror in the disabled toilet.
We had lunch here & the weather was very sunny with a slight breeze. Some children had made some wigwam huts out of driftwood on the beach. There were some motorhomes parked at one end of the beach but we decided as it was only 4pm not to stay here for the night, even though it was free to camp. The area was level with the sea & ‘designated a high risk tsunami area’ plus the rocky cliffs were behind the motorhomes so a bit dodgy if there was a quake. We drove on to Waipukurau & stopped at a small campsite in town overnight.
This town was on Highway 2 & was inland from the ocean. We did a Skype with Doug, Phoenix & Charlie & it was lovely to chat together & catch up on news. Charlie was very chiry & bouncing around in her T-shirt & nappy… what a cutie!! She asked us where New Zealand was & we told her it was in the sea a long way from Singapore & that her Mummy & Daddy had been there a while ago. She wants us to go with her to the big water park with a splash area for children, when we stay with them in June.
Sunday 7 May Waipukurau to Eketahuna
After breakfast we went into Waipukurau & got a few food items from Countdown & some fuel. We then took a minor road through lovely scenery & sheep stations to Porangahau. There were a few houses, pub, school & a red & white painted church. Took the road out towards Pourere on the coast but the winding tarmac road turned to gravel & we decided to turn around rather than risk a possible puncture.
We then took another minor road to Wimbledon, which was a tiny community with a primary school & outdoor swimming pool. A farmer stopped in his 4WD to ask us if we were OK as we were parked up on the grass verge. Nice of him to check if we had broken down & if we required assistance – this wouldn’t happen in England.
Visited Herbertville on the coast which we’d not been to before. A very long beach with driftwood logs & tree branches & some tall cliffs named Cape Turnagain by Capt Cook when he changed direction whilst mapping the coast. We had lunch here but couldn’t access the beach because of a stream & the gravel road led to private land. Saw a huge white wooden house set back from the road which was probably built by the first settlers called Herbert in the 1850’s. The place was named Herbertville after this family & there was a stone monument with brass inscription telling the story of these immigrants. We thought it would be good to name a place Hellingerville but it would mean a bigger sign. Might have to move to Alaska to achieve this as plenty of space there. I’ll add this idea to our bucket list Herbertville sees few tourists & felt like the back of beyond. There is a NZ fur seal colony here.
We carried on driving along the minor road back to Wimbledon & turned left towards Ti Tree Point, Weber, Waione and Pongaroa. These places were so small – only 1 or 2 houses & mainly sheep stations. Very twisty, hilly roads. By the time we got to Alfredton (only 1 house + shearing shed) it was beginning to get dark & it started to drizzle with rain. We rejoined Highway 2 at Eketahuna & found a campsite near the town.
This was one of the most unusual campsites we had stayed in, mainly because of the other campers. There were women dressed in medieval costumes around the camp kitchen & then they all walked off to the woods to start a bonfire & do some drumming & feasting. They invited us to participate but we politely declined. We thought they may have been Pagans & they had been staying at the campsite for the weekend. Luckily the drumming stopped at 9.40pm & the campsite became very quiet thank goodness!
Keef did a lovely dinner of salmon fishcakes, spiced kumara & corn on the cob. For dessert we had Tip Top boysenberry icecream & nashi pear. Tip Top have been making icecream in NZ for 80 years & the boysenberry one is the best flavour we think. There was a bit of a mission to getting this icecream into our motorhome ice box. Keef had bought a 2 litre tub of this icecream from the supermarket this morning but was disappointed to find that it didn’t fit into the tiny icebox part of the motorhome fridge. Not to be stumped about this problem he then cut up the icecream into 6 equal portions & using a fish slice put them into 6 plastic food bags. Genius…. they fitted in the icebox.. hooray! We had the sliding door of the motorhome open & a couple walked past the van & were no doubt puzzled why he was shovelling icecream into plastic bags. We just love that boysenberry icecream.
10.20pm – those Pagans are banging their drums again! We should ask for a discount from the camp fee because of the racket.
Monday 8 May Eketahuna to Martinborough
Without saying a word about the noise in the woods we meekly paid the campsite fee of $16 including electric hook up, although the facilities weren’t anything to write home about. We thought the female campsite owner looked a bit pagan-like too unless she just liked to look scruffy. Keef overheard some of the pagan women asking the owner where they could get wi-fi!!
At 9.45am we went back into town in search of a bakery & noticed that there was a big sign which said ‘Real Kiwi Country’ & to prove it there were statues of 2 very large kiwis (the birds) artfully displayed. Reminded us of Aussie town naffness. The town was so small that it took a minute to drive through but perhaps that was a blessing! Most of the shops were closed so Keef got some pies in the Four Square supermarket. Saw a building built by A.F.Herbert & Sons Ltd 1898 – probably the sons of the graziers from Herbertville.
We drove from Eketahuna on Highway 2 to Masterton which we’d visited before. Quite a big town with many shops. I had read that a settler called Joseph Masters had been in the area & the town was named after him – all these settlers had ideas above their (sheep) station. I wanted to find out where he came from originally as Masters were my ancestors. So we went to the i-site (tourist info) & the lady there said there was some info online (she googled him) but it didn’t say his origins.
She referred us to the Art Gallery & Museum called Aratoi which joined on to the i-site building. This was a brilliant museum which had lots of cultural & historical exhibits about the Ngati Maori people from the Wairarapa region. This geographical region includes Masterton, Carterton, Featherston & Martinborough areas to the Pacific Ocean.
There was a room with oil paintings of Maori people painted by a British portrait artist who got them to sit for him. The detail of their clothes, jewellery (greenstone), cloaks & tattoos was amazing. They were painted in the mid- 1850s – 1870s & the Maoris were all from the Wairarapa. There were several women who were senior members & one was a chief of the iwi (tribe).
We also saw carved wooden hair combs, a wooden canoe, fish hooks & other day to day objects plus a cloak made from kiwi feathers sewn onto a woven fabric backing. Apparently it was only the chief who wore the kiwi feather cloak. The museum showed historical information about how the English duped the Maoris into selling their lands for 1d (i.e one old English penny) an acre. Millions of acres of land were acquired for this paultry sum. Shocking. The Maori people were told that they would get medical assistance, schools & protection in return, but in fact they got very little.
These descendents are now seeking redress through the NZ government. The museum had documents which showed what happened & some of the British settlers crowed about their gains. Quite shameful how the British (mainly English & Scots) basically took all this land from the Maoris on behalf of Queen Victoria. The first Maori Parliament opened in 1897 in Greytown in the Wairarapa region but this was for them to conduct their own governance.
After the museum we drove the motorhome to the local park (established in Victorian times) where we were told there was a statue & information board about Joseph Masters (there had been no mention of him in the museum). It turned out he was not from Dorset (as my ancestors were) but from Derby, where he was born. He lived in Rugby, trained as a cooper & emigrated to Tasmania with his wife. After a few years they moved to New Zealand where he set about being a land agent in the Wairarapa area. He set up a school as well.
Set off for Castlepoint on the coast. Saw lots of sheep stations, some of which were for sale. At a shearing shed we saw sheep being dipped & sprayed yellow by their tails. Scenic twisty road with lots of filled in cracks from earthquakes & some landslides in a few places. Sometimes the edge of the tarmac road had given way & dropped down the hill so had to be cordoned off. The hills were very green with lots of streams & a main river. The road bridges are single track only so vehicles have to give way & wait for others to cross depending on the road sign.
Sunny & warm today & again the autumn colours on the trees were lovely. We stopped at the historical village of Tinui which had a tiny policestation & an old gaol that was no bigger than a shed. It also had a school, post office & telegraph station. There was a pretty white wooden church which had held the first Anzac Day memorial service in NZ for local men who died at Gallipoli in WW1. The village lost 7 men in that battle.
Castlepoint was a small town with holiday homes, a lighthouse on the point, campground & fish & chip shop. It was originally named by Captain Cook who saw a massive rock on the shore & thought it reminded him of castle ramparts so he called it Castle Rock. The lighthouse was only accessible at low tide. We had lunch by the main swimming beach & then had a walk. The beach was covered in white cockle shells. The waves were gentle here, unlike Herbertville where they crashed on the beach sending seaspray up into the air.
The sand was very fine on the bay near the lighthouse (on the dunes). There was a strange ring of rock which almost blocked this bay. The information board described the story of two missionaries (one was Rev William Williams from Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, who knew my settler ancestor John Edmonds – they both fell out big style) & they were trying to sail across the Cook Strait to South Island. Bad weather caused them to shelter in this bay which they called ‘Deliverance Bay’. Williams had a missionary brother called Henry, who I’ve already mentioned translated the Waitangi Treaty into Maori. Both men had been sent to NZ under the auspices of the London Missionary Society(LMS) to preach Christianity to the Maoris. My ancestor & his family had left Swanage, Dorset to do the same under the LMS but was a stonemason working for the mission in Kerikeri. Both Williams brothers had set up mission stations (such as Kerikeri) & schools & they learnt to speak the Maori language fluently. There had been some resistance from the Maoris in North Island when the earliest settlers arrived & blood was spilt on both sides, but in the Wairarapa there had been no bloodshed.
We drove from Castlepoint to Riversdale Beach, another sandy beach with white shells & loads of driftwood. This community was mainly holiday homes but it did have a Surf Lifesaving Club by the beach. We then went on to Martinborough along country roads & arrived in the dark. Found the Top 10 campsite which was brand new but quite compact. The kitchen & facilities were excellent. The dump station for the toilet cassette was outside the site on the roadside. Opposite the campsite was a vineyard & the road turned to gravel just past the Top 10 entrance. The lady in reception told us that the previous night’s temperature was only 2c. The wine growers are currently doing the winter pruning of the vines.
Tuesday 9 May Martinborough to Wellington
After breakfast we dumped our waste water in the place provided outside the campsite & headed into town. We had a wander round looking at all the up-market shops together with up-market prices. You could tell that they were expensive because they called them selves ‘providore’, ‘boutique’ & ‘gourmet’ plus assorted French sounding names. We saw a gourmet butcher whose signs outside the shop said ‘vionson meatballs’, ‘beff sausages’ & ‘chicken kababs’ – the shop was called Scotties Gourmet Meats. The butcher may have been dyslexic. Outside a bank we saw a pair of wellies parked by the doorway.
A bright sunny day & warm. The old general store was damaged in an earthquake in 1942 & it was rebuilt but without the big glass shopfront. Now it’s a Mitre 10 (D.I.Y), a Four Square mini supermarket & a clothing shop. We bought some toilet blue liquid from the Mitre 10, cost $26. We chatted to an Irish employee there who was very friendly – he had met & married a NZ girl in London. The centre square & diagonal roads leading off it were designed to form a Union Jack. A man was just taking down some small white crosses in the grassy centre from Anzac Day – a lot of men from this town died in the wars & every cross had a name on it.
We then went on to Lake Ferry, a tiny community of mainly holiday homes plus a café at the edge of an inland lake with a narrow spit of land separating it from the ocean. The bay was very wide (Palliser Bay) & we then took a tarmac road to Ngawi, a Maori community near Cape Palliser. To get to this place we passed sheer rock walls & high pinnacles on one side with the sea on the other. The ocean looked a beautiful blue/turquoise & the beaches were black volcanic sand. The fishermen kept their boats, tractors & earth movers hauled up at the top of the beach next to the road to be safe from storms as there was no harbour. The men were fishing for the beautiful paua shells (abalone) which were sold to the jewellery/ craft industry. We saw lots of broken paua shells on the beach, but although we searched we didn’t find any whole ones. Traditionally Maoris use this irridescent shell as eyes in their wood carvings.
We wanted to carry on along the gravel road round Palliser Bay to Cape Palliser itself (which is the furthest point south in North Island) but had to turn back. The ruts in the gravel were so bad (caused by tractors) that the motorhome was shaking violently even though we were crawling along slowly. Even our teeth were rattling. Disappointing as we couldn’t make it to the Cape as I wanted to see the seal colony there. On the way back we took a photo of a small wooden house with a little verandah/ balcony decorated with hanging paua shells strung along the front.
Returning to Lake Ferry we took the road to Featherstone, across the Ruamahanga River where there were signs warning of possible river flooding. Luckily it was dry weather, as sometimes they close the road. We then crossed the Tararua Range by climbing up a steep & twisty road with hairpin bends & sheer drops to the forest valley below. We would not want to do this route in heavy rain or at night! Rather a scary drive (which we had done on a previous visit to NZ & I had forgotten about it).
We headed towards Wellington & followed the wide Hutt River, arriving at the Top 10 campsite at Lower Hutt at 3.50pm. We were meeting up with Chris & Allyson & the lady on reception said that they had checked in an hour earlier. They had come from a different direction – Highway 1 on the west coast. They sent us a Facebook message to to say they had gone into Wellington on the bus to have a look around.
I did some laundry although grey clouds were building up, & I risked hanging it up on the rotary washing line overnight. We sent C & A a message saying we had arrived – we had pitches next to one another. We found that the campsite had totally changed for the better from 10 years ago- the reception included a motel complex & the kitchen, BBQs & shower/toilet blocks had all been completely re-done. This site cost us $45 per night per pitch & we planned on staying 2 nights, ready to catch the Interislander ferry to South Island on Thursday.
When Chris & Allyson returned we cooked them spaghetti Bolognese & then had boysenberry icecream. We had lots to share about our respective travels since we’d last seen each other on the 4 May. C & A were tired as they’d done a lot of walking round Wellington.
Wednesday 10 May Wellington
I collected the washing which was dry, so luckily didn’t rain overnight.Chris & Allyson did a lovely bacon & egg cob on the BBQ for breakfast. They wanted to go back into the city & as K & I had spent a week there 10 years ago we decided to do something else & we agreed we’d all meet up later in the day in town. They got the bus in to the city & we drove along the harbour front to Eastbourne, a residential community with houses literally 6 feet from the waters edge or perched high up the steep wooded hillsides. Not ideal as Wellington has regular earth trenors & was affected by the massive 7.8 quake last November (2016) in Kaikoura. Two car parks were damaged & there were cracks in office buildings & homes. Kaikoura is a lot further south of Wellington (159 mls) & on the east coast so surprising that Wellington felt the earthquake.
Keef & I went for a walk along the harbour beach & I picked up some lovely shells. There was a monument to the terrible ferry disaster that occurred on 10/4/1968 during a violent cyclone (Giselle) which hit Wellington. The vehicle ferry, ‘Wahine,’ ran aground on a reef just inside Wellington harbour & 51 passengers & crew drowned when the ferry sank that day.
We drove back along the harbour front, past the ferry terminal, to Lyall Bay. This bay & beach was situated next to the Air New Zealand runway at Wellington airport which was built out towards the sea. We watched planes arriving & taking off over the sea – it wasn’t a long runway but the planes did not look that huge. The passenger terminal sign said ‘Welcome to the middle of Middle Earth’. Watched people surfing in the bay & then we went to have a coffee & snack lunch at a modern café called ‘Loose as a Goose’ – strange name. It had plate glass windows to get the best views of the bay, surfers & runway strip.
We drove the motorhome back to the campsite, changed into jeans & shoes (only the 2nd time on this holiday that Keef has not worn flip-flops). Caught the 2.50pm bus into the city. It took ages going round Lower Hutt & Petone shopping areas – 50 mins when it was so quick by motorhome. We walked from the middle of the city down to Te Papa museum/art gallery but then we got a phone message from Allyson saying they had left Te Papa 45 minutes ago to walk towards the famous cable tramway up to the scenic lookout over Wellington.
We thought that while we were at the entrance to Te Papa we’d have another look at the Maori Marae & exhibits, the stuffed kiwi birds, the earthquake house & volcano footage of eruptions in NZ. Also had a look again at the Waitangi Treaty original documents (translated by Rev Henry Williams (plus there was a photo of him). Keef & I did not spend long in Te Papa as we had visited it before for 2 days as there was so much to see. Unfortunately the oil paintings of Maori people were no longer on public view as the art gallery part of the museum was being refurbished. The staff told us that the paintings were available to view on the Te Papa website. This museum is one of the best ones we’ve ever seen.
We walked to Shed 22 Mac’s Brewery on the harbour front. Keef had a beer & I had a lime daiquiri cocktail. Chris & Allyson joined us there for a few drinks before walking to Courtney Place to find an Indian restaurant called ‘Saffron’. Couldn’t find it so instead we went to one across the road called ‘Great India’. We had a great Indian curry meal & all ate too much, although Chris & Allyson had not had any lunch so were very hungry.
The original owners of the restaurant had emigrated from Leicester & their two sons now run the business as the parents had retired. As we came from Nottingham we got special service! Good food & then we all staggered across the road to get the 9.30pm bus back to our campsite. A cloudy & mild night but no stars. Aiming to get up early to catch the 9am ferry to South Island tomorrow so set our alarms.
Thursday 11 May Wellington via ferry to Nelson, South Island
Got up in the dark when our alarm went off at 5.30am. Had showers. Raining. For breakfast had fruit juice & ½ banana each. At 6.45am we all set off for the ferry port as the last boarding time closed at 8am. The traffic along the harbour road was bumper to bumper & Y & I were worried that Chris & Allyson were not following us as we couldn’t see them in the rear view mirror as a lorry was directly behind us. Rush hour traffic into Wellington obviously starts before 6.45am. Good job we set off early for the ferry port. Saw a lorry accident where it had gone into the back of a car. Journey was a bit tense but we actually got to the ferry in plenty of time & sat in the queue waiting to board.
We didn’t board until 8.30 (could have spent longer asleep) & the ferry left dead on time at 9am. Noticed several lorries carrying sheep & cows boarding the ferry. At the end of the 3½ hour voyage the car decks smelt awful! Had breakfast on the ferry & as it was still raining & windy outside we stayed in the lounge area. The sea was slightly choppy but not enough to cause people to be seasick. We were told that the winds were northerly today so it would be a good crossing across the Cook Strait. However, if the wind had been southerly then this would be a bad crossing.
We relaxed & chatted for most of the journey & then chatted with a Kiwi couple from Wellington who were going to South Island for a long weekend. The 3½ hours went very quickly & the scenery coming into Queen Charlotte Sound was great. The captain had to reverse into the dock at Picton. Not a big town & the high hills were covered in dense rainforest as it was still sub-tropical vegetation – tree ferns, palm trees & creepers.
We drove along the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive along all the inlets towards Havelock but it was a shame that the rain & low clouds spoilt the magnificent views along the winding road. We stopped in Havelock to have lunch at ‘The Mussel Pot’ restaurant in the main street. Apart from being the world capital of green lipped mussel farming in the bays, the town was very small. The restaurant also did other items on the menu apart from mussels. Keef & Chris both had a giant saucepan of mussels cooked in wine, garlic & herbs with chips which they really enjoyed. I had a toasted chicken, salad & mango salsa sandwich & Allyson had fish, chips & side salad. Lunch was very enjoyable & the lady serving us was very friendly & knew all about mussels & farming them.
We carried on our journey through hilly forests, autumn coloured trees & pouring rain. The road was rather scary as we climbed up a mountain range with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet on the side of the road. Finally got to Nelson & the Top 10 campsite. Felt it had been quite a drive & the rain had been so heavy in places that the windscreen wipers could hardly cope. Had a well-earned cup of tea & rest. I caught up with writing this diary as I was 3 days behind & Keef saved his photos from the camera memory stick on to his laptop.
Friday 12 May Nelson to Kaiteriteri
We visited the WOW museum in Nelson (World of Wearable Art, classic cars & a few motorbikes). K & I had been before but it was so good that we were looking forward to going again with Chris & Allyson. It was even better this time with the displays of imaginative clothing/ costumes/hats/headgear & shoes – thought it was simply stunning. Impressed with the creativity & effort put into the costumes which were entered into various categories of a competition open to anyone across the world. The WOW idea had originated in Nelson with a woman starting a competition of ‘wearable art’ in 1987 & the museum opened in 2001.
We saw the entries for 2016 –winners & runners-up in each category plus a few other entries. A guy from Derbyshire won 2nd place under the Film & Costume section with an amazing outfit for both a man & woman. Some of the selected entries & winners were really unusual – e.g a costume featuring paint brush bristles dipped in many paint colours & another had black plastic cable ties secured on black plastic tubing to create a 3D dress. All the exhibits were brilliant & there was also a film showing in a mini theatre of the 2016 awards show held in Wellington. It wasn’t just a fashion parade but had dancers, music & an animatronic tiger which sang Major Tom by David Bowie & a Frank Sinatra song.
We then walked through to a large exhibition area which displayed vintage & classic cars from around the world. The cars were fab, especially the 1950s USA ones & the lovely vintage cars – all in immaculate condition. There was an additional large exhibition area which had more modern 20thc cars which the museum had acquired. Some were purchased in good condition & others needed renovation. We watched some people renovating an old Mini & another car. We were in the museum well over 2 hours & all of us enjoyed it as it was so different from the usual museum The NZ people certainly like quirky, humorous & imaginative things. Even their letter boxes & homes are quirky i.e the house by Wellington harbour which looked like two brown glass beer bottles.
After the museum we drove to Countdown to do some food shopping. Had lunch in the motorhome next to Nelson’s local beach & then went for a short walk on the beach which was a long sandy crescent overlooking Tasman Bay. Nelson has a small airport & the planes were taking off & flying over the beach & out to sea.
We all drove to Kaiteriteri which is at the south end of the Abel Tasman National Park. The area has a lot of apple & other fruit orchards. We booked in for 2 nights at the campsite right next by the sandy beach & it had changed a lot since we were last there (we camped in our tent). Keef & I had a stroll along the beach & read the information boards about the New Zealand Company wanting to set up a colony in Kaiteriteri after Wellington & Nelson. It also described the first meeting between the Maoris & English settlers. Again land was bought from the Maoris for next to nothing - token goods such as 1 gun, 1 axe, tobacco & a pipe were given as gifts to the local chief.
After dinner Keef tried to book a boat excursion to the Abel Tasman National Park on the laptop but the wi-fi cut out twice so we decided to buy our tickets the next morning as soon as the kiosk opened. Quite a cold night – we all went off to the bar next to the campsite. They had a log burning stove which was cosy. Had some drinks but the bar closed at 10pm.
Saturday 13 May Kaiteriteri & Abel Tasman National Park
Got up at 7am. After breakfast Keef went & got our boat trip tickets from the operators Wilsons, who do a day trip along the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park. K & I had done the same trip before but thought it well worth seeing again. The Wilson family have been running this trip since 1841 & our trip cost $72 or £36 each for the whole day. Chris & Allyson wanted to do a boat trip + hike so they wanted to get their tickets separately when they could find out the options available that day – this was because some of the coastal walks were not passable due to tidal timetables. Allyson took ages getting their tickets & they were last on the boat- luckily the captain delayed 10 minutes.
The trip was sunny but windy up on the top deck of the cruiser & the sea was calm. Because of the speed of the boat it felt cold – good job we wore our waterproof jackets. Lovely scenery along the coast & the boat crew let people off on some stops on route so they could do walking or kayaking. Saw Split Apple Rock in a small bay – a large granite boulder, 135 million years old, which had split in half down a natural fault line. The coastline had lots of islands, coves & sandy beaches. We saw some NZ fur seals on some rocks on an island. At Totaranui the boat turned round & headed back. All the coastline was granite rock with trees & hills in the distance.
Chris & Allyson, plus some other people, were dropped off at a halfway point called Tonga Quarry & they walked 4.1 kms towards the boat pick up point at Medlands Beach. We saw a small cave by the shore & then Keef & I landed at Medlands Beach. Took lots of photos & then we walked 1.2 kms to Bark Bay, the next beach. The path above the rocky shore had partly collapsed at one point so we edged carefully close to the steep wooded bank.
There was a Department of Conservation campsite with camp kitchen, a picnic area & flushing toilets at Bark Bay, which had a lovely sandy beach. Keef & I had lunch here on a picnic bench with a view of the bay & noticed that the tide was rapidly going out. This coastline has one of the highest tidal fluctuations in the world (according to the Wilson’s tourist leaflet). At high tide some of the beaches cannot be crossed. Some walkers who had tents & rucsacs passed us heading north & they were obviously doing the 4-6 day Abel Tasman trek. One girl with a rucsac was walking on her own.
We walked along the sea inlet & saw a kingfisher catch a small fish. It was very peaceful & relaxing here & the air was so pure that mosses hung from the trees. Three hours after the boat dropped us off we re-boarded it back at Medlands Beach. Chris & Allyson had enjoyed their walk & we returned to Kaiteriteri. The whole trip lasted 6½ hours including the lunch break. On the return journey Keef & I sat downstairs under cover to keep out of the chilly wind. We noticed that most people sitting downstairs were engrossed with their phones rather than looking at the scenery & even when the boat went close up to the seals basking on the rocks.
Saw a pale pink sunset over the bay from the campsite. After dinner we all thought we would return to the bar for a drink but there was a wedding reception & the outside area had a TV with rugby on & a packed out audience. We walked to another bar next door which was part of a nice looking restaurant. Unfortunately the lady behind the bar told us that they couldn’t serve alcohol without food due to their licence & the kitchen had just closed. So we went back to our motorhomes & had an early night as we were going to drive to Murchison the next day via St Arnaud (a ski resort). A cold night again but we kept the electric fan heater on low all night.
Sunday 14 May Kaiteriteri to Murchison
A sunny day today. We left at 9.30 after doing water refilling, & dumping waste. We drove along minor roads heading south through Woodstock (had one farm only), apple orchards & hop growing areas. Beautiful autumn colours on the trees & very low cloud in the valley – took some photos. I thought that it seemed that the clouds had fallen out of the blue sky! We drove parallel to the Arthur Range mountains & stopped to take photos. We took the small road through Golden Downs to St Arnaud. Lots of alpine houses & motels in this village. Keef & I remembered we stayed in a log cabin here when we were travelling around South Island with our tent.
We stopped for a lunch break at Lake Rotoiti just outside the village & saw a mass of very large black eels from the jetty. People were feeding them bread. Also saw two swans & lots of ducks. The lake was very clear so you could see the bottom & the mountains surrounding it reminded me of a lake in Canada. Last time we were troubled by sandflies biting our legs but the local council had covered up the sandy shoreline with large gravel so much better now. We had a sandwich & cup of tea in the motorhome.
Went to Lake Rotoroa & we all did a nature walk & had to cross two streams. The tree trunks had black moss & one had tiny white mushrooms (took photos) & the branches were dripping with green moss hanging down. After that we drove along the mighty Buller River to Murchison, where we stayed at the Kiwi Park campsite on the edge of town. Saw a helicopter landing & taking off nearby – probably doing scenic tours of the river gorge. Very cold at night. We played cards after dinner.
Monday 15 May Murchison to Kaikoura
After breakfast I fed the small rock wallaby through the paddock fence. Very cute wallaby – gave it some lettuce & cabbage. Keef took a photo. We picked up more fuel in Murchison & then followed the Buller River along to a swing bridge which crossed the deep river gorge. Cost $10 each & once we had crossed the bridge we did a circular walk through trees & shrubs. There was a waterfall & we went past old gold mining machinery. Saw a marker high on a tree which showed the level where the floodwaters rose to above the rocky sides of the gorge. Also saw a marker where the earth had been pushed up 15 ft by the earthquake in Murchison in 1929. The quake was 7.4 on the Richter scale & 17 people died.
We took the road past the Victoria Range on the right to Springs Junction. We stopped at a petrol station & bought some steak & cheese pies before continuing our journey to Waiau & then on towards Kaikoura on the scenic Alpine Pacific Highway. The road still had a lot of damage from the Kaikoura earthquake last year but the damage but was slowly being repaired. A lot of bridges had been affected too & we saw landslides & even hillsides had completely collapsed.
We booked into the Top 10 campsite which looked brand new – probably refurbished as the buildings were all wooden. We all walked into town to get some fish & chips. Found out that our plan to travel south from Kaikoura on Highway 1 was thwarted as this road was closed for 12 days. Unfortunately this meant that we had to return on the same road the next day. We had picked up a notification leaflet on the Interislander ferry which said that Highway 1 was now open, so contradictory advice for travellers.
Walking through town we noticed some earthquake damage to some shops, some of which were propped up with scaffolding & the old hotel was roped off. The night was quite cold & I was glad of my gloves that I’d bought on North Island.
Tuesday 16 May Kaikoura to Christchurch
Went along the beach road out to the seal colony. There were lots of big waves pounding the rocks & we noticed the smell of sewage which was coming from rock pools near the car park. The sewage pipes from the nearby public toilets must have been cracked from the earthquake. Because of the sewage leakage from the sea the Council had imposed a total ban on any fishing from the date of the earthquake until further notice. The fish (with chips) we ate last night must have been transported to the town from elsewhere. It showed how a major earthquake not only affects buildings above ground but gas, water & sewage pipes under ground too. The views of the bay were lovely as it was sunny & we saw some seals on the rocks & a few basking in the sun on the boardwalk next to the other end of the car park.
We left Kaikoura on the same road we arrived on (it was 88kms long) but were held up by a very large herd of Friesian cows which were being moved alongside the road on the grass verge for several miles to another field. The cows sometimes crossed the road in front of us & some even stood in the middle of the road!
Eventually we got to Wairu & turned towards Parnassus. Highway 1 from this point southwards was practically deserted. We were on a temporary bridge & next to it was the original bridge which was very badly damaged by the quake. It had a huge crack, the side had fallen away & the crash barrier was broken & buckled.
We soon came to a wine growing area. The traffic increased as we reached the outer regions of Christchurch. We were trying to hurry to get to the Britz office to get some repairs done on our motorhomes & exchange our bedlinen & towels. Chris & Allyson’s van needed a new headlight bulb & brake shoe plus a tyre jack as the other one had broken. Our van needed the sat nav replacing as the one screw remaining meant it kept wobbling around on its bracket & twisting upside down. Also we asked for a replacement light bulb for inside our van plus a manual for the Mercedes Sprinter.
Britz staff took both our motorhomes away into their workshop for the repairs whilst we sat & had coffee & hot chocolate (free). We were told we couldn’t have the instruction manual as there wasn’t one (for previous hires with Britz we always had a manual in the glove box). Keef & I also decided to ditch our two folding chairs & outside table & pedal bin as we found they took up too much space & we weren’t eating & sitting around outside anymore.
Once we had sorted out our vans we drove to the Top 10 campsite in Papanui, Christchurch. It was quite a busy site & had an indoor swimming pool (which we didn’t use). A coach load of noisy school kids arrived the same time as us to check in at reception. They were screaming & shouting until it suddenly went quiet – someone must have told them to shut up.
Wednesday 17 May Christchurch
Keef did a full English cooked breakfast in our van & then we all got the bus near the campsite into Christchurch. The bus station looked brand new & very modern. I asked a man for directions to Cathedral Square & when we got there Keef & I were shocked at how the 2011 earthquake had changed the city compared to our visit nearly 10 years ago. The cathedral was a ruin & fenced off as unsafe to walk near. Tall weeds were growing in the paving & all the lovely bedding plants & flowers were no more – looked very sad. Lots of buildings were still being knocked down as they were beyond repair after the 6.9 quake.
There had been a previous quake in 2010 in the area which was 7.8 but it was the 2011 that had caused so much devastation to the city & suburbs & 185 people died. The large loss of life occurred because the quake hit at lunchtime on a weekday. One building collapsed to dust & two buses were completely crushed by falling masonry. The epicentre was in Lyttelton harbour near the SE suburbs & there were thousands of aftershocks up to a year later. This was the port for Christchurch & after 2011 no more cruise ships visited. There was another minor quake in 2016. We remember the road to the harbour being very steep downhill & a lot of homes were severely damaged there & had to be demolished.
There were a lot of vacant spaces in the city centre where buildings had collapsed. However, there was a lot of re-building going on with a new library, bank & conference centre started & work ongoing. There were signs of Christchurch’s re-emergence from the disaster but after 6 years things seemed very slow.
We walked to see the Avon River where before the quakes tourists could get a punt ride but now this area looked so neglected – the grassy banks used to have manicured lawns with flower beds but not any more. Christchurch was proud of its floral displays in the past but other things are more important now.
We all took a vintage tram ride round the city & the commentary from the tram driver was very good. The trams only started running again a couple of years ago. The city centre by the cathedral looked deserted apart from a couple of other tourists, when K & I saw it before the quake it was so vibrant & bustling.
We went round the whole tram route once (it took about 40 minutes because it was going slow) & then we got off at the shopping area where shipping containers had been pressed into service as temporary shops. After the 2011 quake the council brought in the containers to act as temporary shops & cafes. They were painted bright colours & had glass sides & looked very good. There was lots of art work painted on city walls & sculptures too. The mnost evocative ‘sculpture’ was ‘185 white chairs’ to represent every adult & child who had died – awful to see a white baby car seat, a toddler’s high chair plus old style white wingback armchairs for elderly people. Some tourists from around the world had died too – the cathedral partly collapsing probably caused a lot of deaths & injuries.
Chris & Allyson went off round the shops & we arranged to meet them later in the Quake City museum which covered the 2011 earthquake. Keef & I found that apart from the factual details about the event & its aftermath, the most poignant part was the section on people’s first hand accounts & of the search & rescue afterwards. The specialist rescue teams came from Australia, the UK, Japan & Singapore. Although New Zealanders were used to tremors & quakes they were shocked at the devastation caused & loss of life. Chris & Allyson arrived at the museum some time after us & they had to hurry through as the museum was about to close.
We all walked to the new church built entirely out of cardboard & then went for a meal at a Mexican restaurant. Apart from the rain the previous evening & this morning it was dry all day in Christchurch although it was overcast. We had some light rain from 5pm . We got the bus from the bus station back to the campsite. We did a lovely Skype with Craig & family (it was Bill’s 70th birthday today) & Phoenix & Charlie joined in too.
Thursday 18 May Christchurch, via Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika
We departed Christchurch & got more fuel. Headed west towards Arthur’s Pass but at the airport roundabout Chris & Allyson who were following us missed us turning off. We thought they must have seen where we turned & we carried on but further round the airfield we realised they weren’t behind us. There was no response from them when we called them on the walkie talkie. Got worried after waiting a few minutes, then we turned back & returned to the roundabout but couldn’t see them anywhere. Eventually managed to contact them & they had got lost but were OK. We met up with them again when they turned up at a bakery a few kms further along the road which was famous for pies!
We drove from the east side of NZ to the west coast across Arthur’s Pass, the highest pass over the Southern Alps. In the past Keef & I had done the road journey before in rain & mist & had also taken the return train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth as well. Arthur Dobson had surveyed the Pass in 1864 & the road was built the following year which was quite a feat. The road linked Christchurch with the goldfields on the west coast & it took 1,000 men to build it. As we drove through the National Park we stopped & took lots of photos as the scenery was spectacular & the weather was sunny with blue sky. The mountains were about 2,000 m high & some had snow on the top. At Arthur’s pass village/railway station we met up with Chris & Allyson again & did a short walk to a waterfall just outside the village called Devil’s punchbowl.
Prior to that Keef & I had gone into the tourist info centre & saw a display about the Cobb & Co stagecoaches that did the same journey from coast to coast in 3 days. The coach with 5 horses held 9 people inside & 8 rode up top. In the old days the journey on rough stone tracks must have been arduous & hair-raising, especially going through gorges & steep inclines. Nowadays the road trip takes 3hours 50 mins from Christchurch to Hokitika, although it took Keef & I longer because we kept stopping to admire the scenery & take lots of photos.
After Arthur’s Pass (2,275m above sea level) we went through Otira Gorge where a modern bridge/ viaduct snaked through on huge concrete support legs. We were lucky that the journey on this occasion was such good weather. At the end of the highway we turned left to Hokitika & Chris & Allyson had decided when we were at Otira Gorge to visit Greymouth. We arranged to meet up with them at the campsite.
Hokitika was a small town with lots of crafts people doing glass blowing, art & carving greenstone. K & I drove to the beach as the wind was extremely strong & we watched the waves of the Tasman Sea crash onto the shore. We drove to the campsite just out of town called Hokitika Holiday Park & met up with C & A at the check-in desk.
After a cup of tea, Allyson, Keef & I went off to see the glow worm dell when it got dark. It was outside the town & we parked & walked up the path & saw lots of glowing tiny white lights in the darkness amongst the vegetation. The glow worms are the larvae of the gnat fly & produce a tiny white pinprick of light. Massed together it looked magical. I nearly bumped into 2 other people who were watching them by the fence as it was pitch black. Luckily we took a torch & Allyson had the flashlight on her phone to find our way.
The campsite had a well-equipped kitchen & lounge area with sofas & a gas fire. As it was very windy & rainy we cooked & ate our dinner there as it was so cosy. After dinner we discussed the route for the remainder of our holiday. Very windy night & heavy rain.
Friday 19 May Hokitika to Franz Josef Glacier
After breakfast we went back to see the town again & the rough seas & gales had died down. Drove along the highway to Ross, a heritage gold mining town which had some old wooden Victorian buildings. We wanted to go into the museum & look around & Chris & Allyson decided to go straight to the glacier to do a long walk.
Keef & I saw a replica of a huge gold nugget that had been found in the hillside by the town – it weighed over 2 kg. The museum was small but interesting & there were lots of old photographs of the miners & information about the goldrush which brought prospectors from all over the world, including Australia, UK & China. We watched a video about the town & gold mining. A coach load of tourists from China came through the museum to have a try at gold panning in the sluice at the back. The museum lady told us that as gold retrieval techniques improved & better & more mechanised equipment was used, open cast mining methods were used. There was a massive hole in the ground (it looked like a quarry) behind the museum & a residential street where gold was extracted.
Keef & I walked along the heritage trail & saw the open cast mine had been filled in with water. There was still gold mining going on outside the town (another huge hole being slowly excavated). The local newspaper article in the museum stated that the mining experts estimated that Ross was sitting on $700 million worth of gold!!! It could end up like Kalgoorlie in W Australia with a huge super pit next to the little town.
We stopped again on the highway at Harihari to read some history boards about a 21 year old Aussie called Guy Menzies who decided to fly solo across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to New Zealand without telling anyone, not even his parents. He had told everyone he was going from Sydney to Perth! He wanted to be the first person to attempt the flight in 1931 & nearly had a disaster with storms, running out of fuel & poor visibility. He was aiming for Blenheim on the east coast of South Island but instead survived a crash into a swamp at Harihari on the west coast. The plane was recovered & was displayed under cover in a small building – it looked not much bigger than our motorhome! He joined the NZ airforce & his plane was shot down in Sicily during WWII.
We stopped to have lunch by a river where the glacial water was an unbelievable turquoise colour! It was raining but occasionally the sun came out. Saw three separate rainbows today. Caught a brief glimpse of Mt Cook’s peak, covered in snow, but then it was covered by cloud.
Drove on to the Franz Josef Glacier which was not far from the coast. Nice route through ferns, tree ferns & some palm trees. We parked our van & followed the path to the lookout but we were astounded to see that after 10 years the glacier had retreated so far back up the valley that it was small & high up on a cliff. Big disappointment. When we had last seen it there was a huge mass of ice that covered both sides of the valley floor & there was a wooden viewing platform at the base. Now the path had extended to along the valley floor so it took 1½ hours to get to the base of the cliff & return. Good job we saw it when we did years ago because global warming has obviously had a big effect on the glacier melt & retreat, with less snow to keep the glacier moving forward. We decided to look at our own old photos of the glacier when we got to the next campsite.
The rain was constant & we decided to go to the Top 10 campsite just outside the village. Chris & Allyson arrived at the site reception the same time as us. Still raining, although not that cold. Still autumn colour on the trees. Winter doesn’t officially start until 1 June!
Saturday 20 May Franz Josef Glacier to Haast
Quite cold during the night – weather forecast said it was 0c in the village overnight. After breakfast we went into the village to buy a few supplies such as milk & cereal whilst C & A went off to the Fox Glacier for a walk. We also picked up more diesel. Very sunny this morning with blue sky. We drove to Fox Glacier & saw several waterfalls down a sheer rock face by the river. There was a small lake by the car park which was an azure blue & so clear you could see stones on the bottom. We saw from the photo on the information board that the Fox Glacier had receded enormously from 2008 to 2014.We visited it in 2008 & the glacier reached down to the valley floor but now it was high up & miles away. Keef’s knees were very painful yesterday on the downhill bit of the path to Franz Josef Glacier, so the steep path down from the car park area to the valley floor he couldn’t manage. They should install a zip wire for pensioners. As we had seen it before (when it actually looked like a glacier flowing into the valley) we decided to move on to Lake Matheson.
Did the same walk as last time round the lake which was beautiful with the dripping mosses & ferns on the trees. A young couple from Melbourne took our photo with Mt Cook & other mountains in the background which had snow on the peaks. We took their photo too. Had coffee in the café/restaurant by the lake.
We continued our journey with temperate rainforest on either side of the road – green ferns, tree ferns & the odd small palm tree. Strange to see such lush vegetation & tropical palms with huge mountains over 2,000 m high with snow. We stopped at Bruce bay for lunch in the motorhome & watched the waves. Lots of driftwood washed up on the beach with Rimu trees behind. This beach was voted one of the top 10 beaches in New Zealand. The road went through the valley with huge mountains on our left & the sea on our right. We paused at a viewpoint called Knights Point & saw a whale & calf out to sea. First we thought it was waves crashing over rocks but realised that the object was moving. The whales were moving near the surface & I saw them through our binoculars when they came up to breathe. The smaller of the two whales kept very close to the other one. We later learned that they were humpback whales.
Stopped at 4.45pm at the Top 10 campsite at Haast, which was a new site added to an existing motel in 2011. Tried to do some laundry but both washing machines were being used. C & A had arrived as we were off to the laundry so that was good timing. They had enjoyed their day walking to the glacier & the Lake Matheson walk. The sunshine has been lovely today & only a light breeze. The electric hook-up for our van did not work so we had to move pitches as the staff on reception couldn’t fix the problem. After a cup of tea & chat about our respective day, Keef cooked the dinner tonight.
Laura & Ben’s wedding was in Brighton Pavillion today. We sent them an e-card with love & best wishes.
Sunday 21 May Haast to Wanaka
When I went to have my shower I had to switch the heating on in the Ladies as it was very cold overnight. The facilities at the Top 10, incl kitchen & lounge area, were all within a metal aircraft hangar with very high ceilings. The resident cat (which was so huge it looked like a dog) was purring & rubbing against our legs obviously looking to hitch a ride in our van. Chris & Allyson said they were going along the highway to Wanaka & we agreed we would meet up at Wanaka Top 10 campsite. K & I decided to drive along the coast to Jackson Bay which we’d not been to before. The small road took us over bridges where there were metal gantries suspended over the rivers. The fishermen suspended fine nets into the river to catch whitebait. There was a house selling whitebait along the route.
The road was virtually deserted & we went through a few very small communities with one school, a few holiday homes & a farm. Very sunny weather today & glorious views of some snow capped mountains. The sea was calm & Haast beach had an estuary too big to cross. Lots of driftwood cast up on other bays.
Just before we reached Jackson Bay at the end of the road I looked out to sea with our binoculars & saw a whale. It was splashing on the surface & I saw its fluke. Keef saw it as well. We drove the last few kms into Jackson Bay township where there was a café, a few houses, public toilet & lots of lobster pots & sheds. The place was deserted & peaceful with lovely views of the bay & mountains. We walked to the end of the long jetty to see if we could get a better view of the whale but we were at the wrong angle.
Jackson Bay had a Maori settlement there for 700 years & the people caught seals for meat & used the bones for fishing hooks. Then the whalers arrived & also killed seals for their skins. The seals had disappeared but we were pleased to see the humpback whale at least. A fantail bird landed on Keef’s arm & then kept flying around & over us – they are such friendly little birds with no fear of humans. I read somewhere that they are drawn to humans walking because insects are disturbed which they can eat.
We left Jackson Bay & drove through Haast Pass which had amazing scenery & majestic mountains. We had our lunch in a picnic rest spot & then carried on to Lake Wanaka, which we’d visited before. This massive lake is the biggest on South Island & had a twisting road along one side. Some of the rock face had been blasted out in order to build the road, which was finished in 1995 to Wanaka town. Picture postcard stuff & the mountains on either side of the lake made a perfect backdrop. Then the road skirted along one side of Lake Hawea towards Wanaka. We stopped several times to take photos as it was so sunny. In the shade of the mountains the temperature dropped & it felt chilly. We went into Lake Hawea township & I remembered we had called in at the general store/ café for an icecream about 10 years ago.
We carried on to the Top 10 campsite on the outskirts of Wanaka & arrived at 4.45pm. It turned very cold & it was going to be -2c overnight according to the lady in reception. We were now in the mountains & about an hour from Queenstown & The Remarkables (ski area). The ski season does not start until June & there are still some lovely autumn tints on the trees. Yet at Jackson Bay on the west coast we saw hydrangea shrubs in full bloom & huge tree ferns, but now the vegetation has turned to alpine within 194 kms.
Monday 22 May Wanaka to Queenstown
When I got up this morning there was a thin layer of frost on the picnic tables but not on the grass. Very sunny though. After breakfast we all drove into Wanaka & did some food shopping in New World supermarket for the next few days. Chris & Allyson then went off to Queenstown while we had a quick look around Wanaka which had expanded since we were last there. We agreed to meet up with C & A at Queenstown Top 10. K & I then took the scenic route on Highway 6 towards Cromwell & then Queenstown as we had spent 3 days camping in Queenstown Top 10 & had a good look round the town & did the Lord of the Rings tour round the whole area including Arrowtown.
We passed vineyards, cherry, apple & pear trees in the valley with huge mountain ranges either side of us (some of them had snow on top). We crossed the 45th Parallel which is the half-way latitude meridian between the Equator & the South Pole. Took some photos of the sign at the side of the road.
In Cromwell, a former gold mining town, we stopped at a bakery & then had lunch. We drove to the historic part of Cromwell which was established around 1860 as a Cobb & Co stagecoach stopover from Dunedin to Queenstown, a journey of 2 days. There were many stone walled houses with tin roofs & chimneys & were open to the public (free). There was a general store, livery stable, a newspaper office & printing press, plus some small shops & cottages. Also we saw some old wagons, bicycles & an original Cobb & Co stagecoach. Cromwell is situated on Lake Dunstan & is very scenic with the mountain backdrop & autumn colours on the trees. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds & warm in the sunshine.
We drove on towards Queenstown along Highway 6 & followed the Kawarau Gorge & river. We could see some of the old gold workings along the upper regions of the gorge (called the Otago gold rush in the old days) & then stopped at Roaring Meg rapids. Further up the river a hydro-electric plant had been built but wasn’t visible from the viewpoint at Roaring Meg. The gorge got steeper & the road snaked along the edge – good job Keef couldn’t look down as he was concentrating on driving.
We stopped at AJ Hackett’s original bungy jumping bridge by the same gorge. We watched from a viewing balcony at AJ Hackett’s a young couple doing a tandem bungy & then another man bungy jumped & actually dipped in the river 43 metres below. The jumpers were then lowered into a rubber dinghy & taken to the steps at the bottom of the gorge. A new zip wire experience had been introduced in 2010 which went across the canyon quite a long way. We chatted to a female employee on the viewing deck & she offered to take our photo.
From the gorge the road went past more wineries & cheese factories & we went straight to the Top 10 campsite near the Shotover River. We noticed that after 10 years the whole region had expanded with housing estates & vineyards (there were none in 2008). Also the campsite had become much smaller because the land had been sold off for housing. The wonderful camp kitchen/lounge was still the same though. Also there were new shower areas. I did some laundry but there was no wind & the sun had disappeared so I took it off the line later & left most of it in a bag in the motorhome & pinned some up inside the van. Chris & Allyson arrived after dark & Keef cooked butter chicken & rice in the camp kitchen. Then we all sat round the cosy wood burner fire on the sofas. As we were planning to leave early the next day we went to bed early.
Tuesday 23 May Queenstown to Milford Sound
It’s Craig’s 35th birthday today (we sent him an e-card & a money transfer towards a new bike). Overcast skies. I woke up at 6.15am so decided to get up anyway. We arranged to meet up at the campsite at Milford Sound in the evening. Keef & I left the campsite at 8.15am heading to Milford Sound which was 291 kms away. We knew this would be a 5 hour journey at least & more with rest stops & lunch break. We found that rush hour work traffic was coming into Queenstown at that time but luckily we were going in the opposite direction. Queenstown counts as a city now with its own domestic airport & sprawling residential areas.
Once we had passed through Queenstown, the views of The Remarkables & Lake Wakatipu were amazing. Queenstown itself, though not attractive, is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Adrenalin sports lure mainly young people to this area & there are lots of ski areas. The lake is massive – narrow but very long with a dog-leg halfway along. The road hugged the lake all the way to Kingston & then we went through a valley with small townships & sheep farms. We saw the remains of snowfall near an old railway bridge which now forms part of a cycle route. Highway 6 ended when we turned off towards Mossburn.
We had a delay with cows on the road being moved to a new field (they were beef cattle) & the people moving them had a job to keep them together. At Mossburn we took Highway 94 to Te Anau, which was still the same as we remembered it – we had camped 2 nights there before. We had a coffee & then walked past the shops to the huge lake called Lake Te Anau. There was a jetty with a tourist boat which did excursions & a float plane. Te Anau town is at the southern end of the lake & water taxis ferry hikers to the Kepler Track & at the northern end the Milford Track ended by the lake.
We spent about an hour in Te Anau which broke the journey up. The road followed the massive lake for miles & then headed through grasslands with high mountain ranges all around. The route map showed the distance between Te Anau & Milford Sound was 121 kms, but the travelling time was 2 hours.
We entered the Fiordland National Park & there was no habitation anywhere. A true wilderness region & still unspoilt, apart from the road to Milford Sound which half a million tourists travel to view the Sound which ends in the Tasman Sea. The valley floor where the road went had yellow grasses & red tullock grasses & small lakes. The mountains were covered in a light dusting of snow almost like someone had sprinkled icing sugar on them. There were rest areas & short walks to small lakes & waterfalls.
At one rest area there were some Keas, small alpine parrots, who were entertaining the tourists with their antics. They were hopping around & occasionally flew on top of a car. Their wings are red underneath & their backs have green/brown feathers. They have very sharp beaks & eat plants & nectar. They have become used to humans & vehicles & cheekily perch on mirrors looking inside. They are looking for humans to feed them & it’s unfortunate that they hang around tourist rest stops. The Dept of Conservation notices advise tourists not to feed the parrots & today we saw no one feeding them which was good. Food such as bread is very bad for their digestive system. The Keas are rather cheeky birds & can be quite destructive by ripping rubber trim from car roofs. Luckily our hired motorhome does not have rubber trim on the roof!
We decided to do some of the short walks on our return journey to Te Anau the next day after seeing Milford Sound. Keef & I had lunch organised in the van in a rest area when the Keas became so pesty that we had to put the stuff in the sink & quickly drink our squash in order to drive away to escape them.
We stopped just before the Homer Tunnel (dug out of the mountain by pickaxe from 1936 to 1954). We watched the Keas again & then on the other side of the tunnel the road zig-zagged down the steep mountain to the valley below. The waterfalls cascading down the sheer granite rock were impressive & bridges crossed gushing streams strewn with huge boulders.
When we arrived at Milford Sound we decided to check out the cruise terminal before we went to our campsite for the night. Apart from a member of staff in the booking hall there was no one there at all. We took a look at the cruisers moored at the dock & as Keef had already booked & paid for our tickets (+ C & A’s as well) online in Wanaka we wanted to find out what the boarding time was for the next morning. The tickets cost $142.20 for each couple (£71.10). We were told to arrive by 10.10am for the 10.30 trip. We had booked a nature cruise with Real Journeys, a local family run company who had been operating the cruises since 1954. We were told to collect our tickets at the desk the next morning. When Keef & I were researching cruise companies & costs we found that another company did the same cruise for $208 per couple. We had gone with Real Journeys last time so knew they were good.
Keef & I walked along the wooden boardwalk which had wonderful views of the Sound & Mitre Peak, which is one mile high. The tide was out & there were no other tourists around. However, seeing 27 coach bays at the cruise terminal led us to think that the 10.30am trip was going to be packed, although we were out of the main tourist season. We drove back along the road & saw where the staff that work at Milford Sound lived. They lived in little houses right next to the airport strip.
We went to the campsite to check in. Keef had already booked & paid for both van pitches in Wanaka in case it was busy. It was called Milford Sound Lodge – a motel in the trees with a restaurant & bar & also pitches set amongst the trees with electric hook-up for motorhomes. There were unisex toilets cubicles & showers, with a good kitchen & dining/lounge area for campers. There was nowhere for tents to be pitched. The cost of each pitch was $54 for 2 people+ motorhome.
We arrived about 5.20pm & made a cup of tea. C & A arrived when it was dark. They had done two of the very short walks on the Milford Road – Mirror lakes & The Chasm. We all had a good day driving to Milford. As the camp kitchen was busy with other people cooking their meals we ate in Chris & Allyson’s van & then we had a game of cards. The campsite was full up so good job we had booked ahead & this was the only campsite there as well. We had some light rain overnight but it wasn’t cold.
Wednesday 24 May Milford Sound to Te Anau
Drove down to the car park near the cruise boat jetty & then walked along the boardwalk. Keef collected our tickets from the cruise desk in the terminal. Our cruise boat was called ‘Milford mariner’ & it had masts but the sails were tightly furled. The boat was quite large & had several decks with an indoor lounge area & some bench seating on the upper deck. The boat left at 10.30am & the trip lasted 2 hours. It was a nature cruise & there was an excellent commentary by a guy who knew about the sea life, geology, plants etc.
The day was sunny with not much wind, but as there had not been much rain there weren’t so many waterfalls. When Keef & I did the same trip previously the waterfalls were amazing because of the torrential rain on the journey from Te Anau but we were lucky as the cruise then was in bright sunshine. One of the waterfalls called Sterling Falls, was as tall as a 50 storey building but it was dwarfed by the huge sheer rock walls of the fiord. The magnificent scenery was awe inspiring & jaw dropping – no wonder it’s considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world.
We spotted a dolphin jumping in front of the boat’s prow. The boat steered us very close to one of the tall thin waterfalls. We were told that the fiord was 16kms long & Milford Sound received 9.2 metres of rain last year. The average rainfall was 7 metres per annum & it rains 200 days of the year on average. So it’s one of the wettest places on earth & we were lucky to visit today in the sunshine.
The Aussie guy doing the commentary told me that humpback whales go past the fiord as part of their migration route but on one occasion one whale got lost & ended up close to the boat jetty. Luckily it managed to steer back out to sea. He said that on another occasion a pod of killer whales came into the fiord.
The boat headed out to the head of the fiord & we saw another dolphin (although it may have been the same one we saw before) & two albatross (a smaller variety). We did not see any seals on the journey out to sea because of the sheer rock face but on our return we did see four NZ fur seals close-up which were basking on a flat rock. Despite the fact that the sides of the fiord were solid granite rock it was surprising that there was a lot of greenery with mosses & plants clinging on.
On the return journey back to the cruise terminal, Keef & I had a coffee in the saloon lounge & then went back on deck to see the Bowen Falls. The guy doing the commentary told us that a woman had para-glided off the rock cliff into the water & survived. He didn’t explain hoe she got to the top of the sheer cliff!! We all thoroughly enjoyed the cruise & scenery & were pleased we went with Real Journeys which was well worth the price – we felt so small compared to the towering cliffs of the fiord.
When we were walking back to our vans we saw a white heron in the water at the edge of the fiord. Keef & I wanted to do some of the short walks on the way back to Te Anau & Chris & Allyson had already done these yesterday so we agreed to meet up at the campsite at Te Anau. Keef & I stopped at The Chasm & did the 20minute circular walk to a narrow channel between rock walls and boulders where water was gushing through. A small bridge went over the stream & it was so wet that the trees had moss growing on the trunks & dangling from the branches.
We returned to our motorhome for lunch & a Kea hopped over to see us. Luckily this parrot wasn’t quite so pesty & we watched him whilst eating our sandwiches. We stopped again on the other side of the Homer Tunnel to watch the Keas. Two of the parrots were attacking a plastic sack on a workman’s truck which they were oblivious to & then the birds flew to our mirrors & were looking in & trying to peck at the rubber trim (I checked later & there was no damage). Then they flew to the roof of our motorhome & we could hear them scampering along. Some other people in a car next to us had their rubber trim on their roof peeled halfway off by one naughty parrot.
We stopped to take photos on route & then did the 5 minute Mirror Lakes walk further on. This boardwalk was next to some small ponds which had fallen logs & leaf debris in the bottom. This created a dark background for the mirrored image of the snow capped mountains.
We arrived at Te Anau Top 10 campsite at 4.45pm having stopped at the local supermarket to buy some provisions. We had camped there in the past & some of the roses on the trellis dividing some of the pitches were still in flower. The main kitchen, TV room & shower block were still the same but a small two shower/ two toilet block & kitchen had been added near to our pitch. We all had our meal in the kitchen & then had a cup of tea & played cards. Quite a busy day & very enjoyable.
Thursday 25 May Te Anau to Dunedin (Portobello)
Chris & Allyson decided to backtrack & head north to Queenstown as they had not seen everything the other day. This was a 168km journey & they were planning to spend the night at Queenstown again. They were going to meet up with us again at the Portobello campsite on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin on Friday evening.
Keef & I went from Te Anau to Gore through farmland, with mountains in the distance. We stopped briefly at Gore. Then we stopped for lunch at Balclutha & had fish & chips. The fish was Blue Cod which was delicious & the batter was nice & crispy. We then headed north through Milton to Dunedin. We went to the Kiwi Parks campsite at Portobello on the winding road round the famous Otago Peninsula which created a massive harbour & port. The port was called Port Chalmers which was on the other side of the peninsula & halfway along from the city.
We checked into the campsite at 4.20pm & then drove on to the furthest part of the peninsula called Taiaroa. We wanted to book tickets to see the Little Blue Penguins, which are the world’s smallest penguin. We had seen them here on our previous holiday in South Island but wanted to visit again. Penguin viewing took place at 5.30pm (dusk) at Pilots Beach. We parked & bought our tickets from the Royal Albatross Colony shop. It cost $30 (£15) each to see the penguins & we had to wait for about 25 minutes before the guides/ wardens took us down lots of wooden steps & gravel paths to the wooden viewing platform. There were three female guides who gave us lots of information about the penguins.
These little penguins can travel up to 25 kms out to sea to feed all day & then return to their burrows once it got dark. There were only about six people with us so we all got a good viewpoint. Saw a large seal on the rocks by the little beach (Pilots Beach) but he slid into the sea before the penguins arrived. The main threat to the little penguins is sealions which eat them.
About 5.45pm the first penguin appeared followed by several others. They waddled right past us from the sand & rocks on the beach & then jumped up a shelf on the sand. Then they disappeared into the grassy sand dunes to the safety of their burrows for the night. They were so adorable & cute as they were very small & they squeaked & shrilled to one another. Eventually more penguins arrived – altogether we saw 24 Little Blue penguins come out of the waves & come up the beach past us to their burrows. We could see them very clearly as there was soft lighting under the wooden platform where we stood, which the wardens said was the equivalent to moonlight so did not worry the penguins.
Each penguin knew where it was going for the night. They rest in the sand dunes & then go out again from 2am onwards to fish but sometimes they stay in their burrows. We drove back to the campsite & felt happy that we’d seen the penguins in their natural habitat – a lovely experience.
Friday 26 May Portobello, Otago Peninsula
Weather sunny today with blue sky. After breakfast Keef & I drove along the peninsula road & we stopped at Taiaroa head again but this time walked down to the viewing platform on the ocean side. Couldn’t see any whales or seals but saw a Royal Albatross wheeling high in the sky. We returned to Harwood (residential area) by the sea & looked around. Saw a small glass fronted cupboard on a pole printed in tiger stripes – very intriguing & quirky - inside were books for people to exchange.
We drove along Weir Road, a gravel road, to Papanui Inlet where there were herons in the shallow water as the tide was out. We then headed around the inlet on the narrow gravel road & took another road to Hoopers Inlet, another tidal area & parked at Allans Beach. Some farmers were doing sheep shearing & their sheep dogs were very well trained. Signs on the beach warned of sealions being dangerous if you got too near as they could charge & bite you.
Unfortunately there weren’t any sealions but the beach was lovely with fine sand. Spoke to another tourist who said that a tourist information lady had advised him that there were sealions in Sandfly Bay. We drove up Highcliff Road which we had remembered was very twisty, narrow, with sheer drops to fields below. There had been some ‘wash-outs’ where rain had washed the edge of the road away. We parked at the end of Seal point Road & looked out from the cliffs to the sea. The beach was a very long way down & the path was too steep for Keef’s bad knees to cope with. Also there was a shallow river to wade across in order to get to the beach. It was too far away to even see properly through the binoculars.
We decided to go into Dunedin at 4.20pm & saw Chris & Allyson driving towards us but they didn’t notice us waving. They had driven from Queenstown today, a distance of 237kms. We drove around the city centre & then through the Botanical Gardens & up to Signal Hill to get superb views of Dunedin & the whole peninsula. We had forgotten how steep the road was up Signal Hill (last time we were in a car). Dunedin is surrounded by steep hills & some houses were perched rather dangerously on the edge of the roadside with a sheer drop down to the bottom of the valley. Dunedin is in an earthquake zone being on the Pacific Rim.
The streetlights were just beginning to come on & Dunedin looked very pretty by the harbour. We drove down Blacks Road in the city suburbs which was very steep but the steepest street in the world officially is Baldwin Street which was two streets away. We sensibly parked at the bottom of Baldwin Street which is 1:2 gradient (or 1:2.86 to be precise) according to the city council & Guiness Book of Records. This certainly was a steep residential street!! We saw the famous Dunedin railway station again from the outside. Apparently this Victorian building is the most photographed in all of New Zealand according to the city tourist brochure.
We returned along the Otago Peninsula road to the campsite & were surprised to see that C & A were in the campsite as we thought they were going to see the Little Blue penguins at 5.30pm as Allyson had asked us about it. Chris cooked Thai chicken curry with rice. A cold night.
Saturday 27 May Portobello to Oamaru
Bright & sunny today. After breakfast we headed back into Dunedin & looked at some of the art work painted on the sides of city buildings. C & A had only arrived at 4.30pm so they had not had a chance to see the peninsula. They wanted to do a walk & we told them the beaches to visit where sealions could be found. We warned them about the scary Highcliff Road, which was unsuitable for large vehicles like lorries.
Dunedin has had some earthquakes – in April 1974 they had a quake that was 5.0 & in June 2015 a moderate quake of 4.7 did some minor structural damage. The epicentre was 30 kms west of the city. Local people get used to these occurrences & are blasé. Keef & I drove along the other side of the Otago Peninsula looking back at Portobello & then we veered left on route 88 (missing Port Chalmers, a container ship terminal), climbing to get a fantastic view of the massive Otago Harbour.
At a viewpoint at the top there was a stone column monument commemorating Robert Scott of the famous Antarctic expedition who died on the return from the South Pole but was beaten in the race by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen who famously got to the pole first. Scott & his crew left Dunedin harbour in 1910 headed for the South Pole. A statue of Scott was in Christchurch but it fell in the recent big earthquake & was taken away to be repaired. Strangely, lots of hens & cockerels were wandering around the lookout car park area.
We took a narrow road to Long beach, which we walked along. No sealions there but still a beautiful bay. Didn’t see any whales today – apparently humpbacks head north from Dunedin having travelled down the west coasts of North & South Island. Also Southern Right Whales & Sperm Whales can be found off the Dunedin coast.
Drove on to Oamaru via a scenic loop road by the sea. We decided to go out to the coast at Oamaru to see the Yellow Eyed penguins at 4.30pm. They can come ashore to their burrows in the steep shrubby cliffs any time after 3pm. We parked our van & walked along the cliff path to the hide where we waited patiently until we saw one just at dusk around 5.15pm. There was a cold wind coming off the sea & we were glad of our coats & warm clothing. There were several people viewing the penguins from the hide.
There were five breeding pairs plus two other penguins, when years ago there had been 400. The Yellow Eyed penguins are becoming rarer. The penguin we saw came ashore on the sandy beach, then paused before turning & returning to the water. The penguin did this twice so obviously felt nervous about leaving the ocean. There were some seals asleep on the beach which may have made it cautious. The beach is closed to the public between 9am & 3pm so as not to disturb the penguins.
The hide we were in was made of wood with little wind protection but it did have a roof & it had great views of the beach. As we walked back along the cliff path I saw another penguin waddling ashore (although it could have been the same penguin again!) My feet were getting cold & I was glad I had my gloves on.
We went to Oamaru Top 10 campsite to check in. Allyson joined us in reception as we had just arrived together at the site. They said they had done a long walk on the Otago peninsula. We knew that the road journey tomorrow was going to be about 4½ hours to Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch, so we turned in early.
Sunday 28 May Oamaru to Akaroa
Another bright sunny autumn day & it wasn’t that cold overnight. We looked around the town which had some heritage Victorian limestone grand buildings with very detailed stone carvings. Nowadays no one can afford to have this sort of craftsmanship done on a building. Saw the vintage train running through the town from the harbour depot. It only operates on a Sunday & lots of families with kids were riding on the two carriages. Keef saw a man dressed as the fat Controller on the station platform. There were a lot of steampunk sculptures around the harbour area & in the children’s playground. Oamaru was once a thriving town with its harbour, grain stores, customs house, opera house & banks all in very grand stone buildings.
We left Oamaru & took Highway 1 through Timaru & stopped for a sandwich at the salmon fishing town of Raikaia. Then we drove on to Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula, which was a small township with French street names & a French influence. We walked around the town & on the jetty – it seemed very quiet as the shops were closing. In fact several shops had been shut up for the winter. Some of the cottages were very pretty with roses around porches & white picket fences.
We went to the campsite & Chris & Allyson arrived later. The pitch was sloped with muddy grass & the kitchen & shower block were exactly the same as when we camped there in our tent years ago. The campsite needed refurbishing. We ate dinner in the kitchen to use up the remaining food but it was cold in there. The ladies showers/toilets were cold as someone had left the window open. After dinner we played cards in C & A’s van.
Monday 29 May Akaroa to Christchurch
Chris & Allyson had not had a chance to look at the Banks Peninsula as it was getting dark when they arrived in Akaroa so they wanted to see it in the morning. We all had to hand back our motorhomes to Britz in the afternoon.
Keef & I drove towards Lyttleton, but went over the hills rather than to the harbour, and then on to Christchurch. The sea mist & low cloud meant that visibility was poor. Some of the passes over the hills, such as Dyers pass, were very high with winding roads & steep drops at the side. The summit was called the Sugarloaf, which was 496 m high.
We went to Pak n save supermarket in Riccarton to get some croissants for breakfast in the motel. We had booked the Apollo Motel, 288 Riccarton Road, Christchurch. We had a quick sandwich lunch & then did our packing in the van by the motel. Chris & Allyson did their packing at the campsite but we decided to wait until Christchurch because our large heavy bags would have fallen off the motorhome seats.
We dropped our bags off at the motel & then delivered the motorhome to the Britz depot/office near the airport at 3pm. The staff there gave us $38 back as we had complained in the Auckland office that the gas cylinder was too small (compared with what we had in the Aussie Britz motorhomes). We had filled it up in North Island even though it wasn’t empty. Keef & I got a shuttle bus back to the motel from Britz. The driver told us that after the damaging quake in Christchurch there had been a year of small aftershocks continuously every 20 minutes. They could have another big earthquake again at any time.
Had tea & a chocolate muffin when we returned to our room in the motel & put the heating on. Met up with C & A & had a nice meal at the Lone Star restaurant. Went to bed at 9.30pm as the next day we were getting up very early to go to the airport. We saw on the TV that an amazing display of the Australis Borealis was seen all over NZ south of Christchurch last night with the most beautiful colour waves. Apparently Dunedin & Signal Hill was one of the best places to see it. Went to bed at 9.30pm as the next day we were getting up very early to go to the airport.
Tuesday 30 May Christchurch to Sydney & on to Singapore
Got up early, had our showers & all crammed in the taxi with all our luggage at 3.45am to go to the airport. It was still dark outside & chilly. The family who ran the motel provided the car which was driven by their son. Our Qantas QF138 plane was supposed to depart for Sydney at 6.05am but was late leaving. At Sydney airport we all had a coffee & said our sad farewells to Chris & Allyson after an amazing four month trip. They were catching a plane to Hong Kong to spend a few days there before returning home. We were flying to Singapore to spend two weeks with Doug, Phoenix & our lovely 2 year old granddaughter Charlie, before we too headed for home. Really looking forward to seeing our family again.
1st to 14th June
Left Christchurch , South Island, Nz via plane to Sydney Airport... where after a coffee we said a tearful goodbye to our dear friends who went onto Hong Kong for 3 days, whilst we travelled onto Changi where we spent a lovely 2 weeks with family in Singapore with a long weekend break in Desaru, Malysia. You can see details of both of those from the respective drop downs in the index above. Thanks for looking
Wildlife spotted in Australia
Blue tongued skinks, Major Mitchell Cockatiel (white & pink feathers), emus, turtle, pelicans, eagles, goats, galahs, small frog, flock of white & yellow cockatoos, small lizard, green parakeets with yellow ring round neck – could be yellow ring lorikeets, alpacas of a farm, kangaroos, dead snake on road, budgies, quokkas, magpies, small black lizard 6-8” long, stick insects, dolphins, Australian sealions, 4 Ospreys, pelican colony, Little Blue Penguins, New Zealand fur seals.
Lots of Aussie mammals, birds & reptiles in Desert Park, a wildlife park outside Alice Springs. Cockroaches in pavement in Alice at night.
Corella parrots (white with lemon feathers under wings), large moorhens, stingray.
Dead snake (brown) in middle of road. Koala crossing road, budgies, black rock wallaby, echidna, 4 koalas, wallaby, baby black snake, bandicoot, red & green parakeets, 2 sulphur crested cockatoos, seal by a jetty, grey kangaroo at Hanging Rock, thin lizard, large group of grey kangaroos & 1 albino one, black swans, large 3ft stingray with orange spots on top & orange underneath, koalas, bellbirds, small lizard.
New South Wales
Kangaroos, rainbow lorikeets, stingrays, white cockatoos, small geckos, dead wombats by highway, wattle bird, heron, ibis birds, possum.
Dead Tasmanian Devils by roadsides, plovers & sandpipers, kookaburra, wallabies.
Wildlife in Cook Islands (Rarotonga)
Plovers, sandpipers, small crabs, sea cucumbers, fish, geckos, black/brown birds.
Wildlife spotted in New Zealand
Green Praying Mantis, weka (bird), 3 kingfishers, eagle, dead possum, bush turkeys, black swans, large black eels, fantail birds, pet emus & small wallaby at campsite in Murchison, whales, rock wren, Kea alpine parrots, 2 dolphins, NZ fur seals, small albatross, white heron, grey herons, Little Blue & Yellow Eyed penguins, seals.