Golden Bay

28 04 2010

As we haven’t been anywhere for a while we decided to go on holiday for a week up to Golden Bay in the North-West corner of the South Island. We’d initially planned to do an Orienteering race on the way but I’d pulled my hamstring the day before playing hockey and despite plenty of R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice-Cream, Elevation), I was in no shape to run around in the woods. Instead our first day was a leisurely drive up the coast and over the massive Takaka hill, the unavoidable gateway to Golden Bay.

Takaka is home to the Te Waikoropupu, or ‘Pupu’, Springs – the worlds clearest fresh water with a horizontal visibility of over 60 metres, which is about as clear as water can get. Unfortunately you can no longer dive in the springs which must be pretty spectacular. We settled for a view from the edge before heading back into town for an evening at the movies.

Pupu springs, Golden Bay, NZ

Takaka was hosting it’s annual International Film Festival at the Village Cinema, a quirky little place that mirrored the laid-back lifestyle over here. We arrived just in time to get a seat – a battered old sofa at the front of the cinema. Latecomers settled for the giant beanbags spread all over the floor in front of the screen with their mugs of tea and bowls of nibbles brought in from home!

It seemed like the whole town had come out to see the kiwi film This Way of Life, highly recommended if you get a chance to see it as is Boy, the other film we’d seen earlier in the week.

The following day we made our way up to the far North-West corner and Wharariki Beach. This must be one of the finest beaches in New Zealand, and as usual was pretty much deserted! We walked through the surrounding farmland until we emerged on silky soft sand dunes at the back of the beach and waited for the sun to go down. I was in my element taking photo’s of what I’d say was one of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen. The light was surreal as we walked back up the dunes, as if a vivid pink mist had descended all around us.

Wharariki Beach sunset panorama

Now that there’s a camp right at the start of the track it was pretty easy for me to return for sunrise the next morning. Thankfully NZ summertime is over now so it wasn’t too early a start. Having left at 6am I returned to find Zoë ready to send out a search party, unable to comprehend how I’d been taking photo’s of the same beach for 3 and half hours!

From here it was a short drive to Cape Farewell, the Northernmost point on the South Island. From here we could watch seals on the beach below, ignoring their yapping pups while they entertained themselves doing belly skids across the wet sand! A little further around the coast is Farewell spit, a huge 26km long sandbar that stretches out into the sea. The area serves as a bird sanctuary, particularly popular with Black Swans of which there were thousands! I always thought they were rare – turns out they’ve just been hiding in Golden Bay all this time.

Cape Farewell, NZ

We’d returned to Takaka for the night and went on a short hike the next day to Rawhiti Cave. I think the access track used to be pretty shoddy which maybe why it only gets a brief mention in the guide books. Access was still quite remote and subtly signposted but is now an easy walk through goblin inhabited forests to the incredible cave mouth. Huge stalactites drip from the entrance ceiling with thousands more lining the cave walls and roof inside. It’s as impressive as many of the other sights we’ve seen in NZ so strange to find it so hidden away.

Our next stop was Kaiteriteri, one of the gateways to Abel Tasman National Park. We booked a water taxi to take us up to Anchorage the next morning so we could walk a section of the Abel Tasman track. The views all along the track are awesome, and it’s much more pleasant now summer is over and the bulk of the holiday-makers have gone. We watched enviously as kayakers paddled up the coast and in and out of the calm bays. I think a sea-kayak is now rivalling a yacht at the top of Zoë’s wishlist!

Te Pukatea Bay, Abel Tasman NP


Our final day was spent inland at the other local National Park, Kahurangi, New Zealands second largest. This was quite different terrain to the beachside Abel Tasman, and cooler too as we were now walking into the clouds! We’d got up a little too late to attempt the 16km return trek to the summit of Mount Arthur and so settled for Mount Lodestone, a shorter but almost certainly much steeper trek! After climbing through the forest to the summit we were rewarded with no view whatsoever and hurriedly got ourselves down the other side back below the bushline before we died of exposure. The steep descent was pretty treacherous and saw me on my backside twice, proving once again that Paragliding off the top of hills is a much better option than walking down!

Before long we were back in Nelson, glad of a proper bed and our own kitchen again. We had a great week though and it’s good to see how much fantastic stuff is on our doorstep!

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A Treehouse in Nelson

28 03 2010

After 6 months of travelling, nearly 4 of which have been in New Zealand, we were both looking forward to settling down in one place for a while. As much as we both love travelling, the frustrations of constant movement, not to mention living in a car, start to build up after a while and we found we were longing for a holiday from our holiday!

We’d begun looking at a few rental options in our city of choice, Nelson, but were not having much luck finding anything short-term. Unable to commit to a 6 or 12 month contract we were beginning to give up hope when we found a house share in the hills about 10 minutes walk from the town. The ‘treehouse’ was just what we were looking for – a self contained room above a car-port with bed, desk, and small kitchen. It may not sound glamorous but believe me, in comparison to living in a car it is 5 star luxury!

Our new home - the treehouse, Nelson, NZ

The promise of free eggs from the house chooks sealed the deal and we snapped it up within 2 minutes of seeing it. We’ve now been here 4 weeks and have been thoroughly enjoying access to a fridge (mmm, cheese) and a freezer (mmm, ice-cream). Of course we’ve also had to re-acquaint ourselves with a duster and vacuum cleaner but it’s a small price to pay!

Nelson is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand with around 2400 hours of sunshine annually. Compare this with the 1500 hours typical in the UK and you can see why both Kiwi’s and ex-pats gravitate here to live or holiday. Nearby are the Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes National parks, the vineyards of Blenheim and the Marlborough Sounds, plus with plenty going on in the city it seems like a great place to live.

Nelson view and tasman bay, NZ

We’ve still been pretty busy despite our new relaxed way of life. There’s something on nearly every day and night here in Nelson. There’s probably plenty of activities going on in most towns but while we were working at home we had neither the time nor energy to go and pursue any of them! Zoë has started helping out with the Sea Cadets which gives her access to a 50ft yacht that she joins for the weekly race meetings. So far they’ve placed first and second and had one collision! While waiting for the hockey season to start I’ve been to an introductory Wood-turning class – let me know if you need any baseball bats, chair legs or egg cups. We’ve both also been to our first Tango class! While we were assured we were doing very well for our first lesson I think it will take a very very long time to become competent!

Pomeroy's Coffee House, Nelson, NZ

Saturday mornings are usually spent at the farmers market stocking up on cheap veggies and pots of chutney, a $10 shiatsu massage, followed by coffee and cakes at one of the dozens of cafe’s while checking out the weekly property pages. Every weekend many of the properties on the market have Open homes, allowing you to turn up and snoop around mansions that are way out of your price range!

While the weather is still pretty nice here at the moment, the days are getting cooler and shorter pretty rapidly! Hopefully it doesn’t get too rough down here otherwise we may find ourselves flying North for the Winter!

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Hot Springs, Hot Chocolate and lots of Penguins

1 02 2010

The city of Nelson was our first port of call in the South Island. This area seems to alternate each year with Hawkes Bay on the North Island for the ‘Sunniest place in New Zealand’ award so we were keen to check it out for a potential place to live. Unfortunately the weather was being uncharacteristically rubbish and half of New Zealand were having their summer holidays here so we decided to postpone our stay here until everyone’s gone back home!

Heading south we stayed for a few days in Nelson Lakes National Park, managing a couple of good walks in between whole days of torrential rain!

Further east we arrived in the alpine town of Hanmer Springs where we finally found the sun. Our campsite also had an extensive collection of classic 80’s VHS’s in the TV room which was another good incentive to stick around!

Here we made the most of the good weather, tramping up mountains, biking around the forests and soaking our muscles in the Hot Springs which for once were hot clean water and not the typical NZ pools of unappealing brown gunk!

Travelling down the East coast we bypassed Christchurch in a bid to get to Southland while the weather holds. One of the nicest places we found was Oamaru, at one time one of the most important towns in New Zealand thanks to the port and lucrative exports of dead sheep to the UK. The market collapsed with falling sheep prices and most abandoned the town leaving the grand Victorian stone buildings untouched for decades. Only in recent years has the area seen a resurgence and the buildings are now refurbished as impressive art galleries and cafe’s, visits to which have become increasingly frequent for our daily dose of latte bowls or glasses of hot chocolate and marshmallows!

The other big draw for the town is the local colonies of little blue penguins and the rare yellow eyed penguin. We spent an evening watching the latter waddle ashore and hop their way up the steep cliffs to their chicks. We loitered in the increasing darkness once almost everyone had left and managed to find out where one of the nests were, poking our heads into the big thorny bush to watch the fluffy chick’s squawking requests for regurgitated fish completely ignored by both parents as they settled down for a snooze!

It was now dark but we decided to go and check out the Blue Penguin colony at the harbour on the way home. Official tours have you sat in a grandstand while the penguins come ashore for the night on the beach in front of you. We found several stragglers who had taken a different route ashore and were now trying to nervously cross the road to their nests in the old train sheds. Obviously related to Tyrannosaurus-Rex, they didn’t seem to notice us if we stayed still and so sat there by the side of the road for a while as they shuffled around our feet, oblivious to the fact that we could have p..p..p..picked up a penguin if we’d wanted!

A little further south, we arrived in the 1 horse town of Moereki. The reason for the stay here are the Moereki Boulders, a handful of large spherical boulders sat in the crashing surf on the beach. They’re pretty bizarre – some have split open and show their honeycomb and partially hollow centres and make for good photo’s if you can position yourself without getting wet! I spent several hours trying to achieve this seemingly impossible feat, regularly just getting setup when a freak wave would accelerate in and send me running back up the beach, often not quickly enough!

Continuing our route down the East coast we reached Dunedin, one of the largest cities in the South of New Zealand and good for a couple of days of tourism. Baldwin Street, the worlds steepest, kept us busy for 5 minutes and we also took a tour of the Cadbury factory before they convert their production to cheese slices. The neighbouring Otago Peninsula is another wildlife haven being home to seals, penguins and the worlds only mainland colony of Royal Albatross. The heavy fog prevented us seeing anything more than the huge stuffed ones in the visitor centre however.

Further around the peninsula we took a walk down to remote Sandfly Bay with the hope of spying more yellow penguins. Having just negotiated a field full of excitable sheep, and still 5 minutes from the sea, imagine our surprise when we turned the corner to be confronted by a pair of rather large sea-lions! The big male made it very clear he was going to defend his little patch of the narrow path so we were forced to hack through the surrounding bushes to avoid a mauling!

Leaving the peninsula behind we headed into Southland and the Catlins coast, one of the least visited areas of New Zealand…

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West Coast to Wellington

8 01 2010

Boxing day was an early start for the Tongariro Crossing, 19.4km across the volcanic landscape of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. The start was packed with fellow trampers, although not quite the 1000 people that do this walk every day in peak season! The going was fairly easy for the first few miles until we started ascending to the saddles of the volcanoes, when it started to get a bit blowy!

By the time we’d scrambled up the scree slopes to the peak of the Red Crater we were having to almost crawl to stop being blown off the edge! We had incredible views thanks to the fine weather, all the way over to the West coast and later North over Lake Taupo. The storms had put us off doing this 2 years ago and we’re glad we hadn’t attempted it as it would be pretty miserable in the wet! A few hours later we’d finished in plenty of time for our shuttle pickup and a well deserved reward of fishfingers, chips and beans, DVD’s, wine and cake at our hostel!

The next day we left National Park and drove West along the ‘forgotten highway’ until we reached Whangamomona, a town so remote they’d declared themselves a Republic in 1989! We had lunch here in the only Hotel and collected another stamp for our passports before returning to New Zealand and the West coast.

The West coast is dominated by the massive Mount Taranaki, a volcano we caught a glimpse of from the heights of the Tongariro Crossing a few hundred miles away. It was now completely invisible however – the local weather is forecast by the following rule: If you can see the Volcano, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the Volcano, it’s already raining! The latter was true for the next few days so we didn’t spend long around here, briefly checking out New Plymouth which was voted the best city in NZ last year. It was hard for us to see the attraction as everywhere seems miserable when it’s tipping it down, plus most of New Zealand grinds to a halt over Christmas and New Year so there’s nothing open anyway!

Following the Surf Highway around the coast we visited Wanganui, or Whanganui – the inclusion of the ‘h’ being a topic of National debate, and then back inland towards the University town of Palmerston North where we settled for a couple of days over New Year. We managed to keep ourselves awake for New Years Eve, joining the masses in the town square for a concert and the shortest fireworks display we’ve ever seen!

Further south were the towns of the Wairarapa – lots of cafe’s, although finding one open was still a struggle, 2L tubs of ice-cream, a round of golf, the cinema and walks around the Forests kept us busy although the highlight was Stonehenge Aotearoa – a working replica of the Salisbury stone circle in someone’s back garden!

The 90 minute tour was excellent, explaining how the calender works, plus a bit of astrology and astronomy too – apparently most people, including Zoë, have a different star sign to those commonly published in newspapers etc.. something to do with us using 2000 year old star charts and the wobble of the earth!

For the last few days we’ve explored the capital Wellington, touring the impressive Parliament buildings – the whole thing being mounted on shock absorbers due to the fault line running 400m away! They also have the unique system of being able to write to the Government and be guaranteed the opportunity to address the Select committee on any subject – no filtering, screening or censorship and while doing so have absolute freedom of speech with immunity from prosecution etc..! We also took plenty of photos and weren’t accused of being terrorists!

The rest of our time in the city was spent in other museums, botanic gardens and replenishing our personal library in the 2nd hand bookshops. Wellington has also been host for the last 10days to Unicon – the World Unicycle Championships! We managed to catch a bit of the Trials competition by the waterfront which was pretty impressive – try jumping a unicycle from the roof of a shipping container over a 6ft gap onto a fork-lift truck! Zoë was cringing at the lack of safety harnesses!

I’d have liked to witness some of the other events on the program, including unicycle hockey and rugby, the downhill races and yesterday’s cross country marathon! We’re out of time on the North Island however. I’m writing this as we sail over the Cook Strait on the old Pride of Cherbourg ferry to Picton where we spent Christmas a couple of years ago.

We have no plans for the South Island so far – we want to check out the top of the Island for job and house potential but as it’s also a very popular summer holiday destination we may postpone our investigation and head south to avoid the hordes!

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Merry Christmas from Mount Doom

25 12 2009

Merry Christmas all! We’re currently in Tongariro National Park having moved inland from Hawkes Bay to do some exercise!

We spent about 10 days in Hawkes Bay trying out the lifestyle – walking around the hills, cycling around vineyards and cheese shops, visiting cafe’s and eating kilo’s of fruit from the weekly farmers markets – the health benefits of which we cancelled out by daily doses of cake and ice-cream!

We also investigated some practicalities of living in Hawkes Bay which mainly involved nosing around Open homes! Having been for a chat with the Home loan man at the bank we knew what price range we could look at, assuming one of us could get a job! Most of the townhouses in our price bracket were pretty nice, but often built in someone’s back garden meaning very little garden of your own! We also went to poke around some more expensive ones for the fun of it, all with huge decks, swimming pools and lots of land. An even better deal can be had out of the towns, where for the same price you can get a huge 3 or 4 acre ‘lifestyle plot’ with a big house and room for the chooks, mountain bikes and Go-kart track Ben’s going to build! This seems to be because Kiwis hate commuting and living even 30 mins away from work to them is ludicrous. We’d happily commute for half an hour if it gets us a mansion in the countryside!

We’ve moved over to the centre of the North Island now where a lot of the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, so there’s lots of extinct, and not so extinct, volcanoes and forest to explore. We did a 13km ‘short walk’ round the base of Mt Ruapehu, a couple of shorter walks along the river, and today have walked to silica rapids and a very picturesque waterfall to dip our hot feet in the freezing water and enjoy our Christmas Lunch!

All of these have been a warm-up for the big one – the Tongariro Crossing – an 18km route across some volcanoes and craters which is supposed to be the best one day tramp in the country. We’ll find out tomorrow!

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Bay’s a Plenty

14 12 2009

Torrential rain greeted us in Auckland for a couple of days forcing us to abandon our leaky Walmart tent and cough up for a mattress for the back of our car. One of the main reasons we’d returned to Auckland was to see the Dalai Lama speak. His warm up act was a famous Tibetan singer who after her set got the whole arena Ommmmm-ing until our internal organs vibrated, quite bizarre! And then all of a sudden his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama appeared in a blue puff of smoke, floating on a lotus leaf a few feet above the stage.

After some prolonged greetings, Maori singing etc..The Dalai Lama made himself comfortable – shoes off and crossed legged on the couch with a poker player’s visor perched on top of his head!

He started off with some general chat about different religions etc.. which seemed to send a few folks into a bit of a slumber! The second half was a bit more interesting though once he’d started cracking a few jokes and telling us about how he used to bully his brother and “Dis his friends wife”!

Generally he was very down to earth, frank and realistic – none of the mystic spiritualism I was expecting!

We left Auckland the next day to spend some time in Mount Manganui in the Bay of Plenty. This is a bit of a rarity in that there’s actually some development around the great beach here, although still no amusement arcades in sight! We came here on New Years Eve on our last visit and the place was rammed, being one of the most popular holiday areas in NZ. Fortunately it was a little quieter now and quite a nice place to relax for a couple of days. Awesome long white beaches, fish and chips and hot spring pools kept us occupied until we continued East to Gisborne.

Gisborne and the Eastland are still predominantly Maori Land. Apparently in some of the towns they haven’t yet discovered boy racer cars and still trot up and down the streets on horseback carrying rifles! Gisborne was stinking hot so we didn’t do much in the heat of the day apart from reading on the beach and visiting local vineyards. The morning we left we got up early to wade out into the sea and swim with the bottlenose dolphin, Moko, who’d taken to hanging about by the beach for the last few days.

We’d watched him the day before having lots of fun stealing people’s surfboards and boogie boards! The press here have labelled him a ‘killer dolphin’ and even a ‘sexual predator’ warning people of the dangers of getting in the water when he’s around. The locals know this is all nonsense though and we enjoyed swimming with him for a while – he seemed to take an interest in my toes and kept nudging them as if he was trying to work out if they were edible!

A few hours down the coast is Napier in Hawkes Bay. Napier was largely destroyed in 1931 by a massive Earthquake and when the city was re-built they used a lot of Art Deco architecture that remains today. We’ve spent a couple of days here exploring and relaxing in cafe’s, chintzy tea-rooms and parks, trying to get through the mountains of books we’ve been accumulating!

We’ve now moved down to the neighbouring town of Hastings for a few days. After stocking up on cake at the weekly farmers market we headed up Te Mata peak just outside of town for views around Hawkes Bay.

From here you can imagine all the activities you could get up to if you lived around here. Surfing at the Beach in the morning, followed by a short kayak up the river into the heart of the winelands where you jump out and walk, run or bike up to the top of Te Mata. From here you take off from the purpose built ramps with your paraglider or handglider and fly inland along the hills to Mt.Ruapehu for an afternoon of snowboarding!

We’re planning to stay in the area for a while to investigate the job market and maybe stay put for a few weeks over the summer holidays. It’s hard to believe that Christmas is 10 days away, it just doesn’t feel right in a hot country! We hope everyone is looking forward to their holidays back home and winding down at work – Christmas parties, watching Ferris Beullers Day Off in the conference room, eating a whole tin of Quality Street every single day??

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New Zealand at Last!

4 12 2009

We arrived in Auckland on Friday 13th, both very tired after our 3am departure from Rarotonga and glad we didn’t have another several hours of flying to our original destination of Fiji!

We spent the weekend re-acquainting ourselves with the city and beginning our search for some wheels. It soon became apparent that we were going to have to spend quite a lot more money than originally intended! Slightly downhearted after seeing how much rusty hunks of junk were in the city we banked on picking something up at the weekly car market out at Ellerslie race course – reputedly less of a rip off than the Backpackers markets in town.

We spent a Sunday morning browsing the offerings by the typically dodgy looking used-car salesmen. Finally we settled on a Toyota people carrier and took it for a spin – all seemed ok and running out of time and options we thought we may as well buy it!

Next came the tortuous debacle of getting the money to pay for it! The friendly, and later we’d discover very patient, Iraqi owner drove us to a mall where we could get the money out of the bank and transfer ownership at the post office. The Latter seemed far too simple – just fill in a form with your name and address (a random hostel address will do) plus the licence plate number of the car you want. Pay your $9 and the car is now legally yours! Not really knowing the procedure I wondered if our friendly Iraqi was pulling a fast one but that really is all there is to it – what’s to stop you just putting down the number plate of something you like the look of in the car park?!

Unfortunately getting our own money out of the bank was much less straight-forward. For well over an hour at the counter every card we owned was declined by the Computer at the other end, all for ‘security reasons’! It’s incredibly frustrating when you realize you are completely at the mercy of some machine and when Computer says No, there’s nothing you can do about it!

So the next morning we found ourselves at Westpac to open a NZ bank account – what a revelation! No forms to complete, within an hour we had an account opened, phone and internet banking completely set-up and ready to use, plus our cards in our pockets! Now how is the UK method of posting you 20 pieces of mail more secure than handing you everything in person?!

Having finally been allowed to withdraw some funds we collected our car and headed into the Northland, an area we omitted on our previous visit. A few hours out of the city we were sitting on an empty white sand beach watching Gannets dive-bombing the ocean and eating a Lamington Log!

We made our way up the coast towards the Bay of Islands for the next few days visiting various small towns, all with the deserted white beaches that had proven surprisingly elusive in the Cook islands!

Here we succeeded in getting our first WWOOF-ing spot! This basically involves working for 4-6 hours a day in return for accommodation and 3 meals a day on Organic veggie or animal farms, hippie communes etc..

Our host was a Brit who was (very slowly) building a house and setting up an organic veggie garden. We spent the next week doing various hard-labour – moving pond weed onto the veggie beds, sometimes by wheelbarrow, sometimes by boat, road-building and various house-building jobs. In our spare time we learnt a little about gardening and permaculture and managed to build ourselves a bed for the back of our car.

It didn’t take long however for us to tire of manual labour and long for a holiday! So after a week we hit the road again, heading further North to 90-mile beach and then down the West coast for a few walks around the forests of huge Kauri Trees and beautiful freshwater lakes.

We’re now back in Auckland to stock up on supplies and to listen to a talk by the Dali Lama! Once we’re fully enlightened we’ll be heading East to Hawkes Bay, where we may even try doing some more work!

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