On the road to retirement – Sunday 29th January 2012


To Mercury Bay! John, avid readers will remember has been reading the diaries of Captain Cook and his travels discovering New Zealand and Australia. You will be pleased to know he has read Robinson Crusoe and The Origin of Species (by Charles Darwin), after this, but Cook’s diaries have been pertinent to much of our travels and today even more so!
Mercury Bay was a prime objective! To observe the transit of Mercury across the sun from this new land in order to establish the longitude of New Zealand and as a consequence where you could find it again on a follow up voyage.
Our prime objective was simply to find a pleasant place to lay our heads. As has become our habit, we choose our destination just a few days prior to our need. This way we are constantly able to adjust our plans to suit. Whilst the location is usually spot on, the actual establishment is pure luck. We choose through availability and price!
Atearorea Lodge is just outside Witianga. It feels like a cross breed, somewhere between a motel and a bed and breakfast. I cannot fault the friendly and helpful owners. Our room is just big enough to house two enormous single beds and the en suite. There’s s small cupboard for the fridge, kettle and a shelf for clothes.
I’m beginning to wonder why motels and any accomodation do not realize that it is good to unpack our clothes. I really do not want to live out of a suit case. Simple drawers, maybe a few hangers – they make me feel at home.
Down the corridor is a communal lounge with another, much larger cupboard, which is a kitchen, but although it has a fridge/freezer for guest use, it only has two portable style hot plates and a microwave, and no sharp knives.
It is inhabited by old people at present. Mostly retired couples on holiday but the lovely granny character who welcomes us is very kind. However, she adds to my feeling that I have finally made it into retirement.
Wandering around town, we stumble upon The Carvery, and enjoy a well cooked roast dinner for under $20 each.

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Aukland – Saturday 28th January 2012


It would be the easiest thing in the world to stay at Lianne’s. But we have agreed to stay at another Aukland house, belonging to my friend from Melbourne’s dad.
The original idea was to pick up some basic camping equipment and stay the night. Turns out, Ross has gone fishing up in Doubtless Bay but he has left the key and all our camping equipment ready, and offers us his empty house.
I’m anxious not to intrude too much on Lianne. I remember only too well, what it is like to start a new academic year. It takes it out of you. Having house guests,however lovely, can be very distracting!
So we move down the road, to the harbour. Walking round is very interesting. It’s a holiday weekend and the place is rather empty. There’s loads of shops and cafes as we walk down to the harbour to get a view of the bridge.

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We spend the day, walking, writing, blogging, and generally enjoying Aukland life.

The value of friends – Friday 27th January 2012


It just feels so good to be traveling back to friends. We are headed to Lianne again, but only for one night. On the way we visit Kerikeri, where the oldest stone buildings in New Zealand are set in a picturesque by a beautiful river, over an elegant bridge. It’s an easy place to strolls about. I can’t understand why people disgorge from a coach at point blank range from an obvious viewpoint, fire off their cameras and remount for the onward trip.

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As we come to the final third of our drive, the weather changes from bright sunlight to continuous rain. Any thoughts of walking are washed away and we pull into La Nonna, Italian Patisserie for a good up of coffee and text Lianne of our changed arrival time.

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The dogs greet us enthusiastically. Lianne and her husband get a de-briefing of where we have been and then begin to cook dinner. We’ve brought cheese from Puhio cheese factory and fresh fruit from Kerikeri.
A friend of Lianne’s, Shelley, joins us over a bottle of bubbles, and we really get on well. John is being challenging by doubting the existence of any female inventor and Lianne’s husband nobly mentions Marie Curie, although I don’t think John is hearing!

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It’s a brilliant evening! I’m getting the hang of dogs and am enjoying their company almost as much as their human owners (no, just kidding!)

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As the dogs settle, we watch Avatar, which I feel is mildly reminds of the Treaty House and the Maori/British divide. But that is another story!

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A day on the beach – Thursday 26th January 2012


Taipa Sands Motel is set right at the beach – absolute beach front, we keep seeing on advertisement, and this really is! It’s too good to miss out on.
We stroll to the sea and walk the shoreline.

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The sand is fine and has been littered with shells of all kinds. We swim in the sea and although it is a little cool when you first get wet, it is warm enough to stay in for quite a while.
Then we wash the sand from our feet and jump in the pool for a game of water volleyball.
Meanwhile we get all our washing done in the free laundry! This and the subsequent ironing is insignificant against the relaxation and fun we have.
We talk of our plans to sell the house back in London and move to the country. We discuss the huge project of clearing thirty years of collected rubbish which at the time, had seemed like souvenirs and are currently hiding in our attic.
We take stock of this stress free life and wonder how we can sustain it when we return to London, to families, to the ‘real’ world!
By evening we drive into Monganui to experience their ‘world famous’ fish and chips. Not bad, our verdict, but we preferred the Duke of Marlborough in Russell.

The Battle of the Seas – Wednesday 25th January 2012


Today we intend to reach Cape Reinga, the Northern tip of New Zealand. In fact there is a point slightly further North but impossible to reach. Then we return South to Doubtless Bay. We know it will be a longish drive, 360 km, so we set off reasonably early.
Our first stop is the toilet! No ordinary toilets these, they are on the tourist route map! The Hundertwasser at Kawakawa have a zebra crossing directly opposite them, because in New Zealand you can only park on the side of the road that is the same direction you are traveling (I.e. the left!) these toilets are bold and bright, designed as an Eco project, using reclaimed tiles, bricks, ceramics and bottles for the windows. Ceramic columns of a similar design echo throughout the town. Simple, clean and roomy, the colourful toilets are brilliant.

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We take the inland route which leads up through Mongatore Gorge and forest on a switchback of a road. The bends go on forever, swooping along with amazing camber to support a safe drive.
Once past Kaitaia, the road begins to straighten out in preparation for the final miles down the long thin finger of land, which is Northland.

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At Cape Reigna, by the lighthouse, a tremendous battle never ceases between the Tasmin Sea and the Pacific. It’s incredibly bizarre to watch opposing waves crash against each other at right angles to the headland.
This magical place is where spirits leave, according to Maori legend. Having walked a while to marvel at nature, we retrace our steps to see the sand dunes.

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Te Paki stream runs beside the largest sand dunes in NZ, maybe the world! In typical Kiwi fashion, the sport here is to sand board down the dune. Coach loads come to do just this but the size of the dunes swamps them, so they appear as ants sliding down, or staggering up.

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We walk the river bed to the sea. At times we hurry to the side to avoid being splashed by 4WD that travel the same path. It’s possible to drive along 90mile beach at low tide. I am told it is actually only 60 miles long but still. You have to drive fast to avoid sinking into the sand which can be very soft in places.
We are happy to walk along to the sea’s edge before returning the length of the stream. The size of these dunes is sim ply mind blowing.

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I’m pleased to have my hat, as the sun is in readily hot today and my lips still sore from the sea yesterday.
From here we share the driving to Doubtless Bay. Apparently Captain Cook had spent several weeks in the Bay of Islands and when he passed this bay he felt he could no longer take time to fully explore it – doubtless it was a bay!
We are the only guests staying at Taipa Sands Motel. W have a huge room with a lovely patio which heads directly tot he beach. Our first mission is find a supermarket and cook food.
We sleep well and late.

Tall ship – Tuesday 24th January 2012


There are some things in life that you know, instinctively are special. When we saw advertisements for sailing in a tall ship, with all the square sails blowing and the rigging straining, John would look longingly. He loves boats, and has done a fair amount of sailing both in England and the Mediterranean.
Fullers Great Sights offer a day’s sail from Russell for $145 on a beautiful 8 sail tall ship, some 20 years old. How could we resist. The profit from these summer cruises goes towards subsidizing school trips for secondary school children, who get a week long sailing experience.
It was amazing!

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John got to haul up the sails, steer the ship and learn about those very top sails, which he’s never been able to work out exactly how they are maneuvered into position.

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The wind dropped completely at one point and we had to take all the sail down again and motor through, between the islands for a few minutes, before coming to our swim stop, and lunch.
I was most impressed with the excellent salad and barbecued chicken, the glass of wine (bought separately) and the scone and cream.
John and I swam over 100 meters to the shore, but we could have taken the dinghy. Many people simply swing out overboard, crashing into the sea, only to swim back for another go!
We took over 100 photos.

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We came back rather exhausted but so very happy. Everyone left the ship with a big smile on their face! It seemed like saying goodbye to really good friends. We did feel rather too sun kissed, and my lips will take a while to settle!
However, we recovered sufficiently to walk up Flagstaff Hill, once it became totally dark. There we marveled at the Milky Way, and became amazed the Orion, not only clearly had his bow (which I have never seen before) but, seemed almost lost by the mass of other stars now clearly visible. For the first time I saw the Severn Sisters or Plaides and we found the Southern Cross and it’s pointer stars. What we could not understand was why these pointer stars twinkled so brightly, that through binoculars, we could see red and green! They certainly never moved so we are sure they were neither planes or satellites.
What an awesome day!

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Dolphins and the hole in the wall – Monday 23rd January 2012


As part of our motel deal at Triton Suite Motel, we have a tour to see the famous Hole in the Rock. The company, Fullers Dolphin Cruises seem to have cornered the market and offer a wide range of tours including swimming with dolphins.
We leave Russell in a large catamaran and sail towards Motuarohia. The crew already know where the dolphin are today, so that is where we go.
I’ve seen dolphin before, miles off from a boat in the Greek Islands and freshwater pink dolphin in the Amazon but, I’ve always wanted a close encounter with the bottlenose.
We saw some swim round the corner of Mornington Peninsular near Melbourne, as readers of this blog may remember, leaping the strong currents with strength, making good speed.
But I wanted to get closer.
Today, a huge pod of dolphins were playing with a group of tourists who were to swim in the sea with them. When the dolphin saw our boat approach they leapt clear out of the water in 2s and 3s, and swam right up, and under, the boat.

When I first saw a lion in the Rhuaha, in Tanzania, tears came to my eyes for the magnificence of the beast and the honor of being able to see him in the wild. Exactly the same thing happened now! All I wanted to do was look! The thought of glimpsing this from behind a camera lens seemed too awful. I wanted to drink it in! Those lithe, playful dolphin were so aware of us. Totally wonderful!

All too soon we moved on, swept off to the hole in the rock. This massive tunnel just allowed our huge vessel to crawl through leaving just 2 meters each side for maneuver. I was impressed. Neat driving!

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We stopped off on Urupukapuka island, the only one in the Bay of Islands where you can send the night, if you wish. Up one hill, see the view, up the next hill – more views. But what views they were! Spectacular!

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For the afternoon we were dropped off at Paiha, toured the shops And bought John a new baseball cap. Then had fish and chips at Vinnies Takeaway out of plain newspaper. (massive portions and very good) Yes, I know that is fish and chips, two days in a row, but I have been told that this is the place to eat them, so its now or never!

We walked along the beach front and crossed the bridge to Waitangi to visit the Treaty Grounds.
Following the outrageous behaviour of the Brits in New Zealand, Busby was sent out to ‘sort it out’ and worked on a treaty between the original Maori settlers and the British. Captain William Hobson came to sign on behalf of his Majesty in 1840. This treaty holds good still, although it offers a point of disagreement for some Maori descendants even today.
It’s well worth a visit and makes an aspect of history that I had not been aware of, very clear. I especially liked the introductory film.

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I was surprised how small Busby’s original house was, but he certainly chose a fantastic location

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The most beautiful Moari canoe was housed here, apparently in the Guinness book of records as being the longest! The meeting house was really interesting as the carving represented all the tribes and areas around New Zealand
We ended our day with a walk to Long Beach with the idea of a swim, but as we approached the shore we saw two large Sting Ray cruising along looking for left over bait. We decided it was wise not to go in, just in case!

Russell and the four poster bed – Sunday 22nd January 2012


The four poster bed in Triton Suite Motel is a simple affair. A modern, stylish, simple four poster with some white muslin draped over a basic wooden frame. However, it’s huge and comfortable and neither of us wish to get out of it this morning. So we don’t! We read, email, snooze and relax. This is the life!
Finally we microwave some sweet corn, the way Lianne showed us ,with the leaves on, for lunch and then, we get going!
Just around the corner, up the hill, which is reasonably steep, the road leads to Flagstaff hill. As we march along, crickets, or cicadas, or something, chirrup loudly. But, we notice an additional low 4-6 beat, like a repetitive drum.
The hill summit opens on two sides of a car park. On one side a massive sundial, which John checks for accuracy and splendid views.

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On the other side is a flagstaff over which the English and the Maori scuffled a few times, so it had to be replaced quite often!
Following our noses, we walk down as far as we can through rich, green tunnels of shady trees. The cricket and drumming is incessant and we discover the culprit- a massive green creature, a cross between a dragon fly and a grasshopper.

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Whilst using its tail for a high singing, it drums the hard edge of its wings on the tree branch to give the additional drumbeat. I’d love to know what this is, if you know, please tell me!

Down on the little pebbly beach, we wander over rocks and rock pools. We find a small trilobite or three, clinging fiercely to the rock surface. We scramble over the rocky promontory to a larger beach and explore this before deciding that we would like to return to Russell via the beach, if it were possible.

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Despite a very brave effort on John’s part we cannot scramble beyond two small beaches. Even if John had made it, I doubt he would have been able to get me through! I have very poor coordination or balance.

So we double back on ourselves, and go back up cricket alley, through the beautiful trees and find an alternative way, down another path to a beach, slightly nearer town.
Russell is a lovely, lively place in summer. I think we connect, partly because it has a history. The first pub in New Zealand can be found here, the Duke of Marlborough., which began in 1827 serving whalers and sailors, and probably escaped convicts from Sydney! Apparently, their behaviour was appalling and caused complaint to the King of England.
We have a quiet pint here, looking over the view and love it so much we decide to have fish and chips too, which were excellent!

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Then we walk to look at the town. The museum, which honors Captain Cook was closed as were many of the shops by now. But we found a brilliant gallery with some memorable glassware which was vibrant and colourful. They also had an amazing carving of a coat, hanging on a peg and an artists bag, magnificently sculpted from a block of beautiful wood and valued at some $20,000 which I reckon it was worth. Sadly, no photos allowed!

Kauri trees – 20th and 21st January 2012


Having been traveling non stop now for three months, it has become very special to be with good friends. People with whom you share some past. My friend in Melbourne, for example: our day together and the subsequent emails were enlivening and reassuring. I’ve known him for four years in the work place and we’ve been through some things together. Now, we simply slipped into conversation, which flowed and felt good.

We only knew Lianne for three weeks, some ten years ago, so it was exciting to see how well we got on. By Friday, we could spend a day in perfect companionship. Sometimes silent, sometimes in different parts of the house but always comfortable. I am going to miss this kind of friendship over the next three months as we continue our travels.

We arrange to pop back to see Lianne after heading North: we have to go back this way and it may be some time before we meet up again. Lianne gives us excellent instructions to drive the scenic route, first visit the Kauri Museum.

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The size of these trees is phenomenal. The museum size matches the tree! It has a mass of photos from the height of felling days, samples of every kind of kauri and swamp kauri that ever has been in existence, furniture made from kauri, machines to cut kauri, to plane kauri, and a history of the gum diggers who hunted the kauri gum which dripped, amber from the trees.

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This incredible table was made from one piece of kauri wood and had a beautiful grain.

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It is quite incredible to imagine cutting the tree down, let alone managing to invent a saw suitable for cutting the trunk in two lengthways – but of course they did! There were interesting films of how they transported the logs via a dam, crashing down the river in a way that looked as if it tried to splinter the wood into matchsticks, but, of course kauri wood is strong.
Seem kauri had been found buried underground and recovered after 2,500 years or more. When you consider that the tree took a thousand years or so to grow to a suitable size this made swamp kauri incredibly old.
For more information you might wish to visit the museum website.
From here it is quite easy to see one on the biggest existing kauri trees, Tane Mahute. Not far from the road, through a shady dappled boardwalk path, he lives. People come in a constant stream to pay homage to this ancient living plant. It was almost spiritual to see, to feel people quieten as they approached, even posing for a photo was done with a certain reverence.

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Spot the person! Impossible to capture with a camera lens, this 1000+ year old tree is surely a natural treasure.

After that we felt it a long drive to Russell, (even using the ferry) but our motel was well furnished with a modern four poster bed and a large spa bath. The view is outstanding and a bottle of wine and some chocolate wait for us in the fridge.

Some time soon, I am going to have to get back into backpacker mode! I think I am being spoilt! But mmm, I'll just sink into this bath and sip my wine while I think if that's true or not!

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Fantastic bird reserve – Thursday 19th January 2012


Tiritiri Matangi – the very name conjures up magic! This is one of New Zealand’s open sanctuaries; an island to help ensure the survival of endangered plants and animals. Whilst the public are free to visit, the numbers of visitors are restricted to about 150 people at any one time. It is possible to stay over night on the island, but our day trip was amazing.
There is only one ferry onto the island which leaves from Aukland and then goes onto pick up from Gulf Harbour, where we began our journey.
It is vital for the protection of the birds that everyone maintains biosecurity, so shoes are brushed of mud, food is sealed to prevent attracting mainland insects (or mice!) and everyone is responsible for taking home their litter. Their website is very interesting.
This biosecurity adds a slight air of excitiment and anticipation while waiting for the ferry. Guides come round and check bags and shoes. Today there are lots of children due to the school holidays, but if it were not this time of year, Lianne and her husband would not be able to come with us. They are terribly knowledgable about bird life…and lots of other things. Lianne also adds her tireless energy and enthusiasm.
It’s a totally wonderful day! The weather is warm and there are enough shady places to stop us burning. The landscape we travel through is diverse, from forest to beach to cliff top. The company relaxed and the bird life amazing.
Sometimes when you visit an area which purports to have lots of a particular wild life, you never see any! Here they put feeding stations which team with life. Even just walking down the tracks birds abound. We are able to practice taking really good shots at moving targets with our cameras!
John got some fantastic shots.

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I loved the stitchbird with its yellow flash, and the saddleback, who, in the sun, can be a beautiful bright auburn (well I would say that!). Tiny wax eye, and robin dart about, almost impossible to take a photo of these!
But, up near the lighthouse we come across the Takahe with a mate. These large flightless birds have enormous beaks and lovely blue feathers.

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Then we see another pair with a chick. How wonderful to see an endangered bird breeding, and the chick looked very healthy! They seemed totally unflustered by our intrusion.
Ok, we did not see a (and some people just ahead of us had seen one!) but for me, this was a perfect day with great friends, seeing amazing bird life.