Going South! – Wednesday 8th February 2012

We pack at 6 a.m. Luckily most of our clothes have dried over night, so the ironing worked! It’s less than 100 miles to Wellington but includes a good few bends and a mountain to pass. W make good time. It’s a surprise to find a traffic jam! And traffic lights! We’ve not seen these for a while. (And we are from London!)

The ferry terminal to South Island feels like an airport, bag chech-in, tannoy announcements, waiting lounge. And the ferry is huge! Not only do the board cars and lorries, but coaches and wagons from trains! So we passengers are restrained to two decks.

It’s a comfortable journey but I am still feeling fragile from my boiling! At one point I see a seal swimming alongside the ferry.

As we approach the South Island we weave our way through Marlborough Sound and get our first impression of lush forested hills, aqua blue clear water and bright sun.

Picton doesn’t look that large but we spend no time discovering it. We pick up the next car, a silver Corolla and head West to Havelock. The road is advertised on our map as windy and it is! After Rai Valley we begin to wonder when the next township will appear. Hira is just a handful of dwellings, blink and you miss it!
But Nelson is enormous! One of the largest, most happening places we have seen in NZ. It feels more lively than Wellington and reminds me of suburban Melbourne!
At last, after 11 hours we arrive in Motueka. It has a good length of restaurants and two supermarkets, which is good because we have no food!

The White Elephant is a ‘flash packers’ and we have a lovely bed and ensuite in a garden chalet, sharing the kitchen and fridge. I’m so tired, that I just fall into bed as soon as we have eaten.

Contrasting colours from hot to cool – Wednesday 1st February 2012

After the heat, the sulphur, the dryness of the volcano this morning we were full of adrenalin and needed a walk.
A simple hour and half takes you round the Blue Lake and what a contrast to this morning (see last post) from acrid yellow sulphur to clear blue water surrounded by lush green. Actually there was a little too much water due to recent rain and the path was flooded so we had to walk a quarter of the route on the road which skirted the perimeter of the lake.

There is also Green Lake and Lake Tarawera, which is huge, along this particular road. There must be 10 large lakes besides Lake Rotorua altogether. Lake Tarawera has a good cafe overlooking the landing stage, where we enjoyed the view.

This peaceful scene seemed a perfect end to our day.

Captain Cook and the Coromandel – Monday 30th January 2012

The Coromandel Peninsula was made famous (to Europeans) by Captain James Cook, when he pulled up the Endeavor on a patch of this newly discovered land, to observe the transit of Mercury across the sun. By doing this he helped work out an exact position on his charts for the longitude of New Zealand so that others might find it in his wake.

(for those just dropping into this blog for the first time, John has been reading Cook’s diaries. He can tell you lots, I paraphrase!)

The important bit is that we are now near Cook’s Beach on Mercury Bay and all the road names have reference to Cook’s crew or their mission. Surely there must be a monument? Well, yes, there is. But a very inauspicious one: no more than a slab of concrete to mark the occasion, close to the beach and a small wooden board which gives the bare bones of the story. John is clearly disappointed!

But all is not lost! Up on Shakespeare’s Cliff (Cook named this too, thinking it looked like the Bard!) a slightly better stone slab affair refers to the navigational milestone and offers excellent views.


There are also gannets, hurling themselves into the sea, spearing fish. They fold their wings at a particular angle to enable them to plunge, maybe even to swim deep into the sea. Their aerobatic display is remarkable. You can see the bubble trail as they dive, and watch them eat their catch as they sit on the water before taking off to dive again. You can also see the shoals of fish move across the bay, desperate to get out of their way. But the gannets’ arial view beats the fish every time.

We walk down from Hahei after finding parking rather a problem, to Cathedral Cove, made famous, I believe from clips of the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe series of films. Perhaps this was the Caspian Sea?
It’s an easy walk but I wouldn’t want to be pushing three young children in a buggy as one brave man does. It takes us nearly an hour from start to destination.
And it is stunning! The arch so wide! A waterfall cascades at the far end of one of the beaches. No wonder so many people have made the effort.



Back up the stair, we divert to visit Gemstone Bay, a small rocky bay which is, nevertheless, picturesque. And Stingray Bay, although we see no stingrays. There are some lovely red crabs some 10 cm across which amuse us.


But all this time, even though we have had a fantastic time, with good walking and lots to see, we have actually been waiting: for the tide to turn! We have our shovel, and our old towels, so kindly provided by our host at the Aotearoa Lodge, but the time has to be just right.
And now it is!

We head off for the biggest event in the area.
Hot Water Beach as the tide becomes low.

It’s not difficult to find the correct spot on the long beach, everyone is there. They all seem to know where two hot water springs bubble constantly up through the sand and can be found at low tide. If you get too closets the source, it’s too hot to stay. Your feet burn! So we gather together to create our very own spa pools.




Even the sea has hot spots! The frustration when a final wave batters our dam down. The fascination to see the hot water bubble through the sand at one or two points. The surprise when you stand on a hotspot! The sense of unity amongst all these strangers from so many far flung places around the globe! They should do something like this for world peace!

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.



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.

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.

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!



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!)


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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!


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.







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.



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!



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!



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!



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.

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



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.


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.

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.

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!


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!