24 hours in the Garden City

It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but last week, my mum and I spent just over 24 hours in the Garden City. I thought there might be delays to the flight due to the weather in Wellington, but we managed to miss the thunder storm and touched down in Christchurch around 9:30am.

We head straight to the city on the airport bus (a cheap and convenient way to get into town) and start making our way to the city tram. This is the one activity I really wanted to do last time we were here, but ran out of time for. So it’s the first thing on the agenda for today.

My sense of direction (or lack off) meant we were wandering around for quite some time trying to find the tram depot. We then stumble across the tram tracks so followed them for a while and eventually find what we were looking for.

The tram is beautiful. I think there were about 4 in circulation that day, but our one seemed to be the oldest. They have all been restored and it’s a unique way to see the city. The tram interior is all wooden with intricate detailing and big glass windows for viewing. The loop takes about 50 minutes and includes onboard commentary. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of talking going on between the other passengers, so at times it was quite hard to hear what the driver was saying. But it’s a great way to get your bearings, have a quick overview of some of the attractions around and get a feel for what you want to see. It’s a hop on hop off ticket, meaning it’s valid for the day and is a convenient way to get around.

After disembarking the tram, I know exactly where we are heading. New Regent Street. It’s a pedestrian only shopping street which was developed in the early 1930s in Spanish architectural style. The facades are in pretty pastel colours with lots of window detailing. What is also interesting is the buildings on each side of the street mirror each other exactly in both colour and design. There are some cute little shops and well worth a wander down.

I’ll confess, I am here for Rollickin which is a gelato company. It’s a funky place with tantalizing gelato, and some interesting names. I choose ‘Stacy’s Mum’ A blueberry cheesecake gelato with lemon curd and a sprinkling of vanilla crust crumbs. It was fantastic, the texture of the crumb in it was delightful and the curd added a bit of zing. All combined, it was a flavour sensation.

We then take a bit of a wander through the city, heading towards the Riverside Market where we intend to get some lunch. Along the way, we pass lots of street art on the side of buildings. It’s one of the things I love about Christchurch. There are some really interesting pieces that are very well done and they add so much colour to the place. There is one in particular that has me intrigued. It plays tricks on your eyes. It’s painted like some old market shop fronts and looks completely 3D but all done on a flat wall. As you walk towards it and then past it, it changes from looking like 3D shop fronts, to disappearing into a flat wall. It’s hard to explain, but’s it’s an incredible illusion. You will have to check it out for yourself. This crazy street art is on the back of the Riverside markets so we head inside to grab some lunch.

I had been hoping for a delicious leek, cheese and (I think) potato cornish pastie, from The Great Pastry Shop but they had just sold out. This forces me to try something different and I end up with a Vietnamese Tofu Sandwich. It was pretty yum and although I would have preferred the pastie, it was actually great to try something new. I can be a creature of habit! There are so many options here to try, you are really spoilt for choice.

After a little wander around the shops I find myself at Ben & Jerry’s, ready for another gelato. This time I get one called ‘Half Baked’. A chocolate ice cream with cookie dough and fudge. This was very sweet and the flavour felt less refined to ‘Stacy’s Mum’, but it was still excellent. I had this idea that I would go to as many gelato places as I could on this trip. I thought it would be a fun thing to blog about, but I will tell you now, it was such a cold day, that I only managed these 2 gelatos. I actually had several strangers comment as I was walking past them on the street about how I was a bit mad for eating ice cream on such a cold day. I think this is a challenge I will need to repeat in the Summer!

After heading to an appointment and having another look around the shops, it’s late afternoon. We decide it’s the perfect time to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. And we know exactly where to go for that. She Chocolaterie. Another place we loved so much last time and just had to come back. You know when you have really good quality artisan chocolate you can taste the different flavours of the beans. Some are nutty, some are fruity, just like coffee beans. It’s the same with hot chocolate. You can taste the fruity notes coming through. This is another must try if you are in the Garden City.

Our last activity for the day is a movie at Lumiere Cinema It’s located in the Arts Center in such a beautiful old building. You can purchase cheese boards and wine to enjoy during the film and the seats are incredibly comfy. (Unfortunately I was way too full of gelato and hot chocolate to purchase anymore food.) I much prefer the more boutique cinemas to the large, mainstream ones. This was a relaxing way to finish off our evening.

We stay the night at Hotel Give which I highly recommend. Not only was it great value for money, it has been recently refurbished, has super comfy beds and is really big on sustainability. They also put all profits from your stay back into the programs and services that the YMCA offers vulnerable members of the community. How great is that? It is also across the road from Lumiere Cinema. Win win.

We have a beautiful day for our flight home that ends our 25 hours in Christchurch. There are some great views from the plane and for the first time I really notice how much of our land hasn’t been built on. There are so many forests and mountains and lakes to explore. Aotearoa is stunning and I am so grateful that I get to experience so much of it.

A Weekend in Akaroa

It started with a birthday wish. Daniel’s grandma was celebrating her 80th birthday and wanted to do a nature cruise in Akaroa. In the weeks leading up to it, we weren’t sure it would go ahead. Omicron had raised its ugly head and case numbers were skyrocketing. But we made it there, and I have to say, it was a pretty amazing trip.

We arrive in Christchurch and while Daniel’s parents are sorting out the rental car, Daniel, his sister and I take a seat nearby. We are chatting but then Daniel hears the word ‘upgrade’ come from the rental car guy and he is off, planting himself right between his parents ready to start negotiating the upgrade and get a ‘fancier car’. A few $$$ later and a hilarious incident of window wipers going flat out instead of the indicator (a European car where the levers are opposite to what we are used to) we are on the road making our way to what I hope will be sunny Akaroa.

I didn’t know a lot about Akaroa other than this; it is located in the South Island of Aotearoa, and a bit over an hour’s drive from Christchurch. Oh, and it was settled by the French and the street names are all in le français. Fortunately, this is an English speaking area (like the rest of New Zealand) as the extent of my French is Bonjour.

I have been there once before, about 9 years ago when Daniel and I spent 3 weeks exploring the South Island on our motorbike. But we only spent about an hour there so I was really looking forward to getting to know this place better.

It’s a rather winding road that goes up and over a hill to get there, but we finally get our first glimpse of Akaroa and it is beautiful. Made even better by the fact that it is basking in sunshine.

We arrive and head straight out to lunch, making our way to The Brasserie Kitchen & Wine Bar which has a lovely outdoor setting. I order the most French thing I can find on the menu, a crepe filled with cheese and roasted vegetables then followed by a macaron. They were both outstanding, one of the nicest macaron’s I have ever had and an excellent start to the trip. I am now wondering why I never went back to buy more macarons. A tip for next time.

Lunch is followed by a stroll along the promenade, stopping to browse in shops and take in the lovely sea views. The ocean is such a gorgeous colour. We head further round the bay to check out the lighthouse and then up a few steps to the Akaroa Lookout Point. It is probably the lowest lookout I have ever been to. Honestly, it was only about 10 steps up, but still a nice view point. The walk through the forest is noticeably cool, so nice in the midday heat. The cicadas are singing their happy tunes.

After checking in at our accommodation, we head over to the Beer Garden at the Madeira Hotel to enjoy the last of the afternoon sun, share stories over drinks and snacks and wait for the birthday girl and rest of the family to arrive. It’s a very relaxed afternoon and evening with lots of laughs.

One of my goals for the year is to watch some sunrises. I decide that Akaroa is the first place I am going to try this. It is on the east coast, but surrounded by hills. I know I won’t get to see the sun come up over the horizon, but I still think it will be worth watching.

Daniel enjoyed a lot of beverages the night before, so, being the good wife that I am, I leave him sleeping and head out about 6:30am. There is a wharf nearby so I walk along that and take a seat at the end to enjoy the show. It is so still and no one is around. It is quiet and peaceful. No car engines, no boat engines, just stillness. It’s a sleepy town and I get to watch it wake up. The sky is blushed with pink and gold tones. This moment is beautiful. It feels like a secret gift, just for me.

After about an hour of watching Akaroa come to life, I am called to breakfast by my rather loud rumbling tummy. It leads me to Rona’s cafe, where I find an almond croissant to eat at the waterfront. Gosh, I love having pastries for breakfast. It’s certainly not an everyday breakfast food (unless you are in Europe, then the rule doesn’t apply!) but it’s a lovely holiday treat.

The rest of the morning is slow and leisurely and at lunchtime we head down to the wharf for the main event of the weekend. A nature cruise with Akaroa Dolphins. I was delighted to discover that this is the company that has a 4 legged crew member. Albie the Spaniel was on board greeting all the guests as they arrived. Already kitted out in his life jacket, Albie is ready to spot some dolphins. Apparently dogs can hear dolphins talking to each other so Albie will be able to let guests know when they are near.

We head out into the harbour and our skipper shares some of the history of the area. It was here I learn that Akaroa was actually settled by the French and the English and that half the street names are French and half are English. We also learnt that Akaroa used to be a volcano that erupted millions of years ago. The eruption was so big that it created the harbour and a channel out to the Pacific Ocean. If you look at a terrain or satellite image of Akaroa, you can quite clearly see the mountain range forming a ring where the volcano would have been. We also learn about some of the Maori history of the area. It is super interesting. The captain is knowledgeable for sure, but also delivered it in an interesting and entertaining way.

It doesn’t take long before we spot our first dolphin. Their round, black ‘mickey mouse’ fin is very distinctive and their silver bodies flash in the water when near the surface. Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world. They grow to only 1.5 meters in length and are normally found in pods of 2-5. Our first sighting is a single dolphin that comes right up to the boat. It swims all around the boat giving spectators from all sides a great view. It hangs around for a while so the captain starts moving the boat going forward to see if it wants to play. It does! It zooms through the water at the bow at incredible speed, it has no issues keeping up with the boat. We watch it, darting along, popping up through the water and back under.

One of the crew then comes around offering complimentary drinks, including wine and beer. Ah, yes please, I will have a wine!

We carry on further, wine in hand, checking out the coastline and looking for more dolphins. It doesn’t take long before we find our next pod, and another, and another. There were so many dolphins, flashes of black and silver in every direction, putting on a spectacular show. I almost didn’t know where to look.

Some were in the distance jumping out of the water, some swimming at the boat in groups from different directions and others swimming alongside the boat. It was incredible. We stay with the dolphins for quite some time, totally in awe at the experience. It is such a privilege to not only see them, but to encounter so many.

After we have all had our dolphin fix, we head out further to see more dramatic coastline, a seal colony and head out to the Pacific Ocean. It gets pretty wild, the boat going up, up and then crashing down in the swells, it’s like an amusement ride at a theme park and I am loving it. If you are not great out at sea, this bit didn’t last very long at all. Some members of our group struggle with sea/motion sickness but said they were OK because it was over quickly and there was plenty of fresh air.

We then head back to the wharf buzzing. This has been an outstanding tour. I have loved every minute of it and cannot recommend it enough. Hector’s dolphins are beautiful creatures, fun and playful. This is an experience not to be missed.

The afternoon is spent with more drinks in the sun, enjoying the company of family. We then have pre dinner drinks followed by dinner at Ma Maison. It has beautiful views out across the harbour and the perfect setting for a birthday celebration dinner. Unfortunately our meals do take an incredibly long time to come out. They were quite understaffed, as were most of the places we visited on this trip. I believe this is an area that would normally rely on filling vacancies with backpackers and visitors who are working and exploring their way around our great country. Covid has certainly had an impact there.

But, despite the long wait, the food was really good, and the staff really friendly. It was certainly a place I would be happy to visit again.

Our last day in Akaroa starts with another treat from Rona’s cafe, eaten down on the waterfront. On the drive back to Christchurch, we stop at The Hilltop Tavern which has spectacular views out over Akaroa and the surrounding bays. It’s a perfect way to end the trip, looking out across the place we have spent the weekend exploring.

Abel Tasman National Park – Day 3

Today is off to a great start. I wake up to no rain and French toast! French Toast! Yum!

I sit down by the beach. The sun is out and warming me up. Finally! It’s so nice to see you sunshine, you have been a stranger these last 2 days. The water is so clear, and still. There are no big waves. It’s a very sheltered bay and so peaceful. It’s just like in the Islands, minus the palm trees. Finally I am basking in the sunshine. This is more like what I had imagined.

Slowly I move down to the water. My body is very stiff and sore from yesterday’s adventure. I am glad we are kayaking today, I don’t think I could manage a walk. The sand is soft and powdery, the water cool and inviting. The sea is so clear, I can see little fish swimming around and their shadows cast on the ocean floor.

Again, we are given 2 choices for the day. We can leave soon, take our gear and paddle back up to Bark Bay and get collected from there. Or, we can have a cruisy day, leave a bit later and explore the lagoon at high tide in the kayaks and be collected from where we currently are. Today I am pleased that our group chooses the cruisy option!

We leisurely pack up the tents, our gear and our campsite. All we need today is our small dry bags with water, togs and a camera. We get into the kayaks and head off. Today is about exploring in the sunshine! It ends up being a bit of a nature tour. We see shags, a stingray, oyster catches and sea stars. Red is really knowledgeable and is able to share lots of information about them with us. It’s nice paddling in the lagoon. Everything about today feels relaxed and leisurely. It’s amazing what a difference a bit of sun can make.

We stop for lunch in a small bay and while Red is preparing it, we all go for a swim. It’s really cold today, despite the sun being out. I think it’s gotten colder each day! While we are in the water, the ladies from the other group arrive in their kayak. They have paddled down from Bark Bay and will head down to Anchorage to join us for pick up.

We spend a while at this bay, having lunch and enjoying the amazing sunshine. But all good things must come to an end and it’s time to start the journey home. We jump in the kayaks and begin the paddle back. Daniel wants to be near the rocks as it’s ‘more interesting’ so we are constantly having to try and maneuver around them and avoid the ones that appear suddenly just below the surface. It’s not really very relaxing. The water gets choppy in a few places and the swell pushes us into the rocks. I get nervous that it’s going to roll us over, but nothing like that happens.

We land in Anchorage and unload the gear, then the ladies come sailing in. Yes, sailing! They have made a makeshift sail boat by linking their kayaks and using a fly and their paddles as a sail. It’s pretty cool to watch. They cruise into shore with a big hooray, shouting and cheering at their achievements. They have done so well. What an awesome group of women! I hope that I am as adventurous and well connected with friends when I am their age.

We board our water taxi and head back to Marahau. It’s not until we do this trip that I realise how far we actually paddled on that first day. In the rain. I feel pretty proud of myself. We have all done exceptionally well!

Back at the base we unpack our gear, change into clean clothes and enjoy sitting in the sun. Today’s weather has been glorious. It has soaked away any remaining dampness from my body. This trip was far from my expectations, mostly because of the weather, but with some positivity and a ‘just got to roll with it’ attitude, it turned out to be an amazing adventure.

Our kayaking and camping tour ended up being a kayaking, walking, camping, DOC hut, river crossing, nature cruising adventure. We got to see the park from sea and from land. At its best and at its worst. Best of all, I got to enjoy this experience with my best friend.

Abel Tasman National Park – Day 2

It rained persistently all night and into the morning. Will it ever stop? My visions of basking in the Abel Tasman sunshine are quickly fading.

But I get up and am greeted with a hot cup of mint and matcha tea. It’s so good and makes the weather seem not that bad. The ladies are up. They are eager to know what the plan for the day is and ask their very patient guide Kyle about 100 times what they will be doing. Our guides are waiting for a weather update before they make any decisions.

Breakfast is toasted muffin splits with jam and banana. A nice way to start the day. Red then gives us the options. First, he lays down the facts. The wind out on the water is too strong today so kayaking is off the table. But, it is meant to stop raining around lunchtime.

Our 2 choices, we can walk to Anchorage Bay, around a 4 hours walk and the water taxi will collect our gear and kayaks and drop it off. Or, we stay at Bark Bay and do some walks in the afternoon. Regardless of where we go, we will need to tent tonight as there is no room at the inn. But it shouldn’t be raining.

Our group decides to walk to Anchorage. Its not often you get to do one of the great walks, without having to carry all the gear!

Kyle suggests we take a walk to see the waterfall again, in this weather it should be more impressive. So we head out to take a look. The water has gone very brown, but otherwise it doesn’t look much different. Still, the walk in the bush is nice. The rest of the morning is spent in the hut, chatting and warming ourselves around the fire.

We have lunch and as promised, the rain stops. We pack up all the gear and take it down to the beach. It’s probably only a 3 minute walk but we have to do several trips and the items get heavier and heavier. We get everything down to the beach, only to find the boat is anchored at the other end of the beach and can’t get down to us. So we then each make a couple of trips back and forth along the beach in the soft squishy, so hard to walk in sand with all the heavy items. Then followed by a river crossing to finally get to the boat. It’s fast flowing water and up to my knees so I take it slowly and manage to not fall in.

That done, we are ready to start our walk to Anchorage Bay. We set off and my fitbit buzzes. I have just completed my goal of 10,000 steps for the day! There are going to be a lot of steps done today!

The walk is beautiful. It’s so nice to be able to explore without having the weight of a tramping pack. Initially I was disappointed, I wanted to kayak Abel Tasman, but I think this worked out for the best. We got to see the park from the sea, now we get to experience it from the land. They are quite different view points.

We then come to a small detour to a lookout point. The group decides not to do it, I’m disappointed, but we agree we will go to the next one. The next one comes around pretty quickly. It’s a 5 mins detour to take us to see Sandfly Bay. Its a steep path down, not a nice, smooth track. We have to almost climb down, finding footing among the tree roots. All I can think about is how we are going to have to come back up this! It takes us way longer than 5 minutes but we finally end up on a golden sandy beach with huge granite boulders that have been smoothed over by the sea. It also lived up to it’s name, although, most beaches in this area have a mass of sandflies. We spend a little while on the beach, I close my eyes and try to soak up the peacefulness, the waves, the birds and cicadas. Lovely.

Then it’s time to head back up. All you can do is place one foot in front of the other and set your own pace. When we reach the top, we all need a break to catch our breath. We notice on the other side of the sign, pointing to Sandfly Bay, someone has scratched a 1 in front of the 5 minutes. 15 minutes, that seems more like it.

We carry on, the track does have some elevated sections, but for the most part it is pretty easy walking. I do find the hills pretty challenging. I walk a lot, but mostly on the flat. Its a well maintained track, it’s probably one of the most walked tracks in the country. It’s mostly through the forest, but every now an again, there is a break in the trees where you can see the ocean and little secluded coves.

We eventually arrive at Torrent Bay. It used to be a farm that then got subdivided. Now there are baches (holiday homes) everywhere. Some are small, modest, olde fashioned kiwi baches, others are a bit more upmarket. It’s a pretty sweet place for a holiday house! Regardless of their size, they would all be worth a fortune!

At Torrent Bay, we are again given 2 options. Anchorage is the next bay over. We can do the low tide walk, which involves river crossings, or, take the high tide route, which takes an extra hour and a half, but takes you past the 10 minute detour to Cleopatra’s Pool where there are large smooth rocks you can slide down into the pool. We have been walking for a while, I might be tempted to take a dip.

The group decide on the low tide walk, they want to get to the campsite, but Red lets Daniel and I take the high tide walk. I am here to see and experience the park. I am taking the opportunities as they come. As we set off, my fitbit buzzes again. 20,000 steps!

It’s nice having this time with just Daniel. We can set our own pace and I can stop when I want to take in my surroundings and enjoy the nature. I don’t mind at all that it’s adding all this extra time to our walk. While the others are walking straight through the lagoon, our track follows it circumference, snaking in and out.

We get to the detour for Cleopatra’s Pool and follow the track alongside the river. The forest here is stunning. Low growing fern, punga, black beach and rimu densely fill the sides of the river. It’s layered and textured and so exquisite. The photo’s just don’t do it justice.

Then the track stops. We have reached the pools but the river has forked and we are on the wrong side. On the other side of the riverbank we can see the sign for Cleopatra’s Pool. We look around but can’t find any track to get us there. There are some big boulders in the river so we decide to cross there. We jump across on the rocks. The last ones are quite far apart. I’m not sure I will be able to make that. Daniel of course does it with ease, then steadies himself, ready to catch me.

One. Two, Three. I jump. I almost don’t make it, but Daniel grabs me and pulls me onto the rock. As I land though, feel something go pop in my leg. I do a quick assessment of my body, I am shaking but I can still walk, good. I am limping a little, hopefully it will be ok. We still have 1.5 hours of walking to do.

The jump across has got us to the pools, but the water is high and fast flowing, it’s also pretty brown. There is no way we will attempt to slide down those rocks, it wouldn’t be safe. So we take some photos, admire the view and then hop back across the rocks to the track. I take a different route, but again, the last step looks too far for me to jump. I am not risking that again. So it’s off with the shoes and socks and I walk the last part. It’s fast flowing water up to my knees, but it’s only a couple of steps and Daniel is right there to help me.

We walk the rest of the track. My leg is a bit sore, but I am managing. I think I will be pretty stiff though once I cool down and my muscles are no longer warm. The track finally leads us out to another beautiful beach. Anchorage Bay. A huge, crescent stretch of golden sand. The sea is green, reflecting the colour of the trees and boats have docked in the quite bay. The water looks so inviting. Again, it is quite a long beach, so we start our walk to the camp. Today’s walk has started and ended on the beach. As we set off, my fitbit buzzes again. 30,000!

We arrive at camp to find the rest of the group have put up our tent. How sweet! There is also a delicious looking spread of wine, chips, cheese, crackers ready for us to dive into. The chips almost hold me hostage, but there is one thing I must do first. Go for a swim.

No one else is keen to join me so I head down on my own. The water is cold and gets deep very quickly (not like at Bark Bay) but it is incredible. I become weightless and my tired, sore, achy muscles are loving it. I am the only one on the beach. The water is so clear and flat, apart form the little circles forming on the surface from the light rain. This is magical. A little perfect moment just for myself. It’s things like this that make life so sweet.

I stay in much longer than I intended because my muscles feel so soothed but I am also starting to get rather cold and we are in a tent tonight so getting warm is going to be a bit harder. I actually find it really hard to get out, I almost fall over twice, my legs are groaning as they are forced to support my weight again. I slowly hobble back to camp, change into warm clothes and sit myself down right in front of the chips and cheese. I’ve earnt this!

The rest of the evening is spent around the picnic table, chatting with our group and enjoying some local wines. Red cooks us dinner and we watch some weka having a stand off. They are such cheeky birds. Not at all afraid and very keen to try and get into the cooking equipment and food. There are lots of fantails at this campsite too. They are such sweet little birds.

Tonight we sleep in our tent. It’s not the most comfortable sleep, but I am exhausted enough that it doesn’t really matter. I fall asleep to the rhythmic sound of the waves and a morepork. It’s been a good day.

Abel Tasman National Park

February, it’s generally the most reliable month in the country for warm, sunny weather. That’s why Daniel and I take our Summer Holiday in February. The weather is great, schools have gone back and it’s getting towards the end of peak tourist season. It’s the perfect time to travel.

And Abel Tasman, it’s in the sunny Tasman region, well know for it’s hours and hours of glorious sunshine.

A multi day kayak through Abel Tasman National Park has been on my bucket list since long before I even knew what a bucket list was. And now I can tick it off the list. And, we did this through some of the worst February weather we have had in a long time, while the country was experiencing a tropical cyclone…..

Day 1.

Actually, I will rewind and start this story on the morning before day 1. Daniel and I are in the dining room of our hostel, quietly eating our breakfast. At the other end of the dining hall is a table of 8 senior citizen women who are making quite a racket. Excitedly chattering away, it looks like they are having a great time. I overhear them talking about going on a kayak tour.

Day 1. Daniel and I step outside the hostel at 6.55am in the drizzling rain, waiting to be collected by Abel Tasman Kayaks. There is a father and son also waiting outside. We get talking and find we are on the same tour. And then, who should also step outside , I know you know where this story is going, the women from the breakfast yesterday. Already their banter has me laughing. They are such a hoot. They will be entertaining companions on this tour that’s for sure!

We are collected by Abel Tasman Kayaks in a shuttle and driven out to Marahau. It takes a bit over an hour but it’s very scenic. We drive along the coastal route. It’s still and the colours of the sky and sea are soft and blended. It looks like a water colour painting. The day is still waking up.

Further into the drive, the rain starts pelting down. This is going to be a very wet trip. It’s pretty disappointing, but what can you do other than roll with it and make the most of the situation?

We arrive at the base and are introduced to our guide Mitchell, but everyone calls him Red. With the assistance of Red, for the next 3 days, we will be exploring Abel Tasman Park with the father and son from this morning and a couple who self drove to the base. The senior citizens are in their own group accompanied by their incredibly patient guide, Kyle.

We pack the clothes we will need into dry bags, and then put everything into the kayaks. We get provided with a tent and sleeping bag and all the food and cooking equipment needed has already been loaded into the kayaks. We are then given spray skirts, spray jackets and life jackets. The rain is heavy and persistent. We are trying to keep dry, sticking to the shelter, but soon there will be no avoiding it.

With the kayaks loaded onto the truck, we head down to the beach. Normally this trip starts with a water taxi ride up to Awaroa in the northern end of the park and then you kayak back down to Marahau over the 3 days. Because of the weather, our tour will be different. We are jumping straight in with a 5 hour kayak to Bark Bay where our guides have managed to secure us a hut for the night (rather than being in a tent.)

After a safety briefing and some instructions on how to paddle, we launch our kayaks. Instantly I notice how quiet it is on the water. It is calm and peaceful with the soft pitter patter of rain on the ocean. It is more like a lake than the sea, it’s so flat.

The bush on the hills is like what I fell in love with on the West Coast. Dense, lush and vibrant. It is every shade of green you can imagine and full of textures. The sea looks green too, reflecting its vibrant colours.

It’s simply stunning.

It doesn’t take long before I start to find the kayaking challenging. I am using muscles that haven’t been used in a while and they are not that happy about being woken up. But I push through it. 1, 2. 1, 2. Finding my rhythm and focusing on the beauty around me. At one point we are accompanied by a school of small fish that skim across the water, their bodies flashing sliver in the light.

We pass gorgeous, sandy bays. Even in the rain on this grey and gloomy day, the sand glows golden. We rest for a while, in our kayaks with the golden beach as our back drop and Red tells us how the area became a national park. It was first opened on the 16th December, 1942, 300 years after Abel Tasman had first sailed these waters. The government had plans to build a coastal road through the area but Nelson resident and environmentalist Perrine Moncrieff collected 1000 signatures and petitioned the government to turn it into a National Park. This was declined, so she wrote a letter to the Queen of The Netherlands, inviting her to attend the opening of the park, signed from the government. The Queen agreed to attend and the NZ government then decided they’d better follow through, not wanting to admit ‘government documents’ had been forged, especially during a World War. I couldn’t find this version of the story on the internet, but that’s what we got told and I very much like this version.

We then head out to Adele Island, named after the wife of French explorer Dumont D’Urville, who mapped the area with incredible accuracy in the early 19th century. Adele Island is home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals (which apparently are actually sea lions) and we were able to watch them on the rocks for a while. At this time of year there were also pups which were very cute. They are too young to know how to swim, but in a month or 2, Red explains that they will be more confident with swimming and are very curious. They will swim right up to you and Red has even had one jump onto his kayak.

It’s time for lunch so we paddle over to Te Pukatea Bay. It’s a perfect little crescent bay, filled with golden sand. Its a shame about the weather. Red puts up a fly and we eat our lunch under the shelter. Despite the persistent rain and being soaked through, I hadn’t felt cold, until now. Once we stopped paddling, everyone in the group started to cool down so we didn’t wait long before jumping back into the kayaks.

The next bit of paddling is hard. It’s called The Mad Mile. This body of water is more exposed. Its choppy and a rather challenging paddle, but we make it through. Before long, we arrive at another beautiful bay, a crescent moon shape and it draws us in.

We have arrived at Bark Bay.

After unpacking all the gear and moving it up to the hut, I decide it’s time for a swim. It’s not great weather, but when am I going to be here again? I am going to make the most of my time in Abel Tasman National Park, whatever the weather. I am joined by 2 others and we head down to the beach for a dip. The water is surprising warm, but also very shallow. We go out so far but it doesn’t get deeper than my thigh. Still, that’s enough water to float around for a while.

We head back to the hut to get warm and dry and find platters of cheese, crackers, dips, chips, wine and beer! This is not camping like I’ve know it, we are far from ‘roughing it’. We gather around the table and spend time getting to know our fellow travelers better, including the ladies in the other tour group. (They took a water taxi to Bark Bay and then did a little kayak in the area) They are such a laugh. They are a group of women, brought together by a shared love of travelling. One of them put an ad in the local paper looking for travel companions 12 years ago and have since done trips all over the world together.

The rain eases off for a bit so Daniel and I head out on a recommended walk to a waterfall. The bush is beautiful. It is so lovely in the rain, all glistening and dewy. There is a bridge by the waterfall which makes for a good viewing point. The water is so clear. It’s not the most impressive waterfall, but it’s certainly nice to get out for a walk and enjoy a rare moment of the day when it is not raining.

Back at the hut, Kyle gathers us all to tell us the story of Abel Tasman discovering Aotearoa and his encounter with the local iwi. It happened in what was called Murderers Bay (now renamed Golden Bay) Through misunderstandings and cultural differences, the encounter didn’t go well. Abel Tasman only spent 5 days in New Zealand waters and never once set foot on this land, yet the whole area was named after him. Kyle’s stories of this land were fascinating and passionate. He really brought the history to life.

We share more stories as a group over a lovely dinner of chickpea curry, followed by pavlova. Yes pavlova! On a kayaking trip. Who would have thought!

We all head off to bed early. It’s been a long and physically demanding day. We are all very grateful to be in the hut tonight and not in a tent! I don’t sleep well at all though, sharing a room with so many people, it’s hot, noisy and not particularly comfy. But I do wake in the morning, so I must have slept for some of it.

Discovering Nelson

Daniel and I wake up on a Thursday morning to our travel app telling us there are severe weather warnings, expect delays and a message saying you can change your flight free of charge if you want to. Not really what you want to hear on the first day of your summer holiday.

I am a bit confused, the current weather is alright for Wellington and it’s pretty still. We head to the airport anyway, have a 10 minute delay and after a short, pretty smooth, 30 minute flight, the wheels touch down to a very wet tarmac. Water sprays everywhere. The rain is pretty heavy here.

Welcome to Sunny Nelson! It gets that name because it receives some of the highest hours of sunshine annually. Not today.

All up, we had about 2.5 days in Nelson (with another little excursion in between that I will share in the next post) This gave us lots of time to explore. Here is what we got up to:

Eating

After wandering the streets of Nelson for a few minutes in search of lunch we come across Hardy Street Eatery. It’s bright, simple decor is inviting and being able to see some of the food being prepared in the open kitchen is pretty cool. It’s busy and humming and has attracted a range of people, mums, workers, friends, travelers, retirees. It feels like a popular place. I loved the choice of vegetarian food on the menu. Usually I find the vegetarian choices at places a bit limited. Not here. My meal is colourful, creamy and delicious.

Arden Bar & Kitchen. Wow! This is right up there with one of my favorite meals ever! Again, I was spoiled for choice with lots of vegetarian options. We sat outside under the rain canopy. Outdoor lights dotted around the place, music playing and plants give the space a lovely vibe to sit back, relax and enjoy a great meal.

I’m a sucker for fresh bread. I know I shouldn’t, it fills me up so much, but when I saw homemade sourdough with shallot butter on the menu, I couldn’t help myself.

Totally worth it.

It was sensational. The shallots gave the butter a sweet, rich, caramelized flavour. Paired with the warm sourdough, oh, I could eat that every day!

This was followed by gnocchi. (Another, I probably shouldn’t because it’s so filling and I really want dessert, but I just can’t resist) It was gorgeous. Not melt in the mouth like I had in Florence, but this was pan fried and the caramlisation on it was so good. It was accompanied by grilled zucchini, fresh beans and a little zing from some chili. Comfort food at it’s finest.

Much to Daniel’s dislike, I asked to share the dessert. Tonka bean creme brulee. Never heard of tonka beans? Me either. A quick google search told me they are a small black bean, a bit like an almond and are found in Central and Northern South America. Also, they are illegal in the US!

Again, another outstanding dish, smooth and creamy with a delicate vanilla flavour and a hint of spice. This was all washed down with a sweet cocktail. If you are ever in Nelson, be sure to check out this place. It was incredible.

Walks

I always like to try and get out for walks when I am away, even if it means leaving Daniel at our accommodation with YouTube and going exploring on my own.

I didn’t spend long here but Queen’s Garden’s is well worth checking out. It’s very beautiful with water features, bridges, tall trees and a rose garden. It’s a perfect place to amble slowly through, have a picnic and smell the roses.

My main walk while I was here was to the Centre of New Zealand. It’s actually not the true centre of New Zealand, but it was given that name as it was the central survey point in the 1800’s. Once Stewart Island and small inshore islands were taken into account, the actual center of New Zealand is about an hour’s drive South West in Spooners Range. But there is a monument at the top and it’s pretty cool to be able to say you have been to the center of New Zealand.

The walk begins in the Botanical reserve. I had read that the walk is steep and can take 20 – 60 minutes depending on your fitness. I decided to time myself.

As soon as I entered the forest, the noise of the cicadas was overwhelming. They drown out all traffic sounds and the birds of the forest. They were singing their little hearts out. But after 10 minutes of climbing a steep hill, the only thing I could hear was the huffing and puffing of one very unfit Wellingtonian. (who was rather embarrassed when she was overtaken by a child jogging up the hill!) When I make it to the top, I am rewarded with cuddles from 2 energetic little dogs.

Once I have caught my breath, I take time to soak up the view. It’s cloudy but I can still see out across Nelson, the township, the harbour and what looks like a sandbar out in the ocean. I get my photo with the centre of New Zealand monument and then start the descent.

Now that I am not timing myself, I take time to appreciate the forest, to close my eyes and listen to the birds and the cicadas. Life is so sweet when you take time to enjoy moments like this.

It’s a steep track, but well maintained, and signposted. I myself am astounded at how easily I get lost. My navigation skills are pretty poor, but even I manage this walk without getting lost. And just in case you are wondering, I got to the top in 15 minutes!

Activities

I am not a big wine drinker, but I do like going on wine tours. I enjoy the wine culture, the pretty vineyard settings and getting to hear local artisans passionately talking about their products. The Nelson wine region is known for it’s Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and something I didn’t know, Pinot Noir.

We get to explore this region with Nelson Tours & Travel. I was a little disappointed to find we were the only ones on the tour. It was great getting a private tour for the price of a regular one, but we do enjoy the opportunity to meet other people. I guess this is just how things are at the moment. Covid has wreaked havoc with the tourism industry so it’s nice to be able to support local businesses.

Our host CJ picks us up and he and Daniel hit it off, talking about music, motorbikes, travel and of course wine. We find out that CJ was in Italy at the same time as us and we spend time reminiscing about our time under the Tuscan sun.

Our first stop is Middle-Earth. (Not to be mistaken with Lord of the Rings) Of all the vineyards we visited, this was my favourite. While it had the known varieties of wine, they also produce wine from grape varieties I had never heard of. The very first one we tried, the albarino, was my favourite from the whole day. It had citrus notes finishing with a bit of saltiness. I have never tasted anything like this before and really loved it. Other varieties we tried that I had never heard of were, viognier, pinot meunier and petit verdot. It is here that we learn pinot noir (black) has unstable DNA and mutates into other varieties, pinot gris (grey) pinot blanc (white) and pinot meunier (miller)

We then move onto Heaphy Vineyard and Winery where we have some much needed lunch. Sourdough pizza and an incredible corn salad. At this vineyard we are able to choose our own sample selection from a list, including a bold flavour riesling made from grapes off the oldest vines in the South Island.

Our next 2 stops are Kina Cliffs and Kina Beach Vineyards which happen to be right next door to each other. As soon as I step out of the van, I can smell the ocean. We taste our wines while listening to it’s rhythmic sounds. I forget how lucky we are. No matter where you are in New Zealand, you are never more than 3 hours from the coast.

I am a little bit wined out at this point, but Daniel is still enjoying the tastings. All and all, it was a great day and we did a great job of supporting the local wine economy by having rather a few bottles shipped back home to us.

Even if you don’t like cars, if you can appreciate beautiful aesthetics and design, you should check out the Nelson Classic Car Museum. With vehicles dating back as far as the early 1900’s there is bound to be something for everyone. Daniel was like a kid in a candy store, delighting at some rare and forgotten models.

I loved the early 20th century cars. They are so beautifully designed with their back seat carriages, old wooden spoke wheels and oil lit headlights. I was also quite taken with the little red vintage Jaguar convertible and I can’t help but drool over the 1960’s/70’s Stingrays. They are a head turner! There is a great collection of cars here that are nicely displayed. It’s well worth a look.

So, there you have it, some suggestions of what to do next time you are in sunny Nelson. Hopefully you will get to experience the sunny part!

Cycling from Clyde to Cromwell

I am not a cyclist, by any means. The last time I rode a bike was in 2020, in short bursts between the Martinborough Vineyards. The time before that was in 2019 on an eBike day tour in Rome. And before that, it was probably back in 2012 at Ohope Beach.

Cycling is not my thing.

But I love the outdoors and being active. I also love the Central Otago Landscapes, so there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to explore this area by bike.

There are many cycle tracks and trails in Otago, including the Otago Rail Trail that connects Clyde to Middlemarch along a 152 Kilometre track. In May 2021, The Lake Dunstan Trail opened. My brother and I decided to tackle this 52km, track that connects Cromwell to Clyde.

We collect our e-bikes from Bike IT Now in Clyde and are given a short induction. We then do a quick test ride up and down the street to make sure we are comfortable and heights are set correctly. I am pretty rusty and wobble all over the place, but after a few minutes I get the hang of it. Your know the saying, ‘It’s just like riding a bike’.

We then set off to tackle the ride. I am excited for the day ahead and the sights we will see. After 10 or so minutes I test out the ebike, putting it onto eco. What a difference, it makes the pedalling so easy.

The path snakes alongside The Clutha River, which is a beautiful, vibrant, emerald green this morning. Throughout the day, the colours change to various shades of blues and turquoises. The lakes and rivers aren’t brilliant jewel colours in the North Island. South Island lakes are really quite special in this way.

It’s looking like it will be a hot day, but we have set off early and hope to avoid the fierce afternoon heat. The track starts out flat, then grows into a gradual climb. We cross Hugo bridge, an 85.5 metre suspension bridge. All I can say is, don’t look down! The track gets steeper and steeper, but with the eBike, it’s no problem, I just switch it onto boost and the bike practically pedals itself (and me) up the hills.

As we reach the peak, 342m high, there are some incredible views across the river and looking out to Cromwell. We stop for a while to soak in the view and see how far we have come.

We have gone up the hill, now it’s time to go down the other side. It’s pretty steep with some sharp turns and there are a few parts where I have to get off and walk the bike down. Cycling down steep hills is hard, but I do feel for the people we pass coming up it!

We reach the bottom and come across the newly launched Coffee Afloat. A boat serving coffee, ice creams, baking, cold drinks and snacks to the trail riders. In September, Burger Afloat was also launched. It’s pretty popular, there must have been at least 50 people there, resting on the nearby rocks and refueling.

We decide not to stop, so instead, carry onto the next section of the track, which is really quite impressive. Not impressive scenery, (although it is lovely) but the track itself. Up to this point, we have be cycling along tracks carved out of the hills, but this part is a path, suspended off the rocks, right above the river. Goodness knows how they were able to build such a structure, but it makes for some scenic riding.

By the time our tummies start to rumble, the perfectly positioned Carrick Vineyard comes into view. We refuel with pizza, olives and a cold drink. It’s an idyllic setting, but it’s also getting pretty hot so we don’t hang around for long after eating.

Cycling further along the river bank, over a bridge and through Cromwell Heritage Precinct we arrive at Bike IT Now to return the bikes. I am hot, yes, and my bum is rather sore (despite the double gel cushioned seat) but I’m not tired. The eBike was amazing, it made this trip possible for me. I don’t think I could have done this on a regular bike.

Apparently 70% of people doing this trail cycle from Cromwell to Clyde. We did it the other way and I am so glad we did. It’s a popular trail and with people heading in both directions, it does get pretty tight. Some parts of the track are especially narrow and I was always pleased to be on the side against the hill, rather than next to the edge!

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, cycling through diverse landscape; dry, barren looking land, past huge rocks (and some pretty big drops) past pretty purple lupin flowers, through cool shady forests, over bridges and through historic precincts in a land that is rich in history.

All you need is a day and you too can discover some of the charm Central Otago has to offer.

Cromwell Delights

After the madness of Christmas passed (although I do love the Christmas madness) I packed my bags and headed down South on Boxing Day to spend some time with my brother and his family.

They were visiting his in-laws who are based in Cromwell. When I was invited to stay with them, I needed no convincing, Central Otago is one of my favourite parts of the country. And getting to spend a week with my nephew and niece was certainly a big draw card.

It was a rather bumpy flight in with the plane rolling from side to side, the Queenstown basin is known for its strong winds. I’m not a great flier so my hands were tightly gripping the arm rests while I focused on controlling my breathing. I had an aisle seat so I couldn’t even distract myself with a scenic view. But soon after landing I am picked up from the airport and presented with a container of fresh cherries. I quickly forget all about the bumpy flight in. I am so looking forward to gorging on Central Otago stone fruit this week.

What I love most about this place is the landscape. It’s so dramatic. Black jagged rock faces, dry, grassy tussocks land and jewel coloured lakes. It’s very distinctive and striking.

I have 6 days to explore the area. Plenty of time to relax and unwind and get a taste for Central Otago life. Here are some of the things we got up to during my stay.

A walk around the lake. Cromwell is nestled in below Lake Dunstan and bordered by the Clutha River. There are plenty of scenic walks you can take around the lake. One afternoon we sat in the shade of a tree on the shore of the Clutha River watching ducks and enjoying the slower pace of life that you get when you leave the city. Another day we ambled along the shore of Lake Dunstan and I learnt how to skip stones along the flat still water. There is something very soothing about being near water. In Cromwell, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy it’s tranquility.

Wine Tasting. Your Central Otago trip wouldn’t be complete without a little (or a lot) of wine. I read somewhere that there are 25 wineries in Cromwell alone, so there are plenty of options. We went to Misha’s Vineyeard and Wooing Tree. These 2 make up part of the 4 Barrels Walking Wine Tour along with Scott Base and Aurum Wines. As the name suggests, you can visit them all by foot, with the total loop taking about 90 minutes plus stops. Sit in the sun or in the shade of a tree, and sip the Pinot Noir that makes Central Otago world famous. (There are also lots of other varieties to try. My favourite is always the dessert wines.) It’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and if you finish at Misha’s Vineyard, head on over to The Stoker Room next door for dinner.

Dining. Another stop you must make in Cromwell is to The Stoker Room. Their food is steamed, baked, grilled and smoked in French Oak Pinot Noir barrel cookers and the results are exquisite. I’m not really a fan of smoked foods, but this was delicious. Their meals are heavily meat based, but there were still several vegetarian options and my brother and I enjoyed sharing several small plates. It is also home to Wild Earth Wines and I was given strict instructions from my husband to make sure I ordered several bottles to be shipped back home. Their Chelsea Riesling is amazing. I am looking forward to that order arriving next week!

Fruit Picking. If you are here during the summer, there are endless amounts of sweet, delicious stone fruit at your finger tips. Head to one of the many local orchards and go fruit picking. We went to Cheeki Cherries where we were able to pick, big, juicy, scrumptious cherries. I was heading home that day with only carry on luggage so I had to be restrained, but so good to take a little bit of Central Otago home with me. A week later and I have nearly finished the 2kg box I brought back! Cheeki Cherries also have PYO apricots, nectarines and peaches. You could just go to a store and buy some, but where’s the fun in that? And besides, how lovely is it to walk through an orchard on a beautiful summer’s day?

These next 3 activities are in Wanaka, but it’s only a 40 minute drive so you can easily do a day trip. When we headed out there, the Rhythm and Alps festival was on and traffic was manic, so we didn’t go right into the township to the lake, but on a different day, it’s well worth the visit. I was in Wanaka last year though, you can read about that in this post Chillin’ in Wanaka.

National Transport & Toy Museum. Take a walk down memory lane, looking at old toys from times gone by. There were certainly some I remember from my childhood. There is also a collection of cars, service vehicles, planes, bikes and motorbikes. It’s an unusual place. An eclectic collection of things. Yes it has toys and yes it has a variety of transport vehicles, but you will also find old cellphones, computers, sewing machines and an entire wall of antique teaspoons. Lets just say, it’s an interesting place. My favourite were the vintage fire trucks.

Puzzling World. A place filled with illusions and mind tricks. One of the spaces, the tilted house, really messed with my mind. With no windows and clever use of slopes and lines, it leaves your mind very confused. It threw me off balance so much that it made me feel sick. The room of following faces was interesting though, step into the room & watch 168 pairs of eyes follow you around, left and right, up and down. Puzzling World wasn’t for me, although I am sure there are people out there who would love it.

Wanaka Lavender Farm. Immerse yourself in a sea of vibrant purple lavender while listening to the gentle hum of the hard working honey bees. The fragrance of the flowers, along with the sights and sounds are a delight for the senses. There are also a variety of farm animals you can visit while strolling the grounds. Back at the shop, try a lavender ice cream. They had 3 different flavours, I tried the traditional lavender, honey combo. It was unusual, but in a good way. An unfamiliar flavour, but refreshing and moreish.

My 6 days in Cromwell were an absolute delight, the perfect mix of rest, relaxation and exploring. What a wonderful way to end 2021.

Travel Highlights of 2021

I want to start this post by acknowledging how fortunate I am to be able to write a post like this. The last 2 years have been exhausting, challenging and devastating for so many people. I write this with a thankful heart, very much aware of how lucky I am to be able to travel so freely.

I like to reflect, especally as 2021 draws to an end. Looking briefly back at all the photos I have uploaded this year, the locations, the activities, brings a smile to my face and I feel very grateful.

Initially I was going to do a recap on my favorite travel of 2021, but actually, I want to break that down a bit. My favourite moments, travel locations and activities.

Travel Moments

These are exactly that. Moments. They only last for a few minutes, or even seconds in some instances, but it’s enough to take my breath away and make time feel like it is standing still. These types of moments are what make life so sweet.

  1. Looking into the eyes of a wild tuatara. It was a very humbling experience, so much wisdom and years of time gone by lie behind their eyes. The fact that it was wild and not in captivity, made it all the more special. Exploring Matiu/Somes Island
  2. Sitting in a spa pool with a magnificent kereru perched on the other side. We get a lot of kereru in our garden, they are one of my favourite birds, but I have never been that close to one. To see it in so much detail was incredible, it’s iridescent feathers and pure white chest. Lake Swims, Wild Blackberries & a Kereru.
  3. Seeing a magnificent Kotuku (White Heron) fly silently and ever so gracefully across Okarito Lagoon. Kayaking with Herons.
  4. Looking into the eyes of a seal. We just stared at each other, underwater, taking each other in. That kind of thing doesn’t happen every day! Swimming with Seals.
  5. Looking up from beneath a waterfall. Who would have thought that falling water could be such a spiritual experience. Time just froze, while I looked up in awe at the water droplets slowly floating down on me. Doubtful Sound Tour – Day 2.
  6. Sitting outside, listening to the powerful rumbling thunder roll across the sky above me from left to right. Escape to the Country

Travel Locations

It wont come as any shock to you that I love New Zealand. I may be biased, but I think it is the most stunning place in the world (followed closely by Slovenia) Aotearoa, the Long White Cloud, is full of natural beauty and breathtaking scenery. There are many places to fall in love with, but here are some of my favourite.

Pukawa. Nestled into the southern shore of Lake Taupo, it’s the perfect place to have a quintessential kiwi summer holiday. Lake swims, BBQs and days spent soaking up the sun. I loved everything about this place and it was one of my favourite holidays of the year. Lake Swims, Wild Blackberries & a Kereru.

Hokitika. A small town on the West Coast of the South Island. We didn’t go with much expectation, it was just a convenient place to stop and break our traveling days. What we discovered was a delightful town full of crafts, amazing sunsets and fun activities. Discovering Hokitika

Westcoast Glacial Rainforest. Not one particular place as such, but I had to include it. I fell in love with the rainforest. It’s incredibly unique, there aren’t a lot of places in the world where rainforest meets glaciers and it’s something everyone should experience. It has an ancient feel to it and is the most vivid shades of green. It made my heart swoon.

Kingston. Located at the bottom of Lake Wakatipu is Kingston. I have never stayed here, only visited for half an hour or so, and passed by it a few times on our motorbike. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, it has a still, sleepiness about it which has me captivated.

Travel Activities

I love being a tourist in my own country and there is something for everyone. Here are my favourites from this year.

Caving in Charlestown Charlestown is a tiny little town, just south of Westport and home to some exceptional caves. The stalactites and stalagmites create some gorgeous formations. The cave is also very untouched. You won’t find handrails, lighting and walking platforms here, just a gorgeous cave in its natural beauty. Also home to the largest glowworm population I have ever seen. Think of the most magnificent starry night sky you have ever seen and that’s getting close to how it looks. Check out Underworld Adventures

Kayaking in Okarito Lagoon. This is an activity that has been on my bucket list for some time and it didn’t disappoint. The lake is incredibly still allowing some beautiful mirroring of the mountain on the flat water. There is also stunning forest and bird life to view. You could hire a kayak and do an independent trip, but I recommend a guided tour. Gemma was amazing and her in-depth knowledge made the experience so much richer. Check out Okarito Kayaks

Greenstone Carving in Hokitika. I often wear my hand carved pounamu. I love it. It was a really fun workshop and a unique experience. The tutors are also exceptionally talented. Check out Bonz ‘n’ Stonz

Swimming with Seals in Kaikoura. It’s rated Lonely Planet’s Top 10 best marine encounters and I can totally understand why. They are fun, playful, curious and so graceful, completely the opposite to the awkward masses I am used to seeing sitting on the rocks. Check out Seal Swim Kaikoura

Doubtful Sound Tour. Doubtful Sound is less well known than the very popular Milford Sound. And that is partly what makes it so special. You feel like you have the place to yourself. Kayak beside huge fiords, look for penguins, seals and dolphins, watch the sun come up and immerse yourself in a pretty remote, untouched part of the country. You can do a day tour, but an overnight tour is well worth the extra money. Check out Real NZ

So there you have it. What an exceptional year it has been. I hope you have enjoyed this recap of Exploring the Long White Cloud. What have been your favourite travel moments of 2021?

And just in case you are wondering, all the words I share are my own. I don’t get paid or earn any commissions. I share my stories with you because it’s something I love to do.

Escape to the Country

When our 4th round of IVF ended in November 2018, I knew it was time to close the door on the dream of having children and time to start re-dreaming a new future. I made a promise to myself, that I would make time for the things that I love and that life would be an adventure.

Travel is one of those loves.

Self care looks different to everyone; for some, it might be a bubble bath or a manicure. For me, it’s immersing myself in nature, creating time to be with my thoughts and slowing the pace of life right down.

So, for the last 3 years, I have gone on what I call my ‘annual solo retreat’. 2-3 nights, holidaying on my own, at a destination of my choosing. I do as much or as little as I like, when I like and it is bliss.

The first year I went to Waiheke Island for zip lining, wine tasting and glamping. Last year it was paddle boarding, kayaking and exploring in the Marlborough Sounds.

This year, it was a little cabin in Carrington in the Wairarapa. 3 days of solitude, rest, nature and recharging my batteries.

It’s a grey, rainy day, the first of my solo trips not to be bathed in sunshine, but I am not bothered. I arrive at my accommodation, step out of the car and am greeted with the snorting of 3 ugly / cute kunekune pigs.

My little cabin is idyllic. Set on a hill, surrounded by trees, looking out across the hills. The first thing on my agenda is a cup of tea, which I drink, sitting on the porch, soaking in the stillness, birdsong and the soft pitter-patter of rain on the roof.

The birds are abundant and I enjoy just sitting there watching them flying around. In the space of about 15 minutes I see tui, a hawk, goldfinches, magpies and a bright green parrot.

My afternoon is spent reading a magazine, watching TED talks with cups of tea and chocolate, snuggled up on the sofa beside a warm flickering fire.

Dinner is simple. A ravioli in pasta sauce and fresh bread. This trip is about making space to reflect on the year and delighting in the simple.

It’s starting to get dark, it’s still raining and there is an outdoor bath that I just can’t resist. I fill it and then settle in for a soak. I watch the change in the clouds as night draws near and the birds making their final flight as they find somewhere to rest for the night.

There are no city noises, just the whoosh of wings above me, rain and the gurgling sound of the nearby stream. This is food for the soul.

As it gets darker, the insects and bugs of the night come out. There are large buzzing noises near my ear and a very large silhouetted moth against the fading sky. I don’t have an issue with insects and really, there is nothing here that can hurt me. We don’t have super poisonous critters or dangerous mammals. New Zealand is a pretty safe place.

It’s a shame that the stars aren’t out, but I still leave my bath feeling warm and relaxed, ready to settle in for the night.

I wake in the morning to more rain on the roof, but again, I don’t mind. It’s not going to stop me from doing what I want to do. And besides, who doesn’t love the sound of rain on the roof. It is so soothing. It’s one of my favorite sounds, along with bird song.

I start to get hungry so I decide to leave my warm, cosy bed and venture out to a nearby town called Claireville. I have heard many good things about The Claireville Bakery. It does not disappoint! I am presented with a beautiful selection of fresh breads and pastries and it takes me a really long time to decide. I settle on an apricot danish and also get an almond croissant for tomorrow.

My danish is amazing and I wash it down with a cup of tea while I sit on the porch, watching the rain again. It may be wet, but it’s not cold. There is a nearby flax bush that is attracting the tuis and I watch them feed for a while before picking up my book to read. I will head out later in the afternoon for a walk before the forecast thunder and lightning arrive.

My walk is at the nearby Fensham Reserve. It has stopped raining finally, but the forest is still damp and wet. Forest is still pretty magical when it is like this. There is a large chorus of birds singing. The track is narrow but easy to follow and is surrounded by tall trees. The air is warm and cool, refreshing drops of water drip on me from the canopy above. Halfway into the walk it gets very humid and I reach a part of the track that is mostly underwater. The walk takes me a bit over an hour. I arrive back at the car park with very wet feet, but energised from the nature and fresh air.

Back at my cabin, I spend a couple of hours on the porch again, reading my book and watching the weather. I am waiting for the thunderstorm to arrive. It does, and it is awesome, I hear the deep rumbling noise, rolling across the sky above me. Night closes in and my second day comes to an end.

I wake to chickens this morning and open the skylight windows ever so slightly so I can hear the rain on the roof. This morning I am heading back to Wellington, but I leave feeling refreshed. This weekend has been a soak session. Soaking in nature and recharge my batteries.

The Cabin has been food for the soul.