Gateway to the Fiords

We hit the runway with a bang.

I have been on bumpy flights before, this wasn’t one of those, we just made contact with the ground with considerable force. Enough that it gave most of the passengers a fright.

“Ah, apologies for rattling all you folks with that landing, I don’t really have an explanation for it, so we will just blame it on covid.” The captains announcement gets a few laughs from the slightly startled passengers.

Today we are heading off on a little adventure I booked back in February when I thought covid was behind us. I have been looking forward to this for a long time, diligently putting money away each week. However, for the last 3 weeks, we weren’t even sure we would be able to go. Sitting on the plane, prepping for take off, it is all a little surreal, given that only 3 days ago we were in a lockdown.

All the passengers are wearing masks, it’s mandatory now to wear masks in public. Social distancing is also required. As I look around the plane at all the people, I wonder if life will ever look like our pre-covid days again. We are social creatures. We are not made for isolation.

I look out my window at the clouds. They look like big fluffy marshmallows. Like a plush, soft duvet and I just want to wrap myself in it an take a nap.

It has been a busy year with work and home renovations. I also took the majority of my leave in the first few months of the year when the weather was better, so It’s been a long time since I have had a proper break. I am looking forward to disconnecting from city life and technology and recharging my batteries by submerging myself in nature and a good book. Everyone needs this now and again.

We pick up our rental car, but before heading south, there is one stop I want to make.

Balls and Bangles.

It was closed when we were here last, so I am excited to finally get here. My bagel is great. Simple. Fresh. Done well. That’s how it should be. But the main event, donuts! OMG, the range is amazing. Daniel points out a simple cream filled one on the top counter and suggests I get that, ‘ah, no Daniel!’

This is what I am here for.

The choice was a difficult one, but I settle on a salted caramel, chocolate brownie donut to take away. (I will nibble at it in the car once I have given the bagel time to go down.)

With my donut safely stowed away, we begin the 2 hour trip South. We are heading to Te Anau. We pass The Remarkables with their peaks engulfed in cloud. They are, majestic, as always. Our route actually takes us quite close to the base of the range. I have only really seen it before from across the lake. Up close, they are just as spectacular, you get a real sense of the scale and I am intrigued by how black the rock is.

The rest of the drive is spent enjoying my sugar overloaded donut (so good) and the gorgeous scenery. There really is no limit to the inspiring beauty of the land in this area. I am pretty sure Central Otago it is my favorite place in all of New Zealand. Although, we are not staying in Otago, we are heading deep in to the south, to The Southland Region.

We arrive at Fiordland Lodge. Perched up on the hill, it has uninterrupted views out across Lake Te Anau and the mountain rage behind it. It’s raining, but the views and location are so perfect that it really doesn’t matter. We enter through the grand doors and step into what I would describe as a luxurious log cabin – timber walls, floors and ceilings. It exudes warmth and elegance. Soft, plush, blankets and cushions drape across the sofas, the huge, river stone fireplace sits in the heart of the lounge and very high, floor to ceiling windows brings the outside in. Yes, this is the perfect place to relax and explore the heart of Fiordland.

After getting a warm welcome and a tour of the property by our friendly host, Cristina, we make our way back down stairs to the lounge. I snuggle up by the fire with my book and Daniel wastes no time relaxing into holiday mode with a glass of local pinot noir. How easy it is to sit back, relax, and watch the world roll by here.

There is a break in the rain so I pop outside to listen to the birds, enjoy the stillness and breath in the fresh clean air. I can’t wait to see more.

Are you ready to come explore Fiordland with me?

Memorable Moments of Te Waipounamu

If I had to choose between the North or South Island for a holiday destination, the South Island wins hands down.

Everytime.

Don’t get me wrong, the North Island has some great attractions that are certainly worth a visit and if you are wanting warmer weather and beach holidays, then the North Island will be right up your alley.

What attracts me most to the South Island is the diversity in landscapes, it’s pristine, untouched feel and a far smaller population!

I have blogged many times about places in the South Island, but, a few years before I started writing about it, Daniel and I packed up our panniers and spent 3 weeks exploring this place on 2 wheels. It was a significant trip for me, it’s where I really fell in love with my country, with travel and with motorbiking holidays.

We visited and did some pretty cool stuff on this trip and while I can’t describe it in detail (It was 10 years ago) I would like to share with you some of those experiences. So here we are, Memorable Moments of Te Waipounamu, (South Island) before I was blogging.

P.S Te Waipounamu translates to The Waters of Greenstone. How beautiful is that! When you see the colours of the lakes and rivers and the gorgeous greenstone of the West Coast, the name conjures up some pretty beautiful imagery.

1. Abel Tasman

Seriously, this place is stunning! In high school I did a multi-day tramp through the National Park and went straight from there to a family holiday in the Cook Islands. I reckon the beaches in Abel Tasman are more beautiful. The park is a wilderness reserve located at the top of Te Waipounamu. There are lots of ways to explore this place too; kayaking, tramping, sailing and water taxis, so lots of options to suit all budgets and fitness levels. I have tramped it and done a half day kayaking tour. High on my bucket list is to return and do a multi-day kayak through the park. It won’t take long before you are completely captivated by its pristine clear waters and golden sandy bays.

2. Te WaikoroPupu Springs

Located in Tasman region, Pupu Springs are the largest fresh water springs in New Zealand. They are the largest freshwater springs in the Southern Hemisphere and have some of the clearest water in the world. I remember the walk there being fairly easy, and a quick good search reminded me that it’s a 30-45 minute loop track. The water here is undeniably clear and the colours that come through are quite something.

3. Fox Glacier

This 13 km long glacier is located on the West Coast. When we were there 10 years ago, they offered guided glacier walks, now I believe, if you want to walk on the ice, you need to do a heli-tour. It was a very cold tour, but so unique. I had never done anything like this before or experienced ice in this way. Equipped with crampons, walking poles and all the weather appropriate clothing, we were able to set out and explore this magnificent chunk of ice.

4. Curio Bay Penguins

If you head south enough, you will find yourself in The Catlins, part of the Southland region and the very bottom of Te Waipounamu. It is rugged and wild, has a very untouched feel and I have heard it described as ‘what New Zealand would have looked like before settlers’. There were a lot of things I was hoping to explore here, but the large amount of gravel roads gave us a flat tyre so we had to cut our trip in this area short. We did however manage a dusk trip down to Curio Bay to look for Hoioho. (Yellow Eyed Penguins) We were told they are very shy and to keep your distance, but the little feathered friend we spotted couldn’t have been more different. This guy was out on the rocks, strutting his stuff and seemed to be lapping up all the attention (We still kept our distance, he just wasn’t shy!)

5. State Highway 94

I know, it doesn’t sound like something that should be on a most memorable list, but let me assure you, the road to Milford Sounds is so incredibly scenic. (And super fun on 2 wheels) It is a long drive, but there are so many beautiful sights. Along this journey, you will pass through the 1.2 KM Homer Tunnel. It passes through solid rock and has a bit of a gradient, which means for the most part, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I got a bit freaked out when we entered the tunnel because I literally couldn’t see anything, although I quickly realised my tinted visor would be the cause of this. Although Daniel later confessed that he couldn’t see much either and was just aiming for the headlights of the car coming towards us!

6. Milford Sounds

We did an overnight cruise in Milford Sounds and this has to be one of my all time favorite travel memories. This is an experience I do remember in more detail. It was Spring, but there had been a fresh dumping of snow on the mountains. It was evening, all the day tours had finished and our boat was the only one in the Sounds. They asked us who wanted to go kayaking. Out of the whole boat, there were only about 8 of us who were brave enough to leave the warmth of our floating accommodation. It was pretty cold out. Picture this, Milford Sounds all to ourselves, paddling around in a kayak, next to massive snow covered fjords, that seems to reach as far up as the sky and plummet to the depth of the ocean. We were also out during a thunderstorm. The impressive booming sounds of thunder bounced around the fjords. It was one of those moments where you feel so small, but in a good way. A moment where you marvel at how incredible nature is. While I am sitting in my kayak with these thoughts, thinking it doesn’t get much better than this, a pod of dolphins turned up. The whole 2 day tour was amazing, but this was a moment that took my breath away.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I have certainly enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. What are some of your favorite travel moments?

Lockdown and our Native Birds

First of all, apologies to my followers for skipping last week’s post. It was a hard decision to make but I spent a lot of the week unwell and just didn’t have the energy to write. (Yes, I got a covid test, rather unpleasant, but great for peace of mind to know that I don’t have it)

I’m so grateful to those of you from around the world who check in each week to read what I write. I love sharing my stories, adventures and beautiful country with you all.

You may see reduced posts from me over the next few weeks. I had a plan of what I was going to write about, but we are currently in a lockdown after a case of the Delta virus was discovered in the community. This has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for my blogging, as the only travelling I can currently do is laps around the block!

Nethertheless, I am so grateful that I get to call this place home. I am grateful for New Zealand’s fast, unified response to covid. Our team of 5 million have and are working hard to eradicate covid from our shores. This has meant that we have been able to spend the majority of this covid world with so many freedoms and the opportunity to enjoy exploring our own backyard with very few restrictions. For the most part of 2020 and 2021, life here has been reasonably normal.

We have a bucket list trip booked for early/mid September which we have been looking forward to for the last 6 months. I am hopeful that we will still be able to do this, but if we have to postpone it, I know that it is for good reason. To my New Zealand readers, hang in there. This is not forever, we are all in this together and I am confident that we will once again see covid eliminated from our communities and home.

I have been working from home this week and have enjoyed seeing the birds that visit our garden. We are lucky to have native birds around here, and I do see them frequently, but they are even more plentiful during lockdown, when there are far fewer cars and people out and about. So, I thought I would do a post on some of our beautiful native birds.

One of my favorites, and a frequent visitor to our garden is the Kereru. A large, chubby wood pigeon that defies gravity every time they fly. You hear them before you see them, the distinctive whooshing sounds of their wings trying to keep such a large body airborne, and the crashing about in the trees as they attempt to land on branches far to thin to support their weight. Their iridescent coloured plumage and striking white chest, makes them, I think, a really attractive bird. They were traditionally hunted for their feathers and meat but it is now illegal and their population numbers are good. I had an amazing experience earlier this year when a kereru landed on the edge of a spa pool my nephew and I were in. Seeing it that close, it’s feathers and colours in so much detail, it was such a highlight.

Image by Nel Botha from Pixabay – Kereru

The Tui is another frequent visitor to our garden. They love the nectar that is in the plants surrounding our home. I have always thought them very pretty birds, again their plumage is iridescent with distinctive white feathers adorning their neck. They also have the most beautiful song. I learned recently that they have 2 voice boxes. This enables them to produce such varied sounds and melodies. After observing them over the years I have noticed they are quite territorial birds, you will often find them chasing away other birds, including other tui, sometimes with quite a lot of aggression. For this reason, they have dropped a little on my favorite list! They are very common in New Zealand, although I have just learnt that there is a Chatham Island tui that is a threatened species.

Photos by my talented husband

Piwakawaka, also known as the fantail. You can’t help but love these cheeky, friendly, curious little birds. While I have seen them at home, you are far more likely to see them in the bush. I did see one last week at home, darting about the large tree in the neighbors garden. It was being chased by an angry tui. They make a distinctive cheep-cheep sound and have a striking striped tail which is revealed when fanned out.

Image by LorryM from Pixabay

The Tauhou, or Silvereye is another little bird that has just started to visit my garden. From time to time I will put wild bird seed out. It is the little Tauhou that seem to be attracted to this. (Which is good news, my bird feeder would break in a second if a Kereru tried to feed from it!) They are a mossy green colour with a silver ring around their eye and similar size to a sparrow.

The Pukeko, also known as a ‘swamp hen’ to early settlers, is a bird I have always found a little unusual. Not so much in it’s looks, but in the way it moves. It’s long legs and big claws that move in such a distinctive way, that I think, makes them look prehistoric. They can fly, although not very well. They are pretty common in New Zealand. You will likely see them on your travels here. A work colleague of mine has one that has kind of become a pet, it visits his garden regularly to say hello and see what food is on the menu. These birds are also territorial, and much to my horror, I have learnt that they sometimes eat baby chicks.

Image by Montevideo from Pixabay

The Takahe is a bit like a pukeko, they are similar in colour and shape, but a heavier build and short legs. for 50 years they were thought to be extinct, but were then rediscovered in Fiordland in 1948. Since then, a lot of effort has gone into conservation and breeding programs. I have wanted to see one of these for a long time and finally managed to last year when I visited Zealandia

Image by Violet K from Pixabay – Takahe

A bird I don’t think I have seen, but definitely heard is the Ruru, also known as the morepork. They are a small owl, nocturnal and feed on large insects and small mammals like mice. The have incredible hearing, large eyes and can turn their head 270 degrees. You will hear them at night, making their echoey call which sounds like they are saying ‘morepork’. While I have heard them from time to time in residential areas, I remember their call more from my childhood when we would go on camping holidays.

Photo by Tony Stoddard on Unsplash

One day I hope to see a Kiwi in the wild. I have seen them in the zoo, but encountering an animal in it’s natural habitat is something quite special. I did a kiwi spotting tour at Zealandia a few years back. We heard their call, but didn’t see any. I was hoping for another attempt to see them earlier this year when we were in Okarito, but we had just missed the tour season. There are 5 varieties of kiwi, all needing help and protection not to become extinct. They are curious birds, flightless, nocturnal and don’t have tails. Stoats, ferrets, rats and dogs pose a big threat to our national icon.

If you want to get out and about to try and spot some of our beautiful birds, Zealandia in Karori or Kapiti Island are great places to explore.

Memorable Places – The North Island

I have been blogging for a little over 18 months now. This is my 82nd post and in that time I have been to some truly magical places and done some pretty incredible things.

I haven’t done a lot of travel as of late. This is partly due to it being winter and finances ( or should I say over spending on trips in the Summer months!) And now of course, Covid will play a part in that. I am writing this post on day 1 of lockdown.

But even before I started blogging and sharing my adventures with the world, I loved travel and exploring New Zealand. So from the comfort (and safety) of my home, I thought today I would share some of the great places I have traveled to, before I started blogging. I certainly hope to get back to these places in the near future and be able to write about them for you in more detail, but for now, here is a little snapshot of some great places in the amazing land I get to call home.

1. Cathedral Cove, Waikato

You will find Cathedral Cove in the sunny Coromandel. Soaked in sunshine and famous for it’s beautiful beaches, it’s a great place to rest and unwind. It was a few years ago that we visited here, so I am a little forgetful on the details, but I do remember having to walk from a car park to access this beach. We were touring on our motorbike, so of course had to do the walk down in our motorbike gear, carrying our helmet and gloves. This is always hot work! But the cove, oh how gorgeous. Framed by a huge rock arch and edged with beautiful golden sand, this place is so worth the visit. It is very picturesque and a wonderful place to spend a day swimming, sun bathing and reading a book.

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2. Hot Water Beach, Waikato

Also located in the Coromandel, hot water beach is a unique experience. The best time to visit is 2 hours either side of low tide. Take a spade with you, dig a hole in the sand and enjoy soaking in your own natural thermal pool. When you get too hot, you can cool off in the ocean right next to you. You may want choose your site near the ocean so the waves can enter your pool and cool it down. I remember the water got pretty hot! We also made a rookie mistake of putting on the sunscreen, heading to the beach, then stripping down to our swimsuits and forgetting to put on more sun screen. It created some unusual sun burn marks and was rather uncomfortable wearing motorbike leathers for the next few days!

3. Cape Reinga, Northland

The very top of the Long White Cloud, Cape Reinga is the most northern part of New Zealand. I had heard that at Cape Reinga, you could see the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean collide. I really didn’t understand how you could see two bodies of water, that surely are only that by name, collide. But, believe me, you do and it is quite a sight to see. There is a lot of history in this area and could really sense the spirituality of this place, which is significant in Maori culture. We took a day trip here on a coach tour from Paihia, although it was a long day, it was well worth it. The tour also included a few other things like 90 Mile Beach, sand tobogganing and visiting a kauri museum.

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4. Waipoua Forest, Northland

Just a short walk from the road side, into Waipoua Forest is a tree. This isn’t just any tree though, it’s Tane Mahuta, a giant kauri tree, estimated to be around 1250 to 2500 years old. He holds a presence in the forest like none other and when you first set eyes on him, he will leave you breathless. I loved watching new visitors come around the corner and gasp. He really is the King of the Forest.

5. Kawau Island, Auckland

It’s one of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf and is full of history. Its an interesting place to explore for the day, or book some accommodation and stay a while. As you arrive into Mansion House Bay you are greeted by a stately home. This was the home of Sir George Grey, one of New Zealand’s first Governors who also owned the island for a period of time. While there, he created beautiful gardens full of exotic plants from around the world. Step back in time and take a wander through the old home experiencing a glimpse of mid 19th century New Zealand. Head out for a walk, spot some wallabies and peacocks or take a dip in the ocean to cool off.

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6. Rawene, Northland

I was only going to write about 5 places, but Rawene was too good to leave out. I didn’t really know anything about this place, it was just a convenient location for us to stop for the night. It’s a small, quiet town, the perfect place to slow down. And the sunsets – the best I have ever seen. They were incredible. I’d come here again just for them. We purchased simple food from the organic shop and cooked it on a BBQ while taking a dip in the pool and watching the firey red sun slip away into the night. Enjoying the simple things in life.

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So there you have it. 6 places you might like to check out on your next New Zealand adventure. Looking back at photos as I write this has brought back some lovely memories. It has also reminded me how lucky I am to have been able to do so much travelling and exploring. New Zealand is quite a gem.

Next week I will share some memories of South Island places I visited before I started blogging.

Staycation Part 2

In Italy, I shamelessly ate chocolate filled pastries for breakfast every single day for 3 weeks.

As we check out of the hotel, I notice a lot of people across the road and remember that there is a weekly Sunday market here. We haven’t had breakfast, so I dash out across the road to see what delights I can find. No chocolate filled pastries, but I do manage to find an almond croissant dusted with icing sugar. Oh yes! It was divine!

With breakfast taken care of, we head to the first activity I have planned. The traditional wedding anniversary gift for 11 years is steel, so today, we are going axe throwing!

We arrive at Sweet Axe Throwing. We sign our lives away with the waiver form, go through a health and safety briefing and then the lessons begin. There are 3 different axes and we are shown how to throw each of them. Each requires a different technique. There are also option for throwing with 1 or 2 hands. Our “Axe-pert” patiently helps us with our techniques as we discover what works best for us. Daniel and I both even manage to get some axes on the board.

With music pumping and training complete, the tournament can now begin. We each choose our axe and line up. The battle begins. Daniel wins this round. And then the next round. Daniel was initially not looking forward to this as he’s a bit uncoordinated with his throwing but as he realizes his competition is not that tough, he starts to enjoy it more.

We then have a 3 minute quick fire competition, who can get the most points in 3 minutes. I tell you what, axe throwing is pretty physical! I am completely “axe-hausted” at the end of it. And Daniel wins again.

Last round. Winner takes all. This is my chance. Throw after throw, my axes connect with the board while Daniel’s drop to the ground. I am in the lead, this is looking good. But then I miss a couple and Daniel gets a couple of high scores.

It’s our last throw. Daniel steps up to the line. His axe soars through the air and makes contact. He scores and is now in the lead. I just need 1 point to draw, 2 points for the win. I just need to put the axe on the board and we will walk away as equals. I step up to the mark, line up my throw, draw back my arm….. My axe flies through the air, it hits the board and bounces off.

Game over.

Even though I couldn’t walk away as winner, it was so much fun. It’s always nice to do something a bit different.

With all that axe throwing, we have worked up an appetite so we head out to the Hutt Valley to Gorilla Burger. It’s another lovely sunny day and we enjoy sitting out in the courtyard, soaking up the sun, snacking on haloumi chips and burgers. It’s a wonderful, relaxed way to spend the time. I think we will be coming here again for Sunday brunch.

We have one last stop for our staycation weekend. Xcape Wellington. Neither of us have done an escape room before, we are not quite sure what to expect but are both looking forward to it. We have chosen one of their easiest rooms (also with a low scare rating, I hate scary things)

We enter the room with no real instructions of what to do, just our wits, intelligence and team work to answer questions and solve puzzles to try and escape the room. We spend the full hour in there and don’t quite manage to conquer it. We do however, finish up still married and liking each other, so I’d say it was a success!

This was another really fun activity and I think we will be going back again to try another one of their rooms.

When we think of holidays, our minds often head straight overseas or to another city away from home. These options are great, but if you do a bit of research and planning, I think you will find all sorts of unique and exciting things to do, right in your back yard.

Have you ever been on a staycation?

Staycation Part 1

As I head out down the driveway I get a few grumpy barks from Frankie. She is not impressed that she is being left behind and is making sure I know it. (I really must find a holiday I can take them on!)

This weekend, Daniel and I decided to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary with a Staycation. So today, we are off to Wellington city.

Daniel is working till mid afternoon, so I decide to head in early on the train. It’s a rare, still Winter’s day. The water is so flat. Boats peacefully bob up and down in the harbour as a small swell in the water gently laps against the wharf. Seagulls are out squawking, effortlessly gliding through the air. Wellington has put on a great day.

Wellingtonians are out enjoying a drink at the many waterfront bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to soak up the last of the afternoon sun. The waterfront is a picturesque place enjoyed by many. People are out walking or running, on scooters and bicycles, having a chat in the sun and walking their dogs.

As I stroll by Kaffee Eis , I can’t help but call in for an ice cream. When I lived in Wellington CBD many years ago, I probably enjoyed this far too much, but it has been a long time since I have had one and my feet lead me straight up to the queue. It looks like a lot of other people have had the same idea. When I get to the counter, more than half the flavours have sold out. There is a passionfruit one though and that suits me just fine.

I enjoy the sweet creaminess of my gelato looking out across the harbour while listening to a busker. Sunshine, ice cream, music, views. A simple pleasure and time well spent.

I check in at QT Hotel. I love this place. Every wall and corner is filled with art. Sculptures, paintings, fashion, even a motorbike. It’s quirky and exciting. I take my time heading to our room, taking in all the colour and forms.

After a bit of a nap and soak in the bath (It’s a staycation after all, it’s meant to be relaxing) we head down to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, The Hippopotamus.

At the Hippopotamus we are transported to a French court. Bright colours, luxurious textiles, and chic style, this place is a feast for the eyes. And to top it off, we are able to enjoy great views out across the harbour, watching the city lights twinkle off the ocean.

I am excited to see truffles on the menu. The first time I had truffles was a couple of years ago in Italy. I indulged in them, fell in love with them, and haven’t seen them on the menu anywhere since. So there are no guesses here as to what I will be ordering.

My entree is a gorgeous, silky smooth pasta in a delicately creamy sauce with huge shavings of Perigord Black Truffle from Christchurch. My mouth is watering long before my entree even arrives as I can smell the truffles in the air. This meal does not disappoint. It takes me back to Italy.

My main is a feast of Winter foraging. Pumpkin, chickpeas, kale, kumera, parsnip, herbs, radishes and more, come together to beautifully celebrate the delights this season has to offer.

Next is dessert. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and whenever we are out for dinner, it’s always the first section of the menu I look at. Before I even look at the entree’s and mains, I already know what I am going to have for dessert. I had decided on the signature dish, a deer milk gelato with honey comb and a few other things. Now here’s a funny story. I am feeling rather full at this stage and as Daniel tells me he is planning on ordering the same thing, I ask if I can share his. He reluctantly agrees. I head off to the bathroom and not long after I return, dessert is brought out. Just one plate, but I note that it looks like a rather generous portion. Turns out Daniel had told the waiter that I wanted to share his dessert and could we have a larger portion brought out on one plate. Very sneaky. But this kind of backfires as I have a few mouthfuls and decided it’s not really my thing and he is left to eat it all.

Happy anniversary Daniel.

Enjoying Sunny Blenheim

We disembark the Coastal Pacific train in Blenheim after a scenic and relaxing 5 hour journey with KiwiRail. The place is drenched in sunshine. It’s a perfect winter’s day. The air is still and the bright blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see.

We head across the road to our accommodation for the night at Waterside Motel. Our room has some lovely views over the river.

After a quick rest, we head out to explore the town and have a wander around the shops. We don’t have long here and I want to make the most of the afternoon. It almost feels tropical, there is warmth in the sun, the chill from the morning air has long passed and palm like trees are dotted along the river side. Blenheim enjoys some of the highest annual hours of sunshine in the country and I am certainly enjoying it.

Our walk takes us to Seymour Square. The bell tower is ringing and the water fountain is perfectly symmetrical in the center of the park. Dotted along the back fence is a sea of yellow. It may be winter, but in Blenheim, the daffodils are already out, soaking up the sunshine. Spring is on it’s way.

After enjoying the stillness of The Square for a while, we continue our walk along the river bank. It’s an easy walk and lots of people are out enjoying the place. Cyclists, people on scooters, parents with prams and dogs. Life seems to have a slower pace here. A pace that has time to stop and enjoy the warmth of the sun, or read a book in the park. It is too easy these days to make life super busy. Slowing down and taking time has become an art. One which I would like to learn.

Our next stop is The Wine Station situated right next to, you guessed it, the train station. I noticed it when first arrived in Blenheim and knew I needed to come back here. Marlborough is a well renowned wine region, but we are without a car and only have the afternoon, so visiting the different wineries isn’t really possible. The Wine Station makes it easy. They have about 60 wines from around the region available for tasting. It’s self-service, a bit like a vending machine. You can read the notes about the wine, decide on the tasting size, swipe your card and out comes the wine.

Perfect.

We take a seat on the comfy leather sofas, next to the fire and sample the wines. I try a pinot gris, a riesling and a deliciously sweet and sticky late harvest sav. Its a lovely way to spend the rest of the afternoon, sipping wine and having a laugh.

As we head out to dinner, all the birds are chattering away, settling into the trees for the evening. It’s dusk’s chorus. The town looks pretty at night, with all the twinkling lights. The plan was to go out for a nice dinner, but I hadn’t made any reservations. When we arrived at the restaurant I had picked out, we found it was closed for a private function. So dinner ended up being a takeaway pizza and Netflix. Not what was planned, but it has been an action packed 3 days so a quiet, relaxing evening in turned out to be a lovely alternative.

The next morning we make our way home to Wellington on the shortest flight I have ever been on. A total of 18 minutes! We are on a small plane that seats 50 people and it is flying much lower than what I am used to. This gives us some pretty good views! The sun is making the land golden. It looks as though someone has draped velvet across the valleys and hills. Before I know it, we touch down in Wellington. We are home.

Coastal Pacific Train

A train. 6 hours and 350km.

Today we are making our way from Christchurch to Blenheim on the Coastal Pacific Train.

It’s still dark when we depart Christchurch. I will be able to watch the sun come up.

We take our seats in the front carriage next to the big glass windows. I expect we will see some pretty awesome views on this journey.

The rain is glistening on the windows as we pass through residential areas, the street lights twinkling as a burnt orange horizon mixes into a deep inky blue sky. The bare winter trees silhouette against the dawn. Morning has broken.

I head down to the open carriage to get some photos (I hate taking photos through glass.) Jeepers creepers, it’s fresh out here, but so beautiful. The golden hues spilling out across the land as we pass a river that reflects the colours back.

We pass through frosty farmland, blanketed in white. The air is crisp and cold. Actually freezing. I’m the only one mad enough to be out here. Even though the cold air is numbing my face and hands, the beauty that I am seeing keeps me out here for sometime.

As I make my way back to our carriage, I pass row after row of people engrossed with their phones, their ipads and reading books. It’s so sad. They are missing the beauty right in front of them.

I take a seat and appreciate the soft pink and blue hues of the sky. We then hear an announcement over the speakers. The viewing cart is now closed due to safety reasons. The floor is very icy and slippery. I agree, it was, but I am also disappointed that I wont be able to take glass free photos and feel the wind in my face, despite how cold it was.

I settle into my seat and look out the window. There is a dusting of snow on the distant mountains. We pass through the Waipara vineyards and the rolling green hills that look like a Colin McCahon painting. The colours soft and delicate.

The hills are becoming sun kissed, slowly defrosting from the cold night. The sun is just about to peak out from behind a hill. I can see the golden rays. We come around the corner, I expect to see the sun, I have my camera ready, but instead, we are greeted by a thick blanket of fog. Mist is twisting through the bare winter trees. It’s magical, but also a little eerie. I half expect to see Harry Potter dementors coming out from the woods.

After quite some time, we exit the fog. My eyes settle on a beautiful sage green river. The surrounding landscape is rich and warm in colour. Day is here. The sun is very bright now, it is here to stay. We pass braided rivers and snow dusted mountains.

And then we get our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. A brilliant ocean of glorious blue, stretching as far as the eye can see. Fortunately the viewing carriage is re opened. This time, I am not the only one.

There is 100Km of coastline. It is home to lots of wildlife. Apparently sometime passengers will spot dolphins or sperm whales. I see a lot of sea birds and even some seals out on the rocks, soaking up the sun.

On one side we have the mighty Pacific Ocean. On the other, the Kaikoura Ranges, dusted in snow. Snow always makes everything look so magical. What a glorious day for travelling.

We then pass though some salt flats. I am amazed at the range of colours; bright turquoise, grey and pink tones. As we approach Marlborough the vineyards become more prominent. We finally reach our destination. Blenheim. The train actually goes right through to Picton. A lot of passengers will get off here and take the ferry across to Wellington. We are also Wellington bound, but my mum gets bad sea sickness so we have decided to enjoy a night in Blenheim and take a short flight home the next day. I love that this is also an option.

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There are 3 ‘Great Journeys’ Trains in New Zealand. The Northern Explorer running between Auckland and Wellington. The TranzAlpine that connects Christchurch to Greymouth and the Coastal Pacific traveling between Christchurch and Picton. This was my first time doing any of them and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is such a relaxing way to travel and I loved watching the changing landscape.

Punting on the Avon

It’s a cool, crisp morning as we head out across the road to an art memorial.

It’s known as 185 Empty Chairs.

185 different chairs, spread out across what used to be the floor of St. Luke’s Church. Now, all that remains is the bell tower and the installed empty white chairs. One chair for every person who lost their life in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

It’s early morning. The birds are waking. The air is still. This is a place of rest. A place for remembering.

As I stand there in the silence, looking around me, I notice a couple of tiny chairs. And it hits me. I knew young children and babies also lost their lives, but to see it displayed like this, it stopped me in my tracks. Each chair in fact tells it’s own story, of a person, of a life, one that ended too soon. It’s a very powerful memorial. I take a moment to be grateful for the life I have.

From here we head to Hagley Park for a walk along the river. I love how the Avon River runs right through the city. The park is full of deciduous trees. The last of the Autumn leaves are scattered on the ground, leaving the tall elegant, leafless trees to creating silhouettes against a bright blue sky. There is something very magical about Winter, when the day is dry and clear, the air is cool and there isn’t a Wellington gale force wind blowing.

The water in the Avon is surprisingly clear. I am so used to seeing dirty polluted streams. I hope this becomes a more common sight. The ducks are enjoying the water too and from a bridge, I watch a couple of piwakawaka (fantail) darting about, skimming the water, presumably trying to catch their breakfast.

We reach the Botanical Gardens and come across a hot house which we take a stroll through. The warmth is a welcomed change. Inside is a lush oasis of green. There are several rooms and each seems to get a little warmer. There is one with cacti, another with orchids. The last room is the most impressive though. It has a high ceiling and is filled with plants. There is the sound of running water and climbing plants growing right up to the top. I feel like I am in a jungle.

And I don’t want to leave.

Partly because I am enjoying all the plants, but if I am honest, it’s mostly because I know how cold it will feel outside. But we can’t stay here forever and we have 1 more stop to make.

We brave the outdoors and follow the river down to the Antigua Boat Sheds. I don’t want to leave Christchurch without going for a punt on the Avon River. It’s just the 2 of us on the boat with our guide. We are given a blanket and hot water bottle to keep us cosy and warm before we set off. Our guide shares the local history of the area and all about punting, as we glide ever so gracefully down the river. The boat moves so smoothly through the water. We had just walked the this way alongside the river, but seeing it from this level gives another perspective.

After half an hour of soothing punting it’s time for us to leave the warmth of the hot water bottle and blanket behind. What a great way to experience The Garden City.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Christchurch. It’s an exciting, re-emerging city that is colourful and vibrant, filled with an amazing selection of cafes, restaurants and bars. It has done an incredible job of moving forward and looking to the future, without forgetting it’s past. Christchurch has seen some pretty dark days but it has risen up and is claiming it’s place on the tourist map once again.

The Garden City

The engine begins whirring and the propellors spring into life. It’s a rather noisy plane, we are on a little ATR 72-600 on our way to Christchurch.

It’s a morning departure, 8am. It’s a beautiful time to fly. The colours in the sky are soft and peachy, the clouds have golden highlights. It was a dreary, grey, Wellington day, but above the clouds it is always sunny.

I take a look through the inflight magazine, Kia Ora. A picture of Aitutaki, Cook Islands, is on the cover. It looks so inviting with it’s turquoise blue waters. Its white sandy beach is so alluring. However, the majority of the content in this edition is about Aotearoa. It takes me on a photo journey of food festivals, dark sky reserves and glacier hiking. I am quickly reminded again just how extraordinary New Zealand is. There is so much to see and do here. So much beauty to behold. I think I could happily spend a lifetime discovering my homeland.

We touch down in Christchurch. ‘The Garden City’ has put on a stunning winter’s day for us. A bright blue sky and a windless day.

After leading my mum in the wrong direction for about 10 minutes, she takes over map reading and we finally arrive at our Airbnb to drop off our bags. (Never trust me with maps or directions!) We are staying in a modern town house on the edge of the city. A perfect location for exploring.

The last time I was in Christchurch was about 18 months after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. A lot of the city was damaged and 185 lives were lost. Even 18 months later I remember experiencing aftershocks. The place was in ruins, buildings destroyed, homes destroyed and rubble around the place. So much of the city would need to be replaced.

10 years on the city is flourishing. It is funky and vibrant. There are enticing restaurants and bars, pop up shops, parks and lots of trees. There is a really interesting juxtaposition of old and new buildings. All around the city is vibrant, quirky, colourful street art painted on the sides of buildings. Even the last remaining ruined buildings have a certain beauty to them. There is no lack of things to see here. The heart of the city has started beating again.

Our first stop is Riverside Market. The lane way into the market is filled with boutique shops. We walk past a Chocolaterie claiming to make the best hot chocolates. I tuck that one away in the back of my mind to try later. Inside the market is an exciting range of eateries, international foods, sweets, pastries and more. I spot a truffle stand and spend some time talking to one of the staff. I haven’t had fresh truffles since Italy, (where I may have over indulged.) They are so decadent and delicious. I love talking to local food artisans and produce suppliers, they are always so passionate about what they do. I walk away from the stall with a business card – The Sassy Salt Lady can forage for truffles for you and send them anywhere in the country. This could get expensive!

Inside, the market is fun, funky and bustling. It’s midday and this seems to be the place to grab lunch. So that’s what we do. It does take us a couple of trips around the market looking at everything before we can decide what to order. There are so many scrumptious looking things. We settle on a Cornish pastie from The Great Pastry Shop and head outside to eat in the sun. The pastry is creamy, buttery and oh so good. Sparrows start appearing in numbers, patiently waiting for the crumbs to drop. They rustle about in the leaves and flitter through the nearby trees. They don’t have to wait long though, I am sure Mum must have fed them half her pastry!

With our tummies full, we take a short walk to the Wall of Remembrance. The names of the 185 people who lost their lives in the earthquake are etched into the stone. Friends and family have left photos, poems and flowers at the base of the wall. There is stillness here. A place to stop and reflect. To remember. May they rest in peace.

We wander back home through the city, taking time to look in shops and soak in the atmosphere. And yes, we head back to try the ‘Best Hot Chocolate’ from She Chocolaterie. We enter the shop and are greeted by the warm, rich smell of chocolate. Decadent, but not overly sweet. We get offered a sample and then we are hooked. It’s so good, we have to get one. We stay in the shop for some time, people watching, resting out feet and enjoying the rich warm chocolaty goodness of our drinks.