Port William Day Walk

So far, we have been incredibly lucky with the weather and it’s been amazing exploring Rakiura in the sun. However, today we get to experience what it’s like in the rain.

This morning we are heading out to do a self guided, half day walk from Port William. But before we venture out on a walk, we need to fuel up with some breakfast, so we head back to The Snuggery, it’s a shame they aren’t doing dinners at the moment, we would have loved to have come back here for that. Today, breakfast is a bagel with cream cheese and jam. Delicious. I love that combo! It’s a bit of a rushed breakfast as we need to get down to the wharf to catch the water taxi.

On our way to the wharf, we stop at the supermarket to pick up our pre-ordered lunches, then meet up with Dan, who is our skipper this morning. We get chatting and find out that he is also our guide for the kiwi tour this evening. We are joined by a group of 6 and then get on the water taxi. The water at the wharf is so clear. Although deep, you can easily see the bottom.

Dan tells us we are lucky that it’s a pretty calm day so our trip will be nice and cruisy. As we leave the wharf, we are treated to brilliant views of a huge rainbow stretching right across the bay. We are in a prime position and can see both ends. Gosh, this is a magical place.

For a calm, still day, our water taxi is bumping up and down a lot. There are a number of times we rise up and then slap back down into the water. I am fortunate not to have much of an issue with sea sickness, but my tummy is reminding me of the bagel sitting in it. I’m not too sure I want to know what a ride out here would be like on a rough day. We follow the coastline around and Dan makes a couple of stops on the way, the first being Lee Bay, to show us where the walk ends and instructions on how to call for a taxi (You have to stand in a certain spot to get reception). The second stop is at Maori Bay which he informs us is approximately half way and with today’s tides, if we arrive there after 11am we should take the high route. Useful information!

We arrive at our first destination, Port William, and get off the boat. We will spend the next 3- 4 hours walking back towards Lee Bay.

Port William is situated on another picture perfect bay surrounded by bush, which we venture straight into. And like a lot of New Zealand bush, it is lush and green. The walk we are doing makes up part of the 3 day Rakiura great walk. Although I really enjoy walking, neither Daniel or I are really trampers and I love that we can experience some of this Great Walk without having to carry packs and sleep in tents.

This Great Walk is very popular and can be walked all year round. Because of its popularity, the track is really well maintained and signposted. We trek up for a while, getting quite high and then drop back down into the valley. The forest is beautiful. I love the forest when it rains, it becomes even more alive. The little dewy water droplets and the smell makes it magical. In some ways I prefer it to a walk on a hot sunny day.

I love looking at all the layers in the forest too, the way all the different plant species support one another and the birds. The forest canopy is doing a great job of protecting us from the rain, but every now and again a gentle breeze blows through, rustling the leaves and dumping heavy droplets of water on us.

After a couple of hours walking, we reach Māori Beach. Another gorgeous bay. I really had no idea how gorgeous the Rakiura coastline was. On the beach I notice some tracks that I think might be kiwi, so I take a photo to show our guide tonight.

It’s still raining so we take shelter at the DOC kitchen (Department of Conservation) and decide to stop for a snack. It’s amazing how quickly you can cool down. I was very warm while we were walking but now we have stopped, it’s not long before I am feeling the cold and reaching for my sweater.

After having a bit of a rest, we carry on with our walk, taking a short detour up to the old sawmill site. Back in the day, there was quite a large Scottish logging settlement here. Now all that remains are the relics of their sawmill equipment. This would have been a beautiful place to live but very challenging, remote and cold in the winters.

Back in the forest, I am glad for the shelter it provides us, but am also loving the cool, misty rain that manages to get through and land on my face. When I am not distracted by my heavy breathing, I am listening to the forest. The soft pitter patter of rain on the canopy, rushing water from the nearby stream, the rhythmic rolling ocean, the tui’s melodic song and the little peeps from a fantail. Even the trees are speaking, creaking as they sway in the wind. I love it when I slow down and take in what’s around me. There is so much to notice and so much that’s missed when we rush through life.

As Daniel said, it looks like New Zealand forest. But there is also so much variety. Some areas are dotted with tall, lanky trees that sway in the wind. Other parts are thick and dense. Large trees are covered in smaller plants and some low lying areas covered in ferns and moss. It’s pretty special.

When we emerge from the bush at Lee Bay, the rain has stopped. We decide to sit at the picnic table and have some lunch. We are joined shortly after by more rain and a little bird. I am not sure what it is, she is black with a white chest, shy but also curious. I am sure our guide for Ulva Island tomorrow will be able to tell us what sort of bird it is.

As we head to the car park, we see ‘The Anchor’ sculpture. It is inspired by the story of Māui who fished up Te Waipounamu (The South Island) and anchored it with Rakiura (Stewart Island). There is a matching sculpture in Bluff (the bottom of Te Waipounamu) which we saw on a previous trip. This sculpture is a lovely end to our half day walk exploring Rakiura National Park.

Exploring Rakiura – By Kayak

Phil’s Sea Kayak picks us up from our accommodation and takes us for a short drive over to the boat sheds in Golden Bay. We love kayaking and often do tours when we are on holiday. I did a lot of last minute booking on this trip and was grateful he could fit us in today. We get kitted up in all the gear, have a safety briefing and some training on paddling, then, we are ready to go.

We launch into the sea and paddle out towards 3 small islands, known as the Three Sisters: Faith, Hope & Charity. We paddle around them, taking a passage between 2 of them. Phil tells us that at high tide, the 3 islands become 4 islands, Faith, Hope, And, Charity.

This afternoon we are exploring Paterson Inlet. It’s a very large Inlet with over 100km of coastline. While we explore by kayak, Phil shares some of the history of the area, the Norwegian whaling boats, the people and the tribes that have lived here. We also learn about the incredible Tītī (muttonbirds) that call this place home. Each year, they fly 1,000’s of miles to Asia and Alaska but they always return to the very same island they were born, in order to breed. Their feathers and meat were an important trade item for Rakiura Māori. I didn’t like the story about how they are harvested when they are just chicks.

While on this tour we are shown a plant called muttonbird scrub. This particular plant has very large leaves that don’t go brittle or break when old. They become leathery and more like paper. It was common to stamp them and use them for writing your letter on, back in the days, how fascinating!

As we kayak, we have great views of the forest from the water. Most of the forest is uniform in height, but every now and again we see a grand Rimu standing tall above the rest of the forest. These trees were used for timber, but some of them have trunks that split early and so they were left. Their trunks were not straight and long enough to make it worth harvesting. It’s sad so many were cut down. They are impressive trees that really have a presence. They say if an adult can’t wrap their arms right around it, then it’s over 100 years old. Some of these trees have been here for a very long time.

Some of the inlet is very calm with easy kayaking, other parts are very exposed and rough with waves that rock our kayak up and down. I am in the front of our kayak and each time the front slaps down into the water, I am sprayed. It’s all part of the fun right? Daniel is quite happy that I am taking the brunt of this. We see a couple of albatross in the distance and look back to watch them. They are so impressive to see sailing in the sky, they have an enormous wingspan and are really quite breathtaking to watch.

We then kayak past a beach with several sea lions on it. Something I learn is that fur seals hang out on rocks, but sea lions head to the beaches. They are quite active and Phil said they were in the water and followed the kayaks around on the morning tour. No such luck this time, but we still have a great view of them. We hear one roar and watch a couple frolic about in the waves before we head back.

By the time we arrive at Golden Bay, the wind has dropped right away. The water is flat and still. I never get tired of this peacefulness. We had a great time with Phil on this tour. He is an expert guide with a lot of local knowledge. I loved learning more about the area.

Dinner is at the pub again and we are pleased to get a prime seat in the window with views out over Half Moon Bay. But this is short lived as we realise that with minimal lights, as soon as the sun goes down, the views go with it. Rakiura is showing me glimpses of what our world was like before technology, cars and lights. I quite like it.

Exploring Rakiura – By e-bike

I wake up to the sound of birds outside our room. No noise from trains or cars, just nature. I wrap myself in a blanket and sit outside on the porch, watching the day wake up. I love how quiet and peaceful it is.

This is our first day here, so we head down the road to the town center to check out the options for breakfast. We find ourselves in The Snuggery. A retro cafe with funky 70’s vibes, cheese graters for light shades and lots of indoor plants. It’s so cosy and inviting. I think this place will be a favourite of mine. The food is good too. Daniel has cheese rolls and I have a cheese scone and lemon, honey & ginger drink. We stay here for a while, chatting and eating. It’s a lovely slow start to the morning.

With our tummy’s full from breakfast we make our way a little further down the street to Stewart Island Electric Bikes. We are planning to explore the island by E-bike this morning and have perfect weather. We have them for 2 hours and have a couple of places we want to visit. We begin by heading East towards Ackers Stone Cottage. We pedal alongside gorgeous bays. Before arriving on Rakiura, I had pictured wild, rugged coastlines, and some of it is, but I had never envisioned beautifully pristine, golden sandy bays. But there are, we cycle past many, each one as beautiful as the next.

When we get to the end of the road, we leave the bikes and do a short walk through a forest. We come to a clearing and there we see Ackers Cottage. Lewis Ackers built the cottage himself in the first half of the 19th century and lived there with his wife and 9 children! I can’t even imagine how they could all fit!

Perched up on a small hill, it has spectacular views overlooking a picture perfect, golden sandy bay. It’s so idyllic. What a place to live! The water is clear and so inviting. Why didn’t I pack my swimsuit?

After romanticising briefly about what it would be like to live here, we head back to the bikes and cycle in the other direction towards Horseshoe Bay. Even on an e-bike, I am quite slow. Especially when there are hills. I ride cautiously and take my time. Daniel is much more confident and tends to leave me behind, pausing every now and again so that I can catch up. This results in a communication breakdown and I end up cycling up a very, very, steep hill to Observation Rock, with no sign of Daniel in sight. I am super puffed from that cycle so I take a few moments to enjoy the fantastic views. It’s pretty amazing. It was a hard detour, but a good one. Apparently this is a good place for watching sunsets and Aurora hunting, but I don’t fancy walking up here in the dark, or anytime really, it’s way too steep!

Fortunately there is cell phone reception up there so Daniel and I are able to locate each other and I carry on my journey towards him. He is way over the other side of the island by Butterfields Beach. It takes me a while to get there and I arrive sweating, huffing and puffing. Rakiura sure does have a lot of hills! But it’s another spectacular beach and it makes it all worth it. I take a little walk along the beach, again wishing that I had packed my swimsuit.

After cycling up and over yet another hill, we arrive at Horseshoe Bay. I saw this place from the air yesterday and can understand why it has this name.

The road ends and we take the e-bikes along a walking track. We were told we could take them up to a certain point which is marked and would then have to walk the rest of the distance to the look out. It’s not difficult terrain, but I am not confident and find it rather challenging to navigate over all the rocks and tree roots. I’m nervous, but I do it. The very last part is incredibly steep and I don’t hit it with enough momentum. I am using all my strength to cycle but I’m barley moving. I start shouting oh no, oh no, oh no, as I wobble and nearly fall over. Somehow I manage to stay upright and make it to the top.

After a short walk we make it to Horseshoe Point Lookout and are rewarded with more great views, this time out over Foveaux Strait.

We can’t stay long as we need to get back to return the bikes so I soak up the views and walk back to the bike where the very steep hill is waiting for me to ride down. I consider just walking the bike down but decide to face my fear and cycle. I manage to do it without falling off. Proud moment!

We return the bikes, pretty exhausted, and decide to find somewhere for lunch. I have a delicious toasted sandwich and juice. Just what I need to restore my energy. It was a really active morning and I am feeling pretty worn out. Daniel has poached eggs for lunch but then decides he needs a second lunch so we head to the Kai Kart so he can have some fish & chips. We sit in the lovely sunshine and rest for a while.

This afternoon we are going kayaking.

Star Gazing in a Dark Sky Sanctuary

Have you ever stared into a brilliant dark night sky, surrounded by an abundance of twinkling stars? Or been mesmerized by the magical Milky Way? Our Southern night sky has guided our ancestors for many years, with Māhutonga, the Southern Cross being used as a navigational aid. I have read that the night sky is vanishing, with the light pollution in urban cities making it very difficult to see the milky way or the many faint stars that adorn our night sky.

Rakiura means ‘glowing skies’ and get’s its name from the Aurora Australis which can sometimes be seen from here. I am hoping I might get lucky and see it on this trip. But tonight, we are booked in with Twinkle Dark Sky Tours to do some star gazing. It’s on the top of my list for activities while we are here, so I have booked in for our first night so we have some back up evenings if it’s cloudy.

Al from Twinkle Dark Sky Tours collects us from the backpackers, along with 1 other guest. While we are waiting, I can feel spots of rain. Not a good sign. I can see some stars and am hoping the clouds will clear. We head up to Ringa Ringa Heights and on the way, Al tells us a little bit about the area. Rakiura was given the title ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’ in 2019 and is the most southern in the world. I was interested to learn that Tekapo, which is quite well known for its night sky, is actually a reserve not a sanctuary. The difference being a reserve is a very remote location with little threat of light pollution. Rakiura is remote and the town, Oban, is small, which keeps the sky dark. But light levels still have to continually be monitored and changes made to keep the levels down.

The night sky has always been a passion for Al and in 2021, he started the star gazing tours along with his wife Jen. (And I am so glad that he did!)

The car stops, the lights go out and it is so dark. We get out of the car and I look up. That first glimpse of the milky way takes your breath away. As my eyes adjust, more and more stars appear. We head across the golf course, Al has a red light and we use that to make our way into the field where a large telescope is set up and alongside it, moon chairs with blankets, hot water bottles and binoculars. I settle into my chair, warm and cosy and begin to gaze at the sky.

There are clouds around, but enough of an opening that I can see Māhutonga and some of the milky way. With his Jedi lightsaber style laser beam, Al begins to enthusiastically point out stars and constellations in the sky. He is so passionate and knowledgeable. I try to take in as much as I can, but ultimately I just sit and stare in awe. Al is from the UK and grew up seeing the Northern hemisphere sky so it’s interesting to hear about some of the differences.

After about 30 minutes it begins to cloud over so Al hands out some hot chocolate and we chat while waiting to see if it clears again. We talk about the Aurora, there are a lot of things that have to align to be able to see it. Firstly, the Kp reading, or geomagnetic activity needs to be above a certain level. It needs to be night, winter is best, along with a new moon and no clouds. And while we didn’t get to see it tonight, even just witnessing that brilliant night sky is wonderful.

Unfortunately the cloud doesn’t clear so Al drops us home and offers to take us back out again the next night. We are so keen! His tour is really fascinating! And so the next night we are collected again by Al, this time I am a little better prepared with extra layers, it gets cold out there! We settle into our chairs again, wrapped up warm in blankets and that blissful hot water bottle. The sky is much clearer tonight, barely any clouds and we can see all of the milky way this time.

Using my binoculars I start exploring the sky and I spot what I can only describe as a fuzzy ball of dots. Al tells me,’Well done, you have found what’s called a globular cluster and that this one is called Omega Centauri.’ A globular cluster is a group of thousands to millions of stars bound tightly into a cluster. Al aligns the telescope and we get to see it through that. It looks like a twinkling ball of grainy light. So cool!

During the evening we hear ruru (owl) and kiwi calling and at one point, 2 male kiwi having a fight in the nearby bush – now that was an impressive sound to hear.

We also look at dark patches of the sky where you would think there was nothing, but through the telescope, so many stars appear. There is so much up there, we see shooting stars, the Beehive Cluster, the Southern Pleiades, the Carina Nebula, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, Mars, constellations of the zodiac and so much more. Probably the most mind boggling thing we saw was Centaurus A – a galaxy that is 12 million light years away. 12 million light years!! Incredible!

If you are in Rakiura, this tour is a must. The things you will see in the sky will blow your mind! New Zealand is home to 2 Dark Sky Reserves, Aoraki/Mt Cook and Rakiura/Stewart Island. I am so grateful for places like this and the people who work so hard to protect it. If you have never seen the milky way, or a true dark sky, it needs to go on your bucket list. It is the most captivating sight.

I’m sorry that I don’t really have any good photo’s to share. I haven’t mastered photographing the night sky. You will just have to see it for yourself!

Traveling to the far end of Aotearoa

Here’s a tip – if you ever travel with me, don’t trust me with directions, ever! Even if I insist that I know where I am going or have a map, do not believe me. Lets just say, our trip to drop the car off before the airport was a little bit of a stressful start to the holiday. For some reason, I was on navigation. We still manage to arrive at the airport in plenty of time and I pass time, just sitting and watching, enjoying seeing the day wake up. It’s been a busy few weeks and Daniel and I have both been unwell. I find that I get tired easily at the moment. It’s a pretty active holiday that I’ve planned, I hope we can manage it.

I am so fortunate to have seen so much of our beautiful country, but there are still many pockets of land to be explored. Today, I am so excited to see one of them. We are heading South, as far South as we have ever been and need to take a couple of flights to get there. Our first stop is Invercargill. We are on a smallish plane, the type you board by walking across the tarmac and up some steps. I can see our pilots in the cockpit and our cabin crew greeting the passengers as they enter – we have an all female crew, including the pilots. That’s pretty awesome!

We leave grey, misty Wellington behind us and step out into a beautiful, sunny Invercargill day. It even feels a little bit warm. We have about 3 hours to pass before our next flight so decide to grab some early lunch (or is it a late breakfast?) and settle in. The cafe has cheese rolls on the menu – I think that’s a must when you’re in Southland!

It’s time to board our next flight. We are greeted by the pilot who checks our tickets and leads us out to the plane. This is a first! This plane is even smaller, taking only 9 passengers. The pilot does the H&S briefing and then we are off. It’s so loud! But we get incredible views of Rakiura. We can see the lush, vibrant green forests, clear water and golden sandy bays. I am surprised by how much I enjoy the flight, given my dislike of flying, but we have perfect conditions and it was only 20 minutes. After landing, we take a complimentary van ride down to the township – also driven by the pilot!

There are 2 ways to get to Rakiura (Stewart Island): A 1 hour ferry from Bluff or a 20 minute flight from Invercargill. Although more expensive, I opted for the flight as I have heard the Foveaux Strait is a very rough stretch of water. I also thought it would be lovely to see Rakiura from the sky (and I was right!)

We are dropped in Oban, the only town in Rakiura, population 400, and walk to our accommodation, We are staying at Stewart Island Backpackers. Accommodation here can be quite pricey. I was thinking of splashing out since this trip was to celebrate my 40th birthday, but really, all I need is a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head. I would rather spend less on accommodation and have more to spend on activities and tours. The backpackers is basic, but very comfy, warm, clean and good value for money. A good choice.

We drop off our bags and head out to explore. The town is small, there are a few shops, a small grocery store, pub, library, a couple of cafe’s and gift shops. For such a small town, the place feels very busy. There are lots of people out and about, enjoying the nice weather and returning from multi-day tramps. You can do Rakiura on a day trip, but honestly, if you love the outdoors, go for a few days, there is so much to see here, you won’t regret it.

We walk along Halfmoon Bay. There are many boats anchored in the harbour, bobbing up and down with the tide. It’s very idyllic. We take a short walk up a hill and through some bush, a cheeky little piwakawaka (fantail) joins me and flutters about but doesn’t stay still long enough for a photo. They are sweet little birds. The track leads us down to a little bay called Bathing Beach. The sand is golden, but honestly, I think we have caught it on a bad day. It’s covered in seaweed that’s started to rot and is rather stinky! I feel the water, it feels like the New Zealand water I am used to, cool and fresh. But I am still questioning my decision not to pack my togs. I didn’t think I would need them on a holiday down South in April! It would be the furthest south I have ever swam.

Back in Oban we park ourselves on some outdoor seating at The South Sea Hotel Pub and enjoy a wine while watching the world go by, relaxing & talking. What a perfect view.

As the sun goes down it begins to get cold so we head inside for an early dinner at the restaurant. The dining options on Rakiura are limited, but we found the food at the South Sea Pub here really good. They have lovely wait staff and the food is reasonably priced considering everything has to be shipped across.

Tonight we are booked on a star gazing tour with Twinkle Dark Sky Tours. I have spent the afternoon watching clouds begin to roll in on what was a perfect cloudless sky. So I am surprised to get a call from Al to say the tour is still going ahead. He is hoping the clouds will clear after sunset. He tells me, in the worse case scenario, he will talk to us about the night sky for around 30 minutes, give us a hot chocolate and a refund – so nothing to lose. It’s been a long day, so we head back to our room for a nap while we wait for it to get dark and the tour to start.

Exploring Patuna Chasm

This particular Sunday morning started even earlier than on a work day. Our alarm sounds at 6:15 and by 6:50am we are out the door. The day hasn’t woken yet, it’s still quite dark and the birds are only just starting their dawn chorus. As we head along the motorway we start to see a dash of blush, peeking out from behind the hills. A little early morning mist clings to the land. We are watching the day wake up and it’s beautiful.

Today we are doing a walk at Patuna Chasm. It’s been on my bucket list for about 3 years. Finally we are doing it. Patuna Chasm is in the Wairarapa on private land so you have to book, and it’s popular. It’s also only open over the warmer months of the year, which is why it has taken us so long to do this.

We are on the first walk this morning, departing at 8:30am and are joined by my mother & father in law. We arrive and get ready, it’s a wet walk, some of it being through a river, so we change our clothes and shoes into ones we are happy to get wet and I make sure my phone is in a snap lock bag. Before beginning the walk we read through the safety signs. It mentions that in some parts the river is 1m deep and more. I knew it was a wet walk, but I didn’t realises it was that deep. This is going to be fun. And cold.

We depart punctually at 8:30am on the back of a trailer fitted with chairs. The seats are all wet, probably from the dew last night and I have a very wet bottom before we even enter the water. It’s a bumpy drive out to the start of the walk. I am fortunate not to suffer from motion sickness and actually really enjoy this type of travel. Our driver manages to navigate some pretty tight bends and after about 20 minutes we arrive at the start of the walk. After a bit of a safety briefing we are off.

Around 16 – 18 people are in this group, but we pretty quickly all find our own pace and spread out. The first part of the walk is through native bush. When I picture native bush, this isn’t what I imagine, it’s quite scrubby, but native bush is exactly what it is – manuka, kawakawa and ferns. The bush is peaceful, void of city noises. I can hear cicadas, magpies, running water and the odd bleat from some sheep.

The first part of the track is quite muddy and slippery. I take care not to fall over, while Daniel goes out of his way to slide in it, doing some mud surfing. The track then leads into a steep incline. I am actually surprised how well I manage it. I’m not huffing and puffing to the same extent as usual when I reach the top. We walk along the ridge for a bit before coming to a huge limestone rock that has it’s centre worn away. It looks like a big wave and is very impressive. The rock is smooth and super fascinating, a great place to get some photos.

A little further on and we begin to descend into the chasm. There is a rope to help us abseil down the bank.

When we get closer to the river I notice an old fossilised shell embedded into the rock. I find it fascinating at how much detail is in it and thinking about how many thousands, millions of years it might have been there.

It’s now time to enter the water. The wet part of the walk has begun. The first moment it feels freezing and I wonder how I am going to manage walking in this cold water, waist deep, but after a minute or so it doesn’t feel so bad (probably because I have gone a bit numb.) We walk up the river going slowly, navigating the rocks, some of which are quite slippery. Taking small steps is key. We see the huge rocks of the chasm, washed smoothed, shaped by the flow of water over many years. The rock face in some areas is engulfed in vibrant green moss with water droplets glistening in the light. It is simply beautiful.

It’s not too long before we approach a waterfall. Water pouring down over the rock face and moss in tiers, fanning out into the pool below. The photos don’t do it justice. My mother in law offers to take some photos of me next to the waterfall so I head out, but next minute, without even thinking, I just go and stand right under it. The water is very fresh, but so magical. And I just stand there, getting completely drenched under a spray of cool water.

I feel very alive after that and we carry on with our walk. This time we are going back down the river, towards where we first entered the water and then carry on past it to do the rest of the walk. For most of the walk, the water is below my knee, but one part gets very deep. The rest of my group decide to get out of the water and find a way around the side, but you know me, I just swim through it. I am totally soaked, from the neck down, but I’m loving it. We get one beautiful, precious life and I find moments like this, getting wet, taking the ‘road less traveled’ is what makes life so sweet for me.

We are lucky to have such a perfect weather day. There is no wind and in the patches where the sun manages to break through into the chasm, it’s quite warm. I imagine it could be a very cold walk on some days. We then approach the part of the walk where it starts to close in and get dark. We were told by our guide at the start that it would, and he assured us it was the right way. Just as we start to enter it, there is a big hole in the rock above and light floods in. It’s so bright it kind of hurts my eyes. I also find that the darkness of the chasm and the brightness from above intensifies the colours of the forest canopy. There are so many different vibrant shades of green.

Further in, there is a spot where the only light is coming from some cracks in the rocks above. This is such a unique experience and quite an adventure.

We finally make it to the end of the walk and climb out. We need to walk along the river bank for a while before heading up to the collection point. But there is also an optional swim add on, it brings you out further up the river and then you just walk back along the farmland to the collection point. No one in my group wanted to do this so I begin following them on land, but looking down at the group that has decided to do the add on swim, I just keep thinking, I’m missing out. And so, I join them.

Most of this last part is in water below my knee and we walk through another little cave. This one has some pigeons in it and their soft cooing is echoed around inside. Beautiful. The last part of the walk is where you have to swim. Well, you can walk, it was probably up to my shoulders, but I chose to swim, and it was excellent. I’m glad I listened to my gut that said, go do the swim.

Back at the collection point I enjoy the warmth of the sun on my skin and wet clothes while we wait to be picked up. The drive on the back of the trailer is cold. The combination of wind and wet clothes is chilly, but I remind myself, it’s only temporary and once back at the car park I am in warm dry clothes in no time.

We then make our way to Featherston for one of the biggest burgers I have had from Vixen. Delicious. And it certainly satisfies the hunger created on this walk. Their fries are pretty good too.

Its a challenging walk, the rocks were quite slippery in places and the water deep at times, but if you take it slowly and absorb your surroundings, I am sure you will see it for the adventure it is. You will spend the majority of the walk in the water, I timed about 50 minutes on land and about 1 3/4 hours in the river.

Ōtaki Retreat

I did this trip in December 2022, but have only had a chance to post about it now.

It’s become a bit of a ritual – my annual solo retreat, one that I really look forward to and was really needed at the end of last year. 3 days, on my own, in sunny, relaxed Ōtaki, doing what I wanted, when I wanted.

It was a hot drive up, but I arrive at a little slice of kiwi paradise (there are lots of those here.) My Airbnb host is there to welcome me and help settle me into the cute little studio at the back of her section. I quickly ditch the shoes (barefoot is always better) and climb into the hammock to read my book with a cold drink and listen to the bird song.

I spend about 3 hours here. Reading my book, reflecting on 2022, thinking about what I would like 2023 to hold for me. It is both a luxury and a privilege to be able to do this.

I self cater some nachos for dinner, simple but delicious and enjoy these alfresco. I am only an hours drive from home, but the climate is so different here, warmer for sure, but more noticeably, less windy. It makes outdoor activities so much more enjoyable!

I am not far from Ōtaki Beach, so I head down after dinner to watch the sunset. It’s a large sandy beach that stretches as far as the eye can see, in both directions. The golden sun is starting to slip away behind Kāpiti Island. I go for a walk and let Mother Nature engulf me. I close my eyes and listen. I listen for some time. I expect to hear a car, voices, a dog barking, but nothing. Not even a squawking seabird. Just the rhythmic, soothing sound of the ocean, washing away the stress & busyness of the last few weeks, rejuvenating me.

 I love the slower pace of life you get on the Kāpiti Coast! Why is it so hard to be this still, this peaceful, this relaxed, at home?

Each year, when I book my trips, there is a particular draw card that takes me to that area. When I went to Waiheke, it was for the glamping and wine tour. Marlborough Sounds was for Lochmara lodge, Carrington was about the little log cabin in the country side. My reason for Ōtaki? Strawberry picking. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I decided that for this trip, I really wanted to go strawberry picking!

So the next morning, despite there being a bit of rain about, I head out to Ohau to Shirley’s Strawberries to try my luck. They were open for picking over the weekend, I am hopeful they aren’t all picked out. But it’s my lucky day! I am told they are mostly picked, but to try the first 4 rows. It’s hard to explain how (or why) I was so excited about picking some strawberries, but I was! The staff there were so friendly and the sun even came out.

I slowly wander up and down the rows, I honestly don’t think I have ever seen so many strawberries this size. They are huge! The bright red flesh stands out vividly against the leafy green foliage, making them easy to spot, but I also find, if you rustle among the leaves, there are even more delicacies to be found. It takes me a while to fill my bucket (its cardboard – always nice to see biodegradable packaging) and it’s quite hard work, there is a lot of bending involved. But when I leave 40 minutes later with my tub full of freshly picked strawberries, I am feeling very satisfied.

I drop the strawberries home, sample a few of course, and then head down to the estuary for a walk. It turns out to be more of a beach walk, perhaps I took a wrong turn, I’m good at doing that! Regardless, it’s still enjoyable. I love our beaches at home, they are rocky, wild and rugged, but sometimes you just want a sandy beach. There are plenty of those here, and this one I pretty much have to myself!

Before leaving, I make myself stop and listen again. It’s too easy to just walk or view everything through a cellphone camera. I want to make sure I am taking in as much as I can. So I find some driftwood to sit on and close my eyes. I can hear the roaring waves again. Obviously, I am on the beach, but today, they are competing with the sound of the seabirds and cicadas. I feel the cool, refreshing breeze on my face and the intensity of the sun on my feet through my black shoes. I open my eyes and see a dog, sprinting along the beach, chasing birds, having the time of it’s life.

Before heading back to my Airbnb for lunch, I decide to stop by the local dairy for a sneaky ice cream. It’s a classic kiwi blue dairy, the sort of dairy that goes hand in hand with a New Zealand Summer. I go for a kiwi classic, Hokey Pokey ice cream, in a cone. It’s creamy, delicious and melts quickly!

Back at home I participate in the great Mediterranean practice of taking a siesta. Outside on the grass of course, under the shade of a grapevine. This is bliss. Why is it so hard to do this at home? I watch puffs of clouds twist in the sky and then evaporate into nothing. There is just a bright blue canvas above me. Birds feed nearby, looking for worms and little buttercups are dotted about, their cheeky yellow blooms adorning the grass.

After a couple of hours, it’s time to get up. I can’t stay here all day. Well, actually I could if I wanted to. I love that about this trip. However, I want to get in another walk, so I head to the opposite end of Ōtaki beach this time to do the river walk. The track follows the river, it’s icy blue water looks so inviting, it’s a hot afternoon. I walk for about 3/4 of an hour. I have no agenda, no where else to be, nothing else I need to be doing. I am simply walking for the joy of walking. 

It’s my last night here, so I head to the beach again for the sunset, walking barefoot in the sand, waves lapping at my feet. The water is surprisingly not too cold!  

This has been a weekend of rest and relaxation. Food for the soul. I highly recommend taking a solo retreat!

Also, note to self, I really must put up my hammock, it’s only been sitting in my cupboard, unused, for about 7 years! I am certain I could get good use out of it in 2023.

Travel Dreams for 2023

One of my favourite, favourite things to do is travel plan. I can do it for hours, researching, dreaming, planning and it will feel like no time at all has passed. I love getting lost in travel books, reading blogs and watching travel vlogs. Planning out itineraries, and hand picking tours, experiences and places that will suit my husband and I’s quite different interests. He loves motorbikes, fine food, pinot noir and industrial areas. I love kayaking, forests, picnic’s and nature excursions. We are quite different, but somehow it works!

I always have a pretty long travel list of places I would like to go, experiences I would love to have. But I also have to work within the constraints of a full time job and available disposable income. And while I realise that I am unlikely to get to all these places this year, it’s still fun to dream.

Walking. On a private farm in the Wairarapa is Patuna Chasm. Limestone rocks, forest and a river. I know lots of people who have done this and the photos are always stunning. You do have to book in advance (it’s popular) and there is a fee to do this walk. You will also want to do it on a sunny day as it’s not a dry walk. By the sounds of it, a lot of the time you are walking through water. But what an adventure!

A Holiday with my Best Friends. They happen to be dogs. I keep saying each year that I really want to go on a holiday with them, it’s just very hard to find places to stay that are suitable. We have decided to give camping a go while the weather is nice. It will be somewhere local, I suspect it could be a bit of a disaster, but unless we give it a go, we won’t know!

National Aquarium of New Zealand. We try to do an extended family holiday each year and this year I am hoping we can all get to Napier. My 6 year old nephew loves snakes and sharks. He is full of facts and information about them, it’s amazing what he knows. Last week he was teaching me about wobbegong sharks. A creature I had never heard of. I would love to have a nature lesson with him at the aquarium!

A Holiday with my Mum. Again, I am not sure where, but we have done a couple of trips together the last 2 years and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s so special being able to have that time with her. I am waiting for her to let me know where she wants to go so I can start some planning!

Birthday Celebration. I turn 40 this year. 40! I can hardly believe it. When I think about how I want to celebrate it, a big party doesn’t come to mind. I would much rather go travelling. 4 or 5 years ago, I had been thinking that I wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday at Machu Picchu but because of Covid and all the uncertainties it has brought with travel, we never got around to saving for that trip. I am also not great with flying. Short trips are fine, but long haul scares me a lot!

So the next best thing – Stewart Island, or Rakiura. Aotearoa’s 3rd largest Island. I have never been there and it’s a place I have wanted to explore for a long time. 85% of the Island is National Park. It has an abundance of wildlife and lush forest. It’s also a dark sky reserve and when conditions are right, it’s possible to see the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights. All going to plan, this is where I will be come April 2023.

Motorbike Tour. It’s been a couple of years since we have jumped on the bike and gone exploring. On a trip earlier this year, the inflight Kia Ora magazine had a piece on Gisborne Region and I have wanted to go there ever since. It’s part of the country that I haven’t really explored much and I want to see what it has to offer.

Boutique Wine Tasting. I have always loved Martinbourough, as a kid it was adventures with my cousins on the farm, now, I love it for its boutique wineries and artisan foods. This is another trip I have been wanting to do for a while and haven’t. We have been there many times, but I would like to pre-plan the wineries so we can visit the places that are only open by appointment.

An International Trip. I really want to try a cruise and have my eye on a trip that spends 9 days sailing around New Caledonia and Vanuatu. I am not sure if cruising will be our thing, but I am intrigued, and if I can find a good deal, I hope to go exploring beyond the Long White Cloud. Some sunshine in the winter months will be glorious.

Solo Retreat. I have done this for the last 4 years and last year, realised how important this trip has become to me. Initially a little adventure on my own, this has become so much more. An opportunity to rest & explore, as much and as little as I want, when I want. Also a time to reflect on the year that has been and visualise how I would like the next year to look. I am not sure where I will be heading for this one. The last couple of years I have stayed close to home so I am thinking I might explore a little further afield this time. Perhaps an e-bike tour.

So there you have it. It will be fun to read back on this next year and see how many I actually did, and if there are any unexpected trips not listed here that I end up doing!

Where do you want to go in 2023?

Travel Highlights of 2022

Just looking at this title, I feel very lucky to be able to write this post. The fact that I have done enough travelling this year to have a post on highlights is a privilege. Even more so that I get to do it here in beautiful Aotearoa.

As I reflect on this year, a lot of my highlights as usual, have been moments – where time seems to stand still, where I am completely absorbed in what’s happening, right there and then and nothing else is important. Like watching brilliant red poppies dance in the breeze at Albert Park, having early morning snuggles in bed with my niece & nephew. Laughing so hard I’m crying with my mum and aunt. The gentle hum of honey bees on a warm Summer’s day at a lavender farm. These kinds of moments are precious and what I believe makes life so sweet.

But I have also done some amazing activities this year that I would like to recap with you. So here are my top 5 travel highlights of 2022.

Dolphin Cruise – Akaroa

There were lots of great things about this cruise. A family owned business in Akaroa, they took us out into Akaroa Harbour (with their dolphin spotting dog) for an afternoon of nature and history. There’s a lot of interesting local history in the area and the guides were very informative. That alone made a fascinating tour. But the highlight of course were the dolphins. The little endangered Hector’s Dolphins with their ‘Mickey Mouse’ fin and silver bodies. They were magnificent. So playful. We saw so many on this tour. Several small pods that came right up to the boat, following along at the bow. It was a very special and memorable afternoon.

Swimming at Anchorage Bay – Abel Tasman

The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us on this trip. I had been dreaming of glorious sunny days, sunbathing on golden sand and swimming in warm crystal clear waters. We got to see Abel Tasman National Park while a tropical cyclone was hitting the country. The trip was still amazing (in a different way to what I had expected) and although challenging at times, there were some beautiful experiences. Swimming at Anchorage, while having the whole bay to myself, after a day of walking, was bliss. The cool water eased the aches and pains in my muscles and I felt completely weightless. It also rained a little. Small drops of water creating ringed ripples on the flat sea surface all around me was so beautiful.

Dining at Ghost Street – Auckland

I think partly why I liked this place so much was because it wasn’t planned, we stumbled across it. An unexpected delight. We were out looking for a place to have dinner, tried a few places that were fully booked and then told to try next door. We wouldn’t have even known there was a restaurant there. Walking down the dark steps into an underground room, we still weren’t even sure what type of cuisine they served. What a treat. This place surprised and delighted, from the decor to the food preparation, the meals and even how you order. It was such an exciting dining experience.

Cycling Lake Dunstan Trail – Clyde/Cromwell

Ok, so this wasn’t technically 2022, I did this right at the end of 2021 so it didn’t get included last year. My brother and I hired e-bikes and cycled the 55km trail from Clyde to Cromwell. I love this part of the country, the lakes are simply stunning. They are so vibrantly coloured. We had perfect weather and enjoyed a day cycling past lakes, cliffs, fields and vineyards. The e-bike made it so easy and we got to enjoy the landscape of one of my favourite parts of the country. It was also really special being able to spend the day with my brother. Memories are made for sharing.

The People

There are lots of things I love about travel, one of them is the people you get to meet. Hands down the most memorable were the group of 8 senior women who did some of their Abel Tasman Kayaking trip with us. Although we were at quite different stages in life, I was drawn to them. They all had their own stories, life adventures to tell. But what stood out to me most, was their sense of adventure, their care for one another and that they had all been strangers, brought together by a love for travel. I really do hope that I am as outgoing and well connected when I am their age. They were quite inspiring.

So there you have it. What have been some memorable moments or activities you have done this year?

A weekend in Whanganui

We had talked about doing this trip for a few years, but then work, life, covid, it all got in the way. Late November 2022 it finally happened. A road trip, with my mum, to Whanagnui, to spend some time with my Aunt.

The trip was meant to start with a 2.5 hour drive north, with an afternoon for some exploring. It turned into a hot, sticky 5 hours car ride, in traffic that was barely moving. We arrived exhausted, late afternoon and with no desire to leave our cute little cottage situated across the road from the mighty Whanganui River. After some dinner, we did manage to drag ourselves out for a walk along the river for some fresh air, before heading home to sleep off the exhaustion of the day.

I wake in the morning, feeling rested and after some breakfast, we are ready to take on the day. My aunt arrives and we head out for a day of laughs and exploring.

After a quick stop to a strawberry farm for morning tea, we are off to my Aunt’s favourite place, Bason Botanic Gardens.This 25 hectare garden paradise is just on the outskirts of Whanganui and has 8 different gardens you can wander around. The park was donated by Stanley and Blanche Bason in the 1960’s and is now maintained by the council.

We start our walk with the Homestead Gardens. The old 1900’s cottage still remains and is surrounded by beautiful English style gardens with flowers, roses and herbs. The maintenance here must be high, everything beautifully manicured. It’s peaceful and still with the odd bench to sit down on, relax and take it all in.

From here we head to my favourite place, the conservatories. This area of the park is made up of several glasshouses and conservatories, home to a wide variety of plants. There is also a little bit of info about the Bason Family. I love glasshouses, the warmth and humidity you feel on your skin, the damp earthy smell, the sounds created from the water features and the lush green foliage of all the plants. It’s a delight to your senses. My favourite room was the Larson Orchid house. I don’t think I have ever seen so many orchids before. And such variety. Large ones, small delicate blooms, striped and spotted, yellows, whites and pinks. They really are a beautiful flower.

While thinking about how many more orchids I could fit into our house, we wander a little more around the gardens. You could easily spend a day here exploring or doing very little, like reading a book under the shade of a tree. It would be a great place for a picnic.

Feeling peckish, we decide to head to Rotokawau Virginia Lake, to the cafe for lunch. As we walk across the grass to the cafe, we are approached by a large flock of ducks, who come waddling (with speed) across the grassy lawn straight towards us. They are obviously used to being fed by people. They aren’t shy!

We enjoy our lunch in the cafe and purchase some duck food on the way out. It doesn’t take long before we are accosted by our feathered friends again, but this time we are prepared with food for them.

There is a large lake here and we decide to take the 25 minute stroll along the woodland walk, around the lake. We still have duck food, and they know it, some follow us for a while. There are so many that at one point I stand on one and then accidentally kick it while tripping over it. I try to make a peace offering with some food, but he’s not buying it.

Further on we see some white swans. We have black swans where I live and I see them quite often, but it’s been a while since I have seen a white swan. They are so majestic. Until they honk.

Further on we come across several pukekos. I think they must have been nesting as we managed to get chased by them! Despite the unexpected interactions we had with the bird life, this is a beautiful walk and definitely worth a visit.

After another lovely walk along the river bank, watching the setting sun, our second day in Whanganui comes to an end.

Today we head home, but not before checking out the local Farmer’s Market which runs every Saturday, down by the river. There are food stalls, crafts and other bits and pieces for sale.

We then sit on the river bank for a while, watching passengers board the Waimarie for their paddle steamer boat ride along the Whanganui River. Built in 1899, the Waimarie transported cargo, passengers and tourists up and down the river until the early 1950’s when she had an accident and sank. She then spent the next 40 years at the bottom of the Whanganui River before being lifted from her watery grave and restored to her olde glory once again. Next time, we will be sure to book a trip on this floating piece of history.

Our last stop of our trip is New Zealand Glass Works where you can look around the gallery, but also watch glass blowers at work in the hot shop. It’s fascinating. Starting with a hot blob of glass, artists blow, mold, twist and shape amazing creations. They even offer beginner’s classes, which look so much fun. If you are interested, you will have to get in quick, they book out pretty quickly!

Whanganui is a great place for a weekend escape, perfect for relaxing, but also lots to explore and rich in history. I am sure we will be back again.