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.

Tasting the delights of Tāmaki Makaurau – Part 2

We meet Phil a bit earlier today, it’s a 9 am start for this food tour and we begin our culinary journey at Point Chevalier Beach Cafe. No donuts for breakfast today, instead it’s an almond croissant and a peppermint tea. The croissant is flaky and sweet, but not too sweet which is good. I have to pace myself, we have a day of eating ahead of us.

Our next stop is Phillipe’s Chocolates. Here we find a delectable selection of pastries, chocolates and truffles. We are each allowed to choose 4 chocolates to take away with us. Deciding on the flavours is a tough decision, there is a big selection. I will enjoy these later.

After our sweet start, we make our way to Sandringham Village, the Auckland center for Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan food. As soon as I step out of the van, I can smell the spices. The aroma in the air brings memories of our time in India flooding back. Smell is such a powerful sense. On this stop we get to choose a savory snack to sample. I go for a samosa and Daniel selects a lamb roll.

We then head to Sabato, a store importing oils, spices, vinegar, sauces and more from the Mediterranean. Mediterraneans do food so well. Simple, fresh ingredients make the tastiest meals. They understand that food is meant to be enjoyed, savored. Not eaten in a rush on the go. I loved browsing in the store, there was lots to remind me of delicious meals I had eaten in Italy. We left with some spices, dukkah, aged balsamic vinegar and truffle powder. Since returning home I have made fresh pasta by hand and enjoyed eating it with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and truffle powder. It’s not quite the same as having pasta in the hill top towns of Tuscany, generously garnished with slices of fresh truffles, but it’s pretty good.

Our next stop is Soljans Estate Winery. This is another small, family owned vineyard, started by Croatian immigrants and another of my favourite vineyards. On the walls of the tasting room are large, old photos of the vineyard and the family home in Hvar, Croatia. There is so much history in this little room and it’s the only vineyard in New Zealand with 5 generations of family involved. It was much more than just a wine tasting. After purchasing more wines, we head next door to their restaurant for lunch.

Phil has been running tours in Auckland for over 20 years and this is evident in the relationships he has with the families at the vineyards. He has been visiting these places for many years and is greeted as an old friend. It’s an open menu for lunch, which means Phil is paying and we can order whatever we like! This has been one of the great things about the tour, everything is included (except all the wine Daniel is purchasing) It makes for a very relaxed, easy tour. I have gnocchi again and then share a dessert with Daniel.

By now I am rather full and we still have 2 more stops on this food journey around Auckland. We make our way to Kumeu River Winery and Phil shows us around. We see the testing lab (a first for me) and the cellar which is filled with oak barrels, aging all their wines. This place is renowned for their Chardonnays and there are 3 in the tasting line up. A few more purchases are made by Daniel. His favourite wine is Pinot Noir and while he did purchase some, the majority of the purchases were other types. Across the 2 days we tried a huge variety of wines, some that I have never heard of before. That’s one of the great things about wine tours, it encourages you to explore different wines.

Our last stop of the day is Boric Orchard Markets, a multi-generational food market than began as a humble road side fruit stall. Our tour concludes with a New Zealand ice cream from the market.

We had a wonderful time exploring Auckland over the 2 days. Our previous experience of Auckland has always been a quick trip up and back for a concert or a few hours stop over on an international trip. On our 2 private tours with Phil, we got so see so much more. The rural side of Auckland, the wild, rugged coastline and we meet some of the families who have help shaped the agriculture of our country.

Tasting the delights of Tāmaki Makaurau – Part 1

In the words of Queen: ‘It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, I feel good, no one’s gonna stop me now’

I leave Daniel sleeping and I head out to explore. We are booked in for a wine tasting tour today, but that’s not till 10:30am so there is plenty of time for me to get out for a walk.

I head to Albert park. I didn’t realise Auckland had so many hills. I mean, the place is made up of lots of volcanoes, but I thought the central city was flat. It’s only a 10 minute walk, but it’s quite the workout. I arrive rather hot and sweaty but quickly forget once I am surrounded by this little oasis in the heart of the city. I am greeted by an old, twisted, gnarly tree that oozes old time fairy tale charm. The birds are singing and the bright blue sky frames the distinctive sky tower.

At the center of the park is a water feature, the symmetry of the area is calming. And the poppies, oh, the poppies, these beautifully formed, spring time blooms are stunning. Their delicate stems gently swaying in the breeze. There is a soft hum of honey bees getting their fill of poppy pollen. Spring is dancing to nature’s orchestra in this park today.

Once I have had my fill of nature, I head back to the concrete jungle, heading to our hotel along the waterfront. But first, I have one more stop to make. On the bus ride into Auckland yesterday, I randomly googled, ‘best donuts in Auckland’. It came up with several results, including Grownup Donuts, a little hole in the wall servery, 2 doors down from our hotel, so I just have to make a stop there. They have a big selection of soft, fluffy filled puffs of deliciousness, but I go for the classics, a plain cinnamon, a dark Belgium chocolate mousse filled one and a custard filled one. With my carefully selected assortment, I go to see if Daniel is awake and ready for breakfast.

We are collected by Phil from Fine Wine and Food Tours from our hotel at 10:30am. We initially take a wrong turn which means we travel over the Auckland Harbour bridge – something neither of us have done before. It gives us some great views and I am starting to see why it is called the city of sails. There are 2 harbours, lots of bays, inlets and plenty of access to water. We also get some great views of Rangitoto.

Today we are doing a private wine tour of the Kumeu region. Phil explains that this area was where a lot of Croatian immigrants settled in the early 20th century and began making wine here. It’s not far from the city, but as soon as we leave the motorway, we are in instant countyside. It’s very pretty here, lots of green rolling hills and trees. There has been quite a bit of development in this area, but it still feels rural.

Out first stop is West Brook Winery. I love the settings at vineyards. They are always so idyllic with their rows of planted grapes and elegant olive trees and this vineyard meets my expectations. We are seated inside and brought 5 wines to taste. We spend some time chatting with Phil and getting to know each other. We will be doing another tour with Phil tomorrow too. While tasting the wines, a little skink pops out from behind a pot plant on the window ledge.

After Daniel has made some purchases, we head to our next stop, Hellertau Brewery. It was meant to be Soljans Estate Winery, but as we will be visiting there tomorrow, Phil changed the itinerary for us so we didn’t go to the same place twice. This venue is mostly outdoor seating and would be an amazing place to spend an afternoon in the summer, it has a really great vibe. For lunch I choose gnocchi which is sensational. This is washed down with a cinnamon and yuzu non alcoholic wine. It’s quite an interesting flavour, the cinnamon is strong but it’s a delicious drink.

Our next stop is The Hunting Lodge. It’s a popular spot, a great place for family and friends to enjoy a glass of wine and soak in some sunshine. We try another 5 wines at this vineyard. They only have 2 wines here that are made from grapes grown on site. It does seem quite common for the vineyards here to have a small block of vines and then vines in other parts of the country like Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Otago. Their home block wines are a chardonnay and a sav aged in oak. After our samplings, Daniel makes another purchase.

Our last vineyard of the day is Coopers Creek Winery. I think this is my favorite winery of the day. The owner is chatty and friendly, sharing stories of their wine and it’s history. I love boutique places that are family owned. They have a personalized rustic charm and passion that larger places struggle to match. I should note that all of the wineries we visited were relatively small, family wineries, I just particularly enjoyed our visit to Coopers Creek. They have a huge range of wines, their menu list is extensive. We got to try 10, all of which were very drinkable. Daniel makes yet another purchase. Perhaps I should start buying shares in NZ wine!

Before heading home, Phil offers to take us out to Muriwai Beach, a black sand beach that is home to a colony of nesting gannets. We stop on the hillside to look down on the beach. It’s a breathtaking view. I love our beaches, they are not your picture perfect, golden sandy beaches (although there are some of these) they are wild and untouched and leave you with a sense of awe as you witness the power of nature. It’s a beautiful coastline.

We arrive back at our hotel, ready for a nap after a day of wine. It’s a quiet dinner tonight at a place called Mezze Bar which serve tapas. I had my fill of wine today so dinner was wonderfully simple, a lemonade and a Spanish omelette, a perfect ending to the day.

Discovering a hidden gem.

For Christmas last year, I bought Daniel tickets to see Billie Eilish in Auckland. Since we were travelling up for the concert, we decided to extend our stay to 2 nights and do a little exploring.

We had an amazing flight up. It was so smooth, it almost made me forget that I hate flying and as I was reading through the Kia Ora Magazine I began fantasizing about overseas travel again, thinking maybe I could handle a long haul flight.

It’s our first time flying North in a while, almost 3 years in fact. Our holidays tend to be in the South Island which is far less populated and since we haven’t been doing any international travel, it made Auckland feel quite foreign – the size of the city, the height of the buildings and number of people we saw, everything was on a much bigger scale to what we have grown used to in recent times.

We check into our accommodation, Imagine Beach Road, it was only completed 6 months ago so everything is new and modern. It’s in a great central location too, perfect for our weekend getaway.

It’s already early evening so we decide to head out for a bite to eat before the concert. I had been planning on going to Saigonz, a Vietnamese restaurant, which was just across the road and had some great reviews. Unfortunately it was closed. So we head out for a wander down to Britomart in search of dinner.

We try a Mexican place which is full and notice how many people are out and about in town. Probably all heading to the concert, and probably like us, all looking for some dinner before the show. It never occurred to me to book something in advance. We try another restaurant that is also full, but they suggest we try the one downstairs. We look around, a bit confused, and the waiter points to a glass door with no signage. We head down some stairs into a dark hallway and sure enough, there is a restaurant. We ask the host if they have any room and he tells us they have space at the chef’s table for walk-ins.

So we follow him into a dark, underground, windowless room. We have no idea what type of food they serve (although by the decor I am guessing Asian) and no idea of the price. But judging by the buzz in the room and the number of people, this place is popular.

We are seated at the chef’s table, a prime spot for watching all the food getting cooked. On the menu I notice that we have arrived at Ghost Street and our waiter explains that they serve sharing plates from 3 distinctly different regions in China. To order, we mark on the menu the items we want and then peg it above us. It gets collected and the items served when they are ready. If we want more, we just mark down what else we want and peg it back up. No one goes hungry here.

The energy at this place is electric, the vibe is mysterious, the food is fantastic and I am buzzing! What an exciting place to have stumbled across. I love finding hidden gems like this. This would be a great place to go with a group of friends, the sharing plates lend themselves well to this. It’s a bit harder when I am a vegetarian and Daniel is a big meat eater, although, Daniel still managed to share my plates!

After our hunger is satisfied and my senses delighted, we head to Spark Arena for the concert. I haven’t been around this many people in a while, we are surrounded by 10,000 fans (a lot of whom are teenage girls who seem to enjoy screaming at the top of their lungs.) The concert was amazing though, Billie is so talented and has so much energy. I have no idea how she manages to jump and dance on stage like that and still manage to sing. She has a very inclusive presence and is clear how much she cares for and loves her fans.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of high pitched screaming, and as I settle happily into bed for the night, ready for sleep and resting my ears, I can’t help but feel just a little bit old!

Exploring New Plymouth – Part 2

The morning is spent eating birthday cake over cups of tea and chats. What a great way to start the day. The weather forecast isn’t looking too great for today or the rest of the trip, but it’s not raining yet, so we head out for a walk. Dad wants to do the Te Henui Walkway so that’s where we head.

The start of the walk is where the river mouth meets the sea. I get out of the car and am blasted with a cold, icy wind. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Who’s idea was this? It’s so cold, what an unpleasant walk this will be’

We spend the first few minutes in the playground, with young and old having a go on the digger!

But it’s too cold to sit around so we start walking. It’s a nice setting, but the weather is not making it very enjoyable at all! However, after about 5 minutes, we turn a corner and the wind disappears and completely transforms the walk. I am not hating it anymore, it’s actually rather nice. It’s an easy flat walk and I enjoy looking at the layers in the forest. The tall towering trees, right down to the ground cover ferns and seedlings. Moss covers the bare branches and vines drape across the trees. It’s such a fascinating eco system.

Daniel and I are walking much faster than the rest of the party, we are quite far ahead, but Lachie is on his bike and catches up in no time. The flat terrain makes it a great place for riding bikes. The walk twists and turns, but sticks to the river, we walk under several bridges and then arrive at one we need to walk over. While we wait for the others to catch up, we decide to have a few games of pooh sticks. Lachie selects his stick, I use a large, dried leaf and of course, Uncle Daniel decides to use a massive log that he’s found, it’s at least as tall as him. Lachie’s stick unfortunately sinks, my leaf gets caught up in Daniel’s log, and Daniel declares himself the winner. I love the joy that can be found in such a simple activity.

Daniel and I have lunch at The Backyard Cafe and take a look around the shops before heading back home. We spend the rest of the afternoon eating birthday cake, drinking tea and taking a dip in the spa.

One of my goals for the year is to watch some sunrises and sunsets. So, whenever I am on the East or West coast, I am making an effort to do this. And since New Plymouth is on the West Coast, despite the weather, I am down at the beach to watch the sun go down. It’s pretty overcast, but there is a break in the clouds and golden hues are pouring through it. The tide is low, which has exposed a sandy part of the beach. The colours from this patch of gold are reflecting in the wet sand. It’s not your traditional sunset, but it’s beautiful. I also note the vastness of the ocean.

Looking out to sea, all there is is ocean and sky. In Wellington, we are in an enclosed harbour. The view I am so use to seeing always has land at the other side of the ocean. Its a simple, beautiful reminder of how small we are in this big awesome world.

The next day is wet, wild and the last full day of our holiday. Daniel is keen to go to the Len Lye Art Gallery so we head there, while the rest of the family go to the local museum. Both great rainy day activities. To be honest, art galleries aren’t really my thing, but it’s still interesting. I like the tall ceiling entrance way and there are some interesting kinetic metal sculptures which we sit and watch/listen to for a while.

We have lunch across the road at The Public Catering Company I am delighted to find they make doughnuts and their filled focaccia is pretty good too, I highly recommend you check out this place! After lunch, Daniel spends up large at the record shop and I take a wander down the street looking in the home ware and plant stores. They have some really nice shops here.

We meet up with the rest of the family and head to Bowlarama for some glow in the dark mini golf and arcade games before heading back home for more birthday cake and boardgames.

Reflecting on this trip, a lot of the things we did, we could have done at home. We didn’t do or see much that was particularly Taranaki, but having those 4 nights away with the family, being able to spend quality time with my niece and nephew was so special. They are growing up so fast and I am grateful that I get to spend the time with them.

A family trip to New Plymouth – Part 1.

Any good road trip should start with road trip snacks so we make our way to a local bakery, Fix Federation. The Lower Hutt Sweet As Challange is on and I want to try their Biscoff Smash Hot Chocolate.

Yes, it’s as good as it looks! This trip is off to a good start.

We are heading to New Plymouth for a family holiday. We will be joined by my Mum, Dad, brother, sister in law, nephew and niece. Last Christmas we decided not to do gifts, and instead put that money towards a family trip. Finally, we have made it happen.

It’s a bright, sunny, winter’s day. I like days like this, it’s crisp and cool. Trees are bare silhouettes, having dropped all their leaves, it feels kind of magical.

We stop for lunch in Wanganui to spend some time with my aunt and uncle. They have a cute little dog named Millie and a reptile friend. I say “Look at the lizard Lachie” he replies with “It’s a bearded Lizard Auntie Lani” Noted, thanks Lachie!

As we get closer to Taranaki, we can see the mountain, there are clouds on the peak, but we can see the snow line. We were hoping we might be able to get the kids to the snow, but it looks way too high for that. We will have to save that for another trip.

We arrive at the house and it is beautiful, it’s very large, which will be perfect for all the family and it has an indoor pool and spa pool. What more could you need? Of course it doesn’t take long before the kids are into their togs and enjoying the warm water of the spa pool. It’s a nice way to end a long day of travel.

I wake in the morning to little whispers coming from the end of the bed. Lachie and Lily have snuck into our room and are whispering at the end of the bed, trying to decide if we are awake. I lift up the covers and they both get in for some morning snuggles. I love this part of family holidays. It’s so special to spend some quality time with them.

Today is Miss Lily’s 3rd birthday and my brother is cooking up a birthday breakfast, crepes, fruit salad and scrambled eggs. James is a pretty good cook and I always like going away on holiday with him!

It’s Lily’s day today, so she gets to choose what we do. She wants to go to the park, so we head out to Pukekura Park. We came here last year with Daniel’s family, but it was at night for the Lights Festival. It’s nice to experience the park in the daylight.

The park is tranquil. Mature trees, a lake and an abundance of bird life. I like being in the forest away from home, it’s noticeably different. We are north of home and the foliage feels more tropical with lots of palms dotted amongst more familiar trees.

It’s another lovely winter day. Out in the open, the sun is glorious, I can feel its warmth on my skin. In the bush, it’s pretty cold, but the forest has a gorgeous, damp, earthy smell. We amble along, it’s a large park, and make our way to the Bowl of Brooklands – a large grassy hill that looks down towards a stage. This would be such a great place to see an outdoor concert.

The reason we have wandered up here is to go to the Brooklands Zoo. It turns out to be a pretty cool little zoo. They have a great range of animals, farmyard animals like pigs and llamas, a reptile house (no bearded lizards this time) birds, primates and other creatures. The capybaras were great, I know they are the world’s largest rodent, I just hadn’t realised quite how big they get! Another favourite were the monkeys. They had several species. I find them fascinating to watch, their swinging and climbing ability is outstanding.

I think my favourite though, was the Burmese pheasant. A very colourful bird, (obviously the male) was running around all over the aviary, feathers puffed out, trying to impress the ladies, none of whom seemed the least bit interested. He was very persistent, animated and entertaining to watch.

After our little outing to the zoo, Daniel and I head off into the city center for some lunch. We choose an Indian restaurant, purely because we liked the name, Arranged Marriage. They serve South Indian cuisine and I loved that they served lunch sized portions. It was the perfect amount and really delicious. Especially their naan, that was yum!

In the afternoon, I spend some time decorating a birthday cake for Lily while everyone else makes their way to the pool. It doesn’t take long before they all start migrating towards the spa pool though. Apparently the pool isn’t very warm. When I join them, the music is playing and the drinks are flowing.

The day is finished with an Italian dinner at Belle Vita as Miss Lily loves antipasti platters, especially olives. I think she ate most of the olives that we got for the starter. I of course had a pizza. It’s got to be one of my favourite foods!

Exploring Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve

I don’t know about you, but I have quite a long bucket list of places I want to visit and experiences I want to have in New Zealand and abroad. Some, like a weekend at Lakestone lodge, come with a rather large price ticket attached. Others can be enjoyed for free.

The Pinnacles Track is a walk in the Wairarapa that I have been wanting to do for some time. It featured in Peter Jackson’s LOTR – Return of the King film as The Path to the Dead. Whether you are a LOTR fan or not, this is an excellent walk and a great place to explore.

Let me set the scene; It is Matariki (Maori New Year, the first year this has been a public holiday here) and Daniel and I have decided to take the opportunity to go exploring. It’s a cold day, but the sun is trying to break through the clouds as we make the 1.5 hour drive to the reserve. I do love winter. Especially on a calm, still day. The soft blue hues of winter skies and cool mist hugging the bare trees, it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s a scenic drive, and even if we weren’t going for the walk, it would have been a nice day out.

We arrive late in the morning and I am quite surprised by the number of cars that are here. For a walk that is so remote, it seems pretty popular. We set out along the trail, if you can really call it that. You can’t really get lost (and that’s saying a lot coming from me) but the track is more just walking along the river stones, following the stream. It gets a bit muddy in parts and several times we have to cross the river, jumping across stones. (Flash back to our Abel Tasman Walk earlier in the year where I pulled a muscle in my leg from jumping over stones) Needless to say, I take a lot of care doing this. No injuries this time, and I stay dry. Good job!

The first half of the walk is flat, easy walking, following the river. Toi Toi and flax grow alongside the river and the surrounding hills are green with vegetation.

And then the landscape changes. We leave the river and the green hills behind us. This will be hard, I can see the incline goes on for sometime. I try to pace myself and watch my footing. We are walking on a mix of stones, gravel and shingle. And then Daniel calls out “Frog”. I look over to where he is pointing and just above his foot is a little green frog. I think it’s the first time I have seen a frog in the wild. It just sits there, its little webbed feet clinging onto its rock, not really bothered by us.

While part of me would like to hang out here for a while and continue watching the frog, I know I need to keep moving before I lose my momentum.

This is the first time since leaving the river that I have really looked up. We are in a fairly narrow channel, surrounded by tall, straight rock cliffs. It’s a really impressive sight. We make it to the top, stopping to take it all in and look at how high we climbed. The rock formations are something else, small and large rock chips fused together with a natural cement that has gradually been eroded away over time. They are so tall and straight, standing proud and towering overhead.

We head back along the same track to the river. The surface is rocky and uneven, so I spend a lot of time looking at my footing so I don’t trip. This does mean that I blindly follow Daniel into the mud. He is agile enough to be able to jump up onto the side of a hill and bypass it. Me on the other hand, well, I just have to go through it. (On reflection I could have back tracked and found a different route, but I didn’t have that thought at the time.) So I finish the walk covered in thick mud, well past my ankles. What an adventure.

We make it back to the car, and since we are in The Wairarapa, we head home via one of my favorite towns, Martinborough, to sit in the sun at The Village Cafe and refuel with some lunch. It was an excellent day out.