Today is off to a great start. I wake up to no rain and French toast! French Toast! Yum!
I sit down by the beach. The sun is out and warming me up. Finally! It’s so nice to see you sunshine, you have been a stranger these last 2 days. The water is so clear, and still. There are no big waves. It’s a very sheltered bay and so peaceful. It’s just like in the Islands, minus the palm trees. Finally I am basking in the sunshine. This is more like what I had imagined.
Slowly I move down to the water. My body is very stiff and sore from yesterday’s adventure. I am glad we are kayaking today, I don’t think I could manage a walk. The sand is soft and powdery, the water cool and inviting. The sea is so clear, I can see little fish swimming around and their shadows cast on the ocean floor.
Again, we are given 2 choices for the day. We can leave soon, take our gear and paddle back up to Bark Bay and get collected from there. Or, we can have a cruisy day, leave a bit later and explore the lagoon at high tide in the kayaks and be collected from where we currently are. Today I am pleased that our group chooses the cruisy option!
We leisurely pack up the tents, our gear and our campsite. All we need today is our small dry bags with water, togs and a camera. We get into the kayaks and head off. Today is about exploring in the sunshine! It ends up being a bit of a nature tour. We see shags, a stingray, oyster catches and sea stars. Red is really knowledgeable and is able to share lots of information about them with us. It’s nice paddling in the lagoon. Everything about today feels relaxed and leisurely. It’s amazing what a difference a bit of sun can make.
We stop for lunch in a small bay and while Red is preparing it, we all go for a swim. It’s really cold today, despite the sun being out. I think it’s gotten colder each day! While we are in the water, the ladies from the other group arrive in their kayak. They have paddled down from Bark Bay and will head down to Anchorage to join us for pick up.
We spend a while at this bay, having lunch and enjoying the amazing sunshine. But all good things must come to an end and it’s time to start the journey home. We jump in the kayaks and begin the paddle back. Daniel wants to be near the rocks as it’s ‘more interesting’ so we are constantly having to try and maneuver around them and avoid the ones that appear suddenly just below the surface. It’s not really very relaxing. The water gets choppy in a few places and the swell pushes us into the rocks. I get nervous that it’s going to roll us over, but nothing like that happens.
We land in Anchorage and unload the gear, then the ladies come sailing in. Yes, sailing! They have made a makeshift sail boat by linking their kayaks and using a fly and their paddles as a sail. It’s pretty cool to watch. They cruise into shore with a big hooray, shouting and cheering at their achievements. They have done so well. What an awesome group of women! I hope that I am as adventurous and well connected with friends when I am their age.
We board our water taxi and head back to Marahau. It’s not until we do this trip that I realise how far we actually paddled on that first day. In the rain. I feel pretty proud of myself. We have all done exceptionally well!
Back at the base we unpack our gear, change into clean clothes and enjoy sitting in the sun. Today’s weather has been glorious. It has soaked away any remaining dampness from my body. This trip was far from my expectations, mostly because of the weather, but with some positivity and a ‘just got to roll with it’ attitude, it turned out to be an amazing adventure.
Our kayaking and camping tour ended up being a kayaking, walking, camping, DOC hut, river crossing, nature cruising adventure. We got to see the park from sea and from land. At its best and at its worst. Best of all, I got to enjoy this experience with my best friend.
It rained persistently all night and into the morning. Will it ever stop? My visions of basking in the Abel Tasman sunshine are quickly fading.
But I get up and am greeted with a hot cup of mint and matcha tea. It’s so good and makes the weather seem not that bad. The ladies are up. They are eager to know what the plan for the day is and ask their very patient guide Kyle about 100 times what they will be doing. Our guides are waiting for a weather update before they make any decisions.
Breakfast is toasted muffin splits with jam and banana. A nice way to start the day. Red then gives us the options. First, he lays down the facts. The wind out on the water is too strong today so kayaking is off the table. But, it is meant to stop raining around lunchtime.
Our 2 choices, we can walk to Anchorage Bay, around a 4 hours walk and the water taxi will collect our gear and kayaks and drop it off. Or, we stay at Bark Bay and do some walks in the afternoon. Regardless of where we go, we will need to tent tonight as there is no room at the inn. But it shouldn’t be raining.
Our group decides to walk to Anchorage. Its not often you get to do one of the great walks, without having to carry all the gear!
Kyle suggests we take a walk to see the waterfall again, in this weather it should be more impressive. So we head out to take a look. The water has gone very brown, but otherwise it doesn’t look much different. Still, the walk in the bush is nice. The rest of the morning is spent in the hut, chatting and warming ourselves around the fire.
We have lunch and as promised, the rain stops. We pack up all the gear and take it down to the beach. It’s probably only a 3 minute walk but we have to do several trips and the items get heavier and heavier. We get everything down to the beach, only to find the boat is anchored at the other end of the beach and can’t get down to us. So we then each make a couple of trips back and forth along the beach in the soft squishy, so hard to walk in sand with all the heavy items. Then followed by a river crossing to finally get to the boat. It’s fast flowing water and up to my knees so I take it slowly and manage to not fall in.
That done, we are ready to start our walk to Anchorage Bay. We set off and my fitbit buzzes. I have just completed my goal of 10,000 steps for the day! There are going to be a lot of steps done today!
The walk is beautiful. It’s so nice to be able to explore without having the weight of a tramping pack. Initially I was disappointed, I wanted to kayak Abel Tasman, but I think this worked out for the best. We got to see the park from the sea, now we get to experience it from the land. They are quite different view points.
We then come to a small detour to a lookout point. The group decides not to do it, I’m disappointed, but we agree we will go to the next one. The next one comes around pretty quickly. It’s a 5 mins detour to take us to see Sandfly Bay. Its a steep path down, not a nice, smooth track. We have to almost climb down, finding footing among the tree roots. All I can think about is how we are going to have to come back up this! It takes us way longer than 5 minutes but we finally end up on a golden sandy beach with huge granite boulders that have been smoothed over by the sea. It also lived up to it’s name, although, most beaches in this area have a mass of sandflies. We spend a little while on the beach, I close my eyes and try to soak up the peacefulness, the waves, the birds and cicadas. Lovely.
Then it’s time to head back up. All you can do is place one foot in front of the other and set your own pace. When we reach the top, we all need a break to catch our breath. We notice on the other side of the sign, pointing to Sandfly Bay, someone has scratched a 1 in front of the 5 minutes. 15 minutes, that seems more like it.
We carry on, the track does have some elevated sections, but for the most part it is pretty easy walking. I do find the hills pretty challenging. I walk a lot, but mostly on the flat. Its a well maintained track, it’s probably one of the most walked tracks in the country. It’s mostly through the forest, but every now an again, there is a break in the trees where you can see the ocean and little secluded coves.
We eventually arrive at Torrent Bay. It used to be a farm that then got subdivided. Now there are baches (holiday homes) everywhere. Some are small, modest, olde fashioned kiwi baches, others are a bit more upmarket. It’s a pretty sweet place for a holiday house! Regardless of their size, they would all be worth a fortune!
At Torrent Bay, we are again given 2 options. Anchorage is the next bay over. We can do the low tide walk, which involves river crossings, or, take the high tide route, which takes an extra hour and a half, but takes you past the 10 minute detour to Cleopatra’s Pool where there are large smooth rocks you can slide down into the pool. We have been walking for a while, I might be tempted to take a dip.
The group decide on the low tide walk, they want to get to the campsite, but Red lets Daniel and I take the high tide walk. I am here to see and experience the park. I am taking the opportunities as they come. As we set off, my fitbit buzzes again. 20,000 steps!
It’s nice having this time with just Daniel. We can set our own pace and I can stop when I want to take in my surroundings and enjoy the nature. I don’t mind at all that it’s adding all this extra time to our walk. While the others are walking straight through the lagoon, our track follows it circumference, snaking in and out.
We get to the detour for Cleopatra’s Pool and follow the track alongside the river. The forest here is stunning. Low growing fern, punga, black beach and rimu densely fill the sides of the river. It’s layered and textured and so exquisite. The photo’s just don’t do it justice.
Then the track stops. We have reached the pools but the river has forked and we are on the wrong side. On the other side of the riverbank we can see the sign for Cleopatra’s Pool. We look around but can’t find any track to get us there. There are some big boulders in the river so we decide to cross there. We jump across on the rocks. The last ones are quite far apart. I’m not sure I will be able to make that. Daniel of course does it with ease, then steadies himself, ready to catch me.
One. Two, Three. I jump. I almost don’t make it, but Daniel grabs me and pulls me onto the rock. As I land though, feel something go pop in my leg. I do a quick assessment of my body, I am shaking but I can still walk, good. I am limping a little, hopefully it will be ok. We still have 1.5 hours of walking to do.
The jump across has got us to the pools, but the water is high and fast flowing, it’s also pretty brown. There is no way we will attempt to slide down those rocks, it wouldn’t be safe. So we take some photos, admire the view and then hop back across the rocks to the track. I take a different route, but again, the last step looks too far for me to jump. I am not risking that again. So it’s off with the shoes and socks and I walk the last part. It’s fast flowing water up to my knees, but it’s only a couple of steps and Daniel is right there to help me.
We walk the rest of the track. My leg is a bit sore, but I am managing. I think I will be pretty stiff though once I cool down and my muscles are no longer warm. The track finally leads us out to another beautiful beach. Anchorage Bay. A huge, crescent stretch of golden sand. The sea is green, reflecting the colour of the trees and boats have docked in the quite bay. The water looks so inviting. Again, it is quite a long beach, so we start our walk to the camp. Today’s walk has started and ended on the beach. As we set off, my fitbit buzzes again. 30,000!
We arrive at camp to find the rest of the group have put up our tent. How sweet! There is also a delicious looking spread of wine, chips, cheese, crackers ready for us to dive into. The chips almost hold me hostage, but there is one thing I must do first. Go for a swim.
No one else is keen to join me so I head down on my own. The water is cold and gets deep very quickly (not like at Bark Bay) but it is incredible. I become weightless and my tired, sore, achy muscles are loving it. I am the only one on the beach. The water is so clear and flat, apart form the little circles forming on the surface from the light rain. This is magical. A little perfect moment just for myself. It’s things like this that make life so sweet.
I stay in much longer than I intended because my muscles feel so soothed but I am also starting to get rather cold and we are in a tent tonight so getting warm is going to be a bit harder. I actually find it really hard to get out, I almost fall over twice, my legs are groaning as they are forced to support my weight again. I slowly hobble back to camp, change into warm clothes and sit myself down right in front of the chips and cheese. I’ve earnt this!
The rest of the evening is spent around the picnic table, chatting with our group and enjoying some local wines. Red cooks us dinner and we watch some weka having a stand off. They are such cheeky birds. Not at all afraid and very keen to try and get into the cooking equipment and food. There are lots of fantails at this campsite too. They are such sweet little birds.
Tonight we sleep in our tent. It’s not the most comfortable sleep, but I am exhausted enough that it doesn’t really matter. I fall asleep to the rhythmic sound of the waves and a morepork. It’s been a good day.
I am not a cyclist, by any means. The last time I rode a bike was in 2020, in short bursts between the Martinborough Vineyards. The time before that was in 2019 on an eBike day tour in Rome. And before that, it was probably back in 2012 at Ohope Beach.
Cycling is not my thing.
But I love the outdoors and being active. I also love the Central Otago Landscapes, so there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to explore this area by bike.
There are many cycle tracks and trails in Otago, including the Otago Rail Trail that connects Clyde to Middlemarch along a 152 Kilometre track. In May 2021, The Lake Dunstan Trail opened. My brother and I decided to tackle this 52km, track that connects Cromwell to Clyde.
We collect our e-bikes from Bike IT Now in Clyde and are given a short induction. We then do a quick test ride up and down the street to make sure we are comfortable and heights are set correctly. I am pretty rusty and wobble all over the place, but after a few minutes I get the hang of it. Your know the saying, ‘It’s just like riding a bike’.
We then set off to tackle the ride. I am excited for the day ahead and the sights we will see. After 10 or so minutes I test out the ebike, putting it onto eco. What a difference, it makes the pedalling so easy.
The path snakes alongside The Clutha River, which is a beautiful, vibrant, emerald green this morning. Throughout the day, the colours change to various shades of blues and turquoises. The lakes and rivers aren’t brilliant jewel colours in the North Island. South Island lakes are really quite special in this way.
It’s looking like it will be a hot day, but we have set off early and hope to avoid the fierce afternoon heat. The track starts out flat, then grows into a gradual climb. We cross Hugo bridge, an 85.5 metre suspension bridge. All I can say is, don’t look down! The track gets steeper and steeper, but with the eBike, it’s no problem, I just switch it onto boost and the bike practically pedals itself (and me) up the hills.
As we reach the peak, 342m high, there are some incredible views across the river and looking out to Cromwell. We stop for a while to soak in the view and see how far we have come.
We have gone up the hill, now it’s time to go down the other side. It’s pretty steep with some sharp turns and there are a few parts where I have to get off and walk the bike down. Cycling down steep hills is hard, but I do feel for the people we pass coming up it!
We reach the bottom and come across the newly launched Coffee Afloat. A boat serving coffee, ice creams, baking, cold drinks and snacks to the trail riders. In September, Burger Afloat was also launched. It’s pretty popular, there must have been at least 50 people there, resting on the nearby rocks and refueling.
We decide not to stop, so instead, carry onto the next section of the track, which is really quite impressive. Not impressive scenery, (although it is lovely) but the track itself. Up to this point, we have be cycling along tracks carved out of the hills, but this part is a path, suspended off the rocks, right above the river. Goodness knows how they were able to build such a structure, but it makes for some scenic riding.
By the time our tummies start to rumble, the perfectly positioned Carrick Vineyard comes into view. We refuel with pizza, olives and a cold drink. It’s an idyllic setting, but it’s also getting pretty hot so we don’t hang around for long after eating.
Cycling further along the river bank, over a bridge and through Cromwell Heritage Precinct we arrive at Bike IT Now to return the bikes. I am hot, yes, and my bum is rather sore (despite the double gel cushioned seat) but I’m not tired. The eBike was amazing, it made this trip possible for me. I don’t think I could have done this on a regular bike.
Apparently 70% of people doing this trail cycle from Cromwell to Clyde. We did it the other way and I am so glad we did. It’s a popular trail and with people heading in both directions, it does get pretty tight. Some parts of the track are especially narrow and I was always pleased to be on the side against the hill, rather than next to the edge!
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, cycling through diverse landscape; dry, barren looking land, past huge rocks (and some pretty big drops) past pretty purple lupin flowers, through cool shady forests, over bridges and through historic precincts in a land that is rich in history.
All you need is a day and you too can discover some of the charm Central Otago has to offer.
I want to start this post by acknowledging how fortunate I am to be able to write a post like this. The last 2 years have been exhausting, challenging and devastating for so many people. I write this with a thankful heart, very much aware of how lucky I am to be able to travel so freely.
I like to reflect, especally as 2021 draws to an end. Looking briefly back at all the photos I have uploaded this year, the locations, the activities, brings a smile to my face and I feel very grateful.
Initially I was going to do a recap on my favorite travel of 2021, but actually, I want to break that down a bit. My favourite moments, travel locations and activities.
These are exactly that. Moments. They only last for a few minutes, or even seconds in some instances, but it’s enough to take my breath away and make time feel like it is standing still. These types of moments are what make life so sweet.
Looking into the eyes of a wild tuatara. It was a very humbling experience, so much wisdom and years of time gone by lie behind their eyes. The fact that it was wild and not in captivity, made it all the more special. Exploring Matiu/Somes Island
Sitting in a spa pool with a magnificent kereru perched on the other side. We get a lot of kereru in our garden, they are one of my favourite birds, but I have never been that close to one. To see it in so much detail was incredible, it’s iridescent feathers and pure white chest. Lake Swims, Wild Blackberries & a Kereru.
Seeing a magnificent Kotuku (White Heron) fly silently and ever so gracefully across Okarito Lagoon. Kayaking with Herons.
Looking into the eyes of a seal. We just stared at each other, underwater, taking each other in. That kind of thing doesn’t happen every day! Swimming with Seals.
Looking up from beneath a waterfall. Who would have thought that falling water could be such a spiritual experience. Time just froze, while I looked up in awe at the water droplets slowly floating down on me. Doubtful Sound Tour – Day 2.
Sitting outside, listening to the powerful rumbling thunder roll across the sky above me from left to right. Escape to the Country
It wont come as any shock to you that I love New Zealand. I may be biased, but I think it is the most stunning place in the world (followed closely by Slovenia) Aotearoa, the Long White Cloud, is full of natural beauty and breathtaking scenery. There are many places to fall in love with, but here are some of my favourite.
Pukawa. Nestled into the southern shore of Lake Taupo, it’s the perfect place to have a quintessential kiwi summer holiday. Lake swims, BBQs and days spent soaking up the sun. I loved everything about this place and it was one of my favourite holidays of the year. Lake Swims, Wild Blackberries & a Kereru.
Hokitika. A small town on the West Coast of the South Island. We didn’t go with much expectation, it was just a convenient place to stop and break our traveling days. What we discovered was a delightful town full of crafts, amazing sunsets and fun activities. Discovering Hokitika
Westcoast Glacial Rainforest. Not one particular place as such, but I had to include it. I fell in love with the rainforest. It’s incredibly unique, there aren’t a lot of places in the world where rainforest meets glaciers and it’s something everyone should experience. It has an ancient feel to it and is the most vivid shades of green. It made my heart swoon.
Kingston. Located at the bottom of Lake Wakatipu is Kingston. I have never stayed here, only visited for half an hour or so, and passed by it a few times on our motorbike. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, it has a still, sleepiness about it which has me captivated.
I love being a tourist in my own country and there is something for everyone. Here are my favourites from this year.
Caving in Charlestown Charlestown is a tiny little town, just south of Westport and home to some exceptional caves. The stalactites and stalagmites create some gorgeous formations. The cave is also very untouched. You won’t find handrails, lighting and walking platforms here, just a gorgeous cave in its natural beauty. Also home to the largest glowworm population I have ever seen. Think of the most magnificent starry night sky you have ever seen and that’s getting close to how it looks. Check out Underworld Adventures
Kayaking in Okarito Lagoon. This is an activity that has been on my bucket list for some time and it didn’t disappoint. The lake is incredibly still allowing some beautiful mirroring of the mountain on the flat water. There is also stunning forest and bird life to view. You could hire a kayak and do an independent trip, but I recommend a guided tour. Gemma was amazing and her in-depth knowledge made the experience so much richer. Check out Okarito Kayaks
Swimming with Seals in Kaikoura. It’s rated Lonely Planet’s Top 10 best marine encounters and I can totally understand why. They are fun, playful, curious and so graceful, completely the opposite to the awkward masses I am used to seeing sitting on the rocks. Check out Seal Swim Kaikoura
Doubtful Sound Tour. Doubtful Sound is less well known than the very popular Milford Sound. And that is partly what makes it so special. You feel like you have the place to yourself. Kayak beside huge fiords, look for penguins, seals and dolphins, watch the sun come up and immerse yourself in a pretty remote, untouched part of the country. You can do a day tour, but an overnight tour is well worth the extra money. Check out Real NZ
So there you have it. What an exceptional year it has been. I hope you have enjoyed this recap of Exploring the Long White Cloud. What have been your favourite travel moments of 2021?
And just in case you are wondering, all the words I share are my own. I don’t get paid or earn any commissions. I share my stories with you because it’s something I love to do.
First of all, apologies to my followers for skipping last week’s post. It was a hard decision to make but I spent a lot of the week unwell and just didn’t have the energy to write. (Yes, I got a covid test, rather unpleasant, but great for peace of mind to know that I don’t have it)
I’m so grateful to those of you from around the world who check in each week to read what I write. I love sharing my stories, adventures and beautiful country with you all.
You may see reduced posts from me over the next few weeks. I had a plan of what I was going to write about, but we are currently in a lockdown after a case of the Delta virus was discovered in the community. This has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for my blogging, as the only travelling I can currently do is laps around the block!
Nethertheless, I am so grateful that I get to call this place home. I am grateful for New Zealand’s fast, unified response to covid. Our team of 5 million have and are working hard to eradicate covid from our shores. This has meant that we have been able to spend the majority of this covid world with so many freedoms and the opportunity to enjoy exploring our own backyard with very few restrictions. For the most part of 2020 and 2021, life here has been reasonably normal.
We have a bucket list trip booked for early/mid September which we have been looking forward to for the last 6 months. I am hopeful that we will still be able to do this, but if we have to postpone it, I know that it is for good reason. To my New Zealand readers, hang in there. This is not forever, we are all in this together and I am confident that we will once again see covid eliminated from our communities and home.
I have been working from home this week and have enjoyed seeing the birds that visit our garden. We are lucky to have native birds around here, and I do see them frequently, but they are even more plentiful during lockdown, when there are far fewer cars and people out and about. So, I thought I would do a post on some of our beautiful native birds.
One of my favorites, and a frequent visitor to our garden is the Kereru. A large, chubby wood pigeon that defies gravity every time they fly. You hear them before you see them, the distinctive whooshing sounds of their wings trying to keep such a large body airborne, and the crashing about in the trees as they attempt to land on branches far to thin to support their weight. Their iridescent coloured plumage and striking white chest, makes them, I think, a really attractive bird. They were traditionally hunted for their feathers and meat but it is now illegal and their population numbers are good. I had an amazing experience earlier this year when a kereru landed on the edge of a spa pool my nephew and I were in. Seeing it that close, it’s feathers and colours in so much detail, it was such a highlight.
The Tui is another frequent visitor to our garden. They love the nectar that is in the plants surrounding our home. I have always thought them very pretty birds, again their plumage is iridescent with distinctive white feathers adorning their neck. They also have the most beautiful song. I learned recently that they have 2 voice boxes. This enables them to produce such varied sounds and melodies. After observing them over the years I have noticed they are quite territorial birds, you will often find them chasing away other birds, including other tui, sometimes with quite a lot of aggression. For this reason, they have dropped a little on my favorite list! They are very common in New Zealand, although I have just learnt that there is a Chatham Island tui that is a threatened species.
Piwakawaka, also known as the fantail. You can’t help but love these cheeky, friendly, curious little birds. While I have seen them at home, you are far more likely to see them in the bush. I did see one last week at home, darting about the large tree in the neighbors garden. It was being chased by an angry tui. They make a distinctive cheep-cheep sound and have a striking striped tail which is revealed when fanned out.
The Tauhou, or Silvereye is another little bird that has just started to visit my garden. From time to time I will put wild bird seed out. It is the little Tauhou that seem to be attracted to this. (Which is good news, my bird feeder would break in a second if a Kereru tried to feed from it!) They are a mossy green colour with a silver ring around their eye and similar size to a sparrow.
The Pukeko, also known as a ‘swamp hen’ to early settlers, is a bird I have always found a little unusual. Not so much in it’s looks, but in the way it moves. It’s long legs and big claws that move in such a distinctive way, that I think, makes them look prehistoric. They can fly, although not very well. They are pretty common in New Zealand. You will likely see them on your travels here. A work colleague of mine has one that has kind of become a pet, it visits his garden regularly to say hello and see what food is on the menu. These birds are also territorial, and much to my horror, I have learnt that they sometimes eat baby chicks.
The Takahe is a bit like a pukeko, they are similar in colour and shape, but a heavier build and short legs. for 50 years they were thought to be extinct, but were then rediscovered in Fiordland in 1948. Since then, a lot of effort has gone into conservation and breeding programs. I have wanted to see one of these for a long time and finally managed to last year when I visited Zealandia
A bird I don’t think I have seen, but definitely heard is the Ruru, also known as the morepork. They are a small owl, nocturnal and feed on large insects and small mammals like mice. The have incredible hearing, large eyes and can turn their head 270 degrees. You will hear them at night, making their echoey call which sounds like they are saying ‘morepork’. While I have heard them from time to time in residential areas, I remember their call more from my childhood when we would go on camping holidays.
One day I hope to see a Kiwi in the wild. I have seen them in the zoo, but encountering an animal in it’s natural habitat is something quite special. I did a kiwi spotting tour at Zealandia a few years back. We heard their call, but didn’t see any. I was hoping for another attempt to see them earlier this year when we were in Okarito, but we had just missed the tour season. There are 5 varieties of kiwi, all needing help and protection not to become extinct. They are curious birds, flightless, nocturnal and don’t have tails. Stoats, ferrets, rats and dogs pose a big threat to our national icon.
If you want to get out and about to try and spot some of our beautiful birds, Zealandia in Karori or Kapiti Island are great places to explore.
The engine begins whirring and the propellors spring into life. It’s a rather noisy plane, we are on a little ATR 72-600 on our way to Christchurch.
It’s a morning departure, 8am. It’s a beautiful time to fly. The colours in the sky are soft and peachy, the clouds have golden highlights. It was a dreary, grey, Wellington day, but above the clouds it is always sunny.
I take a look through the inflight magazine, Kia Ora. A picture of Aitutaki, Cook Islands, is on the cover. It looks so inviting with it’s turquoise blue waters. Its white sandy beach is so alluring. However, the majority of the content in this edition is about Aotearoa. It takes me on a photo journey of food festivals, dark sky reserves and glacier hiking. I am quickly reminded again just how extraordinary New Zealand is. There is so much to see and do here. So much beauty to behold. I think I could happily spend a lifetime discovering my homeland.
We touch down in Christchurch. ‘The Garden City’ has put on a stunning winter’s day for us. A bright blue sky and a windless day.
After leading my mum in the wrong direction for about 10 minutes, she takes over map reading and we finally arrive at our Airbnb to drop off our bags. (Never trust me with maps or directions!) We are staying in a modern town house on the edge of the city. A perfect location for exploring.
The last time I was in Christchurch was about 18 months after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. A lot of the city was damaged and 185 lives were lost. Even 18 months later I remember experiencing aftershocks. The place was in ruins, buildings destroyed, homes destroyed and rubble around the place. So much of the city would need to be replaced.
10 years on the city is flourishing. It is funky and vibrant. There are enticing restaurants and bars, pop up shops, parks and lots of trees. There is a really interesting juxtaposition of old and new buildings. All around the city is vibrant, quirky, colourful street art painted on the sides of buildings. Even the last remaining ruined buildings have a certain beauty to them. There is no lack of things to see here. The heart of the city has started beating again.
Our first stop is Riverside Market. The lane way into the market is filled with boutique shops. We walk past a Chocolaterie claiming to make the best hot chocolates. I tuck that one away in the back of my mind to try later. Inside the market is an exciting range of eateries, international foods, sweets, pastries and more. I spot a truffle stand and spend some time talking to one of the staff. I haven’t had fresh truffles since Italy, (where I may have over indulged.) They are so decadent and delicious. I love talking to local food artisans and produce suppliers, they are always so passionate about what they do. I walk away from the stall with a business card – The Sassy Salt Lady can forage for truffles for you and send them anywhere in the country. This could get expensive!
Inside, the market is fun, funky and bustling. It’s midday and this seems to be the place to grab lunch. So that’s what we do. It does take us a couple of trips around the market looking at everything before we can decide what to order. There are so many scrumptious looking things. We settle on a Cornish pastie from The Great Pastry Shop and head outside to eat in the sun. The pastry is creamy, buttery and oh so good. Sparrows start appearing in numbers, patiently waiting for the crumbs to drop. They rustle about in the leaves and flitter through the nearby trees. They don’t have to wait long though, I am sure Mum must have fed them half her pastry!
With our tummies full, we take a short walk to the Wall of Remembrance. The names of the 185 people who lost their lives in the earthquake are etched into the stone. Friends and family have left photos, poems and flowers at the base of the wall. There is stillness here. A place to stop and reflect. To remember. May they rest in peace.
We wander back home through the city, taking time to look in shops and soak in the atmosphere. And yes, we head back to try the ‘Best Hot Chocolate’ from She Chocolaterie. We enter the shop and are greeted by the warm, rich smell of chocolate. Decadent, but not overly sweet. We get offered a sample and then we are hooked. It’s so good, we have to get one. We stay in the shop for some time, people watching, resting out feet and enjoying the rich warm chocolaty goodness of our drinks.
Breakfast this morning is on the deck, watching the rising sun while piwakawaka (fantails) flit about in the morning air.
Today has been set aside to discover Pukawa and what better place to start than down at the lake shore. We decide to drive the car down, it’s a 11 minute walk according to Google maps. It would be nice to have been closer to the lake, but the views and tree house feel to this house makes it a sanctuary that is so worth being that far from the lake.
Pukawa has a beautiful little bay that is reserved just for swimming. There is a mix of black sand and volcanic rock which Lachie throws into the lake for a local dog to fetch. The dog has a great time chasing after it then trying to bury it in the sand.
The water is incredibly clear and we all have fun paddling in the still waters. It’s cool but refreshing. Hopefully I will be brave enough to go for a swim later.
We then head to Tokaanu to check out some geo thermal activity. Tokaanu Thermal Walk is a flat, easy, 20 minute loop track that is well maintained. There are lots of danger signs along the way, warning people not to wander from the track. There is lots of thermal activity happening here. We walk along a path lined with manuka trees, pass ponds of crystal clear water, some with bubbles rising up in them, bubbling mud pools, but the last pool was the most impressive. Again the clearest water, with plenty of steam rising off it. Every now and again the steam would clear, revealing a massive hole that appears to plummet to the middle of the earth.
After a delicious BBQ lunch, courtesy of my brother (we are all so lucky he enjoys cooking so much) I have a snooze on the deck chair in the sun. The birds are cheerful, the sun is warm, it’s easy to slip into holiday mode here. I have been so busy with work and then busy painting the exterior of the house in my free time, so this lazy, relaxing time away is just bliss.
After my refreshing nap we head out to do the Omori-Pukawa walk. It goes through some gorgeous forest, tall trees that reach for the sky, creating dappled light on the forest floor. Vines are draped amongst the trees, the forest has an ancient feel to it. Further on we come across wild blackberries and spend some time picking them for Lachie and Lily. We also meet a little piwakawaka who dances around us, fanning it’s tail and chattering away.
After our walk it’s swimming time. There are a lot of people down at the lake, its a popular place to swim. I am unsure about going in, I imagine it could be quite cold. Its quite deep, it gets to a depth of 186 meters and is also the largest fresh water lake in the southern hemisphere, roughly the size of Singapore! So that’s a lot of water that needs heating from the sun! I decide to brave it, I have a Gopro and I want to swim out to the pontoon and film myself jumping in.
I make my way into the water. Dad, James (my brother) and Lachie are already in the water and Lachie is getting thrown through the air in a chorus of laughter and giggles.
The water feels cold, but everyone else is in so I need to be brave. Getting in is always the hard part, but once I am, it is incredible. I wouldn’t even call it ‘refreshing’ because it wasn’t cold at all. I swim out to the pontoon, it’s further than I thought. I can swim, but I am not a strong swimmer and find by the time I get to the pontoon I am quite tired. As I have swum out there, jumping in is easy – I am already wet. And I get some great photos!
The water was absolutely gorgeous and I hope I get to have another swim while we are here. I have a bit of an irrational fear of being attached by a shark and this always plays in my mind when I am swimming, but in a lake, no worries! The perfect place for me to take a dip.
We finish off the day with a dip in the spa and have an incredible encounter. A kereru (very overweight wood pigeon) clumsily lands on a branch that looks way to thin to support its huge body only a few meters from us. It flies off after a couple of minutes but then returns, landing even closer on a post, about 3 meters from us. It then comes even closer, perching on the edge of the spa pool. I am no more than 1.5 meters from it. It was spectacular. Lachie and I sit in the spa, marveling at this beautiful bird, admiring the colours in its feathers, iridescent blues and greens and noticing how big it’s claws are. I have never seen a kereru this close up before. It is a really special experience. I love being perched up in the trees with the birds. I only wish I had had my camera on me!
It’s a grey, rainy day and the air is cool in Wellington, not holiday weather! But it will be good for travelling – it wont be a car sauna today. But less than an hour into the trip we are greeted with blue skies and sunshine.
We are heading to Pukawa, a small holiday spot on the South West edge of Lake Taupo. I have been to Taupo before but not Pukawa, I am looking forward to exploring a new place.
It’s a 4 1/2 hours car ride but we will make a few stops along the way, the first being a caffeine fix for Dad. Although we are travelling along State highway 1, our main highway, it’s not like the highways you have overseas – a lot of it is a single lane and takes you through varied landscapes. Coastal roads, country roads, a desert road and through forests.
Lunch is a simple picnic at Adventure Park in Levin. There is lots of playground equipment, including adult gym equipment. I have a good laugh at trying it out. There is even a human size ‘mouse wheel’. There were a lot of laughs on this one.
The next stop is to RJ’s licroice factory to pick up some essential supplies for the weekend, possibly buying a bit more than we need. We still have a long way to go so we jump back into the car and carry on.
We pass gorges and beautiful clear water streams, Taihape with it’s giant gumboot, the army camp in Waiouru before getting onto the The Desert Road. We didn’t see any wild Kaimanawa horses but there were some great views of the volcanoes- Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro which form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The Desert Road is probably not a landscape that I would describe as beautiful, but it’s certainly intriguing. It’s vast and dry with scrubby bush. Simplistic, wild and untamed. A different landscape to what I am used to looking at.
As we approach Pukawa, Siri gives us direction to our holiday home but listening to her trying to pronounce some of the Maori names is rather entertaining. We past Steaming Hill, this area has a lot of geothermal activity and we can see steam rising up out of the trees. We get our first glimpse of the lake and it’s beautiful. The late afternoon sun is creating a golden glow on the water .
After a day of travelling, we arrive at our holiday home. And Wow. It looked good in the pictures but this place has exceeded expectations. Nestled amongst native trees and surrounded with birdsong, the place feels like a tree house. From the living room and huge deck there are views over the lake. It’s not long before we are making use of the spa pool, sipping wine and slipping into holiday mode as the sun goes down on our first night away.
Ok, confession time. I have lived in Wellington for all 37 (nearly 38) years of my life and never once have I been to Matiu/Somes Island.
Today that changes.
Matiu/Somes Island is located in the middle of Wellington Harbour and has a really rich Maori and European history. For generations, Maori have used the island as a pa (hillfort) As the island is only accessible by waka (boat) it was easy to secure and defend. Te Atiawa iwi (tribe) still have guardianship of the island today.
It has been used for human quarantine from the late 19th / early 20th century as well as animal quarantine. During WW1 and WW2, the island was a camp for enemy alien internees who were considered a security threat. Due to it’s position and view points gun emplacements were built on the top of the Island in 1942, but fortunately were never needed. At the top of the island there is a small museum that delves into the history of Matiu/Somes.
Today, it is a scientific and historic reserve and home to some pretty awesome native wildlife.
Lets go explore!
It is perfect weather, I can’t believe my luck. It’s not often you get a wind free day in Wellington. A 25 minute scenic boat trip on the East by West Ferry has me out there in no time. The sun is warm on my skin and I breath in the fresh salt air. Seagulls follow alongside the boat, occasionally swooping down to catch a fish. Wellington city gets smaller and smaller behind me. Today I am trading in city life for an island, even if it is only for a few hours.
We are welcomed onto the island by DOC (Department of Conservation) staff and then go through a Health & Safety briefing and Bio Security. Matiu/Somes Island is predator free. To keep the native flora and fauna safe, we check our bags, pockets and clean our shoes to make sure we are not bringing anything onto the island that we shouldn’t be. My shoes were rather dirty so it takes me a while to scrape out all the mud stuck in the tread of my shoes.
Bio Security done, it’s time for an adventure.
My first impressions are the trees on the island look pretty windswept. They must get quite a hammering on this side of the island. The seagulls are huge and rather noisy. They circle above me, effortlessly gliding in the wind. And the cicadas! I haven’t heard them much this season and certainly not at this volume, their chorus is loud but they are a welcomed sound of Summer.
Most of the shoreline is protected, it’s home to our little blue penguins, along with other sea birds and seals so we don’t want to be disturbing them. There is a short section of the shoreline that can be walked, so this is where I head first. I pass native flax, toi toi and pohutakawa before finding a sunny space next the the waters edge where I sit, watch and listen for a few minutes. I always find the oceans become alive when you take the time to sit and watch.
Seagulls are cliff diving against brilliant blue skies. The gentle, lapping sound of the waves moves to the rhythm of my soul. I always find this sound so peaceful.
I then take a walk up through forest, heading towards the top of the island. And there, something incredible happens. I get the privilege of seeing a Tuatara in the wild. Tuatara are a type of reptile found only in New Zealand. While they look a bit like a big lizard (they are New Zealand’s largest lizard), they are actually part of the Sphenodontia family which dates back to the dinosaurs. They are the only surviving species from this group.
They are the most magnificent creatures. To look into the depth of a Tuatara’s eyes is a humbling experience. It was such an honor. They are old souls that give us a glimpse into life long ago. It is such a privilege to see one of these creatures in the wild. They can live up to 100 years, I wonder how old this Tuatara is?
After I manage to tear myself away from watching the Tuatara (doing absolutely nothing but it was still mesmerising), I find myself a quiet picnic bench overlooking the lighthouse with views out to Wellington City. Its a different perspective seeing Wellington from here. It’s a pretty city, compact and framed against blue water and green hills.
A simple pleasure in life is just to sit, to be, amongst nature, absorbing your surroundings with no agenda, nowhere to be, nothing that needs doing. So that’s what I do.
And it is wonderful.
After lunch I continue exploring the island on the loop walk. I hear lots of rustling leaves as I make my way around the island. It’s the little lizards getting out in the sun to warm themselves but they dart back into the safety of the bush when they hear me coming. It’s the common skinks that I see, but never have I seen any this big before.
At a high look out point, I look over the edge and find I am looking down on the birds flying around. I am used to looking up at them and it’s a unique experience to view them from above. The sea along the shoreline is so clear and then fades into brilliant jewel colours.
I have one last stop to make before heading home – the very top of the island. I think the seagulls must be nesting. I meet some very stroppy ones, squawking at me, telling me to go away. One even circled me and began swooping down at me.
At the top I am rewarded with incredible 360 degree views. I can see why this site was chosen for gun emplacements. Some of them still remain today, in various conditions. I find the rooms a bit creepy actually and only stand at the entrance, not wanting to go inside. Maybe it’s the way my footsteps echo off the concrete walls.
It’s time to head back down to the wharf to catch the ferry back home. Matiu/Somes island is such a treasure. A pearl of Wellington. I can’t believe it took me this long to visit, but I am so glad that I did!
I love walking. Getting outside, amongst nature, in the fresh air. It is one of life’s delights. It’s not Daniel’s favorite thing to do though so it can be hard sometime to encourage him to come for a walk.
We did get one day of great weather during our 4 night New Plymouth trip and on that day, we did 3 walks. Daniel also helped me cook dinner and then did the dishes (who is this person?) I later found out he had 5 coffees that day. Note to self, make sure Daniel has lots of coffee!
There are lots of walks out this way and I am sure that whatever you choose you will enjoy, but here are the 5 walks we managed to squeeze in between the rain.
Paritutu Rock. ‘When you go to New Plymouth, you have to climb Paritutu rock and see if you can beat my time. I did it in 13 minutes.’ These were the words from my dad.
The first part is mostly steps which get steeper and steeper. Daniel races off. He is on a mission to beat 13 minutes. I struggle. The steps are hard on my knees and really, I don’t expect to beat dad.
This is not an easy stroll. Paritutu stands 156 meters tall and the ascent is steep. I had seen this rock from a distance from Fitzroy beach. It has a very distinct, pointy silhouette. And now we are climbing it.
Half way up, the steps stop and you are left climbing rocks and boulders up a pretty steep cliff face. There is a chain to hold onto to help you scale the cliff.
The views from the top are excellent and makes the challenging walk/climb so worth it. You will be rewarded with stunning uninterrupted 360 degree views across New Plymouth.
I found the descent much harder. Make sure you take your time. This is not an easy walk. Back at the car park my legs feel like jelly. I will be feeling this tomorrow and the days to come!
Oh, and my time, 9.27 minutes. And Daniel was about 7 minutes. Turns out dad couldn’t remember his time so he just made up a number!
Coastal Walkway. The New Plymouth Coastal Walk Way is a 13.2km path that stretches from Port Taranaki to Bell Block Beach. It’s mostly flat, easy walking, following the coast. You don’t need to walk the whole track, just choose a starting point and begin your stroll. We did our walk from Fitzroy Beach to Te Rewa Rewa Bridge adding in a loop walk around Lake Rotomanu. Being summer, there was an explosion of red flowers on all the Pohutakawa trees which looked stunning. We did this walk in the middle of the day, on a rather hot day. I found there was limited shade on this walk so make sure you go prepared. The New Zealand sun can be pretty harsh!
Paritutu Centennial Park. We headed back to Paritutu, not to climb it this time, but to take a walk through the park next to it. Starting at the base of Paritutu rock I felt a sense of pride looking up at it, knowing that I had climbed it the day before. The walk passes through lush open grass, native flaxes and forest, running along side the coast. We found a park bench along the way and sat and watched the surfers cruising the wave in Back Beach. I was surprised at how many surfers there were. It’s not a common sight in Wellington. The walk eventually comes out at another car park with steps leading down to the beach so we walked back along the sandy beach, past the surfers and huge, impressive cliff faces. Apart from the stairs down and back up from the beach it was an easy walk with some great views.
Fitzroy Beach. The house we rented was only a short walk away from Fitzroy beach, so needless to say, come rain or shine, I was down there at least once everyday. When the sun shines, its a very popular beach for swimming and patrolled by lifeguards. But come evening (or early morning) or in the rain, you pretty much have the place to yourself. The huge stretch of sandy, flat beach makes it the perfect place to to take a stroll, have a swim, watch the sunset or just relax.
Pukekura Park I have been to New Plymouth once before, when I was a teenager. The light festival at Pukekura Park is the only thing I remember from that trip. I am not sure I have actually seen this park in the daylight but have no doubt that it would be a beautiful place for a walk.
Come evening, during the Summer school holidays, the park it brilliantly lit for Festival of Lights. There are some beautiful displays and the colourful lights twinkling off the lake are gorgeous and romantic. There is even live music on some of the nights so be sure to check that out.