Lockdown and our Native Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Nel Botha from Pixabay – Kereru

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

Photos by my talented husband

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

Image by LorryM from Pixabay

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

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

Image by Montevideo from Pixabay

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

Image by Violet K from Pixabay – Takahe

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

Photo by Tony Stoddard on Unsplash

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

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

The Garden City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Swims, Wild Blackberries & a Kereru

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!

Discovering Pukawa

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.

Exploring Matiu/Somes Island

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!

New Plymouth Walks

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.

Challenge on.

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.

New Plymouth when it Rains

It’s an early start for us as two little heads pop in through our bedroom door checking to see if Auntie and Uncle are awake. Looks like sleep ins are off the table on this holiday.

The sky is grey and moody today but it’s still warm, so I pop down to the beach after breakfast for a quick stroll and splash in the the waves. I don’t let the light rain stop me from getting outdoors.

The beach is lovely. We pretty much have it to ourselves. The water is warm and I enjoy splashing about in a very uncoordinated manner with one of my nephews. Thinking back to my last year of travel, some of the best moments have been the carefree, childlike play in the waves. Such a simple activity (and as a bonus, completely free) but oh so delightful!

But then the rain gets heavier and thicker. The sun umbrella my father-in-law brought down ain’t going to keep us dry in this weather. We arrive back at the house, soaking wet, but honesty, I feel so alive and invigorated.

The rain looks like it’s here to stay, at least the weather forecast is telling us so – heavy rain and potential thunder storms. So, if like us, you find yourself on holiday in New Plymouth in relentless wet weather, here are a couple of activities to entertain young and old.

Todd Energy Aquatic Centre. I’ll admit, it’s been a long time since I have been to a swimming pool and I had my doubts about enjoying this, but it actually turned out to be a pretty great morning. (Except for forgetting to pack Daniels togs and having to buy a pair at the pool) This place has indoor and outdoor pools with a ton of different inflatables, water features and pool toys to use.

The main pool has a wave machine that seemed to go off every hour which created challenging conditions for my uncoordinated self to get up onto an inflatable boat our family was using. There is an inflatable pool obstacle course where you try to get from the pool edge to the end of the inflatable. I only got over the first hurdle on my first attempt but 2 more goes and I managed to make it all the way to the end. Further than anyone else in the family – pretty proud of myself with that one!

And then there was the hydroslide. There were 2 actually. A family friendly one and a turbo slide. It’s been a very long time since I have been on a hyrdoslide, probably not since my youth, but I am keen to give it a go. I line up with my husband, mother in law and 8 year old niece to give the family friendly one a try. Not too bad. A section of the slide is pitch black which I wasn’t expecting and initially gave me a bit of a shock, but otherwise not too scary. So then we all decide to give the turbo slide a go. While waiting in the queue I look outside to the slides twisting and turning and notice that the turboslide has a rather steep gradient at the start. It makes me feel a little nervous, but kids are lining up to do it so it can’t be that bad.

Famous last words. It was TERRIFYING!!! That steep gradient near the start created a falling sensation, it the pitch black. I couldn’t see anything. I was falling and I couldn’t feel anything around me supporting my body. The shock of it all caused me to struggle breathing as water splashed all around me. After what felt like forever (but probably only a couple of seconds) I can feel the sides of the slide around me again as I begin slipping and sliding up the walls. All I can do is try to focus on my breathing. I exit the slide in chaotic mess and look up to see my mother in law standing there. I exclaim ‘that was awful’!! She replied with ‘I know, it was horrible!’ My niece loved it!

I decided that I couldn’t let that slide defeat me. I can be brave. I know what to expect this time. I line up again. But last minute I chicken out and jump into the line for the family hydro slide. It felt pretty tame after the last one. I finally build up the courage to do the turbo slide again. Not quite so terrifying but I certainly wont be lining up to do it again.

After all that fun and terrifying excitement, I ease my tense muscles by soaking in the spa for a bit.

Naki Nitro Indoor Karting. As a kid, I had a rather traumatic experience when I couldn’t get the gokart to stop (I had my foot on the accelerator and brake) and ended up crashing into the shop and almost taking out the owner. I have never been a fan of them ever since. I was also exhausted from all the swimming so decided to sit this one out, but everyone else loved it. Especially the kids. Seeing their little faces light up as they drive around the course was pretty awesome. Even thought they were only going about 2km per hour, they loved it! Especially Vincent. He was too young to drive his own gokart so he went in a 2 seater with my husband as he specifically requested Uncle Daniel as his driver. They went flying around the course lapping everyone multiple times with Vincent wearing the biggest grin.

Mini Putt. But not just any old mini putt, this is black light mini putt! This 18 hole course is fairly easy but rather unique. With a pirate/ underwater theme, you make your way around the glowing course. I came first equal with my father-in-law. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much! There is also a bowling alley and video arcade at the same venue, so lots to keep you entertained with.

The Beach. Yes, I know this a list of suggestions of things to do when it’s raining. But when was the last time you walked in the rain? It can be so magical. Put on your raincoat (or not) and head out for a walk. Feel the rain on your skin. Smell the damp earthiness of the forest and don’t worry about getting wet. There is always a hot shower waiting for you back at home.

New Plymouth Bound.

It’s another car sauna situation. We really must get the air con fixed in our car!

It’s the 1st of January and we begin the New Year with a family trip to New Plymouth. After some last minute packing, we are on the road, an hour and a half behind schedule and minus a few things I forgot to pack, but we are in holiday mode so ‘she’ll be right’

We pass many little beach towns on our drive, it’s made me realise how much of this country I still have left to explore. New Zealand really is a Summer Paradise. I am hoping kiwis are taking this opportunity to explore their own back yard. There is so much to see and do!

Its a hot sunny day and we are feeling it in the car! Each time we enter a 50km zone, the windows come straight down and then regrettably back up again when we get onto the motorway. We meet up in Whanganui at Kowhai Park, with half the extended family. (The half, who like us, had a casual morning departure) Its a great park for families. Running along side the mighty Whanganui River, it has a rather exciting playground that could keep children entertained for hours. It’s certainly a popular place. We set up a picnic under the shade of a tall tree, although I am the only one eating it, hubby had Macca’s on the drive up.

We are only half way to our end destination so we carry on with the journey. Driving through the Whanganui town center, I notice a difference in the vegetation. There are palm trees and tropical looking flowers, very different to what you see in Wellington. We are heading towards warmer weather!

We decide to take the Surf Highway. It’s longer and not as direct, but Daniel did the direct route a year or so ago and said it was really boring. So, it’s the coastal route for us. There aren’t many cars on the route, so we get a clear run and it is scenic. We get views of Mt. Taranaki, although the peak is surrounded by clouds, and some interesting looking land formations – flat land with lots of small hills scattered across it.

We are the last to arrive at our New Plymouth holiday home. Everyone is sitting outside, enjoying the evening sun. We waste no time getting out the bubbles and chippies and spend some time chatting.

After dinner we take an evening stroll. The house is in a great location, it’s only a few minutes walk from Fitzroy Beach. The sky is a smudgy mix of soft sunset colours. The evening air is still and pleasant and I delight in walking bare foot on the sand, waves lapping at my feet.

Yes, this is going to be a great few days!

Wairarapa Delights

This trip happened just before Christmas in 2020, I just haven’t had a chance to write about it until now.

Would you drive an hour for some cheese?

I did. Let me share the story.

Back in September, Daniel and I stayed a night at the luxurious Wharekauhau Estate in Cape Palliser. One of the many delicious meals we had contained The Drunken Nanny Black Tie Cheese.

It was sensational.

A creamy soft goats cheese that left my taste buds wanting more. The pyramid shaped cheese is coated in a dusting of ash made from grape vines, imported from France. It looks stunning on a plate and I knew I just had to have it for my Christmas cheese platter.

I tried a couple of local stockists without any luck, so I decided to take my mum on a day trip to get the cheese and try some local delights.

We set off with Martinborough on our radar. Our fist stop is Olivo, the oldest commercial olive grove in Martinborough, with over 1200 olive trees. As we head down the long, stately driveway, surrounded by Olive trees, I say to my mum that this time (I was here about 10 years ago) I am not going to buy any infused olive oils. As fragrant and delicious tasting as they are, I lacked imagination on how to use them and in the end, they went to waste.

We are welcomed into the tasting room by the host who starts to tell us about the oils they produce and the olive trees that they grow. I love hearing the stories of farm to table by local food artisans.

First we try the extra virgin olive oils. There are 3 varieties, Koroneiki, these trees originate from Greece, Tuscan estate oil, made from a blend of Frantoio and Leccino olives, originating from Italy and Estate Extra, a blend of Barnea (Israeli) and a touch of Manzanillo (Spanish) olives. They each have a distinctive taste and all utterly delicious. I make sure to get lots of oil on my piece of bread. Fresh bread and olive oil is one of my favorite things!

We then try some of the infused oils; lemon, smoked paprika, fennel, porcini and more. But my favourite had to be the vanilla. I couldn’t help myself! While I did get some of the extra virgin olive oil, I also walked away with a bottle of the vanilla oil. It was too good to pass up. They call it their dessert olive oil and this time, I will be sure to use it!

It was a really interesting and informative tasting session. Although not running that day, Oilvo do run tours of the grove which I would love to do one day.

Lunch was up next. It’s a lovely day and while walking past the shops, deciding where to go for lunch, we pass a sign at The Grocer advertising, fresh homemade Christmas mince pies. Well, we couldn’t turn that down so lunch became a picnic in The Square under the tall shady trees.

After browsing the boutique stores, we make our way to The Martinborough Sweet Shop where we are booked in for chocolate tastings. The store is beautiful, colourful, enticing and any sweet tooth’s dream.

We are led out to a back room which instantly feels cool. They can’t let the room get too warm or the chocolate will melt. We are seated at a bar table with china cup and saucer and our host prepares some lemon and lime tea. Not only does this warm us up a little, it also works as a pallet cleanser between tastings.

There are bars of chocolate lining the walls. The Martinborough Sweet Shop doesn’t craft their own chocolate, instead they showcase a variety of artisan delights from around the country. There are a couple of brands I have heard of before, like Schoc Chocolate, but most them are new to me.

We are presented with a plate of 15 chocolates, ranging from white to milk through to dark. We begin with the white chocolates. Sweet and creamy they get the taste buds watering. We make our way around the plate, from light to dark, sipping tea and learning about the different chocolates and the chocolatiers who create these delectable treats.

We try some expected flavours like salted caramel and single origin milk chocolate, some fruity ones like white chocolate lemon and white chocolate raspberry. We tried something I have never heard of – ruby chocolate. It is naturally pink in colour and has a similar taste to white chocolate.

There were also some rather unexpected flavours; buttered toast. (Yes it tasted exactly as it sounds. I love buttered toast but I am not sure I was a fan of this one) and curry and poppadom!! Some people are so creative! My favourite though was a collaboration with a local wine maker, Moy Hall. Their Pinot Noir chocolate was absolutely divine!

After an hour of chocolate tastings, it’s time to move on. But not before spinning the wheel to find out what our bonus prize is. I won a white chocolate passion fruit bar. (And may have also purchased a bar of the Pinot Noir chocolate to take home with me.)

We have one last stop before heading back to Wellington, C’est Cheese – the whole reason for our trip. They stock a huge variety of cheeses, chutneys, relishes and other delights, including a well stocked fridge of The Drunken Nanny, Black Tie Goats cheese. Yes!

Was it worth the hours drive? Lets just say, it didn’t last on the platter long enough for me to get a photo of it. I did get to eat some though. My husband bought me a slice, not served on a cracker, but on a couple of squares of white chocolate. Sound weird? I thought so too, but think ‘white chocolate cheesecake’. WOW. What an excellent combination.

No doubt, I will make that trip again for the cheese. It is that good!!


I don’t know about you, but I have been enjoying dreaming up all the places I want to see this year, adventures I want to go on and experiences I want to have. There is so much to see and do here and everyday I am so grateful that I get to call this place home.

I am very fortunate to work for a company that gives us 6 weeks of annual leave, but even with all those days, I think I might be pushing it to do all these things. (And I am sure the credit card will have something to say about it too!)

So, without further ado, here are my travel ambitions for this year:

Explore the West Coast of the South Island. Its a pretty rugged place. Untamed, natural and gorgeous. Mirror lakes, glaciers and rainforest. Its also the wettest place in New Zealand. We drove through the West Coast about 8 years ago when we explored the South Island on our Motorbike. It rained the whole time we were there. When driving through Arthur’s Pass, we reached the sign that said ‘Welcome to the West Coast’ and right on cue, it began to rain. The itinerary is planned, our leave is organised and the pet sitters are locked in, I just need to actually book it all! This time I am hoping we will get to experience some sunshine. I have some pretty awesome activities planned out for this one. And of course, we will be on a Motorbike!

Wine! Last year we made a trip to Martinborough and cycled around the vineyards. We are only an hours drive away from here and I am super keen to do this again. However, this time, I want to pre-plan it (more so than last time) so we can visit the boutique vineyards that are only open for tastings by appointment. I am really interested to see what some of these vineyards have on offer and to hear their stories.

Go on the much delayed, Covid interrupted trip. My mum and I are both April babies. Last year, we were meant to have a birthday weekend away in Greytown. This was cancelled due to Level 4 lockdown. I then rebooked it for August but we had another outbreak which saw Auckland go back into Level 4 and the rest of the country into level 2. I booked it a third time for December and the host cancelled it as she had international family staying in the Airbnb for the foreseeable future due to the covid situation in their country. So, I am really hoping that this year we will be able to get our birthday trip in. Maybe to Greytown, or maybe Whanganui. Perhaps we can do both!

Take the dogs on holiday. For so long I have wanted to take a little holiday with the whole family. I have been pondering the idea of camping but all the ‘dog friendly’ camp sites require the dogs to be on a lead at all times. And we don’t have a tent. I have looked at lots of properties that say they are dog friendly, but then I read the small print and in some cases, the dogs aren’t even allowed in the house. My dogs are small, non shedding and are allowed on the furniture at home and sleep in our bed (yes, I know, spoilt) so it wouldn’t really be a holiday if I had to spend the whole time keeping them off the furniture. But…I have recently found an Airbnb in Otaki Beach that not only allows small non shedding dogs in the house, they are also allowed on the furniture and the bed! I can’t wait to do this! I am hoping I will be able to find some more dog friendly places so we can have more adventures together.

An adventure trip. I would so love to Kayak Able Tasman in a guided tour but it is pretty pricey. Definitely one day, but for now I have my eye set on the 3 day self guided river canoe down the Whanganui river. Being self guided it is much cheaper. There are cabins along the way so you don’t need to take tents and you can stop at your leisure to enjoy the surroundings. I am trying to convince my dad that this is a trip he should do with me.

Family holiday part 2. Last Spring, I spent a weekend at Waitarere Beach with my mum, dad, brother, sister in law, nephew and niece. We had so much fun and decided there and then that we needed to make this a seasonal trip. We are now half way into Summer so need to get cracking on this one! Lake Taupo sounds like a possibility. I am really keen to get my nephew out on a kayak or paddle board! The plan is to also have an Autumn, Winter and Spring trip. Watch this space.

Anniversary Trip. Last year, Daniel and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary in Queenstown. I had no intention to mark this occasion annually with travel, but we had such a great time, so why not. This time I am thinking maybe the Northern Explorer train journey with a few stops on the way. Maybe the Chateau in Tongariro. Hubby doesn’t know about this yet and he would rather be at work than on holiday so this one might be a bit of a challenge!

My annual ‘holiday on my own’. I have done this twice now. At the end of the year. An opportunity to get away on my own for a couple of days and recharge my batteries. So far I have been to Waiheke Island and Marlborough Sounds. I have no plans of where for this year, but Akaroa has crossed my mind.

So that’s my list! I am sure there will be more dreams and travel inspiration that pop up during the year, as well as unexpected adventures that present themselves. Will just have to wait and see.

What are your travel aspirations for 2021? Where in Aotearoa are you hoping to visit?