Tuesday, 26 February 2013

New Island, new experiences

Its Tuesday today (26th Feb) and we’ve been on the North Island for four days now, but not actually done a great deal, mainly because we are on a ‘wind down’ and relax after the slightly faster pace when Pauline was with us. We had a great time, saw and did a great deal and we really enjoyed our time with her (and hope she did too), but it is nice chill out and do very little for a while. Although it’s been a couple of days without her it still seems strangely odd. We got used to breakfasting together and doing things together and now it seems so different, but also ‘back to normal’! Bound to feel a bit like that, but its coupled with the fact that we’re now in new territory, with all the old familiar town names like Ashburton, Christchurch and Lincoln no longer here. We’ve got to get used to new geography and place names – and a very different volcanic landscape a little further north! We’ll soon get into it…. I found myself crying into the washing up (having explained to someone we’d just put mother on the train), now I know I’d not done much washing up while she was here, but that is a bit of an extreme reaction!

We dropped Pauline at Wellington main railway station at 7:00am on Sunday morning for her, hopefully scenic journey up the North Island back to Auckland, where she has another couple of days before flying home to the UK tomorrow (27th). We returned briefly to the Wellington campsite for breakfast, a clean of the van windows, so we can actually see out, a check of oil and water (all OK) and then away. We decided not to stay another night as it seems a bit of a transit campsite, mainly for people moving between islands and, in any case, I really wanted to get away from the city. Nice as it is (and it is really picturesque right on the seafront) it is still a bustling city and I prefer ‘away from it all’ countryside!

We moved only an hour away to a place called Martinborough, which is a small wine producing town, which apparently gets very popular at weekends. Pretty quiet when we were there and the campsite was suitably chilled out (though a little expensive and basic – no oven, how was I supposed to cook apple crumble from the apples we picked from the roadside!). Everyone there was very friendly and we got talking to an English guy who had moved out to Wellington 15 or so years ago as a software engineer and now seems to do very little, plus a very talkative Swiss lady and her (less talkative) husband who enthralled us with their tales of sailing halfway round the world (including a Pacific crossing) in a boat they built themselves. Sailing across oceans always sounds so romantic and, although she is very glad she’s done it, she has had enough of it after 12 years. On one trip, 25 days non-stop without sight of land, never able to sleep for more than a couple of hours and confined on a 40 foot yacht does sound a bit ‘trying’. Great to do it for the experience, and she says they have so many tales to tell, but we can both understand why she wants to go ‘back home’ to her house in Switzerland, maybe buying a campervan and touring Europe (bit like us really!).

The 'wild coast' Pacific to the left, Lake Ferry to the right
The lighthouse at Cape Palliser
Yesterday we went out for the day to visit the South East of the Island, stopping at Cape Palliser lighthouse (the most southerly point of the North Island, although there is no plaque there to signify it), to visit the very vibrant seal colony that exists there. 

And the 252 steps to get up to it!

Mum and dad have a quick discussion! Jackie thinks they're babies (but she's wrong!)
There were literally hundreds of pups and mum and dad seals all over the rocks and we felt privileged to be able to view their normal everyday lives, pups splashing about in a safe sheltered rock bay while their mum and dad’s snoozed (but also watched them and us), we could have watched them for hours. We decided being a seal would not be a bad life!

The pups playing
The amazing Putangirua Pinnacles we saw on the way
The journey to Cape Palliser is 60km along a cul-de-sac, mostly along a sealed (tarmac) road, with only the last 5km or so as gravel, with most of the scenery along the coast very wild and isolated. There was a southerly breeze blowing and as this part of the island has nothing between it and Antarctica, it bought in amazing surf, that was taken advantage of by quite a few locals, who obviously decided to have Monday off, knowing the ‘surf was up’. Our lunch was therefore taken beside the wild sea watching numerous surfers (many of which were pretty good it has to be said).

The Tinky Winky bulldozer!
About the only town along this isolated stretch, other than Lake Ferry (a small town by a sea lake, with very little to detain you except to look at the inhospitable breakers crashing in – don’t go swimming we were told!) is Ngawi, which the Rough Guide describes as ‘a small fishing village where all manner of bulldozers grind out their last days hauling sometimes massive fishing boats up the steep gravel beach’, which was a very good description! Apparently devoid of life as far as we could see, there were numerous examples of massive boats and very old tractors and bulldozers quietly rusting away, including the one with sad painted eyes called ‘Tinky Winky’!

On our return we decided not to go back to Martinborough, but instead try out another near town called Greytown (which is better than the name implies!). A pleasant town with quite a few shops (and 2 supermarkets!) and a campsite set in a park which is fabulous! Cheap, good facilities, within walking distance of the town, yet set in a secluded park and wood that makes it feel a world away. It has a very open feel and is inhabited by locals with their caravans and such a laid back feel it’s hard to describe. We instantly felt at home here, so booked in for two nights (at least). Hugely friendly locals it’s just great! Jackie’s happy as there’s a cat and the couple in the caravan next door live in a retirement home in Wellington and come here for a break. He can talk like nobody’s business, and she seems to be grateful he’s got someone to talk to! When we arrived one of the locals came over to say that the owner’s father died last night (he was 91), so he’s away tending to it. Just park up he said and he’d be around sometime later. He did turn up and we commiserated with him but he was very philosophical about it, but still sad (obviously). Today we have stayed around Greytown, doing our laundry, uploading photos using the free wi-fi at the local library and generally getting finances and things up to date, this evening just sitting outside in the evening warmth.

Earlier another car arrived looking to camp, so Jackie went over to welcome him, tell him about the owners bereavement and telling him to just set up and he’ll be round later. I could hear him telling her his life story and I heard the First World War, the Second World War and Margaret Thatcher mentioned, all in the space of 10 minutes! A bit later another couple arrived in a campervan, so I went over and did the same. How laid back is that! A bit later, while Jackie and I were eating our dinner outside by our van another car turned up. Not wanting to break off in the middle of dinner, the guy in the campervan I’d seen in was just coming back from the shower with just a towel round him, so I shouted to him ‘it’s your turn’, so he turned around and welcomed them in! It’s just great here – I want to stay another night! Mr Talkative next door has however recommended a DoC (Department of Conservation) $6pppn camp just up the road – it’s where they are going, is that a god reason to go, or a good reason to avoid it?

Now for those of you who think B has gone on a bit, it’s perhaps because he now only has me to talk to, so if you want to start a “return Pauline to NZ” petition feel free! I’m now missing her as I seem to have started a hobby of bin raiding for cryptic crosswords which are harder than the ones in the S Island paper that I was just coming to terms with, so really need a hand!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Not so much first as last

Preparing for Dragonboat racing

That is, my last day with J&B, though it was in the North Island not the South – in Wellington, to be precise.  We set off with a sort of plan of action, but that soon went by the board when Jackie spotted some temporary gazebos and clusters of people at the waterside.  It was dragon racing but despite being carried along by the atmosphere we still have no idea about the ins and outs of a dragonboating meet.  There was a lot else going on and I could have spent a lot in the craft market.

We had some culture then, going to the Museum, but as with all museums were quite mindblown before we had seen the smallest fraction.  We thought we might go back but hunger needed to be satisfied.

Then we found a microbrewery with something like 48 beers on tap – a number J&B found bewildering until some guy (possibly tipsy) said he’d go and find them a sample of the one he thought was best.  They thoroughly approved, so that was good.  As we left Jackie asked (the Irish) barman something about where to go to get high and he looked rather  taken aback until she clarified that she wanted an overall view of the city.

We took the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, where the engineer in B got quite engrossed in the Cable Car Museum before we ambled about a bit before coming back.  In the gift shop we got into a short conversation with Peter Skellern.  Who’s old enough to remember him?  Well, any fans out there, he’s got a play opening  tonight for which he wrote music and lyrics and it’s a sell out.

Wellington from the Botanical Gardens
The human interface sundial. Yes, it was 4:00pm
Tomorrow it’s a train ride – a long one – to Aukland and J isn’t being altogether charitable about me having to check in somewhere round 7.00am.

So goodbye everyone.  I’ve had a wonderful time and have seen so much I can never remember everything in one session.  I’ve got a couple of days in Aukland and I might just spend one of them asleep!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

And finally (for the South Island), to Picton!

Sunset at Karamea

Its been a bit of a journey from the lovely Karamea back to Picton, ready to catch the ferry to the North Island tomorrow (Friday), so we broke the journey with a night in Murchison. Just as well as Pauline had had a poor last night in Karamea, being kept awake by severe itching from the sandflies (as we all had), so long journeys were not welcome! Even so, it felt like a long way down the 100km cul-de-sac that is the road from Karamea to Westport, but we got into Murchison around 3:30pm’ish in time for afternoon tea and cake!

Murchison, a typical NZ town
Murchison is famous for, well, nothing really! Their claim to fame is an earthquake in 1929 that caused severe damage and there’s a nice exhibition in the nearby town that Jackie and I had visited some time ago, but other than that it’s just a nice quiet place to relax. 
The wallaby and the rabbit
The owners did have a bit of an ‘animal farm’ adjoining the camp and we could visit the wallaby she’d rescued when his mum was shot by poachers in the nearby hills, sometime ago, several Emu, a deer (just the one we think), a number of chickens, some sheep and a whole flock (?) of black ducks with very loud quacks first thing in the morning! We’d heard about the relationship between the wallaby and a wild rabbit and the next morning we witnessed the nose-to-nose greeting of them across the fence – how cute!

Lake Rotoiti
Back in the van we went on to St Arnaud and stopped again at Lake Rotoiti, a beautiful location Jackie and I have previously been to, but we wanted to show Pauline the sweet tasting secretion from the small insect that lives in the black coloured growth on a certain type of tree (see our previous entry for a full description). Yes she tasted it and, yes it was very sweet, but unless you knew it was OK there is no way you would try it!

Further along the road (much further) we came into Marlborough wine country and drove for miles and miles past row upon row of vines and many different world famous vineyards
The chocolate factory
(or wineries as they call them here), but didn’t stop as drinking alcohol in the middle of the day is never a good idea - and in any case I was driving! Instead we stopped for tasting at a chocolate factory, called Makana, which is a very small affair making truly exotic chocolates! We sampled a few and Pauline purchased a box of Cherry Armagnac Truffles, which we’ve had for dessert this evening after dinner – yum!

Lobster krill in their millions in Queen Charlotte Sound
Finally we arrived in Picton (again) where Jackie and I have been before, ready for our ferry journey tomorrow, but we had a day here today to enjoy again the Queen Charlotte Sound (named by Captain Cook after the wife of the then king, George III). We were early enough yesterday to wander down to Picton harbour to discuss with the various boat companies what we should do. We did part of the Queen Charlotte Track last time, visiting Motuara bird sanctuary island, which we were tempted to do again with Pauline, but decided instead to go out to a place called Lochmara, which is a resort next to the QCT and is an eclectic mix of tiny pathways, sculptures , art (plus art for sale), Punga people (which are faces or animals carved out of the trunk of a living tree fern), various activities such as kayaks out onto the Sound (which all of us did), a zip wire, rope swing into the sea (neither of which we did), hammocks and then chickens and pigs, eels, kakariki parakeets (critically endangered, but we were allowed into their cage to feed them out of our hands), gecko’s, bees, a rehabilitation centre (which had an injured baby black backed gull) and Banjo the parrot! (Brian wants a parrot!)

One of the great views from the summit
It all sounds a bit odd, but it was a great day and an amazing place. There is access onto the Queen Charlotte Track, up a very steep hill, giving access to a very good lookout that can be done in 3 hours, so I left Jackie and Pauline to chill out and set off on my own and at a relatively fast pace, getting back down in a few minutes over two hours, having spent 10 minutes or so on the summit taking in the view and wondering who Peter Miller was, who died in 1995 aged 61 and had a very nice picnic table dedicated to him right on the summit.

No sooner had I got back Jackie took me off to meet Banjo the parrot, who was in fine playful mood. Putting my hand next to him he gingerly put one foot on my finger, then the other and then shuffled up my arm, onto my shoulder, round onto my back and started chewing my hat! Round he went onto my other shoulder and then started looking at his reflection in my sunglasses. It was an absolute joy, my most favourite of animals! He then did the same to Jackie and, between us we got lots of photos, here’s just a few of them.

Brian and Pauline kayaking on the Sound
A great day, we were back in Picton just after three, in time for tea, a chill out and then dinner. The end of a really good day, but suddenly the wind has really picked up, whistling round the van. That’ll be fun on the ferry tomorrow then!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


On the advice of Mums ex next door neighbour and a couple we met a while back, we’ve been up to Karamea, another long road leading nowhere – 100km from the last town, it was beautiful, they were right, however there were also sandflies, lots of sandflies! Having been ignored by them up till that point, Mum had decided she was immune, sadly she wasn’t, and neither were we, we are all now slightly unsure where to put ourselves as we all itch, I’m covered in huge blisters as I haven’t scratched, and the other two are really sore as they have!

Mrs. Indiana Jones
We wanted to go kayaking and fancied the trip through the limestone arches, sadly it was ‘off’ (not sure why) “but there’s a lady in the village who organises kayaking” So off we went to see Sylvia, she threw us in the back of the car, down to the river, dropped us in and off we went. She was sitting on a rock to watch us pass the worst of the rapids, which we all did with aplomb, though sadly Mother didn’t turn sharply enough at the bottom, and got wedged into a log, she got out, the kayak filled with water and it took all three of us to release and empty it! 
Gran Indiana Jones
“Right then, see you in an hour or so” she said, and off we went. It was a joy, though a little more water in the river wouldn’t have gone amiss as we all beached a few times and had to bounce ourselves over the rocks or get out and walk! It was peaceful and chilled, with just enough activity to keep the interest up! I was in the front ‘routefinding’ which worked out fine except for the once I went through a very narrow gap passed a log, so sent them the other way round which turned out to be very shallow.
Mr. Indiana Jones
I always say I should never be in the front though! We got to the end surprisingly quickly and a bit soon for all of us (though the thumbs were starting to just get a bit sore) always better to feel it’s finished a smidge too soon, rather than gone on far too long. Really really good fun, did think C&C would be proud of gran, paddling off down the river!

Cruisin' down the river....
The impossible to photograph fully 'Operara Arch'
After lunch we thought we’d better do the standard tourist things, so off to the limestone arch, which they are right, was very impressive and impossible to photograph well. On up to the cave system where the cave wetas live (truly ugly things, though not as big as the forest ones) to be fed on by the up to 15cm cave spiders! 

A Cave Weta
Saw 2 wetas on our way out stopped to photograph, exclaim over etc, only to see a (not quite 15cm) huge spider over our heads! Had a fit of the screaming habdabs and left! 
One of 'those' spiders

Mirror Tarn
Muriel Gate Arch
Mirror tarn was as it says on the tin, looks ideal to be made into a jigsaw, so watch out on the next ski trip! B walked round to look at the second arch while we retired to the van to prepare tea and cake, very civilized. Back to the camp overnight before setting off today stopping en route to Picton at Murchison, in theory for chilling, but actually being harassed by the evil little black biting b&%$(&*s

Sadly we didn't see any
River mirror reflections