To Wellington

From one extreme to another. One day we’re as far north as we can go on this island and just a few days later, we’re pretty much as far south as we can go. Wellington is the capital city but much smaller than Auckland. The route Google Maps chose to take us to our place of abode was bizarre to say the least. It took us off State Highway 1 far too early. We drove up into the hills, at which point, the app changed its mind and wanted us to go round the roundabout and back down the narrow hill we’d just climbed. But after two days on the road, about twelve hours driving, we are now settled in our new b&b for nearly a week.

We decided to come to Wellington as quickly as possible, spend some quality time here before travelling back to Auckland at a more leisurely pace. Was that the right decision? It was a tiring couple of days, but here are some highlights.

The sight of the Auckland city skyline as you go round the bend on State Highway 1 really is heart-stopping. Even though I was expecting to see it, when it finally materialised, I cheered inwardly. If I weren’t driving at the time, there would have been a hundred photos, probably.

We stopped for brunch at Te Hana. I think this is Maori for Greasy Spoon because the all-day breakfast I had wouldn’t have been out of place at Jenny’s in Chessington or any other Joe’s Caff in England. Very welcome!

Near Kinleith

There’s a small toll section on SH1, $2.30, which I remembered to pay online later in the day. That converted to £1.31, much more reasonable than the M6 toll road. But then, there are no toll booths to staff: payments can be made online or at certain other physical locations.

One big surprise was the number of coffee shops that close on a Monday. At one place, even a local couple followed us up to the door and walked away again with disappointed etched on their faces.

We camped for the first time in NZ. Well, I say ‘camped’. We were in a Top 10 Campsite at Motutere, on the shores of Lake Taupo, yes. But we stayed in a cabin and used the communal toilets and showers.

Lake Taupo playing rough

Yes, this boat is in a bit of a heap outside our cabin, but it wasn’t us that took it out onto the lake.

Wrecked

On one of my nocturnal wanderings, I took this photo of the Moon, merely hours after the lunar eclipse that wasn’t visible from NZ.

Full Moon

One of the real highlights was driving through the Tongariro National Park. The stunning sight of active volcanoes never disappoints. And, admit it, there’s always a small part of you that hopes it ‘goes off’.

Mt Ngauruhoe
Ruapehu

Yes, of course, we would love to explore this park more fully but there’s just too much else on offer!

New Zealanders do like their big, funny sculptures. A big trout welcomed us to the Capital of Trout, Turangi. Was there a big wellington boot by the side of the road, you ask? Well, yes there was, but we didn’t go back for a photo here either.

Bulls. Lots of model bulls seemingly on all the main roads leading to Bulls.

Welcome to Bulls

We had coffee at Coffee on the Moove.

<ph moove

We didn’t visit any other shop with a punny bull-themed name. Nor, sadly, did we come across a Bulls China Shop.

Our next stop was Otaki Beach on the Kapiti Coast, opposite Kapiti Island which we hope to visit later.

Otaki Beach was a bit of a mess, there were literally tonnes of driftwood here. I was going to take a piece home and turn it into a lamp, but, well, I’m just not that skillful.

Driftwood and lots of it on Otaki Beach

Interestingly, the sand was darker than usual, and it felt quite spongey underfoot, especially where it was still wet. The sea was wild, roiling, boiling, stirring up the sand so that even the water looked brown. Some people were in the water but at least there was a lifeguard on the beach, and advice to keep between the two flags which were only about 3 metres apart.

Kapiti Island just visible through the haze

I heard Liesel say “Tourniquet FC” and I thought that was a funny name for a football club. Then I saw it. Lovely rural New Zealand, green fields, cows, barns, shacks. There, in the middle of all that, in the middle of nowhere: a KFC.

There are many more cows in New Zealand than sheep, according to our observations. And they are amongst the most qualified cattle in the world. They’re all outstanding in their field.

We stopped once more, this time in Paraparaumu. Here, at the information centre, we picked up flyers for some of the places we want to visit while in Wellington. We have five full days here. No, it won’t be long enough. Yes, we’ll just have to come back again! We had a coffee too and marvelled at the coincidence in languages between Maori and Latin.

Eat well

It was an Italian restaurant. The translation is Italian. D’oh!

As we approached Wellington, SH1 veered to the right just as it does on its approach to Auckland. But, sorry, Wellington, the city skyline here isn’t quite as impressive. Google Maps took us on an unguided tour and we finally arrived at our b&b. Our host, Craig, made us welcome. He even left a bar a chocolate for me. Yes, me: it was on my side of the bed, so…

It was a ten minute walk down to the nearest shop and more than ten minutes to walk back up, up, up, carrying heavy bags of shopping.

More musical musings from me and a bit of a moan. I won’t be offended if you go and do something more interesting instead of reading this stuff.

We’re following the black highway through the countryside, listening to three different songs called ‘Blackbird’, all nice and gentle and folky. Then ‘Blackbirds’ which is a little more jolly and upbeat. Then, brace yourself: ‘Blackmail Man’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads kicks in. Wow, that was a shocker: it’s a great, funny song, but it certainly spoiled the somewhat chilled mood on this occasion! That’s the danger of playing songs in alphabetical order, of course, you can’t control the segues. But then, even the shuffle mode itself could bring up such screeching juxtapositons.

On the other hand, we’ve been treated to Billy Bragg, Jack Johnson and others whom I had forgotten were even there, since shuffle chooses to ignore them.

In terms of musical style, we’ve had folk, rock, pop, jazz, even a bit of choral and orchestral. So far, we’ve been sung to in English, Icelandic, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Gaelic, and we’re only part way through the Fs!

There was a challenging half hour or so in the middle of the Ds when it kept telling us what not do do.

Don’t be Careless, Love
Don’t Believe a Word I say
Don’t Forget Me
Don’t go Home
Don’t Jump, don’t Fall
Don’t let me Down
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying
Don’t let the Sun catch you Crying (yes, 2 different songs)
Don’t let the Sun go down on Me

But during this sequence, I was so delighted to hear the one and only Beatles track on my device, that I played it twice. If Liesel noticed, she didn’t complain.

Do you remember when you bought records and tapes and even CDs from different shops? Then, when you got them home, you filed them by HMV, Virgin Megastore, Harlequin or wherever you bought them? No, nor do I. This is why I don’t get why all the ‘online stores’, Amazon, iTunes, Google, want me to put the downloads (MP3s) I buy from them, in their own little ‘library’ on my PC. I then spend far too long putting them in a location of my own choosing. Sometimes they’re moved, sometimes they’re copied, sometimes they need converting. I want my music to be in one convenient place. And when I copy it to my phone, I want to know it’s all been copied. Once. Not duplicated because of the shenanigans I’ve had to go through previously.

Also, there should be some sort of standard when it comes to the volume of the music. You have to play it quite loud when you’re on the road because the hummmm of the tyres drowns out some of the music’s key frequencies. But some albums are so much quieter than others. When you’ve heard Tom Hingley belting out something, you shouldn’t then have to turn it up to 111 to hear the delicate tones of a more gentle folk singer.

Five ‘Baby’s

Driving isn’t our favourite thing but it’s a means to an end. I wanted to re-visit Cape Reinga, on the northern tip of North Island and we chose to to drive and visit some other places en route, rather then join a coach tour like Helen and I did 17 years ago!

Matauri Bay, like all the NZ beaches we’ve been to, is stunning. There were a few other people but on the whole, it was deserted.

Matauri Bay

As you can see, we really are honing our selfie-taking skills. But we’re taking plenty of time over the learning process.

Selfie of the day

The north of the island has lots of sand. Not just on the beaches and on building sites, but everywhere. There are sand dunes where you can slide down on a plastic board (or a piece of cardboard, I suppose). We decided not to take part in this activity, mainly because we didn’t want to walk back up afterwards. The tip of the island used to be separate but thousands of years of sea currents plugged the gap with more and more sand.

Sand dunes in the north

Again, I was surprised (but probably shouldn’t have been) by how much the area around the Cape and the light house has been developed since I was last here. There is a proper path to follow, so mostly, we keep off the fragile, and in some cases, unique, vegetation.

Cape Reinga light house

The wind kept us cool as we walked and it was fascinating again to see where the Tasman Sea and the Pacifc Ocean meet.

Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean

The rival currents cause plenty of eddies which bring nutrients to the surface and this can attract bigger and bigger creatures: even whales have been known to come right up to the rocks for a scratch, to get rid of their barnacles.

Bonus selfie, a long way from home

Lovers of the environment and of toilets will appreciate the eco-design of the public convenience here.

Eco-Design Toilet

We visited Rarawa Beach because it has the finest, whitest, squeakiest sand in the north. It did feel really nice on our feet, and, when you get the right movement going, you can achieve quite a good squeak.

Rarawa Beach

Because this beach was so nice to walk on, we did, for over a mile. We decided to give Ninety Mile Beach a miss, all thirty miles of it: we know it will still be there when we come back. Which, as we see more and more of New Zealand, becomes more and more certain.

Our second day on the road took us to see a tree. Not any old tree though, but the fourth largest in the world.

On the way, we passed through Omapere. Liesel couldn’t work out why a place in New Zealand was named after the German word for ‘grandma’ and the French word for ‘father’. No, I didn’t make her get out and walk. Of course, it’s a Māori word, four syllables, named after the local tall, plumed, native grass, mapere.

It also reminded me of my first visit to the area. The name rung a bell, but I couldn’t remember why. Maybe we just passed by on that occasion too.

Lookout point near Omapere

The day was grey and cool and we had a few spots of rain. Mainly on the most winding of roads when you don’t really need your view obstructed by windscreen wipers!

Some of the landcape reminded us of the Lord of the Rings films, so rugged and harsh.

Frodo and Sam are having a rest by that rock

Some of the hills in the distance were hidden in the mist and we were glad we didn’t have to drive through the clouds, especially as the road was so twisty.

Fields are littered with rocks and you have to admire the settlers, Maori and Pakeha, for their perseverance here.

2000-year old Tāne Mahuta is the largest known kauri tree. It’s in danger, as are all kauri, from kauri dieback disease which is spread by soil movement. So we had to wash our shoes before walking the short distance to see one of the wonders of the modern world.

Brush and wash your shoes properly

I’d told Liesel it was only a five or ten minute walk, and luckily my memory was correct, on this occasion.

I’m sure we’ve been able to walk up to and around Tāne Mahuta in the past, but not today. Sad for us, but good for the tree.

The majestic Tāne Mahuta
Lord of the Forest

The Māori guide had traditional tattoos on her chin and she told us about the tree and how they’re all being looked after. Including, would you believe, giving the trees injections to protect them against the fungal disease. There are over 120 other species living in Tāne’s canopy, plant and animal, which makes me feel better about the things I have living on my skin. The guide’s accent was fascinating. We pronounce ‘kauri’ almost as ‘cow-ry’, whereas she said something more like’coe-dee’.

You ain’t stopping me with your boardwalk

We try to pronounce Māori words correctly but their vowel sounds are very subtlely different to ours. I wonder whether they appreciate us making the effort? Or do they think we’re just taking the mickey?

The tree is the focal point of Waipoua Forest which we spent some time exploring. It’s a proper forest too, you can’t see the wood for the trees. The road is completely enclosed and there is no room for manoeuvre on either side.

A thing in someone’s garden

We have no idea whether this is some kind of scarecrow or a North Island attempt at steampunk metalwork, but it was very prominent.

We saw quite a few little churches in the middle of nowhere too: white walls and red roofs that really show up against the green, green and green background. We can’t see how they can survive, each must only serve a few dozen people.

A typical white and red church

Equally, there are small cemeteries here and there. Maybe each is for one family or one tribal group, but they’re all very neat and tidy.

Frodo and Sam under the cloak of invisibility

As we passed by one field, we saw a cow licking a horse. This is not a euphemism. Maybe the grass is hallucinogenic or aphrodisiac.

We passed a goat that was tethered by the side of the road. When we passed by on our return journey, it had gone. From which we can only deduce that it had been taken by a dinosaur during filming of the latest Jurassic Park sequel.

The Māoris made terraces in the past, for defence purposes and, presumably to grow more produce. Those terraces are still visible on some hills and it’s obvious to even this casual observer that some terrace-builders were more skilled than others! Maybe they should have called upon the services of Hire-a-Hubby (see a previous post).

The road surface was really good but in a few places, something had happened, a landslide or some kind of sinkhole collapse maybe, because the surface was (temporarily?) covered with loose chippings.

The other main decoration on the road was carcasses. Lots of unidentifiable but definitely dead critters, some being enjoyed by the birds, some just being left to rot.

There are lots of birds around. When we’re in the woods, we can hear them but usually not see them. When we’re driving along, we can see them, and occasionally identify them. Over two days, we saw birds of prey, turkeys, emus, quails, pukekos, sparrows, ordinary seagulls and southern black-backed gulls which are about twice the size, leading me to accuse one of being an albatross. In fact, one such came by and joined us for dinner.

Southern Black-backed Gull

In the fields, we are still surprised at how many cattle we’re seeing compared with the number of sheep. We wondered whether there’s been a shift in New Zealand’s farming business over the last couple of decades. There are signs giving out a number to call if we need to report ‘wandering stock’.

These purple flowers are, amazingly, bindweed. I lost a 32-year battle against bindweed in our garden in Chessington: it kept invading from all the neighbours’ back yards. One day, it will take over the whole world, in a satanic deal with the cockroaches, probably. Horrible stuff, and just because it has pretty purple flowers here doesn’t make it any less evil.

Bindweed or concolvulus

Readers who aren’t interested in our musical entertainment while on the road can look away now and come back next time.

Thanks for staying: you will glean from where today’s title emanates!

I’ve commented previously on how ‘shuffle’ on my MP3 device seems to avoid playing some songs and even anything at all by some people. Well, hah, I had a brainwave. Play all the tracks in alphabetical order by song title. But the ASCII sort sequence puts special characters such as quotes and brackets, as well as numbers, before the actual alphabet. So before we could hear the first song beginning with the letter A, we had this sort of thing:

The first few songs on our playlist

You’ll notice something right away. There’s a duplicate track. There are quite a few duplicates, in fact. This is due to the unique way in which downloads are handled. I, the user, have great difficulty in controlling this. But we can just press ‘skip’.

Some tracks appear four times. Twice because of the double-downloading-by-mistake issue. And twice over because the same track appears on two different albums.

We got to the numbers and heard ‘5 Years’, ’50 Words for Snow’, ‘50,000 Watts’ then ‘500 Miles’. Yes, in that order, because of the comma.

And then came the letter A. Hooray!

The first few letter A songs

What a fantastic variety we have here. Well curated even if I do say so myself. Ofra Haza and The Unthanks are among those very rarely selected by so-called ‘shuffle’ mode.

The first treat was three different versions of ‘All the Young Dudes’. (For me, that is, not so much for Liesel: ‘skip’ was employed.)

By the end of the first day on the road, we had still not reached the end of the As. On the second day, the last half dozen or so A songs, were contenders to be the final one. We couldn’t wait for the As to finish.

But where else would you find ‘Aretha’,’Arienne’ and ‘Arnold Layne’ sitting next to each other?

The final few letter A songs

As A ends, B begins. But lo, what is this? BBC iPlayer file tags have names beginning with ‘b’. There are quite a few, probably intermingled with actual songs, so the ‘skip’ button might be required more often for a while.

And by the end of our second day, we hadn’t reached the end of the Bs. Who knew there were so many songs about ‘Baby’ something (‘Driver’, ‘Finn’, ‘Loves that way’, ‘Better start turnin’ ’em down’ and ”s Boat’), ‘Bad’ things, ‘Beautiful’ things or ‘Blackbirds’?

Here’s a tip: on your MP3 device or in your library, look at the alphabetic track list because it’s the best way to spot duplicates. I don’t mind a ‘studio’ and a ‘live’ version of the same song but it’s a bit of a waste having exact duplicates. Not that the higher population count helped the ‘shuffle’ mechanism find and play some of those duplicated tracks!

Dragons and other creatures

One place we had to visit was Kawiti Glow Worm Caves, in the Waiomio Valley, a short drive south of Paihia. I have photos at home from a previous visit, but they asked us not to use our cameras this time. (Yes, of course I tried to sneak one, but chickened out.)

Outside the Waiomio Caves

There are thousands of glow worms mostly on the ceiling of the cave, so looking up reminds one of the night sky. One area is named The Milky Way for obvious reasons. The lamps we carried this time were electric, probably safer than the petrol(?)-driven hurricane lamps we had before!

Our guide, Jess, is the daughter of our guide from 25 years ago. She represents the fifteenth generation of the family associated with the caves.

The stalacmites and stalagtites were impressive too, possible half a millimetre longer than when I last visited. It’s a slow process growing them, one drop of water at a time.

The caves do flood from time to time, and apparently they cancel the tours when that happens.

The glow worms do have predators: nocturnal weta and some spiders. At which point, many of the group began to scratch non-existant itches. We hoped the plops on our heads were water drops, not something with a biological origin.

Having walked through the caves, we followed a bush trail. It was much shorter than advertised: 44 minutes rather than an hour!

A sandstone lizard

We heard plenty of birdsong but didn’t see any exciting wildlife. Except for this lizard. And even he wasn’t real. We did come across this sign. Martha is our much missed granddaughter back at home, but this was named for Jess’s grandmother!

Oma says, Hello Martha

Ooh, look… just as we were leaving the area, look who we saw.

A pair of pukeko passing the time of day

The kiwi Twelve Days of Christmas concludes with a Pukeko in a Ponga Tree, I don’t know if we still have the book at home. (Probably in one of the boxes we still haven’t unpacked.)

Kawakawa railway station was the venue for our coffee and carrot cake. There is some fascinating rolling stock here and we were delighted when an actual working train pulled in, with passengers. We thought about going for a ride but decided not to, in favour of another walk later on.

Timmy the Tank Engine
Open air picnic car on the train
Not the most comfortable bench
Hire-a-hubby hooray!

We currently have no need for such a service, but if we ever do need a proper man to come round and fix something in a manly way, I now know who to call! I won’t even mention the…

We thought we’de hike to Haruru Falls as it was such a gorgeous day and we’d so far only had leisurely strolls through a cave and along a small main street in a small town.

Chickens in the car park, what am I gonna do?

It was less than a 5-minute walk from the car park to seeing falls in their full glory. A magificent sight, a miniature Niagara Falls. The water probably drops less than two metres.

Haruru Falls
Haruru Falls enhanced

Back in Paihia, we walked along the promenade and this is the view we had of the Bay of Islands when we sat down.

Sitting on the bench by the bay

This bush thinks it’s the tall bloke with the large head who always sits in front of me in the theatre.

We moved on and had a ‘rest’ on our blanket on the sloping grass. (I put ‘rest’ in quotes because I could hear you saying, “a rest from what, exactly?” and you’d be perfectly correct!) What we needed was a cricket match. We were too late for this one, even if we were in the right place!

Howzat!
Pizza Shack – a cut above Pizza Hut, presumably
Our kayaks are more stable than our signs, honest
Williams House

This is Williams House (William is Martha’s brother so it’s only fair he gets a namecheck too!). It’s been used as the local library since 2003 and next year marks the building’s centenary.

It’s a relatively short walk from our abode in Paihia to Waitangi, where the (in)famous Treaty was signed.

Shippey McShipface I presume

We didn’t visit the Whare or the Waka: they were so much more accessible years ago. The touristy visitor buildings are quite new (2015?) and it’s a shame that the actual historical site is hidden from view, unless you pay. We don’t mind paying but sometimes the price is just too high, sorry.

A sign warned that this path is slippery when wet. But what an innovative solution: put some rubber mats down on the slippery path to make it a little safer!

Rubber mats on a footpath

We’ve seen this in a few places in the area, so let’s hope it catches on. (Holloway Hill in Godalming: I’m looking at you. Generations of school children walking up and then sliding back down again. Oh, just me then.)

And I suppose they have to make it safer, if they’re encouraging us to walk 10,000 steps.

10,000 steps

Bingo fans will appreciate this picture, even if the subjects aren’t as close together as I would have liked. Trying to herd ducks is like trying to nail blancmange to a wall.

Two little ducks, twenty two

The gulls know this hawk isn’t real so they were not at all deterred from invading the café area.

Useless Scaregull

Not enough birds? Well, on the way back to Paihia, we saw more oystercatchers on the beach and standing on the rocks, a couple of shags drying out their wings. They were too far away to see properly, but we might have seen dotterels, a gravely endangered species, at the far end of the beach. Or they may have been sparrows.

You want more birds? OK then. While we were sitting on our balcony, a car drove by with its box of fish and chips supper on the roof. Until the box slid off onto the road right in front of us, that is. We watched a flock of seagulls (actual birds, not the ’80s band) devour the meal in five minutes and then put the box and wrapping into a rubbish bin. I may have made that last bit up. But it was good to see seabirds cooperating in the consumption of street food without too much bickering.

Stats fans: yes, we did walk 10,000 steps today and I can confirm that at least one of us has walked over 2,000,000 steps since we left home: that’s well over 900 miles.

The Bay of Plenty consists of 144 islands, some are inhabited but many are really just big rocks with a few plants, birds and guano decorating them.

We went on a boat trip hoping to see some dolphins and to visit the famous Hole in the Rock, one of the big rocks just mentioned but with a hole right through it.

Our catamaran was named Dophin Seeker but I think a more optimistic name would be Dolphin Finder, Guaranteed.

In any event, it would be very difficult to miss the cruise ship Celebrity Solstice in the Bay. Its 3000 passengers and 1500 crew are on their way to Tauranga, Wellington, Akaroa, eventually Hobart and Sydney. It’s big, it’s huge, it’s probably not for us but, never say never.

Celebrity Solstice

Our captain and pilot also provided the narration which was very entertaining. After encountering other sea traffic, he said, “Do you know what I like about jet skis? Nothing.”

We did see dolphins. Ridiculously exciting, really, but we encountered a juvenile pod and watched a Mum and her calf for a while.

Here come the dolphins
Mums and babies

“Did it [the dolphin] just jump? I taught it to do that” said our guide.

He also told us the story about Captain (then Lieutenant) Cook’s discovery of New Zealand and him sailing around to prove it was an island rather than the suspected southern continent, Terra Australis.

“When Lt Cook’s crew visited the island, they rowed backwards. This led the Maoris to think they had eyes in the back of their heads.”

We sailed on to Motukokako or, as it’s known, the Hole in the Rock. We passed by Cape Brett Peninsula, Rakaumangamanga, on top of which is located a lighthouse. It is now unmanned and the light rotates in an almost frictionless bath of mercury.

Cape Brett light house

Whether or not the tourist boats go through the hole is decided by the captain each time, taking into account such variables as current, tides, wind and whether he likes the passengers. We did find our way through on this occasion.

Safely through The Hole in the Rock

A long but smooth ride back to Paihia took us close to the parasailors. What we thought were parachutes the other day are in fact the ‘sails’ towed by a speeding boat with one or two people holding on tightly as they soar into the air, above the sea. Us? Well, never say never…

Parasailors dipping their toes in

We found our land legs very easily and wandered back to our Paihia penthouse suite.

How did Paihia get its name? Well, the Reverend Henry Williams wanted to build a church somewhere and this looked like a good place. (His old house is now the site of the local library, mentioned above.) He was always hungry though. He was forever stuffing his face. He kept asking the locals where to buy a kebab, or fish and chips. Where are the cakes? Who makes ice cream? Do you sell doughnuts? Can I have a pie, here? Well, someone misheard and thought he said “Can I live in Paihia?” So the name Paihia took over, as a joke at first, but eventually the name stuck. Far-fetched? Here’s the official version:

Meaning of place name Paihia

In further wildlife news, we did find a dragon drying his wings in Paihia today.

Dragon guarding the flower bed

Oh, Vienna

We’re sitting here, out on the balcony of our apartment in Austria. Vienna, to be precise.

It means nothing to me, oh Vienna

While consuming our gourmet meal of baked potato, baked beans and salad (compliments to the chef, Liesel), we were treated to the sight of a glorious double rainbow. I was looking out for it because the temperature dropped, the Sun was low enough and clouds were in the right place. Suddenly, there it was. One rainbow at first and then, coyly, the second one emerged.

Rainbows over the Bay of Islands

If it weren’t for the building over the road, we might have seen one end, if not both ends, of the rainbow disappear into the sea, something neither of us have ever witnessed.

Hang on a minute, you’re thinking… Vienna? The sea? Have you gone mad in all that hot sunshine? Well, no, I don’t think so.

Actually, we’re still in New Zealand, of course, and we’re staying at The Austria Motel in Paihia. Our room is called Vienna rather than just plain old Room Number 1.

Austria Motel

We booked this place through Airbnb, and I think it’s the first time we’ve not booked a private house via that site. (This is going to cause all sorts of problems when I do a statistical analysis of our travels. Does this count as Airbnb or Motel? Should I split Airbnb into two sub-categories, Private Residence and Motel? And should the Turning Up At A Motel category stay? Should I categorise by how the booking was made or by the type of accommodation it is? Nightmare.)

It was raining on our final morning on Waiheke so that made it easier to leave. Fi was having her hair cut so we thought we’d have breakfast out rather then disturb her and the hairdresser in the kitchen. We went back to Onetangi for a s-l-o-w breakfast. Our ferry ticket was for 1.30pm and although we considered catching an earlier one, that didn’t prove practical: the preceding boat left at 11.00am.

Very early map of Waiheke Island

After the leisurely breakfast, we took a short walk along the beach but a few drops of rain soon sent us back to the car. We did see some wildlife though: a snake on a house and a flock of oystercatchers on the beach.

Genuine Onetangi Sea Snake
Flock, herd, group, family of oystercatchers

At the ferry port, I wandered around to pass the time and to get some exercise. The sea water was beautifully clear although I didn’t see any interesting wildlife here. I did however find a wonderful art installation on the beach. I think the underlying message is one of hope, that a good day will come along soon when you can take that leaky old boat out onto the water one more time.

Some Old Boats (not the 1980s band of that name)

After driving off the ferry, we followed our noses to and through Auckland, headed north on State Highway 1 and listened to our own music! Yes, it took some doing but we beat the totally nonintuitive control panel of this awful red car to connect my phone by bluetooth and to actually get sound out of the car’s speakers.

It was a very pleasant drive, the landscape was very changeable but always easy on the eye. Fields of cows and goats and even horses outnumbered fields of sheep, which was surprising. Also surprising was the amount of traffic. We thought it would ease off once we left the big city, but no, there were many more people on the road than anticiapted.

We found our accommodation in Paihia easily and settled in for a good night’s sleep.

In the morning, we went for a walk along the track to Opua Forest Lookout. It was a 40-minute hike through the bush mostly in an upward direction, but shaded under the canopy. (Actually, the word for ‘hike’ in NZ is ‘tramp’ but I’d feel awkward telling Liesel one day, “I’m just going out for a tramp.”)

Sadly, the closest we’ll get to seeing kiwi in the wild

The view from the lookout was stunning. We could see all the way round from Waitangi to Russell, with the sea and a few islands in between. This is why I particularly wanted to revisit the Bay of Islands, with Liesel.

Waitangi in the middle distance
Cruise ship, population > Paihia probably

There was an enormous cruise ship in the bay. A middle-aged couple also enjoying the view were discussing the pros and cons of going on a cruise. “It’s not just for old people, any more” was the consensus. And the crew come from all over the place, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, even Ukraine. So now you know.

The soundtrack to our walk, hike, tramp was provided by cicadas. I saw a couple of them fleetingly as they climbed a tree, but mostly we saw nebulous clouds of bugs just too far away to study in detail.

Once again we enjoyed the fractal beauty of the ferns. I think New Zealand could make use of this plant as an emblem of some sort.

Fern

On the way down, we enjoyed watching a family of quails crossing the path: Mum, Dad and six, seven, eight chicks. And another one. The chicks avoided falling into the ditches either side of the path which is quite a feat for such a little bird.

We also met two groups of Chinese people heading up, and both asked how long would it take and would they have enough time before running back for their coach? Liesel and I were glad that we had no such schedule.

School of Dolphins

There was a craft fair in town which we walked through very quickly: there’s always something really good that we can’t afford and/or don’t really need and/or don’t want to carry around with us.

While not looking at rainbows and eating on the balcony, we’ve been watching the goings-on in his lovely little town. It’s very popular with tourists: this is my third visit in 25 years too!

The New Zealand flag by our motel has faded with time. The limp, pink, white and blue of the union flag in the corner is a metaphor for something.

The old NZ flag

On the other corner is a new New Zealand flag featuring a fern. And I was saying they should celebrate this plant just a few paragraphs ago!

Could this be a future NZ flag?

You can go on a sightseeing helicopter ride, and the helipad is just along the road, so it’s a bit loud and drafty when it comes by.

We saw the traffic warden doing his rounds. He was marking car tyres as he walked by: he’ll come back after the permitted 120 minutes to check up. His 8-stone frame is quite intimidating and made much more fearsome by the hi-vis vest he’s undoubtedly sweating in.

We saw red parachutes hanging in the air, over the water it seemed from our viewpoint, but we have no intention of doing a skydive this time. Although, when I saw the poster advertising a jump from 20,000 feet altitude, very nearly in space, I was momentarily tempted. 12,000 feet is my record. So far.

At regular intervals, the coaches disgorge their passengers who set about seeing the town with one eye on the clock as mentioned before. We did a couple of one-day guided tours in Japan and it’s really not the best way to see a place: too much information, too fast.

Two-tone KitKat

This KitKat was much nicer than some of the weird KitKats sampled in Japan!

Striped Marlin for Klaus

Having Fun

Our final evening in Christchurch was spent in the company of Mary Poppins. The new film, Mary Poppins Returns was released less than a month ago and it felt only right that I should see it with Pauline (and Liesel and Andrew came too).

My sister and I had seen the original Mary Poppins film with our Mum way back in 1964, and it’s unreal and unfair that she passed in 1991, halfway between the two movies. So there was a slightly melancholic feel but, thank goodness, the film itself didn’t disappoint. Jane and Michael Banks are grown up now, Michael has three children of his own buit their mother has passed away.

Mary Poppins returns with a handful of songs, the music often quoting or reminding us of the songs from the first film. There are some very funny moments and we each awarded it 5 stars, a total of 20, making it the best film we’ve seen so far, this year.

When asked, I usually say that my favourite film of all time is Lawrence of Arabia. One of the reasons is that this is the last film I remember seeing in a cinema with my Dad, when I was 7 or 8. (Not because there are no women in it: I only became aware of this fact many years later!) Lawrence of Arabia: he might crop up again later.

Our penultimate meal in Christchurch was a takeaway from the local Indian place, where they very generously gave us an extra dish and an extra starter. Pauline and Andrew have leftovers for a while.

After packing, in the morning, we drove to The Sign of the Kiwi, a small café at the top of Dyers Pass from where there is a fantastic view of the sprawling city below. It’s a good place to hike or cycle to and from. Oh to be fit enough to cycle up that hill one day.

Looking down on Christchurch
Liesel, Andrew and Pauline
The Sign of the Kiwi

We bade a tearful farewell, returned the car, flew to Auckland and picked up a new hire car. It’s not as good as the Chch one and, worse: it’s red. We caught the ferry to Waiheke, an island in Hauraki Gulf to the east of Auckland.

Really looking down on Christchurch
Approaching Waiheke Island

Our new Airbnb is run by Fi and Tom, and they share the house with us. Or vice versa. Of course, they’re poms. From Kent, via London and they’ve been in NZ for 7 years. I managed to speak to Helen on her birthday, in between rounds of drinking and partying (her, not me).

I went for a quick walk before settling in and what perfect timing.The sunset was gorgeous, but I was surprised at how much shorter twilight is here, compared to Christchurch.

Wide Sky for Anna Neale

It was a hot night and neither of us slept particularly well. We were conscious of Fi and Tom being in their room, just over there, and of mosquitoes flying in, and of the heat. And, no, I probably didn’t help matters when I got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason, and ended up going outside for a while to look at the stars and in particular, The Milky Way. The sky being velvet black instead of sodium-lit orange is a bonus in itself but the number of stars in unfamiliar southern hemisphere constellations was mind-boggling. I tried to take some photos, and to be fair, the results aren’t too bad for a phone camera.

Gorgeous night sky

On Saturday, we visted Onetangi Beach but the notion of going for a longer walk in the Sun was soon dispelled. We knew that, later on, we’d potentially be sitting in the full glare of the Sun for several hours.

The popular Onetangi Beach

As we were driving along, I said, “Oh, look, there’s Waiheke Workout if you want to stop.” “Of course I do,” said Liesel. After a beat, she continued, “You did say ‘lookout’, right?”

No, it was ‘workout’, as in, it’s a gym. We didn’t stop.

We had booked a few days on Waiheke at this time because Bic Runga was performing at Goldie Estate, one of several wineries on the island. The venue was much, much smaller than we’d become used to at Hyde Park concerts in London. The support act was performing under the name Lawrence Arabia. I said that name might crop up again, and it very nearly has.

Goldie Estate
Where’s Liesel?

I think he was good but the crowd weren’t going to stop chatting just to listen to the music at a music performance. His introductions to the songs were too long: we don’t know you and we really don’t care, yet.

Lawrence Arabia

Bic Runga was better received but even so, we listened through a hubbub of background noise. So disrespectful to the artistes, never mind the rest of the audience. Sad to see that this antisocial behaviour really is a universal phenomenon.

The stunning Bic Runga

We got our own back, though, by singing along to some of the songs. I hope my voice is louder than Bic’s on your phone’s video, mate!

Selfie of the day: Mick and Bic

One of Bic’s songs has always resonated, even though I’m not and never will be a touring performer. Get some sleep could have been written about Liesel’s and my adventures: sometimes we feel we’re not getting enough sleep either but on the whole, “I believe I might be having fun” and that’s all that matters, really.

Whinges apart, we enjoyed the show immensely and we only feel a little bit guilty about not sampling the wine at a vineyard.

Copious amounts of sunblock had been applied, a few times, and I am pleased that neither of us reported any sunburn at the end of the day, hooray!

Our accommodation was only a 20 minute walk from the venue, so no need to join the throng catching buses and rushing for the last ferry back to the mainland.

Our hosts caught the last ferry back from Auckland where they’d been to see Mumford and Sons in concert. Earlier in the day, Tom had been playing his guitar and singing bits of songs that we mostly recognised.

The plan to get up early and go for a walk in the cool of the early morning came to nothing. I think I was out of bed and breakfasted by midday but I could be wrong.

We spent most of the afternoon on a small, quiet beach in Owhanake Bay. We made friends with a duck who seemed to have been expelled from her family.

Duck of the Day for Marko

I continued reading Nicholas Nickleby, which is still much funnier than I would have expected. I attempted two killer sodukos, one successfully. Liesel tried to plot and plan future excusions, to no avail. But sitting under the shade of a big tree, on a beach, with a slight breeze, was definitely very welcome.

A family of oystercatchers entertained us too. The parents were teaching the chick what to do. Mum would find something attractive in the sand and stomp her feet. This was the cue for the baby to run over and have a tug of some tasty morsel.

Catching oysters

Despite its best efforts to remain anonymous on the street, we found The Little Frog, a nice, small restaurant with great coffee and fab food. If only it were more visible and not overwhelmed by the wine shop next door, I bet it would do terrific trade.

My mint choc chip ice cream was both huge and very minty and choccy. Liesel thoroughly enjoyed her apricot and honeycomb ice cream too. Jealous?

Toilet Talk. The latest in an irregular feature in which we discuss toilet issues. Not toilet tissues, well, not this time, anyway. Having blue water in cisterns has been fairly common here in New Zealand but the vibrant shade of blue that gushes forth in our Waiheke bnb is amazing. Cerulean. If he were around now, Michelangelo would use it for the sky on the Sistene Chapel ceiling. It seems such a waste of hypnotic blue pigment, flushing it down the loo, but that’s typical of the wasteful society we live in, these days, I suppose.

Meanwhile, top marks for this toilet door in a restaurant in Onetangi.

Mermaids and pirates

Banks Peninsula

Continuing the pattern of wet, dry, wet, dry, today was dry. We drove to Akaroa stopping a couple of times for short breaks.

Cormorant colony on the jetty

We drove back towards the penguin colony so that we could have a quick chat with the cormorants on the jetty. Hundreds of them including many babies learning to fly. They’d jump off, hit the water, start running, then eventually take off. It all looked too much like hard work to us mere humans.

Fledgeling cormorants running on water
A hill wearing a very bad toupé

There are signs here and there telling us that “New Zealand roads are different, so take your time”. One thing we’ve noticed is that the speed limits are all multiples of 10: 100, 80, 60, 50, 30 kph etc. But when you approach a slight bend, the recommended maximum speed always ends in a 5: 85, 65, 45, 25 kph. This isn’t a problem but I wonder if there is some deliberate thinking behind this pattern?

Dorothy the Double Decker – a reminder of home

The drive to Akaroa was very pleasant and as we approached the Banks Peninsula, the hills became more noticeably jagged and angular. The whole peninsula, as far as we can tell, was once one big volcano and we were both secretly looking and listening for telltale signs of an imminent eruption, after tens of thousands of years of dormancy.

Small but popular Akaroa beach

We went for a quick walk into woods, The Garden of Tane, into the shade, but it was too hot and too late to go too far. But while messing around with my phone camera, I took this selfie.

Just my shadow

And as with most accidental shots, I’m quite proud of this one!

New Zealanders equally are very proud of their kauri trees: so proud that this one has two plaques. Their wood is very hard, so suitable for construction, but there aren’t very many left after severe logging over the decades.

A very huggable kauri

We gave this one a hug and some words of encouragement, for what it’s worth.

On the way to our b&b at Little River, we stopped at a restaurant called Hilltop. As the name suggests, it’s on top of a hill and the views are stunning. While we ate, we just looked out of the window rather than at each other.

View from Hilltop pub/restaurant

My nachos were ok, nothing special, obviously reheated but that’s ok. Liesel’s pizza was better than the one she’d had a few days ago. Our landlady, Bridget, said the food at Hilltop was awful, she’d like to be able to recommend it to visitors but it just wasn’t good enough. Liesel and I looked at each other wondering whether the rumbling was the aforementioned potential volcanic eruption or a mild case of borborygmus!

The good news is, outside Hilltop, we actually saw a bellbird. A gorgeous yellow bird sitting on top of a post. And we know it was a bellbird because it made the bell-like noises as it flew off. Which, of course it did, just as I was getting my camera out.

Elusive wildlife seems to be a theme on this trip, unfortunately.

We’re staying in Little River in a b&b, not an Airbnb, and we’re the only guests, despite the booking site claiming that this was the only room available. The internet lies: who knew?

Bridget’s a character. She has two dogs, a husband, chickens, horses, lots of land and a strong kiwi accent.

Breakfast both days was fried eggs on toast and a reminder that we don’t need gluten-free bread on a regular basis. The fresh eggs and fresh milk, however, were delicious. I picked up the bottle. “You’ll have to shake that hard,” she said, “there’s a lot of cream on top. It’s straight out of the cow.”

It was a slow start to the day but it did warm up quite soon. Meanwhile, in Anchorage, they are having to put up with sub-zero temperatures and sights like this. Brrr.

Anchorage aka Narnia

We drove back to Akaroa but on this occasion, we followed the longer, scenic, tourist route.

At Pigeon Bay, we decided to go for a walk along a well-defined walkway. We followed the coastline for a bit, into the woods where the canopy made it quite dark and spooky in places.

It’s dark in these woods

We followed the path through some fields, over a couple of stiles, one strong and stable and the other much more like the Britsh government, totally wobbly and unreliable.

Wait for me, Liesel

We carried on driving the scenic roads, up, up, up, and still we climbed. It started drizzling, the view became obscured when we became immersed in the clouds. We didn’t really expect to be this high, and I’m sure the view is magnificent on a clear day.

The mist and murk (but not a Merc)

In fact, on the way back down, when we cleared the mist and the clouds, we saw little old Akaroa in the distance by the bay looking like a well-manicured model village. On the other hand, there were places where, from my window, I could see nothing but a sheer drop, no crash barrier, nothing, and that was a little disconcerting, not to say scary.

Let’s briefly go back to the musical entertainment item from last time… I downloaded a new album onto my phone and it seems to have stirred up the sludge of other tracks on my device. ‘Shuffle’ is now playing things I’d forgotten I had. As well as Murray Gold, we’re now hearing tracks from Duran Duran, Erin McKeown, Billy Bragg, James Galway, The Viennese Boys Choir, Inspiral Carpets and much much more! Plus, even the artistes it selected before are now performing tracks previously ignored by the so-called random shuffle feature. Mott the Hoople and Ofra Haza too had been hiding in the depths of my MP3 folder, unloved and unplayed. But best of all: The Red Hot Chili Pipers entertained us royally today.

We parked and proceeded to walk up and down the length of the main street in Akaroa, partaking of coffee on one side and a late lunch on the other.

A pretty little creek

We visited the Museum too but were asked to leave because it was a very early closing time. There’s a fascinating history here on the Banks Peninsula involving Maori tribes, Brits, Dutch and French explorers. Whaling was big here too and there are still some of the vast oil vats on display in the street.

A wooden campervan – or is it camperveneer?

We’re planning and plotting the next steps of our trip but everything changed when we came across this wooden campervan. If we rent a campervan, we now want a wooden one.

It’s another ‘Karoa sunset

There can never be too many pictures of sunsets, so here’s today, seen as we left Akaroa, climbing into the hills again.

Blackie the old hen

Meet Blackie, Bridget’s oldest chicken. She’s so old, she only lays five or six eggs a year now. But recently, following attention being paid by the rooster, her hormones must have been on a rampage, as she’s laid eight or nine eggs in quick succession. These eggs aren’t very nice, apparently, so Bridget has been giving them to the eels. Feel good story, right? Until you remember that the rooster is in fact Blackie’s son.

We packed our bags and said goodbye to the circus that is Little River and headed off towards Christchurch. We overshot and ended up in Hanmer Springs. What a beautiful drive, despite being on a main highway for most of the time. The clouds were strange, as if the painter was running short of white pigment.

Fuzzy half-finished clouds

There are plenty of very tall hedges here on South Island, too, often macrocarpa, tall-growing trees that need pruning but are often just left to their own devices.

Big hedge

I wondered whether any of these hedges are taller or longer than the supposed tallest and longest hedge in the world, in Meikleour, Scotland, that Fi Glover told us about, gulp, twenty years ago.

These hedges are meant to reduce the effects of strong winds but as is the case everywhere, there are disputes beween neighbours about reduced light and about views being spoiled.

It was 32°C when we arrived in Hanmer. I went and had a dip in the hot rock pools and the cooler pools while Liesel rested her eyes in the car, in the shade. I thought about booking a massages too but we still had to return to Chch. The 40° water wasn’t as hot as the ’40°’ water in the onsen in Japan. I could climb straight in, here, whereas in Japan, I had to enter one delicate body part at a time.

On the way back into the city, we passed by The Fanfare Sculpture.

Fanfare

This fabulous work of art has been on display in Sydney and latterly in Christchurch.

At the Thai Orchid restaurant, we chose to eat indoors rather than outside by the busy main road and this surprised the owner, I think. But the heat from the kitchen was preferable to the car fumes.

And so, to our final full day on South Island, in Christchurch. It’s time to pack again, properly, and so we began by shedding as much stuff as possible. Mainly by throwing away excess paperwork, after photographing it (just in case) and by sending some stuff back to the UK. We bought cinema tickets for this evening, we went to the library to print out some tickets and wow, Christchurch Library is stunning. There are four floors of good stuff, computers everywhere, lots of young children reading, loads of older people studying and some like us, making plans for future trips.

Big Lego bricks for little children

30°C today so a bit of a shame we spent so much time indoors and in the car.

It’s a hot afternoon and soon we’ll be off to the movies and you’ll never guess what we’re going to see… There’s a very tenuous clue in the title of this article. No prizes, though, it’s just for fun! Entries on a postcard…

Metagalactic

It was time to go our separate ways. Pauline and Andrew took the high road back towards Chch as Pauline goes back to work on Monday. Liesel and I took the low road deciding to stay on the east coast rather than go west, because the weather forecast looked so grim. In fact, on this Friday it was raining. A lot. Every time we thought we were heading towards brighter skies, the precipitation found us again.

Windscreen wipers splishing splashing

So we saw a lot of the countryside through frosted glass. Not literally frosted, it was still fairly warm, but… But not all was lost: we were able to listen to music on the way and what a wonderful variety of tunes: Neil Diamond, Rosanne Cash, Björk, Paul McCartney, Anna Neale, Tasmin Archer, Terra Naomi, Pink Floyd and eventually, at last, David Bowie! The shuffle mode should be random, you’d think, but the number of tracks played by certain artistes bears no relation to the number of tracks available on the device. Ian Dury? Bic Runga? Murray Gold? The Unthanks? Dozens of tracks, zero plays today.

Tautuku Beach seen from Florence Hill Lookout (again)

We spent some time in the museum at Owaka and we learned that there is nothing new even in these days of modern technology.

Have you tried…?

“Turn it off and turn it on again” was a recognised solution even in the 1920s.

Everyone’s Dad’s House

With a name like that, of course I had to cross the road and have a quick look. The person inside looked quite nice actually and the place, apart from a few cobwebs, was spotlessly clean.

The Lady of the House

We ended up driving all the way back to St Kilda, Dunedin and since our usual(!) Airbnb was booked, we ended up at Adrian Mole’s place. No, that’s not right, it was Adrian’s Motel.

The following day was a total contrast. Blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, sunshine and a perfect day to go for a long, long walk on the beach. There were many more people here today, incluing children playing in the sea and even a guy trying to surf. Liesel later saw a sealion too.

You can see the curvature of the Earth!
Oystercatchers

Pauline confirmed by electronic communication that these birds with clothes pegs where their beaks used to be are indeed oystercatchers.

Selfie of the day

We drove to Moeraki where we found the Boulders on the beach. I remarked how funny it is how memory distorts things. I’m sure that the last time I visited this place, there were just a few, very large boulders on the beach. Today, there were far more, they were all smaller than I recalled, and some were even in the sea, as the tide was in.

Mick demonstrating wondrous balancing skills
More Moeraki Boulders
Seal having a stretch

Our stopping point for the night, in fact, two nights, was Oamaru. Another motel, to boot.

I went for a walk to book tickets so that we could later on go down to the the blue penguins coming ashore for the night.

Oamaru Fire Station

I thought the tower at the fire station was quite interesting, being taller than most of the buildings in so-called Victorian Oamaru.

We went to the penguin colony for 9pm and joined hundreds of other penguin-hunters.

On the rocks, a seal was basking but the announcer assured us that seals don’t eat penguins, as they have a very similar, fish-based diet. She then gave a list of predators by way of explaining why the penguins would arrive in groups, known as rafts, each comprised of about 15 penguins.

No electronic equipment, cameras, phones, laptops, tablets were meant to be used as the lights disturb the penguins. So I took just a quick one or two from the back of the stand, with no flash of course, just using their own lighting system which apparently doesn’t affect the penguins: they just think it’s moonlight.

Blue Penguins resting from their exertions

A whole day in Oamaru was a great opportunity to explore this fascinating, old town. But it rained. A lot. I did go for a walk leaving Liesel behind to take care of the laundry, thanks, Liesel. The museum was closed so I visited Steampunk HQ instead and this really was a lot of fun. There are some clever people out there, turning old, rusty, metal objects into new, working gadgets. Many come from outsde our own galaxy and some are even brought here by time-travellers.

Metagalactic Pipe Organ

I had a go on this Metagalactic Pipe Organ and amongst the various noises and sound effects, I did manage to knock out the five-note theme from Close Encounters as well as the beginning of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.

Bosca on top of a Standard 10 automobile

Bosca is made from the ancient bones of plains gorillas. These bones lay in the soil, became rock then iron ore.

This iron ore was mined by huge steam-powered shovels and smelted in great coal-fired crucibles to create cast iron and steel.

These materials were used to build the works of men: bridges, machines, cars, planes and ocean-going ships.

When these machines broke down, their bones were used to create Bosca.

Bosca is the distillation of millions of years of struggle.

The sculptor was Chris Meder, responsible for many of the exhibits here.

The Portal Experience

The Portal Experience was great fun too. Up to six people stand in a small space where the walls, ceiling and floor are mirrors and hundreds of lights are reflected hundreds of times to give the illusion of floating in space. Magic!

Another selfie

I took a selfie but this isn’t me and Liesel, it’s me and someone else. Liesel was still in a cold, lonely motel room. Where I joined her sooner than planned after leaving Steampunk HQ because the rain was like a big hairy spider: it was torrentialler. I stopped on the way back to buy us hot coffee and hot chips.

The rest of the day was spent fairly horizontal, reading (me), watching Doc Martin (Liesel), snacking (both), napping (both) and blogging (neither).