The Wrong Hat

The glorious Sunrise was visible from our bathroom window, over the lake, but with a few obstacles, of course. It was going to be a nice day. I was tempted to get up early again, maybe go for an early morning stroll. Nah. That didn’t happen.

Sunrise over Lake Taupo

We went out for a quick visit to The Craters of the Moon. This was a fascinating place, but wasn’t the venue I had in mind. I’d mentally assigned this name to a totally different place. And the actual name of the place I was thinking of still eludes me.

Ever-expanding craters

But, this was meant to be a quick jaunt. So, unusually, I decided to go out without my bag. I just had some cash and my phone on me. When we arrived, I turned round to retrieve my hat from the back seat, where it wasn’t. “I took it indoors,” said Liesel. Hmmm. She continued, “But I’m surprised you didn’t bring your bag, you take it everywhere”.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but even if I had my bag, my hat wouldn’t be in it, because I left it in the back of the car”.

It was a hot day, I was going to suffer without a hat. Liesel offered to lend me hers, but then she’d be without one. Ilkley Moor bar t’at is one thing, subtropical, geothermal, noonday Sun without headwear is another.

So, while Liesel was queuing to pay, I went over to the little gift shop, and chose the least worst offering, a black Craters of the Moon baseball cap. I would have preferred a wide-rim sunhat but they didn’t have any. I placed the cap on the counter just as Liesel was paying for the tickets. “I solved the problem,” I announced.

“Oh yes, you’ll need a hat in this weather,” said the assistant, vocally. “Especially a bald-headed old git like you,” she added, telepathically.

The right hat (left) and the wrong hat (right)

And then, no tickets. Instead, we received a dayglo coral coloured handstamp.

We walked around for about 45 minutes under the beating Sun. Steam was venting, there was a very slight sulphurous smell. I could tell I was wearing the wrong hat because the Sun had full access to the back of my neck. Did I apply sunblock? Well, no, of course not. It was in my bag and I’d left that behind.

This was Liesel’s first visit to such a geothermally active place. I’d been before, but I was still surprised at how much vegetation there was, plus insects and birds.

Lush vegetation in a harsh environment
Steam vents
Liesel being hot and steamy
A deep crater

I was disappointed that the mud pool wasn’t bubbling away, but maybe there needs to be more water in it. A bit of rain would have cooled us off beautifully, of course, but the few clouds in the sky seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

On the way back home, we paid a visit to the gorgeous Huka Falls. Huka is Maori for ‘foam’ and it’s easy to see how they got their name, and why the water is such a stunning colour.

Huka Falls
Not a bad selfie

Even here, that evil alien lifeform known as bindweed has taken hold. Yes, pretty pink and white flowers, but come on, give the other plants a chance!

Grrr
Look at it, taking over the world

We drove up to a lookout from where we could see not only the great Lake Taupo but also the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, hundreds of miles away…that’s how clear the air was today, different to the mist of yesterday on Kapiti Island.

Lake Taupo and in the distance, Tongariro National Park

We found a nice little coffee shop called Bubu at the Rangatira Shopping Centre. The coffee was so good, I had to have a second cup straightaway. If I didn’t sleep the night, it would have been worth it!

After a spot of recovery in our Airbnb’s air conditioning, I went for a walk down to the lakeside, where I enjoyed a much lower temperature, a slight breeze, and the sight of people, ducks and black swans all swimming together.

Swimming in Lake Taupo
Great Lake Taupo

Later on, Liesel and I ate our fish and chip supper in the very same spot, only one of us (me) didn’t eat any fish. So just chips and chips for me.

You know sometimes on TV dramas, there are butterflies? And to keep them in shot, it looks like they’re dangling from a wire hanging in front of the camera as it pans around? Well, that might not be the case. Here in the garden of our Acacia Bay studio apartment, orange and black butterflies have flown by several times, exhibiting the same behaviour. They flutter by too fast to capture photographically but they seem to be dangling at the end of a puppeteer’s strings. Other butterflies have been observed too, which is fantastic, plus a couple of dragonflies. But, despite the raucous noise of the cicadas, which ceased spontaneously as soon as the Sun disappeared, the only one we’ve seen was dead, and being processed by a swarm of ants. Nature at its wonderful best.

There is a dam at Aratiatia Rapids and if you look closely at the picture, you can just make out rainbow colours in the spray. As ever, not as obvious as it was in real life.

Dam

We paid a quick visit here after leaving Acacia Bay and, yes, we couldn’t resist visiting Bubu once again for more of their delicious coffee, in our takeaway cups.

Our next place is near Tauranga but we made a detour vis Whakatane.

Never mind Cox Lane, Chessington or Church Road, Northenden, this is the sort of address I’d like.

Thermal Explorer Highway

After our terrific success a couple of days ago, I’m still on the lookout for kiwis. And in Whakatane, we struck gold again! Well, bronze, anyway.

Kiwi Boy by James Pickernell

We would love to visit Whakaari, aka White Island, as it’s an active volcano.

White Island (model)

This picture was taken from the model at the Information Centre, we didn’t fork out for a helicopter ride, nor have we invested in a drone.

Amongst the wildlife we didn’t expect to see in New Zealand was a Loch Ness Monster. But they’re here and living in a place called Matata. And yes, I did start singing Hakuna Matata to myself.

Loch Ness Monster but not the real one

And while I was quietly stalking Nessie, I made friends with a couple of pukekos.

Pukekos

We arrived at our new place in Oropi, just south of Tauranga and we sat in the garden, in the shade. A little chick was looking for his Mum and when a larger chook turned up, we thought, oh good. Until she started pecking and biting and picking up and throwing the little one. Nature at its wonderful best. Well, I encouraged the so-called grown-up to go back home, next door, and then all we had to worry about was the cat eyeing up the baby.

Our new, noisy neighbours

We made plans for the next few days, we had a quick chat with our new host, Raewyn. And while typing, I’ve been listening to Chris Evans’s new breakfast show on Virgin Radio, complete with all the old jingles from the Radio 2 incarnation, plus Vassos Alexander but no Moira Stuart, sadly.

We were just drifting off to sleep when suddenly, the room was fully illuminated. In my stupor/delirium, I thought we were about to be kidnapped by aliens and was torn between fear and excitement. I thought mybe the alien bindweed overlords were coming to get me. But it was only the motion sensors turning lights on outside the house. And, while I’m all for security, it did rule out any intention I had of sneaking out in the middle of the night to look at the stars.

We dragged ourselves out of bed, and set off for our day in a Living Maori Village.

The group of visitors was encouraged to learn how to say the name of the place, Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, and after a few attempts, I think most of us got it. Fortunately, it’s usually shorted to Whakarewarewa and, sometimes, to just plain old Waka.

Our guide was only 19 years old but was very confidant telling us about the village and about her people. She apologised for her English, but she had only been speaking the language for three years and she did very well. She used to be a penny diver. There’s a cold pool near the entrance to the village and young children jump in to dive for the coins that we visitors throw at them. It’s a long drop, and was one of the activities that Liesel and I both chose not to join in with.

Penny divers, diving for coins

Steam was venting all around us and any concerns I had about the fumes affecting Liesel’s asthma were soon quelled. The sulphur clears the sinuses beautifully. Our guide (whose name I apologise for forgetting) told us about their bathing regime in the hot, mineral-rich pools. They go au naturelle but only after all us visitors have left. The minerals clean the skin and leave it feeling nicely moisturised, no need for soap. But she told us that she does use soap as she doesn’t want to go around smelling like old people!

Quite a big tour group

We looked over at the geysers that were only spouting at half-mast on this occasion, but even so, what a remarkable sight.

Two old geysers, Pohutu and Prince of Wales

We watched a performance of song and dance, poi and sticks and after six weeks in New Zealand, we heard arguably NZ’s most famous song, Pokarekare Ana, for the first time!

For Helen
Maori performance

I managed to get a decent picture of a bug. It sat still while I fished my phone out, it didn’t fly, jump, hop or run off or vanish in a puff of smoke. I didn’t realise until today that New Zealand has some indigenous species of praying mantis.

Praying mantis

We went for a walk a little further afield to be rewarded with the sights and smells of a Green Lake, bubbling mud pools and a dragonfly (that was too fast for the camera) who was about to burn his feet on super-heated water. 140°C as it bubbles and sizzles up from below.

Bubbling mud pool
Green Lake (Roto Kanapanapa)

Sometimes, inanimate objects take control and so it was today. My phone spotted a beautifully tanned foot and decided to press its own button. And I am very proud to share the image.

Nominated for Accidental Photo of the Year in the ‘Body Parts’ category

We had to wait until the steam had dispersed a bit and for our spectacles to clear, but here it is:

Selfie of the day ft the right hat

Today’s Ridiculous Enviro-nonsense comes from a supermarket.

Don’t buy something we’re selling

One suggestion would be to stop selling this one item, if you’re that bothered. But then, I suppose you’d also have to stop selling all the other single use plastic in all these freezers, never mind the rest of the shop.

Buy all this, though, it’s fantastic, plastic

I did my bit for the planet today by again having coffee made in my new re-useable cup (thanks, Pauline). Or, as we used to call it: cup. Sometimes, I wash it in between uses.

While we were suffering in 27° heat, our family in England were below zero and building the biggest snowman in the world!

Martha and her snowman

Suffering? No, it was hot, yes, but what a fantastic place. And we did have an ice cream, of course. The diet starts tomorow…

We drove back via Rotorua and passed the signs for all the various activities that we just won’t have time to enjoy. Active things:

Skydiving, Sailing, River Cruise, Jetboating, Kayaking, Jetboard Tours, Lion Feeding, Zorbing, Sky Swing, Railcruising, Offroading, Horse Trekking, Lugeing. Nor will we visit the Cat Café: yes, there really is one in Rotorua. Some of the walks look interesting though, at ground level and in the canopy of a forest.

More music news. In our alphabetical journey through all the songs on my phone, we have reached the letter I. I never realised how many Dusty Springfield songs are in the first person. You don’t know what to do with yourself? Just close your eyes and count to ten. You can’t make it alone? You only want to be with me? Come to me, Try anything, You’re Coming Home Again. And Riot Squad made an appearance: I’d forgotten they were there too, totally ignored by ‘shuffle’.

Kapiti Island

We’ve added Wellington to the list of places we will come back to, one day. There’s more to see and do here than we had time for. And, even today, someone told us about another great place that we were previously unaware of. We knew we wouldn’t see everything and go everywhere that we thought about, but we do appreciate how lucky we are to have the opportunity to do this much.

As Liesel and I discussed the other day, on one level, this is a ‘holiday’ but because it’s such along time away from home, it’s become our ‘normal’ lifestyle. So should we still call it a holiday? Or what? Philosophy aside, today was pretty exciting.

We got up at 6 o’clock, which I’d forgotten was a genuine time of day. Farewell, Wellington, hello, Paraparaumu, the first port of call today.

Our unique Kapiti Island Eco experience seemed doomed. The island was clearly visible a few days ago when we drove south but today, we couldn’t see it through the mist and drizzle. We checked in, we disinfected our shoes (glad to be wearing trainers rather than sandals), we boarded the boat and waited. Glen Cooper, ‘Coops’, gave us a good introduction before the tractor towed the boat to the beach and we launched for a 40-minute ride to the island. The mist didn’t shift so it with a little relief that we saw and announced “land, ahoy”.

Kapiti Island Nature Reserve
A small boat, but perfectly formed

Kapiti Island is 10 km long and 2 km wide. The summit is over 500 m, well within the cloud. More info about the island was provided by the guide, Dave. The island has been a nature reserve for a long time but it’s only since the 1960s that they’ve been looking after it properly. The Department of Conservation are doing a terrific job, here.There are now no predators on the island. The goats, rats, stoats, weasels have all been eradicated. If one should turn up, on driftwood from the mainland, the chances are it won’t last long because of the traps all over the place. But at least the native ground-dwelling, flightless birds stand a better chance of survival here, now.

Dave took Liesel and me for a guided walk, pointing out the various vegetation and some of the birds. Again, we heard more birds then we saw, but at least we were able to give some of them names.

Sorry I can't remember what it's called
This plant’s leaves are moa-proof, really tough

Dave showed us a couple of holes by the path. By this time, we’d walked quite a long way up the hill. Those holes, he said, were dug by blue penguins. The penguins we saw in Oamaru looked knackered after swimming in the sea all day, and their houses were close to the beach. These ones on Kapiti, with their little legs, hop hundreds of feet up into the trees. Amazing stuff.

After the guided walk, we continued up Wilkinson’s Track. We knew we wouldn’t reach the top today, we wouldn’t see anything there anyway. But about halfway up is a picnic area and a hihi feeding post.

Down there is the beach and the sea…
Baby fern

After we’d had our lunch, I walked a little further along the path, but after a couple more turns, I realised I was inside the cloud. I re-joined Liesel to find she’d made friends with a kaka. It sat on her shoulder for a moment, and returned a little later. We weren’t going to feed the birds, as requested, but the kaka really knew the sound of rustling plastic bags.

Liesel and the kaka, her new BFF
Kaka

On the way back down, Liesel was in front of me and saw something run across the path in front of her. It ran into the bush, down a slope and we both saw it running alongside a log. It was dark and damp down there and although our first thought was, it’s a weka, it was moving totally differently. Shuffling and snuffling along. But no, kiwis are nocturnal, surely?

Rubbish photo, fabulous subject, our lesser spotted kiwi

Well, yes they are, but two guides confirmed that when it’s this damp, they’ll be out looking for worms, and will stay in darker areas. The kiwi population on the island is growing too, so they’ll be on the move looking to expand their territory.

It’s a rubbish photo, the camera focussed on the nearest leaf rather then the bird of interest, but it really is a kiwi, confirmed by two rangers! This was ridiculously exciting for us, and for the guides: kiwis are very rarely seen on the daytime tours. Go, us!

On the other hand, my camera missed the hihi (stitchbird), tui, tieke (saddleback), toutouwai (North Island robin), kereru (wood pigeon), kotare (kingfisher). Unless, of course, you want pictures of their bottoms or just blurry and flying out of shot!

Nature’s barbed wire
Play Misty for me
The best one of a tui after many attempts

Apparently, there is only one pair of takahe on the island and we weren’t lucky enough to see them. Only one pair? Well, since they were thought extinct before 1947, that’s not too bad, really.

Back down on the beach, I watched a weka being blown about by the wind. Not in a cruel way, but his feathers were revealed in their full glory.

A weka in the wind

A short while later, I was sitting on a bench, looking through many photos of trees and bushes where birds had been sitting just a few microseconds before I pressed the button, when a weka came up for a chat. It may have been the same one, who knows?

Hello little weka

The boat coming to pick us up was late. We couldn’t see the mainland at all, and indeed, the cloud seemed to have come even further down the hill on the island.

What a great day, though. And the 4-hour drive north afterwards could so easily have been an anticlimax. But, no, it wasn’t…welcome to Mordor!

Mordor

The drizzle eased off, the clouds lifted, the Sun came out, the sky turned blue, we enjoyed seeing the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park again. Yes: on the list. We’ll be back.

Apologies to the other Capital of Trout, Gore: their big trout got away. But I caught a couple of big ones today.

Trout of Motuoapa
Really big trout at Taupo

Our new Airbnb is at Acacia Bay, near Taupo, and close to the Great Lake Taupo. It was much warmer in the evening than it had been all day, and indeed much warmer than when we last stayed close to this lake.

I went out during the night to enjoy the dark, southern sky. The Milky Way, the Southern Cross, the Magellanic Clouds, Orion. Black sky, bright objects, but I had to go behind the house to avoid the solar-powered night lights that appeared to have no ‘off’ switch.

Gallipoli

‘Gallipoli’ is one of those words that evokes immense sadness, along with ‘Passchendaele’, ‘Ypres’, ‘the Somme’, all battles during The Great War that caused so much bloodshed, loss of life and heartache.

On a return visit to Te Papa, I enjoyed the Gallipoli exhibition. Neither ‘enjoyed’ nor ‘exhibition’ are quite the right words, but as the display itself demonstrated, there are no words strong enough to describe the horror.

Visitors are presented with stories told by survivors of the battle and from letters from some who subsequently paid the ultimate price.

There are warnings that some of the exhibits are quite graphic, Parental Guidance advised. And veterans are warned about the sound effects being realistic.

The stories are illustrated by larger-than-life size sculptures of soldiers and medics.

Fantastic detail

Despite the 2.4:1 ratio, they are very realistic. You can see every pore, every drop of sweat, every hair, every scar. Every tear drop.

Lt Col Percival Fenwick (?)
Private Jack Dunn (?)
Nurse Lottie Le Gallais
Horrendous conditions
Hell

The story is told of why Gallipoli was invaded, how the ANZACs were stranded for eight months, how the Turks were much better fighters than they’d been led to believe. Some very bad decisions made by some very safe people back at home. Aussies and Kiwis fought for ‘The Mother Land’. Maoris wanted to take part too and apart from a few tribes who didn’t fight at all, this was the first occasion in which all Maoris had come together to fight for the same cause.

Total deaths
Poppies with personal messages

I came out feeling slightly shell-shocked. I had a crick in my back from the slow walk around the exhibits. I was thirsty for a swig of water. But I felt so lucky to be here at all. My troubles are nothing compared with what those men and women had to put up with. Thoughts turned to my grandfathers who I’m sure fought in the first world war.

I would recommend Gallipoli: The Scale of our War to anyone who lives in or is visiting Wellington. Just take some tissues.

Outside the museum, people young and old were milling around in the sunshine and the hardest thing they had to do was decide which coffee bar to go to next.

I thought about going up to Mount Victoria Lookout, but as I’d taken much longer than anticipated, I went back to join Liesel who’d had a nice, quiet day at home.

When we were at Te Papa a few days ago, we knew it would be an emotional display to look at, so we decided to give it a miss. So why did I go back to the Gallipoli exhibition today? Well, yesterday, we’d visited Weta Workshop, the company responsible for many special effects and props in films such as the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

Hobbits’ feetses and legses
Gollum (l) and Liesel (r)

They are also responsible for the sculptures at the Gallipoli exhibition.

We arrived at Weta Cave to find that parking was limited. In the end, we were glad we parked closer to the venue than we’d been back at the b&b!

Weta Cave, site of the Workshop

The tour of the workshop was very interesting. This is the sort of job both of us would love to do, if only we had the necessary skills and imagination.

No Smoking

There are 3D printers all over the place, bags of resin and other model-making material. I will be looking out for a particular object in all films during the next few years. One day, I’ll be able to say, “I was there when they were making that…” But I’m not allowed to tell you what.

I didn’t know until today that Weta are involved with the latest incarnation of one of my favourite childhood TV programmes. Thunderbirds are Go has been updated and instead of chain-smoking cigarettes, lady Penelope now strokes her pug. She has to keep her hands occupied.

Creighton Ward House, home of Lady Penelope

It was a pleasure to fly Thunderbird 2 with Virgil Tracy. Something I’ve wanted to do for over 50 years!

Mick (l) and Virgin Tracy (r)

We were botha bit creaky after all the slow walking inside, so we decided to spend some time sitting down indoors, for a change. We watched ///Mary, Queen of Scots/// at the cinema, along with about eight other people in the auditorium. The special effects were very good, especially Queen Elizabeth’s poxy face, but I don’t think Weta were involved. And we certainly learned some new history!

We like Wellington buses: they are more comfortable than taking the horse, faster than taking the tractor. Official.

The side of a bus… but in a benign way

The Te Aro Park mural in the city centre is painted by Princess Diana. It acknowledges the relationship between the seas and navigation, both so important to early occupiers of the area. No, not Princess Diana, but Diane Prince, the multi-media artist.

Diane Prince’s Mural

We made it up to Mount Victoria Lookout from where we could look out over the whole city and beyond, in all directions.

Mt Vic Lookout

It was a little windy but it can be much windier here, thanks to the Cook Strait. The idea of ‘wind chill factor’ was developed by an American scientist, Paul Siple, and he is memorialised at this location.

Wind chill

And here’s Richard Byrd, looking south towards Antarctica: he was the first aviator to reach the south pole but his claim to have also reached the north pole is disputed.

Richard Byrd memorial
Te Papa takes centre stage in this view over Wellington

We drove to Ata Rangi Vineyard where we had an errand to run. Better late than never, organising a birthday present for my oenophile daughter, Helen!

At the Rimutaka Crossing, we stopped briefly to gasp at the view.

Gosh, what a view

And this war memorial is quite stunning too.

Rimutaka Crossing War Memorial

We drove over the pass, easy, but many hundreds of soldiers have marched over, in the past. And if it was as hot then as it was today, they would have been very hot and sticky.

In fact, the assistant at the vineyard told us it was 32°C today.

Liesel drove there and I drove back, and so we ended our final day in Wellington, at our place, eating, writing, listening to the radio, packing, tidying up. Tomorrow morning, we give Wellington the boot!

Meanwhile, in other news, little William is proud to be wearing his first pair of shoes.

William and the Shoes

A pair of Wellingtons

We spent two days in the capital. One bus driver tried to rip us off but other than that, it’s been a fantastic, positive experience!

I told Liesel that I’d had something for breakfast that she hadn’t. “What’s that?” “A double-yolker.” “So did I!” said Liesel. What are the chances of two double-yolks in the same box of locally produced eggs? Maybe there’s another yet to be discovered.

Double yolk

The bus took us to within a few minutes of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Lots of Aotearoa New Zealand history and artefacts of course. So it made sense that we made a beeline for the Terracotta Warriors, Guardians of Immortality exhibition up on level 4. We missed this when it was on in Liverpool and it was worth waiting for. Chinese art, science and technology were so advanced. They knew about chrome-plating 2000 years before it was invented in the west.

2200-year old chrome-plated arrow tips

The pottery fishes may have held stones, possibly children’s toys.

Two pottery fishes

These are not ancient Chinese CDs, but jade discs, circular because that’s the shape they imagined heaven to be: they were placed on the bodies of the dead to ensure immortality.

Two jade discs to preserve immortality

As the UK teeters on the edge of a cliff, about to leave the EU with all the advantages it has to offer, the unification of China struck a chord. The aims were very similar to that of a united Europe: common standards making it much easier to trade.

Unifying an Empire

I think most of us visitors gasped in awe when we reached the room with the Terracotta Warriors. Each one is unique, possibly representing one real person. Flecks of pigment have been found, suggesting that they were all painted at first, the skin being flesh-coloured. It would be interesting to see one repainted, or at least a mock-up.

Armoured military officer
Two chariot horses
Kneeling archer
Unarmoured soldier
The ensemble
Great detail

What’s got four legs and flies? A dead horse! The museum is home to the skeleton of Phar Lap, a very famous racehorse from nearly 100 years ago. I can’t really blame this nag for my Dad’s losses at the betting shop, it was even before his time.

Phar Lap skeleton

The history of Maori culture pretty much agreed with what the museum in Auckland told us: some inter-tribal warfare but much more conflict when white people turned up and ruined everything.

How can you top a dead horse? With a life size model of a blue whale’s heart, of course.

Blue whale heart (replica)

Wellington’s harbour is deep but even so, there are places where you can, if you so choose, jump into the water from a great height and, if you survive, tell your mates about it.

Young jumpers
He didn’t jump, on account of being a bronze statue

In fact, the walk around the museum outside was interesting too. The ‘bush walk’ is necessarily short, being in the middle of a city, but very interesting just the same. Plus, it provided some shelter from Wellington’s famous wind which was up today. We encountered such things as a cave network, moa bones, fake glow worms, pretend stratified layers of rock and local plants.

More bones, moa bones

We took the cable car up the hill for a quick walk in the Botanic Gardens.

Looking towards the city from the top of the cable car ride

It was a quicker and shorter walk than anticipated because we got ‘sidetracked’ and paid a visit to the Space Place at Carter Observatory. It was indoors, out of the wind and I was able to glue down the old toupée again. But it was an interesting place. They are rightly very proud of New Zealand’s contributions to astronomy.

Thomas King Observatory

We walked around the gardens for a short while, enjoying great views over the city. There is an exceptional blend of native bush, exotic trees, plant collections and stunning floral displays, all holding on by their roots and fingernails in the gale.

Tree hanging on
An array of colour

Back down in the city centre, we looked for somewhere to eat. I thought this item, sculpture, work of art was intriguing.

Something very science fiction-y

I walked round to find a plaque telling me about it and the artist. Imagine the disappointment when, at the far end, signs on doors told the me that these were, in fact, disabled toilets.

We found a good place to eat but here’s a tip: if you’re going to wear a red gingham shirt, don’t dine at a place where the staff are also wearing red gingham shirts!

How embarrassing!

Our other entertainment was provided by three sparrows outside fighting over a piece of pizza crust. None of them could fly off with it but I think they all tried. The show ended when a seagull swooped down and stole it.

And then on our final walk home from the bus stop, we saw this unusual flower in someone’s front garden.

Black flowers (succulents?)

We’re staying in the Newtown area which is like a little hippy village. I walked straight back into the 1970s when I came across these posters.

War is Over
Why have boring bollards when you can have fern bollards?

I managed to avoid the shoe-shopping expedition that Liesel went on (which was successful, by the way), but we later met up for lunch and a visit to the Wellington Museum. Again, too much to see in one go and we were kicked out at closing time.

Before that though, we read a sequence of short stories about Wellington, one for every year of the 20th century.

What’s got four legs and flies? You’ve forgotten already? Well, the 1956 story described the demise of the Clydesdale horses formerly used to pull the milk floats.

Rural Retirement or the Knacker’s Yard?

We wandered around the harbour front again before going home.

Oh, look, yarn-bombing by the sea.

Yarn-bombs

Haha, look, very funny toilet signs.

I’m bursting, I can’t wait

And look, there are several of these wooden structures in the area and this one was very comfortable to lie on, in an attempt to ease the crick in the back after two days of plodding slowly around museums.

Something to lie on

And finally, here’s Liesel holding up a metal ball in an attempt to create an eclipse of the Sun.

Nearly total eclipse of the Sun

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.

Coffee on the 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…