Welcome to our little home on the net. We are Steve & Rosemary and live in Buckinghamshire, UK. This is a blog of our life, sometimes interesting, but mainly boring. Its is very picture orientated as Steve loves to take pictures, especially of wild life. Sometimes he has his arm twisted by Rosemary and takes the odd snap of a weed.
Lazy day today, or so we hoped. Up late because no rush as the Irish bar did not open until 11 am and Rosemary wanted to retrieve her newly bought bird book. She had been in email contact and they had found it.
Everything then went wrong, the car key had vanished and after emptying the van we eventually found it almost where is should have been, but it had slipped down through a gap.
Then the van would not start, the battery was flat. Inexplicable, we had only been off power for a night. Surely the battery starting the engine is separate from the battery operating the fridge? The AA took ages to answer and they were going to charge us. The couple in the campervan next door came to our rescue and we swapped batteries and started the van. Put our battery back while the engine was running and we were good to go. Saved! But imagine (as R of course did) what would have happened if we had stayed two nights in the forest where there was nobody around and no mobile phone signal.
We drove into town, and parked. Rosemary walked to The Rose to retrieve her book, while I sat in the van with the engine running. Book retrieved, we set off to see the cheese shop and model railway Middleton Model Railway & Cwmglyn Farmhouse, as recommended by friends in Kingswood. This was a couple of hour drive, so batteries should be well charged by the time we get there.
Stopped at the Cheesery, bought the cheese and viewed the 1950s-set railway, complete with a model of Banbury, yes Banbury, station. Lots of buttons to press. R entranced by the minute ‘T’ gauge train and track they had on show. We ended up buying some aprons and a small model VW campervan to join our other one.
On the Cheese lady’s recommendation, we went to a nearby wildlife compound to see some white Kiwis. In the event we drank some horrible Cappuccinos and forgo the viewing of the Kiwis. A snap decision was also made; we were originally heading to Martinborough, but as we had done an extravagant all day wine tasting, we thought we would head straight on to Wellington instead.
Arrived at Wellington where we booked into the Top 10 for a couple of nights to get the washing done etc etc. We may move to the posh DOC site nearby for the last 3 days. Van holding up at present, but we are being extra careful of power use, now sitting in darkness in the evening and charging everything in the kitchen.
Today we went for a highly extravagant all-day wine tasting tour. We were due to be picked up at 9.15, but nobody came, so just before 9.30 I rang Odyssey to find out what was happening. We had booked after the office had closed and somehow they had missed our online booking. By 9.50 their Graham had arrived and picked us up. We were the only two on this trip, though we were to be joined after lunch by another eight who were doing the afternoon session.
Presently I am hazy about the six wineries we visited and brewery, it will be filled in before I publish after I receive confirmation of where we visited. In all we tasted some 36 different wines, so you can perhaps sympathize. Yes they did provide us with a list, it was the fourth winery which R and I have little recollection of.
The first place was Moana Park, a small boutique vineyard which produces wine with no animal products (finings are often being made from egg white or fish entrails). They also use the minimal amount of sulphur dioxide in their wines. It was a small place which produces only about 20,000 bottles a year. We loved the rosé and the white wine with the German sounding grape, Gewursztraminer. Turns out the grape has Italian origins. So much so that we bought a bottle of rosé, and Odyssey bought us a bottle of the white to compensate for the mess up on the start of the tour. Very kind.
The next stop was the Wine Museum, actually the Church Road vineyard in action, but with a museum documenting the founder’s wine making. Here we had another tasting of six wines, after a walk around the working winery, and a gaze at the museum.
(I should say the tasting amount of wine is about a tablespoon in a big glass. You are encouraged to swirl and sniff. There was a spittoon at all establishments, but we did not make use of any of them.)
Our next stop was the Mission Estate which was founded in 1851 (they claim to be the oldest winery in NZ) by French Catholic missionaries & is still owned by the Catholic church. It is now is a restaurant and function room. Here we had an excellent meal, I had lamb with some feta and an olive paté. Rosemary had chicken. Included in the meal was a glass of wine (oh no!). A Fantail bird chased amongst the vines on the pergola under which we dined, and a small cat stared pointedly at two fellow diners. After the meal we had a wine tasting. Quite out of character, we found ourselves buying a half bottle of a delicious dessert wine – be warned, Christmas guests.
Our tour operator arrived back, he had been ferrying the afternoon participants around. He drove us back to the first place to pick up the six Brummie friends and two girls from Melbourne.
Here is all gets hazy, and what is filled in is the result of diligent research
We visited TeAwa, and I can’t remember anything about this. (Rosemary claims she can, but she would say that, wouldn’t she?)
We then visited a sizeable vineyard, Sileni, that actually has its wine sold in the UK in Tesco and Waitrose. It was, I think, a Sauvignon Blanc. (I have a picture of the label.) A very reasonable wine.
(There was much wine technical talk of Gimblett Gravels (largish pebbles) versus a red soil, red metal, but my brain has failed to retain the information.)
Our final stop was at another very small vineyard, the Oak Estate, operated by a young German couple. It is their first year of selling at the cellar door. Here we stopped for a platter of cold meats, bread and dips, along with several wines to taste.
The Melbourne girls had elected to go to a brewery instead of the meal. So, after we had eaten, we picked them up, and some of us chaps had to inspect the brewery where I purchased a litre of very palatable, well-hopped IPA, which even R when sampled the next day.
Back at the campsite we went for an evening walk along the estuary shore looking for birds, disturbing a few white faced Herons. Back at the campsite for our staple of cheese and Vegimite rolls.
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We left the campsite and headed to Napier. After the first 18K on gravel roads we hit the sealed roads and then the State Highway and made very good progress. I have great difficulty in keeping the van to 100kph on these roads and often found myself well-exceeding the limit with everyone else around. I think I am now over my initial problems with driving on the left. Logic tells me, cos we are on holiday and it is (sometimes) hot, I should be driving on the right. A right-hand drive car does not deter me, cos that’s what I’d be driving normally.
We stopped for a coffee and a stuffed sausage (how could anyone resist such a wonderfully-named delicacy?). It the Midway Café, where there were four tabby kittens. Rosemary fell in love with these.
Arrived at Napier and checked out a few campsites as we drove into town. The first one I had chosen was closed, washed out in the previous week’s floods. We found one which was decently near to town, but could be noisy as near an intersection.
Parked near the coast where there was a car boot type market in progress, didn’t buy anything despite the odd looking vegetables on sales. Then it was into town and a nice bookshop where Rosemary bought a book on birds of New Zealand. (Promptly lost a few hours later at the Irish bar.) We wandered around the town taking the odd pictures of the Art Deco buildings destroyed by the additional canopies and air conditioning units.
There seemed to be a large number of coffee shops and a distinct lack of bars. Eventually homed in on the Irish bar for lunch/supper and a few beers. Was nice sitting out on the street in the warm weather, (had started the day distinctly looking cloudy). I didn’t like the sign next to a clothing shop announcing autumn and the time to buy wet weather gear.
Back out of town to the campsite where we are parked next to the kids playground, hopefully none of the rugrats are around. R excited at the prospect of flush toilets & showers.
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We left our campsite, where they ask you to check out. Useful to do, cos we (ie Rosemary) could ask them to go through their lost property and retrieve the items we (ie I) had lost. My bar of soap in Rosemary’s soap dish (which she’s apparently had for more than 25 years, but once lent to me…..) was duly handed over.
We were heading South to Lake Taupo to eventually camp in a basic DOC campsite. These are free and said to have a toilet. We are very hopeful we don’t have to use our onboard loo; it looks too complicated to contemplate late at night.
Our first stop was the fuel station, time to get used to filling when half full, previously I have been running it down to empty. In some parts of NZ, some guidance suggests you should always fill up whenever you see a fuel station. This was a practice run.
We headed off to Waio-Tapu the Thermal Wonderland. First off was the Mud Pool with wonderfully eruptions happening. At the actuaol wonderland, there’s a walk around the various coloured pools and bubbling mud caldrons which takes around a couple of hours. In parts, the walkways were heaving with people of all nationalities. In between the selfie sticks (old hat), and now the steady cams for mobile phones, I was able to grab photographs of all the devil’s pools. It would be lovely to access the site when no one else was there, and to be able to jump over the barriers for some close ups.
Our next stop was Wairakei Geo Thermal power station. Impressive array of massive pipes gathering steam from the thermal sources and transporting this to the nearby power station. We drove up to the viewing hill to look down on the whole operation. Impressive that this was started in 1958.
Next was the Huka Falls and Rapids. Again the area was thronged with people. The fast-flowing narrow channel is impressive. What was less impressive was the power boat which takes punters close to the bottom of the falls. Less impressive because it didn’t actually get that close. We ate our lunch while it performed its antics below us.
We drove on to Taupo, glanced at a few shops. I let Rosemary out to take a closer look while I studied the location of our next campsite. She came back shortly, empty handed.
Our destination for the night was the Clements Clearing campsite on the Clements Road in the Kaimanawa Forest Park. The road leads nowhere, as the Kiwis say it’s a “no Exit”. It’s a remote site, no mobile phone signal, no FM radio signal. There are various campsites in the area, this was the largest with, according to the DOC website, 30 spaces. There is a (very) long drop loo, in a v rickety wooden hut, a clearing and some heavy iron fireplaces around the place for you to build a fire. There was only one other group camping. All were dressed in camouflage gear. The man eventually said hi and asked us what had brought us here. Turns out they were here for the weekend hunting Sika deer. His dog ran around at top pelt with delight at seeing humans. R thought it significant that the dog was called “Ammo”. The forest is an old natural one, but interspersed with private land which is planted with conifers. My intention was to stay here a couple of nights, but I think we will be off early tomorrow to Napier, R being fairly convinced that if we stay there for long, we shall come to a sticky end and no one will know where we are or what happened to us.
When we came to leave next morning, one final visit to the loo found the biggest flies I have ever seen in my life. I pity anyone who had to sit down on the loo with the flies flying up from the dark depth. (Poor R!) I later pondered over how a hole that deep could be dug.
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Cloudy start to the day, but no rain forecast, and a little bit of sun. Our first stop was the Skyline. We both bought Gondola tickets which gives you access to the site and restaurants at the top. I also bought five Luge tickets for the run back to the bottom of the chairlift. Unfortunately, the advanced run was close cos it was wet, but later we heard from another source that it had not been open all year. The leaves on that track backed this up.
My first run was on the beginners run, which I completed with no issues. My next two runs were on the intermediate which was faster and definitely more adrenaline raising. On that third run I even overtook someone who was no slouch.
I took a break and joined Rosemary for an iced coffee in the restaurant. Then I was back to complete my last two runs. The first was on the intermediate where I made a really good fast run down the track. The last run was on the beginners again, the intermediate was now closed for some strimming down the sides. But it was an enjoyable run as I had to weave in and out around slower riders. Nicely cut up one rider near the end.
Met Rosemary again for lunch, and then we went back down on the Gondola to do some supermarket shopping, where we discovered NZers use “trundles” not “trolleys”. We should now have three day’s food supplies.
Next up was Canopy Adventures which was a zip line adventure in the trees. It is run partly to raise money to look after the ancient forest by trapping and exterminating the possums, rats, stoats etc. They used a neat carbon dioxide powered gun, triggered when the possum or rat stuck its head in after some bait. A bolt went into its head. The animal would drop out, and the trap was ready to kill again. It could kill 24 rats, or 12 possums, before needing to be re-loaded. The project had increased the numbers of birds significantly.
Our group of 10 consisted of a party of Indians who were on their second day in New Zealand from India. The other two members were from Napier. It was fun, and I think Rosemary, who had said zip wires high in the trees and rope bridges were her nightmares, overcame those initial misgivings to enjoy the trip. No Kiwi birds live around here, but we saw several other bird species as well as several ferns, including the acclaimed Silver Fern. There was even an impossibly blue mushroom.
Tonight I used the campsite’s gas-fired BBQ. R used the laundry facilities.
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First off, we both saw a kingfisher. Today is my highlight of the North Island – a visit to Hobbiton. It was about a 35-minute drive to the film set. First thing was to check in and transfer our bookings to tickets. We were scheduled for the 11.10 tour. The tours run every 10 or so minutes, some though are scheduled from other locations such as Rotorua. At 11.10 we boarded a bus with 30 other people for the short trip to the actual location on the farm. Our driver was a comical Kiwi woman who warned us not to touch the electric fences, but if we were going to do so, to please let everyone know so they could publish an amusing Youtube video.
Our guide then showed us around the set, which was made as a permanent construction and is maintained to look exactly like how it appeared in the three Hobbit films. The first set used for the Lord of The Rings trilogy, was not built as a permanent feature. The guide explained much about how the Hobbit holes were filmed, many of different sizes, so that when a Hobbit was filmed they stood next to a larger Hobbit door. When Gandalf was filmed he would be standing next to a small Hobbit door. The site is extensive, the vegetable gardens are maintained. The oddity was an oak tree on the top of Bag End. The one in the LoTR was a real one, transported to the spot. But the Hobbit one is artificial down to its plastic leaves but built to look like exactly like the LoTR one would have done 60 Years earlier, as per the timing of the Hobbit story. We posed for photographs outside Bag End. Finally, we ended up in the Green Dragon Inn for a “freebie” ale.
I would definitely recommend the trip to anyone, especially photographers and film-makers. In our group was a chap who taught Special Effects for Films (in Adelaide). He was entranced by it all.
Back at the carpark we went to Tirau for lunch. I suggested that the town had many junk shops. This was duff information from a book I had been reading about motorhome travelling in NZ. Things must have changed in the last 10 years. We did home in on the Bugger Café where we had coffee and a Bugger Burger. Rosemary asked if they were a chain because we had seen another one. Yes it was a chain, a chain of two; we had seen the only other one which is in Coromondel by the entry bridge.
After lunch we headed to the Te Waihou Walkway. It was a recommended location in the Hobbit Locations book I bought recently. It was never used, but the location was suggested as a river that could have appeared in the film. I walked the whole length of the walk (8km). The river was fastish flowing and featured some lovely colours of green and blue. Let’s hope the pictures do the colours justice. R sat & spotted parakeets & kingfishers while I did the last half.
Our final 35 minutes journey of the day was to Rotorua. You could pick up Rotorua and plonk it in America and it would not look at all out of place. A lot of the towns in New Zealand look very Americanised, Rotorua even more so.
We aimed for the Top10 in the centre. When we arrived and saw the price of $60NZ for an unpowered site for the night we turned around. Nope not paying that even if we have a discount. Instead we headed out of Rotorua for the Blue Lake Top10, which was a far more reasonable price & a nicer location. We are booked into here for two nights on a large and quiet pitch. As we had missed out on food shopping we tried the campsite shop. Choice so limited that we gave it a miss. We did have some salad and cheese in stock.
Tomorrow beckons with some activity-based entertainment. Not sure if R is excited at the thought of it.
We packed up from an impressive campsite and left for Hot Water Beach. You need to arrive between two hours before and two hours after low tide. If you go later there is a chance It might be crowded or you might be able to take over someone else’s already dug pool.
This is one of the few times I have come across pay and display car parks at the coast in NZ. We parked on a dirt car park and walked into the village. On the way we hired a spade for $5NZ, with a $20NZ deposit. Further in, they were hiring at the same price but no deposit.
The beach is well provided for in terms of showers, loos and life guards. A short walk along the beach you can see people furiously digging their hollows in the sand to a depth where there is water. Some high up the beach, and others low down. We sampled a few abandoned pits to find cool or tepid water in them. We were beginning to think this was a con. So I set about digging my own pool a few meters up from the water line, but inline with some rocks in the sea. I was soon down to the water-level and…..it was hot; so hot I could barely put my foot in for a second. We abandoned this one, and moved forward to the water’s edge. Here I could mix the cold sea water with the water in the sand to get a reasonable temperature. R was entertained by people asking if they could try our first pool and then shrieking with pain & surprise. It was rather like putting your feet in boiling water and having your ankles drop off. My first pool was judged the hottest on the beach. R thought the whole thing was rather like a male bird building an exquisite nest to attract mates.
I also swam on the beach. There was a lovely surf for body surfing on. Very refreshing.
W packed up and continued our journey. This was a long journey as I wanted to camp near to the next day’s feature, Hobbiton. We drove down to Tauranga, and tried to visit Mount Maunganui. This took us near to the port where cruise liners and container ships dropped. We also saw a huge area of cut tree trucks. This must be the destination of all the felled trees we kept seeing on the road.
Traffic was horrendous on the roads around here, one slipup had us having to retrace our steps in a 30 minute traffic jam. Who builds a dual carriage-way, and then finds the junction of one of the routes out (the way we wanted to go) is subject to a level crossing with freight trains using it. The longest slowest empty log train made it to the crossing as we reached it. Yes, we had prime view.
Our destination for the night was McLaren Falls Park. For $20 dollars you can camp in the park on three designated camp sites. There is a single loo on each site, so you don’t actually have to be self-contained. We parked at the edge looking out over the lake where there were some very noisy ducks, coots, black swans and geese. After we set-up, a few other vans and tents arrived. It was not crowded, but probably the busiest site we had been on.
The ranger who came by to verify we had paid suggested visiting the glow worm area. This was a narrow, dank path along a river. Going up the path to the waterfall it was still too light to see the glow works, but coming back they were out. We could see them on both sides of the river. They were an impressive display.
Back at the site it was dark, I tried searching for bats, but again failed. The stars were bright, the Milky Way was very prominent.
The rain ended before midnight, and the wind rose some wat as it swung to blow from the West. The morning was still cloudy, except that there were now blue patches of sky. Today we wanted to camp near the Hot Water Beach for low tide in the morning. We crossed the Coromondel peninsular on the sealed roads of State Highway 25, stopping at a viewing point at the highest point of the road. It looked nice and clear on the East side where we were going.
Our first stop was at Whangapoua where there was a gorgeous large beach. Rosemary searched for shells while I went for a walk to the far end and climbed across the rocks.
We then continued along the road retracing out tracks a little way and drove to Opito Bay. This meant some more gravel road driving which I enjoy. Opito Bay is the end of the road, has a huge bay and lots of holiday homes of reasonable size and quality. I went for a swim and enjoyed the warm water and did a little bit of body surfing. Lunch was eaten here. The black billed gulls, which are everywhere, were particularly docile here. They were sitting on the road in large groups, bringing me to a total stop.
We returned to the SH25 and headed to Whitianga to buy some food and to look at potential campsites. It is infuriating that New Zealanders do not want to show prices for their campsites, so you must start a booking process to see what the price is. The sites in the area were reaching $50 for the night, pretty exorbitant. Freedom camping seems to be frowned on here, with three spaces allocated, and already occupied in the early afternoon.
We did find a site eventually that was $40. It was on the other side of the estuary at Flaxmill Cove. It turned out to be a very nice place with large plots, a beautifully clean, modern kitchen & hotel-like bathrooms. It is also only 10 minutes drive from the Hot Water Beach which we aim to visit tomorrow.
Hola arrived during the night, not much wind, probably because we were on the west, but plenty of rain. As I write this it is still raining and is due to continue until midnight tonight. A little bit of a dampner for the day.
We ate breakfast under cover by the Shelley Beach kitchen. Most of the campsite kitchens having a boiling water geyser, so making coffee is a doddle, Packed away and then set out for a drive. First we drove up the coast a little beyond Colville. Lovely scenes of grey out to the islands. We backtracked and stopped at a café for a coffee. The Hereford ‘n’ A Pickle sold fresh meat and pickles as well as coffee and meals. The burgers and steaks on sale were all made from Hereford cattle. As well as food there was other goodies on sale. Some NZ locals were there as well, odd bunch, long beards and barefooted, though their teeth looked in good shape.
We drove back to the town or Coromondel and wandered around all the shops gazing at the art, mixed with fishing gear and lawn mowers. I admit the quality of the items on sale was significantly better than that of the tat on sale in UK beach resorts, though out of our price range. We topped up with oranges for breakfast and bought some rolls which we ate with cheese overlooking the Coromondel wharf.
Back through the town we went to see the railway at Driving Creek. I thought it might not be running because of the wet weather, and also thought it might be geared towards children. No, wrong on both counts, it was an excellent 1-hour trip up the side of the valley through the forest. They had been replanting, including 9,000 Kauri trees, in their 70 acre site. The railway was originally built by potter Barry Brickell to transport clay to his kiln. He extended further than required and eventually opened it to the public to help pay off his bank loan. He used to invite other artists to come and work there. Much of the art along the line is by these artists. I liked the retaining walls of bottles laid on their sides. We were shown, next to the track, where Barry B was buried.
At certain sections, and at the top, called EyeFull tower, we were told there are excellent views of the coast and islands. Not for us, just a beautiful grey as you can see from the pictures.
The track has a number of switch backs, a two-level viaduct, tunnels and even a spiral (learnt that from the Biggest Little Railway tv programme).
We left looking for tea. A virtually inaccessible tea-shop-come-secondhand bookshop was spotted, we drove up to it only to find it was closed. Why didn’t it say it was closed at the base?
Back at the site listening to the clatter of rain on the van roof and the growing puddles surrounding the van. Supper will be cooked and eaten in the site’s kitchen tonight. Let’s hope the forecast sun appears tomorrow so we can camp on the East coast near Hot Water Beach.
The rain proved too much, so off we went to a restaurant in Coromondel called The Pepper Tree, where we had a very well presented good meal. S started with a large bowl of fish chowder, while R ate a pate. Both declared well-worth eating, and could have been enough. For the main course we both had lamb, orso pasta, creamed feta, tomatoes & mozzarella. Very good lamb; in fact R said it was the best lamb she had ever eaten.
Back at the van, the rain has eased off somewhat. S drove over the grass to a hard standing pitch, and dreamt all night he had left huge channels of mud across the grass parking space. Turned out you could hardly see the marks.
Off exploring some more dirt tracks. We left the camp site driving a few miles up the road, turning inland at Tapu to enter the heart of the Coromondel. We were soon on unsealed roads (gravel, dirt roads), climbing up a bendy curvy road until we came to the tourist attraction of the Square Kauri Tree. Not exactly square, more rectangular in cross section, because I believe it was growing at the edge of a precipice.
The New Zealanders look after their forests with a steep path and steps, then eventually a platform around the tree in the hope that this will protect it from the fungus destroying the Kauri. From the tree platform, you could see other Kauris overlooking the road below. We spent a few enjoyable minutes there before descending to the road. We met two other couples on this walk, including a motorcyclist couple.
Back on the road again, climbing a little more, before descending down in to the Whitiangar road. I learnt how to engine break in an automatic, select B. In New Zealand I have never seen so many signs on the roads requesting heavy goods vehicles not to use engine breaking. They are normally around built up areas where there is a steep hill entering the settlement. Needless to say, there were no such signs here, nobody to be seen.
On reaching the Whitiangar road we stopped at the Coroglen Tavern, recommended to us by the motorcyclist we had met at the Square Kauri. Good call, lovely large pub, decorated with equipment through the ages, chain saws, & general agricultural equipment, some of which I have no idea what they were. We had a couple of drinks and some potato wedges with bacon, cheese, yogurt, an excellent $20 spent.
Refreshed we left and headed North, then West again across the Coromondel, heading now to the Coromondel township, for some more dirt fun. This time we stopped at the Waiau Kauri grove where there was yet more pathways and platforms for us to traverse, and trees to be seen. Was persuaded to take a few pictures of some mosses. Am hoping some will look like forests photographed from above.
We continued down the road, ignoring the water falls, we had seen enough and there are some good falls coming up in the days to come. Slowed up to see the pigs and piglets which were kept in a domestic/farm fashion, but allowed to wander at will across the road. We’ve seen a few signs warning of wandering stock, one even included a phone number to report the escapee.
We reached the township of Coromondel, stocked up with some lager for Rosemary and some essentials for the next couple of nights. Started heading off to the East coast to camp in a DOC site, but stopped. The weather forecast was dire for the next day, Cyclone Hola was due tomorrow. We decided to go for another posh site just North of Coromondel called the Shelley Beach, where we could cook and eat under shelter.
The beach here is very definitely shelly and goes out a long way at low tide. Masses and masses of bi-valves. When we arrived there was a group of oyster catchers at the high tide mark and some white faced herons. Later we saw one of the heron chase after a sqashum. Also saw a rat wander around the beach. Again, R claimed to have seen a Kingfisher, but I didn’t. Suspect she is paying me back cos I was the one who saw the Kiwi,
After dinner, the West, towards Auckland was lovely, which made a nice end to the evening with the Oyster Catchers at the sea edge.
Not a cloud in the sky. Usual breakfast of yoghurt and nuts, this time we added a mango to the mix. Packed up and ready to go to visit Helen. Helen is the daughter of one of Kingswood friends. The driver easily found her drive, but the passenger disputed the location and we had to go off on a little drive, and then back. Despite the built-up area, the garden was beautifully quiet to sit in, chat and enjoy a cup of coffee. The pet rabbit of one of Helen’s daughters was a bit of an escape artist and rushed past us at intervals.
We parted ways and set off to Coromandel, going the motor way route through Auckland. The roads were busy with traffic, and there was one real hold up because of a previous accident. It had been cleared, but because of the large police presence and the obvious cause of the incident, there was still a huge delay, but totally freeflowing road afterwards.
When we left the State Highway we backtracked 10 km to a nature reserve on the mudflats at Miranda (Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre). There were a couple of hides, and a woman from the local birdwatchers who supplied three scopes and explanations of the birds on view. One endemic bird was a small grey/brown mud feeder called a Wry Bill. Spoonbills, Pied Stilts, White Headed Herons and Plovers.
We now drove back, heading this time for Thames, crossing the new double way bridge which replaces the long single track bridge which apparently caused chaos during busy periods. In Thames, a long shopping street with mainly closed shops and lots of open liquor stores, we stopped and bought a bottle of Bordeaux, from that well-known French settlement of Hawkes Bay, to accompany the fillet steaks for supper.
Arrived early at the Dickson Park Holiday Camp, where we have a nice grassy pitch and not a lot around us. Today is a washing day, the site’s Maytag machine is loaded and 4 dollars inserted. None of this eco wash, this one is over and done in 35 minutes. Except there was a tissue somewhere in the wash. Oops. Somehow, I suspect it was my fault, but I won’t confess. Drying took two goes.
Quietly drinking a beer in the sun listening to the gentle strum on an acoustic guitar.
A few asides. Everywhere, even in Auckland, there is a cacophony of cricket chirruping from the trees, although we cannot find the critters. Notices on the roads themselves are written as you come up to them, so you read GIVE before WAY. Many of the rolling hills look as though they are terraced, which they clearly are not. R’s first thoughts on the countryside was it all looked so smooth that it must be a golf course. Most bridges off the main roads are single track.
Today we said goodbye to our beach. First a swim in the sea, and then a cold shower in the shower/toilet block (the loos are of the long-drop composting variety). There was discussion about the possibility of a coming Ex Cyclone. No one was sure whether it was going to hit. Rosemary claimed to have seen a kingfisher but I could not verify this, having forgotten where last night’s Safe Place for my glasses was. Eventually I retrieved them.
We headed off, and visited some limestone crags at Waro Reserve, not particularly impressive, but only a short distance from the main road. We also stopped at the Whangarie Curtain Waterfall, this was more of a detour. More walking up and down steps, all well signed. We were now finding the area so much more built-up. Around the waterfall new holiday homes were being built. We even saw some prospective buyers being shown around. Estate agents seem very smart in NZ, huge, plush offices and we’ve seen lots of signs for open house visits complete with a photo of the agent.
We took in the Marsden Oil refinery, a must when touring New Zealand. Although you can’t walk around the actual site, the visitor centre has an excellent presentation about the construction and operation of the site. There is also a huge scale model of the refinery. We learnt how the refined fuel is shipped to Auckland by pipe line, the petrol, kerosene and diesel being shipped down the same pipe line. The rest of New Zealand is supplied by sea going tanker. What seemed inevitable was how much more diesel than petrol comes out of crude oil.
The road to Auckland was chocker with traffic driving in towards the city. We even hit a traffic jam. We were still 80 km from the city. We left the SH1 at Waiwera just before the toll road started and headed towards Whangaparaoa where we wanted to stay in an Auckland Council camp site in Shakespear Park. Electric gates and fencing around the whole park, all anti-dog measures to protect the Kiwis. You must phone the Council from a courtesy phone and wait in a telephone queue to pay by credit card. First we sat in a phone queue for ages, then when it was answered the voice quality was rubbish, you just could not hear. We gave up and left and ended up staying at the Orewa Beach TOP 10. A disgrace of a site, so huge, we are all parked on astro turf, no sea views. Sorry today has been a bit of a write-off. Did eat some fried fish, which I cooked in the camp kitchen in our van’s frying pan. Where oh where can you buy real good quality meaty fish? Not seen any shops selling fish, while the supermarkets have a dreadfully poor selection of fish.
It was a lovely morning. We rose, ate our usual breakfast of yoghurt, nuts and coffee. Indecision as to where to go. We could go forward and miss the Treaty Grounds, or re-track and go along the windy dirt track. The decision was made at the last moment as we were driving out and had just dumped the rubbish (2 dollar charge) when I decided we should stay another night at this lovely campsite, so Rosemary retrieved the waste, and we paid for another night. We still drove out but visited Russell, not quite the Treaty Grounds, but still very important in the founding of the modern state of New Zealand. In any case, the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi could be seen across the creek and if we had felt in the mood we could have taken a foot ferry.
We escaped the twisty dirt road, instead we had the twisty sealed road. We arrived in Russell and parked in the main street outside the shops. Quaint town with a mixture of shops, mainly catering for the tourists and the fishermen. When you enter a food shop, there is always a freezer labelled “Bait”. You park nose in to the kerb along the wide streets, so it all feels slightly America.
We first visited the Pompallier Mission, this was a Roman Catholic mission founded by the French in this town to bring some order. Russell at the time was the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”, known for its drunkenness, fights and loose women. We didn’t visit the Pompallier museum complete with a working printing press from the 1840s, which produced religious tracts, some written in Maori. We did avail ourselves of their delicious coffee, croissants (with Bonne Maman jam!) and pain au raisin.
Next to the Russell Museum where there was a one-fifth scale model of the Endeavour, plus Maori and settler artefacts. We learnt that the Europeans were not the only culprits in bringing in non-native species. The Maori had done this a thousand years back when they emigrated from Polynesia and brought dogs, which were used to hunt Kiwis.
We, of course, walked up to Flagstaff Hill where the Union flag used to be flown. This flag pole was chopped down by a Maori chief 4 times, not so much because of the British rule, but because the government was moved from here to Auckland, ending the power of this region. The sundial had a good mosaic base.
The day here was sunny, with sharp down pours of rain. Coming down from the Hill, we sheltered under one of the many Tree Ferns, until the rain looked as though it was easing. We left in a torrential downpour which soon dried up.
Back at the campsite there had been no rain at all. Slight problem with the yoghurt. I appeared to have left it in the cool box at an angle, so most things were covered in it.
It was again a lovely evening on an idyllic coast. Rosemary found more shells.
The day started cloudy, but warm. We decided to throw the plan out of the window and not head North, but head South and down the East coast. This put our plan two days in advance, leaving us more time to luxuriate in our surroundings.
We set off heading to Matauri Bay, the site of the scuppered Rainbow Warrior after the French sunk the boat in Auckland. On the beautiful coast road, we stopped at Te Ngaere reserve and walked along the beach. I photographed some black headed gulls and the charming New Zealand Dotteril.
Matauri Bay was a disappointment, you cannot see the wreck as it was scuppered out beyond the islands in the bay.
We headed on to Kerikeri where we could see the Rainbow Falls. This were lovely falls, with viewing from several places. Into the town of Kerikeri where there was a Vodaphone shop. I wanted to find out why the hired wifi was not working. Turned out the card had no credit on it. Go the Vodaphone guy to print out the status of the account, and then to top it back up.
Quick supermarket shop for some more food and wine. This place was a lot more civilised than the Pick n’ Pack supermarket. Even had people to pack your bags.
We now had a 90-minute drive to Puriri Bay, the DOC campsite we were aiming for. I did not realise that NZ had so many dirt roads. There was a 30km drive on a twisty winding up and down dirt road to get there. Probably caused by us not wanting to pay for the ferry. It was an enjoyable drive.
We arrived at the site and were delighted by a photo of the NZ Dotterel on the wall. It apparently used to be an endangered species. We chose a lovely quiet plot overlooking the sea about 10 feet away. Several female mallards immediately came to scrounge. There was one Oyster Catcher and lots of shags (the birds, I mean, the birds).
Today there was to be a lot less driving. Our intention was to stay at the DOC site at Raetea.
First we visited the Trounson Kauri Forest to walk through it in the daylight, even seeing & hearing a Weta insect. The trees are magnificent. We then headed North to pass through the Waipoua forest. This is another Kauri forest which had been logged years ago, leaving the larger trees intact. The large ones were too large to cut down with axe and transport. As we had already walked through the trees we did not stop at Waipoua. The road was very bendy and very hilly. The bijoux van handles like a car, so easy to do. On the last of an uphill stretch we came across a procession of old tractors, Land Rovers and Jeeps raising money for the hospice movement. The were on the final stretch of driving from the South of the South Island to the tip of the North Island. We saw them several times today.
We stopped off at the Arai-te-uru recreation reserve where there are good views of Dunes and the village of Omapere. We then had to pass the tractors again as we headed inland. We headed on to see some scenic boulders in the sea. Didn’t realise these had to be seen at low tide, which it wasn’t. So, on to Rawene to catch a ferry. Here the tractors caught up with us and we crossed together.
Next we were going to stop at our campsite in Raetea Forest. First we went wrong, google forgot to tell us to turn off, so a 20km re-track. Then we found the road was closed, this looked like a huge diversion, going back over the road we had re-tracked! But the Blasdale instinct is to ignore closed roads and continue. Which we did (well, we asked someone and they said it would be open for an hour). Yes it was open, they were resurfacing. We drove over hot steaming newley laid tarmac, ie newly “sealed”. The road was a lovely twisty dirt track road through the forest going up to a summit and down again. The cambers on the road allowed for high speed corners.
We reached our destination, only to find the site closed for winter!
Motored on to Kaitaia, filled up with fuel and then headed to a Top 10 on the Kariari Peninsular. Not such a nicely situated site as before, and the wifi was down.
Heavy rain for a few minutes just as Rosemary finished washing up.