A Travellerspoint blog

A land which steams, spits, spouts & smells like egg sarnies

sunny 24 °C

[Warning: Bit of a long one this, sorry... lots to write about! You might want to stick the kettle on.]

The centre of New Zealand's North Island is a land which, quite literally, smoulders.

We stayed in Rotorua before heading a bit further south to stay in Taupo (pronounced Toe-paw).

The first thing to hit you is the sulphur eggy smell! Urgh. After four days of breathing it in, we were very happy to leave it behind. But before we did, there was plenty to do in this region... almost too much. There was a mind-boggling array of things to see/do, and a bewildering leaflet display in the information site.

First of all there are a number of geothermal parks to visit, then an array of Maori culture shows, a museum, hot spa baths, plus a few adrenlin activities for good measure.

We decided to start in Rotorua's museum which was a helpful introduction to the town's history and heritage. The impressive building started life as a bath house where the wealthy (and later, returning servicemen) would come and 'take the cure'. It involved a series of treatments, including harmless mud baths to positively alarming baths with electric currents, to alleviate a number of ailments and aches and pains.

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A nearby lake

Although we were keen to see and learn more of Maori culture, and we had heard the cultural shows were very good, we decided that the various offerings were just too pricey and too touristy for us. Ant also had a severe allergic reaction whilst we were here, which I'll come onto, but it meant he wasn't in a fit state to go to one either.

We checked out the small village of Ohinemutu, which is the original Maori settlement of Rotorua, complete with marae (meeting place). We were amazed by the number of hot steaming pools which were located around the village - even in people's back gardens!

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Paving over it doesn't contain it!

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We'd found an ultra cheap homestay with a young couple in their mid-20s. It was a Saturday night so they were having a bbq with a couple of friends which they invited us to.

Our hosts, Michelle & Dan, were great, as was the guy of the other couple (Mike - from Fleet in the UK). His girlfriend (Deeta - a Czech who moved to NZ when she was little) was, however, quite possibly the most self-absorbed, vacuous person I have ever met! I had to spend most of the evening biting my tongue and we were continually staggered by the stuff she was spouting. I think it was just ignorance as much as anything.

A good ice-breaker was the fact that Dan was getting his hair shaved off for charity. Michelle and Deeta did the honours - it was pretty funny watching them make patterns in the poor guy's head before it all came off...

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They suggested a bar in town for the rest of the evening - the familiar sounding Pig & Whistle (it used to be a police station), so all of us headed out bar Michelle who was working the next day. The pub had a live band which were ok, but it was a bit like being at a evening wedding reception. A really mixed crowd, a fair bit of 'mum and dad' dancing and more groping than I've seen in public since 1988. It wasn't any of our group's scene - least of all freshly shawn Dan's, who repeatedly apologised saying it wasn't normally like this. Ah well, an entertaining evening nonetheless!

The next morning it was immediately obvious that Ant had a severe allergic reaction to their pets. They had a dog and two cats, and after spotting lots of car hair on the bed Ant had already used a roller on the bed covers. We are both allergic to cats and some dogs but are generally ok if we're not in the same room as the cats. Unfortunately because these moggies clearly liked our bed as a nap spot, Ant was badly affected. His face was puffy and swollen, his breathing difficult and he was very congested.

He felt pretty rubbish and spent the next few days extremely bunged up as if he had a bad head cold - and that was with antihistamines.

From the previous evening, Mike had kindly offered to get us in for free at the attraction where he worked - Rainbow Springs. It was a wildlife park aimed more at families and it wasn't that great, but seeing as it was a freebie we couldn't really knock it. The highlight was seeing a kiwi in a 'nocturnal' enclosure, so it was worth it just for that.

We couldn't stay another night with the guys else Ant would have required medical attention, so we checked ourselves into a faceless motel.

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Self-catering in a motel meant breakfast out of the previous night's takeaway containers... the realities of travelling

Top of the list for us was seeing the natural wonders, and Wai-O-Tapu was one of the highly recommended geothermal areas. The park is a self-guided 75 minute walk through a truly amazing landscape... gorgeous almost surreal colours, bubbling pools, steam everywhere - it was a really fascinating place.

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Peckham Spring water... found!

Then we heard a deep rumbling... wtf?! In this dynamic and unpredictable environment we both had a genuine panicked look at each other, accompanied by a release of adrenalin. Turned out to be a thunderstorm... phewy!

A geyser in the park errupts at 10.15am each morning but as we'd missed it, we decided to go back the following morning. Whilst getting ready we had the morning news on in the background, when we heard the reporter say the time - which was an hour earlier than we thought. Bugger... the clocks had gone back for daylight saving and we'd not realised!

So we dawdled a bit before heading out. Then it dawned on us the geyser wouldn't know the clocks had gone back... so we probably missed it again. Pah! We got to the location at 9.50am and were surprised to find the geyser blowing. After talking to another couple we discovered the clocks hadn't gone back and it was in fact 10.50am. The geyser had been going for about half an hour and we continued to watch it for at least another 30 minutes.

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Turns out we were lucky - the day before it only lasted 3 minutes. And it also turned out we had been watching an Aussie news channel... hence the time confusion. Muppets!

Ant had found us some brilliant spanking-new accommodation just outside of Taupo. We'd booked a studio but when we arrived they upgraded us to a suite - effectively our own little self-contained home. It was great to enjoy a bit of normality with some TV and home-cooking.

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Our little house on the prairie for £37 a night! There be a storm brewing though...

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One stop off on the way to our accommodation, Ant was bitten by a mouse! We couldn't believe it... it came scampering out of the bushes, over the gravel and straight up to his foot before taking a bite! Thankfully no blood drawn.

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The rodenty offender about to go in for the kill

Orakei Korako was another thermal 'wonderland' which is only accessible by a boat ride across a lake. It offered some different formations to Wai-O-Tapu and was worth the trip.

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Taupo is a ‘supervolcano’ and its huge caldera has been partly filled by Lake Taupo. The lake is the size of Singapore, so it's little surprise it's NZ's largest lake.

Although Taupo Volcano has much more violent eruptions than cone volcanoes, thankfully they are less frequent. It's been erupting for the last 300,000 years but when it blew around 1,800 years ago, it was the most violent eruption known in the world in the last 5000 years. The eruption plume reached 50km into the air and all of New Zealand received at least 1cm of ash. It erupted with a force 10 times greater than Krakatoa and Mount St Helens combined! This had global effects with both the Romans and Chinese recording red skies after the eruption.

Today, the town is the adrenlin capital of the North Island, as Queenstown is to the South Island. Ant was going to do a skydive here but a recent tradegy in Australia, where a skydive plane had crashed killing all 6 passengers, understandably had taken the shine off for him. That and the cost to do it.

Rather more sedately, we visited Huka Falls where NZ's longest river - the Waikoto - passes through a narrow gap from Lake Taupo and drops at a rate of 200,000 litres per second.

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We also caught the opening of Aratiatia Dam which forms part of the Waikoto Power Station. The dam 'gates' are opened three times a day - and along with the other seven power stations along the river - help to create the energy to generate 15% of NZ's power.

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So, as you can see (if you're still with me!), there's an awful lot to do in this region - but the cream of the crop has to be the dynamic geothermal parks... captivating, incredible and very special. It's certainly humbling to come so close to the unfathomable amount of energy, heat and power just bubbling away beneath the surface. Tick tock, tick tock...

Posted by Galavantie 01:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A fraught journey, a force feed and happy times

sunny 25 °C

From Havelock North we decided to head to the Bay of Plenty region... so named by James Cook because he and his men found the area to be plentiful in food and resources when they first encountered the area. Conversely, there's a Poverty Bay elsewhere in NZ, named after the crew of Endeavour were met with hostility from a different Maori iwi (tribe)... and they had to make a hasty retreat to their ship empty handed!

We had four road options... which one did we take? The most life-threatening one. I shall explain!

Back at the lovely airbnb, we were discussing our route with jolly, chuckly Mark. He said... "well you could take this road"... pointing to the map. "Part of it is unsealed and it's a wiggly-woggly wiggly-woggly wiggly-woggly road. But it is good fun, and a bit of adventure." Fun... adventure? It had appeal.

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Happy, enjoying the ride...

Nearly 7 hours after setting off... 2 and 3/4 of which were on unsealed twisty gravel roads... we arrived at our destination. Ant's nerves were shot!!

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You could say this is the 'after' shot...

There were steep drops, hairpin bends and freshly fallen rocks everywhere. It was a pretty hazardous road! At one stage Ant pulled over as he thought we had a flat. Lordy! Thankfully we didn't but the threat was very real driving on 125km of unsealed road.

It seemed to go on forever. It wasn't all bad of course. The road hugged a beautiful lake and there were some fine views along the way although, it has to be said, not many opportunities to stop and admire them as the winding mountain road was too narrow.

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As we approached the end, and our nerves were becoming less frayed, we were passed by a rally of sorts... a cross between the Cannonball Run and Wacky Races. Decorated cars, 4x4s and trucks waving at us driving the other way, ready to tackle the stretch of road for charity.

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A bit of lighthearted relief after the journey!

We had a bit of an odd experience the next morning. Our b&b host, a woman in her 60's living alone, had been quite chatty but also seemed a bit on edge as we were her first guests. We'd had breakfast, teeth were brushed and we were all ready to leave when we had a call from up the stairs that she'd tasted the blueberries we'd had, and as they were horrible (they weren't), she'd done us poached eggs on toast... and they were on the table. Whaaat? Weird.

So as not to offend, rather obligingly we trudged downstairs to force-feed on breakfast number two whilst we endured further prolonged chatter. She was obviously trying too hard, but we couldn't wait to escape!

We didn't much like the town of Whakatane other than a pleasant walk around the river mouth. Depending on where you're from in NZ it can be pronounced Fokka-tar-nee, Wokka-tar-nee or Hokka-tar-nee i.e we didn't stand a chance. The first waka (canoe) landed here from Polynesia, so many consider Whakatane to be the birthplace of Aotearoa (New Zealand). It still has a strong Maori presence, who make up 40% of the population here.

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Plaque marking the first waka landing

Maori culture is much more prevalent in the North Island. We've tried to get a sense of how the two co-exist - Maori and Pakeha (European settlers) - and we hear mixed stories. It's clear to us that there's much more integration between the two cultures than we saw in Australia. Maori are very adaptable people and many have embraced European introductions, but so far we know very little and have been given mixed views.

Some Maori iwi are apparently friendlier than others. Some are gracious, warm, generous and friendly, and then there's another, more troubled side, where Maori - as a warrior race - are prone to aggression, drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence. But as there's good and bad in any culture it's dangerous to generalise (you only have to look at any major UK town on a Saturday night and it ain't pretty). We are really fascinated by Maori traditions and art, and look forward to finding out more.

We drove west to Tauranga, checking out some more beaches in the Bay of Plenty.

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This part of NZ is also the kiwi fruit capital of the world, here's a gert big one just to prove it

By 5pm we still hadn't sorted our accommodation in Tauranga, so we were holed up in the town's library using their free wifi. Soon after we were just about to rock up at guesthouse we'd found, when we received an airbnb approval email to a late request. So we quickly changed our plans to head over to the pad in Mt Mauganui. Wow - so glad we did!

Mandy and Wayne were truly amazing hosts, we had the warmest of welcomes - even a note by the front door as we arrived...

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Cute!

Their home was close to the beach and only a short drive to 'the Mount' - a prominant mountain on the end of the peninsula which we walked up...

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Mount Maunganui is waaaay nicer than Tauranga. We had an extremely comfortable stay... we could barely drag ourselves out of our pit! We loved their company, home and locality. We definitely left as friends and it would be fab if our paths crossed again. Thanks a million guys!

One thing which stands out already from campervanning is the incredible friendly Kiwi hospitality and the lovely folks we're meeting along the way... well, apart from the strange double breakfast lady...

Oh, and as an aside... when we told Mandy and Wayne about driving that road, Mandy said her brother lives close to one end of it and is nervous driving it in his 4x4. Oh lordy...

Posted by Galavantie 23:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Hawke's Bay - Art Deco central

sunny 28 °C

It was only a couple of hours drive to our next base - Havelock North located in Hawke's Bay (another famed wine region). Fancy that.

Our B&B was fabulous, probably second only to the amazing place we stayed at Christmas on Australia's Sunny coast.

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Praying mantis-in-the-kitchen alert!

Our 50-something hosts, Julie & Mark, were very middle class (she was also a Francophile so there were Parisian touches everywhere). They had an immaculate home, but were super lovely and made us feel at home. He was particularly jolly and had a really endearing chuckle which we heard often.

Not long after we arrived, the forecast edges of a cyclone hit the area (that halo around the sun was a sign!), so it was miserable for the whole afternoon and night. It was probably the worst day weather wise in our 5 months away (ok... I don't expect any sympathy from the UK!). But, as it was such a comfortable base, it wasn't any hardship and we took the opportunity to chill and take a day off from 'doing'.

Suprisingly the next day was bright, hot and sunny so we headed for a walk in the hills. Te Mata Peak looms over the village and made a great half-day walk. The trail took us through redwoods and on the locally loved goat track - a steeper route along the ridges which gave us fab views.

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Shells spotted high in hills indicating just how much change this land has undergone

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We saw our first tui, a native bird to NZ, and fantails which, as the name suggests, are small birds with an impressive fantail. Tuis are pretty special as they have two voiceboxes - one of their calls is too high to be audible to the human ear. The one we can hear is probably the most beautiful birdsong of all NZ's feathered friends.

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The neighbouring towns of Hastings and Napier are famous for their Art Deco style. Napier in particular has stunning examples - some of the best in the world. In 1931 an earthquake and subsequent fires virtually flattened the town so they rebuilt it to reflect the fashion of the time.

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A poignant photo from the time showing the city devastated

For me, Art Deco is really evocative of a time of glamour, elegance and chic, and as I get older it's an architectural style I appreciate more and more. I'm not usually a fan of candy colours but it seems to suit the period perfectly. That and the archetypal black and white.

Hastings...

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Even the street lights are Art Deco

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One of several Maori statues outside Hastings Art Gallery

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A corrugated iron cock... effective eh?

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I'm not usually in the habit of taking photos in supermarkets, but we both thought the townsfolk of Hastings are lucky to have the most impressive supermarket we've ever seen. Waitrose doesn't even come close!!

Napier...

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LA? Nooooo....

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A stay in this region wouldn't be complete without (yet another) winery tour... but this time it was a bit more low key and we visited just four. ;)

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Black globules of goodness ready to harvest

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The Mission - a gorgeous cellar door and New Zealand's oldest winery

This wine tasting is becoming such a regular activity, I think we can call it a hobby now...

Posted by Galavantie 00:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Mouthwatering cheesecakes and down on the faaaaaarm...

sunny 24 °C

We still didn't have our route entirely fixed for the North Island, but from Welington we decided to follow the Kapiti coast road with a brief overnight stop. Nothing to write home about... the airbnb wasn't great - possibly our worst yet - and the beaches were a bit barren. On the upside the weather was heating up nicely to mid 20s.

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Paekakariki's beach - great for walking, less so for sunbathing

I'd found a rural place on airbnb in a small village called Woodville, so that was our next stop. Woodville is pretty small, but is home to a nationally famous cheesecake shop - Yummy Mummy's. Well, it would be rude not to try them eh?! From a selection of about a dozen flavours, our chosen zesty lemon creamy delight was served up by a Tracey Emin lookalike, and I have to say it was rather yummy. Not sure I got the brand though... sounds as if it should be baby related, and Ant was bitterly disappointed that the shop wasn't bustling with actual yummy mummies.

Much to his embarrassment, on leaving the shop I helpfully suggested they tried a 50/50 ginger biscuit and plain mix in their cheesecake base... Linzi - I was thinking of your delicious key lime pie recipe! Ant couldn't get out of the shop quick enough... ha ha.

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A perfect halo around the sun... seen before a storm apparently

We had a very warm welcome at Kirsty & Dave's, our next airbnb hosts, who owned a small holding with a circus of animals... a gorgeous dog, cats, chooks, sheep, llamas and a shed full (literally) of bees.

You could tell from the off it was an open, friendly house when the local fertiliser guy popped round to pick up his shoes from the night before, and the local panelbeater guy dropped in and had a helping of dinner and wine (before going home for his actual dinner). A really strong sense of community.

Included in the price was an evening meal, and it was the first time we'd spent a whole evening with airbnb hosts. Such a good night!

Before dinner we met (and fed) their entourage of animals, and after dinner they drove us to their second paddock to feed the sheep...

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Dinner was a venison stew, the deer shot by Dave himself... their bees honey was used in the marinade... and pre-dinner we had brie and feta homemade by Kirsty.

The four of us chatted all evening about great white sharks... the missing malaysian plane... WWI... flight security and terrorism... we chatted until bedtime. When we hugged goodbye the next morning it felt like we'd stayed with friends rather than at a b&b. So good!

Kirsty & Dave - if you're reading this, look us up if you ever visit the UK again!

Posted by Galavantie 12:25 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Windy Welly

semi-overcast 17 °C

We left Kaikoura in a bit of a hurry as the campervan rental company said they would refund us half a day's rental fee if we got back three hours earlier than agreed.

And so we returned to where we started - Christchurch. There wasn't time to get sentimental about dropping off the van, but our time in it had been so much fun.

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Regular brew stops!

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Alfresco dining

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Cosy nights in

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Our final route around the South Island

We stayed in a different area to last time, checking out the suburb of Addington - post the earthquakes, its places to eat and drink have gained a reputation for a bit of a buzz.

On a late Saturday afternoon it definitely had a buzz, as the bars were rammed with the local team's rugby supporters (the Crusaders) who were playing in a stadium just down the road.

Mick & Jackie - friends in Chch - had very kindly offered us a bed the next night so we spent a leisurely Sunday at theirs. Mick knocked up some tasty homemade pitta breads to go with a delicious greek themed lunch, and Jackie set about our respective mops of hair which were long overdue a cut. It was so good to chill out in the comfort of their home. Thank you both for your generous hospitality!

And so it was time to check out the North Island...

Rather than take the sometimes white-knuckle ferry ride crossing of the Cook Strait, it was more convenient for us to fly to Wellington, and internal flights are relatively inexpensive. We were greeted by Gollum when we arrived in the airport lounge!

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We hadn't booked any accommodation so that was the first job whilst we sat under the watchful eye of Gwaihir...

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Without realising, the hotel we picked turned out to be on one of Welly's most famous streets - Cuba Street. It was a bohemian part of town, the street lined with some fabulous independent businesses with more than a hip, cool edge... reminded us of Brighton. Fidel's Cafe is a top pick! Anyway, it made for a great base.

For us, Welly was a chance to gather our thoughts, plan and do some necessary admin like uploading photos to memory sticks and our accounting. We also made a decision to extend our time in NZ as we love it so much here (and it's a bloomin' long way from the UK for another visit)... so one phone call later and our onward flight to Chile was pushed back a month. Our return to the UK is subsequently three weeks later than we had originally pencilled in, and is now 23 July. Our 9 month trip has become 10!

When we weren't doing boring stuff, we did manage a gander around the world's most southerly capital. The weather was a cool and cloudy 17c, and typically windy.

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Te Papa, their national museum, is an absolute must if you find yourself in Wellington. It's a multi-million dollar attraction offering five floors of exhibitions ranging from how the land is shaped in this part of the world, their fascinating oceanic life to the Anzac contribution in the world wars. Best of all, it was free. We visited two afternoons running as we couldn't see it all in one day.

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A giant squid - the only one on display in the world. Was more like visiting 'Area 51'.

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The NZ based World of Wearable Art, an international fashion competition for wacky designs, had a small exhibit. Fascinating stuff!

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My favourite... amazing effect using zips!

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A wander around the city...

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Writer's Walk

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Old St Paul's - the finest example of a gothic/Swiss chalet church I have ever seen...

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Ant enjoying a dosa in a very red restaurant!

Finally, a visit to Welly wouldn't be complete without a ride on their famous cable car. We got off at the top and made our way back leisurely through residential areas. Some of the houses are really stunning and with residences perched on steep hills, it has a very similar feel to San Francisco. We felt our three nights here was just right to see the city.

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The famous Welly cable car shot

Posted by Galavantie 18:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Swimming with shiny mammals... sort of

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From Blenheim and the wine region, Kaikoura was our final stop before the return journey to Christchurch.

Kaikoura is located on the east coast and its position and geography means it's pretty darn special. Quite close to shore the seabed drops off an impressive 2,000 metres into a deep canyon.

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Cold currents moving up the east coast of the South Island combine with warmer currents from the north, resulting in a wealth of nutrients for all manner of marine life to thrive. This part of the Pacific is a playground for seals, countless sea birds, many species of whale and a resident pod of dusky dolphins. And it was the latter that we rolled into town to play with.

But before this, we had a free morning to admire the plentiful wildlife just moments from the shore.

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The many faces of a juvenile cormorant - quite a cutie

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Our Dolphin Encounter tour was big business. Three tours a day with two boats each time... and a constant stream of tourists being shepherded through their large premises. But it was all very slick and professionally organised.

We were kitted out in good cold water gear - thick wetsuits with over-jacket and fetching headwear!

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Fully clobbered ready for flipper :)

Out to sea the crew quickly located the pod and our first of five swim attempts got underway. We'd been advised that some days the dolphins are interested and playful... and other days they are not. That's partly the appeal here - they're wild dolphins so any human interaction is entirely on their terms. This isn't Florida (et al) with trained dolphins in the confines of a pool.

Today they were not - interested that is. We were dropped close to the pod and we all swam off in their general direction to get closer. The dolphins were having none of it. They just swam away from us and it was pretty apparent they're a heck of a lot faster than a flailing wet-suited human. It was actually quite comical.

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Me in the middle of the shot anticipating the next swim

We were told to make a noise as we entered the sea to 'entertain' the dolphins, so we were all squealing, squeaking and clicking... to no avail whatsover. I'm sure the dolphins were laughing at us, the non-swimmers on the boat certainly were!

The fifth and final swim, however, came up trumps. The pod were swimming in our direction as we entered the sea, and on approach they actually swam at speed right through our group - behaviour known as scorching - which was amazing! The waters were a cloudy blue so visibility wasn't great, but we did see some swim right under and passed us.

After the swimming, the boat cruised along the 300-strong pod so we could watch them more closely. Dusky dolphins are the most acrobatic of all the species and they put on a great display of flips, turns and jumps for us. We even spotted an albatross (for real this time) from afar.

It's not easy to capture dolphins on camera due to their speed and the rock of the boat, but here are our best attempts from the day...

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It was certainly the most dolphins we've ever seen and what beautiful, totally absorbing creatures they are. Do we feel like we've 'swum with dolphins'? Not really... it was more like they swam straight as us at high speed and left our group moments after out the other side. I'm not sure I can tick it off the bucket list just yet!

Posted by Galavantie 01:47 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A wike bine tour. Another drop vicar?

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Reaching Blenheim also meant the last few days of our South Island tour which I felt quite sad about... but there were a couple of gems in the final leg.

Our route took us along a small part of the vast Marlborough Sounds which was particularly scenic.

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Grove Arm

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Deforestation in action, just hope the planting is sustainable

The small communities dotted about still proved that this part of New Zealand has more than its lion's share of artists, with several signs pointing to small galleries.

We stopped at a couple, which were no more than studios within people's homes... reminded me of my annual pilgrimage to visit artist studios participating in the alternate Dorset and Purbeck Art Weeks... ahhh Jilly, looking forward to doing that again! Pootle, pootle ;)

A fly by Picton, which for mosts tourists is their first encounter with the South Island as the Cook Strait ferries link the North and South Islands with cruises between here and Wellington. Our only stop was to the Dutch bakery for pies and cake. Gruff voice... "have you got any cake?". Despite being more active than being deskbound at work, it's no bloody wonder our waistlines aren't shrinking... but man, do I love the cake.

The town of Blenheim itself doesn't hold that much appeal to the tourist other than good facilities... fuel, supermarket, tourist info and the all important free wifi in the library.

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So... I'm thinking of getting a small tattoo - just the right place to do it don't you think?

Blenheim's real pull as Lonely Planet puts it, is 'the neighbours over the back fence'. And these neighbours busily produce the globally coveted wines of the Marlborough region. Sauvignon Blancs are the most lauded here, can't say I'm a fan and believe me I've tried to be. But much to my delight they knock out some fantastic aromatics... rieslings, pinot gris and my favourite white of all - gerwurztraminer. They're also well known for pinot noir.

One option - hiring bikes for the day - instantly appealed. We haven't sat on bikes since Langkawi way back in October (Ant keeps going misty-eyed when he sees a road bike), and of course it's a brilliant way to pootle along quiet roads from one winery to the next. Two tickets please.

I have to say it's hard to think of a better way to spend an afternoon. It's our third wineries tour and they've all been so much fun. It's not just about getting a wee bit light-headed on free plonk, we've learnt loads about the different grapes and wines, and discovered new ones we've not tried before. We'll definitely feel more knowledgeable standing in Tesco's wine aisle choosing our Saturday night quaff.

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Lovely bubbly

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Our lunch stop - Giesen

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Fantabulous lunch platters as a break from campervan self-catering

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Back at the campsite, we walked along a stream - can't be many places where you see ducks, eels and a huge trout jostling for some bread action

Some of the cellar doors we wanted to visit were too far to cycle to, so we checked out a couple of corkers (geddit?) the next day.

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A beautiful cellar door - Henri Clos

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Girls... when I'm back in the UK I feel a south east England wine region tour coming...! Dinner club goes on tour?

Marlborough wine facts...

  • There are 152 wineries in this region, and 39 cellar doors (we managed 9!)
  • Marlborough accounts for 92% of NZ's production of sauvignon blanc
  • Marlborough produced an estimated 19.6 million cases of wine in 2013
  • The region produces by far the largest volume of New Zealand's wine
  • It sits at a similar latitude to the Douro Valley in Portugal and in the middle of what wine producers call the global 'wine belt'

Posted by Galavantie 23:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Fun sea stuff and being a hobo in Nelson

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We rocked up at Marahua, the closest place to Abel Tasman National Park, in the middle of a hot afternoon. Good time to get the smalls washed then.

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Campsite living... pretty much all we need (movie room superfluous)

There was nothing much to Marahua other than a few accommodation options, a backpacker bus stop, a cafe and an interesting looking art gallery. After a wander around the latter it turned out to be a bit of a hippie commune but the sculptors were extremely talented with some really stunning carvings on display. They had had several large beach-strewn trees transported to their gallery, some weighing in at up to 7 tonnes, and had turned them into extraordinary pieces of sculpture.

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We only stayed one night in this area but maximised our stay by booking onto a 'Swingers Delight' tour the next day. I feel this may need further explanation!

Abel Tasman National Park is a real gem in New Zealand's crown. It's the smallest of the national parks and as it's predominantly coastal, it's not possible to access most of it by road. There's a coast walking track but this takes 3-5 days to complete. The biggest drawback of having a campervan is that we obviously didn't want to have to pay twice for our accommodation, which pretty much precluded us from doing any long walking tracks requiring overnight stays.

One of the best ways to see it is by sea kayak and we found the perfect combination tour for us which included a water taxi, a self-guided 2.5 hour walk to the next bay and kayaking back. The walk included a swinging bridge, hence the name of the tour...

The walk was great and provided some gorgeous views.

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It's deceptive though, those turquoise waters look Caribbeanesque right? Well the sea was blinkin' freezing. I mean really cold. Colder than our summer seas, hard to believe eh.

We found a path leading to Sandfly Bay and a helpful well-spoken English guy advised us that, as the tide was in, the beach wasn't accessible... but... there was an albatross on a rock. Oh wow! I've always wanted to see one, how awesome! We hot-footed it down hoping it hadn't flown away. Had to laugh when we got there...

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The 'albatross'

On the day's tour there was just a small group of eight which also included Russ, our super nice Scottish guide, and we all kayaked back to Marahua together.

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Action Ant and the wild woman of Borneo

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In the open waters it was pretty windy at times and quite choppy as we paddled across a channel to get to an island. But we were rewarded with sightings of seal pups playing at the waters edge whilst their mum soaked up the sun on the rocks. It was at this point, quite early on in our paddle, that Russ decided to share with us that only two weeks ago a mother and calf killer whale appeared and swam under their kayaks. Oh bejesus flaming nora! I couldn't decide if the thrill of seeing one would overshadow the sheer terror of being so close to something with 'killer' in the title, whilst in a small easily-overturned-by-a-whale vessel. Alas, I'll never know as our kayaking adventure turned out to be orca-free.

All in all, a cool day - three hours of kayaking and our arms, back and shoulders were feeling the work out!

Our next stop was Nelson, not too far down the coast, and the largest town since Christchurch. But before reaching the city we had a quick stop at a cafe with tame eels... not on the menu... in the river. Neither of us have seen eels before so we found them fascinating. This variety - longfin eel - can grow to nearly 6ft. We must have counted 30 in a short stretch of the river, thankfully no more than 2 feet long.

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Nelson is considered to be one of NZ's most liveable cities and I must say our first impressions were really favourable. Beautiful buildings and residential areas, parks, a river, hills surrounding the town... it was all idyllc and had a nice feel from the off. It's also New Zealand's home of craft beers.

We walked around the streets and gardens before setting up the bbq for lunch by the river.

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Christ Church Cathedral

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Cute school!

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The oldest operating wooden theatre in Australasia

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Nelson's oldest street, South Street, is a historic site consisting of 16 working-class cottages built in the 1860s

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Ommmmmmm

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The afternoon was taken up with a visit to the Suter Art Gallery before our intention to have a pub crawl to taste those famous craft beers.

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First we needed to park up the camper for the night, preferably within walking distance post pub-crawl. The only campsite in the centre didn't appeal - it seemed geared to families, so we asked tourist information what our freedom camping options were (where you can rock up for free but there's no power, showers or invariably toilets).

There was a city centre car park. Okaaaaay.

So we got to the car park, other campers (a younger more bohemian crowd) were already well and truly at home (washing pegged up... one guy selling legal highs from the back of his car... you get the picture). We were more than a little uneasy, but decision made and off we went in search of a decent hostelry...

I'd spotted an old looking place with a free wifi sign so we headed there first. Six and a half hours later, when we finally left The Royal Hotel, you could say our pub crawl hadn't gone terribly well. But we did have a very fun evening in the one pub, clearly the main reason we never made it to any of the others!

We left on first name terms with Richard, the friendly Fijian barman, and with an invitation to a bbq the next night with a local couple... which at the time seemed like a great idea, but in the cold light of the following morning, the shine quickly wore off as they were a bit of an odd couple. Our last drink at the bar was with a couple of Israelites... cue us singing Desmond Decker and the Aces for most of the next day. ;)

And so it was back to our not very salubrious venue for the night. Actually, it was just a relief to find the van still there untouched. To be fair, it was an uneventful night and with the curtains up, it was no different to anywhere else we'd stayed. The surreal bit was waking up the next morning... in a car park.

We had to vacate by 8am as part of the freedom camping rules, and this is where both of us felt a bit like hobos. We were a tad hungover and not quite ready to fully face the day so we drove the camper... to another car park. This time by the beach and a quiet unoccupied one. As we'd left the bed down, it was straight into the back for a doze. Certainly a strange experience and feeling for us both!

When we finally faced the day we took an arts trail around the town, also avoiding squally showers. There was an autumnal feel in the air for the first time on our travels.

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Leaving Nelson

A great - if a little different - stay.

Posted by Galavantie 02:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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