Wanaka

The next day saw us leave the We(s)t Coast and head off to Wanaka. It was a great relief that, as soon as we left the coast and approached the mountains the sky started to clear.  We even had a picnic lunch overlooking the Haast and Landsborough Rivers.

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Again some stops along the way including a walk out to the Blue Pools, so named because of the colour of the water. This afternoon, however, the water was distinctly green but many people were still enjoying the crystal clear water.

It was noticeable as we crossed the mountains via Haast Pass that the rain disappeared and the sun reappeared.

Arriving in Wanaka and with an apartment overlooking the lake we decided to ‘dine in’ sitting on the deck with a beautiful view spread out before us.

A slow start the next day saw John hiring a bike to ride around the lake shore while Ros walked, though not so far! One interesting aspect of NZ which is very apparent in areas such as this is the profusion of ‘free campers’. Many areas of NZ allow campers to just pull up anywhere and camp for the night. Many people take advantage of this including large motor homes, smaller vans and tent campers. The lake edge in Wanaka, particularly close to the town centre is a ‘free camper’ haven. I forgot to count, but at a guess there would have been around 50 vehicles in the space of a couple of kilometres.

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A coffee and then we were on the way again.

Three stops along the way saw us visit the Cardrona Distillery to sample their single malt whisky, gin, vodka and two flavoured spirits, orange and elderberry. Kenny, who welcomed us and took us through a tasting, was highly entertaining and a very good salesman. The visit was interesting not only for the tasting but also because we were taken into the private cask barrel room where Lindsay’s sister and brother-in-law have a whisky cask stored. Storage time is 10 years, so they need to be patient! Ros, of course, bought some whisky!

At the entrance to the distillery is Bradona, a fence lined with bras. You are invited to add one to the display when you visit. There is definitely one of every colour shape and size! John was a hugely amazed by the variety and could not quite believe the variety. I suggested he probably had not visited DJs bra section recently or he would no longer be so stupefied! The site is there to help raise money for breast cancer research and provides details of how you can donate.

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Then we stopped for lunch at the Cardrona pub, a very old building left over from the gold mining days where the speciality is frickles, deep fried pickles!  A must have. Once. There is a lovely garden behind the pub where you can sit in the sun and enjoy the surrounds as you have your lunch.

Our final stop was at the Wet Jacket winery where we tasted and bought some local cheese as well as tasted and bought their Pinot Noir. This again was a very attractive old building with a lovely outdoor seating area for dining. We could have, had we wished to, lunched all over again!

Then on to Queenstown for our final stop and a stay of four nights.

 

The Glaciers

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The following day we set out south towards Franz Joeph and Fox glaciers.  Our first stop was in the delightful town of Hokitika: an old gold mining town on the coast but now a tourist stop with numerous shops that even John found interesting!  He especially found the outdoors shop of interest with its display of guns, bows and arrows and women’s wear labelled ‘Girls with Guns’!  The main item for sale was greenstone or jade, a local stone that Lindsay remembers collecting off the beach: think NZ tiki, and there were many of them! Also, the beach was covered in driftwood from which the above sign was made. Many people had put together driftwood ‘sculptures’ from what was lying on the beach.

 

From there we ventured up to Hokitika Gorge to see the blue/grey waters tumbling thru the gorge: the colour is from the snow melt plus the gradual wearing away of the limestone banks of the river.  Not so blue today, more towards the grey because of the recent heavy rains! But a pleasant and enjoyable walk to get there, nevertheless.

One stop that John suggested was a wetlands walk to see some of the local birds. A great idea, but perhaps a Lonely Planet exaggeration as the walk through the wetlands was only about 100 metres long and then it was up and up a hill. Not to worry, an interesting side excursion with a quaint small town at the end of a dead end road!

Onwards then to the BIG attraction, Fox Glacier, with the single objective of a helicopter flight up over the glacier including a landing on the ice and a walk. Unfortunately, the weather defeated us, we knew before we left Greymouth that the choppers were grounded for the day. So, instead, we had a more leisurely drive to Fox Glacier and, when the rain let up, did a couple of short walks to waterfalls, again along some beautiful forest walks.

We were hopeful that the weather would lift overnight and we could fly the next morning, but again, the choppers were grounded. We drove out to a glacier viewing point and did a short walk on the track out towards Lake Matherson.

A few months ago the road into the glacier region from extensive storm damage and was closed for some time.  Even now, it is still being repaired with numerous sections one way and with the rock falls still very visible as we drove along.

Although all the walking tracks and roads up to the face of Fox Glacier are currently closed due to land slips we did find a viewing spot where the glacier could be clearly seen and photographed, even if we did have to get Loe to the ground to get a good shot.

The West (Wet) Coast

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Travelling down from the alps we were still in wet weather, however now at sea level.  The landscape has changed dramatically. From dry summer fields and yellowish hills we were now driving through lush green semi tropical vegetation with tall trees and a myriad of ferns. And misting rain, of course! This is after all the we(s)t coast.

We met the first of many intimidating roundabouts where the train line runs through the middle of the roundabout or crosses two of the arms of the roundabout thus providing the train with the opportunity to have a couple of goes at collecting cars as it passes through.

On the west coast we were lucky to stay again with family of Lindsay and Frances, this time Lindsay’s sister and brother-in-law who live in Greymouth.  They live in a rustic house set in its own glade of delightful rain forest where they have carved out a garden (and huge vegi patch) from the surrounding tall trees and palms.

A delight for me was to be welcomed by Tika, a chocolate retriever who is so loveable and pattable. She lies on her bed inside stares at you with big brown eyes inviting waving hands to descend on her and give her a long, long pat or tummy rub!  Rob is training her as a gun dog: he is an outdoorsman who fishes, hunts and shoots.  For dinner on the first night we were treated to whitebait fritters with whitebait caught by Rob, home grown vegetables and venison that Rob had shot recently. He was disappointed not to have some duck or salmon as well!

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About Greymouth: Lindsay was born here and his Dad still lives here, so it was of significant interest to us. Also Greymouth is the major town on the West Coast with a population around 10,000 with hospital and council headquarters. It was also once a major port, but now the river mouth is too dangerous for all but the fishing fleet to cross.

The West Coast is noted for being wet, and it did live up to its name. It rained most of the time we were there: not that it mattered too much as rain is not unusual and it was not heavy, just the occasional shower which means you always need to have a coat/umbrella nearby.

While in Greymouth we drove north to Punakaiki to visit Dolomite Point and look at the Pancake Rocks. These rocks are a very distinctive as a layering/weathering process has carved the limestone into what looks like piles of thick pancakes. The pancake rocks are quite fantastic.

This is a rugged coast line and the relentless pounding of the sea has carved the rocks along the shore into many fantastical shapes. One has the nickname of ‘the gumboot’.

On this point there are also a number of blowholes through which the tide surges and blows. Unfortunately, the surf was quite tame this day so blowholes only huffing and puffing but still interesting to see.

We walked along the Truman track, a short half hour walk out to the beach. The fascinating aspect of this track is that it passes through three distinct zones of vegetation where the trees and flora change quite obviously: big mossy trees with little ground cover and epiphytes and ferns growing high in the branches, more scrubby lower trees with dense vegetation under the trees, then flax and low ground cover. The track was very well signed with information relating to the geological features and the zones of vegetation. A beautiful and interesting walk.

Although we set out in misty and misting rain weather, nevertheless it did clear during the day and became quite pleasant.

Returning to Greymouth we visited Monteith Brewery, originally Western Brewery and very much a landmark in Greymouth. It was taken over by DB Brewing who proposed closing the Greymouth facility. This caused a boycott of DB beers across NZ with such success that the Greymouth facility was saved. Now owned by Heineken, who invested in upgrading the facility, and produces batch produced craft beers. The tour of the brewery was short on technical information but long on history and entertainment. We were then taught how to ‘pour’ a beer from a tap. Some serious tasting of beer by John and Lindsay then followed.

The night out with Lindsay’s family and Dad with local fish and salad was a treat.

Across the Alps

Sunday morning and the Canterbury MG Car Club has arranged a brunch for us on the outskirts of Christchurch.  Twenty or so members of the Club arrived to greet us in their MGs plus a 1952 Lea Francis!

As usual for a MG event there was time in the car park viewing cars: men looking under bonnets and even the ladies admiring Goldie!

Ros and I gave a short presentation before we headed off towards the alps and in particular Arthur’s Pass.

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At first the longest straight road we have driven in NZ (Say 5 kms!) up towards the mountains.  Bad luck however settled in as we approached: rain, mist and sideways wind!

A few walks planned cancelled and just enjoy what we could of the scenery.  A relaxed drive then down to Greymouth for the start of our west coast touring and sightseeing.

Follow the Stag

Day 2 in Christchurch and Athol and Gill have planned a day’s drive for us: three convertible cars enjoying driving around the environs of Christchurch. Our trusty MG, Lindsay and Frances’ Nissan 270Z Fairlady and Athol and Gill’s red Triumph Stag! Except it was raining: Athol and Gill spent some time working out how to put their roof up as taking the Triumph Stag out in the rain was not on the agenda!

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However, we ventured out.  It was not a casual drive as Athol had planned it down to each street and coffee stop: I attach the driving instructions at the bottom of this entry to highlight his detail. Something about a military man!

The first stop was the ‘red zone’, those suburbs of Christchurch along the Avon River that have been declared unsafe and all housing demolished with no further development to take place. In this area significant ‘liquidifaction’ occurred during the earthquakes, ie the ground turned to mud and bubbled to the surface making the area a sea of unstable ground.

I had remembered that there were two big earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, but did not realise that during that period and beyond there had been over 1,000 tremors and minor quakes as well.  Imagine living there and wondering if this tremor is another biggie?

The ‘red zone’ is surreal, it’s like a film set: driveways onto sections (I am now fully conversant in NZ speak), then just a few exotic trees and shrubs marking where the boundaries would have been, the occasional front fence still standing and closed off streets.  It all looks so peaceful, but it must have been horrifying to live through. One park was the local meeting point for residents after the quakes and has story boards of some of the residents: (‘I was digging out my house and 2 fellows turned up with shovels and helped for a few hours – I never did get their names’) plus a picture showing the power authority manager outlining where the breaks in the system were and how much needs to be repaired. Quite sad to see.

Then we drove along to Sumner on the coast for a coffee, on the way driving past the inlet full of windsurfers, kite surfers and lasers.

The weather was still windy and a bit overcast, but we battled on (still with the roof up) to Godley Heads.

The drive then took us up a narrow winding road with no safety barriers on the edge, into open cattle and sheep country across cattle stops (cattle grids by another name) and onto a windswept headland important to the area in WWII as it guarded Lyttelton, the port of Christchurch which was then the major port for the South Island.

We walked among the defence buildings, including look out locations, gun emplacements, power houses and a mock-up of the entrance to the harbour for target practice and to gauge the actual calculations for accurate firing.  These defence emplacements were all important, but never used in anger (except, apparently, the Japanese did mine the entrance to the harbour!).

The harbour is still important as the major hard black coal export port, with the coal transported by train from the west coast over the mountains to here, and as well, these days a cruise ship port.

A seaside drive followed to the township of Governors Bay to the Governors Bay Tavern for local NZ style lunch: bowls of mussels, fush and chups and lamb shanks.  Coffee was then imbibed when we then visited the Sign of Takahe restaurant, a medieval stone building just reopened after having been rebuilt following the quakes. Apparently, Sign of Takahe was the horse staging post for the carriages that came up the hill from Christchurch or up the hill from Lyttelton.

As per Athol’s plan, a run down the hill and out to a teppanyaki restaurant for dinner.

Follow Stag Instruction for Christchurch Environs Drive

Turn right at corner Grahams Rd and Memorial Ave.

Straight toward city, and onto Fendalton Rd.

Left onto Glandovey Rd; proceed thru Fendalton

Right onto Papanui Rd. and then left onto Bealey Ave

Proceed down Bealey Ave to Fitzgerld Ave; turn right.

Heading to start of Red Zone

Left onto Avonside Dr; follow Stag to Gloucester St  then turn left

We will stop along Gloucester St, photo?

Backtrack to corner Avonside, Woodham, Linwood Ave

Proceed Linwood Ave, thru Ferrymead and stop at Redcliffs.

Move on to Sumner, turn on to Esplanade where we can get icecream or coffee

To Godley Heads

Take Wakefield Ave thru back of Sumner, then up the hill.  Left at the junction.

Godley Heads is about 4 km.  Road sealed but narrow.  Stop for on-coming traffic.

To Lyttelton

Backtrack to junction, turn left to Lyttelton.  Lookout straight away on the left.

Move to Lyttelton, around 5 mins drive.  Opportunity for refreshments if desired.

To Governors Bay

Follow Stag; drive is about 15 mins.  Road surface is patchy, so a slower pace is ideal.

Stop at Governors Bay Tavern for lunch.

To Sign of Takahe

Backtrack very short distance then left over the hills.

Stop at Sign of Takahe on CHC side; coffee/tea; walk to lookout.

From here; options are to drive further around west side of Port Hills, or head to RNZAF Museum, or anywhere else you might like to see.

Christchurch

Our stay in Christchurch was made even more delightful as we stayed with Athol and Gill, Lindsay’s brother and sister-in-law. We have met Athol and Gill a few times previously and John knew them well from his time working in Korea (when Athol was the NZ Defence Attaché) , so it was lovely to catch up with them again. They have the most beautiful garden which I completely forgot to take photos of!

Our first day in Christchurch could be called ‘the city tour’! Athol and Gill were wonderful tour guides and we walked all over the city. One of my clearest memories of Christchurch from a previous visit was of the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Thankfully the gardens were not seriously damaged in the earthquakes of 2010/2011 and are still beautiful to this day. One hydrangea was this amazing deep burgundy colour.

Evidence of the impact of the earthquakes is still very evident, though the city is doing an amazing job rebuilding and reinventing itself. Many of the older buildings were seriously damaged and could not be saved. Many were salvageable and while some are still awaiting restoration, some have been restored.

And, the old trams still run and the punts are still poled along the Avon River.

From tragedy often comes some good and this can be seen in Christchurch as it rebuilds. The city library was one building which had to be demolished, however in its place is a beautiful, creative and vibrant new library. The day we visited we were particularly impressed by the children’s section where there are so many activities for children to interact with, as well as books and reading. The building has been designed with people interacting with each other and information in all its various forms, for example a wall of touch screens where you could roam around the city and click on pictures past and present and receive further details. A great credit to the city.

Other parts of the city are being regenerated with interesting inner city housing and then there was the fabulous market place where you can purchase produce and food products as well as eat! There was a huge range of outlets offering food from around the world. Again, building from scratch has allowed for a creative and imaginative approach to the whole precinct, yet the history of the site has been preserved as the old station clock and stationmaster’s office and door have been preserved and incorporated into the building.

In other areas the old buildings have been given a new lease of life.

And of course, the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral was extremely badly damaged by the quakes and controversy has raged between demolition or reconstruction. Because it was seriously underinsured the Anglican Church wanted to demolish it and replace it. However, this building has been such a city icon ever since its construction that the city and local population were not happy with this decision. The church went to court to try to ensure they had the right to demolish the cathedral (!) and lost. The Cathedral will be rebuilt. Interestingly, while we were visiting it was announced that reconstruction work, a 7 – 10 year project, would begin this Easter. (I have included a photograph of what the cathedral once looked like).

Services are currently being held in the ‘Cardboard’ cathedral, designed by a Japanese architect and built to last for twenty years. Many of the supporting round beams are made from a purpose designed ‘cardboard’.

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One fascinating abandoned site has become home to the black-billed gull. This site had a concrete basement which has subsequently filled with water. The black-billed gull has moved in and taken up residence. This gull is native to and only found in New Zealand. It is also endangered! The Catholic church has plans to build a new cathedral here (apparently they did not appreciate their old site which was in a rather industrial section. of town). It will be very interesting to see who eventually inhabits this site permanently; my money is on the endangered black-billed gull.

An important aspect of the city now is the three memorials to those who lost their lives in the quakes. The site of the CTV building, which completely collapsed during the quake of 2011 killing 115 people, is now a lovely small memorial park. The concrete floor of the building remains as a reminder of the building which once stood there and the people who worked there.

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The names of all 185 people who lost their lives during the 22 February 2011 earthquake are inscribed in stone at Oi Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial which has been built along the banks of the Otakaro/Avon River. Each name is written in English and in the person’s national language. All women are listed with both their married and maiden names. This memorial is simple, yet intensely personal and heartbreakingly moving.

Another informal memorial exists in the city. This is a vacant city block with 185 chairs, one for each person who died. Each chair is different and reflects the person for whom it was placed. All the chairs are painted white. Tragically moving to witness.

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We spent a little time in the Christchurch Art Gallery, fronted by a bull on a piano.

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The gallery has an interesting collection o­­­f paintings by New Zealand artists. Most notable was the movement away from very European style paintings to those which more truly reflect the landscape and tone of New Zealand.

The last two paintings in this series are of North Canterbury in the driest months of summer.

One particularly arresting sculpture, by an Australian, was called ‘man and a chicken’. The confrontation was so strong, the characters so realistic, the detailing, down to the mole on the man’s shoulder so real and the look on the chicken’s face so arrogant that you had to laugh aloud.

On leaving, we noticed a beautiful painting which had to be Aboriginal Australian in origin. This painting was donated to the people of Christchurch by artists from South Australia’s Yankunytjatjara Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands as a gesture of support following the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The Aboriginal women had ‘wanted to share their sorrow’ following the terror attacks. A sister canvas has been given to Adelaide’s Muslim community.

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This was a most interesting day and it was amazing to see a city moving forward with purpose and creativity after such devastation.

Into the South

A morning at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington with displays of Maori culture and history (sorry no pictures allowed) and a story of the changes to the country resulting from the arrival of Europeans.  These changes included seeing the islands move from forests to grasslands, the introduction of exotic animals (not just rats, possums and stouts, but also cattle, sheep, dogs and cats!) and plants (including wheat, peaches, trees etc) and how this has changed the country.  Governor Grey even brought kangaroos, kookaburras and wallabies from Oz. (Ironically, when a particular species of wallaby in South Australia was dying out some were found on an island in NZ and sent back to improve the genetic stock.) Sadly, our protected and beautiful brush tail possum is considered a pest here and hunted. The Kiwis, however, make a good living out of selling 50% merino sweaters and etc with 50% possum fur, as this increases the softness and warmth of the garment.)

So onto the ferry for the 3 hour cruise to Picton in the South Island.

Overnight there, and then a drive down the east coast to Christchurch.  Along the way we again noticed how dry the countryside was, then into the Marlborough wine region (no stops as we will visit there on the way back north) before hitting the coast.

After the earthquake 9 years ago a lot of this road was destroyed, with cliffs falling into the sea over the road.  It took 13 months before the road was opened again: probably initial work was concentrated on the rail line that runs beside the road for most of the way.

Road works continue with over 10 stop/go points along the way with amazingly happy traffic controllers waving to each car as it passes.

North of Kaikoura is the notable Point Kean seal colony which makes its home on the rocks alongside the road. Hundreds of seals lolling across the rocks with the pups frolicking in the rock pools.  We spent a good hour just watching from the very well made viewing walkway beside the road.

 

This coast around Kaikoura is known for its sea food, especially crays and whitebait.  After missing ‘the last caravan before Kaikoura from the north’ (as recommended by a friend but how do you know it’s the last when you are coming from the north?) we finally found the pub at the fishing wharf and John was able to indulge in a cray feast.

Last stop before Christchurch was Pegasus Bay Winery with great wines and a beautiful garden: could be a great spot for lunch or dinner in the garden.

 

Wellington

From Kapiti it was a beautiful drive into Upper Hutt to attend the British and European Car Display Day. Instead of sticking to the major roads we took a beautiful winding road up and over the hills to the Hutt, stopping along the way to admire the view back along the coast to Kapiti and with Kapiti island in the distance.

The British and European Car Display Day raises money to support the Wellington Free Ambulance Service (and yes, it is entirely free!) and although it was once British cars only, in recent years it has been opened up to European cars as well. The more the merrier!

We were welcomed by the MG Wellington Club contingent who had a huge marquee there so were easy to find. Goldie was invited to park out the front and did, as always, attract quite a deal of attention. People stopped to look closely at the map of the Silk Road trip and to trace the route we had taken. Many people find it hard to believe you can take an MG to the places Goldie has been, as well as navigate the various types of roads the car has successfully encountered.

There were not a lot of really old cars there. A 1939 MG TB, a 1935 Rover 10, a 1936 Bradford WS and a 1928 Austin 12/4 probably being the oldest on display.

However there were a goodly number of cars there, I am guessing around 300 – 350, with some interesting cars to look at and photograph. Also, there were many people willing to talk about their cars and many with stories relating to their discovery and rebuilding or restoration.

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One interesting rebuilt 1948 Jowett and its companion 1950 Jowett Bradford van, both owned by the same extended family who were heavily involved in the Jowett Car Enthusiasts Club.

There was a large contingent of MGs present, including the TB and a TD, MGBs both GT and Roadsters, an RV8, two modern TFs and a beautiful MGA. It was fun to talk with the various MG owners.

Also on display were Jaguars, Morrises, Austins, Armstrong Sidleys, Rolls Royces, Morgans, Triumphs and Rovers. Yes, there were lots of European cars there also, but I just happen to like the British makes!

After the car show we headed into Wellington to walk along the harbour foreshore. This is a mecca of restaurants, café, small shops and sporting facilities. Paddle boards and Kayaks for hire, sailing boats, one skippered by a Dalmatian, providing day trips on the harbour, a fantastic kids playground, climbing walls etc. All ages were provided for.

We were happy to walk along the waterfront, have a coffee and cake sitting in the sun admiring the view and the quirky light pole creatures and admiring some of the sculptures along the way.

We then drove along Oriental Bay from where we had a good view back to the city. Some of the beautiful old weatherboard terraces still remain along the waterfront here though many have been replaced, sadly, by high rise apartment blocks. A most enjoyable day.

Kapiti

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From Taupo we drove south to just north of Wellington. The drive took us past the Mounts Ngauruhoe, Rhapehu and Tongariro. Tongariro and Rhapehu still had some residual snow on their slopes, while the fabulous cone shape of Ngauruhoe is very distinctive and offered us a good photo opportunity.

While we are hearing reports of torrential rain and flooding in NSW, thankfully it looks as if the drought may have broken across much of the state, the North island of New Zealand is extremely dry with some locals saying they have not had any decent rain for 12 months.

Although this photo of the dog building was taken on a previous day I thought it was too good not to use! The middle of the North island was a mecca of signs constructed from corrugated iron, this building where the whole looked like a dog was certainly the best!

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We are staying at Frances and Lindsay’s house in Kapiti, which is on the coast about an hour’s drive north of Wellington and a few minutes walk to the beach. We have walked along the beach a number of times as it is by far the most enjoyable way to get to the village shops and pub!

One group had a table set out at the bottom of their garden so they could enjoy a sunset drink and dinner. A sunset walk to the pub for a pre-dinner drink is a must.

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Driving along the street one evening we narrowly missed this little fellow, presumably a baby hedgehog. He was so little he would have fitted in the palm of my hand. To ensure his safe arrival on the opposite side of the road we turned around, stopped in front of him and held up the traffic until he was safely on the footpath. Our good deed for the day!

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Taupo

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Excitement Central NZ: Taupo: bungy jumping, rapids canoeing and kite sailing.  So we went to the Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools and spent an hour or two soaking in the mineral pools!

Ok, so we did do a jet boat trip and the 360s are fun (and wet).  See photos.  This is NZ as it should be!

Lake Taupo empties into the Waikato River with the amazing Huka Falls powering through a narrow gorge with tumbling water spraying into the air and misting up the sunglasses.

This river breeds rugby players that make the Chiefs a team of ultra tough players. The Kiwis we  met in the area kept making a point of telling us this!  They did beat the Crusaders the night before!

We also visited the Craters of the Moon, a thermal area, with steam emitting from numerous fissures, which was fascinating.

We also went up to the weir on the river to watch the release of water into the river. This happens four times and day and is quite a spectacle. The release of water changes this part of the river from a still rock pool to a raging torrent. There are two warning sirens prior to the release to warn people, as you would not want to be anywhere near this section of the river when the water begins to flow.

The sluice gates open one at a time and the river begins to fill. Huge rocks downstream are finally submerged by the huge amounts of water flowing down the river bed. Quite a sight.

Dinner overlooking Lake Taupo with an intense sunset finished the day off.

Hamilton

After spending a lovely evening getting to know Hayden and Gail (friends of Frances and Lindsay who generously hosted us in Hamilton), we set out the following morning for Zealong, the only tea plantation and processing house in New Zealand.

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After arriving at their beautiful main building and factory, Kara, our guide for the tour, gave us a comprehensive introduction to Zealong, in particular its history and how it came into being. In 1996 a then young Daniel Chen glanced over his neighbour’s fence and saw a camellia tree growing in the backyard. Coming from a family involved in tea growing, Daniel wondered if tea could be grown in New Zealand. Thus Zealong was born, though it would be many years before the first crop of leaves was harvested and the first batch of tea produced. Daniel went to Taiwan to procure camellia tea tree cuttings for export to New Zealand. Of the 1800 sent to NZ only 130 survived to emerge on the other side of NZ’s tough biosecurity requirements. However, from these 180 1.2 million have now been propagated and are growing on the estate.

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Daniel, from the first, wanted the tea produced to be as pure as possible, so organic the plantation had to be. The land bought for the plantation, an old dairy farm, had to lie idle for three years before all the residual chemicals etc were leached from the soil. Finally, the plantation was planted and seven years later the first crop was harvested.

Picking is done by hand, although each picker has attached to their thumbs a very sharp razor blade to ensure a clean cut. Most of the pickers still dress traditionally with a large bamboo conical hat tied on with a scarf and a jacket whose sleeves also cover the hand. Frances and Ros did get to try on a traditional picker’s outfit!

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Although the factory does use some very modern machinery, much that is traditional about tea making is still in evidence. The rolling of the leaves into balls for the oolong tea is still done in the traditional cotton cloth and oxidation of the leaves still takes place in large flat bamboo baskets.

The tour takes in a number of statues which relate to the history of tea production as well as to the history of Zealong itself. These statues included one of Harold Nielsen and his dog Mick, a local Taranaki farmer, who gave generously of his time and knowledge to Daniel Chen during the early establishment years. Other statues showed tea being carried across the Silk Road by both donkey and men (120kg in a load) as well as statues depicting traditional tea making.

Ham_30We were given the opportunity to guess the weight of the oolong tea ball, which Hayden lifted to gauge its weight. We all got it wrong!

We ended the tour with a traditional tea ceremony which was fascinating for its complexity, ritual and for giving us a very clear understanding of the differences in flavour, colour and aroma of the five original teas produced by Zealong; a green tea, three oolong teas having undergone no roasting as well as two different degrees of roasting, and a black tea. Our guide, Kara, took us through the ceremony and we all found it entertaining and informative.

Next was high tea with, of course, a tea of our choice! The high tea was fabulous and a must if you visit Zealong.

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The next stop was at the Hamilton gardens. We always love gardens but this was truly a fabulous experience. The gardens are really a series of gardens each with an individual theme and each garden is separated from the next by a transition zone which breaks the spell of the first garden before you enter the next. The gardens are constantly being added to, with plans for a number of new gardens to open in the next few years.

We really only had time to explore one small part of the gardens but this area was quite unique and absolutely fascinating. This area has a series of enclosed gardens on various themes.

Perhaps the most creative was the Fantasy Garden Collection including the Surrealist Garden, the most recent addition to the collection. Here we were dwarfed by huge moving triffid-like plants, towering gateways and water taps, and best of all, you had to laugh, was a gigantic garden wheelbarrow with fork resting against it. The whole garden lifted the spirits.

One other garden in this collection which does not photograph well but inspired much contemplation and reflection was the Concept Garden. Here, nine squares made a larger square and each small square was ‘planted’ out with a different plant/grass/stones or water. The more you looked, the more you appreciated the different textures and colours and the more you thought about what you were seeing and the impact it had on you. Peaceful and restful, yet though provoking and energising.

Then there is the Productive Garden Collection including the Kitchen Garden, Herb Garden and Te Parapara Garden which showed a traditional productive Maori garden, here growing taro, and storage hut.

Finally, we visited some of the Paradise Garden Collection including an Italian Renaissance Garden, Indian Char Bagh Garden and the Tudor Garden, where Bottom could be seen perched atop a pole.

I have never visited a garden arranged in this manner. These gardens were beautiful as well as being very informative about particular styles of gardens as well as gardens across the ages. Dotted around the gardens are statues and ‘oddities’! Hamilton is well worth a visit if only to see the beautiful gardens.

The final stop of the day was at Good George, an iconic Hamilton brewing company, so that the ‘boys’ could enjoy an ale. Despite what the picture presents, the ‘girls’ did not sample the beer!

 

 

 

Wairere Falls and Hobbiton

Today we had two stops on our journey south from Hahei to Hamilton: Wairere Falls in the Waikato and Hobbiton.

Wairere Falls are the highest falls on the north island at 153 metres. We started in the car park with a 45 minute walk to the ‘half way’ viewing platform. In doing so we went from around 400 feet above sea level to 842 fasl, so not a bad climb on any day!

The path was variable from boulders and tree roots to numerous steps heading up and up!

But very pretty and enjoyable as we walked beside the river, crossed the small bridges and climbed.

It did actually take us 45 minutes, whereas we normally expect to beat the suggested time: are we getting slow / old, do people climb faster in NZ or are the suggested times more accurate?

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On then to the best excitement ever, Hobbiton, where the external aspects of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy were filmed.

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This is an amazing story. Peter Jackson’s scout flew over the area and saw the perfect dam and adjacent small hills for the location of Hobbiton, including the Green Dragon, the Mill and 60 hobbit houses.  Apparently, for the Lord of the Rings everything was temporary and dismantled after filming, but for The Hobbit it was made more permeant and hence today we have this amazing film site to explore.

There are tours every 10 minutes. Thirty guests are bussed from the roadside reception area up to Hobbiton and then, with a guide, we are shown around for 2 hours, ending with a beer in the Green Dragon.

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The site has over 60 hobbit ‘holes’ / homes (but only the outside, all internal filming was done on studios in Wellington) plus gardens and stage props outside each hole.  There are real plants growing: corn, beets, marrow, beans, tomatoes, plus flowers galore.

We were told there is a staff of 35 looking after the site including gardeners, landscapers and waterers, just to keep it looking like the original set. Plus, then there are the guides and staff in the Green Dragon and the reception. An amazing arrangement in the middle of NZ sheep country.

We were told some production secretes:  The hobbit homes were either 90% or 60% of actual: 90% when a hobbit stood in front of them making the hobbit life size and 60% for when Gandalf stood in front of them giving Gandalf his height.  For the scene where Bilbo and Gandalf watch the sun set outside Bilbo’s house the problem was that it actually looked east, not west, so it was filmed at dawn and then run backwards!  And finally, although there are lots of plants growing, there are numerous props lying around including fake fruit, tools, smoke from chimneys and clothes on the clothes lines!  And of course, the tree above Bilbo’s home: completely fake with thousands of hand painted leaves to ensure they were just the right colour.

Our guide was a cheery French Canadian who clearly enjoyed her job out in the sun, wandering in a film set and so added vitality to the whole experience.

We enjoyed the walk around and seeing the set as it was surreal and exciting to walk in Gandalf’s steps!  A choice of hobbit beer in the Green Dragon to finish the tour with the opportunity to sit in front of the famous fireplace.

Coromandel

Today we had a long drive, from three hours north of Auckland to three hours south to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula.  We started with a little deviation along the coast, rather than using the main road, following a winding route beside the ocean with views over little coves and fishing villages along the way.

John had planned morning tea at Helena Bay only to discover that the village was actually up in the hills behind the bay: but he then found a fantastic craft shop and cafe with magnificent views over the bay and ocean.  Out of failure comes good, some times.  If only we were closer to home we would definitely have done some damage to the credit card as some of the garden art was amazing. We could have found space in either of our gardens for some of the beautiful pieces!

To speed out trip up we used the only toll road in NZ: $2.40 for about 5 miles!

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We then had a brief stop at the old gold mining town of Thames for a drink at the local pub (except since the photo in ‘the Book’ was taken the building has been sub divided into a Thai restaurant, a dress shop and just a small bit remains of the pub).  On then to village of Hahei on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula and our beach front ‘bach’. We had heard that the iconic NZ ‘bach’ was a weatherboard house by the beach with sand at the door. This bach fitted the description perfectly, with lots of open doors, an outside bathroom and a shower in the garden for after the swim at the beach, a broken gate, the beach 30 metres from the back gate minutes away.  Similarly relaxed was the host with a ‘hope you enjoy yourself’ approach.

A swim in the evening and dinner at the local brewery: ribs and fish with local pinot!  Next morning (after a swim) we caught the water taxi off the beach around to Cathedral Rock, a beach divided in two by a towering overhanging cliff with a huge hole in it to attract the tourists.

Then a walk back to town (could have been 6 kms so a bit more than we expected), followed by ice creams and lazy times around the bach (with a few swims thrown in).

 

We have really hit the ‘bestest’ weather: each day it has got up to the low 30s so its enticingly encouraging to eat ice cream and swim in the ocean.  Is NZ weather always like this? Editors note: today almost a metre of rain hit Milford Sound and the road is closed for up to a week with 300 people stuck on the wrong side, glad we are currently touring the North Island.

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Awaking like lazy lions, we made a move at 5:30pm to drive to hot water beach where you dig in the sand and create a pool of, you guessed it, hot water.  There are underground springs coming to the surface with very hot water and so you dig down and create this puddle of (sometimes too) hot water.  Not an individual effort, we joined in with two other couples, French and Canadian, and then were joined by a few more and when we had had enough our pond was quickly taken over by new arrivals. A great community activity!

BBQ dinner on the veranda as the sun sets. How delightful.

Next day John arranged a drive around the peninsula which saw us leaving at 8:30 and driving north on SH25 (State Highway, but often a winding road with one lane bridges!) to Whitianga where we watched the passenger ferry cross the mouth of the river every 6 minutes.  There were also numerous shops that were missed!

Then on to Kuaotuna, a tiny town of around 100 bachs, to have coffee at Luke’s café, the only establishment in the town.  Actually very good coffee! And a great beach view as well.

Then a detour over the hill (and via some metal roads) to the beach resorts of Otama and Opito with beautiful white sand with rolling waves, tidy houses up the hills and plenty of public space to enjoy. This is really a picturesque part of the world. As Frances remarked, if we were overseas we would be oohing and ahing and remarking on its beauty. Because Frances and Lindsay are NZers, even if not living here permanently, they tend to take It for granted.

We then continued on SH 25 to Coromandel Town, not stopping but proceeding through to continue up the west side of the peninsula to Colville to enjoy lunch at the Hereford and Pickle farm.  And yes, that’s what they sell!  Lots of meat in the fridge and pickles galore on the stand.  Back to Coromandel Town, bit disappointing but we found an ice cream shop before heading across road 309!

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This sounds like a major road, but in fact is a metal road that is much shorter, half the distance in fact, back to the road to Hahei. The road passes through some great scenery with, which is most fascinating, palms growing among the pine trees: a sort of sub tropical forest in among cooler climate trees.  Again many one lane bridges and school bus routes and twisting corners.

We then finished at the highlight of the day, the Hot Water Beach Brewing Co for a refreshment before returning to our bach.  The moto of this trip has to be ‘Drink craft beer’.

Unfortunately the road to Otama and Opito was being graded, plus there was a water truck travelling over it resulting in significant amounts of mud on the underside of the car.  A bit of an effort to wash off, but now all clean and it should not worry Australian quarantine when the car returns to OZ.

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Many swims later and pizza on the deck as the sun sets with a bottle of local pinot.  We are really finding all the spots we have stayed in NZ to be fantastic, with views, good food, great wine and sparkling twilight.  How long can the weather hold?

Bay of Islands and Waitangi

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From Mangonui we travelled down to the Bay of Islands and the picturesque old town of Russell. Originally a fortified Ngaphie Maori village called Kororareka, and was one of the original European settlements in New Zealand. It became known as ‘the hell hole of the pacific’ when it became a centre for the whaling industry and the town became a magnet for whalers, fleeing convicts and sailors and other ill assorted reprobates. In 1835 Charles Darwin described it as being full of ‘the refuse of society’.

Today, the town is a delightful and peaceful town with buildings reminiscent of the Victorian era. The old church, Christ Church, survived shelling and was saved from being burnt when most of the rest of the town was burnt to the ground during fierce fighting between the Maori and Europeans following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

We spent a lovely three days here in accommodation, found by Lindsay and Frances on a previous visit, right on the waterfront with beautiful views over the harbour. It was very relaxing as well as intensely interesting as we became immersed in the history of European settlement in northern New Zealand and the inevitable tensions between the Maori, whose land it was, and the British, who, of course, had a completely different attitude to land to that of the Maori.

As our first day was a little overcast and threatened rain we decided to head to Waitangi where some of the time would inevitably be spent onside the museum. I have no intention of trying to come to terms with the two versions of the Waitangi treaty which exist: one was signed by the British representatives on behalf of the Queen, the other signed by Maori Chiefs. All sorts of factors had a hand in the fact that two versions of the Treaty exist. The Maori language had only relatively recently been committed to text, previously it was spoken only, and hence there were many words in the English language which did not directly translate into Maori. The Treaty was drawn up very hastily (three days) and translated into Maori overnight. The Treaty was drawn up by Captain Hobson, who had no legal training, had only been in NZ for a few days and was quite simplistic, especially when you consider the implications of such a document. There is also a suggestion that the Maori version was deliberately ‘watered down’ as the missionary, Henry Williams, who did the translation, was certain the Maori would not sign it if they believed they were giving ‘sovereignty’ of their lands and land to the British. The discussion surrounding the Treaty and the subsequent various interpretations and often complete ignoring of the Treaty in the early days of its existence probably will go on for decades more. Suffice it to say that the ‘injustices’ of the past are being addressed by the Waitangi Tribunal to this day.

Our visit began with a guided tour of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a beautiful area now preserved for future generations. Our guide was very knowledgeable, as well as with a bit of a quirky sense of humour which made for an interesting visit. First stop was at the beautiful and imposing war canoes. The biggest of these was built for the centenary celebration of the signing of the treaty. It, and other of the war canoes are always taken out as part of the Waitangi Day celebrations.

Next stop was a cultural performance by a Maori group. The greeting was explained outside the whare (the meeting house constructed for the 1940 centenary celebrations) and then we were led inside for a splendid and very active performance by the Maori troupe. The performance included traditional dance, including a poi dance, songs and a version of the Haka. All very impressive.

Then we visited James Busby’s house, the first British representative to be appointed to Aotearoa. Interestingly, prior to this NZ was ‘governed’ from New South Wales. Busby was not impressed with the original house, two rooms and a hallway, as he felt it was not suitable for the representative of the Crown; that is, too small! The house has been added to over the years and contains documents and a historical display relevant to the Treaty.

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How the whole area of Waitangi Treaty grounds came to exist in its current form is a story in itself.  After Busby finished his sons farmed the area for a while before selling the house.  After a few years it was abandoned and it was not until Lord Bledsoe become aware of the land and purchased it in 1934, repaired the house and gifted the area to the Nation in time for the centenary in 1940. The flagpole marks the location of. the tent in which the signing took place.

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Our final stop was the beautifully presented and highly informative Museum. This is a must for trying to come to terms with the early History of New Zealand.

Our second day in Russell was very relaxed. We walked to the top of the Maiki Hill where Hone Heke’s flagpole now stands. Given by Maori Chief Hone Heke to fly the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand flag, following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi the Confederation flag was replaced by the Union Jack. Hone Heke was not impressed so he chopped down the flag pole. The flag pole was replaced and chopped down three times before Hobson refused to yet again replace it. Some years later, at Hone Heke’s request, his son erected this ‘new’ flagpole as a peace offering.

The afternoon was taken up by a visit to Long Beach. A swim and a relaxing read were the order of the afternoon before returning in time for a sunset dinner.

On our final day in Russell we joined the Cream Boat tour of the Bay of islands. This was a fantastic day as the Captain, who also did most of the commentary, was incredibly knowledgeable and an entertaining presenter. We spent the day out in the Bay looking at and visiting many of the multitude of islands which give the Bay its name.

The highlight of the day had to be the visit to the ‘hole in the wall’, a huge cavern which the sea has made in one of the islands. This is a huge ‘hole’ but we were on a quite sizeable boat and so when the skipper skilfully piloted the boat through the hole the entire passenger contingent was suitably impressed. I was particularly impressed by the preparation for this manoeuvre as it included minutes of careful assessment of the swells coming through the hole and precision skippering once the decision to go was made. Apparently the conditions are such that a successful manoeuvre through the hole only occurs about 46% of the time. So, we were lucky!

At the other end of the Hole in the rock is the profile of a woman who became rock as she kept up a never-ending vigil for her drowned fisherman husband.

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We stopped for lunch at Otehi Bay where a track led up to a hill from which there were fabulous views of the Bay and its many islands. Then a swim and lunch before reboarding the boat for the rest of the cruise.

There was a race of super yachts occurring in the bay when we were there. These yachts are over 100ft in length and did look magnificent under full sail and heading for the finishing line.

A particular feature of this particular bay cruise is the boom net ‘swimming’! Two booms are swung out from the side of the boat with a net strung between them. Interested passengers are invited to jump into the net and ‘hang on’! The skipper described the resulting event as ‘a bit like being in a washing machine at spin speed’. So, back and forth the boat went mixing up the population of the net! Then it was time for ‘dominoes’. Everyone in a line down the centre of the net then forward with the boat and a quick reverse which sent the whole row of human dominoes toppling. Much hilarity!

The highlight of the afternoon had to be the wildlife. First a pod of dolphins (always impossible to photograph successfully) which we followed for about 15 minutes (the legally allowed time) while one of the crew gave us a detailed history of this pod which is regularly seen in the bay. Many of the members of this pod were born in the bay. Then we sighted a manta ray, a flock of gulls feeding on a school of fish below and finally a baby hammerhead shark, look carefully for the shadow in bottom left.. The hammerheads are born here and spend the first formative year of their lives in the bay. And of course there were lots of fish!

Also found in the bay is spike of rock a breeding ground for gannets. Gannets born here will return to this place to breed again.

What a great day! Followed, yet again, by a sunset dinner this time ‘home cooked’ and eaten on the deck of the apartment.

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Northland

Having settled into New Zealand time and culture (drink craft beer) we set out for Northland on the North Island.

A beautiful drive to start, on ideal MG roads, lots of twists and turns, climbs and narrow corners.  With Ros driving and the roof down it was certainly the way to enjoy the views.

First stop was Mangawhai Heads a delightful beach resort plus still water inlet.

A walk along the beach was in order and we found the houses built right on the beach, with seemingly only a bush track to their backdoor, fascinating.  How good is this, being on the beach and looking out over the amazing Pacific Ocean.

A coffee and then northwards onto Parua Bay for a drive along the still waters of Marsden Bay.  We needed to skirt around Whangarei: the northern most city in NZ and home of the countries only refinery.  Hence best to take the bypass and get to the pretty stuff quickly!  A picnic under shady trees with the lapping waters cooling our toes looking out at the lazy sailing boats crossing the Bay.

A couple of hours drive to the township of Mangonui on Doubtful Bay.  A drink to quench the thirst and then out to the (infamous – don’t know why) fish and chips shop with seats out over the entrance to the Bay.  Australia and NZ are separated not only by the Tasman but also by a common language.  John failed food ordering for Ros by asking for potato scallops (and getting battered sea scallops) rather than ordering potato fritters!  The local wine was ok, but we have had some better.

The next day was the BIG DAY: a bus trip to Cape Reinga and a drive along 90 Mile Beach.  Cape Reinga is the northern most point of the North Island. Here, the Maori believe, is the jumping off point for the souls of the dead as they depart to their spiritual homeland. And as we all know 90 Mile Beach is not 90 miles long, it is maybe 90 kms.  Apparently, cattlemen, when herding their cattle along the beach, only took 3 days to travel the length of the beach. On the basis that, usually, cattle will walk 30 miles in a day, the beach got its name.  Obviously, the cattle did not walk 30 miles a day when they were meandering along a beach!

Along the way to Cape Reinga we visited Wagener Park, an ideal camping area set just inland from Houhora Heads, with a delightfully peaceful river leisurely flowing through it which was full of kids and paddle boards.  Onto Rarawa Beach with its very white and powdery sand. There was then an important stop at the Te Kao ice cream shop! A picnic lunch at Tapatupoyu Bay, with a swim as well, and then onto the Cape.

There was a walk from the car park to the lighthouse at the furthest point with informative message boards along the way: names of birds, trees and shrubs plus Maori cultural information.

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Well worthwhile, especially watching the currents of the Pacific meet with those of the Tasman and create eddies and waves off the point.

There was a bit of a hiccup when we were due to leave: the bus would not start!  Here we are at the furthest point away, and not having yet had our drive on the beach, and a no-go bus.  The practical approach works best, get out a tow rope and clutch start the bus behind one of the ranger’s vehicles.  An added bit of excitement in the day, though we did have to feel a degree of sympathy for our bus driver and guide, Simon, who had to contend with the situation and try to assure us all that we were not going to miss out on anything and that we were having a fabulous time!

John by this time had befriended Simon and hopped into the front passenger seat for the rest of the trip (he found out he was useful at moving witches cones).

Off the bitumen and on to the sand dunes for sand tobogganing on boogie boards. The climb up the sand dune gave a clue as to how steep the ride down was going to be!  Knee behind the board and let go.  Use feet to steer (or for wimps – as the brakes) and down the sand dune into the creek and skim across the water.  Great stuff.

We then drove along Te Paki Creek out to the beach.

We had a few stops along the way to get our feet wet (this time in the Tasman – the earlier swim was in the Pacific) and then beetle down the beach for about an hour on the hard packed sand, driving just above the water line.

Then it was back to Mangonui where we hit the local restaurant for a recuperative pizza and beer.

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The following day saw us take a leisurely day of only about 120kms back south to Russell, in the Bay of islands. However, there was lots to do on the way.

First stop was Kauri Cliffs Golf Course, one of those golf courses that all golfers know about.  It was interesting getting there: it’s a dirt road and then a locked gate.  Lindsay had to talk us in (we didn’t have a golf booking) and then there was a very well made, surfaced road to the high quality buildings. Unfortunately we didn’t play golf: as a non Kiwi the green fees are $649 + more for a cart!  One concession, you can play as many rounds as you like!  We settled for a coffee and polo shirt purchase. The course looks great as it rolls across the cliff tops and into the farming area behind; a ‘must’ play, some day.

Returning down to earth we journeyed to Rainbow Falls, accessed by a short walk in native bush land.

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We had been told by one of John’s golfing buddies about Carriage House B&B.  We could not stay there but rang to see if we could visit. An amazing small collection of classic cars and carriages awaited. Adrian welcomed us and we were so happy to visit. He started by showing us his 1907 RR.  Not only a beautiful car but with an amazing history: only 5 remain in the world. Adrian purchased it in England in 1952 for £35 (he couldn’t afford the £50 for a new Morris), then found a body for £10 and spent a year (while at the Navy Engineering College) putting it together and restoring all the parts.  Years of collecting has gone into the sourcing all the parts: from finding headlights in country stores in the US, to hand making the mudguards.

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Adrian moved from the UK to Sydney and then to NZ and now uses his car weekly plus attending rallies all over the world.  Interestingly, he and John had some friends in common – the world of motor cars!

He also had a 1915 RR which he had restored as well plus a 1924 Vauxhall. We then went into the second garage and found a world of horse drawn carts and carriages!

Then to a third garage for even more carts and, amazingly, a gypsy wagon made by a European Romney now living in Tasmania.  Now for horse carts, you need horses and so Adrian has both Clydesdale and Shire horses in the paddocks. He says he gets out a cart at least once a week and causes traffic chaos in the town when doing the shopping! Thank you Duncan and Anne for suggesting this stop.

On then to the oldest stone building in NZ, now a store, followed by a tasting and lunch at Marsden Winery and then a stop at a pottery shop, KeriBlue.

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We also stopped at a roadside fruit shop for very fresh veg and then onto the town of Russell on the Bay of Islands.  (PS John cooked corn on the BBQ and it was soooo good!). Ros and Frances cooked up a storm using a tiny stove top and a microwave. We were under the impression the apartment we were renting in Russell had a full kitchen. Two hot plates, a microwave and a metre of bench space divided in two by a sink! It is amazing what you can do when you have to! Thank goodness for the BBQ on which to cook. The corn. We sat eating dinner while overlooking the bay as the sun set. Pretty near perfect.

Snells Beach

We are now 100 km north of Auckland in an area of numerous villages scattered along the coast with a farming hinterland. Also in the area are numerous wineries and artesian food outlets with plenty of opportunities for ‘drinking craft beer’. Offshore are numerous islands, many the remnants of volcanos, which provide protection from the waves of the Pacific Ocean which result in sheltered coves where families with children play.

We are on the water and our first night we settled in with a NZ roast, eaten on the veranda  overlooking the harbour, with local Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to accompany the meal: how good is this.  Even better, a walk along the seaside with an ice cream for dessert!

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Next day L&F had planned a day of touring: first up a visit to the Parry Kauri Park. The park boasts a delightful walkway through a forest of native bush with sign posts pointing out kauri, totara, supplejack, mamaku and other local trees.  One of the most interesting is the puriri which hosts numerous epiphytes, almost covering parts of the tree low down, with its higher branches reaching up to the sun light.

 

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Goldie in front of a kauri log cut many years ago

From there we continued back south to Puhoi for a visit to the pub and the cheese factory. The traffic travelling north, which we would have to join for the return journey, was getting busier and slower: it’s a long weekend in Auckland and with the national highway being only 1 lane in each direction the traffic was building up.

The 1879 pub is filled with memorabilia of the area plus bank notes from around the world and a wall of bras of various colours and sizes!  Here, we drank local-craft-beer and ate mussel fritters while watching the world go by.  Then we drove around the corner to the cheese factory, which makes numerous blue and soft cheeses, to stock up for the next few days.

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Back on the road north (less traffic now, fortunately) we went to Omaha Bay Winery for a tasting and antipasto platter for lunch. Lunch was served on a large patio looking out over Omaha township and coast line towards Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands. We could even see across to the Coromandel peninsular (we’ll be there next week).

We then drove down to Omaha to walk along the (surf?) beach. It was low tide and horses were being ridden on the tidal flats.

 

One more visit was to an amazing local pottery where big was the operative word. Huge pots and beautiful vases and ‘jars’ were the order of the day, plus platters and a variety of smaller items. The pottery was very colourful, dramatic and quite beautiful. Too bad it did not fit into a MGB! Then back to the supermarket for dinner supplies and home for, yes, another home cooked NZ roast!

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Next day we headed out to Matakana for the Saturday farmers’ market to enjoy the delights of local produce: fresh baked bread, local gin, herb sauces, cakes galore, avocadoes: (6 for $5!), and whitebait fritters!

A fantastic feature of the markets was the dog minding facility. The markets are very compact with all the stalls packed into a quite small space by the river. You are asked not to take your dog into the markets proper but to have them minded for a gold coin donation. The dogs were being carefully looked after by some young girls and they were all receiving numerous pats from passers-by. All looked very happy and were obviously enjoying the attention and pats.

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Coffee and the  Saturday papers in a garden café. The sports section was 60% rugby and of that 90% about the ABs only!

A drive further out to the pretty town (get used to it, we are sure that’s not the end of pretty towns!) of Leigh with its picturesque harbour – the only deep water shore line we have seen. Outside our house at Snells Beach the tide is not big, but the water retreats about 500 metres from the shore line at low tide.  The locals with boats all have tractors so if they want to launch or retrieve at low tide they can drive over the sand flats to collect the boat.

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Back to Leigh! The harbour is in a cove with steep hills either side providing the depth for a fishing fleet and a launching ramp. However, this is a very tight ramp which provided us with some entertainment when a very obviously new boat owner took 5 tries at getting his boat trailer lined up!

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While the ladies returned home John and Lindsay headed to 8 Wired Barrelworks to enjoy a ‘paddle’ of 5 different beers. Interestingly, of the 19 on offer there were numerous IPAs on the list plus 3 stouts including an Imperial Stout, a Milk Stout and a Hoppy Stout!  A real man’s lunch of 5 x 100mils of beer with potato wedges set us up for the afternoon.

Along the beach from the house, where we are staying, is a cafe on the shore front, so an afternoon expedition to sit in the sun and enjoy the view with coffee was declared.

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A great start to our holiday, not too rushed but with a variety of activities already under our belt in extremely attractive scenery.  On that note the land is very undulating due, I expect, to the volcanic activity that created the island. There are no straight bits of road longer than a few metres.  And, we have noticed the numerous roadside stands of agapanthus – apparently a weed in NZ and we can see why.  However, they are in flower at the moment and are colourful and provide an attractive roadside display.

Back on the road again – Aotearoa

Aotearoa – the beginning

Welcome to New Zealand! We have arrived, with Goldie, for our trip around the shaky islands.A7

Only a 3 hour flight to Auckland and then, when we arrived, Lindsay and Frances, the friends we are travelling with, met us at the hotel and we headed off to collect Goldie.  Goldie left home 4 weeks ago, was taken to Port Kembla for a roll-on-roll-off trip and arrived in Auckland 10 days ago.  The NZ customs and quarantine wanted a steam clean and managed to pull every loose item out of the car: floor mats on the seats, glove box emptied, tools opened and it looks like the first aid kit has gone to a new home!  And so dirty.  Back at the hotel we had a clean and restoration session to bring our car back to its pristine appearance.  The number grease paint scribbles on, and variety of stickers attached to, the windscreen was amazing.

Next morning Lindsay and I went to the near-by VINZ garage to get our warrant of fitness (aka pink slip) and certification of registration. We were concerned it could be a long process, however 40 minutes later we were now legal to drive on NZ roads.  The very friendly receptionist and engineer made our first day in NZ very pleasant.

Back to the hotel to wake up the ladies for breakfast and at 10am we were on the road visiting various sights around Auckland. Today, Lindsay and Frances are in the lead (follow the locals where possible!) and we visited One Tree Hill where you can see the Tasman Sea on the west and the Pacific on the East (pity about the tree being chopped down 20 years ago!).

Then to Mission Beach for morning coffee. How delightful to have a stop by the sea (or maybe bay or even harbour) watching sun goddesses on the sand as the yachts sail by.

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A drive down to Auckland Harbour front to discover numerous roadworks meant the whole area was a mess and traffic at a standstill.  However, eventually we found a parking spot and wandered around Viaduct Pier and the next Americas Cup site.  Across the Harbour Bridge (which is better?)

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and onto the north shore to the pretty town of Devonport: a quick ferry trip from Auckland and hence a commuter suburb and a café hot spot.

Then onto the motorway to head north to tonight’s accommodation in Snells Bay, a beautiful home lent to us by friends of L&F right on the beach with panoramic views of the bay.

 

 

Towards Home

After we watched the start of the Tour we headed north, the start of our home run.

First stop was Lyon where we stayed a night at Chateau Lonsgard, a B&B we stayed in 2007 and again in 2012 with 9 other MGs on our drive from Cape Town to Cairo (and then across Europe).  Owned by Olivier and Alex (actually the Count and Countess du Mesnil du Buisson) it is an old 1600s chateau that they have been renovating. They welcome guests into their lounge room with a glass of their very own Beaujolais wine. If you are lucky Alex will provide an outstanding dinner as well. A walk around the grounds highlights the centuries old trees and manicured garden.

Unfortunately, these two days driving coincided with a heatwave in France as well as across much else of Europe and England.  The temperatures were over 40 degrees C and we somewhat suffered, drinking gallons of water. Ros got to pouring water down her front and letting the wind through the car attempt to cool down, a rather hopeless attempt!  And the milage turned over a new 00000 – When I get home I’ll need to work out how far we have travelled on these trips!

Both evenings we arrived extremely hot and weary: not so Goldie who purred along with the thermoset never getting above 180 degrees F.  Thank heavens for the larger radiator and bigger fan!  It was also harvest time, with many combines in the fields of wheat.

Next, on to Reims, primarily to visit Charles Heidsieck champagne house. With a morning to spare we found a car museum! So, a museum seemed a good idea, perhaps it would be air-conditioned; it wasn’t!h 14

We are in France, so it was unsurprising that this small, but excellent museum should focus its attention on French manufacturers. What did astound and fascinate us was the huge variety of French manufacturers I had simply never heard of and which have obviously disappeared or been absorbed by other manufacturers. So Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, yes. And, of course there are often race car manufacturers who do not manufacture for the on road market. But Mochet, Centaure, Thevenin, Fournier-Marcadier, La Licorne, Cime, Michet Irat, Rosengart, Chenard et Walcker, Suere, Amilcar, Genestin and Salmson to name a few? And if you go into Google and look at the list of former manufacturers it is seemingly endless (23 listed under the letter R alone) with some companies only in existence for a year or less. The dates beside the manufacturers are the dates they were in operation, according to Wikipedia. So, I could get a bit carried away here but will keep this particular bit of personal research for another time. We might lament the loss of manufacturers in the British industry however the French industry has experienced the same.

This was a rather delightful museum as quite a bit of trouble had been taken with the limited layout and space available. Often, particularly with either the very old or unique car, trouble had been taken to put dummies dressed in period costume next to or inside the cars so that the whole period of the car’s manufacture and use became more obvious and alive.

I have picked a few of my favourites for the blog, including a few technical details for those who are interested.

There was also a section of the museum devoted to child-sized replicas, some for very little littlies, some which could have been ‘driven’ by someone aged up to 10 or 12. Again there was a range of vehicle types on display.

But even a French motor museum is not complete with out a couple of MGs, albeit hidden in a corner, but there next to the Renaults, Peugeots and Citroens!  One thing we noticed was that almost a third of the French cars were right hand drive: is that because pre war and early 1950s it was not important, or were these cars originally sold in the UK and later returned to France?

Then we quickly visited the Reims Cathedral, interesting for two reasons: first, no entrance fee and second, no chapels around the sides and other than some very beautiful stained glass windows, not overly ornate or decorated – hardly any gold insight.

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Charles Heidsieck is a limited production champagne house in the centre of Reims, with 2,000 year old underground cellars. We were able to arrange a tour through a golf friend in Sydney who is the local agent.  Otherwise a tour is not available to the public.

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As well as the champagne itself, Charles Heidsieck has access to Roman built cellars under the city.

These chalk cellars were excavated by the Romans to provide material to build the city walls and and extend across the city with 5 champagne houses sharing eight kilometres of chambers and connecting tunnels.

 

There are 40 ‘rooms’ and they remain at a constant temperature of around 10 degrees C throughout the year.  Although it was 39 degrees C in the garden, we were issued with beautifully warm and soft wraps for our visit to the cellars!

Charles Heidsieck itself sells one million bottles of champagne a year and holds four million bottles in its cellars at any one time. This is a tiny champagne house when you consider that 300 plus million bottles of champagne are sold each year. Please remember that only champagne from the Champagne region can be labelled ‘Champagne’. Moet and Chandon sells 30 million bottles each year.

During our tour of the cellars we learnt about the unique shape of the Charles Heidsieck bottles. These bottle are almost pyramidal in shape, but with a very gentle and elegant curve as the bottle height increases. Down in the cellars the inspiration for the bottle shape becomes visually and dramatically apparent.

We tasted four of the champagnes including a very aromatic, yet dry rose. These champagnes are very elegant with the tiniest beads which drift lazily, mesmerically but surely to the surface as you enjoy the taste sensation and the lingering palate.

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This was a really delightful afternoon and having cooled off in the magnificent cellars we were able to stay cool in the delightful tasting room which looked out over the beautiful gardens with the caps of the cellars dotted among the trees.

After enjoying the tasting, we set off for Calais for an over night stop before catching Eurotunnel in the morning and driving to London, where we are fortunate to be lent a fantastic flat just off Fleet Street.  As it was the weekend we were able to park outside the door  and did not need to ask the nearby hotel if we could park on their forecourt (bit down market actually!).

On Monday we delivered Goldie to the shippers for the journey home.

A few days in London: watching the Wallabies play Argentina;

seeing The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe;

dinner with Clive, Jenny and Kate and a few sights. Some photos of things you expect in London to finish.

And so ends this year’s adventure in Goldie.

We do have plans for next year – so we will be continuing this blog for a bit longer, but not till 2020.

John & Ros

 

Tour de France

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Having watched the Tour on TV for as many years as I can remember (evening highlights, not overnight!) I connected the dots and realised that we would be leaving Spain and going to France at a time when the Tour was on.

How lucky were we, it was in the south of France and based around the town of Nimes at the time we would be passing through this area.

Ros then got to work on finding where we could stay. Using the Tour web site we were able to determine that the tour rode through the village of Castillon-Du-Gard (and we mean right through the middle of the village) and Ros snagged accommodation for us right on the route.

The route is closed about 5 hours before the cyclists go through, however there is so much happening in that organising the event must be an Olympic task.  Clearly there are teams and their needs: mechanics, busses, cars driving along the event.

Also there is an amazing infrastructure team: putting barriers up along the route, including closing roads, putting up direction signs, making sure the surface is clear, providing parking for the team busses etc.

Then there are the police on every corner plus truck loads of army on stand-by.

And then the sponsors: about 2 hours before the cyclists come through a caravan of sponsors drive the route. Probably about 30 sponsors each with around 5 to 10 vehicles in their particular sponsor convoy handing out gifts along the route, with the vehicles ‘dressed up’ and decorated for the event.  Many of these vehicles had people standing in the backs of the decorated trucks as they threw the sponsor gifts into the hands of the waiting crowds. All these people were securely fastened to the trucks with safety harnesses.

Also along the route there are police on motorbikes escorting the sponsors’ parade, media and cameramen on motorbikes flashing between all the parade cars and other motorbikes. At the end of the sponsors’ caravan come two flat top trucks in case there is a break down – can’t have a vehicle blocking the route!

Every team is driven between race sectors in huge tourist buses and there needs to be provision made every day for these team buses to assemble all together in one place. There were, in 2019, 22 teams each with 8 riders in the Tour. So, the parking of the team buses is in itself a major event with a parking lot needed for getting together, toilets for a few hundred people and safety requirements.

Then there are the TV teams. At one stage I counted over 200 cars in a car park not actually on the route as support for the media.  We have all seen, at least on television, the motorbikes with cameramen riding pillion, some standing up, with others facing backwards!

And for 4 hours before there is a vehicle ever 3 or 5 minutes driving the route: police, organisers, merchandise vans, army, more organisers.  And then before the riders come the truck with a big brush to sweep the road comes through plus then a safety team that checks and rechecks each intersection. And then all the police vehicles full of riot police, police motor bikes and we haven’t even got to the event yet.

Finally a safety car, then an organisers vehicle, then a police car, then cameras and media and then eventually the riders, interspersed with the team support vehicles.

The leaders come through first then there is a wait until the peloton comes through and 30 seconds later, it’s all over!

I set out a few hours before the riders were due to come through the village, took a chair and sat at the top of the hill leading to the village on a corner where we could then watch the riders scream away.  Boy they go fast! As the route we chose was a loop which started and finished in Nimes, I was then able to drive to another section of the route and had another chance to see the riders come by again.

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Clearly one of the attractions of Nimes is its closeness to Pont du Gard, an imposing Roman Aquaduct three levels high and built across the Gardon River. The aq

uaduct originally brought water to Nimes. As a result the route went over the aquaduct for its scenic attraction (canoeist on the water beneath and the hills around).

So good is the aquaduct that the next day we decided to visit it, however discovered that the tour that day started at the aquaduct, so we experienced a second day of tourmania!

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A great event and an amazing experience to be able to stand on the roadside watching. It has always amazed me (Ros) that the spectators just appear to end up on the road in front of the riders, and this is exactly what happens. The spectators do jump out of the way as the riders approach and the riders do not appear to be fazed by this. Perhaps they do not even notice as the concentration and focus on their faces and in their body language as they flash past is incredibly obvious.