LoveNewZealand is Judith and Paul's Travel showcase, where we keep you just a little bit informed about what we're up to, and where we have been, around New Zealand. It may take a while though before new stuff appears.
We'll include photos and local information that we hope will be interesting and even educational.
We’re heading up to Whangarei with Helen and Bryan for a 2 nighter. It’s Rose and Penny’s 60th (twins for those who don’t know) it’s raining cats and dogs and most of the journey to our first night’s destination is after dark. Oh well it’s warm and snug in the lear Jet, and the Eagles are reminding us it’s One of These Nights.
First stop, very important, is Mumbai MacDonalds but you know what that’s all about…
Our first night is at Sandspit. Hands up who knows where that is? Just 3 or 4 kms north of Snells Beach, out from Warkworth. After a slight hiccup with the iPhone satellite Navigation system telling us we had gone past the Sandpit Holiday Park entrance, when we had not! we drove around in circles for 10 minutes, until Bryan rescued us with his more accurate Samsung phone GPS. It insisted we hadn’t gone far enough the first time and with the girls still insisting we were going the wrong way, we duly arrived a minute or two later.
Sitting around the table we enjoyed a glass of wine and cider whilst a crossword got done.The MacKenzies needed an early night and so No.2 bed was deployed for them and lights out by 10.
A walk the next morning to discover how lovely our location was with blue sky and sunshine enhancing the views even more. The camp was very nice with the most modern conveniences I had seen in any motor camp in NZ, contrasting wonderfully with a little “village” of tiny 1800’s shops and micro-museum windows displaying ancient collectables including old cameras, woodworking tools, valve radios and you name it…Tha water’s edge just a few metres away, with a pretty jetty on which to walk out on.
We noticed the gorgeous old homestead up on the hill above the campsite and we all took guesses at how old it might be.
The camp owner was to enlighten us, telling us that it was only eight years old.
On the way up to Whangarei from Sandspit, we took a detour off the main drag to Waipu. None of us realised the connection with Scottish culture to Waipu; there were several obvious signs such as street names, tartan flags, and pictures of people playing bagpipes. Were still unsure exactly why the connection exists?
Further along the road a few kilometres past the township is the beach with a very nice cafe and carpark. We managed to find a park which is not easy with a nearly 8 metre vehicle, designated for cars with boat trailers, and after a coffee, took a short stroll along the gorgeous beach. For the middle of winter, the conditions were extremely pleasant with a temperature of 17C and warm sunshine, we did not require jackets but the sunglasses were a must.
Once we arrive at Rosie and Chris’s, everyone’s greeted with hugs and kisses and the natives were shown through the Lear Jet, whilst I fished out from the rear storage compartment 3 archery bows which I knew would be of interest to the younger boys. Sure enough they were intrigued that I had made these myself from scratch. Pretty soon Samuel re-appeared with 3 bows of his own, which were all commercially made. For the next 1/2 an hour we occupied ourselves by shooting at a small haystack, dodging the chickens, the dog and two cats, whilst the more mature members of our travelling group passed the time indoors.
Time approached for the real reason for our trip and at 6.30 we headed off to the Vintage Car Club for the 60th Celebrations for Penny and Rose. To my delight, a six piece Swing Band was playing circa 1920’s popular music and they didn’t stop all night except for a couple of very short intaludes and games. 20’s costumes, the Charleston, Gay Gordons, swinging beads, and an endless assortment of Clark Gable and Errol Flynn moustache’s and Bugsy Malone hats were the norm.
A few of the rellies over for coffee the next morning, before heading back to our respective homes.
Franz Josef and Fox villages are separated by 23 kms of very pleasant driving through bush, river crossings and one or two long straights. You might be forgiven for thinking you were in Fox, when actually in Franz Josef, if like us you’re new to the area. Quite similar with their cafe-lined main street which is actually the highway and close proximity to the bush-clad mountains, drive for 500 metres and you’re out the other side.
Saturday morning I was up at 5 and it was pitch dark until around 7.15. I opened the truck door to find stars still visible, a clear blue sky and zero wind, which is just the recipe if you’re heading for Lake Matheson, just a few kms west of Fox. But we were in Franz and therefore had a drive to do. I roused Judith, suggesting (insisting) we get moving while the conditions were great for photography at this most photographed of New Zealand Lakes.
Many moons ago my darling Grandmother Emma Buchanan gave me an old photo album full of very professional black & white photos. I don’t know what happened to it, perhaps my sister Carey has it? Anyway all the photos were hand printed by the photographer himself at 1/2 postcard size and had their individual captions printed on the white borders. It was a beautiful album and must have taken a lot of work to produce. One photo that stood out for me was of Lake Matheson on a prefect day with Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in perfect reflection. What were the chances of striking such a day on just one visit?
As we arrived in Fox around 9.15 am I wanted to drive straight out to the lake and check out the conditions. The lake carpark was already filling up with cars, buses and motorhomes and the view of Cook and Tasman was superb from the carpark.
But the sun hadn’t reached quite the point at which it revealed the best contours of the mountains and so we risked waiting an hour while we had breakfast in the truck and then a coffee at the excellent Lake Cafe, with its wall of windows that gave patrons an unobstructed view of the two imposing mountains in the distance.
We did the 4.5 km walk, stopping at all of the 5 or so viewing platforms. A professional guide who was escorting a group of Asians, told us he had walked the Lake Matheson circuit countless times in all sorts of weather and that this morning was as good as it gets.
I pulled a calf muscle on the way around and hobbled back to the truck to Judith who had arrived back an hour earlier than me. But I was pleased with the mornings’ efforts as we drove back into Fox for a bite of lunch.
Judith had discovered there was a cool cycle track that went up 5 kms to the Fox Glacier car park and pretty soon I had the bikes down from the back of the truck and we were on our was through this amazing track. The track opens out and joins the main road just before the Glacier car park and we found ourselves at the bottom of what used to be, centuries ago, the glacier itself when it was miles longer than it is now. Judith did the 1 hour walk up to the terminal face while I with me gammy leg, cycled back to Fox.
We spent another night in the Franz NZMCA Park where it rained nearly all night. We were kept awake quite some time with the sound of water dripping onto something hollow. I checked it out the next morning and will fix it later on.
Our next port of call is Jacksons Retreat Holiday Park, situated on the Arthurs Pass road between Otira and Greymouth, not too far from Gloriavale Christian Community.
The Gorge has to be one of the most spectacular places around Hokitika. It’s 26 kms inland to get to the gorge but it’s worth it. The drive itself is lovely through dairying and beef pasture lands and you get to go through world famous Kokatahi and Kowhitirangi on the way as well.
The Kokatahi Band we didn’t get to see unfortunately, but we did see several pubs and settlers’ Halls along the way and it was good enough to know that they must have performed at all of these places over the years.
After our drive out to the gorge, we left Hokitika for the drive down to Franz Josef. I had a go at working the GPS (Judith usually does this job) and kept typing in Franz Joseph with a ph not an f, and so nothing would come up on the screen. Not that we needed GPS, there’s only one road, but you also get distance, travelling time, and arrival time and one or two other interesting things popping up which add the experience. Anyway Judith figured it out and we were on our way.
The town of Ross is just a few kms south of Hokitika and we called in to see my cousin Jeff Nightingale. Jeff wasn’t home so I fished out a letter from his letterbox and wrote him a note saying we would call in again on our way back up the coast in a few days time. Once again I hadn’t seen Jeff since about the mid 70’s as he left for Aussie as a young man. He has done the full circle now having returned to the Coast where his father was born.
The drive to Franz was very pleasant although very light rain most of the way. We originally intended staying at Fox Glacier but it was a bit expensive at $50 a night so we opted for the NZMCA site at Franz at just $6 and lots of motorhomes had already arrived. We will make our way down to Fox and Lake Matheson tomorrow.
Weather was heavily overcast and very lightly raining so all the tourist helicopters were not in use. Tomorrow might be different as it’s supposed to be a little better.
We said goodbye to Karamea, and were grateful for having seen such a beautiful part of New Zealand and drove down to Mokihanui arriving at the Gentle Annie Camp. WOW what an awesome place! The owners have done an amazing job of designing the camp site with its little bays to park in, rustic but well made cafe which is actually a converted cow shed serving meals, coffee great food and they have even installed an outdoor wood fired oven in which campers are welcome to cook their own pizzas.Plenty of grassy area, landscaped with river stones, native bush and of course a few resident wekas.
Tilly has now gotten used to the smell of wekas and the first thing she wants to do everywhere we stop is to get out and chase one. I’m sure she would kill a weka if she had a chance as they are flightless birds and have little or no fear of human presence. We have a job keeping her distracted when weka are about and of course have to keep her on the lead when out walking.
Next morning we moved on further south to Paparoa National park which was deemed a NP in the ’80s. Its most well known attraction is of course the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. It was a wet day and visibility down to 800 – 1000 metres so we drove straight to a freedom camp at Punakaiki for the night and wait out the rain. Several motorhomes joined us there for the night and the next morning was a great improvement so we drove 2 kms up the road to the Pancake Rocks.
A disappointment for us was that the blowholes weren’t working today, a combination of low tide and small waves coming in meant all we got was the sound of the waves hitting the back of the holes making a loud booming sound. When they are working they are very spectacular shooting water into the air like a massive geyser. DOC had certainly done a fantastic job of forming the walk around the rocks and blowholes and there were lots of tourists taking advantage of the views today.
Our next little jaunt was down 30 or 40 kms south to Greymouth, but just before we got there we had to call in to the Dunollie Hotel and have a half pint of Montiths, just a few kms north of Greymouth. Several of my family members have owned pubs over the years, from Auckland to the Coast, and the Dunollie Hotel although only a shadow of what it once was during the gold rush days and when coal mining was at its peak, is still going. It was once owned by my Aunt and Uncle, Nellie and Murray Moore. Nellie was my Paternal Grandmother’s younger sister.
I still have a vivid memory of me sitting outside the Dunollie Hotel’s entrance door as a little boy, probably around 6 or 7 years old with my back up against the wall watching the coal train shunting wagons just across the road, up and down the track and over the little bridge. I remember playing with cousins inside, running up and down the hall. Dunollie was once a busy wee town centred around the coal mining industry, and where there are men labouring under those kinds of conditions, there is always a pub or two to service their needs after a hard days work.
I went inside the pub and met the bar manager whose name was Whiti. I told him about the railway line and coal train across the road which was no longer there and Whiti said they dismantled it all years ago. The many old photos on the Hotel walls showed groups of men working in and around the mines and on the railway and one or two revealed the line just across the road that I had watched as a small boy back in 1965.
Just a km or two down the road towards Greymouth you come to the town of Runanga. A town often mentioned by my Dad as he and his brother Rex played Rugby League many times there in their teens. As we approached, I saw the Runanga League grounds and grandstand with its sign “West Coast Rugby League”, we were to learn later on today that this ground was one of the main centres of the sport for the Coast and that my Grandfather Alec Broome had conducted a substantial part of his illicit bookmaking business here during the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s. Bookmakers were illegal because they acted as their own personal TAB’s soliciting gambling bets in public places. They would pay you out if you won, calculating their own odds and keep your money if you lost. It was quite lucrative but also very risky as the police were often on the lookout for such activity.
We arrived at Greymouth to a nice day, visited the Warehouse, then made our way the the freedom camp at Cobden. Cobden is a suburb of Greymouth just over the hill from Runanga (in the above photo) and was the club Uncle Rex and Dad played for.
The following day was Thursday and I felt quite nostalgic as we neared Dad’s home town of Hokitika. Hoki, as the locals call it, is a nice sized town, well laid out with typically wide West Coast streets, wide grass burns and of course older style bungalow homes. Back in the gold rush days (circa 1866) Hokitika was the most populous settlement in New Zealand with a population of some 25,000 and boasted as many as 100 pubs. We parked up at a very nice camp called Shining Star Holiday Park on the north end of town and set off on the bikes to explore the town in which my Dad grew up. We stopped off at a cafe for some lunch where they sold really good home made pies. Next we rode down Stafford street past Dad’s house on our way to Uncle Charlies’ place. Charlie Nightingale is, or so I thought my last remaining relative on the Coast, but he was to inform us of one other. My cousin Jeff Nightingale, originally from Morrinsville was now living in Ross, just a few kms south of Hokitika. Jeff had been living in Aussie for many years and his son Jason Nightingale still plays League for the Dragons and for the NZ Kiwis.
We were stoked to find Uncle Charlie at home out back tending his immaculate garden. We could see him up a ladder trimming the hedge. We parked the bikes on the drive and walked around the back. I called out “Mr Nightingale”! to which he replied “no one here by that name” and as we met face to face I asked him the same question I had asked my cousin John in Motueka “do you know who I am”? Of course he was totally stumped, as we had not seen each other since 1969. Uncle Charlie is 84 and “as fit as a trout” as Dad would say, his garden looks like a show home, and after a good chin wag, showed us inside explaining that Barbara, his wife was down at Cass Square helping out with something or other.
I reminded Charlie of the time he took me out “clubbing”. Back in ’69 he took me out early in the morning, to check his possum traps on one of my visits to the Coast with my Grandmother . Nearly every trap held captive a possum which would then get soundly clubbed over its head with Uncle Charlie’s hammer and thrown onto the trailer. It was a special time catching up and charlie said that our visit had made his day and it was certainly one of the great highlights of our trip for me.
Later that day Judith said she wanted to bike up the hill to the old abandoned Seaview Lunatic Asylum and Hokitika Cemetery. That didn’t sound too appetising to me but I agreed to come too. And it was a good thing I did. As we peddled up the hill with bush on both sides of the road and the sea view starting to get interesting, Judith as usual was 50 metres ahead when just then a bird swooshed past me. Thinking it was a wood pigeon until it landed on a ponga stump, I stopped to have a look and I was stunned to see it wasn’t a wood pigeon but a Karearea, or NZ Falcon. I had only ever seen one from several hundred metres away, at Lake Waikaremoana in 1996 and here was one sitting not 20 feet in front of me gawking at me from his perch on a ponga stump. Judith stopped and turned around calling out “whats up”? Rather than yell and ruin this very special moment, I motioned my finger towards the Falcon which was out of her line of sight. As she rode down towards me she saw him and asked if I had taken a photo. I took a series of shots while stepping closer each time, until finally I was standing less than 12 feet from this rare NZ species and then he was gone in an instant. I was ecstatic but wished I’d had my long lens on the camera.
My Dad once joked the sandflies on the coast are so big they can carry you off. Well we’re not on the coast quite yet, only Murchison and while we haven’t been carried off we have definitely been assaulted. Fortunately all the windows and the door in the truck have fly screens, even so a few of the little huas get in every time the door opens. Before going to bed I noticed a drop of dried blood on my arm so one of the little monsters had its fill of me and I didn’t even notice.
Today is Saturday and we’re supposed to get a little rain later on, but can’t complain because the weather has been superb (and we are nearing the coast after all). We think to drive to Westport today but depending on the time of day, we might go a bit further up the coast. I’m going to strap a leg of lamb to the back of the truck today to try and distract the sandflies, which reminds me of another story my Dad once told me …
Once when he and Ramon Elliot went deer stalking (that’s where I got my middle name ) they shot a deer the first day into the bush. They still had a couple of days before they were due out and decided to string the back straps high up on a tree out of reach. It was hot weather apparently and by the time they arrived back at the tree two days later the meat was high up still attached to the string but had turned black. As they cut it down and realised it was black with blowflies and maggots they thought it was a gonner. But instead they trimmed off all the fly blown meat and what was left went onto the pan. Dad reckoned that was the best venison ever.
Slow going today through the Buller Gorge mostly because it was so beautiful that I wanted to stop everywhere for photos, but it wasn’t that easy. The Buller River is truly magnificent and as you drive through the Gorge you catch glimpses of the river, sometimes far below and sometimes not, but always majestic as its deep green water reflects the muted green of the surrounding beech forest.
The problem we had all the way from Murchison to Westport today was that almost all of the river is inaccessible due to dense bush and steep cliffs. I was continually excited by moments of beauty revealed by brief gaps in the bush as we travelled, but unable to capture anything I was happy with. We stopped many times to look through the trees and at one stage just west of Inungahua we spotted a 4WD track into the thick bush leading towards the river. We parked up and I walked down the track some 800 metres to the river, only to find nothing much worthy of a picture, just slow moving, deep green water and acres of smooth river stones. I trudged back up the track and we drove off towards Westport.
Shortly afterwards though we spotted a rail bridge in the distance but nowhere to stop. A few hundred metres further on we were able to pull over and we both walked back for a photo.
Westport seemed a bit dreary as we drove down the main drag. Whether it was something to with the cloudy afternoon and us having had such glorious weather up until now, I’m not sure. I did phone Mum back in Hamilton soon after we arrived in Westport and she asked me where we were, I said “we’re in Westport”. “Oh”, she said, “you’re in that dreary old place”.
Well we want to give Westport the benefit of the doubt so we will go out for dinner tonight; Saturday night in Westport! woo hoo … and see what the town has to offer a couple of Northerners. I feel like fish!
The fish wasn’t great.
But the locals were. As soon as we walked in to the “Pines Tavern” a chap sitting at the bar supping a pint of beer motioned to us to come over and informed us of the protocol. You order your meals at the bar before taking a seat. He was happy to chat, as was the barman, who was also the owner, the waiter, the cashier and front of house. It turns out both he (Adrian) and the local (Shane) were both originally from Christchurch, “I’m from Christchurch too” I added, and we were off to a good start. The Pines was a quaint little one room bar/restaurant with about 7 or 8 people in it, “you may like to order now as we’re expecting a table of ten any minute and the kitchen will get busy” said Adrian. We took a seat by the window where I could see Mrs Tills peering out the truck window looking across the pub carpark at me. I won’t say any more about the fish; Judith had the bacon burger which was quite good.
The next day we were supposed to get a few showers in amongst periods of sunshine and we headed north towards Karamea, the northern most point you can drive to on the Coast, except the mostly grave road which takes you 20 kms or so further up to Kohaihai and the end (or beginning) of the Heaphy Track. This drive is pretty spectacular with typical scenes of coastal mist, mountains covered in dense Beech and podocarp bush, long straight stretches of road and intermittent views of the rugged coastline and sea. The road changes dramatically from long straights to the winding, narrow climb over the Mokihinui hill and then resumes to long straights once again before hitting Karamea.
The hill climb through the dense bush reveals just how magnificent this west coast bush really is, with its ancient Rimu which tower above the canopy of Red Beech, Nikau and huge Matai trees. Sadly possum damage is all too visible as bare wood in amongst the lush dark green of the healthy forest. Wood Pigeon are not as plentiful as they once were but Pukekos are thick on the ground almost everywhere. The odd weka can be seen ducking for cover as are the usual Harriers scavenging road kill and taking to the air as you get closer. At one point we saw at least 50 or 60 Paradise Ducks in one grassy paddock , something we had never seen before as these birds are usually seen in pairs. A lone White Heron could be seen in a swampy area in amongst Gulls, Plover and Pukekos.
I mentioned earlier about the Coast having a kind of sub climate all of its own and its long narrow geography with the alps to the East and sea to the west. This shot I think illustrates this to a point, although not the southern alps, you can still see how the weather patterns form, caused by the ranges in proximity to the sea and why the bush is so lush and the grasslands so wet.
Kohaihai presented us with several walking options including a short step into the end of the Heaphy known as the Nikau walk. We had seen plenty of these trees but decided the walk would likely lead us to some awesome views of the river and surrounding bush. The rain showers never eventuated resulting in another day of wonderful weather.
We stayed the night at the Karamea Domain camp which is a nice tidy spot on the edge of the Karamea Rugby field. The manager was away and the place was being looked after by friends who sat around in the shed waiting for holiday makers and taking the $10 per person for a powered site. Ours was very pleasant overlooking the Rugby field and with the obligatory inquisitive weka, wekking his way in and around our truck, and ducking into the scrub from time to time. Tilly spotted him too and became quite anxious to escape from her lead and chase Mr Weka, but I told her no! much to her disappointment.
Judith had bought some steak at a Nelson supermarket and I fished out the BBQ from the storage at the back of the truck and we enjoyed a nice dinner at the end of a beautiful fine day and watched a movie on TV before bed.
There are several reasons we wanted to visit Karamea; firstly it’s the most northern point on the Coast, the mountains and bush are second to none, we wanted to see the Oparara Arch which is a natural limestone formation with a river running through it. We also knew there had to be scenery worth photographing in and around Oparara and that is wouldn’t be easy to get to. We heard that the road in to the Oparara Arch is not suitable for motorhomes and after a few enquiries, we realised we would have to take the bikes if we were to see this awesome part of the Coast. I put our bike batteries on charge overnight and the next morning we drove the 12 or so kms north to where the road into the bush started. We said goodbye to Tilly, sprayed ourselves liberally with insect repellent and left the truck on the side of the road having no idea what time it would be when we got back.
The distance in to the Oparara Arch is 14 kms so we had a 28 km round trip to cover and we had no idea how much would be uphill or flat and whether our E-Bike batteries would last the day – they are rated for around 40 odd kms on the flat with peddle assist, but this was unknown territory. The first 2 kms were on the flat, that was it! The rest was uphill to about the eleven km mark, then a steep descent for the final 3 kms. Needless to say we were now not looking forward to the trip out, as I am not very fit and pushing the bikes uphill for 3 kms is not my idea of a great day.
We were glad to see the DOC facility at the commencement of the walk up to the Arch, and the sandflies were glad to see us. With a fresh dousing in parasite toxin we set off on the 35 minute walk into some of the best bush I’ve ever seen.
An easy track through moss and lichen covered Beech forest and the best birdsong so far on the trip, with weasel and stoat traps every so often along the way and signs warning parents to keep children with them at all times because of the 1080. Pretty soon we caught sight of a magnificent towering arch above the tannin stained Oparara River as it emerged from a gigantic hole formed by the bush clad limestone cave.
As we walked out to the car park, this little Black Robin hopped onto the track in front of me and I expected it to have a quick look at me and fly off, but instead it approached me, hopped onto my shoe and started pecking at my laces. One of the drawbacks of having attached a 14mm lens is that if you want a detail shot of something, you’re sh*t out of luck. This is the best shot of a half dozen I tried to get of this little guy whilst trying not to frighten him away.
Northwest of Motueka, the major towns are Takaka and Collingwood, then you come to the end at Farewell Spit, which isn’t a town but a long stretch of sand. Dotted along the coast are several settlements including Pakawau and Puponga. Pakawau was our next stop and is situated on a gloriously long beach with views across Golden Bay towards Abel Tasman National Park and further in the distance, Marlborough Sounds.
As we left Kaiteriteri and Motueka behind us and began the climb up the Takaka Hill it became clear as we looked down, to what extent this district relies upon cropping. Apples, Pears and various other fruit are common but one of the unique crops is hops, and to some extent, tobacco. Apparently tobacco is no longer as widespread as it used to be.
The drive to Takaka would have been fairly uneventful if it wasn’t for the amazing views of the valley from the top of Takaka Hill. The weather was perfect and added to the drama of the Abel Tasman Park and the curve of Golden Bay in the distance.
At the base of the Takaka Hill the road flattens out and there’s some good straight road which was a welcome change from the winding hill. We passed several derelict buildings along the way and this one stood out as being more photogenic than average.
By mid afternoon as we approached Pakawau I noticed a stand of Macrocarpas, several had fallen over many years ago and Judith suggested we come back later on the bikes to take photos. We chose a powered spot at the Pakawau camp next to a nice couple in an Auto Trail Motorhome, Barry and Erin. I set up the awning and mat while Judith Checked out the kitchen and toilet block. Soon we were on the bikes cycling the 3 kms back down the highway to the Macrocarpas. As I scouted around looking for the best angle to get a shot, the sun was not exactly in the best place for what I had in mind as it was around 5 O’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly a small bird which I had not noticed took off from the ground in front of me and landed a few metres away on a branch of the Mac tree. I recognised it as a Morepork, or Ruru and wondered what he was doing out in the bright sunlight. I took a few steps closer as he watched me and I could see him quite clearly, he was quite tiny at only 7 or 8 inches tall. I must have gotten only 10 metres from him when he decided I was quite close enough and took off for the bush covered hills a couple of hundred metres away. Sadly I did not have a long lens on the camera and he got away without having his photo taken.
The next morning Pakawau beach was bathed in sunlight with the pale blue sky melting into the aqua sea without any appreciable horizon. It reminded me of a scene in the movie “The Truman Show”. I rode back to get a shot of the macrocarpas while Judith took Mrs Tills for a long walk along the gorgeous beach.
Our neighbours Barry and Erin had sent out their torpedo long line as we prepared to vacate the camp. But we weren’t about to miss the drama as they were about to reel in the 1.8 kms of line. After several starfish were removed from hooks we all noticed some movement in the water 200 metres out to sea. A nice snapper emerged and was removed from its hook by Barry and pretty soon another larger snapper. As we gazed out to sea anticipating a third, we could all see quite a swirl going on and a fin breaking the surface. Not until it was in the shallows did we realise what was caught; a huge snapper, it must have been 5-6 kilos followed by a small gurnard.
After saying goodbye to Barry and Erin we headed north the 10 kms or so to Puponga and Farewell Spit. We were unsure if we could take the truck onto the beach or if we had to walk and soon discovered it was the walking option as no vehicles except tour buses were permitted. The car park was nearly full with, from what we could tell mostly foreign tourists, many Dutch and a few eastern Europeans. One girl all decked out for the hot sunny conditions in her large woolly hat, long track pants and warm jacket and setting out for a walk to the spit. We saw her several hours later with woolly hat and jacket removed and tied around her waist.
We checked out the DOC noticeboard and decided our best option of the several available walks was to take the Pillars Point walk via Old Mans Trail because it promised a great view of the spit from a high vantage point. The trail set off across farmland and was well marked. Soon we began to climb which was no problem for Mrs Broome who does the Hucks twice a week, but for me it was slow going. The top was worth the climb with its 270 degree views of Puponga settlement, Farewell Spit and its southern beaches. The spit itself in the distance but very visible on a clear day such as today. You can see the spit disappearing off into the distance and barely visible are some tall pine trees near the far end. Apparently most whale standings occur to the right of the spit on the Golden Bay side.
The walk down and back to the car park was a bit of a nightmare as the trail becomes a real goat track in places where the rainwater has gushed out tiny ravines up to a metre deep and these are very hard to negotiate. I slipped and fell at one stage scraping my arm and leg, fortunately nursey felt sorry for me and offered to carry my camera backpack, but I said no out of pride, and carried on. The goat track took us twice as long to get down as the walk up. Eventually we arrived back at the truck and ate some lunch at around 2.30 and set off down the road to look for a camp for the night.
Not long after leaving we came across some tidal marshes where black swans and several other wading birds were feeding in the shallow water near the shore. I spotted what appeared to be a large white solitary bird. It was difficult to see as we passed lots of trees which intermittently obscured my view. As we drew alongside where I thought it should be, the trees cleared and we got a good look at it. I was pretty sure it was a Great Egret, or White Heron, also known as Kotuku. We had never seen one before and were both surprised at how tall it was, probably just under a metre. I pulled over off the road as best I could mading sure cars that could pass ok and grabed my camera from the storage cupboard I had prepared for just such an occasion. A simple set of pigeon holes from which I could grab any lens quickly and be out the door hopefully in time to photograph my target. He spotted me before I had even set foot on the beach, but at over a hundred metres away, was still a small object even with the 300mm 2.8 lens. Spending about 10 minutes creeping closer I shot a frame every 10 feet or so until eventually at around 30 metres away from me he began to get nervous and let out a weird noise which sounded something like a car horn with a flat battery. I couldn’t be sure what he was until I googled later on that evening.
Judith suggested a great spot we had passed on the way up to Pakawau which looked like it might be on the banks of a beautiful river. We arrived at the spot and drove into the camping area, parking up so we could walk around and find a nice spot. After considerable debate we decided it was safe to park right out on the river stones near the banks of the Waitapu River. The reason for concern was that the river, being quite close to the sea is tidal at this point and we could see the high water mark was well above where we had parked. Having been informed by our more experienced neighbour that this was due not to the tide but to heavy rains several days earlier, we thought it safe to camp on the river stones.
I couldn’t wait to have a swim in the cold mountain water and swam out about 1/4 the way across before the current began carrying me downstream, so I quickly swam back to the shallows. Everything turned out fine as we discovered the next morning. The water had not risen anywhere near us. It was perhaps the most beautiful spot we had ever stayed at and worth taking the risk, especially the next morning as the river and surrounding mountains were shrouded in mist, while a Blue Heron decided to wade into the shallows right in front of us in search of his breakfast.
Pretty soon we were once again on the road where it was a short hop to Takaka. We took the opportunity for a walk along the main drag where we spotted a very rustic looking cafe with several rustic looking, dreadlock adorned people inside. Now as a bit of a coffee nutter, I know a thing or two about cafes; if I have a choice between flash and rustic, I will choose the rustic looking cafe every time. That’s not to say a flash cafe always serves average coffee, its just that in my experience your chances are greater of better coffee at the latter. And we were not disappointed.
Speaking of dreadlocks; Takaka has more than its share of alternative shops, craft shops and quaint clothing shops and if I were a gypsy I might feel very much at home there. Anyway we decided there were more dreads in Takaka than a convoy of house trucks on route to Woodstock.
We still had to service the trucks’ black and grey water tanks and fill up with fresh water then visit the supermarket before we could be on the road again. Half an hour later we were on the way to Murchison, re-tracing our steps back to Motoeka then hanging a right towards Murchison and Westport.
We had read in the Travellers Guide to Waterfalls of a beauty just the other side of Murchison and decided to make that our camp stop for the night.
Maruia Falls did not let us down but the camp site was not to our liking, particularly since there was no coverage and therefore no hot spotting our computers to our phones. I would not be able to write up and post our blog. So it was back to Murchison and the Riverside Holiday Park with its awesome sites right next to the Buller River.
We just finished setting up camp when the office lady walked over to inform us that we had to park the truck perpendicular to the river and not parallel, as we had done. I had to wonder how many times this week she had done this little walk and that perhaps it might be expedient to have mentioned it to us at check in ? Our neighbours were also asked to do the same. She cited “fire regulations”. Well fair enough I thought, there’s nothing quite as conducive to spontaneous ignition than parking parallel to a river only 20 feet away. Once perpendicular, we felt safer.
Our spot for the night is right beneath a stand of beautiful Beech trees and literally 20 feet from the waters edge. The water is very clear and I’m quite certain would be a good trout fishing river.
This marks the beginning of our month long journey to the South Island’s West Coast. All my Grandparents, parents, Great Uncles and Aunts come from the West Coast (hereafter called the “Coast” and “Coasters”. It is high time we re-traced some of the steps taken by my ancestors from Karamea, north of Westport to Haast, the southern most town before the highway heads inland to Fox.
The Coast is a long, narrow sliver of land flanked by the Tasman Sea to the west and the Southern Alps to the east, and is well known for its sub-tropical micro climate which generates more than its fair share of rain and mist. I am indebted to my maternal Grandmother for introducing me as a young boy during the 60’s to the uniqueness of this part on New Zealand. Holidaying at Godmother May’s batch at Lake Kaniere in 1969, we canoed, made my first model aeroplane, took some of my very first photographs with my old Zeiss Ikonta camera, using Agfa black and white film, my Grandmother giving me money to purchase my first flash, the kind that rotated after each flash went off ,and possum trapping with Uncle Charlie Jnr. My memories are still quite clear even after 48 years of his father, Great Uncle Charlie* and his huge pile of winter wood, his old green enamel coal range, and large vegetable garden. My Grandmother would stop her car, a Wolseley 1100, frequently around the Hokitika streets every time she recognised someone from an earlier time in her life. Then there were my own fathers’ accounts of growing up in Hokitika, deer stalking as a teenager, meeting my mother, the daughter of the Post Master at Ross, playing Rugby League for Hokitika (Grandad Broome* having introduced the game to the coast insisted Rugby union was an inferior game, hence it became a dirty word around the Broome household).
*Great Uncle Charlie was my Grandmother’s elder brother, he won the Art Union Lottery some time back in the 40’s or 50’s.
*Grandad Broome, a very good fly fisherman, was actually the local bookmaker and well known up and down the coast. He was once fined 20 pounds for running an illegal gambling house. He was reputed to have built a “secret” passage in his home in Hokitika where he would hide or escape from the police, who would raid the house on occasions, in search of illegal race bookings and large amounts of cash. He was responsible for introducing the game of Rugby League to the West Coast. My fathers’ brother Rex, was a brilliant league player, having represented the South Island and was destined for the New Zealand team, but for contracting Tuberculosis at age 19. Thereafter able only to referee the game for several years. He later became an excellent golfer, winning several competitions.
As we left Hamilton the rain had been pouring down off and on for a few days and we were glad to be heading south. By the time we reached National Park it had stopped and the remaining drive to Wellington was warm and sunny. Until we hit Porirua. We parked up at a local freedom camp by the sea, with a view of the rain and an occasional glimpse of Mana Island. The next morning and more rain, as we drove into Welly on route to Te Papa where we thought it a good day to spend indoors walking around a warm, dry museum. We then checked out our park at Seatoun for the night before heading out to Lower Hutt and a drive past my old home and Grandad’s pub. We had to stop outside my old school, Naenae College and I took Tilly for a walk through the school grounds, every corner and building conjuring up a half dozen or so memories and faces of old friends.
The freedom camp at Evans Bay, Seatoun was getting busy by the time we arrived at around 4pm. We chose a spot carefully as we had to be up and away by 6.15 the next morning to catch the ferry and didn’t want to get blocked in should there be a lot of motorhomes arriving later on.
By 8 pm the place was chocka and we counted over 60 motorhomes crammed into every available space and several unavailable ones. The next morning we were up at 5.30 only to discover that we had been blocked in by a small camper van that had illegally parked where there was no space, effectively cutting off our turning circle and preventing our escape. I had to go over and tap on their window at 6 o’clock to wake them up and have them shift. Of course they were one of the many who were not exhibiting a permit saying “self contained” and were not supposed to be there in the first place, thus risking a $200 fine.
We boarded our ship and were underway by 8.15 am, duly arriving in Picton at 11.30 after an enjoyable crossing in moderate conditions with a 2 m swell. I met these two as we waited in the queue for our coffees. Vey nice guys from Holland who had bought a car to tour NZ.
The journey through Queen Charlotte Sound was quite beautiful in the grey mist and flat clam water. Tilly was glad as ever to see us arrive back at the vehicle deck and as soon as we were back on the road, we stopped to let her out for a piddle.
The misty rain continued for part of the drive into Blenheim and on to Cable Bay, which was our first nights stay in the South Island. A short stop was taken at Polorous Bridge where we really enjoyed the short walk down to a magnificent swing bridge and views of the river and surrounding beech forrest.
We were greeted with a warm welcome at the Cable Bay Holiday park by the manager and allowed our choice of spot for the night. Facilities were excellent, and with the best shower bar none, I have ever experienced in a motor camp in New Zealand. A pretty camp, 200 metres from the sea and a pair of Wekas to keep us company.
I managed to get this little guy to eat from my hand.
We drove to Nelson today, stopping off for a few groceries and to buy a pyramid toaster that fits over the gas burner because the Thetford gas oven grill is pretty pathetic. Quite disappointing actually. Arriving this afternoon in Motueka, we stopped off to say hello to Mum’s brother Ian Buchanan. After saying goodbye to Ian it was time for a real highlight, surprising my cousin John Buchanan at work. I had not seen John for 36 years and as we arrived and asked if we could see him, I was excited as he walked up the hall towards us. “Hi, can I help you”? were his first words as I waited for him to recognise us. He didn’t so I introduced myself and he smiled and held out his hand to shake mine. It was a quick catchup as John is a chef and as chefs normally are, he was busy prepping for lunch. It was great to see him again.
We carried on to Kaiteriteri Beach and checked in to the Bethany Park Holiday Camp and once again were given the choice of any spot we wanted. After setting up we went for a bike ride whilst our dinner was left cooking in the truck.
In 2006 we took a day trip as a family to Piha, which for you more distant readers is a 30 km drive through west Auckland, Helensville and on to the west coast. The kids were of course much younger, we had our Pajero and the lengthy 2 1/2 hour trip from Hams made us all eager to get out and explore this famous beach. We stayed the entire day, not beginning the return trip home until after sunset. The main topic on the way being how keen we were to do it all again soon, as Piha had proven to be an extremely interesting place to visit and explore with its amazing Lion Rock, incredible surf, clifftop views, lagoon at the “Gap”, tunnel through the rocks etc.
We never made another trip to Piha with the kids, at least not yet anyway, but we did mention to Altus and Leatitia a few months ago what a great place it would be for a weekend away. And so towards the end of last year we made plans to do just this, leaving on the Friday and returning Sunday.
We booked in at the Piha Domain Camp and the weather could not have been better. The Lady at the office was very pleasant and chatty and even gave us a discount, dogs were welcome and we could see the famous Lion Rock from our powered site.
The following morning Altus and I went for a bike ride to the end of the road at North Piha taking in the sights, admiring some of the gorgeous batches and architecturally designed homes along the route, many were nestled within the predominant Kanuka stands that cover the hills around Piha. It seemed as though every possible car park was taken up with surfers’ cars that had already arrived, presumably from Auckland transporting their drivers eager for a day in the baking sun. And bake it did. By the time we got back, the morning was already promising a treacherous sun-scorched day ahead.
We gathered a few items and decided to head to the beach and walk the North Piha end first, as we were allowed to have Tilly on that end of the beach, whereas to the South, where they filmed the major part of “Piha Rescue”there were no dogs allowed.
Part way along the beach was a tiny wedding party consisting of the Bride and Groom, a celebrant, a photographer and a witness with two dogs. The most interesting thing at least for us was the fact that the ceremony was taking place in the water right there for all to watch, the Bride’s dress awash in the water near the shore line. She seemed unperturbed, only interested in the fact that she was exactly where she wanted to be at that moment.
We let Mrs Tills run around freely on the beach, sniffing everything she could along the way, approaching larger dogs with apprehension whilst rushing full speed up to smaller dogs with her biggest, deepest bark as if she were the sole owner of the entire beach. At one point she became the centre of attention for two larger dogs and let out the odd yelp as they teased her and jumped all over her and would not let up for a second. As she tried unsuccessfully to get away they would chase her all the more, until Leatitia came to her rescue, gathering her up all sopping wet and covered in wet sand. Leatitia had a job to keep from getting all wet herself whilst the two dogs still tried their best to continue playing with their new best friend.
We were quite taken with this young father carrying his tiny baby daughter into the surf, the expression on the baby’s face saying it all.
People on the beach present many photo opportunities, some get asked if they mind being photographed and some don’t, but no one minds actually as they enjoy a day in the sun, sand and surf.
That afternoon we left Tilly to mind the camp site while we headed to the south end of Piha where we enjoyed a swim (between the flags) a walk to “The Gap” and a dip in the lagoon. Returning after 5 O’clock to a cold beer and a relaxing sit down for an hour before Altus and I prepared a Caesar Salad for dinner.
The next day was Sunday and before heading home we drove up to the start of a bush walk to Kitekite Falls. This is a 45 minute gentle climb through the best Nikau and Kanuka forest I’ve seen. Also present but less common than the many Nikau are Totara and Kauri.
The trail follows a picturesque mountain stream with several DOC made bridges and few stair cases. Once you reach the Kitekite Falls all hot and bothered, the cool pool at the base of the waterfall tempts you to take a plunge, but the water temperature puts off all but the most determined swimmers. I guessed the water temp to be between about 11 and 12 degrees C. Despite this ridiculously cold temp, several people including myself enjoyed the opportunity to cool down and take an icy shower under the waterfall whist others not so brave were content to entice several large eels to the surface with tidbits from their lunches.
The walk down saw us arrive at the truck around 3.30 and we set off for home thankful for the great weekend and beautiful weather.