Sailing to Smokehouse Bay

Gunpowder, Treason & Plot

It’s the night of November the 5th. Bonfires line the beach like beacons from Hastings to Napier, and we laugh and drink under a drizzling, red sky. Finn hands out fireworks to his new companions, and we shoot them upwards, like young wizards defending Hogwarts. In two days, we are to set sail on Finn’s boat from Napier to Aotea – The Great Barrier Island, and then on to Auckland.

Finn is a local Napier boy, who has sailed hard to get where he is today at the age of 22. His friend Kyle is American, an experienced sailor, and the two met working as sailing instructors in the Caribbean. My first impression of Kyle was that he kind of resembles Leonardo DiCaprio, but I pushed aside any Titanic references circling my head. That makes up the 30% of our crew who can actually sail!

Then there’s us – the couch-surfers. Dani is a bright and bubbly chick from München; Fabian is a food passionate from Stuttgart; Luca is the quiet one from Köln, and Simon is an artistic dude from Bavaria. Then there’s me, the Pom.

Napier Harbour Moonrise

Napier Harbour Moonrise

The Dulcinea

The Dulcinea is a 44ft Steel Ketch yacht with 2 masts. She has three sails: Jib – front; Main – middle, and Mizzen – rear. She sits just 2m below the surface, and her led-weighted bottom makes her a ‘Knock over’, meaning no matter how much she keels she is near impossible to capsize. The Dulcinea was custom built in California in 1986, and was sailed across the Pacific to New Zealand by Finn in 2013. She can sleep up to 10 people, but 7 is cosy enough.

'Night Sailing' - one from my sketchbook

‘Night Sailing’ – one from my sketchbook

 

Bananas On Board
7th November

Today we set sail, leaving Napier midmorning after the boys went for a HUGE shop. Before we left, we ate all the bananas that had been brought on board, because it’s bad luck to sail with bananas. Kyle told us that when shipwrecks were discovered, bananas were the only things they could salvage, floating around amongst the debris, so the general consensus became that bananas were bad luck. Also, they were known to bring cockroaches and rats on board, spreading famine.

As we prepared to leave the harbour, we met a character on one of the neighbouring houseboats. He is an old Maori fella, who has lived on his little boat for years. The fascinating thing is, he is blind. Kyle heard him calling out to us, “Is that Finn and his crew? You off today?” The old man got chatting about the goings on in the harbour – the other boats being washed and maintained and who’s boat was where. He knew everything just by the sound, and he moved around the harbour as though he could see perfectly well.

We are heading N.E, destination East Cape. We’ve seen gannets and dolphins already, cruising alongside the boat as we passed their feeding spot. The sea is rolling, but the weather seems to be holding so far, with sunny spells and a light wind.

Dolphin Offshore Napier

Dolphin Offshore Napier

DSCN0235Mid-afternoon. It is quite rough, half the crew are seasick. We had to navigate shallow, rocky waters between Mahia Peninsula and Portland Is. The swell was huge, making the enormous waves vertical. The boys are spewing alternately off each side as the sails pop and the boom swings. Dani and I seem to be fairing pretty well, enjoying the ride, if not a little sunburnt. Albatross have been following us most the way; spectacular birds that swoop and run along the surface of the waves. Fabian is particularly taken by them. He’s been at the bow for hours, watching and photographing them.

A long 8 hours of sailing and we’ve finally dropped anchor in a small, sheltered bay between Mahia and Gisborne. Fabian has cooked rice and mince with veggies and the guys are having a few beers and playing cards. Finn’s teaching the crew how to play a card game called Presidents and Arseholes – a bit of a sailing tradition for him – and they keep yelling ‘SCUM’ at one another. The Germans are pretty good, naturally. Tonight the moon is like a burning nectarine rising from the horizon.

Rolling on the Swell

Rolling on the Swell

Tolaga Bay

After a late start yesterday, waking up to the likes of Six60 and Katchafire, and a breakfast of scrambled eggs, we sailed past GDSCN0236isborne and up towards the East Cape. The sea was still fairly lively, and the bitter south wind blew so we were able to sail at a fair speed. The boys were much better after a night’s sleep. We all settled on deck, Dani engrossed in her journal, while Luca, Simon, Fabian and I discussed such things as the pronunciation of the German ‘Z’, and I learnt things like, “Wie spät ist es?” and “Das Boot ist am Ozean.”

Kyle opened a packet of dry ramen (instant noodles) and started breaking it apart and crunching on it, to which Luca’s gaze was transfixed. Shortly after, Luca had a packet of ramen and was emptying the sachets of flavouring over the raw slab, lamenting at what a good idea it is!

We anchored at Tolaga Bay around 6:30pm and got the BBQ fired up. A beer by sunset and steaks on the barbie, Tolaga Bay pier silhouetted in the silver sunlight.

Tolaga Bay Pier

Tolaga Bay Pier

It was a rougher night than the last, but it’s something to get used to, as we’ll be sailing through tonight. This morning we arose early, everything stiff and aching, but 5 minutes on deck, calmer waters, cuppa tea in hand and the smell of bacon coming up from below, and everything felt bliss again. The occasional dolphin or albatross passes by, but mostly there’s just shimmering ripples and sunshine.

We made our way around the East Cape by mid-afternoon today, sailing between the lighthouse and the island. It looked pretty incredible from the sea, with dusky layers of landscape framing the skyline.

East Cape Lighthouse

East Cape Lighthouse

The engine’s sprung an oil leak, so we’ve been plain sailing while Finn fixes it. As we passed the East Cape lighthouse the wind died completely so the boat was just sitting, slowly turning with the current. Fabian jumped on the ropes, pulling the Jib sail round to find the wind. He made some difference, but for the first 10 minutes we were just going round in circles with Luca yelling, “Turn right! Turn right!” Eventually, Finn’s head popped up and directed Fabian, telling him to sail straight out east, or the wind would make us stall if we tried to sail directly into it, and soon enough, Fabian was sailing successfully!

Sailing by Moonlight

It’s been a long night with broken sleep. Finn and Kyle have been taking watch, swapping every 2 and half hours, while the bright moon lights up the ocean and the Southern Cross shines above. I’d be lying if I said it’s a tranquil experience – with music playing all night, waves slapping the boat about; sails flapping and banging and the motor roaring away down below. None the less, we’re growing accustomed to the rolling and roaring and sleep comes in dazed installments.

Sailing by Moonlight

Sailing by Moonlight

We passed White Island at sunrise; a smoky lump on the horizon to the west, and we continue to sail N.W, straight to Great Barrier Island. We hope to reach there around 11pm tonight and make berth. It is warmer today, and we are 50 miles from land, completely surrounded by blue sea.

We have anchored at Red Mercury Island, just off the Coromandel Peninsula. DSCN0230Like refugees, out at sea, sleeping on benches and in corners like human Jenga. All our stuff is drenched as there is a crack in the hatch in the front of the boat – right above our bunk. But it’s an excuse to get the guitar out of its damp case. As the sun set, leaving scuds of brilliant red on the ‘Eye of Sauron’ horizon, we saw a couple of whales spraying up jets of water from their blowholes in the distance. Hopefully tonight we’ll hear some Morepork and Kiwi birds. A Morepork was flying around as we weighed anchor, and shortly after, something flew into the side of the boat in the darkness, letting out a terrible cry as it thudded! I hope it wasn’t the Morepork.

At night, just before bed, Kyle gets his best epiphanies. Cracking open another beer after a round of cards, we laugh, amused by his ramblings, half agreeing, if only we knew what he was talking about! Perhaps it’s just the remarks of a smoking capsicum.

Land Legs

Day 5 of sailing. We left our little cove on Red Mercury Island after sunrise. All groggy and bleary eyed after a wet and noisy night of creaking and leaking hatches. The weather improved heaps and we passed the tip of Coromandel. Finn and Dani counted about 60 various islands we’ve passed, and there are more to come.

Golden Seaspray

Golden Seaspray

Luca has developed quite a love affair with raw ramen. We rarely see him without his hand in an open packet. It might be a serious addiction. I caught Simon playing the harmonica this morning when he thought no one could hear him. He was playing ‘Love Me Do’ by The Beatles, really beautifully. I then learnt that it is a ‘Mundharmonika’ in German, and ‘harmonika’ by itself means accordion.

After 4 or 5 hours of calm ocean bliss, Great Barrier Island is in our sights; its south coast straight ahead. Big green hills rolling up out of the sea, over a red-grey cliff, with little bays and coves everywhere, it’s another Jurassic Park.

We’ve sailed up around the west of the island, past Tryphena and into an inlet with yet more tiny islands. There were rocks of all shapes and sizes; some with big open caverns where the waves eroded the walls; some the shape of turtles. We passed miniature civilizations on the beach – just a wharf and a couple of boats tied up, no one around, and craypots dotted everywhere. Giant jellyfish with pink heads float by, tentacles like unravelling brains.

We turned starboard into a narrow harbour entrance to a hidden bay, sheltered by islands and headland all around. Smokehouse Bay.

Smokehouse Bay

Smokehouse Bay

This is Finn’s favourite spot in the whole world.The bay has been adapted by sailors over the years, who built a smoke house for their fish. As

The Bath House

The Bath House

time went on, they built a wood-burner powered bath house, complete with bars of soap and

Beach Tub

Beach Tub

books to read, and even placed a set of mangles and washing lines along the shore for their wives to do their washing! There are homemade swings hanging from the Pohutukawa trees, and benches around a big fire pit. Even a long-drop loo nestles in the hill with a set of instructions on the door to keep it hygienic and natural.

Finn chopped some wood and got the wood-burner going and we took it in turns to shower, while sitting around the fire drinking beers. It was one of the best showers I’ve ever had. Straight from the spring in the cliffs, heated by woodfire, on a beach overlooking the coves of Great Barrier Island, in the middle of the Pacific. As I write, a Kereru has landed in the tree, a big clumsy pigeon, checking us out with his inquisitive sideways glance.

Seafood Seconds

We made way to Port Fitzroy this morning, setting anchor and hanging around until the wharf was free to fill up our water tank. We took the dinghy to shore and the boys got chips and burgers from a little shack in the port called ‘The Hub’. The side of the hut is tied to a Pohutukawa tree and the hatch is on a winch over a branch to open and close it.

The Hub - Port Fitzroy

The Hub – Port Fitzroy

We watched as the car ferry from Auckland pulled in after its 6 hour crossing, and three people in an inflatable dinghy driving continuously into the side of it to no avail, presumably trying to push the ferry into port!

A short walk up the hill takes you to the Port Fitzroy shop – a humble little grocery store with fresh produce in baskets that doubles up as a bottle shop.

We attempted to go on a short walk to a waterfall, but an endless line of felled trees blocked the path. After climbing over a few of them – most of the guys barefoot – we decided to turn back. There were silver ferns and Koru and skeletal leaves all over the path.

Cockling

Cockling

We filled the boat’s tanks with fresh water, got some groceries, and then motored down to the estuary to a bay filled with cockles. Putting on our stubbies, we climbed into the dinghy (or falling off it and getting wet in Fabian’s case) and went ashore. Up to our knees and elbows in the sea, foraging in the wet sand under water and picking out handfuls of cockles, we collected heaps in a big bucket of seawater to keep them fresh. We brought them back to the boat, cooked them in a big pot, and ate them on the deck, dipping them in vinegar and water. They were surprisingly flavoursome, even without seasoning.

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Mussel Bay Rainbow

 

 

We’ve anchored on the inside coast of Kaikoura Island, where mussel farms litter the sea, and we spent the afternoon fishing beneath a double rainbow, arcing across the bay with both ends dipped in the sea. We were spoilt with the amount of fish; it was actually easy, and we threw at least half of them back in. I caught two Snapper; the first was young, so we threw him back, but the second was a biggun. It had swallowed the hook good and proper, but after a few minutes of easing it out, Finn stabbed it quickly in the head and added it to the bucket.

Gutting the Snapper

Gutting the Snapper

 

We ended up with 5 Snapper and 1 Trevally, which Fabian gutted and scaled.

He diced up about a third of the fish, marinating it raw in lemon and chilli, and then wrapped the pieces in spinach leaves for a sashimi entrée. The raw fish was so fresh it didn’t even taste like fish. Next he prepared pan-seared Snapper and Trevally with veggies and rice, which was delicious.

 

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Bath on the Beach

The weather had been on and off all morning, so our original plan to go on a hike was sabotaged. But Finn had gotten up early and caught a Kowhai fish, so after a quick stop at Port Fitzroy, we made way back to Smokehouse Bay. Fabian made some bread dough, which he put in the smokehouse to bake, and we still had some cockles left over, which we boiled in sugar water and smoked in the smokehouse. Finn basted his Kowhai in chilli, lime and brown sugar and smoked that too. The cockles were sweet and firm; the kowhai was rich and tender, it was all gone within seconds!

DSCN0010(2)Kyle washed the teatowels with the mangle and hung them out to dry, and we whiled away the hours talking and sheltering from the rain showers. Simon had the urge to run into the sea, so we turned the taps on in the outside bath tub, and we ran splashing into the water. The water was around 17/18˚c, and almost felt warmer than the air. We swam around for a bit, and when we got out, the bath was hot and ready, so Simon, Fabian and I got into the hot water and soaked. Sharing a bath on the beach, surrounded by flax, quite an odd but delightful thing!

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Later we cooked some beef steaks on the fire, and took the bread out of the smokehouse. The bread had cooked well, but let me tell you, it tasted like fire! Soon, an older couple arrived and we sat nattering to one another while they took turns to shower.

After the feed, Finn and Fabian took the dinghy and a battered surfboard they found washed up on the beach, and attempted to wakeboard. After 3 attempts of face-planting the sea, Fabian had it, slowly skimming around the bay, low in the water and passing the on-looking yachts so slowly it was comical. Next, Finn tried, but Fabian kept driving the dinghy round in circles, so they gave up and Finn had a bath. I found a copper teapot and made tea on the fire, but Finn had run out of hot water, so we ended up marinating him in the tea. He got out and joined us by the fire before things got too close to Lord of the Flies!

Some of the flax leaves at Smokehouse Bay have been plaited traditionally, and I tried to mimic the patterns. Flax were anciently used for weaving bags for hunting and gathering, and their strong fibres mean they are good for ropes. We sat around the fire, sipping tea and making jokes until the cold nestled in. We washed our utensils, tidied up, collected our washing and went back to the boat, where Finn cooked mini cheeseburgers and the guys played cards until they got sleepy.

The night was noisy – the anchor seemed to be trying to break free, and the tarpaulin we’d used to stop the rain coming in the hatch was flapping and knocking, but eventually, sleep came.

Hirakimatā Hike

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It was another late morning. After breakfast, we went to Bush’s Beach, where we took the dinghy to shore to go hiking. Finn stayed on board to do some maintenance, while the rest of us went to explore. Pulling up onto the little bay, we put on our hiking shoes and then realised the entrance to the track was blocked off by a red mesh fence and a sign saying, “WARNING – TRACK CLOSED”. We’d come this far, so we mutually agreed to jump the fence and see how far we could get.

There were a few landslips as the track went up, through typical rainforest, silver ferns lining the path, and a river rushing down the gorge. We crossed the first two swing bridges, and came to another red fence. Hopping this one too, we came to where a bridge should be. But it was gone, washed away down the river. So we climbed down and crossed the river by the rocks.

 

 

 

Collapsed Bridge - Bush's Beach Reserve

Collapsed Bridge – Bush’s Beach Reserve

On the other side, the path was demolished by a landslide, which we climbed until we were reunited with the path again. Eventually, we came to another bridge point with no bridge. Luckily the river was low, so again, we crossed it by foot pretty easily. Climbing higher and higher into the bush, the path suddenly disappeared off a sheer drop. A landslip had completely taken the path this time, and there was no way around without risking our lives, so we turned back.

Simon and Dani made jokes, Kyle sang and yodelled while Luca snacked on ramen, and we detoured to a little pool in the river, where tiny waterfalls poured from. We all climbed a fallen tree that bridged over the pool, and Kyle jumped in after a ‘waterfall by the waterfall’. We hiked back down to the beach and went back to the boat.

This evening, Finn caught a baby Snapper in a Kaikoura Island cove, which we’re eating raw with soy sauce and wasabi.

Party at Smokehouse Bay

Around 7:30 am. The clouds cast a dull, grey coldness over the bay. Shorts and jumpers on, we all hop into the dinghy. Time to go cockling.

We foraged for some time until our bucket was brimming with cockles, Kyle humming ‘Silver bells & cockle shells’ all the while. A huge stingray lingered in the bay; a dark shadow darting about in the shallows.DSCN0240

Back to the boat with our loot, and we motored over to the mussel farm, where Finn fished. A young local boy was free diving from another boat, so Finn gave him $10 to dive down and get a bag of mussels. The kid brought an enormous bag up, and Kyle and Finn between them caught 7 Snapper! Now, with our seafood feast, we are heading back to Smokehouse Bay to prepare.

Chopping trees, starting the fires and getting the food ready; our hunting, gathering mission is well on its way to a party. Dani is quite the wood-chopper, with Luca helping with the kindling, and Fabian and Simon are washing and cracking the mussels ready to smoke. Fabian has filleted the Snapper, and I basted them in brown sugar, chilli and lime – Finn style. They’re also saving the egg sacks to try and make smoked caviar, which we have to guard from sneaky thieving seagulls.

With all the cooking underway, we take it in turns to shower, and gradually the other boaties come ashore. There’s Captain Bill and the golden oldies from The Caramba, who’ve been coming here for 30/40 years and are so proud to have a new generation following in their footsteps. Then there is Geoff from Plymouth; a little mole-like man with round glasses and a proper Plymouth accent. Him and his wife sail a lovely little green yacht, which he has kitted out for their every need. Then there are the youngsters, Grace, Phillip, Sam and Brad from Christchurch and Hamilton, and their parents, all aboard The Shasa; a big fancy power boat. Phillip’s dad, Mark, is extremely kind – he brought us a crate of beer for going to the trouble of fishing and cooking.

We’ve shared around the cockles, mussels and Snapper, along with crisps donated by the others, and Captain Bill has raised toast after toast for appreciating such a beautiful place. They gave the name ‘Smokehouse’ a whole new meaning inside the bath house, and everyone is more than merry. Dani was forced to have a ‘Western Wash’ (her head dunked in the sea to sober up.) It didn’t work.

Party at Smokehouse Bay

Party at Smokehouse Bay

The party continued on the boats into the night – steak and beers on The Shasa, and Rum and music on The Dulcinea – sailors all chanting, “I’m on a Boat” by The Lonely Island, until we were so worn out, we crawled into our blankets and fell asleep.

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Snorkelling and Scallops

A stunning morning greeted our heavy heads, and we began the day by jumping off the back of the boat into the cool, refreshing sea. Finn cooked egg fried rice with bacon for brunch, which hit the spot, and we shared the last cans of coke, waving as the other boats slowly awoke to enjoy the warm sun.

I steered the boat as we headed over to another bay on the north of Kaikoura Island. The wheel feels heavy, and I can imagine how much hard work it is to steer in real weather and waves.

Bringing up the Scallops

Bringing up the Scallops

We anchored up and Finn got his scuba diving gear on, with a tank borrowed from Captain Bill, and went diving for scallops. Luca and Fabian went snorkelling too, while the rest of us were “ground control” – watching for bubbles to make sure Finn was still breathing!

He finally popped his head up, shouting and beckoning, so Kyle jetted over in the dinghy and brought back a huge bucket of scallops. Finn was so excited; he cracked one open right away and ate it raw, trying to persuade us to eat them too. Kyle suggested he’d come up to surface too quickly and the air had gone to his head.

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Freshly Harvested Scallops

The Fishermen’s Feast

Back in the bay, Captain Bill came over to get his air tank, and sat on the deck with Finn and Fabian, showing them how to properly fillet the

Preparing the Feast

Preparing the Feast

scallops. Fabian then prepared them with curry powder and made spaghetti with onions and herbs – “Great Barrier Bolognese.”

We took the food to Smokehouse Bay, where the old boys had already begun the feast. A few boats from a sailing club had got together with freshly caught Snapper and a washing-up bowl full of batter. They battered and cooked the fish in a cast iron pot hanging over the fire. The folks from The Caramba made a beautiful fish curry with Snapper and Porai they’d caught, and we all shared our feasts, complimenting each other.

Battered Fish Cooking over the Fire

Battered Fish Cooking over the Fire

One of the old boys explained how the Porai fish was always the one the Maori chief got first pick of, so it’s pretty special. We ate, trying everything, the other boaties being so generous and welcoming, offering us their food for our hungry young German boys! Fabian’s Great Barrier Bolognese went down a treat with everyone.

Full and content, we went back to the boat for an early night, leaving the party to unravel on the beach.

 

 

To The City

A gold leaf sunrise at Smokehouse Bay, raindrops decorating the glassy sea, everything washed in a shade of ochre yellow.

Sunrise at Smokehouse Bay

Sunrise at Smokehouse Bay

The final leg of the journey threw wind and rain at us, Finn and Kyle in all their waterproof gear, sailing hard into the weather while the waves smashed the boat from side to side. Meanwhile below, we played heavy music that seemed fitting to the weather outside. Dani braided bracelets while Simon & Luca drifted in and out of sleep, and Fabian successfully challenged himself to build a house of cards. The boys outside saw blue sharks and epic cloud-drifted scenes, washed with rain.

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We all stood out on deck approaching Auckland, the grey city spiking the low cloud. Rain soaked us as we slowly came into civilization, cranes working fast to load cargo onto enormous ships; catamarans zooming back and forth, carrying passengers across the water; bank names labelling the skyline, and the sky city tower barely visible in the cloud. We berthed at the marina, and with feet back on (slightly damp) land, it was to The Swashbucklers Inn for a welcome pint.

Journey's End

Journey’s End

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A Tent with a View – Camping New Zealand

“Most folks are tourists – they bumble around NZ hoping to ‘see the sights’ without expending much effort to find the truly unique uncommercialized spots. Travellers, on the other hand, are fewer. Travellers attempt to find good info about wonderful spots and experiences.” (Cook. S, NZ Frenzy Guidebook, p.91)

In March 2014, while I was living in Wanaka, New Zealand, I was invited on a roadie.

The trip was planned for 10 weeks, and we would mostly be camping.

Our crew was Jonny from Edinburgh, Scotland, Yogi from Bayern, Germany, Gian from Saronno, Italy, and myself, from the Isle of Wight, England.

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We packed:

3 tents

4 sleeping bags

4 backpacks

2 tarps

a box of cooking equipment

a gas canister

a chair

a fishing rod

climbing gear

4 cameras of various description & a GoPro

a library of Travel Guides, leaflets and maps

and a Nissan Bluebird with a flat battery.

It was cosy to say the least.

It’s difficult to estimate how much money to take on an unplanned journey like this one, but calculating the costs of fuel, food and accommodation is the best place to start. Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites are pretty much everywhere on South Island, and are usually $6 per head, if not free; the fuel for the Nissan was about $100 between the four of us every 2-3 days; and food was mostly budget stuff we could share and cook easily on the camp-stove. All in all, Jonny recommended taking about $3000 (£1500) for a 10 week trip. I managed to save about half that, and travelled for a month, but it depends on your personal itinerary.

Although the majority of this journey was unplanned, some extent of planning is essential. Having a Plan A and Plan B and a Backup is a good way of planning without actually planning! We were always checking out alternatives in our DOC campsite guide and Lonely Planet books.

The journey began on Tuesday 18th March.

A strange mist started to engulf Wanaka’s Mt Iron, as if erasing it from the horizon of my future. But I would be back.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most iconic locations. We camped in the wet and humid fiordland, where there was nothing but rain and sandflies, and a sense of uncertain magic in the air. Steamy mist engulfed the green sea mountains, and the four of us sheltered in the car beneath a tree, relying on a bag of wine to keep us warm! This place is also known as Ata Whenua, (Shadowland), where between the boggy planes are rushing rivers and twisted goblin forests.

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The 120km drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is “a visual cornucopia of delight,” (Cook, S. NZ Frenzy Guidebook, p.196). The mountains begin to approach you on the horizon through the Eglinton Valley, rising up around you, craggy and piercing and belittlingly big. Then you go through damp woodland, passing glacial rivers and pools, finally breaking out at the entrance to Homer’s Tunnel. We simply had to pull over and get out. 360degrees of rocky mountain faces, with fresh waterfalls cascading from sheer mile high drops.

Homer’s Tunnel itself was eerie and quiet. It goes right through the heart of the mountain, and you can see each chisel and pickaxe mark in the walls from when it was dug in the late 1930s; the signatures of over a decade of hard labour.

We emerged out the other side, suspended high up among mountains on a road that winds down to sea level. All around are glistening rocks and dramatic peaks and even New Zealand’s only mountain parrot – the Kea – came out to play, terrorising family picnics at the viewpoints.

On arrival at the gateway to Milford Sound, we celebrated with a compulsory cider from the pub, and then went on the foreshore walk. This is well worth it – especially if you’re on a budget and want to avoid tourists! The walk loops around the shore line, not even 20 minutes, with perfect unspoilt views. The sun hovered over Mitre Peak, casting a dense haze over the seascape with a golden tinge, and The Bowen Falls projected water off the side of the mountain as the spectacular sailing ships drifted across the foreground.

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We made our way back from Milford Sound in neutral, clenching our buttocks every time we went up hill, as we’d all forgotten that Te Anau is the last place to fill up the petrol tank!

That night, we found a beautiful campground in The Hollyford Valley, with wood-burner powered shower huts and a crystal river running right through. It was here that Jonny befriended a character called Ludwig – a French fisherman with a bottle of cognac… but that story’s for another time…

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The Lost Gypsy Gallery

In The Catlins Forest, New Zealand’s far south, we camped at a place called Curio Bay, where we spent the morning of a crimson sunrise surfing with Hector Dolphins. Our surf instructor, a local man called Nick, advised us to go to The Lost Gypsy Gallery, just up the road in Papatowai.

A small group of artists and inventors have put together a compilation of strange, interactive works, mainly made out of recycled junk. An old gypsy caravan, which appears to have grown into the bushland, is choc full of gadgets, experiments and puzzles, while the garden behind – “The Winding Thoughts Theatre” – which you can enter for a donation of $5, is a cornucopia of clever, tactile mechanisms that make you feel like you’re back at the water tray in kinder garten!

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Dunedin

This topsy turvy old city is twinned with Edinburgh, and while Jonny ceremoniously wore his kilt the whole time we were there, the only real likeness to Scotland was the weather! It was however, a fantastic place to meet people and enjoy the Gaelic bar culture, with real pints on pump, and of course, New Zealand’s very own Speights Brewery.

Moeraki Boulders

North of Dunedin, along the East Coast highway, lie the science phenomenon, the Moeraki Boulders. Huge round dinosaur eggs of rocks, all clustered together on the beach with waves crashing against them. Maori legend has it that the ancient canoe, Arai-te-uru, sailing from Hawaiki, was wrecked, and the boulders are the fossilized eel baskets and kumara washed up from the wreck. Scientists say that they are concretion formations eroded from the cliffs.

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West Coast

From the calm and quiet east coast, we cut inland across Mckenzie Country and the Lakes, sleeping mainly in fields hours from any tarmacked roads, where the stars outshone our campfire. Stopping for breaks at the spectacular Lake Tekapo, and Mt Cook – home of Sir Hilary Edmund – we made our way to the wild West Coast.

We got through the bleak village of Haast and headed south along the coast, through rainforest, windy trees, and mountain views, until we reached a little place called Jackson’s Bay. It’s a desolate place with just the ocean and a tiny cabin called The Cray Pot, where fresh fish and crayfish are caught, cooked and served with chips in baskets. Jonny and I enjoyed huge helpings of butterfish, while the boys cowered in the car from the ferocious sandflies.

Making our way north along the hair-raising cliff-edge road, we passed little bays and houses built on the edge of wild beaches. We took the scenic walks to both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, which have decreased in size a lot since the last time I saw them in 2007. We passed through the quaint little town of Hokitika, filled with galleries and greenstone factories, and made for Arthur’s Pass.

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Arthur’s Pass

Lush mountains that look like they’re wearing big woolly green fleeces line the horizon; with rivers running in between. The road criss-crosses with the Alpine Train track before winding up the steep ascent into the pass. Through the mountains, the road is a high-raised flyover, cutting right through the scenery. We stopped at the top, where a group of Kea came to investigate our car, picking and pulling at the rubber seals on the doors and tapping on the back window. They are extremely intelligent mountains parrots; curious and tactile, with a beautiful rainbow of colours on the underside of their wings.

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We lost Jonny further up the Pass, at Castle Rocks, a top climbing destination. These formations loom over the dusty grasslands, framed by grey mountains that look oil painted. They are sacred and were once home to Maori tribes, serving as good shelter and protection.

Akaroa

Matt – a good friend Jonny and I know from Cardrona – offered us a place to stay at his home in the little French town of Akaroa. Akaroa is a sheltered harbour on the south of Banks Peninsula near Christchurch. Occupied by the French in 1840, this pretty town has French road names, French shops and cafes, and a generally French look about it, with window boxes and blue, white, red striped flags on the buildings.

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Matt shared a quirky house with a few local lads he worked with. They had a stream filled with eels running through their garden, which they’d feed leftovers, and in the evenings they’d light the BBQ and play darts in their garage where they’d built a little bar, and get up to boyish shenanigans.

Matt took us to the Bay Heads – the southern tip of Akaroa, reached by driving off-road and through private farmland, (we had to stop and ask the farmer). With a couple of friends and a few beersies, we sat on top of the blustery cliff, watching dolphins playing in the ocean below.

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Abel Tasman – Paddling Paradise
Abel Tasman was probably one of the most beautiful and worthwhile adventures. There are many 1-5 day journeys to choose from – we chose to kayak for 2 days and hike for 1. There are even water taxis, which will transport you from bay to bay.
We booked the excursion at the i-Site centre in Motueka, and met at the water taxi base the following morning for instructions. A guide provides you with your kayaks, running you through launching, berthing and safety procedures. You are also provided with a map and instructions on where to leave your kayak while camping, and then you’re off!

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Beautiful blue ocean; lush green mountains; golden bays only accessible by boat; natural rockery smothered with wildlife; unexplored islands dotted along the coastline. Complete serenity, just the salty breeze on your skin, and the ripples of the sea gently lapping the side of the kayak. As you paddle up to various bays, you are overcome by the twittering in the trees; a cornucopia of different sounds, from the Fantail to the Tui to the Bellbird. Shags dive in the shallows, disappearing and then popping up somewhere else. A couple may perch on the rocks, wings outstretched to dry in the sun. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the baby seals, lolloping along the rocks, then slipping into the sea and swimming over to investigate, twisting and dancing in the water.

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We camped by the beach, setting our tents in the shelter of trees, and rising with the sun and the birds to pack up and carry our kayaks down to the water’s edge. On the second night, we stayed at Awaroa Bay, where the beach is only accessible at low tide. Packing up early in the morning, we tied our boots to our backpacks, rolled up our trousers, and made the beach crossing. Even at low tide I was wading through knee deep water, with tiny seashells spiking the soles of my feet. Any later and we’d be swimming!

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The hike crosses from boardwalks, to bushland paths, to soft, sandy beaches. It is challenging terrain, climbing up cliff side mountains, and then sinking in sand, but every step is more than worth it. The colours alone are breath taking, and the only people you see are there for the exact same reason as you.

Barrytown

In a house on the cliffs of Barrytown, on the West Coast near Punakaiki, live Steven and Robyn the blacksmiths. Yogi and I went to the knife making workshop the couple have been running for years, welcoming travellers into their house and teaching them how to make knives! Here we met 3 Canadians; Joe, Justin and Danielle, a Dublin guy called Adam, a Dorset girl called Lucy, and a German called Raphael. We all donned big shirts, (like the paint shirts you have to wear at primary school), heat protective gloves, and a pair of googles.

We forged the steel in the forge fire, hammering the blade into shape on huge anvils before cooling it for 10 seconds in a bucket of water and duck poo! After sawing and essential sanding, we moved onto the handle, which we cut from New Zealand Rimu wood.

Steven took an interest in each of his clients, remembering each one’s name and making jokes all the time. He remembered me as ‘The Mighty Mouse’, and had an association for everyone. Shoes and work shirts off, it was time to break for lunch. Robyn invited us all into her kitchen for a smorgasbord of toastie goodies and tea, where we nattered and played with the dog before going to see the other animals and play on the enormous 30ft swing. It was like being at Grandma’s house!

After lunch, we perfected our individual knives, giving them a mirror shine, and finally protected the handles with Kiwi polish, topping off the day with a glass of homemade “Barrypagne” champagne.

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Our exploration of South Island was complete, so it was time to make the transition to the North Island. We took the Bluebridge ferry from Picton to Wellington; about a 4 hour crossing, and began a week of Autumnal weather in New Zealand’s windy capital. From there we went up the east coast, through Palmerston North, Wanganui, up the Surf Highway to Taranaki, along the Forgotten Highway inland towards Taraunui, Waitomo, and Aroha, and ended in Tauranga.

The North Island has a larger population, less open space (but still heaps), and therefore DOC campsites are hard to come by. Camping is more expensive, and the weather confined us to shelter and so we moved quickly from town to town. Eventually, in Aroha, the main tent was taken down in the night by the monsoon and the camping trip came to a harsh end.

Some of the best moments while travelling are in uninteresting places, and while they stand bold in memory, they are not captivating to an audience. Evenings in strange campgrounds, sometimes infused with wine, sometimes not; or moments of car madness from simply sitting too long. When you’re with a new group of people so diverse, you cherish those moments where you laugh and share little nuggets of togetherness that only those who were there will understand.

One of my favourite spots was Lake Ianthe on the West Coast. It took us a while just to find the D.O.C campground, which was hidden down a track to the water’s edge. There’s only room for about 8 tents there, but the location suggests not many people go there.

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The evening was so serene. Yogi tried his luck fishing, while the sun lowered in the sky, casting some gorgeous colours across the water. Another group of campers built a big fire and cooked their fish and potatoes on it, and I sat on the edge of the little pontoon taking it all in.

Another of my favourite spots was Kakanui on the East Coast, right on the edge of the Pacific ocean. We camped on the cliff just above the beach, which had drift logs strewn across it. The waves were beautifully ferocious, and we watched as people surfed and kayaked them.

There was a little tree in the corner of this camp area, with branches all low and twisted. For some reason I was drawn it, and kept finding myself perched on the overhanging branch, legs swinging, watching the other campers. We sat for ages here, picnic blanket out, music playing, sunshine blazing, Jonny carving driftwood with his penknife. I put my tent up early, so the sun would warm it up. The boys, however, waited until the sun was faded and the wind picked up. It was amusing watching them try and pitch their tent when the canopy kept flying away! After all that, the evening drew in cold, and I ended up sleeping in their tent anyway to keep warm.

That was the night Yogi sat in his fold-up chair with his pipe, and said; “In years to come, we’ll all meet up again, and we’ll bring our kids and they’ll play together, while we try to remember everything about this trip!” We laughed a lot, and Gian made flatbreads on the campstove, and we sang and joked.

The next morning we unzipped the tent onto a glorious scene of crashing blue waves under a yellow sky, and we drove away from the campsite with a light and airy feel of content.

Yet another of my favourite places was Orepuki, down on the south coast between Invercargill and the Catlins. It reminded me of a little village back home on the Isle of Wight called Brooke. The characters we met in the local pub, mixed with the sunset on the beach, and the stargazing, and the French cyclist who let me play his tiny guitar around the campstove, made this tiny place very significant.

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Thanks for reading! You can watch the video documentary I made on this journey at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lqs7xMVCaPY

There and Back Again – A Tramper’s Tale

Image[Rainbow in the eastern valley, from Routeburn Falls Hut – 19/10/13]

 

In October, I went on my first tramping experience. The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Tracks’ in the Fiordlands on the south/west corner of South Island. It is an estimated 2 – 4 day trek, (32km), which takes you across the Southern Alps with epic views of Mt Aspiring National Park. There are a number of tramping tracks situated in New Zealand’s back country, miles from any roads or civilization, which wind through vast landscapes, of which so much has yet to be discovered.

If you want to go tramping you are required to purchase a back country pass from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), which you can do online or in most major towns. This pass entitles you to use any of the huts situated in the back country (which only have power and water supply between November and April), and also ensures you’re supported by the back country wardens should anything go wrong. You should always:

  • Plan your trip
  • Tell someone
  • Be weather conscious
  • Know your personal limits
  • Take sufficient supplies

The DOC recommends the following equipment:

  • Appropriate footwear, clothing and spares
  • Sleeping bag
  • Matches/lighter
  • Torch/flashlight
  • Cooking utensils
  • Toiletries
  • First aid kit
  • 1 – 2L drink container

…And for the winter months, May to October:

  • A mountain radio
  • Whistle
  • Personal locator beacon
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Snow shovel
  • Avalanche flare

A good friend of mine, Parker, who I can only describe as a loveable ‘quirk’ from Florida, organised the trip with Guillermo, a Chilean snowboard instructor who we befriended while working at Cardrona, and two lovely lady friends of theirs, Hanka from Czech Republic and Anne from Germany.

We left Wanaka early, driving across the Crown Range to Queenstown, (where we deposited a Hitchhiker and picked up a Fergburger) and continued east towards Glenorchy. The road was long and winding as we drove around Lake Wakitipu, stopping once to admire the view of Pigeon Island and Pig Island on the lake, with the Remarkables stretching alongside. 

Log Entry #1

I cannot describe the colour of the water here, but I can try to explain the fierce intensity of it. Like all the shades of turquoise and purple in a paua shell thrown together and turned up. Like the sky has fallen into a pot of poster paint.
            “A blueclear bomb,” – Parker.
The mountains are dramatic here too, a monochrome divide between the powder sky and aquamarine lake. There is still a lot of snow on the top, speckled with black rock and dappled yellow sunlight. 

Image[Pigeon & Pig Island, Lake Wakitipu – 19/10/13]

Eventually we reached the tiny farming town of Glenorchy, at the other end of Lake Wakitipu. Here we joined a dirt track that wound through glorious green farmland, where hundreds of lambs were learning to skip.

The road ended at a car park, overlooked by a looming snowy peak, and we spent a little while preparing, double-checking, stretching and using the facilities, before leaving civilization and setting foot into the forest at the bottom of the mountains.Image

Log Entry #2

The track winds deep into dense, green woodland, where enormous felled trees look like the feet of fallen Ents. Moss and fungi grow on everything and you half expect a fairy castle to emerge around the next bend. The moist floor glistens with hints of blue slate and greenstone, but like any shell you find at the beach, they lose their sparkle as soon as you pick them up and dry them off. Eventually, the track joins up with one of the many gorges, and follows it up to a great gushing river. 

We crossed several rope-suspension bridges, following signs that read “Maximum capacity, 2 people”, jumping and swaying them dangerously as we walked over the raging rapids and rocks below. We reached a dry, rocky flat, where we climbed a huge tree that had fallen neatly across it, and a passer-by told us that it had been a raging river just the day before, which reminded us how unpredictable the backcountry can be.   Image

Hours passed as we trekked through advancing landscapes and terrain. An enormous clearing opened itself up, with panoramic views of the river snaking down in the valley between the mountains, so close and so clear that the perspective was lost in their vast reality. Gazing at the view made me feel dizzy, as though everything was moving like the focussing of a camera lens – maybe it was from walking and gaining altitude, or maybe it was the sheer scale of untouched World that was literally at my toe-tips.Image

We climbed over fallen trees and through complex networks of bush, feeling the incline growing steeper as we went. Waterfalls tumbled out of the cliffs onto the path, and sheer drops and landslides threatened us round each corner. We puffed and paced ourselves as the climb grew steep and uneven, each footstep placed with care on the crumbling rocks. Rainfall had caused a light waterfall running down the steep climb towards us, and we hauled ourselves up against the rushing water, until suddenly we looked up and saw buildings among the trees – The Routeburn Falls hut.  

It looked more like a fort than a hut; set around 1000 metres high in the Mt Aspiring range, with enormous corrugated iron rooftops stretching over huge wooden lodges, scattered up the mountain side on gigantean stilted decks. At first I felt relief, then disappointment that it wasn’t going to be the cosy little wooden hut in the wilderness that I’d imagined. But once we explored and greeted the crowds of others who’d be spending the night there, I was glad it was so big!

There are three large huts at Routeburn Falls. The main one has two dorms, each with 24 bunks, and a common room fitted with a log burner, lots of tables and a handful of cooking areas with sinks. There was no water or power supply at the time we went, as the wardens only maintain during the summer months. The second hut is where the wardens stay in the summer, and the third is situated further up the hill and is reserved for private groups.  

After claiming our bunks and setting down our backpacks; unrolling the sleeping bag I borrowed from my partner, and attempting to make our lodgings cosy, we walked out into the rain and discovered the Routeburn Falls. We heard it before we saw it – roaring somewhere just behind the hut, and after a short climb up the rock, we saw it, pouring down into a beautiful spring and overlooking the never ending view of the valley.

Parker and I ate a meal of 2 minute noodles, cooked on a stove he’d handcrafted out of beer cans, and we spent the evening sitting in a mossy green tree at the bottom of the waterfall, talking of home and history and meeting new people. Back at the hut, I sat down to sketch the view, while a French man sat beside me and watched, proclaiming that he wished he could put pen to paper and produce more than a stick man.

Log Entry #3

It is so still here. Nothing but the gentle rain and the mountains and his sleeping bag. The sky changed at least four times this evening; dusted with cloud wisps that obscured the mountain tops… patched up with blue that lightened the snow… striped with raincloud while a fat little rainbow peeped into the valley… mountains topped with peach powder puffs just after sunset… Now the grey mist of rain and looming darkness has settled in.

It was lonely and daunting that night, and I discovered that I kind of like home comforts; of having people nearby, and streetlights at the end of the road, and internet and phone signal. I didn’t realise how uncomfortable or scared I felt without those things I believed I could live without. But it was also exciting and challenging, and I was able to embrace the fear and appreciate every second, knowing that all these other strangers were here for the same reason as me.

Log Entry #4

The moon just rose, full and glowing over the valley. Yellow-orange and blurred by mist rain. A circular beacon for only a minute or two before fading behind the blue-black rainclouds of night time. 

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Log Entry #5

The morning has awoken us with more pattering rain, hitting the corrugated iron roof and tumbling onto the mountain woodland below. The waterfall rushes in the distance, intense in the foresty wet weather, while a lone Tui calls out over the valley; its sad “ding-dong” a simple melody overlaid on the percussion of the rain. Everything is fresh green with a powder-purple haze between the gaps.

After a breakfast of ‘gawp’ (a name Parker invented for trail mix) we waterproofed our bags and clothes and regrouped outside on the deck. The plan was to trek up to the saddle – the highest point of the track – with Parker and the girls, and then Guillermo and I would bid them farewell and return to the car park. This would add a further 6 hours to our return journey, and the torrential weather was holding out, so unfortunately we were forced to abort this mission. Guillermo and I saw off the others at the waterfall, saying our goodbyes “until next time”, and we set off back the way we came. The weather improved as we descended; the sun shining through the damp rainforest, humid and clammy. We stopped to watch people canyoning in one of the rivers, followed a little nature trail close to the start of the track, and finally arrived back at the car with tired satisfaction and a massive sense of achievement in the afternoon sun.

Wanaka in Winter

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“Far over the misty mountains cold…”

Down on South Island, nestled on the lip of the lake in the Mt Aspiring Range, is a little town called Wanaka…

~The Sweet Smell of Wood Smoke~

            Back roads of Wanaka.
            Snow peaks, fog faded
            Rooftop scuds of chimney smoke
            Pine trees, winter leaves
            Logs piled up to the windowsill
            Icy fingers, frozen toes
            Pompom hats, rosy nose
            Streetlights glimmer, Pavements shimmer
            Frost bites
            Breath spirals rising
            Precious moments round the burner 

When I first arrived in Wanaka, I stayed with Grainne (an old friend from uni) and her friend Jess, in a cosy little house, stacked up to the windowsills with firewood, tucked in on the top road by the BMX track. We stayed with a handful of other travelers, where we spent a week drinking tea; circling room ads in ‘The Messenger’, and taking Jake (the slightly crazy resident chocolate Labrador) for walks. It was Corey – a Canadian friend of Jess’s – who picked us up from Queenstown airport on the 10th of June in his white converted camper van, and drove us to Wanaka along the Crown Range. Grainne and I sprawled on the bed he’d installed in the back of the van, watching the clouds and mountain tops float by the draped back windows.

We arrived at the snug little house at 4pm, where we met Corey’s girlfriend and lady of the house – Britney; Nick, a quiet fitness fanatic who quickly became everyone’s personal trainer, and Matt (Jake the dog’s dad) a hard working businessman from Auckland. They were an unrelated family unit, and some of the loveliest people I’ve met. A little later, two more arrived: an arty Canadian surfer chick – Janelle, and her Finnish travelling companion, Anna. We got the wood burner going, (which Jake the dog hogged like a hearth rug) and sat around drinking earl tea. Later, we filled the living area with duvets and pillows and watched one of Janelle’s films called ‘Like Crazy’, which taught us we shouldn’t fall in love on a holiday visa…

The clouds didn’t lift for the entire first week we were there, leaving us in some vague belief that our plane had never left Auckland and we were living in some ‘Truman Show’ parody with an unfinished set. But then one day, Grainne and I were strolling by the park, and up in the sky before us appeared a cut out of mountain peaks through a gap in the cloud – eerily faint as though covered with a sheet of tracing paper. The Mount Aspiring Range are some of the most spectacular mountains I’ve ever seen. They look how mountains should look – pointy and jagged and covered in snow, filling up the sky.

~Family Values~

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Cardrona Alpine Resort has been feeding Wanaka’s snow-lust for 35 years, with a terrain of 345 hectares, ranging from 1670m to 1860m high. People travel from all over the world to play in the snow at Cardrona, and the field plays host to many national events, which this year included the Winter Games; Snowsports International Paralympic World Cup; Snowsports NZ Freeski; Snowboard Junior Nationals, and Winter Olympics Spring Camp.

 DSCN4442(2)    [The Women’s Half Pipe World Cup Finals, Winter Games]

In the beginning a string of headlights would snake up the mountain track against a moody backdrop of the mountain silhouettes. The peaks would glow in the morning moonlight as the convoy of rental vans drove us to work, reaching the top in time for the bloody-Mary sunrise. Now that spring is approaching the sun has already bleached the landscape before we’ve left our front doors, and it seems the hills are always on fire.

Back in June – about a week before the mountain opened to the public – it all started. The 2013 Cardrona F&B team spent the week getting acquainted and building ‘the family’. We did lots of paperwork, learnt to fit chains, gave mouth-to-mouth to a plastic dummy, got shown around the mountain, did more paperwork, had various training sessions, did more paperwork, played in the snow and partied hard. The work vans picked us up from the town office at 7am every morning, and we’d be back in town at around 5, just in time for happy hour at Water Bar.

Eventually, I was able to quit my couch-surfing career. Kai, Sean and Christian – lads from work – moved into a motel with an Australian called Tom, and shortly the neighbouring motel became free. I moved in with a ‘Despicable Me’ German called Bastian; a Michael Jackson obsessed Malaysian called Tze, and a small Welsh sci-fi artist called Rhys (who quickly adopted me as his sister and liked to bully me in a very brotherly manner). Within weeks the whole block of motels became a Cardrona staff hotel!

There is a series of snapshot images on the road I go along everyday between Cardrona and Wanaka. A scattering of bee boxes littered on the grass beneath a tree. Behind runs a babbling stream, coursing over miniature rockery with the mountains rising on the backdrop. Sheep dabble in the grass lands around, grazing lazily as we gaze out of the van windows, hardly noticing each other. Usually, a brilliant blue sky canopies the view, leaving a crystal tint every unique colour. The second snapshot is of little wooden fences and neatly cropped copse – possibly an orchard, but there’s no fruit at this time of year to clarify that. The icy, silver-yellow sunlight falls dappled on the ground between the leaves and twigs, and the little wooden fences cast criss-cross shadows. The drive back towards Wanaka presents you with sun-stricken panoramas of countryside, which pans out onto snowy peaks beyond. Before you reach the town, you glimpse a vast stretch of Lake Wanaka drenched with golden light and framed with the jagged mountainous horizon, a different shade of sky everyday.

~Snowboarding~

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The heart of winter. Not what you normally think about at home, in the middle of August, when you’re clinging on to every last ray of summer, and each last grain of sand that sticks between your toes. But here it’s winter. Not damp, shivery, grey winter, but crisp, colourful winter, in which every sunset paints the lake a different story. If you’ve ever been on a ski holiday, you will appreciate the sheer thrill of zooming down a mountain side with nothing but bluebird skies and crystal views, spraying up waves of fresh powder around you with every turn; cool speed brushing your face… If, like me, you grew up on a small island on the edge of a country corrupt with money and politics, you may not have even seen a ski field, and learning is the most challenging fun you can have.

Waste Busters is a recycling centre on the outskirts of town, which funnily enough recycles things. You can buy practically anything for under $10, so, naturally, I got my first snowboard gear there. My actual snowboard came from Will and Esther, a lovely couple who lived next door to Corey and Britney. Grainne and I surfed on their couch a couple of nights and Esther happened to be selling her old board – a little Rossignol, red and blue, with a hooded creature holding a lantern on the tail end, which always reminded me of a Ra’zac out of Christopher Paolini’s ‘Eragon’. It served me well all season, until it mysteriously vanished on the last day…

Adrenaline pumped through me, getting on that chairlift for the first time. Nervously sliding up to it and letting it take control, for I knew that once I was on that chair, that was it, there was no going back. At first it felt like trying to ride a tea tray downhill over ice cubes, but with a touch of practice and encouragement from friends (a hard shove and endless amounts of laughter) I learnt to control my board.

The first time I got stuck in a whiteout was fairly early on in the season; one of the first times I went over the other side of the mountain to Captains. The mist came in while we were having coffee in Captain’s Cafe ($2.50 with staff discount!) By the time we’d realised how bad it was, they’d already closed the lifts, so we were forced to take the lower cat track back across the Whitestar lift. Now, I wasn’t very confident, especially on cat tracks. People were zooming past me, vanishing into the fog, and my friends were long gone. (You can’t stop to wait for people on a cat track, as they are flat, if you stop you can’t start again). The wind was pushing me back, slowing me down and blowing me off course. I couldn’t see the edge of the track where the sheer drop would surely kill me, and no matter how low I got, I couldn’t pick up any speed. Frustrated, I took off my bindings and attempted to walk, but with sheet ice beneath my feet and my board under my arm acting as a wind-sail, I was simply blown backwards with ever step I took. It ended with me sitting on the bank, arms folded, refusing to move, while Greg tried to coax me along from a few meters ahead. But at least I know I’m not the only one who had a cat track tantrum… (Miss Stokes!)

But snowboarding wasn’t all hardwork and horror. On the whole it is the most exhilarating sport I’ve tried so far. You’re out there in this beautiful landscape with brilliant people who just want to have fun. You skate up to the chairlift, do the barrier dance (a kind of gyrating motion against the barrier so it can detect your lift pass in your pocket), sit on the chair anticipating where you’ll ride, chatting with others on the lift and watching the pros in the park below. You weave down the slopes, racing your mates (or just trying to keep up), bunny hopping over mogles left by skiers, carving edges up the sides and stopping occasionally to throw a snowball or two. At the end of the season, we had to take a snowboarding assessment, and now I am an intermediate snowboarder!

(Thanks to Bez who gave me that first push at the top of McDougals and never failed to catch me all the way down my first run. Thanks to “Dutch” Sam for teaching me to turn and giving me that kick of confidence. Thanks to Wilko for taking me over the kickers in McDougals Park and being my witness for my first air. Thanks to TimTam and Lauren for giving me heaps of ride breaks. And thanks to Greg for believing I was better than I was.)

~Living For The Weekend~

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The drive up the Cardrona track is hairy at the best of times, but when you’re in the passenger seat of your friend’s well-loved, well-used Ford Escort, with no chains and no brake pads, you can do nothing but laugh and hope. Greg and I would meet on our days off and drive up the mountain, teeth clenched, buttocks tensed, swerving away from the cliff edge on globules of mud and ice, or spinning out on fresh, unplanned snow. I think of cold, sunny drives and loud hip-hop and rock; singing along to the likes of Will Smith, Slim Shady and Foo Fighters to drown out the sound of the wheel bearings shaking to pieces. I think of sunglasses and laughing at nothing and all those threats of handbrake turns.

Occassionally, we would give the mountain a miss, and spend our day off in town eating gellato icecream by the lake and chilling on the deck, go for lunch and shopping in Queenstown, or go for a drive in the countryside…

~A Picnic at Glendhu Bay~

Blues of oceans, far out in the midst of clear-sky-nowhere. Sunshine breathes through the silent chill of winter. Spring on the horizon. A curve of sand stretches around the lake, curling into the distance where the leafless trees merge into the carvings of the mountain. White peaks brightly shard the sky, dazzling like new knives. The water laps my ears between songs of Muse and Metallica, while little yellow-faced birds scamper about the stones. A twist of smoke rises up and licks the cold while the car bonnet toasts our bottoms. White puff-ball clouds on the sky; avocado and strawberries on our lips.

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Out in the depths of Lake Wanaka lies Ruby Island – a tiny nature reserve, which you can only reach by boat, or in our case, one kayak, one punctured dinghy and a blow-up bed… a good group of us made it over, Bez, Stokes, Sean, Paul, Olivia, Greg and myself. We walked around the island, jumped off the jetty into the lake, and had a BBQ feast before the paddling mission back to land.

The season is over now and I have begun spring work in a vineyard just outside of town. But I’ve learnt a lot, achieved more and made friends for life. See you next year Cardrona!  
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The Bay of Plenty Memoirs

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Tonight I feel like your stereotypical writer. Sitting in a motel room in Auckland, wondering where the next pay packet is coming from; sipping tea made with a kettle that doesn’t fit under the tap, and those tiny pots of milk that never seem to be enough, but always turn out to be the perfect amount… I can hear the traffic outside; the fridge is whirring like the tardis, and the man in the room next door has a rasping cough. I’ve eaten all my satsumas, but I’ve got plenty of tea.

I’m trying to decide which bed to sleep in. The double provides sufficient ‘starfish’ space, and it’s closest to the light switch, (there’s nothing worse than stubbing your toe during the scramble-run-dive to the bed in the dark after switching off the light), however the single has, more than likely, seen a lot less ‘action’.

Speaking of ‘action’, I had my first experience in a strip club the other night. Having finished my job in the posh hotel, “The leading hotel in the Bay of Plenty…” (blah blah) I had leaving drinks with some of my work mates. It was a typical friday night on The Strand, and there were a few Mid-Christmas parties going on, which made it slightly rowdier, (Mid-Christmas is a mid-winter celebration, which often involves turkey and tinsel because Christmas falls in the middle of the busy summer period). We started in the usual fashion with a beer or two in the local, when some of the guys began talking about how they always used to go to the strip club. I let slip that I’d never been to a strip club: mouths fell open and that was that! They took me to ‘Route 67’, where we sat along a bench and watched a couple of dances. It was a lot more tasteful than I expected, (and possibly more tasteful than it would be in London), and the girls were really natural, down to earth and friendly. We had a nice chat about wine with a topless girl in the middle of her dance, and then she asked if we would like to spank her. One of my mates even got to motorboat her! The boys weren’t allowed to touch though. I never imagined seeing myself write this, but I was pleasantly surprised!

Shortly after, we moved on to The Bahama Hut, where we danced to generic music and drank Backdraft shots…

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The shot was set on fire, and sprinkled with cinnamon to create sparks, then the barman put a cup over it to catch the smoke and put the flames out. I had to take the shot with a straw and then breathe the smoke out of the cup.

We sat on the swings in the seating area, just for the novelty of it, and we danced around the palm tree until the club shut, and as the cops made their closing time arrests, we shared taxis home, marveling at the crystal clear stars blinking down at us through the rear windows.

The clarity of the sky here never fails to impress me. I was sitting on the deck back in Tauranga the other day; the sun was shining, it must’ve been about 20 c, and I just sat and listened. In the distance I could hear the faint whoosh of the highway; someone was mowing the lawn in a nearby neighbourhood; a dog was barking in multiples of 3 somewhere in the valley, and the goat on the hill bleated here and there, but the sound that filled my ears the most, was the sound of the birds. Not just one bird; not even one type, but a colourful collage of maybe 10 or 20 different songs, filling the blue sky with music. It got me thinking about how close we are to nature in this part of the world, and all the things I’ve seen in Tauranga and The Bay of Plenty…

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A Shag at The Blue Lake, Rotorua (sounds rude)

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Creepy spider’s web in The Bay of Plenty

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Admiral Butterfly in The Bay of Plenty

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An Orb Spider in the garden

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A shiny green ladybird in the garden

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 Cicada skeletons – throughout the summer months, these big fly-like insects shed their skins, sounding similar to a field full of crickets, and leave them scattered about the landscape like a graveyard.

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Bumble bee in the garden

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Paperwasp nests in the garden

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Praying Mantis – these guys are everywhere! In the shower, on my long board, climbing through the window… they’re awesome, and when you hold them, they swivel their eyes at you!

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Skinks – these little lizards are cute too. They run super fast, but if you’re quiet, you can see them basking in the sun in the garden

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Sting Ray in Tauranga (dodgy camera phone)

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Male and female New Zealand Robins – (they really are All Blacks) in The Bay of Plenty

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A Tui in Whangamata

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A Fantail in Taupo, such flitty little birds – difficult to photograph

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A Silvereye in Taupo

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Male and female Bellbirds in Taupo – quite rare to see

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Glowworms in Waitomo

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A Kingfisher in the garden

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A Tomtit in Whakatane

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A fluffy butterfly in the garden…

But in contrast to the abundance of beautiful birds, trees and insects, Tauranga city itself has been a marvelous place to spend these past months. I’ll never forget the day I walked home from work and saw a balding man in a business suit, scooting along on a little fold up scooter. And when I witnessed a fight between a man and a woman outside the church while a christening was going on. The little quirks of urban life, matched up with the serene harbour views and coffee shop culture, it’s definitely given me something to miss.

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However, with the end of one chapter comes the beginning of the next. I’m flying to Queenstown in the morning, so it’s farewell sub-tropic, volcanic shire land, and hello dramatic snowy mountains!

The stars are shining for my last night on North Island. Good night!

…And I think I’ll choose the double bed…

Waikato Wanderings

With dreams of a long weekend in Wellington shattered at our feet due to fully booked motels, my folks and I decided to take a trip through the Waikato region; west of the Bay of Plenty.

We set off on the morning of Friday 26th April, following a spectacular double rainbow through Rotorua, where it arced over Mt Ngongataha, and led us to the Rainbow Mountain, where the end of the rainbow dipped its colours in the lake, before leading us on to Taupo.

We reached Lake Taupo near Kinloch, where the temperature dropped and the sun and the rain competed for the sky. The rainbow we had followed was now dropping over the headland and falling into the blue of Lake Taupo, and we ditched the car to begin a 4 hour walk to an inlet called Kawakawa Bay.

Trudging along a sandy track, through trees and bushland, with occasional clearings that overlook the secret bays of Lake Taupo, we witnessed rare native birds: Silver Eyes; a couple of Bell Birds; some common Fantails and a little white Pōpokotea, or Whitehead.

With the sun burning off the threat of rain, we came to a clearing high on the headland before descending down to the bay. Standing upon the rock, looking over a vast stretch of Lake Taupo, with the jagged highlands, hazy in the distance.

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The descent to the bay took us down into damp, rocky woodland, with gigantic ferns and exotic trees lining our way. It felt as though we’d entered a rainforest, and then the path flattened out as the sound of the water lapping the beach kissed our ears, and we emerged into a clearing and onto Kawakawa Bay.

The pebbly beach curved around either side of us, disappearing around headlands on one side, and off into the distance on the other, while the lake itself splashed up against the shore like a choppy ocean. There was no chance of strolling into the water for a paddle, as the shore line drops a hundred meters or so beneath the water surface. It is a volcanic lake after all.

Another two hours later, we’d made our way back along the winding bushland path and back to the RVR, and headed into town to find our digs.

Taupo is a beautiful town, but the temperature is considerably cooler, being a lot higher up than Tauranga. Our motel was called ‘Mountain View’, but unfortunately, the Tongariro mountains were obscured by haze that day. But our balcony didn’t go to waste. We spent the evening strolling about the town, enjoying Irish pub grub in Finn’s, and topped the evening off with a Kahlua nightcap in The Shed.

Saturday 27th April
Bidding farewell to Taupo once again, we headed northwest through rolling green hills and little towns, past sheep and pigs and endless fields of cows. We passed through, Tirau, a small town littered with corrugated iron artwork. The i-site centre was made of two corrugated iron buildings in the shape of a sheep and a dog, and big corrugated Pukekos sat atop one of the shops. We stopped briefly in Cambridge to pick up a bite to eat and stretch our legs, and then continued west towards Raglan.

In the midst of the countryside, on a quiet road somewhere near Karamu, outside of Hamilton, we came across the toothbrush fence, which is, exactly as it sounds, a fence covered in toothbrushes!

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We reached Raglan on the west coast, and took a short detour south to Bridal Veil Falls, where the Pakoka river leaps from a 55 metre high clifftop, creating a spectacular waterfall. A short walk alongside the river, beneath a tropical canopy, leads down over 200 steps, passing various viewpoints, until you reach the bottom, where you stand on a bridge over the river, looking up at the waterfall and getting considerably damp!

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On to Raglan – a little coastal town, known for its surf, which swells up from the Tasman Sea. We stopped in the town – just a few shops and cafes on the main street – and ventured into a little place called The Shack, where I was greeted at the door by an old friend from university back in London, Grai. The Shack was a busy little cafe, with quirks like all the sides were served in miniature milk bottles. We ordered some teas and coffees and Grai took the order, as we kept looking at each other, open mouthed, in awe at how small the world is! We arranged to meet up for some drinks in the pub later on.

A cup of caffeine later, we left Grai at The Shack and wandered up a little dead-end street, lined with two craft shops, a coffee roasters, and a surf shop. We browsed the intricate bits-and-bobs in the craft shops – jewellery; pinbadges; bags; pictures; paua shell; greenstone; etc, then had a mosey at the clothes in the surf shop. From there we cut through between buildings and found ourselves walking down towards the estuary.

To the right, a boardwalk led off around the corner, while on the left a bridge crossed over the water to a headland. Mt. Karioi loomed ahead, while kite surfers scattered the horizon on the sea in the distance.

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Our accommodation lay on Upper Wainui road, about 5 minutes out of Raglan town, and was called ‘Our Beach House’. We sat in the garden next to the orange tree, (though the oranges were technically greens), before heading back into to town to the Harbour Hotel. One of the great things about Raglan is the small community feel – everyone seems to know one another and are happy to help you out. The Harbour Hotel run a free pick-up and drop-off service, as long as you eat or drink at their pub, and it’s the same with the local bar as well. So we gave the hotel a ring, and shortly afterwards, a lady in a people carrier came and picked us up. We had a yummy tapas dinner and chilled in the sports bar section of the pub to watch the rugby – Chiefs v. Sharks.

Grai arrived with her sister and some mates, and they took me to the The Yot Club – the only bar in town, where everyone ‘goes to dance’. A live instrumental band called ‘Funky’ played, and I got acquainted with the locals; a couple of Americans on holiday, and several English people from Mount Maunganui. They all had the same agenda – to surf.

At the end of the night, the bar staff drove everyone home!

Sunday 28th April
Bright and early, we said goodbye to Raglan and headed south to the Waitomo Caves. We arrived just before 11, and it was already a belting hot day, and it appeared to be the home to some very interested wasps. We waited in a large greenhouse style structure, where the gift shop and cafe were located, until a mini bus arrived to take us and a small group to the first cave – Ruakuri.

The spiral entrance to the Ruakuri caves was built as an alternative way in, as the original entrance was discovered to be a sacred Maori burial site. Inside, the caves were vast, with a river running through complete with a mini waterfall, where people can partake in black-water-rafting. Glowworms speckled the rock like stars, and stalactites and stalagmites spiked each cavern and tunnel, with a unique limestone formation around each corner. The cave walk took about 2 hours and covered 1.6km underground.

With some time to spare, we found a cafe/dairy to stop for lunch, before heading to the second cave – Aranui. Set in the forest of the Ruakuri Reserve, the Aranui cave has a natural entrance, and almost feels as though you are entering the side of a cliff. It is a much smaller cave, and the only life it holds is Cave Wetas – large spider-like insects. Aranui cave was also described as a ‘fairy walk’, as the rock formations are so beautiful and intricate, it is like walking through a fairy palace, or something out of a children’s story.

The third and final cave was Waitomo, where local Maori, Chief Tane Tinorau, discovered the glowworm caves via a boat, with an English surveyor, Fred Mace in 1887. Waitomo caves have remained a part of the family ever since, and the great great great great granddaughter of Chief Tane Tinorau was our tour guide, which made it feel pretty special. We were led down into the caves on foot, through the ‘cathedral’: a huge chamber where the rock formations almost look like a pipe organ, and the acoustics are perfect for singing. The ‘cathedral’ chamber is open every Christmas for a ceremony, where local schools and a band are invited to go down into the cave for a carol service. The ‘cathedral’ is lit by hundreds of candles, and visitors are welcome to join the magical experience. From the ‘cathedral’ chamber, we went into the darkness, face to face with glowworms, and the shining mucus threads that hang down to catch bugs for dinner. We followed the dark passage downwards, onto a jetty, where we climbed into little boats in the pitch dark. The only way I can describe it is like the first time Harry Potter and his friends see Hogwarts from the little boats. Our boat was pulled along by our tour guide, on wires attached to the rock above, and as we gracefully glided through the silent darkness, a thousand fairy lights appeared all around us. It felt like magic, and there is no better name for the glowworms than the Maori one – Titiwai (The stars over the water).

The little boat came out of the cave along the Waitomo river, where the Chief and his English companion had originally entered.

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Time to head back home to Tauranga: not ‘home from home’, but ‘holiday from holiday.’

At The Hop

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Saturday, 23rd March, 7:30am.
A blazing sunrise burns through the gap in the curtain as we squint our bleary eyes, getting ready to commence the 2 hour drive to the Whangamata Beach Hop. 

Every year, the seaside town north of Tauranga, hosts The Beach Hop; a festival dedicated to mid-20th Century cars and the era of Rock & Roll. 

We drove North, into the midst of the Coromandel Mountains, through tiny towns and farmlands, and along zig-zag roads where little lost clouds claimed the views.

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The sun was shy as we parked up in Whangamata mid-morning, and those little lost clouds drifted in the puddles beneath our feet. 

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We joined the troops, tramping up the road towards the hustle and bustle, until we came we across an events hall, whose car-park was filled with an array of classic cars.

I was on a mission to find a powder blue Ford Anglia – The Weasley’s car. One that could fly if possible, but not necessarily.  

 

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There were Corvettes; there were Mustangs; there were Fords and Chevrolets in all shapes and sizes; there were cars with V8s so spotless they were the colour of the sky and everything around them; there were engines with superchargers growing out of them, and little spouted pipes that looked like they should play merry-go-round music. There were bright green cars; luminous yellow cars; red cars; black cars; cars that were pink from one angle and purple from the other, and all on a dramatic backdrop of the Coromandels behind.

 

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Further into town crowds of people had begun to line the road, all bobbing up and down on their toes to see. A quiet rumble grew into a roar and the rally began. The beautiful sound of old, chugging engines, beeping their horns and revving, with their big beaming faces and grinning grills.

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American cars as wide as the road, filled with girls with their tops tied up and their hair in rollers; Elvis booming on the stereo. Little Hotrods grumbled along, chased by beastly chevvies with mean faces. Beautiful ‘Bugsy Malone’ cars chundled along, high off the ground and proudly humble, sounding their ‘AWOOGA’ horns to the cheering crowds.

Down a quiet road on the left, we escaped momentarily and followed the smell of the sea to the beach, with canopies of forest land on the left, and perfect curves of sand on the right. 

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By now, the weather was blazing, and I was wondering why I’d brought my jumper with me at all! What with all the engine heat blasting at my ankles and the sun gaining its confidence back, it was time for refreshment. 

We sat on the grass verge with some lunch we’d managed to get in a very hectic pie shop. I had a delicious chicken wrap; unfortunately, I wore more of it than I actually ate, and this very flattering photo was taken while an old man continued to point and laugh at me…

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Recovering from the food fiasco, it was time to venture into the heated crowds. The sun had brought with it about a thousand more people, and with the rally cars all freshly parked up along the road, the local rock and roll bands were in full swing on their trailers.

Lines of cars led us to the top of town as we played Spot-the-Camaro, (they were everywhere) when a contrasting view stretched out before our eyes…

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A paint-pallet of cars layered up upon this natural beauty, with the main street leading back towards the Coromandels behind, it’s moments like this that really make you appreciate where you are.

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I spotted two little bug-eyed Beetles, sat mulling over life. One looked sad for having lime green glitter sprinkled all over its roof; the other looked far too hot to drive on a day like that!

 

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Wandering back down the main street, I found a Ford Anglia! Such a lovely car, but with such a worried facial expression!

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It wasn’t the Weasleys’ though…  

 

A crowd started to gather around a jacked up motor, with the body rising up off the engine and wheels like a huge, gaping mouth. 

 

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Edging away from the monstrous mechanical crocodile, we followed the sound of rock & roll, as another band played atop a trailer on the roadside. The drummer smashed his signature on our eardrums as the singer and guitarist’s melodies glided over the bass line. The bassist grinned to his band as he tossed his dreads, and the horse’s head atop his magnificent instrument bobbed from side to side.  

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[Bassist of The Recliner Rockers]

 We took refuge from the heat in a busy pub, sipping Grizzly Beer in the shade, and sharing a picnic bench with strangers. Noise all around us – laughter; people meeting and greeting; guitars bass lining the rhythm of growling engines.

Quirky roadside stalls sold every type of toy car imaginable; original number plates, and tin-plaques. I spotted a pretty nice Batman wall plaque, but told myself I didn’t actually need it, much to the seller’s disappointment. 

Strange bric-a-brac was set out on wooden tables, like a brightly coloured garage sale. They even had boxes of American filtered cigars, which the seller offered to us to try! 

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In a local playing field, a bucking bronco frolicked about on its inflatable stand, surrounded by a vast display of classic caravans that matched their cars. The little round 1950s ones were my favourite; vibrant and cute, and quite compact. One set even had a nice little matching scooter; sky blue and perfectly unlittered with excessive mirrors or bling.

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It looked more Lambretta than Vespa, but on closer inspection, it turned out to be a Puch. I fell in love with a tiny yellow caravan called a Teardrop. The interior consisted of a cosy double bed, with a flush wooden storage cabinet installed above it. I should imagine you’d have to be careful sitting up in bed, and if you were much taller than 6ft it might be a squeeze, but I could’ve lived in it.

As we left, we found this double-fronted mini parked up opposite. I wouldn’t want to pull up behind it along a dark road!

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We left Whangamata, without seeing the Weasley’s flying car, but far from disappointed! Heading northwards, we crossed through more of the Coromandels; their spectacular pointed peaks reminding me of the Grinch’s mountain.

It was about mid-afternoon when we arrived at a town called Tairua, where we took a steep walk up a mount called Paku. The walk was short, and much of it was covered by a canopy, and accompanied by a chirping Tui. Climbing up to the very top, we came to a trig (the marker of the highest point) and were rewarded with the most stunning view.

The ocean was licked with light, sparkling below, and the inlets of land were surrounded by estuaries that looked like they’d been painted with unmixed watercolours. In the distance the Coromandels spiked the horizon with their uneven heads, and tiny boats decorated the water like beads.

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Taking a short detour in Tairua town, we got some ice creams and sat in the park to eat them, before heading back home via Thames.

The roads were long and their surroundings were bare – yellow fields stretched on rolling hills as far as the eye could see; cattle grazing on parched grass as dust sprang up from their cloven feet. With the sun beating down on the tarmac ahead, the signs of drought were alarmingly obvious here, even coming into autumn.

In the back end of nowhere, we passed a young man wearing a pair of round glasses and a baseball cap. He was hitch hiking – unsuccessfully I might add – holding a sign that simply said ‘Free Hugs!’ He was going the other way to us. Shame.

In a village somewhere on the outskirts of Thames, we stopped at a cheese barn, where chickens, goats and alpaca were roaming the yard. There was a big stone plant pot outside, but instead of plants, it held a lot of water and some goldfish. There were guinea-wigs in a hutch too and a little aviary full of tiny colourful birds.

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We got some cheesey supplies and continued home.

Passing through Karangahake Gorge, about an hour away from home, we were listening to Metallica and enjoying the cruise, when around the mountain on the other side of the road, came a powder blue Ford Anglia, flying around the corner!

I’m pretty sure Fred and George were in the front, too. 😉

You don’t have to be a car fanatic to enjoy Beach Hop! It’s definitely worth a look, even just to appreciate the atmosphere. 

And here I shall leave you with a few more photographs from the day… 

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The Volcano on the Beach

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[Photograph: View of The Mount taken from Papamoa Hills]

On the end of a 20km strip of sand, piled with civilization and surrounded by ocean, sits Mauao, the volcano on the beach. 

This spectacular peninsula, known popularly as ‘Mount Maunganui’, is a more recent addition to Tauranga, made directly accessible to the city in 1988 by the harbour bridge. The Mount peak (Mauao is its Maori name) is 761ft high. 

9am and the sun is already beating down upon Mount Maunganui as we walk along Pilot Bay; the harbour glistening on the left; The Mount looming ahead. The volcano itself is extinct, (so they say) and serves locals as a scenic exercise apparatus, and already the regular keep-fitters are jogging up between the trees that line the path. 

A short stretch of steps lead us upwards to a wider footpath, where sheep stand and stare, chewing over-elaborately. The path climbs gently, unveiling a gradual view of the port as we rise above the trees.

We pass through a gate, where the path tunnels beneath a green canopy, getting steeper and steeper as it spirals closer to the peak, stealing the breath from our lungs. The climb grows tough on our calves and just as the lactic acid starts to burn, the trees clear and open out onto a vast screen of blue.

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Glitter beads the surface of the ocean, blending with the clearest sky. Matakana Island slips off the horizon, its white beaches and emerald trees layered against the dusky mountains beyond. The path levels out for a moment, and then we reach The Goat Track.

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A rocky cliff with a vague track carved jaggedly upwards. The sign may as well not be there! Hands and knees in full action, we climb the side of The Mount, keeping our heads from swooning as we glance down the sheer drop to the Pacific ocean below.

Finally, the top is in sight. Staggering up over the edge, and feeling pretty glad to have our feet back on solid ground, we catch our breath, hands on hips and throats thrust at the sky. We pass a random picnic bench (how did it get there?) and under an arch of trees, and before us, a spectacular view unfolds.      

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You can see Mount Maunganui Beach on the left, famous for its surf and 20km stretch of beach. On the right is Pilot Bay, the humble harbour beach, which faces inland towards Tauranga city port. In the distance is Papamoa and the Papamoa Hills rising up from the horizon. Then there’s the little mound of rocks and greenery jutting out from the beach on the left – that’s Leisure Island. You can walk out to the rocks at the end and feel like you’re floating in the sky. 

I touch the trig at the top of The Mount, which marks the highest point, just as a ceremonial ‘I made it to the top’ sort of thing, and then we venture back down again… a slightly more sensible route this time. 

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“Of course, there’s the coming down too” – Tiggers Don’t Climb Trees 

Twisting back around the side of The Mount, feeling almost as though we are about to walk off the edge of the Earth, we give our knees a good pounding, greet some more sheep, and take the scenic route back towards Pilot Bay.  

Many an afternoon has been spent walking around Mount Maunganui, browsing the funky high street; reading on the beach; exploring and mouse spotting on Leisure Island; swimming and people-watching … it’s only three bucks away, or a scenic bike-ride, and the perfect place to be on a sunny afternoon with nothing to do.   

The Mount has a population of around 30,000, and the town is well equipped for young people and holiday makers, with cafes, bars and surf/skate shops lining the ‘mainstreet’. Mount Maunganui Beach thrives from day-to-day with various water sports: surfing; paddle-boarding; kayaking; swimming… and you certainly won’t fail to see a handful of tourists strolling or making their sunbeds on the sand.

Stick around for less than five minutes and you are bound to see hang gliders soar from the top of The Mount: giant arcing shapes that weave and somersault across the sky, landing in a cloud of sand on the beach nearby. In the evenings, the town’s long boarders congregate by the beach and take over the road that eventually leads towards Papamoa, and they skate barefooted without a care in the world.

 

 

  

 

From Land of the Small Wight Isle to Land of the Long White Cloud

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Sitting in the back of the land rover, sipping a cool L&P’s with the glare of the sun painting the marks on my sunglasses.

 

Cows grazing on golden grass along the roadside, while blueish black pukekos play chicken with the traffic.

 

Guitars whine on the radio – another rock god blowngs and twangs to the beat of steering wheel tapping.

 

The shining mirage of water as the heat rises off the road, shimmering in the sun and vanishing again.

 

This is New Zealand.

 

Late February: endless summertime. Of blues and greens like sapphire and emerald, and hazy black mountains on every horizon. Of longboard evenings and paddle board mornings, and gentle strolls in the shallows of the ocean while gulls placidly paddle nearby.

 

Soon, Autumn will dye the world ochre, and the horizons will be topped with white icing sugar, and the surf will grow fierce and impressive so that only the experts can ride it.

 

I met a man the other day. I was waiting at the bus stop and he was leaving his house on his pushbike.

 

“Have you seen the bus go past the other way yet?” he asked. I hadn’t. He told me his name was Rich and he was born just north of Auckland. His eyes were the blue of Paua shell, and he had a tinge of grey in his beard, but he was ageless. He told me about a lake just beyond the Rainbow Mountain; a mountain striped with a paint pallet of rocks and plants. The lake was called Waikaremoana. He’d picked up a German hitchhiker just around the Rainbow Mountain, and they’d carried on until they came across the lake, and they were both rendered speechless. He said it was the most beautiful lake he’d ever seen.

 

He told me about the time he did the Tongariro crossing in 100kph winds. By passers warned him not to venture up into the mountains, but he bypassed their caution and battled the great force of the weather. The rain lashed at his face and the air blew his weight around, until, losing track of his location, he found himself on a peak, gazing down upon sheer, brilliant blue. It was like he’d climbed to heaven and was looking down upon the sky, he said. He’d stumbled across one of the mountain lakes.

 

My bus arrived, and with that, Rich bid me a safe trip, and he cycled off.

 

Later the same day, I was waiting in a cashpoint queue behind a toothless maori. He turned to me and asked, “Hey, miss, do you like Bob Marley songs?” I nodded. Naturally. Who doesn’t like Bob Marley songs? The toothless maori then told me that he was a busker, and he sang Bob Marley songs for money. He told me his name, (which I couldn’t pronounce let alone write down), shook my hand and asked where I’m from. I told him and he grinned a toothless grin and said, “Well, Jaimie, if I see you in town, I’ll say hi but I shan’t bother you,” and he wished me a good stay in New Zealand and went about his business.

 

The next day, the toothless Bob Marley fan was working by the bus station – busking, singing songs and asking for a spare bob or two. He saw me waiting for my bus, pointed at me and with a big toothless grin, he waved and moved on.

 

Honest? Who knows. But he was a man of his word.   

 

The sky may be upside down, and north may be the new south, but it is still the same planet; the same sun; the same moon; the same stars.

 

Only two weeks ago I bid my island farewell; standing atop the red funnel ferry, watching the little seaside town of Cowes growing smaller. Yachts bobbed in the harbour, their rigging clanging against the masts they clung to. The white heads of the waves smashed against the seawall where we walked between shifts at the Yacht Haven. I saw all the pebbles on the beach by the green that I hadn’t skimmed across the sea, and the beacon on the corner, in the void between Gurnard and Cowes, leading beyond which the eye can see, to more secret memories.

 

It’ll all be there waiting when I return.

 

But for now…

I AM GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!