Rakiura Track

Another beautiful day in paradise. Not sure where the forecasters got their info from but the 5 days of clouds, rain and wind were not really what we got. Maybe it’s all part of the plan to gear you up for dreadful weather so that when it isn’t quite so bad you feel like it’s amazing!

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Early morning at Ringaringa Beach

The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  The 32km is usually covered over 2 or 3 days but we planned just to walk out to Port William which is usually the first leg and then back again.  The walk starts at the anchor chain at Lee Bay and follows the coast line climbing up over headlands and across swing bridges at beautiful sandy bays.  There are low tide routes across some of the bays but at high tide you need to take alternative routes. At the sign at the top of the steep steps leading down to the beach at Little River on the way back we considered whether we wanted to risk going down to have to come all the way back up or whether we should just take the high tide route.  Just as well we chose the high road as the beach we had walked across on the way there was completely covered with thigh deep water!

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Crossing Little River

We stopped for a while at Maori Beach to explore the old sawmill. Logging and milling went on here until the early 1930s and it seems that a thriving community grew up around it. Today, all that is left are a few rusting hulks – the remains of the boiler and the twin-cylinder steam engine that was the heart and lungs of the enterprise – half buried in the native bush.   It always amazes me how technology and industry come and go and, in time, nature reclaims its place.  It is fascinating to think that this now tranquil place with Tui and butterflies flitting around, the sound of birdsong, cicadas and the waves lapping the golden sands was once a hive of industry with the rhythmic chugging of a steam engine and people’s voices and steam and smoke filling in the air.

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Maori Beach
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Remnants of the sawmill at Maori Beach

After reaching Maori Beach which took us just an hour, I suggested either continuing on to Port William (another 4km there and back) or going up and over Garden Mound (less distance, more climbing but supposedly a great view!) on the way back to Lee Bay.  They opted for the distance although, as they suspected from experience of taking options provided by me, there was still a fair degree of climbing to do on the coastal track!  Onwards then, across the swing bridge which crossed the river at the far end of the beach and up the steep climb into the bush.

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Swing Bridge at end of Maori Beach

The forest here was cool and dark with tall trees reaching skywards towards the light whilst those in the understorey filled the gaps . Lush ferns scattered the forest floor, splashes of bright green as they caught the sunlight.  As with lots of NZ DoC tracks, this one is well maintained with plenty of cut steps.  I don’t like steps though, as they force you to stride at a length which is not your own; I much prefer picking my own path over steep ground but I understand that providing a route helps to prevent erosion and keeps people to the path to allow vegetation and wildlife to develop.

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Walking through the Bush
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Boardwalk along the coast

We soon popped out of the bush and onto the long Port William Beach.  Another golden bay with clear blue water so enticing that I just could not resist! But not yet…. We walked through the campsite, pausing to have a chat with some folk who were just packing up to head on to North Arm. They had arrived on the island the day before and were leaving the day after, so had literally just come to walk the Rakiura Track.  It seems many people do that but it does seem, to me, a waste of the quite expensive ferry fare to only be on the island for two days and a waste of the opportunity to savour so much more of such a beautiful island.

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Port William

As well as the campsite, there is a hut just a few hundred yards further on.  We chatted to the warden, a young volunteer just there for a few weeks (maybe that could be a retirement project – volunteer for DoC and “man” huts in isolated places!) and he said that they had seen kiwi in the grounds the previous evening and penguin on the beach that morning.  For the first time in our two weeks “down south” we were pestered by the huge sand flies we had been warned about, but then it was the first day we had really got well into double figure temperatures and little wind!   Since the place was uninhabited and the tide was close in, I stripped down to my knickers (much to the embarrassment of my teenage son!) and dived into the crystal clear waters.  Sheer Bliss!

The walk back, as there, was punctuated with stops to watch the birds and admire the views.  Interestingly, there was less birdsong here than we had heard on our previous walks but still plenty of Tui, Kereru, Fantails and a host of other small birds.

The plaques in the ground at the start of the track by the anchor chain carry thoughtful quotations. Interesting that Leonard Cockayne‘s message  “The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon there will be little of primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here, then, is Stewart Island’s prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.” suggests that the natural environment in 1909 was already under threat, if not gone altogether.  A hundred years on and Stewart Island is still relatively unspoilt and, according to Neville Peat  in 1992 holds the “hopes of generations unborn that places like this will always exist”.

It certainly is a beautiful, unspoilt place. A haven of tranquility, a chance to get back to nature.

Just pottering around

Gale force winds and rain were forecast for the rest of our time on Stewart Island. But we had cagoules and merinos and we grew up in the north of England and Scotland so we are no strangers to adverse weather conditions. There is some mileage in the notion that when you are expecting the worst anything else feels like a bonus.  So a day spent dodging showers, with the wind in our hair and plenty of sunshine in between times made us feel very fortunate! After our long day on Ulva Island we had a lazy start to Sunday.  The conservatory was a beautiful place to sit and read, it absorbed the sun and afforded us a stunning view over Ringaringa Bay.  But after an hour or so the heat became unbearable and Chris and I decided that it was time to make the most of the sunshine and headed out to explore leaving Nigel and Aonghas in bed.

20160110_132522The cottage we were renting came with a little 4wd which was a real boon. According to the DOC information it was a 40 minute walk from Ringaringa into Oban Township – what a delightful name – but it was quite hilly and by car was just 5 minutes which meant we could cover more ground and stay dry!

20160110_112751.jpgOur destination was Moturau Moana a public garden gifted to the NZ Government by Miss Noeline Baker in 1940.  It houses a collection of NZ native plants and we spent half an hour or so wandering around.  The rain held off and we had a great view across to Oban.  We both agreed that although it was a pleasant spot, had we made the effort to walk all the way from Oban we would have been a little disappointed.

Back into Oban, there was great tumult. At first we thought the new arrivals from the recently docked ferry were just taking photos but as we drove past we saw the object of the excitement – a sealion casually phalumping up the street.  He was a real celebrity, stalked by townsfolk and visitors alike as he made his way up the road.  A sharp, sudden downpour sent everyone scurrying for shelter and having snapped our shots of him we went home.

Sealion ObanA quick lunch and we were off again to walk along to Horseshoe Point. The path leads unpromisingly to start with through the refuse station but soon onto a dry, dusty track lined with old, twisted pine trees which cracked and groaned in the wind. A rope swing strung from high up in one of them entertained Aonghas for a short while. Then the pines gave way to shorter shrubs and bracken and the track narrowed and meandered up and down.  Out of the trees we were less sheltered from the wind but the sun was out and it was not too cold.  We didn’t see or hear a lot of birds but we were graced with the presence of kereru which turned up just as the sun did – just look at the iridescence of its beautiful green head and shoulders!kereru Horseshoe Bay

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The end of the peninsula is marked by an old, metal trig point and another spectacular view out across azure blue sea to more of the islands that scatter the Stewart Island coastline.  It seemed a perfect place to continue a tradition of mine to do a handstand on trig points around the world. So I did!

“Stewart Island anchors more than Maui’s canoe. It anchors in its rocks, rivers, and rugged shores and in its garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist.”      Neville Peat, 1992

Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, the original Maori name of Stewart Island, positions it firmly at the heart of Maori mythology. Translated as “The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe“, it refers to the part played by this Island in the legend of Maui and his crew, who from their canoe (the South Island) caught and raised the great fish, (the North Island).  The more commonly known and used name however is Rakiura. Translated as “The great and deep blushing of Te Rakitamau” an early Maori Chief, seen today as the glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.” We weren’t fortunate enough to see the Aurora but we did see the anchor chain that connects Rakiura to the mainland.  It is a sculpture designed by local artist Russell Beck and is located at Lee Bay at the start of the Rakiura track, a 32km three day tramping track. Controversial when first installed it now appears to have acquired an iconic status. Its large, rusty red chain links are quite impressive and certainly provide a great photo opportunity for the young and young at heart!20160110_152907.jpg

20160110_152640.jpgThere is not a lot in Oban but it boasts three restaurants for the many tourists that visit.  “The French Crepery” (I have to cringe at the incorrect spelling, sorry!) was very high on Aonghas’ list of places to go so we decided to have an early tea (it closed at 5pm).  One bonus was the range of vegetarian options for Nigel and the savoury crepes were very good and came with a wholesome, comprehensive salad not just a limp lettuce leaf and a few  bits of chopped tomatoes and cucumber.  Aonghas, of course, went for a sweet pancake too but was disappointed when his favourite traditional lemon and sugar pancake came with icing sugar and not castor sugar. Nevertheless, he made a valiant effort but had to be helped to finish the huge dollop of ice-cream that came with it…!crepe

All good, because he worked off the sugar keeping warm whilst playing Nigel at giant chess in the freezing cold wind that whipped the sea front.

chess.jpgBack home to our little piece of paradise for a game of cards – we taught Chris how to play “Hearts” – before an evening walk down to the beach to go penguin spotting.

ringaringa beach.jpgOn arrival we saw some tracks which we thought might be penguin tracks leading from the sea across the sand to the bush line.  Not sure how many pairs might nest in the same vicinity we thought it was worth hanging out. It was a beautiful evening down there, the sea was calm and the light breeze wasn’t too cold and we were well rugged up.

We kept vigil for an hour and a half and, although we saw a penguin swimming in the sea, it dived beneath the waves and must have headed to a different beach as we never saw it resurface. Reluctantly, we headed back up the steep, narrow but short path in semi-darkness to our home for the week to round a great day off with a wee dram.20160111_210907.jpg

Ulva Island / Te Wharawhara

20160109_110203.jpgUlva Island is an unmissable trip if you are on Stewart Island.  We crossed from Golden Bay on the Ulva Island Ferry – a small 8 seater motor boat, fortunately with a zip up canopy to protect us from the wind and spray. We were handed our boarding passes by Anita – an elegant, tall lady wearing a long, flowing, green coat and wooden clogs; Mutton Scrub Leaves with the words Ulva Island Ferry handwritten on them. Mutton Scrub leaves were used as postcards and could legally be sent by mail until the 1970s in New Zealand. 20160109_111020

The crossing only takes 5 minutes and going over was a bit bumpy but by the time we came back at 4.30pm the wind had got up and there was a two metre swell and 85kmp winds! Quite exciting and just a little scary!

20160109_113528We landed at Post Office Bay, site of the first Post Office in the Stewart Island region established in 1872 by Charles Traill and immediately saw the flash of green Kakariki fly across the bay and into the bush.  The trail from there to Sydney Cove, to Boulder Bay and then back to the wharf is only 4km and we did initially wonder how we would make it last four hours!   No need to have worried, we even ended up rushing the last section to get back to the wharf in time for the ferry.

20160109_120912I think what struck us most was the richness of the birdsong; there was rarely a time when the forest was silent.  The glossy green and black plumage of the Tui as they swooped across the path was a constant.  One of my favourite birds it was wonderful to be able to watch them and listen to their songs. We were very excited when a wee grey bird hopped fearlessly on the path when we sat down on a bench to have a biscuit.  It posed happily for us as we took photos and identified it as a Stewart Island Robin.   Aonghas decided it looked like a Brutus and so the game of naming Stewart Island Robins began!  There were plenty more – cheeky little things, they followed us along the path and every time we sat down they would come begging for crumbs.

The bush too was lush and green. Bright green ferns, spiky Lancewood, droopy Rimu, Manuka and so many more plants and trees of every shade of green, brown and yellow camouflaged the birds which we could hear but not see.  Bright red Rata flowers carpeted the forest floor at times and lichens and cushiony mosses enriched the fallen logs and leaves. 20160109_125529.jpg

As well as the Robins, Tomtits, Bellbirds and Yellow Heads stayed around long enough and close enough as they flitted around in the trees for us to see them and positively identify them.  We may have seen Grey Warblers and Brown Creepers but can’t be sure as they move so fast through the leafy branches in the bush.

20160109_141508The telltale soft thudding of Kereru as they fly through the bush was also a constant and we saw them often perched statue-like on branches.  Their white “apron” and metallic green head makes them easy to pick out.

We heard the noisy chattering of more Kakariki but didn’t see any more but we did see several Kaka majestically seated on high branches carrying on their conversations.  I love the way that their claws are almost prehensile as they walk along the branches and then hang upside down to reach food.  Their habit of stretching a leg and a wing out fascinated us too. 20160109_132147

The sections of the walk are punctuated with visits to the bays.  Here we were subject to the onslaught of the burgeoning wind from which we were sheltered in the forest. An incoming tide stymied our plan to have our picnic lunch at West End Beach although it is unlikely we would have found a spot out of the wind anyway.  As on other beaches we visited around Stewart Island, the Oyster Catchers were fiercely guarding their nests in the sand and I, for one, would not like to be on the receiving end of those long pointy beaks! So we took photos, marvelled at the wild beauty of the coastline and the crashing waves and retreated to the forest and the waiting Robins.

20160109_132523As we walked back along the track I paused to look at a bird that flew across in front of me and landed in the bush to my side. It was clearly a Bellbird and was chatting away as I tried to turn my camera on to take a photo, it flew to the next branch frantically calling. I turned around to see a Weka run out of the bush and across the path. It almost seemed as if the one was following the other as they made their way noisily through the trees, the Bellbird flying and the Weka running. Later on we saw more Weka foraging in the leafy undergrowth, and wandering across our path, seemingly unperturbed by humans.  Eagle-eyed Aonghas also spotted a baby Weka which was quickly joined by its Mum although she didn’t seem bothered about us watching.

We really were sheltered in the bush and even on the beach at Sydney Cove where we sat watching the curious, comical, synchronised dance of the Oyster Catchers we were unaware of just how strong the wind was.  20160109_152921

The steep walk up to Flagstaff Point was done rather faster than we had planned but, amazingly, time was running out!  It was here that we were hit by the gale force of the wind – quite exhilarating. The view was spectacular out to Rakiura with white clouds scudding across the blue sky.

We had to wait at Post Office Bay – Ulva Island Ferries had clearly had a busy afternoon navigating the short stretch of water from Golden Bay as there were twenty or so people waiting to be taken home.  It was an interesting 5 minutes back with the waves, at times, coming right over the top of the plastic awning on the tiny boat! 

It was a fabulous day!

Rakiura – land of wind and birdsong

January 8th was Nigel’s birthday so a lazy late start to the day and a birthday visit from a cheeky Kākā.
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We headed off to Ackers Point dodging the rain showers. First stop brought us to Harold Bay and Acker’s House which was the first European house on the island.  Lewis Acker, an American, came to New Zealand as a whaler but turned his hand to boat building. He, his wife and their nine children lived in the two roomed stone house he built in what is now known as Harold Bay.  Apparently they had a 5 storey bunkbed! 
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We continued on the undulating track which follows the headland dropping down a couple of times to sea level just for the fun of it and managing to shelter from the squally showers in the bush.  image
Little Blue penguins nest in this area although we wouldn’t expect to spot any in the middle of the day.  It amazes me that such tiny birds hop up such steep terrain to  build their nests.  Mutton Birds also nest here although mostly they are  across the sea on the Tītī islands but it seems that they pretty much slide in to land on chutes that lead to their nests.  After missing albatross in flight on Otago Peninsular, we were keen to spot them here and we were excited when we did.  Strictly speaking they are Mollymocks which are slightly smaller but they belong to the albatross family and are just as elegant and majestic in flight.
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At the end of the headland is a stunning view straight across to the Tītī islands and to the right is The Neck.  An unmanned solar panelled lighthouse stands above the information boards where once there was a gas powered lighthouse.  The lighthouse was moved to Acker’s Point in 1927 when the main population moved to Halfmoon Bay from The Neck. 
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In the afternoon we persuaded Aonghas to take Nigel out whilst Chris and I feigned tiredness so that we could make birthday cake.  Once it was in the oven we battled the wind and rain and walked up to Wohler’s Monument.  The constantly changing light that comes with the switch from sun to rain and back again is magical. I love the wind and how exhilarated it makes me feel. A wonderful result of sunshine and rain are rainbows and we have not been disappointed. We watched this one ‘grow’ from out at the island.
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After birthday cake afternoon tea we headed to the South Sea Hotel for tea.  Not ideal for vegetarians since pizzas were not available and the onion soup was made with chicken stock so Nigel had a choice of Nachos, veggie burger or salad but the Blue Cod and chips was pretty good!

We ended the evening playing cards and with a wee dram of Drambuie!  Good first day on Rakiura!

Rakiura – Stewart Island

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Our last day in the Catlins dawned sunnier than expected and so after a quick trip to McLean Falls and Lake Wilkie we headed to Tautuku beach.  McLean Falls are stunning although the morning sun made it difficult to photograph.  Once again Gus and I had fun clambering over stream boulders to get different shots of the three parts of the falls.  Definitely worth the climb to get to the top. 
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Lake Wilkie is a tiny lake in the bush,  a tranquil spot where you can take a breath and just savour the beauty.  Dragonflies hummed all around us at the lake edge and the birdsong which has been a real feature of our walks in the Catlins was delightful.
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At the beach the water was cool but being ‘hard’ northerners (of England) we could hack it! After all I was brought up on North Sea holidays in Filey and Scarborough! 
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We headed to the Whistling Frog for tea – great fish and chips but mediocre beer which was a shame since it was a local brew.
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The journey to Bluff was uneventful although mention must be made of the weather which was still surprisingly and unexpectedly good.  The continuing sunshine and lack of wind made for a relatively smooth crossing of the Foveaux Strait and brilliant views of Stewart Island. 
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Mona meet us at Oban with the Rav4, our vehicle for the week which comes with the cottage.  Ringaringa Cottage is not really a cottage but a tidy two bedroom 1970s house.  What makes it is its location overlooking Ringaringa Beach with a view out to Native Island and a conservatory which is an absolute suntrap. 
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It is also home to a host of native birds and we have already been visited by Tui, Kereru, Kaka, as well as thrushes, sparrows and other small birds we can’t name!
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A short but steep walk takes us down the crumbling cliff to the beach. For a while we watched the seagulls surfing on the waves as they rolled gently in on the shallow beach, then we wandered along accompanied by the incessant sqwarking of an Oyster Catcher. We thought he was protecting a mate and a nest so walked past quickly aiming for the rocky point as we had been told we could get right round to the next bay. 
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However, he flew ahead still shouting at us, then he was joined by his mate and we decided that maybe retreat was the advisable course of action – I certainly didn’tfancy beingon the receiving end of those long, sharp orange beaks!
Conscious that we may not have any sun given the bleak forecast,  Gus and I went for a swim.  I love the clarity of the water in New Zealand, it is impossible to resist plunging in however cold it may be!
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After a trip into Oban for some essential supplies (beer and wine) and a recce of the pub and the DOC centre we headed home to light the stove and have tea. Oban, like it’s namesake in Scotland is a port and is the access point to the mainland. It is a busy wee place with a well-stocked general store, a pub, a couple of restaurants, an outdoor clothes shop (merino wear – an essential fabric for the changeable weather and especially useful for those of us who forgot their thermal leggings!) boat supplies, ferry terminal and places offering guided tours of the area.
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The forecast,  as I already said was bleak – rain, wind, more rain, gales, rain! You get the idea… So since it was a fine evening,  Nigel and I went out for a short evening walk to Wohler’s Monument.  It afforded us a fantastic view across the bays and up close sightings of Kereru and Tui.
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To the right…

Having  gone left yesterday, today we went right. The plan was to go all the way to Waipapa Lighthouse and then work our way back but we were distracted by the Lost Gypsy Gallery which at first glance seemed to fit the bill to be in Owaka – rusty old bits of bicycle fashioned together and a ramshackle caravan. 
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However, we were soon mesmerised by the quirky, ingenuity of the ‘lost gypsy’.  A hundertwasser style coffee shelter with coloured glass bottles embedded in bench seats and  walls along with a myriad cornucopia of cogs, wheels, old tools, coins and anything else I recognised from my dad’s collection of tins in his shed.  The ‘temptation’ button tempted us (and everyone else who went past!) and our transgressing was rewarded by being sprayed with water.
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Inside the old caravan is packed with an amazing array of inventive engineering using aforementioned bits and bobs of everyday life. All those things my Dad hoarded because they might come in useful; springs, wires, string, bolts,  nails, cogs, wheels artfully blended with shells and driftwood with snippets of cartoons, interesting newspaper cuttings, pithy sayings and political satire thrown in for good measure.  Press a button and a wee train runs around a shelf above your head activating lights, jingles and other stuff. Kaleidoscopes,  light boxes, mechanical trompe d’oeil – the more you looked, the more you saw.  We spent a happy half an hour exploring the caravan and were so intrigued by it all that we decided to pay the princely sum of $5 each to enter the ‘Theatre’. 
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The ‘Theatre’ houses larger scale inventions,  some simple and some intricate but all made of things we would normally throw away; old telephones, bicycle wheels, bits of transistor radios,  television tubes, dolls, buckets, bells,  hairdryers,  whistles…..  The pièce de résistance was the piano, each key activated a different set of noises or actions. We must have spent a full half an hour ‘playing’ and identifying which key did what in this amazing theatre of light, sound and action.  Probably the best 5$ I have ever spent.
Back on the road we amended our plans.
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The day hinged on getting to Cathedral Cove for low tide so we decided to go straight to Slope Point and miss out Waipapa.  The rain fell for much of the car ride but cleared by the time we got to the most southerly point of South Island. Here the trees and grass appear to grow horizontally so strong is the prevailing wind!  It was a bracing walk to the point which is marked with signposts indicating the distance to the two poles.   Below the waves crashed on to the rocks the white foam exploding out of the blueness of the water on impact.  Mesmerising.
Onwards now to Curio Bay where 160 million year old trees lay petrified in the rock. Mud and ashflow from volcanoes felled the forest and buried the trees, the ocean levels rose and all were covered. Dropping sea levels exposed the rock and the action of the waves has gradually eroded the softer rock around the trees so trunks and stumps are clearly visible. 
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I love walking around rock pools anyway but Curio Bay is special. Once you get down onto the bay and look from ground level you can see the extent of the tree stumps and easily visualise the forest – tall, leafy trees where now there are only stumps.  Where there might have been lush undergrowth there are now rock pools rich with life – easy pickings for the gulls, oyster catchers and shags that stalk the beach.
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Seaweed is an incredible plant, isnt it?  There is a narrow channel there which is full of huge ochre coloured seaweed. clamped to the rock at one end its long ‘tails’ are free to snake backwards and forwards as the waves pulse in and out.  It is other worldly and the ‘heads’ atached to the rock made me think of the ‘ood’ from Dr Who!  
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Yellow eyed penguin nesting sites are roped off to protect them but it is sad that some people ignore the signs.  We spotted a group clustered up on the rocks close to the shrubs and dunes and realised that they were following a penguin.  Nigel managed to get a great video with his new camera on zoom of the penguin hopping away but that was the closest we got.
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Last stop of the day was Cathedral Cave. You will get wet, she said. How wet will depend on how well you judge the waves. We got wet! The huge caves are formed by erosion from the waves beating against the cliff.  Cathedral Cave is unusual in that there are two parallel caves which join at the back and form a horseshoe.  Apparently, years ago they were easy to access at low tide but the sand level shifts over the years and currently it is lower so the sea is always around the entrance. 
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Along with tourists from all over the world we hopped on rocks, dodged the waves and dashed between them to get into the cave without getting too wet.  By now the sky was blue and the sun was out so the views out of the majestic archway were impressive.  We wandered around for ten minutes or so before getting cold and heading out. 
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To Aonghas’ great amusement, Chris was caught by the back splash of a wave on the rock against which she was leaning and was drenched from head to toe!   Before setting out on the steep track through the bush back up to the car park Gus persuaded me to go for a swim.  Well, it has to be done, doesn’t it? Who can resist sun dappled, crashing waves?  Not me!

The Catlins: Left and then Right

At the bottom of our lane there are things to do in both directions. The question on our first evening “What shall we do tomorrow? ” was answered with “Let’s go left”. So we did. And then the next day we went right.
To the left – waterfalls, bush, beach and wacky Owaka
A short walk down through the bush to Matai and Horseshoe Falls. ‘It is Summer and we will wear shorts and sandals!’ We were definitely underdressed by comparison with the rest of the visitors and I have to admit to feeling a tad cold in the damp and dark of the bush. However, clambering over rocks to get closer to the falls soon warmed me up as did the climb back up to the car park.  The falls are interesting without being spectacular.
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Owaka is a curious wee place.  I wonder if it is isolation that breeds weird and wonderful curiosity shops or whether those with an eccentric bent are attracted to wilderness places!  There are three cafes, Dougie’s Man Cave which houses a mixed collection of artsy bric-a-brac, pre-loved clothes and local crafts, an art gallery, and a Four Square as well as a Fire Station and a Community Centre. But the pearls in the oyster are Aunty’s Attic and the Teapot House.  Have to be seen to be believed!  I guess one man’s junk is another man’s treasure but, seriously!?  Aunty’s Attic was stuffed full of every bit of household junk you could imagine – $35 for 6 old milk bottles! A collector’s paradise! The Teapot House has maybe seen better days, and is really a teapot garden. The owner beseeches us to count the teapots and spot the fairies, and photos, the board suggests, can be taken for a gold coin donation. 
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The caffeine and quirkiness hits propelled us on to our next stop. Jack’s Blowhole is an impressive 35m deep fissure 200m in from the seashore. By now blue sky outweighed cloud, the sun almost counteracted the sharp wind and we enjoyed the short but steepish climb from the beach and along the cliff top with the sun on our backs.
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Purakaunui Falls are reputedly one of the most photographed falls in New Zealand and they are certainly picturesque. The light at the end of the afternoon filtered through the bush and dappled the water. Aonghas and I clambered again over the rocks, initially to get a different angled shot but then just for the fun of it. We thought we might be able to get onto the second “tier” of the waterfall but it proved too slippery.
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The Old Coach Road was our last foray of the day.  This is an old road used by traders and sailors back in the day and you can clearly  see the formation of the track through the bush alongside the estuary  This is an area that had been used by Maori well before the European settlers arrived. A site is marked where Moa bones have been found. This track leads to one of the many beautiful golden sandy beaches of the area.
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Summer Holiday – Southern road trip to Stewart Island

Part 4 of our plan to top and bottom the extremities of New Zealand.  The south of North Island was easy; Wellington is the capital city, after all and we have ample excuse to visit with rellies in the area.  I think Cape Palliser is officially the southernmost point and I think we have driven round there on a trip to the Wairarapa. 
Next came the ‘Top o’the South’; the Abel Tasman track was our main goal and we took the opportunity to explore the area by camping out at Collingwood.  It was an eventful trip – more details in this blogpost.
Two years ago we headed up to Cape Reinga on our northern odyssey and took in sand dunes, kauri forest, silica sands and gum diggers on the way. 
Summer 2015/16 then is the turn of the south and here we are. 

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Chairs which represent the people killed by the Christchurch earthquake Feb 2011

Hogmanay with cousins in Rangiora gave us the chance to explore Christchurch a little before driving down via Moeraki Boulders to Dunedin. 
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We had seen similar geological phenomena up in Northland at Koutou Boulders in Opononi but time and the tide prevented us from seeing all of them.  The Moeraki Boulders are impressive even with hordes of (other) tourists milling around and we had fun jumping from one to another, taking silly photos and marvelling at how they were formed. 
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Onwards to Dunedin and the stately victorian buildings are evidence of it being the oldest city in New Zealand.  One of the things we miss about the UK and Europe is the history but being so used to it, we almost took it for granted in Dunedin before realising that it is not what we see very much in Hamilton especially but even in Auckland and Wellington.  Historic buildings are there, of course, but not to the same extent. 
After a week or so of sweltering weather up north we had been brought down to earth with the unpredictability of southern climes with temperature differences of 10 degrees from one day to the next. 
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A visit out to the beautiful Otago Peninsula to see nesting albatross was characterised by hot sun tempered by chill winds.  It is difficult to believe we were only half an hour from a big city as we walked out to the Pyramids, beautiful golden sands and azure seas.  Unfortunately,  (or maybe fortunately) we didn’t encounter any sea lions in the sand dunes and, sadly nor did we see any penguins. 

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January 2nd brought the rain so we were glad we had saved the Cadbury chocolate factory tour but so, it seemed, had the rest of the New Year visitors to Dunedin and the first available tour was after lunch.  Luckily the rain stopped for a while so we decided to do the street art trail.  A series of 25 murals by different artists decorate the walls in alleyways between buildings around the city centre. The paintings are beautiful, all very different and they definitely brighten up some dilapidated areas.  It kept us happy for a good couple of hours until it was time for chocolate!  The Cadbury tour is everything you might expect it to be… very Willy Wonker-ish but entertaining nonetheless and we did learn a little bit about chocolate making.
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Our whistlestop road trip back on the road, we headed south to the Catlins.  As we had driven down from Christchurch the huge expanses of flat lands had given way to rolling hills and then steep gorges. Now we were struck by the lush greenness of the pastures and hillsides. 

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View from Hilltop

Our home for four days is Hilltop cottage in Papatowai. As its name suggests it is perched on a hill with beautiful views out to the coast to the east and inland up the Takahoma valley to the west.  A wee weatherboard house with “character”, we have fallen in love….
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Christmas News 2015

Family at dinner

A momentous year: our boys turned 21 and 16 respectively and Nigel and I celebrated 25 years together – milestones in their lives and ours.  Putting together a slide show of photos for Lachlan’s 21st Birthday party took us on a journey into the past. How far we have all come? Where did the time go and how did my tiny 5lb premature baby get to be a tall, strong, beautiful young man?  And we look at the Facebook pages of all our friends and their children and they too are young adults making their own ways in the world, taking on challenges that we couldn’t really imagine them ever getting to when they were tiny tots but proud that they have grown strong and independent.

We’ve had a couple of visitors this year from the UK.  So nice to welcome friends and children of friends and show them round our place. Andrew Kyles and his friend Matthew spent a few days with us in winter on their trip around NZ.  As well as meeting them it was lovely to catch up on news from home and chat again to Vanessa and Iain via Facebook.  In October, we had a great week with Imy Farmer re-exploring the Waikato. I love seeing how all those children have grown up and become such wonderful adults.  We don’t have much space but love having visitors so “come on down”!


The year started for me in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a team of girls from school. What an amazing trip and it has left me with more places to explore and to take the rest of the family. We climbed volcanoes , made chocolate and ziplined through coffee plantations in Nicaragua and trekked through rainforest and worked in a local community in a very isolated part of Costa Rica.


Nigel and Aonghas went on a good old Kiwi road trip to South Island, visiting rellies and exploring the country.  Lachlan spent the holidays working – life is hard isn’t it?

In March I walked 100km in 18 and a half hours with three teammates to raise funds for Oxfam.  Oxfam Trailwalker is a huge challenge but very rewarding. Lachlan and Aonghas were my amazing support team (Nigel was away in Oz for work) and they provided me with food, massages and encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without them! And thanks to all of you who donated to the cause. Look out! because I have madly signed up for another one and my 54th birthday will be spent walking 100km in Whakatane. Begging emails and FB posts are on their way!  I also managed to run my first (maybe my only) half marathon. I think I might pick and choose – I don’t really like running for running’s sake but do like a challenge and being out in beautiful countryside.  The Kinloch marathon was along the mountain bike tracks by the side of lake Taupo so the views were stunning and it was a great day to be out there.

Nigel continues to work at the University of Waikato in the Waikato Centre for Elearning (WCEL) whilst I made a big change this year and left the classroom! I am now working for a company called Core Education on a Ministry of Education contract. I work with schools providing them with advice and support as they integrate digital technologies into their curricula.  It is a huge change from being in a classroom but I am enjoying the challenge and the flexibility of working from home. The “Craft Beer” resurgence in NZ has meant that there is good bottled beer aplenty for us to sample.   Now the boys are either not at home or old enough to leave on their own we have also rediscovered a night life and some good drinking holes in The Tron that we can almost call our locals!

I managed to fit in a fleeting trip to Spain in July, between jobs. I received a scholarship to study at the University of Salamanca for two weeks along with 9 other NZ teachers. Very complicated in the end due to changing jobs so didn’t manage to have any extra time to make it to the UK or France as I had hoped. Unfortunately, it was also the wrong time of year for anyone to dash across the Channel to meet me in Madrid. However, I hired a tiny little car and drove for 6 hours down the amazing motorway and bridges of Portugal to meet my friend Gail for a weekend in Lisbon. What an incredible city and so good to catch up with Gail.Salamanca Plaza Mayor

20150718_173814Lachlan decided this year that working in a shop didn’t offer very exciting lifelong prospects and has enrolled at university. He is studying Philosophy, History and Political Science. Must be thinking of being the next politician who will change the world!  He is living with a group of friends and learning how to cope with the challenge of people who don’t have the same standards of cleanliness that he has! Who would have known that the boy who’s bedroom carpet was only revealed once he left home would be frustrated at other people’s messiness!!??20151006_201734my boysAonghas started his very extended summer holidays back at the beginning of November when exam leave began and apart from three weeks of relatively concerted study time has pretty much spent his time playing DOTA or Minecraft – oh, apart from the times we can pry him away to load/unload the dishwasher, hang the washing out, do some gardening ….! Still a long way to go until February when the next school year starts. Oh, those summer days when we were young! He still plays hockey and as well as playing for school is also playing for a local Club team. 20150816_19280820150925_141426

No longer a teacher, I have joined the realm of 4 weeks holiday a year + stats, so my Christmas holiday days are just the standard Christmas Day, Boxing Day, News Year’s Day. But the office is closed from 24th Dec to 5th Jan so I have to take leave then.  I have also taken some annual leave to tag on to the end of that so we will have a couple of weeks away.  Our destination this year is the southernmost tip of South Island.  We’ve “done” the north of the North, the south of the North, the north of the South and now it is the turn of the south of the South!  Aunty Chris is coming with us and we are looking forward to a road trip and a chance to explore more of this beautiful country. We still get out and about walking and biking but less than we would hope – weekends are still pretty much tied up with hockey and football matches!

waikatoNigel Walk Blue poolsFacebook seems to be our main way of keeping up with people and their news so keep on posting and we’ll keep on stalking. Otherwise, email makes communication quicker than “snailmail.”

Wishing you all our best wishes and lots of love and thoughts for the Christmas season and the New Year.  

Anne, Nigel, Lachlan and Aonghas xxx (please note, I am now the shortest member of my family!!)

 

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Making Imagination Reality

I wrote this post on the last day of my trip to Spain at the beginning of July and have just found it in the notebook I wrote it in which was in a paper bag inside a tote bag I bought in El Museo del Prado… don’t ask! I have been busy and haven’t had time to sort out the bits and pieces I brought back. Anyway, as a reflection of my thoughts at the time I think it is worth posting even if the dates now don’t fit, so please ignore the references to time.

Ultimo dia en Espana!  A little strange to be starting a blog on the last day of my trip but I just bought a notebook  and pencil at the Museo del Prado with a quote by Picasso on the cover;

notebook with quote from Picasso in Spanish that translates as "All that you can imagine is real"“Todo lo que puedes imaginar es real”

Having seen and studied some of the paintings by Picasso and Dali over the last few days, I am unsure that my imagination even approaches either of theirs! Weird and wonderful! But I do believe that if you work at what you want you can make it real.

Yesterday was my last official day of working as a teacher in a school, at least for the next two and a half years. After 30 years teaching children and adults in schools and colleges; mainly French, German, Spanish & Phys Ed, but also Health, Drama, Food & Nutrition, PSHE and ICT (phew!) I am taking a scary but exciting step into a new world.

Not too big a step though… I will still be working in Education supporting schools and teachers integrate digital technology into their schools and curricula. I have been working towards this over the last few years in my role at school as an “eLearning Mentor” supporting my colleagues as they cope with the huge changes that technology has brought to their already busy worlds within and without their classrooms.

Change is scary. It is stressful. Technology can be overwhelming and make people question their worth, their competency and knock their confidence. goldfish jumping from small bowl to large one and the words

I saw a Facebook post earlier that said “Making a big life change is pretty scary. But know what’s even scarier? Regret.”

Decisions I (we) have made, big ones, like moving the family to the other side of the world, over the last decade have maybe been made on that basis. How would we feel 15 years on? Would we always say to ourselv
es “What if…?” But maybe, in today’s text speak, there is also a little bit of FOMO there too?

I have a dear colleague in the UK who asked me to promise when I left that I would learn to say “No”. I get excited about new things, new directions. My imagination starts to run riot (not quite like Picasso or Dali) when I see the possibilities and I often do take on too much. But that’s just who I am. Is it FOMO, is it fear of REGRET or is it PASSION or IMAGINATION and the BELIEF that I can make my imaginings real?  I don’t know. Sorry, Sue. I have not learned how to say “NO” but my world is getting bigger and I am excited (and a little bit scared) about my next big step.

Bring on the reality of my imagination!

Post Script

Five weeks into my job and I am loving it.I  am being challenged in all sorts of ways but realising that I know more than I thought I knew.

It’s all in a name!

Thursday was the end of another chapter.  I start a new job in two weeks time.  Not as a teacher of children but as a facilitator for a company called Core Education. I will be part of a Ministry of Education team advising and supporting schools as they integrate technology into their learning programmes. This sort of work has been a large part of what I have been doing over the last 7 years anyway but it is a big step to take and I feel just a bit weird!
Anyway, more of that in a later post. For now I am in Spain; long complicated back story but basically I was lucky enough to win a scholarship provided by the University of Auckland and the Spanish Embassy to come to Salamanca University to study Spanish for two weeks.  I am going to make the most of it because for the first time in my life I will not have 11 weeks holiday a year to play with! So the next few posts will be ramblings from Spain.

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Madrid, Plaza de Sol

Viernes el 3 de julio
I promised myself a trip to the mountains out of Madrid and a visit to Manzanares. So up reasonably early to catch train at Atocha at 9.00am. Just as well I gave myself plenty of time because the station was heaving and I had to queue for half an hour for ticket. Then found that train was at 9.30 ! Next: breakfast. l had an Oferta de Manana- coffee, orange juice and croissant for 3€ standing up at bar “a la Espanol” Confusion abounded then as I searched for my way into the platforms- 3 different sets of platforms at Atocha: Local, regional, national! More confusion once I found the right one as hordes of people are milling around at the top of the stairs going down to the platforms.  It seems we are in some sort of holding area waiting for the lady who spends more time on her phone or greeting long lost friends than doing her job.  “Espera,  espera!” she repeats to everyone who tries to ask for help.
20150704_110759Finally, I am on the train; the uninspiring industrial and commercial buildings typical of the outskirts of any big city have given way to dry, undulating, yellow fields of olive trees to my left, green fields to my right with low hills in the middle distance. Every now and then clusters of red roofed, pale terracotta houses seem to be evidence of the creeping urban sprawl of Madrid linked by the main road that runs alongside us. The embankment wall is scrawled with grafitti mainly of the bored youth variety but occasionally a political slogan or two.

First stop Aranjuez, I have no idea how many stops before Manzanares but it will take 2 hours so I have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. This is a “go with the flow ‘ day.  Apart from reading a few sentences that said Manzanares was an interesting place to visit and the fact that you can walk in the forest and hills around, l know nothing! I have 8 hours to explore! Hoping it’s not going to be too hot! But I have my hat and my “abanico “, a bottIe or two of water and my adventuring head on! Here goes!

Stop 2: Villasequilla
20150704_185428Sun parched fields, olive groves, dry baked earth – yellow but tinged red, unclouded blue sky and the heat shimmering on the horizon. Looking out from an air-conditioned train, it looks pleasant but I know what heat is going to hit me once I step out!
White windmills with red roofs and big sails, the old-fashioned type, sit on the hills just above a village. T o my left, along the whole length of the ridge, the tall, elegant modern day sort stand resplendent, their three sails turning, turning, turning.

Stop 3: Villacanas.
20150704_102357A small, industrial town- I say industrial became it looks like there is a factory, a chimney, warehouses and water towers, but it is surrounded by fields – a splash of a different colour in the centre of the flat lands of yellow.  It seems amazing that the newly planted olive trees (l presume that’s what they are but will confirm later ) could survive the harsh sun.

Stop 4: Quero.
Storks perched precariously on abandoned buildings. More grafitti daubed walls.  A nothing place!

Stop 5: Alcazar de san Juan
20150704_105350Alcazar means castle or fort but this looks industrial.  I wonder what the town and its people are really like?  Here I am making judgements from the glimpses I have as the train enters and leaves the station. A corridor view, blinkered by the constraints of what I can see from my seat.  Grafitti decorates the walls, bright, artistic, expressions of youths’ boredom, frustration or just a need to make a mark.  After all people have been doing it for centuries! It is more than a blip on the landscape. An old steam train is parked to the right, not haphazardly and I wonder what it’s used for.  Large white tanks and the tell-tale factory zig-zag roof profile help to strengthen my thoughts about this being an industrial hub.

I think my stop is next!! But still 20 mins to go. Little white buildings with red tiled roofs at the corner of each planted field . Not sure what the little trees / bushes) seedlings are – olives? It’s still very flat – where are the hills? Starting  to see vague outlines in the distances, smokey brown shapes through the heat haze.

Phones ringing,”Dime, dime!” conversations going on with invisible people ! Even stranger when folks don’t have a phone but just ear pieces as they seem to be talking to themselves!

Final stop: Manzanares
20150704_113100So….. wrong Manzanares! l sort of knew that the place I wanted was called Manzanares el Real, But when I asked at the railway station for a ticket to Manzanares I didn’t know there was another town called “Manzanares “and they didn’t ask which Manzanares I wanted.

20150704_113932So, no walking in the mountains! But l am exploring this little town, not entirely sure how to fill the time until 7 pm when my train leaves as there are only so many churches & museums to shelter from the sun in. The grand looking “Gran Teatro” dominates the street as I walk into town to the tourist office to find out what there is to do here. There is something intellectual about european grafitti! But then when a country is in economic crisis and there is something to protest about, and 25% of under 30s are unemployed, there is time to be creative.

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The gems in this place this morning though have been the Museo Manuel Pina and the Museo de Queso Manchego. 5€ well spent.  Manuel Pina was Spain’s leading fashion designer in the 80’s and 90’s. He designed clothes for Almodovar’s characters and was highly influential in the fashion world. He took his inspiration from the women of the region, the colours of the land and the climate. The museum is small, Pina died at the age of 53 fm AIDS, but it is delightful. Housed in the cellar of a old house, the mannequins stand in the vaulted brick arches, artistically lit and not so many that you are overwhelmed.  The clothes are bold, they make statements about the land and its women and Manuel’s relationship with them. I love the quote from him that translates as “A man’s shadow is sometimes more human and more real than the man himself”.

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Next up el Museo de Queso Manchego. This gave me a greater understanding of the land I travelled through on the train. It is a great little museum housed in a former dignitary’s grand dwelling with tiled floors and walls and a courtyard with a well in the middle. Cool in the heat of the sun.  A mixture of local art and pottery alongside artefacts from the cheese making industry and a well-planned explanation of the importance of the cheese industry to the  area. I thought the child friendly synopses of the extended written explanations were brilliant idea. They certainly helped me! The cheese tasting at the end ( with wine) topped the visit off.20150704_133122

Less impressive is the Castillo; it has been recently renovated and looks a bit like a mock castle now -walls too straight, the bricks/ stones too regular. l didn’t go in , not even sure you can. I am currently sitting in la Plaza de la Constitucion opposite a beautiful XVI century church which goes by the rather long name of la Iglesia Parroquial de la Asuncion de Nuestra Senora, drinking beer and eating enough for two! A huge plate of jamon iberico and an ensalada mixta – wondering if l can get a doggy bag. On the other hand I have all day so might as well order another beer!

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Interestingly though, talking about regular bricks. it does seem that the natural building material here is clay bricks. They are a beautiful, warm pinkish red colour. Many of the older buildings have them whereas more modern constructs are concrete with a painted plaster covering.

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It is getting hotter and I am struggling. I think the travel days have caught up with me. I decide to head to the station to see if I can get an earlier train.  Manzanares is a ghost town.  I have arrived on day 2 of the annual fiesta. Shops that normally close at 2 pm and reopen at 4pm will not open un til 6 pm. The population is holed up preparing to party tonight.
20150704_162408One more place to visit though,  since I am here.  The Parque de Poligono de Manzanares.  A bit tacky but I am too hot really to appreciate anything right now. Normally I would delight in the peacocks strutting around – well to be honest they’re not strutting, I think they’re too hot as well!  The feature of this park are the planets all laid out in order from the Sun to Pluto.  On a scale of 1/166.500 the sun has a diameter of 8.4m and the Earth 7.7cm.  It is quite fascinating but not in 38 degrees after travelling halfway round the world.
Off to the station, surely I’ll be able to change my ticket? Long story short, I couldn’t.  The guard must be having a really bad day – I’m trying to be charitable here… the train is practically empty, it is due to stop in only three places on the way,  he won’t let me on. I have to wait another two hours.  As he closes the doors on me, I plead with him.  Frustration wins and I hurl English abuse at an unhearing man and a disappearing train.  As the concerned couple in the station say when I explain what has happened, I should have just got on rather than being honest and asking.
Self pity is bearing down,  and I almost let it engulf me. I indulge in a few tears and then remember the bus station.  Maybe there is a bus!? Loathe to spend more money.  Maybe I can find a bar to sit in the cool until the train?  A walk back down the street answers that question – Manzanares is still shut!
Bus station,  bus in 10 minutes, yayy! I buy a ticket and head to the bar – yes, the bus station has a bar – and I get a beer. Standing at the counter I almost knock it back in a oner! So thirsty despite drinking loads of water.
Fell asleep in the bus about 10 minutes out of town,  wake up as bus pulls into Madrid!  Day done!  It was an adventure.

100km and still walking – just! Oxfam Trailwalk 2015

Four female walkers at the start of the Oxfam Trailwalk event.  It is dark as it is early in the morning.
Counting down to the start – a hurried photo!

I did it!  WE did it! The much blogged about Oxfamtrailwalk NZ 2015 is done and dusted bar the sore feet and blisters. It was not uneventful – nervousness, excitement, pain, tears, frustration, disappointment, disaster, elation, adrenalin, determination – just to name but a few of the emotions we felt as we journeyed from Whangamata Road Landing strip to Taupo Domain.

Our first tears and frustration came when we got lost on the way to the event!  Then the adrenalin rush as the countdown was on and we were still in the loo; 7 we ran out, 6 still re-arranging our knickers, 5 held hands and 4, 3, 2 wove through the throng  and 1, we were officially off.  We picked our way in the half light of a chilly March morning over the uneven ground, passing teams on our way, “Skirts coming through!” “Mad women, on their way!” shrieking and laughing in near hysteria that we had actually made it!  As we reached the mountain bike track and the path narrowed, going was a little slower but the passing protocol was cheerfully adhered to.  “Passing on your right!”  “You go girls”, “Good luck”, “Have a great day” “Love your skirts, so cute!” (from the chicks) “Nice skirts, girls” (from the guys – with a look and a tone that went with it!) “What’s your team name?” “Cool, nice one. Catch you later!”

As the field thinned out we found ourselves amongst teams going a similar speed to us and started playing team tag.  We were feeling great.  My quads were screaming as we pretty much ran the first leg but it trended downhill and we knew that we wanted to get a good start and make the most of the Grade 2 legs early on to have some time in the bag for the harder legs to come.

The sun had come up and it was going to be a beautiful day;  the promised rain didn’t come until the next day and boy, were we thankful for that!  Then, CRASH!  Jo went down like the proverbial! She was behind me as we ran and picked our way over the roots on the baked sandy path and tripped and fell headlong.  It didn’t look good; she was twisted on her back holding her neck.  But, no, all good, she turned over, dusted herself down gave herself a shake and took off. Adrenalin was clearly pumping as we could hardly keep up!

We met our support team at Kinloch, 22km in.  A quick massage, some blister care for Debbie, take on some food – peanut butter and honey sarnies for me – some electrolytes and we were on our way again.  The 16km on the mountain bike track over to Whakaipo Bay winds its way over the headland and down again in the bush.  We ran and walked in equal measure staying cool in the trees despite the sun getting ever hotter.  Glimpses of a glassy Lake Taupo’s deep blue waters at high points reminded us that there was a world outside our challenge!  Our support crew were a welcome sight in Whakaipo Bay but just a quick refuel and then we were off again.

4 female walkers at the highest point of the Oxfam Trailwalk. Clouds in a sunny sky.
At the trig point Leg 4

Over the hills and far away.  Less running now, uneven ground, across fields, uphill to the trig point, downhill on the Scoria Road, through the quarry and into Taupo.  It was more of a battle but we had passed some milestones; a quarter of the way, a third of the way and now the halfway point had been reached.  Jo was really starting to struggle though.  She hadn’t mentioned it at the time but admitted during Leg 4 that she had been very woozy during Leg 3 following her fall.  Her knees were sore and she took to her walking poles for Leg 5 (so did I as my quads were complaining!).  Leg 5 took us along the river to Huka Falls and a checkpoint with no support crew.  Jo was finding it hard going, her knee was hardly bending and every downhill stretch was painful for her. We were worried. Camaraderie from other teams kept us going.  The support out there was fantastic.

4 female walkers walking along a gravel road. cloudy sky
Half way point on Scoria Road

As we ventured into the pine forest that would lead us to the Wairake Resort and Checkpoint 6 there was an eerie silence.  The ground of dead pine needles was soft underfoot and our feet made no sound as we marched across it.  The trees towered tall and sombre above and around us as the sky between grew dark.  No birds sang and we could neither see nor hear any other teams.  The path took us up and down, looping through and back on ourselves and seemed to go on for ever.  We grew weary of the silence, of the darkness and we were increasingly worried about Jo. Eventually she stopped.  Nauseous, sleepy, in pain but still determined to keep going.  Frustrated, disappointed.  We had to make a call.

We waited as night fell in forest.  Jo wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets, drifting in an out of half consciousness as I kept her talking, Debbie and the other Jo directing teams around our friend as they caught us up and went past.  We were getting cold too and still rescue didn’t come.  Conflicting emotions; on the one hand real worry about our friend and the time it was taking to get help to her, on the other frustration at the time we were losing.  It isn’t easy to face up to those selfish thoughts but we had worked so hard and we had done so well so far and were easily on time for our sub 18 hour target.

An hour later, after several phone calls with Oxfam Support, Civil Defence and our support crew and still no sign of rescue, Jo’s husband arrived.  We left them in sombre mood, cold, damp and hungry, picked ourselves up and jogged in the darkness to Checkpoint 6.  Hot food, more fluids and a bit of a pep talk to get our heads back into a good space.  Up until now we had sung our way into every checkpoint.  Our skirts and our song were becoming a feature!  Not this time, we were just too flat.  Fleeting thoughts of packing it all in came and went.  Jo would have been mad as hell if we didn’t continue.  So we forgot the 69km we had already done.  This was a 30km walk.  We’d done plenty of those in training.  Get up and get out there!

The 18km of Leg 7 was interminable.  Darkness and not actually knowing where the hell we were made the kilometres pass by very slowly.  We prayed that we had missed a km marker or two and that the next one would say we were a couple of kms further on.  But no.  We felt like we were making a good pace and we were passing the teams that had passed us in the forest but those kms didn’t seem to be going down and we seemed to be going round in circles.  And don’t mention the swede fields!

We sang our way into Checkpoint 7, loud and heartily.

“We are the Pat and Posties Team.

We are strong and we are mean.

Walking the trail in our little skirts.

‘Cos we know the hundy hurts!”

(US Army marching style, me leading the others repeating!)

Nearly there.  I, for one, was tearful.  We had had to dig deep for that leg.  Last refuelling – my boys had made me a hot cup of coffee – never has a coffee tasted so good!

Final leg. 12.3km.  Grade: Easy.  There is nothing easy about a final leg of a 100km walk!  Once again we were directed across fields, stumbling in the dark on uneven, wet grass searching for the glowsticks that were like candles in tin cans that marked the way.  It was heartening to have other teams to walk with at times and we provided mutual support in the darkness of the night. The lake front was a welcome sight – 4km to go – and there was Jo in the car with Doug!  So happy that she was ok.  What an adrenaline rush – come on, we can do it girls!  Our support crew had organised a staged re-entry for us! Paul and Aonghas along the lake front (and the runaway campervan!) spurred us on to go up a gear,  Lachlan met us as we rounded the corner for the last set of steps (cruel, cruel trick!) and the rest of the team were reassembled as we came into the finishing chute.  “We are the Pat and Posties team…..”  Once more as loud as we could!

A bitter sweet ending.  So glad that we finished.  So sad that we didn’t all make it all together.

Thank you “Pat and the Posties”; Postmaster General; Debbie, Courrier Post; Jo M, Fast Post; Jo P, Digi Post; Anne

And a huge shout out to the support crew of Lachlan, Aonghas, Rob, Doug and Paul.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

2014 A review.

We haven’t been very active on this site this year. Could give lots of excuses but really we’ve been a bit lazy and also a lot busy!  We also saw a lot of people gave to face when we came over to the UK in May which was great.  Rather a whirlwind trip but fantastic to catch up with you all.

I wrote about “crossing the bridge” earlier in the year when Aonghas went for 5 weeks to Great Barrier Island.  As the boys have reached the age where they are quite independent we are at a sort of hiatus in our lives.  Lachlan moved out in January and has been living with four friends from school. He is currently reviewing his living arrangements but it is unlikely he will come back home for long now he has had a taste of freedom and independent living. He has been working in an outdoor shop and now a bike shop over ther last year after returning from Canada so is financially independent too.  The harsh realities of working five long days a week (often at weekends when his friends are free) and earning not a lot have hit hard.  He now understands that the world is an unfair place; whilst he is working full time his friends, who are students or unemployed, are footloose and fancy free and playing footie! He has worked every day over the Christmas period with only the odd day off so has not had a summer holiday. In fact, he hasn´t had a holiday since this time last year!  However, he has bought himself a car and is now thinking about studying next year.  He has grown into a fine young man and towers over me at over 6ft tall!  Very proud Mum!

Aonghas is growing up fast too.  No longer my baby, he has not quite reached me in terms of height but measures himself against me every week – nearly there!  He loves his sport and computer games and hates studying!  There will be ongoing battles this year as he studies for his NCEA Level 1 Exams.  He represented Waikato at hockey again this year and plays both football and hockey at school.

Nigel continues his work at the University of Waikato as leader of the Waikato Centre for ELearning and I am still at Waikato Diocesan School for Girls now teaching Spanish rather than French and organising Outdoor Camps.  We are busier than we would like as we both added study of some sort to our jobs this year as well.  Nigel has been taking some Uni papers and I was awarded an eFellowship with Core Education this year.  I think our New Year’s Resolution will have to be to give ourselves more time together in 2015 to go away at weekends.

This Christmas we are all apart as I am currently in Costa Rica on a World Challenge expedition with eleven girls from school.  Nigel and Gus, after spending Christmas Day with Lachlan, are in South Island exploring the west coast.  We will all be together again on the 10th January.  Looking forward to it although I am having a fantastic time here in CR.

Once I am back I will try to put together a few photos of our year and post them.  Bye for now!  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

A Tale of Great Barrier Island by Gus

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For five weeks in June and July 2014 I went with 29 other boys and two teachers from school to Great Barrier Island  in the Hauraki Gulf.  We were there to learn some new skills, have fun, learn about the community who live there and be challenged.

I flew on to Great Barrier Island (GBI) on a tiny little plane, it looked and felt dodgy.  It was a noisy plane so we got given ear muffs.  Mr Hall,  Aaron and I landed at GBI “international” airport, and drove about 1h to Orama.  We arrived at night and put our bags in cabins and went to tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went on two long uphill walks on Saturday and Sunday with just the teachers because the OPC staff were having a break from the girls trip.  Coopers Castle was a long, very steep walk with great views at the top.  We had to keep away from the edge because there was a big cliff with a huge drop but there was a great view over Okiwi.  It was hard to walk up because it was so steep and we had to scramble parts of it.  On Monday we had the power and water tour and it showed us that Orama gets their water from a stream and power from a generator because they don’t have mains electricity.

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Next Monday we went on our first expedition.  My group walked one and a half hours to a bay.  We found a big dead  mako shark on the beach. and mussel barrels that we kept throwing into the sea and they would float back into shore. We descoverd some good climbing rocks that we scrambled on. We also found some kina it looked like a hard spiky ball but you open it with 2 spoons and there is a mussle like fish inside which Teina ate. Mitchell also caught a rat with his bare hands and strangled it to death.

When we got back to Orama it started raining that night. It got really windy and rainy on Wednesday.  We practised how to belay then went white water rafting (aka brown water floating) down the so-called stream that became a river.  It wasn’t very fun and we got  cold,  wet and numb and then we had to carry the kayaks back to the trailer .

On Wednesday night at 11:59 pm we were awoken from our sleep and were evacuated to the Orama lounge because there was a big storm.  We had to get dressed quickly – luckily I had my waterproof trousers so I pulled them on over my fat pants, grabbed my sleeping bag and rain jacket and followed the adult with the torch – we had no idea where we were going because it was dark and wild.  It was tipping it down with rain, my cabin was shaking in the wind. it was kind of scary but not really, it was more exciting than scary.  In the morning  there was mud everywhere, tractors,  trees and a generator were washed out to sea.  We sat in Orama lounge all day because it was too dangerous to go outside because of all the debris around.teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

The next day we helped Orama clean up. My group had the hardest task of cleaning the classroom and gym, which had knee deep mud and took 3 days to get out of the classroom. Then we ripped up the carpet and cleaned the walls. The tables and the couches had been washed from the classroom through the gym and into the foyer on the other side of the gym. I found my student book outside with mud all through it and soaking wet.

great barrier clean up

My group spent 4 days shoveling mud while group 3 went to Glenfern and got on TV, but luckily TV3  came to Orama for a little bit and we were on TV too. Glenfern is an island wildlife sanctuary that Scott and Emma look after, they are trying to regenerate the native populations of NZ  birds and skinks.  I found a Chevron Skink buried in the mud at Glenfern; they are very rare and so it was quite exciting finding one. 10502489_242198045974132_7513004355070039754_n

Shoveling mud was boring but seeing what we accomplished felt great. Orama lounge became our new hang out space which was way cooler than the old classroom. Unfortunately, there wasn’t another gym that we could use.

Sea kayaking was the most challenging activity and I didn’t really like it because we got wet and cold.  The day we did it, it was really windy, there were salty big waves and a big swell.  We had to turn back because it was too rough – the waves were 3m high they had big white caps and the wind was 50 knots gusting to 65 knots.

I loved coasteering, it was so much fun and I want to do it again.  It was epic getting pulled in and pushed out in the swell.  I jumped in off some rocks that were 9m high.  I did a swan dive off a 4m high rock – I was a bit sore after the swan dive but it was great fun.

10336627_236232233237380_5175793285606235730_nMy favourite was surf kayaking and I really want to do it again.  It was brilliant  catching the waves and getting tipped!  I got quite good at it and I came 3rd in competition but I got the highest score  of 7.5.  We had to different heats and do tricks but it was timed and I lost in the semi-final.

Sailing was fun but scary because we were in the middle of the ocean with big waves and it felt like we were going to flip.  I didn’t want to be the first to capsize but once we did, we realised that it was quite good fun and we did it lots!  The thing is once you flip you aren’t supposed to stay in the boat or the boat ends up completely upside down.  But my partner stayed in the boat and it completely tipped it so then we had to stand on top of the upside down boat to try to get it back the right way up!  It was hard but we did it.

Crossing the Bridge

Celia Lashlie, in her book “He’ll be Okay: growing gorgeous boys into good men” talks about “crossing the bridge of adolescence” and the need for boys to have the opportunity to have positive male role models and take steps away from the protective arms of their mothers.  To have a place that allows them to take some risks, to challenge themselves, learn what they can do, find out about the impact of their actions on others and learn to make good choices.

At the moment Gus is away on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.  He is halfway through a five week stay there as part of his Year 10 Curriculum at Hillcrest High School.  They have no technology except on Sundays, they are sharing accommodation with other boys, cooking their own meals, doing their own washing and learning to fend for themselves under the watchful eyes of two teachers and the OPC staff.

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As well as all that they have their lessons in classrooms but, more importantly, outside the classroom.  Learning as they play and work.  Learning as they kayak, tramp, coasteer, skipper boats, fish, swim.  Learning as they help in the community, visit local residents, talk to them and observe their way of life.

We are kept in touch with what they do through the FaceBook page where the teachers add photos and comments about what the boys are up to and we get a weekly, very crackly, phone call home.

However, this trip the boys have been hit with rather more than they bargained for!  Ten days into their trip high winds and lashing rain wrought havoc across New Zealand but was especially severe in the Hauraki Gulf.  ImageThe stream that had been a trickle became a raging torrent, sweeping mud and debris through the camp, into the classrooms and bringing down walkways and footbridges.  Fortunately they were all safe but were without power, clean water, or sanitation.  We received an email warning us that the boys may need to be sent home but in the end, the situation was assessed and it was decided that it was safe to keep them on the island and put them to work helping out with the cleaning up process.  What a fantastic learning opportunity for them!  Judging by the photographs and the news report, they have rebuilt paths, cleaned up buildings, helped local residents, moved debris and dug out water channels.

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The weather for the clean up appears to have been good and the photos show the boys enjoying sunshine and clear skies.  They have also still managed to go out on expeditions and have some fun.  We parents are all proud of our boys for the work they have been doing and food parcels have been winging their way to GBI at a great rate of knots if the man in the post office is to be believed.

teenage boys holding mops as if they were soldiers

I think our boy will come home having well and truly taken his first steps across that bridge.  He had mixed emotions about going away for five weeks – excitement mingled in probably equal measure with apprehension.  But I guess that is how it should be at the age of fourteen.  We have missed him and will be happy when he is home, but we have enjoyed scanning the photos on Facebook for glimpses of him (he has a habit of hiding!) and reading the updates from the teachers, hearing his voice in the crackly phone calls and knowing that he is having fun, he is learning and he is growing.

See you soon Big Gus!

A flying visit

I am fighting the lethargy and fatigue of jetlag.  It is inevitable that I will fall asleep if I stop moving.  However, it is too early to go to bed or I will wake at some unearthly hour and not be able to regain the deliciousness of slumber…  So, I have decided to ramble about our whistle stop tour of the UK that is the cause (partly) of my state of exhaustedness!

Eighteen days is not enough. Never again will I attempt to fit a trip to the homeland in such a short length of time.  I should have learned from last year’s trip to Spain.  But I thought that the fact that I was studying, immersed in a foreign language was the main cause for my exhaustion then.  Wrong!  It is a causal factor, but the main reason is that two weeks is simply not enough time to travel across the time zones, regulate a body clock, visit as many people and places as possible and then fly back across the time zones and actually feel human. Add to that a twelve week term, with two camps and a full term of teaching and organising Teacher Professional Development…

Nevertheless, I am glad I went.  It was wonderful to see my beautiful sisters, my nieces, nephews, great nieces and lots of dear friends.  Some things and people never change – how refreshing!  Isn’t it amazing how we slip so easily back into friendships as if we had never been away?  We lament that we don’t keep in touch often enough, our lives are so busy, we have so much to do, the immediacy of our lives and the issues connected with them impede maintaining contact with those far away.  But once together, it is as if we had never been apart.  Yes, water has flowed beneath the bridge, but we are the same people with the same interests that bound us and bind us still.  We say that we will write more often, speak more often.  But we won’t.  The reality is that we know each other, we know that our friendships run deep and we will maintain contact ephemerally if not tangibly.  We will pick up where we left off the next time we meet.

So where did we get to?  Our whistle stop tour took us to Olonzac in France, Ingleton & Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria, Harrogate in  North Yorkshire, Leeds in West Yorshire, Stanley in Newcastle, the Northumberland coast, and Edinburgh, Scotland.  How many people did we meet up with us? 41.

It was a trip full of nostalgia – visiting old haunts – fleetingly.  And a reminder of how bloody cold it is in Spring in the UK!  We really have acclimatised to NZ weather!

No more writing… here are some images to reflect ouir time away, the people we met and the things we saw.

The “Top of the North”: Sand and sea

90 Mile Beach has also been on our “to do” list for a while but we started off at Bayly’s Beach just because we ran out of time travelling north.  Bayly’s Beach is on Ripiro Beach which is another driveable beach over 100km long.  We took the “5 minute” walk from the campsite down a steep hill and arrived on the beach just as the sun was going down.  It is a beautiful spot, several photographers were set up with tripods so it is clearly a well known place for a sunset.  The 4WDs making circles on the beach were a little alarming but they quickly raced away into the distance. 

Wide, sandy beach.  Tide going out has left wet sand in which the setting sun is reflected, Clouds in teh sky are also reflected in the wet sand.

 

 

The quick way north is to get the car ferry from Rawene which is an interesting place.  Once a thriving little port with some historic buildings, most notably the courthouse and gaol and a great little cafe on stilts in the harbour “The Boatshed Cafe”.  Nowadays, it seems to survive on the basis that the car ferry transports tourists and locals across the harbour, so avoiding a long drive around windy roads. On the way we stopped at Koutu in Hokianga Harbour to look at the boulders.  We spent a good hour wandering up the beach climbing on the strange spherical boulders that look like giants have abandoned their huge bowling balls right in the middle of a game!  It looked like the best ones were further along but we didn’t have time to linger – if we had realised how extensive they were we would have made more time, but we have made a mental note and will return!

Large spherical boulder ion a sandy beach.  Mountains in the background, clear, blue sky.

Our next beach stop was Rarawa Beach.  What an awesome place!  We could just as easily have gone to Henderson’s Beach but missed the turn off!  The sand was so white… and squeaky!  Silica sand, really fine and the blue sky made it like a tropical beach.  Aonghas and I had great fun in the waves while Nigel watched camera in hand.  There is a lot of work going on to regenerate the sand dunes as there is all over New Zealand.  The plants vital to stabilising the dunes are being re-introduced and visitors are discouraged from walking across the delicate dune environment.  Last year, my Year 12 students helped out with some planting and maintenance of a regeneration project in Raglan.  We were amazed at the photographs of the area just 50 years ago when extensive dunes were in evidence.  Some of the erosion is natural as high tides wash the sand away and deposit it in other areas, but the activities of tourists and building developers contributes significantly too. 

White, sandy beach. Clear blue sky.

 

After our play in the waves we went for a walk along the beach to the rocks where we fossicked in rockpools.  Lots of crabs scuttled away as we approached; we also saw small fish, deep red sea anemones and a small octopus hiding in a crevice.  Just its eyes were visible and the regular sweep of a tentacle as prey swept past in the waves.  The rocks were unforgiving on bare feet as they were covered in barnacles but the pools were just too enticing to ignore!  The tide was coming in  so we had to be careful not to get cut off and we ended up diving into the ocean again to cool off and play in the breakers.  As the waves rolled in we saw shoals of fish seemingly trapped in them.  Where do they go to when the waves break?  We also felt little lumps in the water and soon realised that they were bits of jellyfish!  The people in the water with us said that they had seen them at 90 Mile Beach before but didn’t think they were dangerous.  We certainly suffered no ill effects but made sure that we showered well on return to the campsite. 

Boy jumping in the waves.  Clear blue sky. Beautiful summer day.

 

We visited 90 Mile Beach on a day when the wind was blowing hard off the Tasman Sea.  Apart from the tourist buses and some other families braving the chilly gusts the beach was deserted.  It only served to illustrate just how vast this place is.  Blown up sand on the horizon as far as you can see north and south and the Tasman Sea stretching out to infinity to the west.  We wandered to the water’s edge to dip our toes – as you have to – and when our attention lapsed were swamped by rogue waves that threatened to reach our thighs!  It is a wild and beautiful place and I was sorry that we did not have time to go back again on a different day.  It was also strange to see buses going up and down with the Tasman in the background.  We decided that it would be foolish to attempt to get our car onto the sand despite the fact that it is a public highway; the sand at the entrance to the beach was soft and we watched the buses taking a long run up to get off the beach! 

Tour bus travelling alon 90 Mile Beach with the Tasman Sea in the background

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Heading further north next ….

The “Top of the North”; Kauri & Gum

teenage boy standing in front of signpost showing directions to all parts of the world.  White lighthouse in the background, clear, blue sky. This is the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand.

After last year’s trip to the “Top of the South”, this year we thought we would follow up with a trip to the “Top of the North”.  Very little planning and very late too but but we have car, tent and a map  – all you need for a road trip.  Lachlan didn’t get to come again as he was working.  Hard life when you are a teenager needing money to fund an extravagant lifestyle of Magic cards, trendy clothes and nights out with the boys!

We decided to head up the SH1, peel off at Brynderwyn and up to Dargaville.  This is Gumdiggers country – the whole economy from the mid 1800s to mid 1900s was predicated on digging the gum out of the ground where Kauri trees had fallen centuries ago  to ship back to Lancashire and Birmingham to make into varnish.  The gum is a bit like the white blood cells that form scabs to help the healing process when we cut ourselves.  When the Kauri trees are damaged the gum leaks out to heal; it collects in the crooks of branches and on the tree trunks.  Where the trees had fallen the gum was buried with them.  The gumdiggers probed for the buried Kauri trees and then dug down to find the hardened gum.  In areas where the Kauri trees were still standing they “bled” the trees for the gum.  Many of the diggers came from Dalmatia (what is now Croatia) and were known as Dallies.  They lived in shanty villages in huts made out of sackcloth or corrugated iron and baked earth sods.

Dargaville was once a thriving port but looks a little sad nowadays.  Nevertheless, there has been some effort at regenerating the place and we found a great little cafe for lunch.  It is situated on the curved reaches of a wide, brown, muddy, tidal river which is quite impressive from above.  The Dargaville museum is definitely worth a visit – we spent a good couple of hours in its tardis-like depths.  It is a treasure trove of collected memorabilia of life in the area; all manner of trinkets, household objects and tools of the trades undertaken by the inhabitants of the area.   However, despite an impressive display of lumps of gum and carvings made of  gum, gumdigging equipment and detailed explanations of how it was extracted and the lives of the gumdiggers, we left the museum still not knowing why the gum was mined!   We found out a little later in the day when we stopped at a shop selling Kauri woodware and gum jewellry.  The main market for the gum was England and the USA where it was made into high quality varnishes.  As the supply of gum dwindled and the good quality lumps were dug out, the smaller, low grade gum was used to make glue.  Eventually, the trees that had been “pegged” to bleed the gum out of them died and fell, the deposits in the already fallen trees was too deep and difficult to dig for and the gumdiggers had to find something else to earn a living.  Many of them stayed in the area, some had made enough money to buy land and turned to farming, others had other trades such as carpentry, building or ironmongery.  It was mostly single men who came over from Croatia; they settled with Maori women and stayed, others went back to their families in Croatia or had already brought their wives and children over.  It is strange to see the many road names with the “ich” suffix and shops and businesses with Eastern European names.

We found a great DOC campsite at Trounson on the edge of the Waipoua Forest where we stayed a couple of nights.   It seemed quiet when we first arrived late in the afternoon but by 10pm the place was full.  We are used to DoC sites with minimal facilities so were surprised to find that there were proper toilets, hot showers and a fully equipped kitchen.  The place is well known for being able to see kiwi at night, so as the sun went down we headed off into the bush with a red torch trying to walk as silently as possible.  (Not very silently with a teenage Aonghas!) The forest was like Piccadilly Circus, red lights beaming everywhere and the footfall and whisperings of  probably a hundred or so people along the 3km of track!  We were excited when we heard kiwi calling and scuffling in the bush but we didn’t see any.   Nigel and I decided to do the whole walk the following night; we set off early to avoid the crowds but despite sitting quietly in several spots for extended periods of time and hearing them again, we still had no luck sighting any kiwi.

One of the main reasons we had gone to Waipoua was to see the giant Kauri.  We didn’t manage to get this far north when we came to NZ in 2005 on holiday and the Kauris have been on our wishlist ever since.  Once upon a time the Kauri covered the northern part of New Zealand.   Huge swathes of forest were buried in some sort of cataclismic event hundreds of thousands of years ago, but the forests regenerated and when the European settlers arrived in the early 1800s they quickly recognised that these mighty trees with their long straight trunks were invaluable for ship building, houses and furniture.  The timber industry, like the gum digging was to decimate the Kauri population as trees were felled to send to America and Europe.  Thousands of tons of timber was wasted as the methods for getting the logs from the hillsides down to the ports was brutal.  Like anything that seems plentiful, the people benefiting from it don’t see the long term effects of their actions.  Now there is a huge conservation and regeneration project underway to re-forest the land with these beautiful and majestic trees.

We were amazed at the number of large Kauris that are in this forest.  Up until now we have seen the odd large Kauri and stands of young Kauri in the forests in the Coromandel, and in the Waikato.  Here in Waipoua Forest there seemed to be a significant number.  It is difficult to know how healthy the Kauri are as the 21st century has brought a new blight – Kauri dieback disease.  Interestingly though, whilst we had to disinfect our footwear to prevent spreading the disease in the forest area around Trounson, there are no such measures in the tourist areas where the large Kauri trees are.

Tane Mahuta is the tallest Kauri tree in New Zealand and it is truly impressive.  So too are the other trees we walked to; The Four Sisters – four Kauri fused together at the lower trunks that then soar high up together;  Te Mata Ngahere, the second tallest Kauri.  We also walked past Cathedral Cove which is a group of Kauri in the middle of the forest that tower up like the columns of a gothic cathedral to Yakas whose roots are protected by a boardwalk which means that you can get up close for some “tree-hugging”.  The walks through the forest are all on prepared paths and boardwalks and visitors are urged not to stray from the path as the shallow feeding roots of the Kauri are delicate and easily damaged.  The Kauri are inspiring and I am ever reminded about how small we are in a world that can produce such beauty and splendour.

Long time, no see (or write)

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boys playing card game

 

I don’t like to look at the last date that I posted here, it seems to have been so long!  Work seems to have subsumed all of us and when it hasn’t been work that has been taking up our time, it has been other stuff!   Like getting eldest son back from Canada after he lost his UK passport with NZ Residency Permit in it!  Or getting youngest son to hockey, football or squash trainings or matches.  Writing exams, presentations, going to conferences, replacing dead dishwashers, taming wild gardens, entertaining guests, working ….Pink Magnolia blossom

So, eldest son is safely back in NZ, has job, is treating house like a hotel, and youngest has finished winter sport and is now busy with summer hockey and mountain biking.  I am busy with the “end of year, you must be winding down now that seniors are on study leave, manic time” when we play catch up with all the planning we don’t have time to do during the rest of the year whilst still trying to maintain “valid and meaningful” programmes with junior students who are not taking your subject next year so couldn’t give a s**t!

Oops!  I am being cynical!  Having to write reports for my form class after a week away at camp at a rate of two an hour is a daunting thought, so I am procrastinating!  Glass of red wine in hand, DS106 on the radio and a full belly are not a good recipe for report writing at 10.30pm so I have given up and will go back “refreshed” tomorrow morning. Young man wearing climbing helmet ready to support a group

 

So what of this year?  Well, Lachlan has been away for most of it in Canada working at Camp Jubilee in British Colombia.  He seems to have had a ball and has been offered a “proper job” there next year from March to October.  He just has to earn enough money to buy his airfare and pay for his life saving qualification which is a pre-requisite of them giving him a contract.  Fortunately, he has managed to get himself a job working in an outdoor clothing shop for the next couple of months.  He also has the possibility of some work with the outdoor providers that I use for my camps – Bigfootadventures – early next year.  For the last week he has “volunteered” on our school camp at Raglan and has made a pretty good account of himself so Bigfoot are keen to have him on board for next year.

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at a rugby match. Boy with flags

Aonghas is nearly at the end of his first year at secondary school.  He has done pretty well – prefers anything that doesn’t require writing – and considering that he has done very little study, he seems to have achieved in most of his subjects.  Think we may need to pin him down a bit next year!

How do you get boys who prefer to be doing sport (or computer games) sit down and study?  We didn’t get it right with Lachlan and we are struggling with Aonghas!  Both bright but no drive to achieve highly.  I guess they need to have some clear goal to aim for?  I worked hard because it was what was expected of me and out of sheer pigheadedness; my Dad made some off the cuff comment at some point about their being no point in girls studying and going to university because it would be a waste of money since all we would do would be to get married and have children!  My boys seem to have no real idea of what they want to do and with no goal there seems to be no impetus to achieve more than is necessary.

school group in kayaks

However, we have really good feed back about how well Lachlan worked in Canada, he has survived, and colleagues and friends compliment us on his demeanor and the way he interacts and communicates with other people.  It is heartening to be reassured that he has the qualities that we hoped we had encouraged him to develop – honesty, integrity, compassion, a sense of what is right and what is wrong, common sense, flexibility…..

So, what have we done this year?  Looking back at our photos we have managed to get out and about but not very far…

January – Top of the South – holiday in South Island, Wairarapa and then back to school

February – Back to school, My first MOOC, Karangahape Gorge

March – saying goodbye to Lachlan, Raglan, Blue Lake

April – Dickey Flat & Akwakatting

May – Spain

June – hockey, football

July – Fiji, hockey & football

August – mid-winter sports

September – tourist visiting out and about

October – not much! gardening,

November – gardening, Yr 10 Camp

Time to make some plans for Summer!  Head north or south?  Gus wants to go to Oz. Lachlan will be working.  Me and Nige just want to chill – anywhere!!

So many options…. will let you know.

Boy beneath trig point on top of hill.  Clear blue sky

Pukete Spaghetti 2013

Boy on the winners podium after coming 2nd in mountain bike raceWell the first year we were here Lachlan’s first mountain bike race was the Pukete Spaghetti – the race run byHamilton Mountain Bike Club of which we have been members since we arrived here.  Lachlan was taken under someone’s wing and raced in the six hour event as part of a team. He has raced in it every year since then either in a team or solo.  Gus rode two years ago in a team of  boys of similar ages but last year the race was cancelled.

Boy riding bike in mountain bike race

The 9km course is pretty much the same as we ride (I say “we”, but I haven’t ridden this year at all for one reason or another) every week; it is quite gnarly, lots of bends and wiggles (hence the Spaghetti!) and quite a lot of uphill.  Gus was going to ride with some friends but in typical thirteen yr old boy fashion, they just didn’t get themselves organised.  So at the eleventh hour we entered Gus in the three hour solo U17 race just so he could get out and ride as well as to support the club.

Well, “the boy done good”!  He managed five laps in three hours of continuous riding which we reckon is pretty impressive.  Well done, Gus!  The benefit of a small competition is that there is more chance of winning something; there were only two boys in his division and the other one seemed like he was a good couple of years older, bigger and stronger than Gus, so Gus was second! He also won a spot prize, so came away with a $10 voucher for Velo Expresso, a tin of Spaghetti and a tyre! A good day out!

 

 

Easter at Dickey’s Flat and the long walk

A man and a boy standing by a fence in a paddock on a hillsideEaster fell early this year which meant that we had a very welcome five day break during term time.  Despite having lots to do both to catch up and in preparation for work as well as house and garden maintenance, we decided that we needed to get away.  A break from technology, computer screens   and brain strain was definitely needed.  So we headed off to Dickey Flat to go camping with some friends who have a boy the same age as Aonghas.

fern leaves on the forest floor

Dickey’s Flat is in Karangahake Gorge which is famous for the goldmining that took over the area during the “Gold Rush” in the 1800s.  We had had a day out there a few weeks ago to cycle the Gold Trail and were fascinated by the history of the place.  It is amazing to think that what is now a quiet, rural area was once the throbbing hub of a huge industrial community.  The rusting dereliction of the massive cyanide tanks that were used to extract the gold are overrun with plants as nature reclaims its place.  Swathes of forest and bush were cut down and cleared to build the gold processing plants; ancient tall Rimu, Kauri and other trees were felled and used for beams and buildings or shipped off to Europe and America.

Boy standing at the end of a tunnel

There is evidence in the river that flowed through the campsite of the pipeline that was built by the miners to carry water between Waihi and Paeroa; mill races where the river was diverted to create deeper channels to drive the machinery.  The access tunnels that were cut through the rocks are now used to get to the waterholes where we dived off rocks, swam and explored the river bed hopping from rock to rock and wading across swirling pools.

Despite the busyness of the campsite – we struggled to find a spot on Friday lunchtime and had to carry all our gear a good three of four hundred metres from our car to the site and estimate that there were probably a seventy or so tents on a site that DoC reccommend is for 35 – it was remarkably peaceful and relaxing.  The densely packed “teenage village” that sprung up opposite us during the early evening only really disturbed us after midnight when they decided to play spotlight in the woods behind us!

splash of water as child enters river by jumping in from rock aboveWe spent most of our time playing and swimming in the river, lazing around the tent reading, playing cards or watching the boys doing all of those things.  On Easter Sunday,after the obligatory Easter Egg hunt, we decided that we should really do something active to counteract the copious amount of food and wine we had consumed so we consulted the brochures, looked at the map and talked to a friendly ranger.

Two women and a child sitting in the flowing water of a river.  Rocks and boulders around them.

He suggested that the walk we were interested in would probably take us about two hours, that if we drove out of the campsite and parked our car at the other end and walked back to the campsite, it would be mainly downhill and easily manageable for the average person.  Teresa was happy with that; two hours was at the limit of her comfort zone but downhill would be fine.

So off we set.  “This is quite a long way in the car.” says Teresa, as we drove to the start of the walk.  “We’re coming back on ourselves though,” says Denny, “so it’s not that far”.   Hmmm!

woman walking up hill, dry fields in background

The first part of the walk was UPHILL through some paddocks.  It was hot. It was tiring.  And if there had been one more field of up, Teresa would have stopped and turned back.  However, we started to go down, and we were in the bush so we were shaded from the sun.  The views from the paddocks were beautiful and it was interesting to note the difference in the colour of the grass in the different fields.  We are in the middle of a drought here in the North Island and the ground is dry as a bone.  The river is about two feet lower than it had been when Teresa and Denny were here last year at the same time.  We walked up through paddocks that had also clearly been sprayed to kill the gorse as all around us it was brown and dead.  Gorse is an invasive species that was introduced to NZ by the English and Scots settlers and it has all but crowded out many of the native species in many places.

Woman walking tyhrough the bush in NZThe lusher bush and the shade that it brought was welcome but the downhill was short-lived as we followed the undulating path.  The ranger had told us that there was a section that, in reverse, was almost too steep to walk upright, but that downhill was more negotiable especially in dry weather where there was no mud to slide on.  We anticipated that it wouldn’t be long until we got there but as we made our way up and down through the bush it seemed like it would never come!  We stopped frequently to take photos and drink.  The bush was varied and as we descended – we were on a gradual descent despite the ups in between – the flora changed.  We noticed it most as the light changed where it had more space between the trees to get through to us; when the plants were dense and low we sensed the moisture they gave off, and when the trees were tall we could feel the draught of the breeze and the light as it filtered down to us through the branches.

The steep dowhnill finally came; it would definitely have been treacherous if it had been wet, but the extreme aridity meant that the ground was little more than dust which shifted as we descended and we almost rode it like powder snow or scree, at times only just in control. Teresa used the trees to bounce off like in a game of pinball!

Boy leaning on signpost in bush

We caught up with the boys who seemed to be draped around a waymarker, had a brief photo stop and then they hurried Teresa on.  By this time we had been going for about an hour and a half; as Teresa moved onwards Gus revealed what he and Gav had been hiding.  The sign that read: “Dickey Flat: 3hrs”!

The way continued to be “undulating” but it really was beautiful and the variety of the trees and plants in the bush provided us with something to talk about and was a distraction.  Teresa was starting to be discouraged, her feet were sore, her legs were sore and she was tired.  But she kept going – she had no choice!  In her own words; “the only thing that is keeping me going is the fact that I have to!”

We finally reached the river where we anticipated that the “undulations” would cease as we followed the river along to the campsite.  We were wrong.  The path started to climb once more, and then it descended, and then it climbed…. Even when we reached the second river crossing the path continued to meander up and down the steep hillside that formed the bank of the river.  I guess that we should have realised that the Karangahake Gorge is not called a gorge because the river banks are flat!

Rickers - young kauri trees towering looking upwards to the skyHowever, we still managed to delight in the scenery especially when we came to a ricker stand.  A ricker is a young kauri tree; these were densely packed, probably no more than a metre apart over an area as far as we could see.  Mostly spindly young trees with trunks about a couple of inches diameter, but interspersed with bigger ones and even the odd large tree.  Even the larger ones would only be considered “teenagers” in the world of Kauris where some of them are so big that five or six people cannot link hands around them.  The light was amazing – by this time it was close to 6 o’clock and dusk was falling – there was also a hint of mist and the air was damp so the light that filtered through the waning sun and the trees was almost translucent.

Crossing the river provided some light relief and a break from the tramping and it also allowed us to soothe our hot feet in the cooling waters.  There was still another 40 minutes or so of undulating pathway before we finally reached the campsite. The light was going fast and there was a sense of urgency to get back before dark. (although despite that Teresa and I did manage to spend about 15 minutes trying in vain to photograph the Kereru that perched happily in a tree, evading our journalistic lenses as he hopped around, munching on Miro berries!) We did get back; four and half hours after setting off on a two hour walk!  The boys and I jumped straight in the river to wash away the sweat and relieve our tired muscles but not before putting a glass of wine into Teresa’s hand and a bowl of water to soothe her feet!

Great work Teresa G – and you didn’t get to push me down the hill!

walking party preparing to cross river

Flying the nest ….11,362 km

Panoramic View volcanic crater with Auckland in the background

We have just arrived home from the airport.

We had a lovely day together.  Morning tea at home with Kate’s parents, lunch in Mount Eden, a quick trip to Mount Eden Summit and then to the airport.

Lachlan is now in the skies somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, flying backwards in time.  He is probably eating dinner whilst watching a film, or playing a computer game or listening to music.  He may also be indulging in an alcoholic drink whilst he is legally able to since in Canada the drinking age is 19 and not 18 as it is here!  He may be talking to some of the other Latitude volunteers, he may be thinking about Kate and he may even be thinking about us!

Whatever, he is now out there taking on the world – well, Vancouver, anyway!  Go well, wee man!  Kia Kaha.

Panorama table, focussed on Vancouver with boy looking at words

All growed up…

Boys in ocean with mountain in backgroundOver the last few weeks we have been gearing up to losing our first born to the big wide world. D Day is almost upon us and I fear I have not really got my head around the idea that tomorrow we will be at Auckland airport waving Lachlan goodbye. People keep saying to me how hard it is and how I must be feeling empty at the thought of him going.  I am feeling a little bewildered that I am not feeling those things!  Maybe I have just been so busy to have time to think, or maybe I have not been allowing myself to think as a self-preservation/defence mechanism?  Maybe it will hit me like a great big slam-dunk tomorrow when the actual parting happens, or a week or two down the track when the hole he leaves becomes more apparent?  (will I miss the trail of detritus he leaves in his wake…the wet towels in the bathroom, the kitchen cupboard doors left open following a hungry boy’s search for food, the lights left on at night, the empty beer bottles and coke cans, the chocolate wrappers and the week old mouldy cups of half drunk tea in his bedroom?!)

I will miss his sense of humour, the small gestures of care and love that an embarassed 18 yr old tries to hide,(like when he bought me a little elephant back from a trip to Raglan with his mates) the snatched moments of real conversation and closeness that sadly haven’t happened as much as any of us would like given the demands of work, study and sporting commitments, and Kate, his girlfriend!  I seem to remember at a similar age preferring to spend time with the love of my life rather then with my parents!  But, I ask you, who at that age wouldn’t?  two people sitting on the end of the wharf

We have just had a lovely evening all together along with Kate out at Raglan.  A splash in the ocean – once he decided it wasn’t too “uncool” to let himself go and have a swim, followed by fish and chips at the wharf.  The slightly incongruous bonus of a live band at a fish and chip shop added to the experience.

We think that he is ready to break out of the coccoon of home and it is time for him to find his place in the world?  I think, I know, that he is perfectly capable of fending for himself.  Yes, he is young, only eighteen, but he can cook, wash his clothes, he knows his way around airports, bus stations, booking into hostels and he communicates well with people (other than his parents who are the recipients of grunts and mumbles!). He is also fairly sensible on the whole given his age and experience and has a healthy respect for danger; he has an open outlook on life and is up for a challenge.  

We do worry about outside influences that may lead him into doing stuff that may be risky or dangerous, we worry that in a desire to fit in he might do something against his better judgement, we worry that without the structure of home he may fall prey to a lifestyle that is not “good”.  However, we also know that we have to let him go and find out all those things for himself.  

We have never (I hope) been over-protective parents; we have provided opportunities for risk-taking, challenge, exploration, opportunities for our boys to test themselves, their skills and their courage.  But we have always been close at hand to catch them when /if they fall.  Canada is a long way away – who will be there to catch my baby if he falls?  But he won’t. We have faith in him, in his capability to look after himself, to do what is right for him.

Our baby is ready to fly the nest. He is all growed up.

The one that got away…

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A windy day at Raglan wharf feeding the fish!  Good fun though and fish and chips for lunch were great.  We didn’t catch very much except each others’ lines, some weed, shells and rope! Plenty of nibbles and we used up all the fish scraps kindly donated to us by the fishmonger amd more. Gus took the honours with the only catch of the day that was actually a fish!

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Possibly mad….?

Boy drumming on red drum kit
Beat Boy

Well, the boy has a drum kit!  He has spent the last 18 months pestering and we have resisted big time.  However, he has been doing his junk mail delivery round for a year now and has his own money.  He saw an offer in the  local music shop on a starter drum kit before Christmas so he decided he would  spend his own money on it.  Have to say that we had hoped that being away over the holiday period would serve as enough of a hiatus for him to forget again!  Not a chance!  The first – well not quite the first, but one of the things he said when he was sitting in a cold stream freezing his proverbials off when he got scalded on Christmas Day was; “Do you think I could get that drum kit now?  You know, because I have been really brave?”.  Well, what can you say?  So, we found the same chain music shop in Nelson (the offer was only until the end of December) and arranged to have a set couriered to Hamilton.  Picked it up today, assembled it and he is now ensconced in the garage, Youtube tutorials on the laptop, tapping away!  If I close the garage door and the kitchen door, put the radio on and keep busy, I can shut the noise out!

Actually, I am quite impressed with how in time he is but think we will have to get some of the mats you can put over the drums to dampen the sound down….

Oh, and Gus bought Nigel a ukelele for Christmas – not sure which is the worse noise…?!

Happy New Year 2013

The Sun setting behind the mountains with the sea in the foreground.
Sunset at Collingwood

Happy New Year to you all!

From a tent in the beautiful Golden Bay. Unfortunately it is raining so I will write instead!  It is almost the last day of 2012 so I thought I should finally put pen to paper and record what has happened to the Robertson Family this year. This is the second Christmas in a row that we are not all together. Last year Lachlan and I were lucky enough to spend the festive season in Cambodia and Vietnam which left Nigel and Aonghas to travel to Greytown to stay with the Aunties.  This year Lachlan, at 18 and with school finished, exams over and a gap year in Canada planned for 2013, has a job at Rebel Sports (a chain of sports shops in NZ) and since Christmas is the busiest time of year in the retail calendar he has stayed at home to earn some dollars. However, he is flying down to meet us in Nelson on New Year’s Day to spend the last few days all together.

So what of 2012?

Aonghas’ last year at Intermediate school saw him head off on his school camp to Aongatete; it started with an eight hour walk in and then they had great fun river walking, orienteering, kayaking and playing fun games outside at night!  In November he went to Noumea in New Caledonia on a school trip and encountered blue and black striped sea snakes, colourful coral and fish, and spent thousands of francs!

picture of blue and black striped sea snake close to a drain in Noumea, New Caledonia.  The Sea snake is known as a Tricot Raye in French which literally translated means stripy jumper!
Sea Snake – Tricot Raye

He has had a successful season of hockey; his team won the Intermediate Premier Grade Cup for the first time in over 20 years and he was selected for the Waikato Development Rep team again for his age group and they were semifinalists in the North Island competition.  Next year, as a Secondary School student, competition for a place in a rep team will be much fiercer but he is determined to give it a go.

Aonghas shooting at goal with the goalkeeper in white and blue in the foreground.  The ball goes past his feet.
Scoring a goal for Waikato

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lachlan has finished school, still awaiting his exam results but not holding our breath as he has struggled to maintain any

a cyclist covered in mud after a strenuous mountain bike ride
After “The Goat!”

focus or motivation!  He has no idea what he wants to do in the future so a Gap year working in an outdoor centre in Canada and gaining some valuable life skills is probably just what he needs.   As usual he has been fully involved in sports this year and his efforts were recognised when he was nominated for All-round Sportsman of the Year at the school Sports Awards and also for the Top Sportsman. Unfortunately he was pipped to the award by one of his friends!  He has continued to mountain bike, play football, squash, canoe polo and lawn bowls.  At the end of last year he was selected to play Lawn Bowls for Waikato and has competed in a few inter-regional competitions.  It is strange to see such an active boy playing such a sedate and measured game but he enjoys it – must get the bowling genes from his paternal grandmother who also played.

Boy about to bowl in bowling tournament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nigel and I have continued to have very busy work lives and have struggled to do much else for ourselves once our second jobs as taxi drivers are done!  However we have managed to travel with our work;  Nigel has been to conferences in Australia a couple of times this year and I went to Fiji on a trip with school which was very interesting.  The boys and I had a flying visit to the mountains to ski in the winter and Gus went a few times with his friends too.

having lunch on the mountain. bright and sunny
Ruapehu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthwise we are all well – the operation I was due to have on my shoulder has been postponed as it seems to have improved and Nigel had his other ear taken off and cleaned out and now has sparkly new, modern hearing aids which are a great improvement on the last old and tired ones.  Other than the aches and pains of middle age, the results of overuse and misuse on joints and muscles from misspent but not-to be-missed youth and the inevitable effects of too much good food and wine, we are as fit and healthy as can be expected!

Just enjoying the sun now in the garden and trying to motivate myself to do some school work!   Next year our focus for Professional Development at school is Blended Learning and I have to lead some of the sessions so have plenty to do.  I also have a Spanish examination class for the first time so need to write my Scheme of Work and I have two school outdoor camps to organise in the first term – all a bit daunting so I guess I should get on with it!

Merry Christmas written in shells on the beach

Christmas 2012: a bit of an adventure….

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Plan: walk the Abel Tasman

When?: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after!

After talking to the man in the DoC office in Nelson about the logistics of parking our car, water taxis and available camping sites we decided to park at Totaranui, walk with our gear to Anapai Bay, set up camp then walk unladen up towards Wainui, veer off over Gibb’s Hill and back to Anapai.  A good circular walk because I hate retracing my steps and where there is an option for a circle, I will take it!  Not sure what that says about me….?!

As usual we managed a “crack of noon” start and as a result we walked in the heat of the day – how does the saying go… “mad dogs and Englishmen…”? As usual (again) Gus spent the first couple of hours moaning but, after 15 km and five and a half hours walking, when we were on our knees, he found a new burst of energy and RAN the last 1.5 km back to the camp site!  His reward; diving into the clear blue ocean at Anapai Bay.

Despite the fact that we had underestimated the distance and the height we had to gain and lose it was a spectacular walk.  It certainly gave us a taste of what was to come; steep climbs up and over headlands to drop back down to sea level to golden, sandy beaches and crystal clear, blue water.  Rock archways and sea birds gracefully swooping and gliding over the water, deliciously cool bush providing welcome shade after the remorseless heat and glare as we trudged across the soft sand of the bay, our feet sinking in and taking one step backwards for every one forwards, and camp sites nestled in the bush behind the beaches which provided the perfect places to stay the night.  Sitting on the beach on Christmas Eve looking up at the stars and listening to the ocean lap gently onto the beach brought us the peace and serenity we have missed in our hectic daily lives this year.

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Christmas day

We anticipated rain the next day, so made the most of the good weather on Christmas Eve and made sure everything was packed up and out of the rain.  However, we woke with surprise on Christmas morning to glorious sunshine.  I don’t think there is anything better than waking with the sunrise, the birds singing and the sound of the ocean.  Breakfast of pancakes with sugar and lemon for breakfast, cooked on the beach with just a little frustration due to the pesky (that’s being very polite!) sand flies and the fact that non-non-stick camping cooking pots are not the ideal things to cook pancakes in!  Nevertheless they were delicious and Gus, who’s idea it had been because pancakes are his all-time favourite food, was very happy!  Aonghas excitedly unwrapped the one present we had carried for him – a frisbee thing and bouncy ball from Lachlan and Nigel gave me a beautiful pair of ear rings in the shape of Tuis.  I just had a card for Nigel as his present was too big to bring! Aonghas, of course wanted to play with his frisbee – we found out too late that it did not float! I ran into the sea fully clothed to rescue his Christmas present! Fortunately the sun was hot and my clothes soon dried (although I suffered from the effects of damp underwear combined with salt later in the day!).

Aonghas wading through ankle deep water to cross the estuary
Crossing the Awaroa Estuary

We were soon packed up and on our way again.  The path, well-made, single track, was easy under foot but took us up some quite steep, windy hills over the headlands and back down to the beautiful bays. We had to get to Awaroa  for around 1.30pm where we could cross the estuary at low tide.  We thought we had plenty of time but a new path from Totaranui to Goat Bay to replace the one that was wiped out by landslides caused by the  torrential rains last year slowed us down somewhat.  The old path went around the base of the hill and was mainly flat; the new one winds its way up the headland to get above the slopes that could potentially slide onto a lower path and  it is steep!  It is a deal longer to complete than the 30 minutes suggested by the DOC signs and it is steep up and steep down – not good for my knees especially when carrying a heavy pack.  (I have reluctantly decided that I may have to  succumb to buying some walking poles!)  After yesterday our legs were sore and today we had heavy packs to carry.  Gus, surprisingly, didn’t complain much at all but we made slow progress in the heat – steady away, but steady was slow!  Nevertheless we arrived at Awaroa almost on schedule where we crossed the estuary. We watched as other walkers came across, some in bare feet and some in their walking boots; some, like us, had brought sandals, and we were glad we had .  We were probably crossing at the optimum lowtide time but we still had to wade through ankle to knee deep water and as the sharp shells crunched under foot and the crabs scuttled away into their holes, we wondered how the bare footers had fared.  We stopped for lunch at the Awaroa Hut, found a shady spot under the trees that we shared with the Californian Quail that strutted and pecked their way around us and hungrily ate our Christmas lunch; the more we ate the less we had to carry!

Boy playing in the water, man standing at water's edge with ball.
Fun in the water

 

On our way again in the heat of the afternoon sun and we were soon sweltering as we walked alongside the half-keeled boats stranded on the sand as the tide went out.  We had been told that Awaroa lodge was open and serving beer -the thought of a cold beer on Christmas Day in the wilderness was very enticing and the way via the lodge to Tonga Quarry was shorter than the DOC track!  Decision made! We followed the sunflowers across the airstrip to Awaroa Lodge – an oasis in the desert – an upmarket, high-end tourist spot but happy to take the passing trade of weary and worn, thirsty Abel Tasman walkers!  It was surprising to find such a place (just off) the AT track but a welcome break for our sore feet, welcome shade and welcome fluid for our parched throats!  (I exaggerate in the interests of prose – we weren’t that parched as we had plenty of water but the chilled amber nectar was so much more thirst quenching!) Cold beer on Christmas Day in Paradise!  Unfortunately we still had a way to go so we reluctantly shouldered our packs and headed uphill once more.

Tonga Quarry is, as it’s name suggests. an old granite quarry and there are still remnants of the activity that took place there; a few large blocks of granite and the cutting area is still visible.  Otherwise it is a beautiful, steeply shelving beach, golden sand and crystal clear water which Gus and I dived straight into before the sun disappeared behind the rock face that was the backdrop to the cove. We had a good half hour playing with the floating bouncy ball in the water; Nigel with his feet in the water and Gus and I racing to catch the ball that Nigel threw!

Camp Site Tonga Quarry
Camp Site Tonga Quarry

A clear, freshwater stream flowed from the bush out into the ocean and there were some beautiful sand flutes in amongst the rocks formed as the waters of the stream met the sea. We pitched our tents in sandy recesses in the sparse bush in front of the denser bushed area and the rock face.  We were unsure whether the pegs would really hold in the sand if the wind got up so we used some rocks to weight them down and tied some guys to the trees.  No sign of Chris and Ross who were hoping to sail into the bay to meet us for Christmas Day so we guessed that maybe the wind was the wrong for them.  Never mind we would see them the next day in Watering Cove.

As we made dinner we discussed tomorrow’s walk – it was going to be a long one! With very tired legs and sore backs and a few blisters forming, the 18+km to Watering Cove was a daunting thought! An early start was on the cards.  We were heartened by the optimistic hope that we had done the hardest, highest climbs already and although there were still lots of ups and downs to come we knew we could crack them!

Christmas Dinner was Cheeses and crackers to start, Back Country Pasta for main course with chocolate for dessert.  A veritable feast!

A view from a headland looking down to a golden beach and blue ocean
View from the headland

However, our plans and worries about the long walk the next day were unfounded – a much greater challenge interrupted our walk. As Nigel boiled water for the next day and made Gus a drink of Raro he slopped some boiling water on his arm, reacted and knocked the whole cup off the table and into Gus’ lap.  I heard the screams from the beach where I was taking photos of the sunset and ran back to find Gus trying to get his polypros off .  We rushed him to the standpipe where we doused his legs with cold water for 15 minutes or so. The skin rapidly sloughed off his left thigh and we could see that his private bits and his right leg were also scalded.  He valiantly held onto the upright post as we supported him under his arms and tried to splash as much of his legs as we could.  Gus, the boy who screams at the smallest pain, was incredibly brave and responded well to being calmed.  His sense of humour came to the fore – maybe it is that same macabre humour we have witnessed on rescues that somehow helps to distract us from the real horror that we are seeing?  Nevertheless, it was unsustainable to hold him there for long and we moved him to the stream where we found a spot deep enough to sit and cover his thighs where the water was flowing.  We had already realised that these were burns that we couldn’t treat ourselves in a remote campsite in the Abel Tasman, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to walk out tomorrow so managed to get cell phone reception at the edge of the beach and called 111.

Gus was getting cold; we had already put three merinos on his top half and a hat but he was chilled through with sitting in the stream.  We brought a sleeping back down for him to lie in next to the stream and he lay in that until the pain got too much then he went back in the stream.  Switching between the stream and the sleeping bag helped maintain some warmth whilst also cooling the scalds.

Rescue helicopter coming in at night, lights on and sand blowing up all around
Rescue!

Nigel spoke to the paramedics and soon a helicopter was on its way. There was no possibility of it landing so the plan was to winch a paramedic down to assess the burns and decide whether to evacuate Gus by air or send a boat round later – possibly the next day.

We watched the helicopter coming in; with its search beam and auxiliary lights it was  like some sort of space ship descending from the sky. As requested we flashed torches to give them an idea of where we were.  I sheltered Gus in the sleeping bag from the sand that was whipped up as the helicopter hovered and winched Gary, the paramedic, down to us.

Gary quickly assessed the situation, decided that Gus needed to be in hospital, inserted a line and administered some more powerful drugs than the Panadol we had been able to provide, and Gus was soon wrapped in his sleeping bag to cushion the harness and was being hoisted away.  He had initially been quite apprehensive about going in the helicopter but after some reassurance from us, a cuddle and the happy drugs, he was fine.  He admitted to being quite alarmed when once he had been winched clear of the beach, he ceased to go up and the helicopter started moving away.  He said that he thought they were going to fly all the way to Nelson with him hanging 20 metres below the helicopter! However, they just needed to get clear of the cliffs and the trees before hovering to winch him in the rest of the way.  I watched as first Nigel, and then Gary were winched away and I was left, my skin whipped with by the sand and my hair full of it, alone on a beach strewn with our belongings!  Well, not quite, Nigel had done a pretty good job of putting the clothing that had been hanging to air in the trees in our packs but I did find quite a few bits and pieces buried in the sand the next morning!

Boy walking along golden beach alongside the ocean
Trudging along the beach!

 

Spring 2012

Auckland skyline against a backdrop of clear blue sky, taken early morning from 21st floor of hotelI still find it strange to have Spring at the end of the calendar year and can’t quite yet associate October with Spring and May with Autumn.  45 years of conditioning in the Northern hemisphere is hard to shed!

Nevertheless, it is Spring and now that the clocks have sprung forwards the nights are lighter and, at the moment at least, the sun is shining.  There is still a nip in the air but the clarity of Spring light is uplifting.

Unfortunately, it is the end of the school holidays and the forecast for the last weekend is not good.  Let’s hope they get it wrong.  I have spent the last three days of this glorious weather cloistered indoors at Ulearn12 learning.  It has been two and a half days of inspiring speakers, and interesting workshops but my head is now spinning and I am suffering a little from information overload!  I have so many ideas spinning round my head and feel that I need to organise them before they sink to the depths only to re-surface as frustrating fragments at some time in the future!