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!
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 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!
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.
Lachlan has finished school, still awaiting his exam results but not holding our breath as he has struggled to maintain any
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
I 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!
We have had a pretty awesome Autumn here in the Waikato. Lots of blue sky days and the light has been beautiful so I have really noticed the changing colours of the Autumn leaves. We have just had the last couple of apples off our little apple tree – they are delicious – crisp and with a sweet tartness; perfect! The lemons are on their way and for the first time we have a little tree full of Clementines – so excited! A couple of weekends ago we cleared the veggie beds of the old Brassicas and pulled up the tomato plants. Unfortunately the wetness of Summer put paid to a lot of our harvest – it was warm and wet so the caulis, broccoli and cabbage grew quickly but rotted easily. As usual we planted too many at once and they were all ready at the same time and we couldn’t eat them fast enough. The tomatoes took a while to ripen due to the lack of sun but we were hit with what we thought was blight but may turn out to have been some other disease. There were plenty of them but most of them were inedible! We did have one plant that was on its own that produced – a little late because it was not in an ideal sunny position, but the tomatoes were huge and when I pulled it up there were a few pounds of green tomatoes. I discovered that Fried Green Tomatoes are delicious! The Feijoa harvest was better than last year and once again we could not eat them or cook them fast enough – really must discover a better way to use them as there is so much wastage. The Camellia bushes are all coming into bloom so there is a splash of colour in the garden, the odd rose still keeps coming out too – bizarre! The real success of this summer has been the chillis; we have two plants and they are laden and still flowering! I have dried a jarful so we will be able to use them during the winter but it is probably time to pick the rest and do something with them ans we have had a couple of hard morning frosts in the last week or so. I am still amazed at how fast things grow here, especially the weeds! We took a carload of cuttings to the tip a couple of weeks ago as we have simply run out of composting space! We seriously need to do some work on the small trees we planted a couple of years ago as they are either outgrowing their pots (Olive and Lime) or suffering from the wind and are now leaning and need staking again (Feijoa). That particular Feijoa had huge Feijoas on it too – twice as big as the other tree but very tasty!
The Rimutaka Incline is an iconic piece if kiwi engineering which winds its way up and then down the valley linking Wellington with the Wairarapa. The track from the Featherstone end had to rise up a one in fifteen gradient and usually needed two or three engines working together to get the train up the hill. The track was specially designed with a central rail and horizontal wheels to help with grip up the hill. The Wellington side from Kaitoke was a much gentler gradient and ordinary engines were used. At the summit station the engines swapped over. The line has now been replaced with a more direct line through a tunnel and has been developed as an 18km (one way) walking and cycling track. Classified as a family friendly grade 1 to 2 track we decided it would be a good chance to get Nigel out on his bike!
We spent all week in the Wairarapa working out how we could manage to cycle over without having to drive over the Rimutakas twice as well and decided in the end that we couldn’t! We could, of course have ridden there and back but felt that 36km might be too much (at least for Gus and Nigel!!) Having done the trip over the hill 3 days out of the four we had already been there and were planning on doing it again on the last day we were keen not to have to negotiate the windy road up and over the Rimutakas again if we could help it. So we decided that we would go from the Featherstone end, see how far we got and then ride back.
We had clearly waited for the end of the good weather before we decided to attack it – after 4 days of beautiful sunshine we awoke to a cloudy, mizzly sort of a day. However, it wasn’t forecast to rain until late afternoon and the next day was destined for heavy rain so we went for it! The first part of the ride rises steadily along a gravelled track with a hillside on your left and the valley on your right. We rode through some open bush, crossed streams until we came to Cross Creek. This was the village which marked the end of the steep section and where the Fell engines would be swapped for ordinary engines. We stood and tried to imagine how the place would have looked with trains spewing their steam, and chugging through the station, the noise and the hubbub of coalmen shovelling coal into the engines, guards blowing whistles, passengers climbing on and off trains, the children playing and the inhabitants of Cross Creek going about their normal daily business. Once a bustling village that had a school, a swimming pool, tennis courts and bars, it is now overgrown with bush and there is little evidence of habitation. We did spot the concrete area that had been the tennis courts and there are also remnants of the engine sidings and the turntable. A small station shelter marks the place that was once a hub of activity and now that all that has gone, nature is reclaiming and it is calm and peaceful.
We turn left up the valley and the real climb begins; there are information boards along the way that afford some respite from the unrelenting incline and we gladly stopped to read them. There was just enough information – bite-sized chunks that were easy to read and told you what you wanted to know! Lachlan left us in his wake as he sped up the hill but he waited at each marker. It was a good family ride in as much as we could all ride at our own pace but there was no togetherness about it! On that sort of gradient you just need to find your rhythm and go with it. The track wound up and following the valley gradually crossing the contours of the hill. When your eyes are fixed on the bit of ground in front of you as you push the pedals round, glancing occasionally at the next milestone ahead of you willing it to get closer, you don’t feel like you are making much progress. However, looking back down the valley at each marker made us realise just how far we had come. We soon came to the first tunnel and cycled in to the dark with a little trepidation. We had forgotten to bring any lights but the documentation we had read about the route said that you didn’t really need any! Fortunately a few yards in you can see around the bend and the tunnel is short enough that the light from each mouth is enough to make out the ground once your eyes get used to the darkness. Nevertheless it was a bit eerie! When we came out the other side we read that the tunnel was named Price’s Tunnel after a manager on the rail contract and that two workers had been killed when the roof caved in during construction of the tunnel. Life in the 1800s was tough and it brought to mind the number of workers who had died during the construction of the Ribblehead Viaduct on the famous Settle-Carlisle railway that spans the valley in a beautiful curve. Many people maintained that it was impossible to build a viaduct on a curve; it was achieved but not without the loss of around a hundred navvies who worked on it.
Anyway, we continued onwards and upwards, and as we rode the hills and features appeared and disappeared as the mist swirled around. Siberia Gully seemed very well named by the time we reached it; bleak and grey in the mist! Apparently it used to be known as Horseshoe Gully because of its shape but the workers soon renamed it Siberia because of the bleak wind that blew through it. There used to be a bridge spanning the gully but all that remains today is the concrete drainage tower that diverted the stream. It was the scene of the only fatal accident in the history of the railway when on “11th September 1880 a gust of wind hit a train broadside pitching three carriages over the embankment.” Four children died and several other adults were injured. Since the railway closed in the 1950s the floods have washed the retaining wall and the bridge away. It was the only place on the ride that we were forced to dismount to climb down the steep gully side into the stream and then make our way back up again. The uninviting sounding Siberia Tunnel awaited us – it is 109 metres long and with a gradient of 1:13 it is the steepest of the sections on the Incline. No problem here except that going uphill in the dark is a little unnerving, but as in the previous tunnel there was just enough light for us to see where we were going.
We were making steady progress, in fact probably faster than the trains used to do it! Apparently the engines took, on average around 45 minutes to an hour to climb the incline, slow enough for people to jump off the train pick some daisies and jump back on again as it came round the bend! Not far to go now though – we were heading for the Top of the World and then the Summit! But first we had to negotiate the Summit tunnel, all 580 metres of it. That’s more than half a kilometre in the dark! Just as well we didn’t get to see the information markers before we went in! At first glance it seemed like it would be easier because we could see the end – a dead straight tunnel despite the slight rise and then fall that the hump in the middle suggested. This was not to be the case; Lachlan hung back not wanting to lead the way, in fact we all hesitated at the entrance until I decided that one of us had to go first! The problem was that as I rode further into the tunnel the brightness of the light at the end of it effectively blinded me completely and I could see absolutely nothing in front of me or on either side. Aonghas shrieked as we went through, in fact we all made quite a lot of noises as we negotiated little dips and bumps. Only Nigel was silent at the back. I had no idea where the walls were or where the floor was which is very unbalancing, I couldn’t work out whether I was going in a straight line or whether I was going to crash into the wall of the tunnel at any moment! I concentrated on looking straight ahead and hoping that there were no holes in the floor or obstacles that could send me flying headlong. Eventually I got closer to the end and the natural light was enough to illuminate the ground and the walls, my confidence started to return and I increased my pace happy to be out the other side, the boys actually overtook me once they could see too, racing past me and abandoning Nigel in the middle of the tunnel on his own! I went back in to accompany him out and after that it was only a short ride to the Summit Station.
Nowadays the summit station has a wonderful feel about it; by the time we arrived the sun was out and we were above the mist so the place seemed peaceful and quite appealing. We spent a good half an hour wandering around looking at the rusting hulks of engines that remain, imagining the corroded pipes and fireboxes red hot with burning coal and generating steam to drive them along the railway. The hills encircle the plateau and in the late summer sun it we thought it would have been a fantastic place to live but then we looked again and thought about how it must be when the cold southerly wind is blowing, the sun is not shining and the sky is grey. In the days of the railway the once heavily vegetated hillsides were devastated by the ash and half burnt coals that the engines spewed out. Fires were frequent and the forests burned down. Pictures of the landscape in the late 1800s and early 1900s show bleak, empty hillsides, denuded of the natural flora that had existed hitherto. Over the last 70 yrs the vegetation has regenerated somewhat and scrub and low lying shrubs have invaded so it is difficult to imagine what it would have looked like when the summit station was busy with traffic and the daily comings and goings of its inhabitants.
Eventually, and maybe a little reluctantly as I think we were all rather unsure about going back into the tunnel, we set off on our return journey. The tunnel actually didn’t seem so bad on the way back although Aonghas did manage to cycle into the wall, and then the fun began. The benefit of climbing a hill is the return journey and this was a good one – 6 or 7 km of downhill which we did more or less non-stop! It was a bit rattly on the old arms and I had to keep shifting my feet and alternating which foot was at the front and which was behind as my muscles started to burn (standing on the pedals is advised unless you want a very sore bum!) but it was exhilarating and far easier than going up! Lachlan made it all the way down in about 10 minutes and we were not far behind! We were back down into the mist and the temperature had certainly dropped but that didn’t stop us exploring a little bit at Cross Creek before the final leg back to the car park.
What a great afternoon, definitely fun for all the family and I didn’t even have sore legs the next day!
A week of glorious sunshine, high winds, torrential rain and mist and lots of fun! We had the use of Nigel’s Aunty Moira’s house for the week as she was down in Christchurch visiting Pete and his family. We have been down the a few times and explored a little bit more each time we go. We had also planned to be there to spend some time with Nigel’s other Aunty and Uncle in Silverstream as Brian had been diagnosed with a brain tumour over Christmas. Sadly, he died suddenly and unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago when treatment seemed to be going well and he was feeling much better. However, being down there meant that we could spend some time with Chris once their boys had returned to their families overseas. So we spent the week shared between Wellington and the Wairarapa and got to know the windy road over the Rimutakas pretty well!
Driving down on Good Friday we were blessed with perfect weather but encountered our first real Bank Holiday traffic since arriving in NZ when it took us twice as long to get to Tirau than normal because the petrol station in Cambridge was just heaving and then for some reason there was a very long tailback out of Tirau itself! We stopped in Taupo for lunch and then in Bulls for “delecta-bull” ice-cream before crossing over The Saddle into the Wairarapa. It is amazing how some towns have the imagination and flair to play on something that marks them out from the rest. Bulls seems to be a pretty ordinary place but somebody, somewhere at sometime dreamed up the, let’s face it, corny “bull” joke and it stuck and everyone in the town got involved! We had fun going round finding them and giggling .
Going over the Saddle with the full moon lighting up the wind turbines that stand magestically on the hill, the thrum of their sails turning in the stillness of the night was quite an eerie experience. The photos that we took do not do them justice but they give an idea of the atmosphere.
I don’t know how long it is since we posted here so sorry for the silence! Life has been pretty busy and I have been writing up the notes I made on our (Lachlan and me) trip to Cambodia and Vietnam over Christmas. The first term of the year is always hectic and this one was no exception – two camps to organise, a new yr 9 form class, trying to get my head around teaching only Spanish this year and on top of that I am also taking an external course to improve my own command of Spanish which involves a great deal of reflection about my teaching and regular observations from tutors from Auckland University as well as regular trips to Auckland! I know, I’ m a glutton for punishment and by the year of reaching my half century I should really have learned how to say “no”! However, I have never been good at standing still or doing the same thing for too long and so here I am half way through the Easter hols, still tired from the mayhem of the finally ended term and with a sore throat but it is all of my own making and I am pretty happy with my lot.
My boys have also been busy; Nigel is now the Head of WCEL, his team has grown, the department has been moved into a different faculty following restructuring at the uni (when are universities not restructuring, I ask myself?), and on top of his mountain of normal duties, he is also studying for a diploma which requires hours of extra work at home. Lachlan is in his final year at school – how on earth did that happen? It doesn’t seem two minutes since he was my wee manny born four weeks early and now he is over six feet tall and ready to leave home! He has applied to do some voluntary work as an Outdoor Instructor in Canada and has an interview next week, probably the first of many applications for similar projects that he will make over the coming months. He has also assured us that he will buckle down to some serous academic work his year – mmm, wonder how long that will last? He is Captain of his school house so has responsibilities as a school leader and is just as busy with all his extra-curricular activities as he was last year and I know what came second then! Gus is now in yr8 at Intermediate school and will go up to Secondary School next February, he is gearing up to winter sports and has been selected for the 1st XI hockey team and the 2nd XI football team so it will be all go once they get under way.
So, what of our plans for this year? I am suddenly more conscious than ever of the speed with which time passes and how quickly my boys are growing up and am determined to spend as much time with them as possible. That is increasingly dif ficult given the demands of both our jobs and also the fact that Lachlan especially wants to be as independent as possible (whilst still taking advantage of all the benefits of living at home, of course – food, washing, free taxi service!) We are lucky that he is still happy to come on holiday with us as I know that many boys his age prefer not to spend a week with their parents and younger siblings on holiday. Maybe we do interesting enough activities to keep him coming along or maybe the is just nothing else going on?! Both boys are into their mountain biking and so mountain biking events, I am sure, will feature this year and we will, of course, spend a lot of time standing at the side of football pitches and hockey turfs, not to mention squash courts.
Aonghas is going on a school trip to Noumea in November – his turn for travelling this year! He is also looking forward to his school camp in May when they have to tramp into the camp which alledgedly takes anything from 5hours to 12 hours!
The garden needs some attention just now after a warm wet summer that has seen everything grow exponentially and especially the weeds! We have also promised ourselves every year that we will put insulation under the house ready for the winter – maybe we’ll get round to it this year, or maybe not! Lachlan needs to earn himself some money to replace his mountain bike that was stolen from outside the library a couple of weeks ago as well as to repay some of the money we lent to him for his trip to Cambodia and Vietnam at Christmas so there are plenty of jobs for him to do around the house…. it’s just getting him tou do them!
Well, I started this blog to write about what we did during the Easter hols so maybe I’ll stop now and start a new one to tell you all about our adventures in the Wairarapa.
The newspapers here have been full of the World Cup – the NZ Herald has even had a special section for the last 4 weeks called The Rugby Herald. The front pages of all papers have been dominated by RWC matters, Dan Carter’s groin, referee’s decisions, Tindall’s kisses, England party boys, oh and some rugby too! Today for example the main part of the NZ Herald has pages 1 – 5 dedicated to the RWC and then 10 pages of the Rugby Herald. There are 6 pages of National news, 5 pages of World news, 2 pages of other sports news, and 4 pages of Business news! I think this illustrates very clearly what makes the average Kiwi tick! Lost in amongst these very important news stories this week is one of the biggest maritime ecological disasters to befall NZ in years. The Rena – a container ship has run aground on the well-known, well-documented and charted Astrolabe reef just a few kilometres off the Tauranga coast. The Rena has been stuck on the Astrolabe reef now for 12 days. So far it has leaked more than 350 tonnes of oil into the water and approximately 80 containers have fallen off the ship. Bad weather is threatening the clean up and the pumping of the remaining 1000 or so tonnes of oil still on the Rena, and there is a very real risk of the heavy swells shifting the ship off the reef and it breaking in half. Beautiful, golden beaches are thick with oil and thousands of volunteers are helping clean up. (I have volunteered but have not been called up yet!) Sea birds including rare Blue penguins and petrels are being washed up coated in oil and wildlife experts are working hard to rescue them. Many more are beyond help. It threatens to be the biggest ecological disaster to hit NZ and it clearly comes second to the rugby! I love this story, though – jackets for the Blue Penguins to keep them warm and stop them from preening their feathers and ingesting the deadly chemicals from the oil and the cleansing agent. We don’t live far from Tauranga and head over there to swim and play in the surf reasonably regularly.
The coastline is beautiful and the bay is also home to small islands, some of which are wildlife reserves. They are all threatened by the oil, the islands especially because they have rocky coastlines rather than the sand of the mainland and the oils gets under the rocks and is almost impossible to get rid off. We are watching the progress of the Rena closely and hoping that the oil can be pumped off before too much more of it escapes to damage the fragile maritime ecosystem.
But, like the rest of the country I will come back to the rugby! Desolation for the Welsh on Saturday evening! The papers are full of the injustice of Warburton’s sending off. the negative way that the French played following it and the pluck of the Welsh for taking the game to the French! As far as NZ is concerned Wales won and France lost. They didn’t have many friends before the game and they have even fewer now! We sat in our living room like the rest of the country urging the Welsh on, hoping that their 14 men would overcome the 15 Frenchmen, and they so nearly did! There were thousands of Facebook comments on the RWC FB page all criticising the referee, the way the French played and extolling the virtues of the attacking Welsh. However, the simple fact remains that France did win and they will be playing the All Blacks next weekend in the RWC Final. And that is the delight in the title of this blog – delight that the ABs beat the Wallabies – not just beat them but annihilated them, and now all the hype is around what they can do to the French on Saturday night. Let’s just hope that they don’t choke on their dreams!
Well, three long, long terms are over and we are ready for the break! Our strange term dates this year are entirely due to the Rugby World Cup which is now coming to a climax. The Final will be played on the penultimate day of the school Spring holidays, the last day being Labour Day – a national holiday in NZ so it will double either as a day of mourning here or a day of celebration! The injury smitten All Blacks are still in it, England have gone home in disgrace their tails between their legs, the Welsh dragon is still roaring and hoping to smite its Gallic cousins, and the Aussies – well they have hung on in there but everyone is hoping that they will be gone by Monday! We will be glued to the TV screen tonight and tomorrow and the Kiwis will either be crying in their beer on Monday morning or clinging to the dream. This little island at the bottom of the world is rugby mad and everyone wants a Welsh victory tonight so that they can avoid their nemesis, the French in the final. But what of the Welsh…?
We went to watch two of their games in Hamilton, the first was against Samoa and the second against Fiji. Samoa put up quite a fight and it was an exciting match to watch. We had standing space in the Green Zone – the cheapest tickets, but having kids means you can get to the front, so we were right on the try line in the corner so saw plenty of action. The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic – a sea of colour – red, green, blue, yellow, and a cacophony of noise with the famed, but not always tuneful, singing of the Welsh and the enthusiastic chanting of the Samoans. We are not naturally inclined to support the Welsh (apologies to our good Welsh friends and acquaintances) as we have Scottish, Irish and English blood, and even a splash or two of French somewhere back on my maternal side, coursing through our veins. However, in the absence of any of these teams we found ourselves proudly singing along with the Welsh and chanting “Wales, Wales, Wales!” We sang (well laa’d) Land of My Fathers (as we don’t know the words) as loudly as the best of them – it was quite a moving experience! The Samoans performed their Haka which was equally impressive and certainly stilled the stadium for a few moments. End to end stuff, it would have kept us on the edges of our seats if we had had any, but we had plenty of opportunities for cheering and singing “Delilah”! No one seems to know why, but this World Cup we have the toreador’s “Ole” every time any points are scored – it certainly adds to the noise and everybody joins in!
The atmosphere at the stadium at the match against Fiji was just as good although the match was more one-sided. I think most of the crowd would have liked to have seen Fiji score a try as they worked so hard for it and were so close to the line several times. However, the Welsh kept them at bay with some great defending. In the end it was pretty much a whitewash – Wales certainly look good for the Final!
We also went to see the ABs play Japan– that was a definite whitewash – but it was early on in the tournament and everyone just wanted to see the ABs off to a good start. There was a 2 minute silence at the beginning of the match to remember the devastation of the earthquakes suffered by both nations – for a short time the two teams joined in those sad memories. Then the battle lines were drawn as New Zealand performed their Haka and the Japanese stood resolute. Japan fought hard but they were no match for the mighty ABs and despite the whole crowd cheering Japan on every time they got close to the try line they failed to score until close to the end of the game. The crowd really did go wild!
An early misty Saturday morning saw Aonghas and I on the road south to Waiouru. A scouting outing to the Waiouru Army Museum which, I have to confess, I only agreed to go on because of the skiing opportunity the following day! A brief stop in Taupo for the loo and a coffee before the last hour and a half to Waiouru. The views down the Desert Road were stunning and we had to stop a couple of times to take photos although the sun was so bright that it was difficult to see what we were taking photos of! We met up with the rest of the scouts at the museum and went in to meet our host; he certainly set the mood for the day! A dry, deadpan sense of humour that had the scouts wondering whether he was serious or not about the threats he made for any infringements of his rules! Then we split into groups for our tour round the museum. First stop was the Wall of Tears – this is a greenstone wall with water flowing over it and a visual and auditory roll of honour for those Kiwis who have given their lives over the years for their country. It is the place where all new recruits are brought to pledge their allegiance and where Anzac ceremonies take place; a very moving but tranquil place to be. After that we were taken around the exhibits which are meticulously presented, thoughtfully and artistically arranged and the attention to detail is amazing. Our guide was one of the researchers and
designers and he was clearly passionate about his subject and he kept the scouts enthralled. The mix of social mementos and military vehicles and paraphernalia was fascinating. Our tummies were definitely
rumbling by 2pm and we were itching for our kai. We should have had something to eat in Taupo but I had thought we were going to eat when we arrived at the museum and not after the tour. Never mind, a little bit of hardship is character building! the scouts and the parents were divided into groups of 5 and each group was given a RatPac . A RatPac is a pack of food that will provide one soldier with all the food and drink he needs for 24 hours. The scouts were asked to nominate a leader who was the only one who was allowed to communicate with our host. He advised us to open the RatPac and start eating as soon as we could, “you never know when the bullets will start flying” – opportunist eating! However, remember that there are 5 people in your team and you all need to survive if you are to be a successful fighting unit! In the pack there were three main meals as well as muesli, tea, coffee, hot
chocolate, salt, pepper, chilli powder, onion flakes….. we had to get a cooking stove and firelighters and try to cook as much as we could as quickly as we could – add whatever you want to each main meal, you can eat in any order, but … remember to check that everyone in the group is happy to have chilli powder and onion flakes in their noodles because you are a team and you need everyone to be fit so everyone needs to eat. Aonghas’ group seemed to forget that as they added chocolate powder and chilli to the pasta as well as sugar and pepper! Our group ate well but Gus was still a little hungry! Cleaning up was next and then down to the exciting part of the day; a ride in an amphibious vehicle around the swampy grassland. We all watched as the first 11 scouts donned oversized army shirts and helmets before climbing into the back of the
truck; we listened to the shrieks as they went
up and down over the bumpy terrain, in and out of the swampy bits and through the mud. Gus went next and he looked a little nervous as he climbed in but came off at the end of the 5 minutes buzzing! Martin and I jumped in the front of the next ride to get a front seat view. It was very noisy but great fun, up and down what seemed to be impossible angles until ….. we came to a grinding halt stranded on the top of a big bank of mud! Our driver tried every gear, reverse, forwards, full throttle, slow and steady – nothing worked so we had to abandon ship and pick our way across the bog!! Very funny!
Coming home day – I hate packing up and leaving a place especially when there is so much more to see and do! Never mind, we have done a recce and there is scope for another trip now we know the lie of the land and have some ideas of what else we want to do in the area. The plan was to stop at a few places north of New Plymouth on the way back, maybe get some lunch at a nice little place ….
We started off by calling in at the gift shop in Oakura – not much to say really – the usual touristy stuff at usual touristy prices! On to Urenui where according to the guide book we would find Mike’s Organic Brewery, and then a little further north the start of the Whuite Cliffs Walkway and the Three Sisters. Mike’s Brewery was easily found and after tasting a few different brews we decided on buying a couple of bottles of the IPA and a couple of the Coffee Porter. Our cat sitter is a home brewer and we thought they would make a good thank you present, and we had to have some for ourselves, of course! Will leave Nigel to make further comment on this section as he is the expert!
It turned out that although the turn off to the White Cliffs walkway is just a little way north of Urenui, the Three Sisters themselves (actually now the Two Sisters as one has collapsed due to erosion, although another one seems to be in the process of being created so there soon may be three again) are at Tongaporutu. One end of the walk starts 11 km along the no exit road just north of Urenui and finishes in Tongaporutu but we were told at the Brewery that the path is closed during the winter. Nevertheless, we decided to turn off and drive along the coastal road as there was a beach at Waiiti that we wanted to visit anyway.
Waiiti is a beautiful beach, the sand is very black and it is home to Little Blue Penguins although we came at the wrong time to see any. Unfortunately the tide was on the way in and so although we had a little time to clamber over the rocks and explore we had to keep an eye out that we didn’t get stranded. There were masses of shells so I was in my element collecting them, Gus also made a large collection of pebbles which he struggled to fit in his pockets and which weighed him down considerably! The rock formations at the cliff base were interesting and there were also large fossils. At some point following a volcanic eruption ash had settled over this area and buried huge forests and there is still some evidence of this on the beach. We met a lady who said that she remembered when she was younger that at low tide you could see hundreds of tree stumps exposed. However, she said that now there was a lot more sand and less of them were exposed even at low tide. Nevertheless we did see a couple of them at the sea edge and at the back of the beach there was clear evidence of branches in ash layers. Also interesting but quite unpleasant was the amount of dead seabirds on the tideline. After the heavy winds recently it was reported that lots of seabirds had been washed up dead on the beaches in Northland; according to a lady we met on the beach approximately 1000 dead birds had been picked up from Waiiti beach in the last couple of weeks. It seems that the Prion which is a small Petrel flies low over the ocean and so when the swell is big and the wind is strong they are caught by the waves and drowned.
We spent a good hour wandering along the beach, Lachlan found a cliff to climb to add to his enjoyment and make the walk more challenging and as well as beach combing Aonghas and I watched the waves, and ran away from them as we tried to wash our shells and stones!
Onwards then! We went back along the road and onto the main road and up to Tongaporutu to see if there was any way we could see the Three Sisters. No, the tide was definitely all the way in and we had run outr of energy for exploring higher up on the cliff, just in case we got a better view. We’ll just have to leave that for another trip! We were also feeling a bit peckish by then and so pushed on to Mokau where we had been told would be the next opportunity for a cafe.
Mokau is an odd little place, over the border from Taranaki and into Waikato. It is on a bend in State Highway 3 and is a popular whitebaiting spot and general fishing area. It is also home to the Tainui Historical Society Museum where we were treated to a personal tour by a delightful gentleman who was clearly passionate about the museum and the history of Mokau and its people. He told us of the coal mines 24 miles up river, some well-decorated caves in the area, stories of the Maori and the Pakeha and lots more. The river is tidal right up to the coal mines and ships would come up on high tide, load the coal and then wait for high tide to come bvack down to the coast again. He also told us the story of the bridge which spans the Mokau River– when it was first proposed the farmers of Taranaki were worried that rabbits from Waikato would come across the bridge so an agreement was reached that a house be built by the bridge, a gate be put on and a person be employed to check that rabbits did not come across the bridge! Another example of a No8 Wire man, he has adapted and fixed up some of the machines and gadgets in the museum; he treated us to a rendition of some tunes on the pianola which he has attached a vacuum cleaner to to form the seal to make the pipes work properly. Awesome!
We eventually prised ourselves away but I am sure he would have carried on with his stories all afternoon if we had let him!
As we left he gave us a brochure advetising his river trips up the Mokau; a few years ago he bought an old Cream vessel and is using it to do river tours – sounds like a plan! We also need to get some more info on the caves he told us about….
It rained all night, and rain on a tin roof always sounds like it is a lot heavier than it really is! It was windy too and the sound of that is similarly amplified when you are in a small tin box. Nevertheless, the small tin box was warm and cosy and by the time morning came around the rain, at least had stopped. Another leisurely morning, I was resigned to it by now and in fact was happy to stay sleepily snuggled up in my duvet, with my own personal bedwarmer (Nigel!). However, we couldn’t stay there all day as “that would be a waste”! I was keen to explore down the coast and maybe have lunch in a cosy cafe and buy something nice in one of the craft shops that I had been told were dotted around. Surf Highway 45 is a route that according to the guide “passes dozens of surf spots and many more cafes, art and craft studios and eclectic antique shops”. So we piled into the car and set off for Opunake, deciding that we would go straight there and then stop at places we had earmarked on the way back. The wind buffeted the car all over the road and Nigel must have had a good work out maintaining a straight line! It has to be said that we were quite disappointed with the villages/towns we went through; sad, ramshackled, abandoned looking places with tatty buildings, sprawled along the roadside, sometimes a pub or a bar or a village store. I guess that they may look a little different in the summer and maybe they were closed up for the winter; it is true that this is a surf haven which comes alive in the summer months and the population balloons. The beaches are often a few kilometres from the road, so there is a disconnect between the two, maybe there is no real reason to have a community except in the summer?
Opunake is actually on the coast so the beach and the town are close together. It is a bigger community than any that we had come through and “home to distinctive murals, cosy cafes, eclectic shopping and a laid-back surf culture”. It certainly has murals and they definitely brighten up the place on a cold wintry day, we found one cosy cafe although I guess in season there may be others that simply shut up shop in the winter, as for shopping – well there was little evidence of any opportunities there! After a brief walk on the beach we found refuge in the Sugar Juice Cafe which is certainly worth a visit – great coffee, a huge range of delicious food, warm and welcoming. Go there!
The (World Famous) Egmont Soap Factory has its home here too – push on the boarded door with its faded “Open”sign on an old wooden shed with a tin roof, and you find a draughty room with a couple of tables laid with baskets full of different coloured soap. The cloying smell of mingled fragrances is heavy in the air and almost makes your eyes water. It made me think of Christmas parcels we made up for elderly great aunts and grandmas with handkerchiefs and bars of lavendar soap. We almost turned to leave as an old shabby looking man shuffles out of the back room and greets us; he is a garrulous chap with a friendly smile and he engages us in conversation. Where are we from, doesn’t he know me from somewhere? He has relatives in Hamilton and he starts to tell us tales of meeting people and always remembering a face so he must have seen me somewhere! He tells us how the soap is made and how as a retired Chemist he got involved in the business and which big companies buy it and use it wrapped in their own packaging, how they have developed the lines and have branched into sensitive skincare products. The most interesting part, though is the machinery he has developed for making the soap; a collection of cast off contraptions from dairies and other agricultural establishments that he has adapted and refined, for example the machine for stamping the pictures on the soap is an old cheese press. It is real No8 wire stuff and it would have been fascinating to see it all in action. Winter is clearly not manufacturing time, though and for the moment it just looks like a pile of old machinery that has been stored indoors before sending to the tip! We bought a few bars of soap (how could we not?) and he gave the boys a free sample bar each before we carried on our exploration of Opunake.
Lachlan was reluctant to brace the cold south easterly and walk along the coast and, I have to admit, there was a part of me that said let’s just go back to the bach and curl up by the fire. But we were there, and it may be a while before we go back and it would have been a waste to drive all that way just to sit in the bach and not see what we had come to see! So we wrapped up in all our woollies and waterproofs and strode out to face the wind. The coastal walkway takes you first to a small graveyard where lie a few souls from the Armed Constabulary that were stationed at Opunake in 1880. There is a quite large memorial erected by the non-commissioned officers and men of the Armed Constabulary in honour of Mary Beatrix who died at the age of 30 in Opunake. We thought it strange that there should be such a large memorial and speculated as to the reason. Googling is a wonderful thing and with just one or two clicks I have found the story behind the name.
We walked on along the cliff top that follows the river out to the ocean, the wind at times gusted hard enough to blow us off our feet; fortunately it was blowing onshore but even so I was a little nervous! I love the wind, though, and despite its strength it was not too biting; we were wrapped up warm and it
was exhilarating to be high up above the ocean battling against the elements. The sea was wild and mesmerising as we watched the waves crash over each other, the spray being blown off the crest as it broke. We didn’t do the whole coastal walk, we just dipped into sections jumping back into the car in between but it was enough to get a flavour of the place and blew the cobwebs away!
At the westernmost point of the Taranaki coastline we stopped at the Egmont Lighthouse which was made in England, shipped in sections to NZ and was originally on Mana Island near Wellington before being brought to Taranaki in 1874. It was simply a photo stop because by this time the boys had had enough of getting in and out of the car and just wanted to go home! They were singularly unimpressed with this small lighthouse which was positioned well inland as far as lighthouses go – usually they enjoy getting out and clambering over rocks to reach lighthouses!
Gus had been pestering all week about going out for dinner to a restaurant, several lunches in cafes just weren’t enough for this lover of fine food and dining out! So we headed into New Plymouth after a quick wash and brush up back at the bach since it was our last night. We found a lovely Italian restaurant called “La Bella Vita” where we ate well and had a thoroughly pleasant time.
This morning was bright, with enough blue to mend a sailor’s trousers but the clouds were gathering and there was definitely rain in the air. Gus and I were up and keen to head out but Nigel and Lachlan slept soundly until Gus made enough noise to wake them at about 10am! Another slow start to the day and as the morning wore on, the sky darkened and what little sun there had been retreated, beaten back by the wind. Nevertheless the forecast suggested that the rain would hold off until evening before setting in for the next couple of days so we decided to hire bikes and ride the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway.
We set off on our “retro, built for comfort” steeds heading north into the wind to get the benefit of the tail wind on the return journey! According to the blurb, the walkway is “ideal for walking, running, cycling or skating, or simply enjoying the view of the dramatic west coast”. It was good to get out into the fresh air (and, indeed, it was fresh!); we started out in the middle of New Plymouth where the path runs along the coast, through a holiday park with access points to the surf beach at Fitzroy. Then we came to the Te Rewa Rewa Reserve where the path meanders through the Toetoe. There is work going on here to replant natives and restore the dunes and the natural habitat behind them which in turn will help reduce the coastal erosion and maintain the area for generations to come. The Waiwhakaiho river is spanned by what has become an iconic award winning bridge – the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. I love it! Unfortunately, as Lachlan said, we came on the wrong day as if you look through it from the northern end it frames Taranaki perfectly – that’s if it isn’t blanketed in cloud as it was today! Meandering on through farmland past a couple of what I thought were uninspiring sculptures we stopped often to look out at the ocean flecked with white horses. But the air was getting wetter, how long could it hold it before letting the rain loose on us? We decided at Bell Block that a hot drink was in order before heading back, but where?
Nigel consulted 4Square on his phone which suggested that there were two cafes in the area. After asking a passerby for directions we found our way to a cafe where we had coffee and cakes. The warmth of the place was welcome and we found it hard to step back out into the cold wind. However, the rain was holding off – just! We didn’t bother stopping to take in the views on the way back; apart from the cold and wind and finally the rain, we had to get the bikes back before our three hours was up and they turned back into pumpkins! There was just enough time to racedown to the city centre to see Ken Lye’s 45m Wind Wand swaying before delivering the bikes to the Cycle Inn.
The rain had really set in now and Aonghas’ second request for the day was to go to Puke Ariki, New Plymouth’s museum. It seemed like a perfect thing to do on a wet, windy winter’s day so off we went. It is only a small place but is packed with heaps of information and displays. Far more than we could “do” in the couple of hours that we had but we enjoyed it nevertheless. Downstairs they have an area with some strange exhibits which the curator said had been found in the archives when they were setting up the museum. They decided that rather than just put them out with labels it might be more fun to ask the visitors to guess what they might be. This has proved to be a very successful idea and the boys spent a good hour and a half wandering round making suggestions on the cards made available and pinning them on the display boards. It was also fun reading what other people had written. Interestingly the real explanations weren’t half as inspiring as the imaginations of the New Zealand public! Nigel and I snuck away for a coffee whilst the boys exercised their imaginations until we were discovered and dragged back to the exhibits! The displays upstairs on the geography etc of the region are very informative and I particularly liked the explanations of the history of eruptions of Pouakai, Kaitake and Taranaki and how they shaped the land as it is today. The Maori section is also cleverly put together and I would happily have spent a lot longer browsing, but the boys were hungry, the museum was closing and it was time to go back for tea! Definitely a place worthy of a longer visit!
The weather forecast was for it to be fine but clouding over as the day progressed, winds to increase and gradually give way to showers the following evening. The rain would become heavier by Friday. If we wanted to go for a decent walk on the slopes of Taranaki it would have to be today! It was after 12.30pm before we finally got ourselves together and arrived at North Egmont Visitor Centre. We checked that the route we planned was okay to do in the conditions, had a dither in the display area and shop and bought a map. Taranaki was in cloud and it was pretty cold as we added layers in the carpark but soon we were off. As we walked the cloud blew this way and that, first covering the peak and then leaving it clear and proud. The bank of cloud that had looked like a pretty solid front moving in from the sea seemed to dissipate a bit as it came over and most of the afternoon was spent with the sun shining. The biting cold was tempered by the sun and our own exertions warmed us up and we gradually shed the layers we had put on back in the carpark. The unremitting upward nature of the walk was made easier by the sight of Taranaki in front of us, and whilst the view behind us of the valley was unclear and hazy the same could not be said of the Mounga in front of us. How tempting is its snowy peak and how envious am I of those who have the skill and nerve to climb it in winter conditions?
As usual, Lachlan strode out in front with Nigel keeping pace for a while. Aonghas struggled as always to get going and moaned and whined about this hurting and that hurting and it being too hard and too steep! We have had this introduction to walks ever since he was tiny, but after about half an hour, he gets into his groove and is away. He is always a talkative companion on a walk and he kept me entertained as we trudged up along the snowy track. We stopped every now and then to throw snowballs, scratch names in the snow and look at interesting things that Gus spotted and had to investigate! We had the Transmitter Tower in sight as our goal (even though the walk didn’t go there, it was at least a visible point for Gus to focus on) and when we reached the track junction Nigel and Lachlanwere waiting for us. To climb higher or ro head downhill? Gus wanted to go up, so did I; we spent some time looking at the mountain side trying to work out which was the North Ridge, and how what we could see on the map equated to what we could see in front of us. How we miss the good old 1:25,000 OS maps, the maps here just don’t have the detail we are used to! A couple of weather beaten mountaineers who had climbed up there in the morning were on their way down as we were talking. They pointed out the route they had taken and the best ways to go in different conditions; a seed has been sown and I am determined to reach the top someday, but probably in the Spring or Summer time when the conditions are more favourable. They said that the path up to the transmitter tower was icy so to take care. We started on up but as we came to a bend in the track and a handy bench the route onwards looked very steep and very snowy and was glinting icily in the sunshine where it wasn’t in shadow. I carried on to have a recce and decided it was probably okay but communicating to the rest of the family in the wind wasn’t easy. The cloud had started to billow round the end of the spur ominously; Nigel seemed to be signalling that he wasn’t happy about coming up, so I descended, a little disappointedly but knowing that it was a sensible decision. As we continued to descend to the hut the cloud enveloped the mighty mounga and the sun all but disappeared. Then the sun came out and Taranaki was unshrouded and standing proud once again, then the cloud swirled
around again… and so on for the rest of the afternoon.
The hut is simple but serviceable, and you can imagine how cosy it could be filled with the camaraderie of walkers, the wood burning stove blazing away, food being cooked and stories shared. Today, though, it was cold and empty and it felt a little forlorn. However, it afforded us some shelter from the wind whilst we ate some chocolate and had a drink before continuing down through the bush to the Visitor Centre. The route back was one of those frustrating ones where you climb down gullies on ladders only to regain the height lost on the other side. However, the ups and downs made the last kilometre or so more interesting and avoided that tired ache in the hips you get from trudging along a flat, boring path at the end of a long afternoon out!
Gus kept me entertained as we went, telling me all about when he did the Tongariro Crossing with Nigel and the Scouts. He says he finds it difficult to write at school when they have to do memoirs as he can’t remember anything – he didn’t have too many problems today once he was given a few prompts!
Day one started with a crack of noon start; a lazy lie in and a leisurely breakfast made even more pleasurable by the glorious sunshine and blue sky. Bach on 45 is basically a green painted shipping container shed with add ons, but cosy with a wood burning fire that we kept going all night. It is in a beautiful setting in the middle of an organic avocado and feijoa orchard with a view out to the coast. There is a babbling brook to the left as we look out, a small banana grove and a handily planted herb garden to flavour our senses and our food. Despite being the middle of July it was fine enough to sit outside at the glass-topped table for coffee and toast and bask in the late morning warmth of the sun. However, as usual, I was champing at the bit to get going and not waste a moment of the good weather and short time we had to explore. I had forgotten to bring the DOC brochures I had printed out hurriedly before we left so we decided that a trip into New Plymouth to Puke Ariki was the best thing to get some brochures and do the touristy thing. I was keen to do the 10km Coastal Walk on hired bikes as it looked interesting and was probably a good way to get our bearings. Puke Ariki, NPs i-Site and museum, is right by the sea and Ken Lye’s famous Wind Wand is on the Coastal Walk right in front of it, so once we had our brochures we went to the space around it to look at what we had picked up and make a decision. After much prevarication with me getting just a tad frustrated with the inaction, we decided to head to one end of the Coastal Walkway to see if we could hire bikes there since there seemed to be no sign of them at the Wind Wand. Paritutu Rock was located but no sign of bikes so we decided to do what we should have done at the beginning and ask at the i-Site where we could hire them; a couple of quick phone calls ascertained that two of the places suggested by the i-site were either closed for winter or out of business. We decided to climb
Paritutu Rock instead. Paritutu Rock is one of several large volcanic plugs by the coast and in the ocean. We started off climbing steps, steep but not difficult, which gave way, about halfway up, to natural rock and a safety chain. Aonghas is not happy with steep and high but with Nigel’s patient and calm encouragement – no mean feat since he is uncomfortable with heights out in the open too – he clambered up the rocks and made it to the top. Lachlan, of course, leapt confidently and agilely up at a rate of knots and was sitting waiting at the top for us. The height certainly provides great views over New Plymouth and the clear sky meant that the resplendently snow-capped Taranaki dominated the skyline but we could also see Ruapehu and Ngaruahoe over to the East. Coming down we passed a whole group of
teenagers, nimbly climbing up armed with a tray full of bottles of pop – clearly Paritutu Rock is a favourite local haunt with the young of NP!
Aonghas decided that he deserved an ice-cream for such a sterling effort and so we headed into town to find a cafe. We stopped by a bike shop first to find out that we could hire bikes there so will probably go back later in the week. We realised that the effects of our
substantial breakfast had worn off so ice-cream turned into snack as we sampled the wares of Elixir on Devon Street. Wedges; home-made bread and dips and French toast were hungrily wolfed down whilst we decided what to do next.
I wanted to go to the beach and nobody seriously objected (or maybe I didn’t give them the chance!?) so we decided to explore the beach at Oakura. The black sand seems even blacker here than at Raglan and as we walked down the beach it waslittered with scattered rocks and boulders. I love the sea and the sea-shore, the sounds the smells, theuntamed, untameable nature of it all; it makes me feel excited, just a little scared of its power and I am mesmerised by the constant movement of the waves as they roll in, crash and then are sucked back out again. I took far too many photos of the sun shining on the water and even more as we watched it go down and it turned the world orangey-red! Time for tea!
Holidays again and it is raining, but I shouldn’t complain because it has been fine most of the time and it does make me sit at my computer and do some work. Lol! I am doing anything but work but am trying to catch up with some admin sort of stuff and tidying up of loose ends that I haven’t had time to do during the term. Must get down to it though so that I am on top of things for next week and I will spend a day in school at the end of the week to get some photocopying and stuff done before Monday!
Aonghas and I had a fun day at the beach at Raglan last week with some girls that came over on an exchange from Hong Kong. He was the only boy amongst 30 or so girls and managed surprisingly well. They, of course thought he was adorable and once they all got over their shyness they crowded round him asking him questions and teaching him how to say “I love you” in Chinese! He also joined in some of their classes during the week and acted as interviewer during one session which we videoed. They were amazed at how little homework he had each week (he thinks he has loads!) and thought he must have lots of time to sleep if he didn’t have any homework to do! When asked what they were looking forward to most whilst they were in New Zealand they replied that they really wanted to go to Candyland so that they could make their own sweets and buy lots! So much for the beautiful scenery, the culture, the native flora and fauna…..! But then, you have to remember that they are eleven year olds!
We had a couple of family walks out over the Easter weekend – nothing adventurous but it was good to get out and escape the house and work for a few hours and to remind ourselves to get out more often. It is easy to get bogged down in the day to day demands of work and home and forget that we should make time for each other. On Friday we went over to Pirongia and spent the afternoon on the Nikau Walk and took in Kaniwhaniwha Cave on the way. The walk itself is not very inspiring – the first part is along a quite wide path that runs along the river – sometimes close enough to see and sometimes you are separated by a swathe of bush. There are some promising places to stop and pic-nic or have a dip in the pools and play but on an autumnal afternoon we weren’t tempted to linger. It wasn’t particularly cold but the sky was grey and there was a hint of rain. The second part is in the bush – at the moment they are working on upgrading the paths and the bridges so there are bits of machinery around and piles of gravel. Autumn is probably not the best time to see the bush – I love the Cabbage Trees, the Nikau Palms and the Tree Ferns but they are all quite dark at this time of year – the freshness of the new light green fronds in the spring and summer has given way to a sombreness which, coupled with an overcast sky, gives the place a melancholy feel. The bracken is dry and brown, we looked for mushrooms but saw few and the dead leaves lie dank in the undergrowth. However, the darkness is brightened by the berries on the trees – orange through scarlet to deep red and even purple. In some places the ground was carpetted with them. We were also serenaded by the birds; Tui and Bellbirds and the chattering Piwakawaka which hopped alongside us looking for the grubs we might disturb as we walked through the bush. Lachlan raced ahead, plugged into his ipod in his own world, we caught up with him at Kaniwhaniwha Cave; he had already been round the Nikau Loop Walk three times! The cave is short – about 20metres! A short climb down leads to three entrances, the one to the left is silted up and may have once linked to another silted up entrance further round to the left in the dry stream. To the right a relatively well-decorated hole leads to a drop of about 3 metres maybe – difficult to tell as we couldn’t get in as it has been blocked off with a chain, but it comes out in the main passage. There are some nice curtains which have clearly been damaged in the past and some flowstone. The main way lies between the two other entrances; a short climb down leads into the streamway – very little water at present – and a narrow rift passage about 15ft high which is easily negotiable. A couple of bends and you are soon at a daylight section where it looks like you have to go down on hands and knees in the stream to get under a rock flake but with some thought it is possible to get through without crawling. There is a wooden ladder here that leads to the surface – that’s it, all done! We went back the way just so we could have a longer cave- thrill experience and then Aonghas and I went back in to take some photos! It seems there are no other known caves in the Pirongia Forest Park, but it does seem strange that there aren’t. There is a cave called Karamu Caves which is on some private land close by; I will be going there next week with our school camp so will report on that later. On the way over to Pirongia we stopped to find a geocache – Toothbrush – it is situated on the side of the road and is not the usual box – the picture explains best! There were a few in the forest too but we couldn’t find them – wonder whether they have been moved or buried by the upgrade work that has been going on?
On Sunday we visited the Taitua Arboretum with some friends, Liz, Chaz, Jamie and Josh. We have been before a few times and it always an interesting place to visit. We spent all afternoon wandering round looking at the plants and trees and enjoying the warmth of the Autumn sun. There are lots of fruit and nut trees, and of course at this time of year they are laden with fruit. We guiltily plucked some Feijoa and some Quince – well they sort of fell off in our hands so they were ready to drop and would only have gone to waste otherwise, wouldn’t they? Must Google Quince and find out what to do with them!! The pomegranites didn’t seem quite so ripe, although some people had clearly taken them off the trees as there were remnants of them scattered around the ground, so we left them to ripen on the trees.
Quite a few mushrooms around and about although non edible; it reminded us that we should try to get out a bit more and go mushroom hunting.
The boys had great fun climbing trees and Lachlan showed that just because he is a “grown-up” teenager doesn’t mean that he has lost the boyish desire to climb. He can now get frighteningly high up and I have to resist the natural protective motherly urge to cry out! He has always been a good climber but I know from experience how much easier it is going up than down…! Aonghas is a little more circumspect for the time being.
Photos are on Flickr – not so many as the light was not great but there are a few that serve as a record.
It has been a while since I have caught up with this blog – I really ought to try to get into the habit of writing shorter and more often, I suppose, but somehow it just doesn’t happen. Work comes in waves, and whilst there is always something to do, there are times when I am absolutely flat out and just keeping up with day to day tasks like the washing and tidying up is a struggle! I have just about finished planning for the Year 12 camp that goes in the first week of next term and Year 9 Camp is done apart from a few ends to tie up. So I find myself with a little bit of breathing space to catch up with the rest of the world!
Autumn is well and truly here; foggy, damp mornings turn into glorious blue sky days with a crispness in the air that wasn’t there just a few weeks ago. The sun is still hot, and it is still very pleasant to sit out in it but you definitely need a jumper handy. The last week has also seen some exciting downpours, and one day we swung from black, heavy clouds and torrential rain to clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine just about every half hour! The clocks have gone back which has given us some respite from the dark mornings that we were starting to wake up to, but it won’t be long until that is the norm for a couple of months at least. Not looking forward to that!
There is a lot to do in the garden; the warmth and the rain over the last few weeks has meant that the weeds have run rampant, the courgettes have mutated into giant marrows, we have feral cucumbers invading every flower bed and the tomatoes have all split their sides and are spilling seeds everywhere! We are going to try to put some winter veg in this year but need to sort out the summer crops soon and tidy up the beds so that we can sow afresh. There is also something nasty that is biting me to bits everytime I go anywhere near the garden so the incentive to do any real work is very low – I spend all my time afterwards itching and have read weals all over my torso! I had the same thing happen to me this time last year so there must be a specific bitey thing that affects me at this time of the year!
I had a great morning with Aonghas today. Through Scouts we were invited to join the Hamilton Hot Air Balloon Club at their club day at Innes Common by the lake in Hamilton. Rather early on a Sunday mornin for my liking but we arrived at 7am in the semi darkness and they showed us how a hot air balloon works and what you have to before you can get in the air. We helped unpack the balloon, put the basket together, fill the balloon with air and then get it upright using the hot air. Fascinating stuff. We then had a chance to go in the balloon on a tether – that means it is still connected to the ground (well to a couple of cars!) with long ropes, but we were probably about 100ft off the ground. They do that as part of the training for trainee pilots; they have to learn how to adjust the amount of hot air they have to put in the balloon to control the altitude, also to read the wind and air current flows as well as the weight of different people in the basket. It also gives them practice at taking off and landing. They are looking for new, young members of the club to train up which is why they invited the scouts along. Aonghas was quite frightened by the noise and the heat of the burner, but he conquered his fears and decided to go into the balloon. Once he had made his mind up and was in the basket and up in the air a smile grew from ear to ear and he ended up getting back in for a second go! Needless to say he has put his name down to find out more! Pancakes in the French cafe for a late breakfast rounded a good morning off and he was a happy boy!
Lachlan has been busy with Outdoor Education activities. Kayaking at the beginning of term; 7am every morning in the University pool for 4 weeks and then kayak camp down at Taupo was followed by Scuba Diving on Mayor Island last weekend. They had an eventful 4 hour boat ride out there where most of them were sick, and the girls tent fell down in the wind and rain overnight but all seemed to have had a good time. Lachlan is apparently an “air pig”; he gets through twice as much air as anyone else! Mountain biking this week and then who knows what next term! He has started playing football again and played in his first match for the Claudelands Rovers yesterday – a 7-0 drubbing but they are playing in an adult league and held their own pretty well in the second half. Lachlan got 2nd Player of the Day and he played well so was quite pleased with himself. Aonghas has been selected for the 2nd XI hockey team at Berkley and is first reserve for the first team – not bad when you consider that he is competing against Year 7s, 8s and 9s for a place. He is also hoping to trial for Waikato Reps again this year. He too is going to play football; he trialled a couple of weeks ago and is waiting to find out what team he has been selected for. They are both competing in the Waikato Secondary Schools Mountain Biking competition on Wednesday so we will see what that brings.
I am looking forward to the holidays at the end of next week; the first 3 days we are working at the V8s to earn some money for Lachlan’s trip to Cambodia and Vietnam in December, but after that I am hoping for spome lazy days catching up on sleep/reading/housework/garden….! May even get chance to write some letters and get the birthday cards and presents sent that have been sitting here for a couple of months! Who knows?
A tad of procrastination about to start – have work to do but don’t really want to do it so thought I’d muse for a bit here! The sun is shining already and it is already hot, hot, hot at 8am! Lachlan has gone mountain biking to the Craters of the Moon with Russ and Jane, Gus is watching Star Wars, Nigel is reading the paper and I am – well – procrastinating! We have had a lovely New Year – quite quiet – round at friends for Hogmanay, a few fireworks we saved from November and probably too much to drink! Lachlan woke me up on New Year’s Day to go out for a bike ride – I had told him that if he wanted to go he would have to wake me up in time with a cup of tea and get everything ready. At 7.30 (after going to bed at about 3am) I awoke, looked at the clock and rolled back over hoping that he would still be in the prone position he usually adopts until about midday on a normal day. I enjoyed the luxury of my bed along with a misplaced confidence that he wouldn’t be through to wake me until about three minutes past eight when my dreams were rudely interrupted! No cup of tea but the car was packed and he was ready! Oh well, I guess I had been half thinking that a bike ride would be a good thing to do to bring in the New Year, despite really wanting to stay curled up in my cosy pit. However, it was getting a little warm as the sun was already warm enough to penetrate the thick curtains of our bedroom and so I roused myself from my dreams and got up! It made me reflect on mornings (long ago, now) in the bunk room at Bull Pot Farm, when I would stir groggily surrounded by a mass of snoring, festering bodies in smelly, festering sleeping bags after a night contributing to the “Scottish Fund” – there would always be someone full of the joys of the morning who would wake us all up and galvanise us into action to go caving (or on a tea shop tour!). I wouldn’t say that Lachlan was full of the joys of the morning, but he was certainly keen to go biking! Anyway 9am saw us on the road to Te Aroha where we met up with Russ, Jane and Gerry and off we went. It is a great set of tracks although we avoided the main upwards one! I struggled a bit with keeping my feet on the pedals over the loose rocky stuff so now have shins covered with bruises! I guess I should really get clip ons but haven’t quite got the confidence to make the change! Lachlan took a tumble over his handlebars on a particularly steep bit that everyone else then decided to walk , and I managed to miss a bridge and ended up in the creek! No lasting damage to either of us so all good. The trails wind up the hillside and then you can enjoy the wind back down a bit like a rollercoaster, a few little gnarly bits thrown in for good measure and one or two triple XXX, which apart form the one Lachlan fell down were all negotiable even for me! We came back down for lunch, and then went back again for more! When the sun got too hot, our water ran out and Lachlan was struggling with a sore wrist from his tumble we decided to call it a day. A great ride and just like the the old caving days, glad I got out of bed for it and didn’t waste the first day of 2011 festering in bed!
It really has been a while since I last posted which is testament to the lack of time I have had to do anything of a personal nature. However, it is now the Christmas hols, I have caught up with as much work as my brain can manage just now and it is time to make contact with my friends and family. So here is our Christmas Newsletter, which is a bit of a round up of some of what we have done this year.
Well, another year is over and we are all another year older! It’s hard to believe that my tiny 5lb baby boy is now taller than me and 16 years old! It has been a busy year, and I still haven’t learned how to say “No”, so next year promises to be every bit as challenging, if not more so. We have enlarged our family with the addition of two wee kittens – rescued from a building site at just 4 weeks old, they have been surprisingly easy to integrate into the house; they have needed no potty training as they used their litter tray straight away, so no nasty messes to clear up and just one (not too expensive) visit to the vet when the next door cat got into the garage when we left the door open forgetting we had babies to protect. Unfortunately “Tonks” didn’t move fast enough and ended up with some puncture wounds in her tummy and a very sore leg. Antibiotics, painkillers and fluids soon had her on the mend and, whilst she is a little smaller than her brother, she is now growing steadily, if still a little timid (runs a mile at the slightest noise!)
The boys and I have continued with plenty of sporting activities; we all mountain bike regularly and have all had some success in races that we have entered. Lachlan has been asked to race with some of the elite juniors and they won two 12 hour team events in their age group and also came in the top ten in the Open section. Aonghas and his team won the schools’ mountain bike race and he has grown in confidence and now races enthusiastically at our club race nights on Wednesdays. Lachlan and I have also done some road riding and we both entered the Bike the Lake race which was twice round Lake Rotorua (84KM). I was very pleased with my sub 3hr time, but very tired too! Earlier this year a team of us from school entered the Great Lake Relay – this is a team run ( some mad people do it solo…) of 160km round Lake Taupo. It is divided into legs of varying length depending on how hilly the terrain is, the physical constraint of the width of the road to allow for changeovers or the risk factor. The road is not closed for the event and there are some sections where it is very narrow and windy. I foolishly said that I didn’t mind hills but wanted shorter legs – that was a mistake! I got two of the steepest and most sustained hills, the first at 9 o’clock in the morning wasn’t too bad, but by the time I was on the second it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the sun was blazing hot. Add that to the sleep deprivation – we started at 2am after 3 hours sleep on a camping mattress on the floor, having driven straight down from school after work on a Friday afternoon, lack of proper food as we were running, then having about 2 hours rest and then running again; you can imagine how we felt. And this was supposed to be fun!? Well in a strange sort of way, it was. Memory is odd isn’t it ? – seems to block out or blur the pain we inflict on ourselves so that, despite saying to myself that ”now I had done this I would be mad to ever do it again” as I was struggling up Hatepe Hill in 30 degree heat and high humidity, I found myself saying “Yes” when my colleague asked me last week if I was up for the Relay again!?
Camps have been a big part of my life this year; I have taken over as Outdoor Education Coordinator at school and have three camps to organise each year. It is quite demanding in terms of time and exhausting in the couple of weeks before and during camp, both physically and emotionally. Having responsibility for 130 students for a whole week whilst they are caving, white water rafting, surfing, tramping, mountain biking …..is quite a scary prospect if you stop too long to think about it. However, we use a great outdoor company to deliver all our programmes and so that makes my job easier. I have two more to plan for in the next 3 months so the start of 2011 promises to be hectic!
Aonghas also had his school camp in March, just a week after our Year 9 camp and in the same place. It had rained all week during our camp but the sun came out for Aonghas’ school and he had a fantastic time. They used the mudslide that we had avoided as it ended in a muddy pool at the bottom of a cowfield! We had used it the year before and had a great time but a lot of the girls got infected cuts from it and so we decided that it was best left alone. However, you can’t wrap kids in cotton wool all the time, they need to get down and dirty and enjoy life while they can. Unfortunately, the combination of cow pats, water, sun, and spa pool led to an unholy mixing of bacteria which erupted through our children’s skin a day or so after camp! At least 12 of us spent the Holiday Sunday in the Emergency clinic having the kids checked to find out what the weeping sores were all over their torsos. Some sort of strep was the verdict, antibiotics for a week and some disgustingly smelly gunk to coat them with! Basically the docs had no idea what it was, but no long term effects seem to have transpired so just another one to put down to experience!
We had a lovely week down in Queenstown in July. I went down in the first week of the winter holidays for a Languages conference and the boys and Nigel met me down there mid-week. We then went on to Wanaka to stay with the Greenwoods. It was lovely seeing how easily Lachlan and Ellie slipped back into the comfortable friendship they had had when they were in Bentham. Erin and Aonghas got on well too although neither of them really remembered each other. We had a relaxing time just pottering around here and there and catching up on each other’s news. A fun day’s skiing was had by all despite the paucity of snow and we enjoyed a few scenic walks in the crisp cold and blue skies once the inversion lifted from the valley floor. We decided that we definitely shouldn’t leave it another 5 years before we meet again!
Nigel had a trip over to Tasmania for work earlier in the year and nearly didn’t get back in to the country when he arrived back at Auckland airport to find that his Returning Residents visa was out of date! It seems that they are issued for just a year in the first instance despite saying “permanent” on them, and you have to send them away to be renewed when they expire. Oops! Fortunately for us, this was by no means the first time that this has happened to anyone and the immigration staff at the airport were used to it! However, Nigel spent a nervous half an hour being detained in immigration and questioned, wondering whether they were going to transport him back to the UK! Needless to say we sent all our passports off the next day to be updated!
Christmas last year was spent at home; it has to be said that Christmas in the sun is a little strange but we are getting used to it. I am planning to go out and get our Christmas tree this weekend and am glad in a way that it is raining as it makes it feel a little more Christmassy! We spent New Year with friends at a bach at Big Bay which was lovely. Direct access to the beach, a big garden to run around in and a winery next door! We had an adventure in a rowing boat which we managed to capsize when we got side on to the waves which fortunately were washing into the shore! One lesson learned – don’t go out in a rowing boat with children when it is windy! We all had life jackets on and the water was shallow, so apart from a thorough soaking (which was welcome in the heat) and a short moment of panic we were all fine. Nigel stood on the side and took photos in between laughing at our predicament! We collected scallops and pipis and cooked them for tea washed down with wine from the winery next door; silly games, fireworks and champagne finished off the New Year celebrations as we sat around the brazier in the garden.
We then carried on up to Paihia and Waitangi, which is one of the most historic places in NewZealand and where the Waitangi Treaty was signed marking the agreement between the Maori and the British Crown. It is truly beautiful – clear blue bays, dotted with islands – great places to swim with dolphins, play in the waves and wander around fossicking in the rock pools. We had a fright at one beach when somebody spotted a pod of sharks and we all ran out of the water and stood watching the fins in the waves from the safety on the beach. Gradually people went back into the sea, but I have to say that I stood on the beach and watched the kids like hawks after that, scanning the waves for the telltale fins anxiously!
The boys have both had their own successes in different sports this year; Lachlan was selected for the Development squad for squash for Waikato and played in quite a few tournaments. He is a late starter compared to the others in the squad and it was his fitness rather than his squash skills that got him in. However, he has enjoyed the opportunities to play and benefit from the coaching the squad offers. Aonghas has continued to play hockey and he was selected for the Development squad for his age group. He has gone from strength to strength and has really found his niche on the hockey field. He runs like a terrier, chasing everything with a tenacity that impressed his coach and his stick skills and game awareness have also started to improve too. He is keen to try out for the U13 squad next year and is booked in to a hockey camp for 5 days in January.
In October I jumped off the Sky Tower! It was brilliant – all over far too quickly but an exhilarating feeling as you fall and great fun.
As I said at the start; birthdays have come and gone but the notable one this year was Lachlan turning 16. He had a party at home with about 20 of his friends; he is enjoying having a late Spring Birthday along with the better weather that goes with that rather than the cold wintry birthdays in the UK. Barbecue, water fights and loud music were the order of the day for the “Ninjas V Pirates” theme that he had chosen for his party. He has a good group of friends and has spent the last few weeks post NCEA exams doing the rounds of parties/films in the evenings, and just hanging about during the day. Time now to get some work to pay for all the things he has planned for next year!
Aonghas has gone up to Scouts from Cubs and is really enjoying the challenge of more exciting activities; in the last 6 weeks of being in Scouts he has been mountain biking, done a bike treasure hunt around Hamilton Gardens, spent a weekend tramping in the Pinnacles, sandcastle building and beach volleyball at Raglan, and First Aid with “real” casualties!
Lachlan moves on to the Sixth Form next year and has been accepted on the Outdoor Education course, has chosen Maths, Physics and Chemistry to study and he has to do English as that is a compulsory Level 2 subject. It will be interesting to see his NCEA results in January and see how effective his studying was……mmmmm!? He is also planning a 4 week service trip to Cambodia and Vietnam next December with World Challenge so he has a lot of money to raise.
Aonghas is moving up to Intermediate school in February – he is at his last day at Primary school as I write. He is very excited and well ready to move on and face the challenges of the next stage of his school career. He will be moving up with most of his friends, so doesn’t seem daunted by the prospect of a new school and new routines.
And what about Nigel? Well, his major project this year (apart from being busy at work) has been the garden. He has built raised beds for the vegetables and grown a range of tasty vegetables that grace our table. We have an automatic watering system that constantly needs tinkering with especially when I manage to put a garden fork through the pipes and another repair is needed! I bought the rusting remains of a wrought iron and wooden garden bench at the tip for $20 and Nigel has restored it to its former glory with loving care. We spend our evenings, when not bogged down with work, sitting out in the garden playing backgammon. Even in the winter, when it is not too cold or wet, we can sit out there enjoying the fresh air which is nice after being cooped up inside an office or classroom during the day. He also had his other ear operated on in an attempt to improve his hearing – not sure how effective it was but it looked impressive!
We had a visitor from Blighty in October in the form of Nick which was lovely. A flying visit whilst he was over here on business but great to catch up and hear some news of our friends in the UK. Must be about time some more of you got out here!?
Anyway, I have gone on again, haven’t I? Look forward to hearing all your news; keep it coming! Lots of love to you all and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The Robertson Clan
Well, it must be time for another missive. It seems a long time since I had time to put finger to keyboard and, in truth, I haven’t really got time now, but since I have lots of more pressing, less interesting things to do, it seemed like as good a time as any! I am frantically trying to get everything ready for yr 12 camp which is in two weeks time in Raglan. It promises to be a great camp but the planning has been fraught with pitfalls and unavoidable delays and so I am not nearly as organised this close to the date as I would have liked to have been. Never mind I am sure it will all work out in the wash, as they say in Yorkshire. Mindful of the problems I have had with yr 12 camp, I am making sure that preparations for yr 10 camp are already well under way. We’ll see what happens, sometimes when much of the planning relies on third parties, all you can do is do what you can and then go with the flow.
This weekend, was fortunately a relatively quiet one (just a squash tournament and Squash Development squad training for Lachlan, and two hockey matches and Hockey Development squad training for Gus), and so I have had a chance to get on with some work. Wet weather also made it easier to stay indoors, although I was itching to get out on my bike each time I have looked out when the sun replaced the rain for brief periods. I must get out, even if just on the wind trainer for some sessions as I have signed up to be in a two women 6 hour relay mountain bike race on the 11th September and desperately need some fitness. I’ve had a sore knee for a while now so have been reluctant to do much even if I had had the time. Must get to the physio and get it sorted….
The next few weeks are going to be hectic; Lachlan is also in a team for the Day Night Thriller in Taupo – he is riding with the Young Guns again in the 12 hour race, and then I have to take him straight to Turoa for the Secondary Schools Ski Champs before driving back for the yr 12 camp. If it’s fine on the Sunday, I’m quite tempted to fit in a day’s skiing but that would mean a late night just before going away for a week at camp – not sure the old body is up to it! That same weekend, Aonghas has rep hockey presentations on the Saturday and a rep hockey tournament in Auckland – Nigel will have to do that one! Next weekend he has three hockey matches – always busy but having fun. Lachlan had a good win in the tournament this weekend – a couple of losses first, the second of which he should have won and he knew it so was pretty cut up about it. He just needs to learn not to dwell on mistakes, forget and move on – easier said than done! In both matches he won the first game and then lost the next three, then when it came to the last match, he won the first game but maintained control and won the next two so came home a much happier bunny! Gus maintained his goal scoring record to score twice this weekend for his school team– he has still to score in the reps, but has come pretty close and also set up goals for others to slot home, so it won’t be long.
Last weekend, I took Aonghas down to Hastings for his first squash tournament – that was a mad weekend following a crazily busy week. High-tailed it out of work as the bell went to get Gus and drive down to Hastings for a Masters and Juniors tournament with some of the Lugton Park crew. Stopped in Taupo for a Wild bean coffee, sushi and pie and then had to pull over for a toilet stop for Gus just before Napier. Arrived in Hastings after a four hour drive with half an hour to spare – felt good, but then drove up and down the street and round in circles, looking for the squash club. Asked in the fast food places if anyone knew where it was and drew a blank. Eventually, spotted a couple sitting on their verandah having a smoke and asked them and they pointed me in the right direction – about 200m from their house! Google Maps GPS had got me to the end of the road but didn’t go quite far enough! Gus had change into his squash kit in the car so was ready to go as soon as we walked in the door – he literally went from the car to the court and played his first ever squash match – what a boy! He made me so proud – just got in there, well outplayed by someone several grades higher but ran for everything and stayed positive.
However, the happy boy was not happy for long after we got to the motel to find that he had lost “dog”. We searched the car, the bags, went back to every place we had stopped to ask the way but to no avail. Gus was distraught – he has had “dog” since he was a baby! He could be distracted from thinking about him for most of the time over the weekend especially when we went out for pancakes for breakfast! But he had moments when he remembered and he just sobbed – what can a Mum do in the face of such devastation?! Tournament over and we headed into Napier for breakfast on Sunday morning, constantly scanning the side of the road for signs of dog – call me mad but Gus was convinced we would find him. It had been dark and raining on the way down and I really couldn’t remember where I had pulled over for Gus to go the toilet, but that was the only time dog could have escaped! Gus, on the other hand, had a clear picture in is head – he had peed over a ditch, with a wire fence and a paddock opposite, just before we had pulled over he had seen a white church on a bend. All I remembered was that it was wide enough spot to pull over. After a great breakfast – Gus had his favourite again – what else but pancakes? After a weekend of crap food and no veggies, I enjoyed Eggs Florentine with heaps of silver beet, tomatoes and mushrooms – yummy! After brekkie we wandered along the sea front, arranged to meet the others at the Hole in one at Taupo and then headed back along towards Hastings on the same side of the road that we had driven along on Friday night – no joy. I still wasn’t sure where we had stopped but Gus was still hopeful and so we set off back towards Taupo. Driving along and suddenly Gus shouted out to stop – he had spotted the church and the bend and a wire fence and a paddock – he insisted that I turn around, so I did. He jumped out and ran down the side of the road, definite that this was the spot, and then we saw a little grey lump on the ground, picked it up and there he was – wet, bedraggled and very smelly but it was dog! One very, very happy boy climbed back in the car, wrapped dog up in a “blanket” (the windscreen cloth) and smiled all the way home! We stopped in Taupo. Just in time to see Brendon and Chris trying to hit golf balls onto the “green” in Lake Taupo – they all veered off into the wind well away from the hole. Gus was desperate to have a go so I gave him $3 for three balls; the first two just made it into the lake but, with a bit of coaching from the experts, he hit the third perfectly and it just missed the green by a few metres! Nearly as big a smile as finding dog!
What news? Well just a few short hours before we go back to school, Dr Who is being watched avidly by all the family – the new Dr isn’t half as good as David Tennant, or maybe we just haven’t got used to him yet? It’s always the same when a new one takes over. I don’t feel quite ready yet for school but time marches on and we have had a good holiday.
I went down to Queesntown for the NZALT (New Zealand Language Teachers) Biennial Conference in Queenstown with the rest of my department at the beginning of the holidays and then Nigel and the boys joined me on the Wednesday. The conference was great, some very inspiring speakers and plenty of food for thought. The best part was the “weekend d’immersion” beforehand, though – we had a couple of days speaking only French with other language teachers and some of the native French speakers who teach here. I think I have spoken more French here than I ever did in the UK!
The weather was beautiful and it was great to be surrounded by mountains. As I said the boys joined me on Wednesday lunchtime and late afternoon Ross came to pick us up to take us to Wanaka. For the first time since we arrived in NZ and 5 years since we last saw them, we finally got to catch up with the Greenwoods. Lachlan and Ellie, despite some apprehension now that they are both teenagers, hit it off straight away – it was like they had never been apart. Aonghas and Erin got on well the last time they were together but now they are 10 and 11, one is female and the other male, there was a little distance! At that age girls and boys just don’t really mix, do they? They got on well enough, though, especially when they had a computer each to play on!
Despite the glorious weather in Queenstown, as we drove over the Crown Range into Wanaka, we descended into a thick temperature inversion, which Chris said had been there a few days. It was also freezing!! We North Islanders were just not prepared for it! Luckily we awoke to a slight breeze which was just enough to lift the cloud and send it away over the mountains. We then enjoyed the rest of the week out and about, skiing and walking in the sunshine. It was lovely to catch up with all the Greenwood news and share ours. We had just one day on the slopes at Treble Cone which (too expensive for any more days!) and despite a wobbly start on the nursery slope Gus was soon whizzing down from the top of the chair with Lachlan and Ellie! We must get down to Whakapapa sometime this winter! Went for a few nice walks out with Nuk along the Clutha to Lake Wanaka, and up Mount Iron. We also had a good walk in Kidd’s Bush – steep up and steep down but fantastic views!
What have we been up to? Autumn is well and truly here but we are still blessed with some fantastic weather! The farmers are tearing their hair out because they want more rain but we are happy that we can still get out and about without getting too wet and cold!
A couple of weekends ago saw us heading in different directions as Nigel and Aonghas went to Opal Springs on Cub camp and Lachlan and I went down to Rotorua and the Redwoods for a practice for the Moonride. It was a damp old day but luckily the heavy rain held off and we didn’t get too wet. Well Nigel and Aonghas got a bit of a drenching at hockey on Saturday morning , but had the chance to get a change of clothes before heading over to camp. First part of camp was a walk up Wairere Falls – quite a steep climb up the waterfall and lots of steps but they managed to catch the rest of the cub pack up and even overtook a fair few of them, to get to the top of the track and the stunning view across the Waikato. It was quite breezy so the spray from the waterfall blew back into their faces but Aonghas was quite taken with the fact that they caught everyone up and thought the walk was pretty cool!
Meanwhile Lachlan and I were at the Redwoods checking out the track for the Moonride with Russ, Jane, Jo and Rob. We had a good day exploring – lots of uphill to get the benefit of the good tracks, and I was quite pleased that I coped okay with the pace as this was the first time I had been out with anyone other than the families and little kids! We then had a bite to eat before heading back in the dark to practise our night riding. A completely different experience – it is a bit like riding in a tunnel because you can’t see anything around you. The lights we used were pretty bright, but that focussed beam tends to blind you to anything outside it. Judging where the bumps and hollows are is a bit like skiing in a whiteout and you start to feel a little nauseous! It is definitely bone rattling as you can’t really prepare your body for the shock of riding over the tree roots or dipping down into a hollow! Still, once I got used to it, I found that I quite enjoyed myself!
The following week we were back for the real thing! Lachlan was racing with the Hammers Young Guns – something he was a little nervous about as these are the guys that have been identified as having potential, and they have been having specific training all year. Two of them are NZ champions for their age group and all have done very well in National races over the last year. They were short of team member though, and had invited Lachlan to join them. A great opportunity for him but also quite daunting. He was 4th to ride the 8km track and as they were all starting off with a double run he had a couple of hours to wait, which didn’t help his nerves. Russ had a chat with him and reminded him just to ride his own race and not to worry about trying to prove himself – he was good enough as he was, so just have confidence in himself. Great advice and once he was underway, the nerves disappeared and he was sweet. He rode consistently and although he was a couple of minutes off the pace of the others in the early stages, he came into his own during the night stage and continued to ride consistent times, whereas the others slowed down a bit. They were impressed with his riding and have invited him to join the development group, so he came home very happy, and with a gold medal round his neck too as they came first in their age category and 9th overall. Great effort! Mum was quite pleased with her effort too – I had been persuaded to enter a team in the 6 hour race with a couple of Glen’s friends who were keen on having a go. We were just doing it for the experience and to have a bit of fun, and that’s exactly what we did! The whole event is amazing – tents, gazebos, barbecues, braziers, gas stoves, fridges, televisions, windtrainers to get warmed up before you ride, every technology and gadget and gizmo you can think of, and a lot of people having a lot of fun! Something like 400 teams and solo riders – yes some mad individuals ride for 24 hours solo!! I think at some point there was an announcement over the PA system that the cumulative number of kilometres ridden was the equivalent to once around the world!! It is huge! I drew the short straw and had to ride the first lap – all the 12 hour and 6 hour teams start together and merge with the 24 hour teams who have already been riding for 12 hours so the track is quite congested. I decided to hang back and stay out of the way of the guys who wanted a fast getaway which meant that the first km or so we were more or less stationary! After that though I rode some quite respectable lap times (3 minutes slower than Lachlan and 7 minutes slower than the fastest lap time but I was happy!). I was actually quite disappointed when our 6 hours was up but my legs were pretty tired and I think I would have struggled to do many more, especially in the dark. So I had something to eat and settled down to look after Lachlan and support the rest of the teams from Hamilton.
Winter sports have started – Lachlan has decided to give rugby a miss this season after a total lack of commitment from fellow team mates last year and a frustrating time struggling to get a full team to turn out for matches and training. He is concentrating on his cycling – mountain and road, and squash. Before his success in the Moonride he rode in the Blackstump 18km Mountain Bike Race and came first in his age group so we now have an impressive trophy gracing our living room. After taking up squash last year he has made it into the Waikato Development squad and is improving fast. He is still struggling in matches despite having good skills and fitness. He has entered a few tournaments but has yet to post a win which is frustrating for him, but not surprising as he is playing against youngsters who have been playing for several years and have learned how to play matches.
Aonghas is also playing squash and is enjoying it. We have Friday night Juniors Coaching down at our squash club which Lachlan has been helping out at. We are hoping to get a few of the younger ones playin in some of the Junior tournaments soon and Aonghas is very keen to play some matches! After struggling with the switch from tag rugby in the UK to full contact here in NZ, Aonghas decided that he would try a different sport in 2009. He really wanted to do soccer, and we thought he would be able to do school soccer after school and club hockey on Saturday mornings. However, after signing up to hockey, he missed out on the school soccer team because he didn’t hear the messages in school about it! Never mind, he really took to hockey and despite never having picked up a stick before he quickly learnt some basic skills. After a couple of matches not really knowing what to do and just hanging around on the wing he gained some confidence and was soon scoring goals. This year he is one of the “experienced” ones and knows a bout more about where he should be on the pitch and what his role is. This week was his 2nd match of the season and he came home pleased as punch with the Player of the Day trophy and 2 goals under his belt! Well done, Gus!
Well I never got round to finishing off our holiday blog – too much to do at the end of the Christmas holidays and I have hardly paused to draw breath since school started! But now we are a few days into the Easter Hols, I have had a chance to catch up on my sleep and although the housework still needs doing, it will wait. The clocks have gone back and despite some lovely, warm, sunny weather there is definitely a hint of Autumn in the air, and there has been for a few weeks now. The farmers are still desperate for rain, all the cows are drying off early and there is little or no silage for winter feeds as there has been no rain, or not enough for the farmers anyways. We aren’t complaining as it means we can get out and about.
It’s frightening how quickly kids grow up isn’t it? Lachlan is now quite a bit taller than me and growing out of clothes quicker than we can buy them! He is also going through girlfriends like they’re going out of fashion – he’s the one that always gets dumped but he doesn’t seem to mind – just finds another one! He is starting to get into the party scene too and also keen to get his driving licence (they can get one at 15yrs old here – very scary!) Anyway we gave him a challenge to get 10/10 on the on-line road safety/highway code tests 100 times in a row, which, of course he duly did, far more quickly than we had anticipated, but now he has to find out what to do to get his Learners Licence. This will require a bit of legwork and initiative – we decided that if he wants his licence that much he will get it sorted, we’re not doing it for him! If he’s old enough to drive, he’s old enough to find out what he has to do, what forms he needs to fill out and where to go to do it all! There is a lot of talk about raising the driving age here in NZ, but to be honest there is so much opposition to it here as everyone seems to be married to their cars, that I can’t see it happening any time soon!
I had my first Dio camp in Week 8 of Term 1 – well the first that I had the responsibility of organising, hence not having time to breathe most of the term! As usual, the paperwork takes time to get together but also finding time to liaise with other crucial staff members and arrange meetings with outside providers is not easy when everyone is so busy! Despite some unpredictable weather, lots of damp clothes and girls, and some midnight wanderings, it all went well – phew!! That’s Year 9 down, now just Yr 12 and Yr 10 to come in Terms 3 & 4.
Aonghas was away at the same place we went to at his school camp in the last week of term and he had a great time. The house was very quiet without him – mind you we are talking about a boy that doesn’t stop talking from the moment he opens his eyes in the morning until they close again at night, so it was quite peaceful really! He came back from his camp with some strange lurgey – probably cultured in the spa pool from the mud covered bodies of a hundred and odd 10 yr olds that bathed in there after a couple of hours of fun on the mudslide! It seems that the last lot of kids that went in the pool are the ones that have been affected, so they are all on antibiotics and being covered in calamine lotion! Oh joy!
I have just booked Lachlan and I two nights in a holiday park in Auckland as he is playing in a Squash Tournament up there this weekend. He has been selected for the Waikato Development squad and this will be his first tournament so quite scary! He only started playing 8 months ago and apparently is quite talented – excellent fitness and good strokes but totally lacking in court awareness as yet as he has not played very many matches, so this weekend should be interesting, possibly frustrating and very probably brimming with adolescent male emotional turmoil! I’ll let you know!
Nigel and I are going up to Auckland tomorrow to see Dr John (Blues/Jazz guy – very old! We went to see Ry Cooder there a few months ago and when we walked in to the theatre we both looked at each other and commented on how old everyone was – then looked at each other and realised that they were all the same age as us – quite scary!!) It’s quite good being only an hour and a half away from Auckland as it means we can get up there to see concerts and stuff if we want to, but can enjoy the less frenetic pace of life in rural Hamilton the rest of the time! Aonghas is staying at a friend’s house and Lachlan is old enough to leave on his own! For my Birthday Nigel bought me a Sky Tower Jump – I wanted to do it when we came here on holiday but we couldn’t afford it! Should be fun just need to work out a day to do it.
I have done less running recently but have been doing a bit more cycling – even came 3rd in a 31km bike race last weekend – in the “mature” category (age 40 – 60), but 8th overall so I was quite pleased with myself – did it in 1 hour and 1 minute! However, I also participated in a Duathlon in Rotorua – the same one as I did last year but this time I did the 20km bike ride in the middle of a 5km run and a 1.5km run. The Real Duathlons are supposed to be non-competitive and they are great fun because there are all sorts of women who take part. However, there is always a competitive element and I am sorry to say that I am part of it! So I am pleased to announce that I came in first of the 70 or so women who did the 20km race! No prize just personal pride!
I think I have already said that we have joined the Hamilton Mountain Biking Club – they race every Wednesday evening during the summer and there are loads of categories. This was our first year so Lachlan raced in the U17 boys Championship, I was in the Ladies Sport and Aonghas in the Fun Class. Lachlan succeeded in winning his category and has also had other mountain biking success this season. You may remember that he raced in something called the Black Stump Mountain Bike Race last year as part of a team and for a first race he did pretty well. This year he rode the 18km race as part of a team but also as an individual in the U17 category. He won his age group but also came 8th overall, so he was pretty stoked and came home beaming with a huge trophy. There is a sort of offshoot branch of the mountain Bike Club called No Boring Bits who do a mixtures of road and mountain biking. They organise more social rides around and about and we have been down to Rotorua to the Redwoods with them a few times. There are quite a few families with young kids which is good for Gus, but also some hard guys who have taken Lachlan under their wings so that he can do the hard core riding that his pathetic Mum and Dad daren’t do! Lachlan bought me a bike computer for my Birthday so we went out for a 70km ride with them on Good Friday to try it out! I had a great time and am now looking forward to getting out a bit more – cycling seems to be kinder on my back than running but you do need more time…
I have also started Indoor Netball – some of the younger teachers at school play and entered a social team into one of the leagues. I played hockey last year and enjoyed playing but it rained every Tuesday evening and I never really got to know the rest of the team very well so I thought I’d go along and try out Indoor netball this year! Variety is the spice of life! For those of you in the UK where Indoor Netball doesn’t exist (well I’d never heard of it, though maybe I led a sheltered life!) let me explain – Indoor netball is a bit odd – mixed teams, 6 a side, 2 attackers. 2 centres and 2 defenders. Played in 2 halves, with centres allowed anywhere but the shooting circles, defenders in their half and circle, attackers in their half and circle – otherwise all the same rules as netball. Gets quite physical with men in the team! We have won one, lost one and drawn one so far! And at least one of the teams is not very sociable, I have to say! I am also continuing to play squash in a team – the people at the squash club are pretty friendly so we have got quite involved there – just taking it steady as the old muscles are not quite what they were – they tear a lot more easily, so I am making sure I warm up properly and stop if I get any twinges!
We went to the Night Glow again to see the Hot Air Balloons light up to music and the firework display. Pretty impressive as usual, and the Hamilton Gardens Festival was also good this year. The dawn showing of the Shakespeare play was excellent – this year it was in the amphitheatre next to the Italian Renaissance Garden which was just a perfect setting. It was a “re-write” of Romeo and Juliette – rather tongue in cheek and a weird mixture of modern and old which gave it an interesting twist. Juliette texting her friends and chewing gum slipped in seamlessly with the Shakespearean speak of other characters! We also listened to an amazing Chinese boy playing some pipes in the Chinese Garden. Aonghas enjoyed creating his own music on a giant percussion set made up of industrial and houseware items – great fun and very noisy too! It was just lovely to wander around the gardens in the sunshine and listen to the music, watch the plays and meet people. Oh, and the cold beer in the cafe was pretty good too!
What else have we done? I have to be careful or these posts get too long – maybe I should be more organised and try to write a short bit each week? However, I have never been that good at organisation and doing things regularly – I get bored too easily, so long and sporadic these posts will continue to be, I’m afraid!
Just had a great Facebook post that I just have to share with you – http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/3547793/Bottle-loving-baby-a-boost-for-the-breed/ Aonghas loves his furry baby Rhino that his Aunty Stephanie bought him when he was a toddler and it still goes everywhere with him so the Rhinos at Hamilton zoo have been a firm favourite when we visit. When we visited with Aunty Margaret last October we saw that one of them was pregnant and now the baby has been born….aww! Will have to go this holiday now!!
Back again! Ready for the next instalment? It was lovely to have space around us, room for the boys to play with a ball, we managed to appropriate one of the picnic tables as we don’t have a camping table any more, the windbreak provided us with some shade and privacy and we were set! The camping ground was bounded on one side by the river which was wide at this point as it opened up to enter the sea. The first night as Nigel and I sat and played Backgammon we kept hearing a sort of plopping noise which we guessed was air bubbles from the Mangroves as they rose to the surface, quite curious but strangely peaceful! Later on, when we went for a walk from Hararu Falls along the river and through the Mangroves we heard more of a popping noise, but then the tide was out so the mud was exposed. We found out that the popping noise was from the Snapping Shrimps which live in holes in the mud. When we looked closer we could also see the little Mud Crabs scurrying in and out of their holes – what an amazing community! Maybe the plopping noise in the evening was the air bubbles from the Snapping Shrimps or the Mud Crabs or maybe they were other creatures, there were certainly all sorts of noises along the edge of the river. We enjoyed the peace and time to be able to sit and listen and cogitate!
We spent the first morning in Paihia at the Information Centre, charging my phone and collecting a huge array of brochures about all the fun things you can do in the area. Aonghas ran backwards and forwards excitedly – “Hey, look at this!” “Mum, can we do this, it looks awesome?” “Wow, I want to go here!” “Can we, can we, can we…?” Over a coffee and an ice cream we studied the literature – actually we didn’t, the boys decided they needed a beach and some waves, Lachlan had asked where the best beaches were and so we decided to go over to Russell on the car ferry and check out Long Beach. Just as well we took the car, as the walk from Russell over the hill to the other side of the island, carrying beach stuff would have been hot, sticky and painful! What a beautiful beach, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon there just relaxing. The waves were a little tame for the boys’ liking but they had fun nonetheless. Gus punctuated spells in the sea with doing what Gus does best – digging, whilst Lachlan opted for the more teenage past time of sleeping, or just looking cool! Nigel and Gus went for a walk along to the rocks and explored the rock pools, I went too but didn’t take any footwear so had to stop when the sand ran out – the rocks were just too pointy! The sea was deliciously warm, and I spent a lot of time just floating on my back with my eyes closed, letting the waves wash over me and listening to the sound of the sea!
Next day it was grey and overcast! Well, nothing lasts for ever! We decided that a day at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds would be a good thing to do, but obviously so had the rest of the world! Change of plan – a trip to Kawakawa to see the Hundertwasser toilets. Years ago, when we were planning our holiday to NZ the Hundertwasser toilets were on our list of things to see. We never got there so I was quite excited when I realised that they were close by – little things….! Kawakawa is a strange little town; shabby and run down, it has the feeling that past glory is hanging on by its finger tips, but there is also just a suggestion that re-growth is on its way. The colourful contributions, either Hundertwasser originals or cheerful creations inspired by him, are dotted about and add a sort of Bohemian touch to an otherwise typical, humdrum, colonial town. (According to my Maori dictionary, Kawakawa means pepper tree – a small densely branched tree with heart-shaped leaves. Used for ceremonies, including removing tapu, for medicinal purposes and as a symbol of death.) I don’t really know what I had expected – we had seen pictures of the famous/infamous Hundertwasser toilets, but hadn’t realised until we arrived that they are indeed, the town’s public toilets. Slotted neatly in between other buildings on the town’s main street, they are the main focus of attention and there must be a constant queue – probably the only place there is ever a queue for the Gents! I found myself in the curious position of sitting on the loo with my camera taking pictures of the colourful array of tiles and cornucopia that Hundertwasser embedded in the concrete to create his masterpiece! Knowing there was a line of similarly interested people outside I hurriedly snapped away before emerging to take more photos of the rest of the place. Hundertwasser clearly embodies the ideals of the environmentalist – recycling just about anything to incorporate into art and creating beauty out of it. I love it! Which reminds me, I bought some postcards to frame – must look them out and do it! Another job for a rainy day!
As we drove through the town we noticed that there was a railway track down the middle of the street which we thought was strange, maybe the vestiges of the old railway line long discontinued. But Aonghas became excited shouting that he could see steam and could we go on the steam train, please, please, Mum? Sure enough, a small team of steam enthusiasts have got together to restore the old line and slowly but surely are raising the funds and extending it with the intentions of getting it right back to Opua. You buy a ticket that lasts all day so you can go backwards and forwards as often as you want. A round trip lasts about 45 mins, with a stop at the furthest point which is the end of an impressive but very rickety bridge that spans the river and marshlands. The funds to restore this bridge to its former glory, I think, will be long in coming but the whole thing reminds me of the Embsay Railway from Skipton to Bolton Abbey. A similarly determined group of aging boys, playing with life size toys and reliving the dreams of childhood! To be fair, though, I love steam engines too, I spent a lot of my childhood with Dad at steam rallies, model railway exhibitions, restored railway stations, and the thrill of riding on a train pulled by a steam engine never goes away! I find the memorabilia and the musty shabbiness of it all strangely comforting and familiar. The old railway station has been converted into the predictable Railway cafe and we duly sat in the old waiting room, its walls decorated with faded old posters advertising long forgotten, rail journeys, photos of the steam engines in all their former glory, and rail paraphernalia hanging from large hooks in the ceiling all knitted together with draping, dusty cobwebs. Our food was long in coming, (they were pretty busy) and Gus ended up having to take his pancakes on the train with him, but it was good and tasty. There are three carriages which make up the train, a closed, 1st class where in the evenings you can have meals, an open, 3rd class carriage and, the 2nd class which has open sides but is covered. On the outward journey we alternated between standing directly behind the engine where you could just about see through the driver’s little circular window, and hanging out the side of the open carriage. The train chugs gently along, and we had plenty of time to take in the surrounding countryside and, despite the sooty smell of the steam, we could also appreciate the sweet perfumes of the tree blossoms and flowers. At the end of the line we all had to get off so the engine can be put on to the other end of the train, no turntable so we travelled back with the engine going in reverse. Aonghas and I went for a little wander on to the bridge, taking care not to step through the holes but admiring the view as the dense bush gives way to marshy vegetation and a lazy meandering river. We spent most of the time on the return journey on the platform at the front of the train looking at the engine which was great fun, the wind and the oily specks of soot tangling our hair and blowing in our faces!
Our action packed day continued with a trip to Kawiti Glow Worm Caves in Waiomio just south of Kawakawa – as we drove up on Saturday we had spotted the change in landscape and noticed the karst features and a signpost to a Glow Worm Cave. It is a beautifully decorated little cave – a high ceilinged rift passage for the main part with that deep-throated echoey trickle of a stream running beneath the walkway. Tell-tale signs of flood debris litter the rock ledges at eye-level, remind us of the perfidy of water and caves, and the guides tell of times when the walkway we are standing on was washed away with the force of the rising water. We ask about the existence of other caves in the area convinced that given the landscape and the significant development in the cave there must be others, but our guides know of none or are not forthcoming with any information. They thought that the owner of the cave may well know of some but he was not around when we came out. The short bush walk back to the entrance is pleasant but generally unremarkable except for the karst formations – great lumps of eroded limestone are dotted about, providing a wonderful playground for boys. The cave has been used by Maori for generations, and we are told the story of local villagers who noticed tawa berries missing from the trees and food going missing, then saw smoke coming from the cave. Following the trail of squashed berries they found that a young woman was living in the cave, she had run away and had found shelter in the cave. Over the years the iwi have used the cave to store kumara and other vegetables and there are signs of some exploration. We have been in lots of caves and seen a whole array of stals and cave decoration, we have also seen glow worms in caves and in the bush since we have been in NZ but the “Milky Way” of Glow Worms in Kawiti was just stunning. It was just like looking up at the night sky – it would have been lovely to have been able to spend some time on my own, sitting in that all embracing silence and darkness that you can only get in a cave and perusing the “stars”. One day…
It is a very wet summer’s day here in Hamilton – holiday weekend, enough said! Rainy day jobs especially in summer and at the beginning of the year include sorting out all the rubbish that has accumulated on my computer. How many copies of one file can I have? Don’t answer – if you are like me and terrified of deleting anything because it might be the only copy and VERY important then you tend to have the same file in multiple locations. And then having realised you have it more than one place you don’t have time to check that they are actually the same copies of a document and not different versions of it, so you just leave it for that rainy day when you have nothing better to do! Well that rainy day is here, and whilst I could get on with some prep for school on Tuesday, something else is always preferable! Anyway, to get back to the point, I was going through my “Correspondence” folder and organising the jumbled list into folders for each year and I realised that I didn’t finish telling you all about our summer hols this year. A new and more interesting prospect than trawling through files and folders, so here goes!
HAPPY NEW YEAR everybody! I know we are a month into the New Year but I don’t think I said it in the last blog so here it is!
Having made the decision to drift over the holidays, is that a contradiction in terms? Can you make a decision to drift or is drifting by its nature not making decisions? Never mind, we did it! So on January 2nd we packed up the car, and after a play on the beach and lunch we set off northwards. Well we had to go south first as we were on a peninsula which was a bit of a pain, but the roads were quiet and we made good progress. Even going through Auckland was uneventful and, just like the M6 toll road, the 7km of super-duper motorway north of Auckland, for which we were charged the princely sum of $2, was empty. As we approached our vaguely agreed destination of Paihia we started to think about campsites. I had been driving for nearly 6 hours (with breaks – how can you not stop when you have two hungry boys, who need to go to the loo 5 minutes after you have stopped for food, but “didn’t need to go” when a toilet was available!?) so my laid back, it’ll all sort itself out, something will come up frame of mind was starting to disintegrate a bit and I was perhaps just a bit tetchy! Especially after pulling into the first couple of campsites to find them full to brimming with tents, campervans and caravans squeezed in to tiny spaces to maximise revenue. Not our idea of a pleasant stay! It was all too much “Why did I ever think I could just drift?” “What a stupid fool I am, the busiest time of the year and we don’t book in anywhere in advance!” “We’ll end up in a crappy, squashed, noisy, claustrophobic campground, surrounded by the great unwashed!” Placated and cajoled by Nigel (he is such a patient man!) I calmed down, and we headed into Paihia where we stopped for an ice cream and a visit to the information centre. Armed with a list of campgrounds we set off to check them out. After driving past a couple – they didn’t look like the sort we wanted to stay at – we eventually came round in a full circle, past the Waitangi Treaty ground and spotted a campsite that looked promising. Indeed it was; plenty of space, some shade, away from the road, basic amenities – nothing flash, just clean and functional. We booked in and then wandered into Paihia for some tea at one of the many culinary establishments the town boasts. Pretty good Pizzas from Charlie’s, we have to say and a very welcome cold beer or two!
Well the title of this offering is not quite correct as we actually spent Hogmanay and New Year’s Day with some friends in Manukau Heads, but we travelled on up to the Bay of Islands afterwards and spent the first week of the New Year camping Waitangi. It was unusual for me to be so unprepared for a holiday – since having the children I usually like to have everything booked and organised in advance so that there is no milling around and drifting. Somehow this year I just felt quite relaxed about the whole holiday thing. Up until a couple of weeks before Christmas we still really had no idea what we were going to do – just a vague thought that we would head north as that is an area that we haven’t yet been to. Then our friends Liz and Chas asked us if we would like to join them for a couple of nights over New Year at a house they had rented at Graham Beach on Manukau Heads. That sounds like a plan we thought – had a quick look at the map to see where it was and decided that it could be a starting point. Manukau Heads is a peninsula to the west and you look across the Bay towards Auckland. Considering that you can see Auckland across the Bay and the airport, Graham Beach itself seems quite remote and unspoilt. The house sleeps ten and the sleep-out in the adjacent paddock sleeps five so there was plenty of space for all of us and there was access to the beach at the bottom of the garden via a set of steep wooden steps and a windy root-strewn path so we had a really chilled time there. We had a wander along the beach on New Years’ Eve, it was low tide and there were lots of folk out collecting scallops – some on the water line and some out snorkelling. We asked someone how big they were supposed to be and found out that they should be 100mm wide so we set to and started putting them in Josh’s bucket! Every now and then we would jump as they opened their shells and spat at us! We managed to get about a dozen from the shoreline but didn’t venture out into deeper water. Apparently they are not normally so deep but it was a blue moon that night (the second full moon of the month) and the tides were much higher than usual. Technology came in handy as we used our phones and the internet to find out what to do next with the spitting scallops! They made a very pleasant entrée as we cooked them in garlic butter and a little bit of white wine, mmm… yummy! Will definitely have to try that again, unfortunately the Pipis that we collected the following day weren’t quite so successful, never mind we can always try again! It is great being able to collect your own food and we have really enjoyed harvesting the crops in our garden which are all now coming to fruition. Fruit and veg that we could only grow in a greenhouse in the UK is flourishing here – cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers as well as courgettes, carrots, broccoli. Silver beet, beans, fennel, rock melons, sage, basil, parsley are all doing well too.
We had a quiet but very pleasant Hogmanay, the children entertained themselves more or less and Monty the puppy slept when he wasn’t stealing any shoes that were inadvertently left at floor level! It got a little chilly towards midnight so we loaded up the brazier and sat outside around it toasting our toes as well as the marshmallows. Great fun was had with glowsticks which had to replace the fireworks that we had all forgotten to bring. There is only a very small window of opportunity for buying fireworks here around Guy Fawkes Night and so they get put away for New Year and in our cases, forgotten about! Never mind there’s always next year!
New Year’s Day dawned bright and sunny and the boys were keen to go out in the little rowing boat. At high tide the sea comes right up to the cliff so it seemed like a good time to go out as we didn’t have to drag the boat down the beach a long way to the sea. Liz, Lachlan, Aonghas, Jamie, Josh and I set off all dressed appropriately and left the men behind to chill out (it was Chas’ birthday after all). Liz opted to go in the boat first with Lachlan and Josh so off they went whilst Jamie and Gus played on the rocks. We watched them go round in circles before heading off more confidently out into the bay. The wind had picked up a bit and we saw them turn to come back in to shore but then carried on playing on the rocks. The next thing I heard as a little voice straining against the wind to be heard; “Help , we can’t get back in!” They weren’t that far away but the wind was buffeting them around in circles. Valiantly (or stupidly!) I dived into the water and swam out to help point the boat in the right direction and guide them in to shore! But then… Aonghas and Jamie still wanted to go out in the boat so Josh and Lachlan climbed out and the rest of us climbed in as Liz steadied the boat. Unfortunately she didn’t manage to get out before the boat started to drift away from the rocks against which we thought we were safely wedged. The wind was blowing and the waves were pushing us along the coast and into the shore (fortunately for us as it turned out) and as we struggled to turn around and row away, a wave washed us sideways onto a rock, I struggled in vain to stop myself from slipping along the seat which tipped the boat and the water flowed in! Jamie and Gus scrambled out onto the rock as, amidst much laughter and shouting from the spectators on the rocks, Liz and I “woman-handled” the boat to stop it from sinking! Luckily we were in shallow enough water to walk the brimming boat to the shore and empty it out before securing it on the rocks and deciding to give boating a miss for the day! All safe as we were wearing lifejackets, the sea was warm and we were close in to shore. In retrospect it even seems like a good thing to have happened as it made the children realise just what the dangers are when it comes to boats and the sea. Enough excitement for the day, we retreated to the garden to relax in the sun, have a wander round to the winery (Awhitu) next door for a wine tasting (they do just two wines – a very crisp Chardonnay and a lovely Syrah, worth tasting) and then afternoon birthday tea of chocolate cake and champagne on the beach! Perfect!
We are travelling back to Hamilton from Wellington on the Overlander train, a journey of about 580km which takes 9 and a half hours at an average speed of, shall we say, slow! It gives us the opportunity to relax, spend quality time together as a family and admire the scenery (much of which is not visible from the road – or so the spiel from the train crew goes). I jest; it is indeed a very pleasant journey and the scenery is stunning.
As we travel along the coast out of Wellington we have but a short time to admire the morning light on the harbour and the tall buildings reflecting the sun like huge mirrors before we plunge into the tunnel that takes us through the mountain to the other side. We emerge into misty mountains to our east but clear blue sky to the west. This is the pattern for the next few kilometres; we go through Levin and the sun is shining through the heavy clouds over the mountains to the east. Levin (rhymes with “begin”) was founded in 1906 and named after William Hort Levin, a director of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company. The town’s Maori name is Taitoko but I have still to work out what it means – tai is something to do with tides or ocean I think.
Heading northwards we see cows and rolling plains to the west and still the misty mountains to the east.
We are just approaching Palmerston North which according to the train crew “allows visitors to participate in a large variety of adventurous activities”. There is a five minute stop here to take on passengers and let smokers off for a fag break!
Fielding – built along the same plan as Manchester, “so those of you that may hail from there will easily be able to find your way around” – but I bet that if you come from Fielding you would not be able to find your way around Manchester! Onwards through the flat lands to Marton – beer brewing land – and we start the climb up country to the mountains. New Zealand is indeed a green and lush land, and as we trundle through it the sheep and the cows munch away contentedly and Aonghas chews on a meat pie, most of which he is wearing down his front as he is concentrating more on watching the DVD of Return of the King than looking at where his food is going! Every now and then there is a small graveyard seemingly in the middle of nowhere but I presume they are Maori burial places. It is not easy to type and I will have to make extensive use of the spelling and grammar check, as the train rocks and rolls and makes me miss the keys. This is certainly not a sleek Intercity 125, and even further removed from the smooth and aerodynamic movement of the TGV. It takes me back to childhood train journeys, and it is sort of comforting to feel the rails beneath the wheels and all the bumps and trickety trick, trickety trick as the train bowls along. The carriage has filled up as we have travelled north and it is always fascinating to observe our fellow passengers. We are sitting by the door so are frequently stared and glared at by people as they steady themselves to open the door – good old-fashioned handles that have to be turned, not pressure pad technology that magically opens the door as you approach. Now there is the confident youth, then there is the mother and young child, the elderly, but determined lady and the portly middle aged man (not Nigel!). They all negotiate the awkward journey that takes them from one end of the carriage to the other. Thrown from one side of the aisle to the other, grasping the head rests for balance and all but falling into a stranger’s lap, they achieve their goal of the door or the safety of their seats.
Just passed through the small town of Hunterville founded in 1884 by George Hunter who walked from Wellington . It is famous for its Huntaway dogs which are a unique Herding dog which uses its bark to herd sheep. There is a festival each year which starts with a dog barking competition and features The Shepherds Shemozzle – a race with man and dog. Shepherds travel from all over New Zealand to compete up hill and down dale and through the town obstacle course – fascinating the things you find out! The landscape is now very green and lumpy like upturned egg boxes. To the East the valleys are flat and the cliffs are getting more sheer, and to the east the many hillocks are more rounded. The lush green fields are dotted with the white of the sheep and the tussocky grass.
This is the Rangitikei region – farming country with lovely native bush. The Papa cliffs are spectacular, steep sided, impressive gorges and a sparkling white; the water is clear and looks refreshingly cool below as the river meanders through the gorge. We cross it several times – there are 10 viaducts over the next 50 km we are told and our stewards reel off the names, heights and lengths of them too quickly for me to make notes – I will have to look them up later! See this link for more details on the viaducts – http://trains.wellington.net.nz/bridges.html
However one of them is the Makohine Viaduct ( 229m long and 73m high ) and we dashed down to the front of the train to get a better view from the open air platform behind the engine. It is very noisy but good to have fresh air and the wind in your face – as long as you face the right way and don’t get the fumes from the diesel. We have picked up a bit of speed now and are almost faster than the cars on SH1 which runs alongside the track. The boys were devastated on the way down that the cars outpaced the train, but when we are in the car they always want to race the trains and revel in the fact that we drive faster than them. The sheep scurry away in an arc across the fields as the train goes past, three brown cows sit in a row unmoved by the noise and the deer continue to graze and then blackness as we enter a tunnel. It feels strange to be hurtling along in complete darkness, a bit like the old ghost trains at the fairground – what ghoul will pop out round the corner, what gooey, sticky strands will sweep across my face…? But no, we are back out into the light again all safe and no surprises.
We pass through Mangaweka which from the train seems like a tiny little place and as we whizz through it I spot a sign for the Mangaweka International airport (this has to be a joke, surely!)– there is an old plane parked next to the sign and close by there is the General Store and then a Gospel Hall. According to good old Wikipedia “The town also hosts the controversial annual “Fakes & Forgeries Art Exhibition and Festival” in October and November”.
The odd colonial style house stands alone in a field, surrounded by the remnants of a once well-manicured garden, run down but still evocative of times past, the native bush reclaiming the space it used to occupy. On to Taihape which is a small town founded in 1894 and a centre for the timber industry. The once busy sawmills are nearly all now closed but were the reason for the existence of the town when the native forest was cleared up until the 1940s. Famous now for its annual gumboot throwing competition and on the edge of the town there is a large corrugated gumboot to commemorate Taihape’s 100th anniversary.
Did you know that before the arrival of people on NZ 85% of country was forested? In the 1200s Maori felled and cleared the land to make way for crops and to build houses and waka and so by the time the European settlers arrived in the mid 1800s only 55% of the land was forested. Maori lived mainly along the coastal areas on both Islands but some iwi moved to the geo thermal areas around Rotorua in the winter. In a very short space of time between the mid 1890s and early 1900s the European settlers cleared huge tracts of land for grazing and farming as well as felling the mighty Kauri trees to be exported, so that nowadays only 25% of the land retains its forest and much of the native trees have been lost. There are huge campaigns and efforts now to regenerate the native bush and re-introduce endangered species of plants and birds.
We continue on over the viaducts; The North Rangitikei viaduct is (I think) 181 m long, 77 m high, then the Toetoe viaduct (59 m long 58 m high) with a pretty waterfall to the west. We are travelling through rolling country with hills to the east and west and we are steadily rising with the help of “gradings” shaped like horseshoes which help the train climb the inclines – you can often see the track above us as we snake around. Onto the plains of Waiouru which is where the NZ army has its training grounds. It is the highest point on the journey at 814m above sea level and the furthest point from the sea on our journey. It is also the home of the army museum and memorial –where you can find out about the national military heritage.
We continue across the plains and then come to Tangiwae. This is the site of New Zealand’s worst rail disaster when on Christmas Eve night in 1953 a lahar swept down the valley and washed the train off the track. The last two carriages were left teetering on the track which allowed many passengers to escape but 151 died.
We stop at Ohakune for half an hour for lunch, a coffee, a wander round to stretch the legs and a trip to a loo that doesn’t move out of the way just as you descend onto it! The railway cafes at National Park Village and Ohakune must make a killing for half an hour each day as a train load of passengers disembarks for a break from the journey. Ohakune is 2027ft above sea level, a big skiing area on the southern side of Ruapehu, and also a famous for its vegetable growing. It is home to the Giant Carrot – we have noticed that NZ towns like to have some sort of quirky “thing” for which they can be recognised – giant carrots, giant corrugated kiwis, Golden Shears, giant apples and so on. We have not been back to Ohakune since our campervan was broken into when we were on holiday here 5 years ago. Although Lachlan came for a week’s skiing with the school ski team and is keen for us to return as a family – maybe we can get over the break-in now and put that episode behind us!
We approach the historic HapuaWhenua viaduct which is built on a big curve 414m long. First opened in 1908, it was replaced by a new concrete viaduct in 1987. Earlier this year renovations of the old viaduct were complete and “now it is an exciting and safe experience to walk along the deck, study the construction and design of the viaduct, marvel at the new concrete viaduct and enjoy the serenity of the bush and the antics of the native birds”. In 1987 AJ Hackett ran NZ’s first Bungee Jump off the old Hapuawhena viaduct. As we travel over the viaduct we can look into the gorge below onto the crowns of the bright green spring fronds of the Ponga ferns and the darker spikes of the Cabbage trees. And now the rain starts – no views of snow-clad Ruapehu, Ngaruahoe or Tongariro today. Travelling through the native bush towards National Park Village we will climb steadily and will soon negotiate the Raurimu Spiral.
The Last Spike – marks the completion of the NI main trunk line and the creation of the Auckland to Wellington link. There is a sort of obelisk that marks the spot and a sign post – the Prime Minister of the day was presented with a silver spike which is now in the Te Papa museum in Wellington.
The Makatote Viaduct is the highest one on the journey and the 3rd highest in NZ. It is 79 metres tall and 262 metres long – on a good day you can see Taranaki to the West and Ruapehu to the East. It spans a forested gorge and we can see a small river meandering through it.
Now we have come to a halt and are waiting at Makatote just south of National Park Village for the southbound train so that crew can swap over. Alongside the track there is toetoe, ox-eye daisies, pine trees, birch, flax, gorse and broom, totara, bracken … and lots more that I don’t know the names of. I was here just a few weeks ago with the Year 10 girls from my school on Outdoor camp and we mountain biked through this forest in glorious sunshine. Unfortunately today we do not have the views that we were treated to then.
We go through National Park Village and then onwards to the Raurimu Spiral. It is an amazing feat of engineering and quite bewildering to travel round. Basically the station at National Park on the south side was 714 feet above Raurimu Station on the north side although a straight line of only about 7 km separated them. The problem was to join up the two places with a workable grade. This was done by means of the spiral and now the distance travelled between the stations is 11km. It is said that if the aeroplane had existed when reconnaissance surveys were made then the Raurimu spiral would never have been built. A guy called James Cowan described the spiral thus; “The line is run as an ascending spiral, a complete circle (which passes over itself at a higher level), and two tunnels. The fashion in which this mountain railway ties knots in itself is rather puzzling on first experience.” Earlier on in the year we had stopped on the road at Raurimu where there is a lookout and a model of the spiral – looking at it there and trying to spot the track through the bush, it was quite difficult to work out how the spiral worked but now that we have travelled it all has become clear!
The boys are getting tired; we have been up since 5.30am and they are flagging and getting tetchy. Nigel played a few games of Uno with them before the Ohakune break. A hot chocolate and a poke of chips revived them temporarily but they are getting on each other’s nerves now. Aonghas had a go at trying to sleep but can’t get comfortable. I know, I thought – let’s have a game of Tantrix – it distracted them for a while but Lachlan lost interest when it looked like he wasn’t going to win and Aonghas didn’t like Lachlan “advising” him where to put his tiles. Oh dear! Game over and the blue line won – nobody was playing blue so we all lost which makes life simpler, I suppose!
270 km into the journey and we are at Taumarunui which is 171m above sea level and has a population of 26,500. Taumarunui means giant sun screen in Maori. Apparently as the great Maori chief Pehi Turoa lay dying on the plain he asked for a sun screen to be erected to shield him from the harsh rays of the sun. Originally a Maori settlement at the confluence of the Ongarue River with the Whanganui, where important canoe routes linked the interior of the island with the lower Whanganui River settlements, it then became an important trading post in the 19th century and is now the gateway to ski areas and water sports on the Whanganui river which is the 2nd longest in NZ.
My computer battery died on me so I decided to take a break and read my book – an hour later I awake and the seats around me are deserted! My family have gone awol! The sun has come out and although there are still plenty of grey clouds, there is a freshness in the air. We are in Te Kuiti – Sheep Shearing Capital of the world – I just love the labels they give their towns here! There is a huge statue of a man shearing a sheep at the edge of town and an honours board of world champion sheep shearers. We stop here regularly for a break when we drive down to Taumarunui. Founded in 1897 it is a railway town in the heart of land which is very similar to the Yorkshire Dales. The road from here down to Taumarunui is one of my favourite areas to drive through and certainly a place earmarked to explore more thoroughly in the future. Otorohanga (meaning food for a long journey), known for dairy and sheep farming and marketed as NZs Kiwiana town, has based its tourism on the quirky kiwi icons that decorate the shops and businesses down the main street – Buzzy Bee, Hokey Pokey Ice cream, kiwis, pukeko, jandals to name but a few. Lachlan has returned – they have been out on the viewing platform behind the engine. Aonghas and Nigel are back now too – they were on an anti-sickness mission! All good now though! Only an hour now before we arrive in Hamilton and we are in familiar country. The novelty of a train ride has sort of worn off now after 9 hours and we have seen the scenery outside plenty of times though it is still quite interesting to see things from a different perspective. We come to Te Awamutu which means – the end of the channel – or the river’s end. Te Awamutu was a major site during the New Zealand land wars of the 19th century, serving as a garrison town for the colonial settlers.
As we approach Hamilton we are told that it is the fourth largest in New Zealand and is famous for its beautiful gardens and Mystery Creek where you can get “hands on” with a cow! (The mind boggles!) Its Maori name is Kirikiriroa which means long stretch of gravel, but the settlement of Hamilton was founded on 24 August, 1864 and named after Captain John Charles Fane Hamilton, the popular Scottish commander of HMS Esk who was killed in the battle of Gate Pa, Tauranga.
We step off the train into the early evening sunshine, grab a taxi and head home. We have had a great trip and I would really recommend the train journey. The desire to stay awake and make the most of the stunning views is strong – but then I don’t like missing out on anything – but it is a long time to be on a train with two active boys! Fortunately we had table seats so we had space to play games and watch videos but that would have been less easy if we had been in two sets of forward facing seats. There is the option of going to the observation car at the back of the train and spending some time there, which we did on the way down to Wellington. There is a huge panoramic window at the rear of the carriage from which you have the most amazing view. However the boys preferred the tiny open air platform directly behind the engine – much more exciting and it provides an opportunity to get some fresh air! A fascinating journey but it’s always good to be home!
(thanks to Wikipedia for clarifications on the info I heard and half-heard on the train!)