Rakiura – land of wind and birdsong

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

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

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Summer Holiday – Southern road trip to Stewart Island

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

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

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

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

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View from Hilltop

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