Just pottering around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To the right…

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

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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We have furniture!.. and stuff!!

unpacking the container

I am writing to you all now in a room full of “stuff!”. Wow! All our familiar bits and pieces transposed from Ingleton to Hamilton – it feels really weird but also very comforting!

New Zealand Vanlines arrived on Thursday morning with our container that I had last seen in the wind and lashing rain of a Yorkshire Dales winter.

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saying goodbye!

When we waved it goodbye as it set off down the A65 we couldn’t really comprehend what it was going to be like to greet it in NZ. We had no idea where we would be living, what sort of house we would have, what the weather would be like – so many unknowns, but things have a way of sorting themselves out. So, in the scorching heat of a Waikato summer our belongings were carried out of the container which had been their home for 8 weeks by a couple of burly Islanders. Where it took two Englishmen to lift my dining table into the container, it was hoisted single-handedly onto Mac’s shoulder and passed over the fence to his mate on the other side! They made short work of emptying the container and we were left with a house and a garage filled with boxes and packages.

the garage!We have had a busy few days, as you might imagine, unpacking boxes and discovering the delights of our belongings. It has been like Christmas! Mind you, we have also opened boxes and wondered why on earth we spent money on transporting such junk half way across the world! Having lived with the bare minimum for 8 weeks you realise just how much useless paraphernalia we collect as we go through life and how much you can just do without. However, all that extra paraphernalia is now with us and we will just have to work out how we can dispose of it before the kids notice we have thrown out all their toys! It’s a good job that boxes …there is a large garage here as the house is considerably smaller than Mount Pleasant and the attached photos show just how full it is! I think a garage sale is needed! the “al fresco” living roomThe weather here is really conducive to outdoor living at the moment and so we have created an extra room on the patio by the pool with a settee and table. It is lovely to sit out there in comfort and relax with a book and a glass of wine watching the children play in the pool! One of the particular delights of unpacking was finding the stash of alcohol the packers (I didn’t know anything about it, honest!) had deposited in the boxes! Zoco, 43, Champagne, Glenfiddich – (actually we haven’t found that yet!).

Brian & Nige hard at workAny way, many thanks have to go to Nigel’s Uncle Brian for the two 10 hour days he put in moving boxes from one side of the garage to the other (and then back again) to unearth the shelving units, rebuild them and then put all the boxes on them, braving a shower of ants, and still maintaining a sense of humour! Chris and Brian along with George and Barbara were our first real visitors and it was lovely to see them. Hopefully George and Barbara are now enjoying themselves in Bali before heading back to sunny Edinburgh. I say hopefully because their saga of cancelled, postponed and non-existent flights is a definite holiday scare story! (Avoid Quantas!)Lachlan having a break!

Lachlan spent a happy day reacquainting himself with all his belongings – it’s the first time he has voluntarily tidied his room anyway! Mind you he had to keep stopping to admire his work and have a rest!

To escape the mountain of boxes, C, B, G and B took us out for dinner on Thursday evening. We went to a place called Gengy’sGengys’s (Ghenghis Khan) where you pick the ingredients for your meal and then take them to the chef who cooks them on a hot plate. The kids thought it was great especially as you can keep on going back for more – George thought it was pretty good too! Aonghas was particularly impressed because he could have as many pancakes as he wanted for pudding! An interesting place to go if you happen to be in Hamilton (apparently there is one in Wellington too so I guess it’s part of a chain), good food, friendly staff, a pleasant though bustling and somewhat noisy ambiance and reasonably priced too.

By Saturday evening we had a reasonably functioning living room and kitchen – and we had found the Champagne so we duly cracked open a bottle and sat in our “al fresco” living room for an aperitif. Thanks to Chris and Brian for all their help.

Since then we have continued to “discover” all our treasures – Aonghas was overjoyed to be reunited with all his teddies!’ Nigel has got the computer up and running – not without some glitches but what’s new? Lachlan found his kicking tee so has been out practising his kicking in the park and I was pleased to get my bike so now I can get out and about on that.having fun in the pool

We still have a garage full and it is starting to look more organised however I am sure that much of the stuff will stay there until we move again.

Easter weekend coming up and now we have our camping gear (which, along with the caving gear was all passed ok by the man from MAF) we are hoping to get away somewhere, probably to the beach. Because of the organisation of the terms the boys only have a long weekend (Thurs to Tues inc) but it’ll be great to explore a bit further afield. Will let you know how we get on.