Friday, November 30, 2012


30 Nov. Blenheim.
This morning we woke up to find the verandah wet. Rain? We hadn't seen any since the tropical downpour in Port Douglas. We even spread washing out inside to dry, as it looked unlikely to stay dry all day.
After coffee, Harry decided that Blenheim was the place to go.

A mere hour's drive away, and a pleasant town. Bigger than it looked at first, with lots of facilities. We parked, wandered, bought a "home-made lemonade" from a man who told us his mum was from Birmingham, and he and his wife had lived and worked in London for a couple of years.

We ate our cheese and crackers and drank the lemo on a bench near the market square - another slightly incongruous mock Tudor clock. My faithful Opinel knife cut our cheese.

Back to the car, and then on to the Aviation Heritage Centre /
just outside the town - an excellent display of genuine and reconstructed world war 1 planes, some of which are still flown in exhibitions. Alongside these films relating to the time, uniforms and other ephemera from the Allies and the other side. Models of people engaged in various activities added to the atmosphere. The whole was housed in a large building with subdued lighting. Peter Jackson, who directed Lord of the Rings is an aviation and WW1 enthusiast , owns some of the displays, and was instrumental in setting up the displays.

We arrived half an hour before closing time, but we're told that they kick everyone out and hour after that. Last entry at 4 pm. We had plenty of time to look and absorb.

As we drove back the rain began again in earnest and we saw another side to the hills. Mist-shrouded moody mountains, and a greyer sea. A refreshing change in some ways. At least we're not having to hide from the strong sun!


29th November
 Nelson and its beach

This is a long drive although the road is mostly good. 
It's the roadwork season, which causes a few delays.  There are views of high mountains, capped with snow. 
When we arrive we discover a real town full of useful shops.  

There's its Christ church cathedral on a hill at the end of the main street access by many steps, a favourite place for locals to grab lunch, and a saxophonist to play his haunting tunes. 
There's place to buy camera cards and a coffee in a "Traditional European Cafe -established 2011".   The café is run by a genuine European German with an accent to match. 

We wander into a commercial "art gallery" - not much of interest, though there were some prints of local events.  
Then there's the Refinery Artspace, which was set up partly to provide employment opportunities for the "disadvantaged in the job market".  A nice space, with an outdoor sculpture garden but not brilliantly used. An exhibition inside, on the theme of death, was none too cheery, of course !
We forget to bring our guide book, and we miss the "real" gallery.

Before we leave Nelson, we drive to the west,  a little further as far as the beach, wide open, flat, no swimmers in sight, just a couple of families playing beach games, running around on the sand. 

Then it's back to the road towards Havelock, with a stop at the Pelorus Bridge campsite and cafe, for an ice cream, then Harry and a couple of others dipped in the river, while I paddled and was attacked by sand flies !

28 Nov  Lazy morning gives way to Picton, cafe, shops, a walk, and blue cod and chips in Havelock, and a drive back under the full moon, whose markings are inverted.  The moon's reflection in the still waters of the sound is clear and dramatic. 

The cafe in Picton is near the waterfront area, light breezy. We parked the car outside a Scottish Bar, though it doesn't look much like one.  Finally I twig the parking system in NZ   P60 must mean you can park for 60 minutes. After a coffee and a cheese and veg muffin we move the car and call in for a few extra supplies from the supermarket.  Then we return home, since it's too hot to carry food in the car all day.  Aloe Vera is another purchase, along with postcards and stamps.

In the evening we drive out to the start of the Queen Charlotte Walkway at Anakiwa. You are allowed to walk along for an hour or so without a permit, so that's what we do.  Good clear track, wooded, and flat as far as Davies Bay, where we see birds - a wader, elegant long-legged, high stepping at the water's edge. It stays around for ages, quite unconcerned, by our presence and attempts to take photos. There's a brilliant coloured bird, yellow below, with flashing blue-green back and wings . We think it's some kind of kingfisher. The usual tuis are around, and a few mallard and loads of gulls. We've seem some primeval looking birds in trees, possibly a sort of duck, though they looked like penguins.  By the time we return to our starting point, time's getting on. We think of calling at the pub-restaurant in Linkwater, but it closes at eight, and we arrive at eight ten. So - off to Havelock, and blue cod and chips at the Slip Inn. We also claim our free cup of coffee from a voucher given out on the Pelorus Mail Boat. 
The blue cod flesh looks quite white, and tastes - like cod.  It's actually a very good meal, with chips and salad. Recommended. 
The young woman who serves us is by helpful and friendly, and tells us she is in the local fire brigade. A necessary outfit since official medical aid may be half an hour or more away in Blenheim.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Out of order

Dec 3rd Kaikoura and onward to Christchurch

The motel was pretty decent, but a bit noisy compared to our previous isolation.
We took the local shuttle taxi to station and whale watch place, where we waited for about half an hour to see if they would sail. We whiled away the time with decent coffee and toast. Then on screen the announcement changed from pending, to cancelled. "seas too rough for safe sailing". The later trips which were probably ok to run wouldn't be back in time for our train, so we decided to walk along the esplanade, and out to the seal colony on the headland of the peninsula. The wind was still fairly strong.
Out past endless motels, and a park where a plaque explained that Kaikoura was name (meaning the crayfish?) because a Maori chief had stopped to cook food here, while on a journey chasing three of his wives who had left him. Not a popular guy. When at last he found the first one she had been changed into greenstone. He found the other two and the same fate had befallen them. Anything better than returning to their husband?
Alongside this legend, were the street names - Yarmouth, Ramsgate, Margate not forgetting Scarborough.
We passed the New Wharf, and then the Old Wharf, established by a certain Mr Fyffe, an early settler and whaler. There's a memorial garden in town, set up by Lydia Washington to commemorate those who died in the world war, and decorated by whale bones.
Past the New Wharf we came to a fishing area which is being conserved to replenish stocks, then came to Harmer's beach and a drinks and food stall by the roadside. There's a board walk and benches erected by Kaikoura Lions. A small freshwater area supports several families of mallard, lots of ducklings, though there was a squabble of gulls which made me wonder if canard a l'orange was on their menu. Right at the end of the peninsula we reached the car park leading on to the seal colony. Not many seals around, and those lumbering and lazy.
Back towards the station with a pause to finish off some of our lunch supplies, attended by a seagull. I found myself harbouring murderous feelings towards it, and was sorely tempted to lob pebbles in its direction, but restrained myself.
At the station we sat outside, muffled in coat and hat, writing draft blog entries.
Inside for a coffee we noticed that the later whale watching trips were cautioning of the danger of seasickness, but they had at least gone!
Too late for us, as we had to go away on the Coastal Pacific KiwiRail south to Christchurch, through Scenery which may have been less majestic than some, but was refreshingly agreeable.
We ended up at the Red Door Cottage, which is spectacularly good, and welcoming, with lots of basics in stock - always a major plus.
After a brief chill out, we explored the nearby Papanui Road, and the Merivale Centre, which yielded a few relatively expensive restaurants, and a decent supermarket. Eggs and beans on toast was,our gourmet choice for the evening, before a quick watch of Tv news and bed.

Dec 2nd to Kaikoura

The cleaning, the disposal of rubbish, the filling and return of the hire car , check-in of our luggage for KiwiRail, then a wander round the metropolis of Picton,coffee in le cafe , sarnies in the park near the playground, as we watched kids chasing ducks, and the Interislander coming into port.
Bright and breezy.

Back to the station in time to board the train. Very slow laid-back way to travel. At first the word scenic seemed an exaggeration. We made our way between hills which looked bleak and bare, some of them had been cleared by logging. Then a patch of wasted willows - more unwelcome invaders needing to be eradicated? The farmsteads looked like temporary settlements, the sort of place that is put up on a hurry and the owners never quite get round to replacing. Old machinery rusts away before it has a chance of being reused. Cows and sheep are slightly fewer than on the lusher pastures. Then we pass vineyards, vines in rows so regular that you see patterns in all directions. The train makes a short stop at Blenheim to drop and pick up a few passengers. There's Lake Grasmere, and the salt pans, where sea water is evaporated by sun and wind. Interesting, but not scenic.
The commentary on the headphones is sporadic and laconic.
As we continue the scenery improves, with a magnificent view of the snow capped Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku (2885m). This was used by Edmund Hillary as practice for Everest.
We cross the Clarence River, and there's a tale of a boat lost while the captain was "entertaining a lady in his cabin", and further tales of him abandoning the ship, and being drowned with vast amounts of treasure which are still on the seabed somewhere.
A little further south we see a colony of New Zealand fur seals, once hunted to near extinction, now recovering. They loll about idly on the rocks, though I spot two having a set to.
The mountains of the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, are still in snow-capped evidence as we pull in to Kaikoura station. We are spending the night here, in the Aspen Court Motel.
Once we've found it and booked in we laze for a while before hot footing it into town to find a meal - at the Adelphi, where a Spanish waitress serves us, and later explains that everything shuts down at 9pm, though at the height of summer they may stretch to oh - 10pm.
We walk back admiring the mountains to the north, and the almost overdone sunset to the west.

There are still several days to fill in. Watch this space - I will!
The most magical was our overnight stay on Kapiti Island Nature Reserve.
Then a quick visit to Wellington, before crossing to South Island

Pelorus Sound with the mail boat

Pelorus Sound by mail boat 27 Nov

We hummed and hawed and then thought what the hell? Let's go on the mailboat cruise. So, we have to be in Havelock around 9:15. My attempt to set my phone alarm is a miserable failure, but I wake in good time anyway, and we pack a lunch and hit the road. We park just behind the jetty, and I wander off to pay the parking fee, while Harry goes to check us in. I return to find hi. In a "fellow Scots" conversation. The skipper of the mail boat is Jim from Elgin, who spent 3 weeks in New Zealand some years ago, and fell in love with the Marlborough Sounds. It's a bit like the West of Scotland but with far better weather. He's settled here with wife and child and garden and does the mail boat run. The tourists make the mail service financially viable, so everyone benefits. The homes he delivers to are those beyond the reach of the normal rural mail, which travels by road. My imagination balks at the self sufficiency of people living away from mains electricity and broadband. A tough breed.
We settle at the back of the boat in the open air, before going up the steep steps to the upper deck. A Canadian joins us, with the comment, "You look as though you're having far too much fun!" He and his two friends have walked the Queen Charlotte track, and the Nydia track.
We move out of Havelock Marina, along a channel in the wide expanse of water. Jim warns us that the scene will look rather different when we come back this afternoon.
After about half an hour we do the first mail drop - each of the houses has two mail bags, one delivered and one returned for the next time. The house dwellers and the mail boat clearly relish the chat. Some deliveries are groceries, and some are school supplies for distance learning without broadband access.
In between drops, Jim tells us some of the history of the mail boat run, and the people who rely on it. There's Wendy, who hunts possums for their fur, and has to row out to collect her supplies, since she hasn't got a jetty. We hear her dogs announcing her arrival. Later there's a family who are still farming sheep and cattle after six generations, in spite of the steep terrain and minimal returns. Or Bill Brownlees who has rigged up an incredible system with water driven electricity.
Then there's Nydia Bay, with its accommodation for hikers doing the two-day walk, where a couple of Woofers meet the mail boat.
We look out for wildlife - plenty of seabirds, shearwaters and Australasian gannets, but alas no dolphins - the sea's a bit choppy and hides any that may be there. We catch sight of a couple of little blue penguins. The same species we met on Kapiti Island a few days ago.
At lunch time we stop at Te Rawa where we eat our packed lunch and buy a lemonade, before going to admire the 'honeymoon suite'. The owner reckons it takes him forty minutes by boat to get into town.
On we go, round Maud Island, a nature reserve where there are takahe.
Only three people live on this nature reserve. Our last stop is to pick up Murray, a third generation inhabitant who returned to the Sound to look after his mother, who has since died.
Finally, at just after five pm, we turn back into the marina at Havelock, and go to the Info Centre cafe for tea and a date scone, before returning to our magnificent house for the week. Another thoroughly satisfactory day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stratford, Taranaki 20:11:12

To Taranaki 20 Nov
Fairly straightforward drive south towards Hamilton, with a stop at a service station, and then at Ngauruwallia for bank and a short break. And a phone call to Roslyn and Kevin to let them know we'd be 'about an hour late'! Then we made the decision to try the scenic route. Very scenic, verywinding, very mountainous, wave on wave of hills, and a section of unsealed gravel road in the middle. The road is called the Forgotten World Highway - for good reason? We stopped near Morgan's Grave - a reminder of the harshness of the terrain and the toughness of the settlers. We eventually arrived in Stratford about 3 hours late, but were still fed and watered royally, chicken, salad and hot chips in vast quantity. The evening flew by, as we were entertained by tales of people underestimating that road - cyclists, walkers as well as motorists. A minute amount of time on genealogy, which had brought us together in the first place.
When we emerged from the highway Mount Taranaki (Egmont) greeted us in its full glory. It is often shrouded or capped in cloud. We stayed overnight in the Amity Court Motel, with an amenable and helpful youngster in charge. The morning brought us another fine view of the mountain, then we set off after calling briefly on Roslyn for the photo we forgot to take the previous evening.

We've been hugely impressed by the hospitality and friendliness of New Zealanders.

Leaving Ellis Beach,and off to Auckland

To Auckland 18:11:12

Before we set off, we passed our surplus food on to the neighbours, who said they'd use what they could, and pass the rest on to friends. They found it amusing that we weren't keen on the heat. They lived in Darwin! We set off for Cairns, and arrived early at the airport to return the hire car. Then coffee, check in and herded into the plane. We got to our row to discover someone sitting in my seat. Their mistake, luckily. Two on one seat would have felt even more of a squash than it really was.
The Kiwi safety pep talk on screen was delivered in Tolkien characters spoof style. Raised a grin, anyway. The main problem was that the plane was packed. Getting to the toilet was like playing the game where you shuffle plastic pieces around inside a square case, and end up with something that makes sense.

Passport check, baggage reclaim and customs went smoothly, and best of all, Harry's friend, Jenny, was there waiting for us. It felt like coming home but 12 000 miles away! But what a home - set in 11acres, and with a magnificent view.

A good meal, a late night, an excellent bed for a good night's sleep, and up in the morning in time for breakfast and a trip on the local ferry - this time in the guise of a water taxi - to the isolated homes on Kawau Island, before we landed at the Mansion House for a couple of hours walking through the trees along tracks to the old Coppermine. Jenny was tempted by the beautiful clear water - until she took her coat off and noticed the temperature. We took the Redwood Track to return to the boat landing. It proved to be slightly longer than expected, though we made an unexpected detour, only to find that the fence blocking the way was there for a purpose. So briskly uphill and down brought us back to the Mansion before the boat arrived, and we had time to have a rapid look at the house. Lovely kauri wood paneling gave it a warmth and comfort that you wouldn't find in places like Chatsworth. To be fair, this place was much smaller too. I was particularly charmed by the children's rooms, small and practical.

Plans to share a pizza for lunch were scuppered by Monday closing, so we called in at James and Morris's Pottery for coffee and fruit cake. Tempting though their pots were, air travel doesn't lend itself to lugging large garden urns, alas.

Back to Jenny's for a sandwich and a chill out afternoon, looking at her studio in the garage, sending a couple of emails, introducing Jenny to the general concept of haiku.

She wouldn't let us help her cook, and fed us a delicious veggie frittata with red cabbage and apple. An early night followed so that we could visit her local national park before heading off to Auckland to collect the hire car.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Reef

Started this on the boat out to the reef.Nov 17th Reef snorkelling

Early six o'clock wake up then a drive into Cairns to the car park we'd reccied the day before. A short walk and a wait for the check-in. On board the reef magic boat, after the usual 'experience photo', we discovered a free wifi spot to catch up before getting to the marine magic area. We decided to go for an optional guide to snorkelling and proved well worth it. We hired lycra full body swimsuits - fashionable or what! The guide showed us lots of different fish, types of coral, a sea-cucumber, as well as Wally the Wrasse. Not to mention how to use the snorkel and mask. Then we pootled about on our own. Lunch, then a visit to the underwater observation deck - an aquarium in reverse, and difficult to catch snapshots of the fish gliding past.
We half-intended to try the semi-submersible or the glass bottomed boat, but couldn't resist snorkelling some more. The first time we'd felt cool for a week.
Even slightly chilled. Though we rapidly warmed up once we were out of the water. Everyone had to sign back in before the boat could leave the reef and make its way back to Cairns. There was an Englishwoman who was thrilled to have seen a turtle while she was snorkelling. "we're such tourists!" she commented. No worries.
When we reached Cairns again we wandered happily in the evening warmth for a while, indulged in a cup of tea, before returning to our Oceanside haven, and a rice salad before an early night with alarm set.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mossman Gorge

About 15 kilometres North of Port Douglas the Mossman River makes its way down from the hills, fed by water stripped from the clouds by the jungly plants, as well as the rains. The large
Visitor centre is run and was designed by the Kuku Yalanji people, who have lived in the area for centuries.

I had some idea that it would be a very pushy place, with people trying to thrust aboriginal crafts at you. Not at all. It was pleasant, very well laid out, and there was an opportunity to browse with no pressure. Surely they sell more that way.
The bus fare to the walk around the gorge was $4.80 apiece. No more than a visit to the Rutland Water Bird reserve at Egleton. Once you arrive at the Bus stop in the gorge, there is a choice of trails, some very short, but the longest circuit is about 2.5 km. It seems longer in the heat and humidity, though thankfully the path is almost entirely in the shade.
We arrived at 1 pm and followed the longer circuit, past the Mossman River Lookout, and over Rex Creek suspension bridge, which bounces in a joyful manner as you walk across.
Shortly afterwards there is another viewpoint, and you can see Manjal Dimbi (Mount Demi), which is sacred to the Kuku Valanji. A large humanoid rock represents Kubirri, who protected the Kuku Valanji, when they were threatened by an evil spirit Wurrumbu. The mountain is high, steep and covered with lush tropical trees.
A party of visitors ahead of us had stopped, and showed us a lizard - the local 'forest dragon'.
For the most part the path is clear and not overcrowded, so that you feel as though you are right in the rainforest. We saw more impressive trees, including a sinister 'strangler fig' , of the sort that formed the curtain fig near Yungaburra.
When we finished the circuit, we went back to the swimming hole, where there were many warnings of the danger of flash floods. Lots of people were swimming, so Harry joined them, and I paddled. I was amused to hear several people complaining how cold the water was. Wonder what they'd make of Scarborough.
We returned to Port Douglas by about 6pm, to cook a pasta salad with tuna. Then a final stroll round the town, and on to the beach to look at the stars, before returning to the cottage and writing twenty-three Christmas cards. My earliest ever - just so that people can get Aussie cards with Aussie stamps. They 'll have an almighty shock, since my cards are usually the ones sliding through the letter box on December 23rd!

Yungaburra bookseller - a few days ago!

A seller of rare books he was in Yungaburra town
The day will come the seller said
When books will be as gold
Rarities, the hoi polloi will wish they could afford
Yer kindles and yer kobos will have rotted into dust,
electronic circuits gone AWOL, superseded, rust.
But paper ink technology will last beyond their grave
Though most'll just be rich guys' toys - in a fine gated enclave.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We saw it! Queensland total solar eclipse

Decisions, decisions! Stay in Port Douglas and brave the forecast cloud, or head inland thirty miles or so, and still risk a stray strand of cloud obscuring our view at the crucial moment?
Set off the night before with borrowed camping gear, or set off before 3am and hope to find a decent viewpoint by the road?
In the end I relied on Harry's instinct and we got up at about 2:30, had a rapid cup of tea, chucked essentials in the car and headed for the hills.
We'd been warned about light-seeking suicidal kangaroos and cattle on the unfenced roads, but met neither as we drove through the dark.
We passed the village of Mount Carbine, and noticed several sets of vehicles parked at the roadside - where the sandy verges were wide enough and not too rough. We chose a position quite high upon a straight section of road leading west. It was still very dark and I have never seen a more magnificent display of stars, with the Milky Way living up to its name, and Orion high overhead. As day began to dawn, the stars slowly faded, and we watched some lingering low cloud on the eastern horizon. Was it low enough for the sun to rise above it before E time?
Birds began their morning calls across the arid landscape.
A few more cars arrived - and we stayed put, testing out the eclipse glasses, which were totally black until the sun appeared. It was going to be above the cloud.We watched the moon's shadow begin to eat away at the sun. We were still holding our breath in case of wisps of cloud. The light was growing weaker, colder. Our shadows were still clear and sharp and very long.
As the sun's disc was completely covered we had a brief period of darkness and then the magical effect of the sun's corona and the diamond ring shone out for a few moments before the moon's shadow moved out of the way gradually.

More to come . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rainforest Cottages, Lake Eacham.

Rainforest cottages, Sunday 11 November. A slowish start to the day, after a sudden attack of day light early on.
Ten o'clock going on eleven before we ate our carnivore's breakfast. To give it its due, it sets you up for the day.
The public area with the small stream and pool is a magnet for the birds - finches with red caps and tails, some more delicate birds which zipped back and forth skimming the water before settling on the plants nearby, and one larger bird with a crest and white splash. A lounging lizard on a rounded rock completed the picture.
Coffee and biscuits on the cheap today! By around 2:30 we were inclined to look further afield and set off on an expedition to Herberton, an old mining settlement, whose main claim to fame today seems to be its extensive and expensive heritage mining village. $25 each struck us as somewhat steep for the hour or so we had before closing time, so instead we chatted to the attendant, who offered to let us back in tomorrow if we wished. The place looked good from the outside, with some interesting pieces of machinery on display, but we decided against this and made our way to the 'real' Herberton to pick up an ice-cream and a drink to see us on our way.
We picked up the Gillies highway towards Atherton, turning off after a couple of miles or so to visit the Hypipamee Crater and the Dinner Falls. Huge cliffs covered in trees and a vertical drop into a silty lake. The viewing area is fenced off. A teenaged girl offed to take our photo. The path continues down to the lower end of the falls, which at first don't look inordinately high. As we walked along we realised there were another two large waterfalls.
In the car park there was a large notice warning of the dangers of the cassowary, and the need for its conservation - there are some uncuddly creatures out here.
We headed for 'home', but we're sidetracked by the sign for the 'Curtain Fig Tree'. A tree of curious habits. Its seed lodges in the angle of another tree's branch and it germinates. It sends down a root into the soil and strangles the host tree, eventually becoming self sufficient. The site is sacred to the original inhabitants of the region. It forms part of the Mabi Forest - only 2% of this forest has survived logging and clearance for farming.
Dinner was a 'clean out the fridge ' pizza, then we took the car up to the lake to do some stargazing. On the way back the road appeared to be blocked by a log. No log, this was a large python, about eight feet of python, which didn't look like moving any time soon.
Eventually, Harry persuaded it to go, in spite of my admonitions of 'be careful' from the safety of the car, and we could drive back down to the cottage.

Lake Eacham to Port Douglas

Lake Eacham to Port Douglas. Monday 12 November

Before daylight there was a very heavy tropical downpour. Even so, we woke in plenty of time to pack and leave our luxurious retreat in Rainforest Cottages at Eacham Lake. Remnants of fruit were put out for the birds, and we were treated to the sight of a small marsupial and its baby rooting around for food on the wet leaves.

We left Lake Eacham soon after ten, and made our way via Yungaburra and Atherton to Mareeba, where we stopped for a coffee and a hat, and tried to buy some eclipse glasses. These weren't to be had anywhere, and half the town looked to be joining in the chase.

The coffee in McDonalds was rubbish. How had I expected any different? Well, the area looked cool and shady. . .

I directed us rather a long way round for our next leg - via Korunda. When we eventually joined the Captain Cook Highway we stopped for a break at Clifton Village, and lo! Eclipse glasses for sale.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's a long way from home . . .

In Cairns

Upside down on Tuesday morning. 13 nov

I'm lying in bed with a cup of tea - nothing new there then! Except it's November, and I have the window wide open, looking out onto a balcony surrounded by lush leaves and the occasional squawk of a lorikeet.  We're in Port Douglas, Northern Queensland.  The kind of place that I'd never really thought about visiting.
Why? We're hoping to witness this years total solar eclipse. I'm so pleased we used that as a kick up the bum to travel south of the equator. Australia has more than fulfilled any expectations I had.

We've seen iguanas roaming loose in Brisbane, exotic birds untold, a duck-billed platypus in the wild, a python lying across the road back to our cottage near Lake Eacham,  and the stars of the southern sky. Wow!