A Travellerspoint blog

Getting Round the Island

Saturday 28th November 2015

overcast 26 °C

Strange though it is, we are having another go at Saturday the 28th. This time we began the day in Rarotonga just as we had finished our second attempt at Friday the 27th. All very strange and hard the get your head round! Whatever day it was/felt like it was pretty overcast when we surfaced this morning.

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After a bit of discussion and some research on Cook Island driving licences we decided to hire a car for the week. There were other options such as getting the bus; simple as there are just two main routes in the island, clockwise and anti-clockwise. The third option was to hire a scooter but given the way the weather was developing we decided almost immediately against this. Nigel went and spoke to our host Angela and Nancy then rang round a couple of car hire places, and we thought it would be fun to have a soft top in anticipation of sunnier weather later in the week. We could stick to Avis but they were wanting to charge $85 a day or a local company that could could do a new car for $75 or a slightly battered but roadworthy vehicle for $35. Given that we couldn't drive far on the island we decided to go for the cheapest option.

About half an hour or so later a guy from the car hire company came and picked us up in the said car and then took us back to their office to complete the paperwork. It looked a little battered but we thought it would do for a few days. Once all the forms were filled in and the bill paid we went to get in the car, but no matter how careful I was I couldn't get the seat belt to pull out. The guy came and gave it a go, but he couldn't get it to budge either. In the meantime Nigel has seen a hole in the floor that you could see the ground through. Despite being told that it wasn't compulsory to wear seat belts on the island we were not reassured and so it was back into the office, which was on the verge of closing, to renegotiate. In the end we got a newer, but not particularly luxurious model, for the same price as the rust bucket. OK it didn't have a soft top but it was cheap and at least it looked safe so we stuck with what they had offered us.

Once we left the car hire place we drove into the main town of Avarua and got some shopping in a pretty basic looking supermarket and then went and had some lunch at a cafe recommended to us by Nancy. The food was pretty good and the only downer was having to rush under cover at one point when it started to rain. Whilst we were out I suggested that we did a 'once round the island' orientation. It is pretty relaxing to stay somewhere so compact and easy to get around with nowhere being more than about a 45 minute drive. The most stressful decision when going anywhere is whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise! As Nigel was driving I was trying to get a sense of what was where and looking out for the beaches that Angela had said were the best.

The main road always runs pretty close to the sea, although there are parts of the island where there are houses and hotel accommodation between the road and the sea, and others where the road is right next to the ocean. Fortunately there isn't really anywhere on Rarotonga where the beaches are privately owned so as long as there is an side road/ path to the beach you can go there, and once you are walking on the beach it is free access. Occasionally people walk past our bungalow but that is quite nice in terms of people watching and given that we are right on the sand there has been the occasional envious look or admiring comment. Anyway back to our circuit of the island, having driven past Muri with its numerous bars and hotels we arrived at the start of Titikaveka Beach, one of the places where there is a large stretch of beach right next to the road. We stopped here and sat on the beach for a while and I couldn't resist a bit of a paddle. Despite the rather wet and windy weather the sea still looked and felt inviting.

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After a short while we went back to the car and continued around the island ending up back at our accommodation. Having unpacked the shopping and put it away, we walked a short distance up the beach from where we are staying. This spot is better for swimming as it is still protected by the reef but has a little bit less inshore rock and coral making it a little deeper and easier to swim. Having our reef shoes with us meant that we didn't need to worry about stepping on any bits of sharp, dead coral. Once we had finished swimming we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the deck of our bungalow listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the reef until the sun started to go down.

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We had asked Angela to book us a table at Oceans Restaurant at a hotel called the Crown Beach Resort about a kilometre from where we are staying. This was a little bit more upmarket than where we ate last night, and the food was every bit as good. Once we had finished eating we went back and had coffee on our deck before turning in for the night accompanied by the sound of the waves crashing on the reef and the wind howling through the trees.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:28 Archived in Cook Islands Comments (0)

Travelling Back in Time

Saturday 28th / Friday 27th November 2015

overcast 25 °C

We have had a bit of a strange and confusing day today having got up early Saturday morning in Christchurch and then gone to bed on Friday in Rarotonga. Having pretty much got packed and sorted last night it didn't take us that long to get up, showered and dressed this morning at a rather painful 4am. We were down in reception by about 4:45am and quickly checked out and then in the shuttle bus to Christchurch Airport. Fortunately we were able to check our bags in all the way through to Rarotonga so we knew we wouldn't need to worry about them when we stopped off in Auckland.

Once we boarded the plane we had a bit of a view for the first half of the flight as well as some signs of smoke from the fire that has been burning in the Marlborough area for a few days. As we started to pass over the North Island it became a little cloudier and there was very little to see

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until we were very close to Auckland Airport. What I didn't remember from when we flew in from Cairns was quite how low we came in over the sea, perhaps we had been in central seats, I can't remember now. Anyway we landed safely but it was a little confusing as to where we had to go, until I checked with a member of staff and found out that we needed to get a transfer bus to the International Terminal. I had a slight panic at one point when it looked from the departure board that our flight was going to Rarotonga via Sydney. I was far from thrilled at the thought of another take off and landing and was feeling a bit annoyed that we hadn't been warned of this. The woman on the information desk wasn't helpful at all, in effect confirming that was where the flight was going (so basically tough luck). Fortunately we later found out that the plane was going to Sydney via Rarotonga not the other way round although I couldn't imagine that anyone would take that route unless they were stopping off for a few days in the Cook Islands.

Once we had gone through security again and had a coffee it wasn't long before it was time to board again. We had seen quite a lot of people checking in who looked as though they were returning to the Cook Islands after some sort of sporting trip to NZ. Once we were seated a lot of these people were sitting near to each other and although they were pretty noisy they were clearly having fun together, and were quite exuberant throughout the flight. I'm not sure whether it was reassuring or not when they gave out a little cheer after a successful take off and landing. The flight to Rarotonga is only about three and a half hours and it was pretty comfortable and uneventful. Nigel sat next to the window but there wasn't much for him to see as pretty much the whole flight was over the ocean. Slightly disappointingly we crossed the international dateline without so much as a mention.

There was a bit of queuing at passport control but not much and the landing cards we had completed whilst we were on the plane were handed over with much less ceremony and fuss than when we had landed the first time in Auckland. As we were waiting to retrieve our bags we were greeted by 74-year-old ukulele player Jake Numanga, who has welcomed travellers to the Cook Islands at the Rarotonga airport for 34 years. Once we got through all the checks someone directed us to Nancy who presented us with a floral garlands before putting our bags in the Magic Reef minibus and driving us the short distance to our accommodation, pointing out local restaurants and beaches as we went. Angela the owner then showed us around our accommodation

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and gave us other key pieces of information about the island she also offered to book us into a local restaurant called Waterline which was just a couple of minutes walk along the beach from where we were staying. We had a bit of time to explore the nearby beach and see the sun setting behind the clouds, before we went to eat.

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We had a great meal and a bonus was the short walk back, although we had the tread carefully in order to avoid treading on the numerous sand and hermit crabs that were scuttling around in the dark.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:16 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Getting 'Airport Ready'

Friday 27th November 2015

storm 24 °C

Today really is the start of the next leg of our journey, as we are on our way back to Christchurch ready to catch our flights to Rarotonga tomorrow. We were intending to spend the morning in Akaroa, perhaps going to look at the museum in Okains Bay, before driving to our hotel near the airport in the afternoon. However overnight the lovely weather we had been having broke and was replaced by something much more windy and drizzly. Several things such as the outdoor parasol had been blown over during the night and showering on the deck was a bit more of a hurried affair. It was so blustery that we had to move the outside table in an attempt to get out of the wind when we were eating breakfast. As a consequence we decided to go straight to Christchurch, partly because we were concerned that trees might have been blown over blocking some of the steep and narrow roads on the peninsula. When we went to check out, Katherine wasn't able to take a credit card payment, but she offered to give us a discount for cash and so it was worth us making the short drive into town to get the money. Once we were all paid up we were able to get on our way. It was about an hour and a half drive to our hotel and despite checking in before 2pm, our room was ready when we arrived. Having dropped all of our bags off we drove the short distance to the airport to return the car. Getting back was pretty straightforward as we were able to call the hotel and get the shuttle bus back. It struck me that it is really starting to feel like Christmas is approaching what with the tree and the decorations on an old Edmund Hillary Antarctic tractor they have in reception.

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We just had a quiet evening and ate in our room as neither of us particularly felt like going down to the hotel restaurant. We had to get our bags 'airport ready' after a couple of weeks driving around in a car. This didn't take too long because we had already cleared out quite a bit of stuff before leaving Akoroa but we did have to swap things around a bit in order to spread the gifts we had bought between our rucksacks as we are limited as to what we can take in the plane. Once we were all sorted it was off to bed ready for an early start in the morning.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:01 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Doing the Rounds

Thursday 26th November 2015

sunny 27 °C

Today we had quite an early start as we were going out on the rounds with Robin the postman. He picked us up in town just after 9am and introduced himself before sorting through some bits of mail ready for the first leg of his eastern bay patch. Later on in the morning he explained that most of rural New Zealand's postal delivery is contracted out. As a self employed postman he can run his tourism business alongside meeting his postal obligations. Together we made our way to Pigeon Bay dropping off mail, and sometimes collecting it, to people's roadside mailboxes. He seemed to have the whole operation sorted and knew all the people on his round.

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Once we got to Pigeon Bay we got out and stretched our legs and had a look at the bay. Whilst Robin sorted the post into a number of post boxes at the Community Hall he invited us to go and have a look round the building. It was as though we had gone back in time and particularly amusing was the row of bench seats all the way round the edge of the room and I could almost see girls and young women sitting there in their post war dresses waiting for a good looking young man to come up and ask them to dance. I was also amused by the name of the steep road that runs up from beside the building.

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Once the postal business there had been dealt with we got on our way, with further deliveries interspersed with lots of information about the area. This was complimented with a heavy dose of putting the world to rights in a way that only a group of people of a similar age can do. We drove past Decanter Bay (so named because of one of the rocks just off the headland)

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and then onto Little Akaloa Bay where we parked up for tea, cheese and biscuits and delicious fruit muffins made by Robin's wife. As an added bonus the place was heavily populated by sand flies and guess who they homed in on! We were dropped off at the little local church while Robin made some deliveries and then he picked us up the other side of the churchyard a few minutes later. We then continued to wind our way down the country lanes in Robin's post bus watching him put everything from bills, to parcels to junk mail in a wide variety of post boxes from the purchased to the purpose built, adapted beer barrels to holes in logs. One of the things that struck me was how the mail can be left totally unsecured. Robin told us of a case of Champagne left for the taking, but remained at the point of delivery until the intended recipient came to retrieve it.

We drove past the largest of the bays called Okains Bay with a semi-tidal river flowing into it,

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before we drove a short distance inland to a small village of the same name. There is a very small primary school, post office and stores as well as a very rural and old fashioned looking garage and filling station with equally quaint looking phone box next to it. Robin had more letters to deliver and collect here before we continued on along the ridge with views back to the main harbour

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before going on to where he lives near Le Bons Bay. We briefly stopped at his home and he invited us have a look at his garden, which was clearly beautifully tended by his wife. It had a mixture of very familiar cottage garden flowers that one could expect to see back home as well as some rather more exotic such as this amazing turquoise coloured flower that he didn't know the name of.

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We then went down to the bay itself and he dropped us off so we could take a short walk along the beach and then he met us about half way and we got back in the van. The whole trip had taken the best part of five hours and we both agreed that it was great way to explore the peninsula as well as seeing a really interesting part of rural daily life in New Zealand. Robin took us back into the town of Akoroa and dropped us off where he had picked us up.

We then drove up the hill to an art gallery and mosaic garden called the Giant's House, so named because a child once commented that it was such a big house (relative to the child) that a giant must live in it.

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The place is a labour of love by the owner artist Josie Martin who we met at the entrance. In the nicest possible way she is clearly one of New Zealand's great eccentrics, but it was fascinating to see her work and hear her talking about the mosaic figures who all seem to have their own distinctive personalities. Even the loo was pretty amazing with small ceramic shoes decorating the ceiling and an invitation to add anything in the way of writing or drawing on the walls (an invitation I readily accepted). Once we had finished looking round the amazing gardens we drove back into town and stopped at a cafe for a lemon pancake. We also went into the local shop and brought some burgers and sausages as we thought we may as well take advantage of having a gas barbecue at the hut. It had been another great day with lovely hot weather all confirming that it had been the right decision to come and visit the Akoroa peninsula.

Posted by Gill's Travels 16:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Akoroa Wildlife

Wednesday 25th November 2015

sunny 25 °C

Yesterday we moved on again and as ever, slightly frustratingly, there were at least another days worth of things that we could have done in the Lake Coleridge area. Once we had eaten breakfast, packed up and checked out we did think about having a look at the arboretum just up the road from where we were staying but it was starting to drizzle and so we decided against it. Instead we drove back up the valley in the direction of Christchurch and the Akoroa Peninsula. The journey wasn't one of our most exciting as much of the land we drove through was quite flat farm land, often with tall conifers either side of the road acting as windbreaks. Things changed though once we reached the Akoroa Peninsula as this is hilly with a lovely bay cutting into the centre.

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Whether looking at it on a map or driving around it is easy to see how this is the remains of a volcanic crater. Once we arrived in the town of Akoroa we went and found somewhere to have lunch as it was still too early for us to check in. The whole place has quite a French feel to it with many of the roads having French names and the brasserie we ate in having a distinctly French feel to it. The town and the restaurant were lovely and the weather was too, and it was probably the first day since we arrived In New Zealand really felt like summer. Once we had finished eating we drove the short distance to Coombe Farm and met Hugh our host who showed us around the Shepherds Hut. It is in a lovely setting, separate from the main house, but near enough to feel that he and Katherine are on hand if we need them. It is fitted out really nicely with all mod cons but with a great rustic feel with the outside bath/ shower and separate privy.

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For the rest of the day we just sat on the decking and enjoyed the sun and when it got too hot went in side and enjoyed the shade. We had plenty of snacks to eat when we got peckish in the evening and going outside in the dark to go to the loo has great novelty value when you only need to do it for a few nights.

This morning we woke up to the sun streaming through the windows and there was already some heat to the sun. Our cooking facilities consist of a gas barbecue on the decking and so Nigel prepared a cooked breakfast for us with the provisions provided for us by Katherine. We had already booked to go out and see some more penguins that evening but in the meantime we were happy to just relax and chill out on the farm. It remained hot all day but we knew we needed to get something to eat before we went on our trip as we would be returning late. Mid afternoon we went back into town, and having enjoyed our meal so much yesterday we decided to eat a at the same place. I had fish again and it was just as delicious. We then had time to wander round a bit and also go and pay for the excursion that we had booked for tomorrow. We sat down by the harbour front for a short while until it was about 6:30pm and time we needed to go and meet Avril from Pohatu Penguins. Their were 10 of us on the trip altogether plus another guy and his two children who joined us once we got to the bay. There was a mixture of English, French, German and a rather dominating American couple. She drove us in the rather noisy diesel van up a very steep road out of town.

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We stopped to take photographs of Akoroa Harbour a couple of times, and although the hills are not terribly high they are very steep so you gain height very quickly. Avril explained to us that we would be travelling through her uncle's farm land before we got to Pohatu Marine Reserve at the not particularly pleasantly named Flea Bay.

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The views as we drove across the farm were stunning and she explained about the area and answered the American couples numerous questions as we went. When we arrived at the farm house which is at the end of the bay, a couple of people were able to bottle feed some lambs

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before we were given our camouflaged ponchos and each couple were given some binoculars. Avril explained about the work that they do to try to protect the Penguins from predators and then showed us inside some of the nesting boxes as we walked up to the hides. It did worry me that the birds might be disturbed by us looking at them, but she was very careful as to how she did this and they also use this to monitor how many eggs/ chicks there are.

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There are three species of small penguins on Akoroa, the white flippered penguins, blue penguins (as we saw in Oamaru) and the very rare Yellow Eyed Penguins. The former two species sometimes interbreed but sadly of the latter they have only seen one breeding pair this year. We spent quite a long time watching the rafts come into the bay and up onto the shore. Having the binoculars meant that we could have a closer look at them and although they were a bit of a distance from us we were able to take some photographs before the light faded.

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The walk along the headland was a little bit tricky but not as precarious as I thought it might have been. We watched them until it was starting to get dark, by which time we really needed to head back using the little bit of day light we had. Once we got back in the van the moon was just beginning to come back over the headland. On our way back up the steep winding roads we saw lots of sheep, a few cattle and quite a lot of possums. Despite the fact that they are really considered to be a pest Avril carefully waited whilst they got out of the way. By the time we got back into town and then drove back to the hut it was nearly 11pm so we just had time for a cup of tea and a quick look at our photographs before we were ready to turn in for the night.

Posted by Gill's Travels 23:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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