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Exploring the Northland

Tuesday 29th September 2015

sunny 17 °C

Having had a pretty busy day yesterday we wanted to have a slightly more relaxing time today, and as if to prove the point Helen came over to service our room at about 10ish to find us just finishing our breakfast. We said that we were happy to forgo having our room serviced (who needs or wants clean towels every day anyway) and in the end we left to go out just after 11am. Our plan was to make the short drive down to the car ferry at Opua which goes across the bay to the town of Russell and the peninsula of the same name. When we arrived at the ferry we found it had just departed but as they run every ten minutes we didn't have long to wait for the next one.


The journey only lasted about five minutes or so and then Nigel drove north west towards the town and out the other side.

Helen had told us about a lookout on Flagstaff Hill that had great views of the Bay of Islands and across to Paihia. Initially we missed the turning and ended up by Takepe Beach. It was a lovely little spot and it was really nice to see lots of children playing happily on the beach and in the water, with very little adult interference.


From there we retraced our steps and went back up Flagstaff Hill and found the lookout. This was a significant site in the history of relationships between the indigenous people and the early white settlers. Despite a treaty being signed between the British and a number of Maori leaders in 1840, the former caused offence to a number of Maori chiefs so in retribution they cut down the flagstaff which perhaps somewhat provocatively was flying a British flag. This act was repeated several times until the Maori were threatened that if they did so again it would be seen as an act of war. So began what has been referred to as The Flagstaff War which lasted from March 1845 to January 1846. Who the victor was has been disputed, but either way the British didn't raise the flag again. As well as the site being historically significant there were indeed great views from the top of the hill and so we spent a while up there, looking across the bay and taking photographs.


By this time it was gone midday and we decided to stop in the town of Russell and had a lunch of open sandwiches and iced coffee. Both were delicious and set us up for the rest of the afternoon.


From the town we drove back towards the car ferry and then continued east passing some lovely tidal creeks and then a number of places overlooking the Bay of Islands.


After driving inland for a short distance we reached the Pacific Coast. We parked up and walked across the road to the private Elliot Beach. This was a lovely spot with a stream, which we had to cross a couple of times, flowing onto the sands. We spent ages exploring before returning to the car and continuing on the coast road with a great view back to the beach we had just been walking on.


We also stopped at another deserted beach called Helena Bay which had just a few houses and an ancient looking tree.


before driving up to the top of the headland, where we stopped at a cafe and art gallery.


We had some coffee and cake and then we spent a while looking at the eclectic mix of art, much of which was very nice but also very expensive. From there it was about 40 miles back to Paihia. Before going back to our accommodation we went to the supermarket in order to buy some more supplies including some steak and salad for dinner. The day hadn't been as exciting and dramatic as yesterday, but it had been very enjoyable nevertheless.

Posted by Gill's Travels 22:51 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches ocean new_zealand paihia russell Comments (0)

Where the Ocean meets the Sea

Monday 28th September 2015

semi-overcast 16 °C

Having had a long journey yesterday the thought of a full day on a coach didn't initially fill us with joy as it meant being up and out of our accommodation before 7am. However we had already booked our tour up to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile beach. Fortunately once we were up and out I was really looking forward to the day. We made the short walk down to the Maritime Building by Paihia Wharf and waited for the coach to arrive. It was a little late so we were starting to get a little concerned but as soon as it arrived and we met our guide Chris we were immediately reassured. We were a very small group and once we had made another pick up we totalled 12 on a coach that would have seated at least 50 people. When we were underway Chris explained the days itinerary which he had adapted slightly to make the best of the weather. All through the trip he gave us information about his life, his Maori ancestors and his heritage which was really interesting.

It was quite misty over the bay as we left Paihia and started to make our way north, and the mist was also present in some the valleys we passed through.


After an hour or so we stopped for coffee and had the opportunity to buy some food which was appreciated as we hadn't yet had any breakfast. We then continued towards our first main destination at Te Paki. Chris expertly drove us through a quick sand stream which is the only way of accessing the dunes which mark the northern end of Ninety Mile Beach.


Once he had found some hard sand to park on, the sand boards were handed out and all the others made their way up to the top of the nearest dune. Chris had explained the technique for safely boarding down, which involved using the feet as combined accelerators and brake. Given that I broke my ankle only just over a year ago I wasn't keen to take part, so armed with a number of other people's cameras, as well as my own, I became the groups nominated photographer. Nigel walked all the way up to the top and watched from there whilst I went part of the way so that I could capture shots of people as they came down. The energetic in the group probably managed three or four goes before Chris showed us how it should be done.


Chris then took us to the most northerly point in New Zealand at Cape Reinga. The walk down to the lighthouse took about ten minutes or so with stops to admire the amazing views.


From the Cape you could see a clear tidal race where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. It was amazing seeing the clear line of waves coming from opposing directions and breaking where they converged. The colour of the water was vibrant shades of blue and turquoise.


Once we had taken the view in, we started to walk back up towards the car park, making a short diversion up what is known as Enlightenment Hill. Once we had all got back in the coach we started heading southwards again.

We had already been told that we wouldn't be able to drive the full length of ninety mile beach (which in reality is only about 75 kilometres long) because lack of rain meant that the sand at the top end had become too powdery and thus a potential risk of sinking into the sand. For that reason we would have to enter further south through the forest road. I was quite happy with that because it gave us more opportunity to see some of the Northland scenery such as the white silica sands of Parengarenga Harbour, whilst still being driven down about 20 kilometres of the beach. The journey on the sand when we got there was amazing and Chris explained about safe driving on the sand, and at one point pulled up so that we could look at a weak looking seal pup. He then found a safe place to park up and we were all able to get out of the coach. I took some more photographs; so much better than the ones taken through the coach windows.


There was a Colombian woman in our group who had decided that she wanted to dunk her head in the Tasman Sea and had brought a partial wet suit in anticipation of the cold water. Whilst she was doing that I settled for a paddle, and indeed the water was decidedly cold.

Once we left the beach we made our way to a Kauri workshop in the town of Awanui. We were able to look at some of the wooden items there and have and ice cream whilst Chris placed our orders for a fish and chip supper (or fush and chups as he Chris pronounced it) which we then ate about an hour later when we arrived in the town of Mangonui. They were delicious and fortunately we were all inside the restaurant when it started to rain hard. We continued on our journey back towards Paihia making one last diversion to the Puketi Kauri Forest to look at an example of a New Zealand Kauri tree. Chris sang out a Maori song in great voice which was very moving, and invited us to sing our national anthems but none of us took him up on the offer. It wasn't long before we arrived back in Paihia and Chris dropped us off near our accommodation. We both agreed that it had been a great day, Chris had been a brilliant guide and the whole thing was all the better for not having to drive ourselves.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea ocean new_zealand cape_reinga lighthouse bay_of_islands Comments (0)

Taking the Road North (again)

Sunday 27th September 2015

sunny 18 °C

It was time to move on again and so we put our packing routine into action. This has now become a well rehearsed activity. Any clothes still out back in packing cubes (these have turned out to be invaluable); cubes and wash bag back in rucksack, photography equipment and electricals into their packs and into my day pack. You get the score, having the routine certainly makes something that could be a bit of a chore into a quick and pretty painless job. This is made even easier by the fact that we are just about to pick up a car that we will have for the next three weeks, so some things like my walking boots can stay in the car boot!

Having checked out of our room and left our bags in reception we made the ten to fifteen minute walk to pick up our hire car. We had to walk pass the Sky Tower and noticed that people were still happily jumping off.


The car pick up went smoothly, and this time we were given an almost brand new Toyota so were pretty happy. Once the car was sorted out and we had been back to the hotel to pick up our bags we were on our way. We were driving north to the Bay of Islands for a few days, but en-route we had arranged to meet Sarah an ex work colleague at Browns Bay. This was a short hop over the bridge and just under half an hour up the coast road. When we arrived although I saw Sarah just going into the cafe where we had arranged to meet, we couldn't find any parking. In the end I nipped out and spoke to Sarah and she was able to direct us to another car park. We had some lunch and Sarah and I a glass of wine. It was so lovely to have a catch up and she also gave us some advice about things to see and do in North Island. The time went really quickly and after about an hour and half or so we thought we ought to get on our way and so sadly we said goodbye to Sarah.


The rest of the journey, travelling up near the east coast, should have taken us about three hours. There were indications on the sat-nav of delays or possible road blockages. The motorway turned out to be closed and rather than take the west coast road which would have added an hour onto our journey I was pretty sure we could find a way through which we did. Unfortunately what we didn't realise is that the problem was actually on the road that the motorway fed into, which was blocked due to a milk tanker having rolled over in the early hours of the morning injuring the driver quite seriously and depositing milk (which soon solidified) onto the road. At this point the only diversion was up to the nearest village and then about 20 kilometres along a dirt track. Previously we had kept way from such roads but this time we had little choice. There were hundreds of other cars having to take the same route, all sending up clouds of dust.


In the end it was quite good fun and no damage was done to the car but I think it was tough driving for Nigel and I don't think either of us are keen to repeat the experience.

In the end the journey which should have got us to our destination in Paihia by about 5pm resulted in us arriving at about an hour and a half later. Fortunately the clocks had gone forward by an hour the previous night and so it was still just light, so we were able to meet our host Helen and check in before it got dark. We could just see the view over the bay which boded well for the next day.


We hadn't got any food with us and we were both feeling a bit too tired to fancy going out to eat so we ordered a Thai take away which we had delivered to out lodge. The room was very well equipped and in a lovely setting so I went to bed looking forward to the days ahead.

Posted by Gill's Travels 15:18 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches new_zealand bay_of_islands Comments (0)

Perspectives on Auckland

Saturday 26th September 2015

sunny 17 °C

A good nights sleep did wonders for our morale and we woke up really looking forward to our day in Auckland. One of the things that I was hoping we might be able to do was to go on a sailing trip from the Maritime Museum. We tried booking on the Internet, but given that we were trying to do this last minute in the end Nigel rang them and secured the last two places. We hadn't got any food and so we had to forego breakfast for the time being, hoping we would be able to get something down by the Marina. We left our hotel and walked the mile and a bit, conscious that the walk which was downhill all the way would mean a bit of a hike back up. We got down to the museum and collected our tickets for the boat trip and then went into their waterside restaurant and bar called The Crew Club. We explained that we were pushed for time and ordered some brunch. It became clear that we were not going to get our food in time. In the end we spoke to the manager who said that we wouldn't need to pay for our coffees (or the food which was in the process of being cooked) and suggested we came back later when "they would make sure we had a lovely lunch". We decided to go with that and went to get on board our boat the Ted Ashby.


Departure was delayed a little awaiting for the firing of the midday cannon which was done with great anticipation but not much spectacle. Once the crew had manoeuvred the boat out of the harbour, with help from some of the passengers, the sails were raised.


Sadly there was not enough wind for us to travel without engine power. We travelled the short distance downstream under the main Auckland Bridge, and could see some brave/ foolish souls bungee jumping underneath.


The particularly intrepid jumping low enough to have a dunking in the river. The crew then turned the boat around and tried to catch enough wind to be able to have us fully under sail, but sadly we moved not much more than a few feet so we had to revert to engine power again. Being on the boat gave us a great view of the city skyline and it was lovely being under sail even if we did need a bit of assistance.


Once we returned to the harbour we went and had a delicious lunch at The Crew Club. We weren't sure what if anything they did to make up for the brunch issues, but we were happy with the meal and service, and left feeling full and pleased we had given them a second chance. We hadn't yet had a look around the Maritime Museum so we took the opportunity to do so and really enjoyed the exhibits relating to both the early Polynesian settlers of New Zealand and those that came out from Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Having seen the city from the water we also thought it would be good to see it from the air. We had booked a "dessert table" at the Sky Tower for 10pm, the only type of table they had left, but decided it would be good to go up in the daytime as well. The tower is 328 metres tall from ground level to the top of its radio mast and as such is the tallest man made structure in the Southern Hemisphere (Melbourne's Skydeck at 285 metres does has the highest public viewing point though).


As is the way with these attractions, the Sky Tower has its own unique features including the sky walk and the sky jump. The latter involves jumping off the tower from 192 metres above the ground in an upright position (no bounce back up as with a bungee). Watching people falling past the windows from the observation deck was scary enough for me.


We ended our time up the tower in the cafe/ bar having a cocktail and watching the sun go down.


We made the walk back to our hotel to relax for a while and then got ready to go back to the Sky Tower for our desserts. Included with our table reservation was the opportunity to go back to the observation deck and see the views after dark.


We then went to the revolving Orbit restaurant where we had a glass of champagne each, then I had a delicious chocolate dessert and Nigel had the cheeseboard all finished off with an Irish Coffee. The food was delicious and it must have been about 11:30 by the time we got the taxi back to our hotel. It had been a great evening at the end of a lovely day.

Posted by Gill's Travels 13:12 Archived in New Zealand Tagged bridges buildings new_zealand Comments (0)

Introduction to New Zealand

Friday 25th September 2015

sunny 14 °C

It was sad to have to leave Australia today, although it was exciting to be travelling to New Zealand. We had to leave the hotel just before 9am in order to make the short drive to Cairns Airport, return our hire car and check in. This all went without a hitch although we were a bit surprised to be asked at the desk how long we were going to be in New Zealand and our date of departure. This meant pulling out a whole load of paperwork as neither of us was able to provide this information from memory. We had time to get some breakfast before going to the gate and boarding our plane. Unusually for us we were in central aisle seats, I guess we just didn't think to ask when we were checking in. This meant no aerial photos, in fact for the first time since we left the UK i didn't take any photos today apart from a couple of our room.

I sat next to a woman that I would estimate was probably 10 to 15 years older than Nigel and I, and I could just tell it was going to,be an eventful flight from the start. She didn't seem to understand about staying in her seat while the seat belt sign was on, so during a bit of turbulence she just got up a wandered off to the toilet. I felt quite sorry for her because she must have had a different grade of ticket to us as when we were brought a meal she was given a card to choose a snack that she would have to pay for. I am not sure whether she even had any money, but it felt a bit awkward to offer to pay for her. In the end she never did get any food. Everyone that was staying in New Zealand rather that getting a connecting flight had to fill in an entry card. To be fair it was a bit of a pain to fill in, and the print a bit small, but the woman was really struggling. I was pretty sure she wasn't able to read the text so I offered to lend her my reading glasses as I had filled in my form by then. She seemed to be able to understand a few bits but was still struggling so I helped her and told her what she needed to put in where. It was even more problematic when it came to her completing the reverse side with the declarations. At one point she started to tick off and fill in bits on her boarding card as if that was the entry card, until I gently stepped in. I wasn't even sure if I was allowed to help her answer these questions, so in the end I asked if it would be useful if I got one of the cabin staff to help her. She agreed to,this, but still continued to try and struggle on whilst she was waiting for help. By this time I had retrieved my glasses so was able to see the film (Far From the Madding Crowd) that I was trying to watch. I was totally confused by the woman, she was really friendly and nice, but acted as though she had never flown before. She told me at one point that she had been in Australia for four months, if so then almost certainly she must have flown there.

By this stage we were approaching New Zealand and the landing was a little bumpy but not too bad. I concluded that I don't like not being able to see when we are coming into land, another disadvantage of having a central seat. It was ironic because the plane arrived ahead of time, and we got through passport control and baggage reclaim pretty quickly and then we were in the queue for bio-security for over an hour. We had made some declarations on our cards as we had our pack of tea, we had been into wild areas (the Daintree) and the most bizarre question of all, yes we did have shoes we had worn outside! In the end declaring things seemed a positive move, because despite queuing with everyone else when we eventually got to the desk we were allowed through the green channel whereas most other people seemed to have their bags X-rayed as an additional precaution.

We decided to get the shuttle bus to our hotel, bought the tickets and then had to wait for nearly 45 minutes for one to arrive. By the time we got to our hotel it had taken us nearly as long to get from the plane as it had to fly from Cairns to Auckland. We were very glad we bought snacks at the airport as by the time we had checked into the hotel neither of us wanted to go out to eat.

Posted by Gill's Travels 02:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged australia new_zealand Comments (0)

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