Our apologies to our readership for the delay in publishing the latest instalment of our travels but in trying to see everything blogging has fallen by the wayside. We cannot promise to do any better in the future.
Monday 15th December 2014. Day 98 Russell rendezvous
Another dire weather forecast for the day we are due to cruise the Bay of Islands. As we got ready to leave the grey skies grew more threatening and we were glad we had taken the raincoats from the car. We booked in at the Paihia Maritime Building and boarded the cruise boat for the ‘cream trip’ around the islands. Eric went to sit on the open upper deck as it started to rain. Once we had slipped our moorings we were informed by the Captain that the visit to the Cape Brett’s hole in the rock was unlikely and the transit of the arch definitely out of the question, given the 2.5 meter swells in the open ocean. We were given the option of leaving the vessel at the Russell pier and obtaining a ticket for tomorrow. As the clouds lowered and the rain began in earnest we decided that we would take this option as it gave us another chance and given the weather a visit to Russell was likely to be more enjoyable today than the planned trip to the Kerikeri peninsula tomorrow in this poor weather.
We therefore disembarked at the town of Russell and went straight to the tour company’s office for a replacement ticket and what turned out to be free ferry tickets back to Paihia. Russell, originally Kororāreka, was the original main European settlement in this part of the country, after Captain Cook extolled the Bay of Island’s virtues as an anchorage and source of supplies after his unscheduled visit in 1769. It soon attracted whalers and traders, and had an unsavoury reputation which proved a challenge to missionaries. The treaty of Waitangi led to its importance diminishing as the focus of government and trade switched to Okiato and Auckland and the town suffered as a result of conflict with the Maori war of 1845, triggered by the fourth felling of the flagpole overlooking the settlement by the chieftain Hone Heke, leading to its almost complete destruction. However it did survive, bolstered by fishing and manganese mining and, from the 1920s with its game fishing reputation established by Zane Gray, tourism.
Our first stop was the Pompalier Mission museum on the waterfront. Bishop Pompalier was a key figure in the Catholic mission to New Zealand. An important figure in the development of the Society of Mary, the Marist Brothers, he established a Catholic mission in Russell in 1838. The key to the success in bringing Catholicism to the Maori was apparently twofold, the most important reason being the translation of the Bible and other religious works into Maori and its free distribution, and secondly the fact that in Maori eyes the Catholic religious finery was more in keeping with the status of religious leaders than the more sombre Protestant garb.
The museum is based in the original tannery and printing building, constructed using the beaten earth technique. Whilst the importance of printing is self evident the tannery part provided the material to bind the books. The renovated building contains a hands on demonstration of all the stages of both processes, brought to life by our excellent and very knowledgeable guide, Lydia. She was particularly good on the printing phrases used in the modern vernacular, including, ‘dab hand’, ‘first impressions’, ‘mind your ps and qs’, ‘upper and lower case’. The museum on the top floor is well presented and of particular interest are the four rats nest, with mummified animals, from different periods of the building’s history and constructed from materials of each time. The structure survived the 1845 war as it was protected by the Maori.
From here we stopped at a local café for a warming drink as the weather was getting colder and wetter. We then visited the oldest church in New Zealand, Christ Church, built in 1835/6. Its simple design and very light interior produce a very spiritual feeling. Although badly damage in 1845 is has been successfully rebuilt and maintained.
Our final stop was the Russell museum which contained fascinating exhibits reflecting Maori culture and the history of Russell. Particularly striking was the 1:5 scale model of the Endeavour. We left the museum in good time to catch the ferry back to Paihia, seeing little of the surrounding scenery because of the mist. Once back in Paihia we browsed the pier shop and returned for lunch in our apartment, sitting watching the rain and the effects of the gusty wind.
The weather deteriorated during the afternoon, discouraging excursions, so we confined ourselves to visiting the post office and a small supermarket to buy something for dinner, before retiring to shelter for the rest of the day.
Tuesday 16th December 2014 Day 99 Weather woes
A phone call last night had informed us that the trip today had been cancelled because of the deteriorating weather. Overnight the wind and rain continued and there was no change as we ate a lateish breakfast. Just before lunch we headed to the Maritime Building where we arranged a refund on our ticket and then bought some baked beans for lunch, which we ate on toast, back in the room. The weather seemed to get even worse after lunch so we sat tight and relaxed by reading and farming. A slight improvement during the early evening allowed us to walk out to the nearby Swordfish fishing club where we enjoyed a steak dinner, which did not seem to offend the club members. We returned to the room in another downpour and spent some time packing for our departure.
Wednesday 17th December 2014 Day 100 Boulder bonanza
We checked out of the motel around 9.30am and headed through the rain to Haruru falls which were a dramatic sight and sound being in full spate. Returning via Paihia we next went to Kawakawa to admire the toilets, the first and only southern hemisphere building designed by Hundtwasser, the renowned architect and completed in 1999. They have proved an important attraction to tourists for the town.
Our next target was the scenic park containing the Wairere boulders. On the way we visited Pakaraka with its Holy Trinity church, then Te Waimate with the 1830 mission house the 4th mission and the first inland, established by Samuel Palmer and John the Baptist church. From here we travelled to Hokere, passing Heike’s pa, Lake Omapere and via a series of back roads along the river, which was flooding the lower ground. At one point the gravel road was flooded and driving along the crown of the road we created an impressive bow wave. A kind local, driving the 4×4 Eric had allowed to pass minutes before, paused at the other side of the floods to check we were ok.
Local signs took us to the boulders, a private development by the landowner who has installed a walkway with stairways and bridges around, over and under giant basalt boulders which have been fluted by funning water and now lie chaotically arranged in the stream bed. Joyce did not fancy the walk, which in places was flooded and at times resembled an assault course; she stayed in the information shack and looked at the photos and articles about building the walkway. Eric relished the challenge and completed the round trip in a reasonable time. From looking at the fluting and the evidence of potholes it would appear that the boulders represent the product of scarp retreat, probably a retreating waterfall.
The pause in the rain lasted until after lunch, we stopped to eat at Opononi in a park on the seaside, before heading for the viewpoint at south point. Eric decided to walk to the end of the headland ahead of the threatening rain. At the halfway point the heavens opened and Eric returned soaked to the skin.
Heading south we passed through the Waipoua forest on a very winding road and visited Tane Mahuta, the largest living Kauri tree and spied Maungaraho Peak in the distance. Our plan was to fit in a full visit to the Kauri museum at Matakohe but we did not arrive until 4.15pm. The museum is a fascinating record of the Kauri tree and its importance as a resource and is crammed full of information, artefacts and reconstructions and we only managed to view one gallery. Luckily our ticket was valid for the next morning, so we resolved to be at the door when they opened next day.
We then headed north again to Ruawai to find our B&B on a farm. Our gps indicated that our destination was on the left hand side of the road and having sighted the post box with the correct number on that side of the road we headed up a farm track, following the obvious path of a herd of cows. On entering the farmyard we could find no one to welcome us until a chap emerged from the milking parlour to inform us that our hosts lived on the other side of the road. We headed back to the main road and saw our destination, clearly sign posted. We were so trusting of the gps that we had driven past the notice at the entrance with our attention on the opposite side of the road.
We met our hosts for the night and after a coffee were taken for a tour of the area, stopping on the banks of the Wairoa river, the foot of the volcanic plug of Takaoka and the local historic cemetery, plus an introduction to the farm’s dairy herd, which involved walking through a field of cows, some showing great interest in us. Our hosts had offered us dinner which was ready on our return.
Thursday 18th December 2014 Day 101 Kauri kaleidoscope
As part of the farmstay experience we were up at 06.30am to be shown a neighbour’s milking parlour with a chance to help milk the cows. We were shown the technique and soon had the hang of attaching the machinery, standing amidst the cows’ other offerings. It was the first time we had done this job and it proved an interesting experience. After the milking we had breakfast and then went back to the Kauri museum, enjoying fully the presentation, including a fascinating display of Kauri gum. There were detailed displays of each stage of gum production and of everyday life at the time, including superbly produced full size mannequins based on the current descents of the original settlers, giving their names and ancestry. The shop had some beautiful Kauri wood products and Joyce was very taken by a free form bowl, which was unfortunately too heavy to get home. Around the museum were other buildings of the pioneer era, including a school, church and post office.
From the museum we decided to take the main road south, retracing our earlier route, as we had to be at the chiropractor’s in Waiuku by 3.00pm. At Te Hana we stopped at the reconstructed Maori pa but decided against a visit as it was by guided tour only, we were under time pressure and we could see the main structure from the car park.
Passage through Auckland was relatively fast, putting us ahead of schedule. We ate our sandwiches parked outside a café with gardens, which we did not visit, then pressed on to Waiuku and we parked outside the medical centre for almost an hour before Joyce went in for her appointment and Eric had a snooze.
After Joyce emerged we drove into the town and enjoyed a coffee and lemon meringue pie before braving the rain to return to the car. We then followed the gps route to Raglan, which traversed more of rural New Zealand on back roads. Once settled into our motel we explored the small town, estuary walkway and finding a memorial to the landing of the first Methodist missionaries, before eating in the Shack, pork belly and chicken tenderloins.
Friday 19th December 2014. Day 102 Hamilton horticulture
We left Raglan in better weather and our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls, a 55 meter waterfall, which proved a very impressive sight. We then drove on to Hamilton and after a coffee we visited the Waikoto museum which holds an interesting collection of modern Maori cloaks made by a traditional weaver who learnt the skills from her grandmother. Other displays included a Maori war canoe and covered the history of the local Maori’s, King country and the European settlers in Hamilton.
Leaving the museum we drove south to the public gardens which proved well worth the visit. At the heart of the park are a series of cultural gardens including Chinese, Japanese, Indian (Moorish influenced like ones we had seen in Seville), Italian Renaissance, Modern Californian, Maori and English Arts & Crafts after Vita Sackville West. We thoroughly enjoyed the designs and plantings, which were in full bloom.
Continuing south we arrived at the Waitomo caves. We did not have time to visit all the caves and decided to take the longer guided tour of the Ruakuri cave rather than the shorter visits to the Glowworm cave or the Aranui cave. The trip took almost two hours and started and ended at the specially constructed spiral stairway entrance to the cave complex. The walkway we followed consisted of concrete paths plus suspended bridges. During the tour we were shown the glowworms with their sticky tendrils, up close, as well as their stellar patterns on the ceilings of the passages. We also saw fine examples of cave deposits, stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, and passed over the underground stream used by the blackwater rafters. As we left the cave system we had the privilege of hearing the Christmas rehearsal of the Wautoma cave choir, who were using the spiral staircase for the first time. We much enjoyed the quality of their voices within the superb acoustics of the artificial cave space.
After the impromptu concert we drove on to our B&B in Te Kuiti. We found a family café for dinner, and from an extensive menu, we both chose gammon, it being the first time we had seen it since leaving home. We then walked along the main street, which had the railway line and station running along one side and a pretty Japanese garden, donated by its twinned town, before retiring.
Saturday 20th December 2014. Day 103 Gorgeous gorges
This morning we retraced our steps a little to visit the Otorohanga Kiwi house, which we had passed on our way to the caves. This proved an excellent collection of birds and reptiles, including a nocturnal house on which we saw three Kiwi busily foraging.
Resuming our trip south we travelled through the spectacular limestone Mangaotaki Gorge, then the Awakino River Gorge to Awakino, where the weather precluded a walk to the three sisters, glimpsed as we passed along the coast road. We then sought out the White Cliffs but the weather, the state of the tide and the minimum time needed of four hours discouraged more than a trip to the beach by Eric, down a steep and treacherous slope.
Our route ended in New Plymouth where we visited the Tupere Gardens, set on a steep slope leading down to the river. We enjoyed a walk around the gardens, which had superb hydrangeas in full flower, glistening after the rain, before finding our B&B for the night. Once settled in we drove into New Plymouth to find a restaurant, as recommended by our hosts. We ended up at the cinema where we took the chance to buy tickets for The Hobbit. Downstairs a Chinese buffet provided sustenance before we enjoyed watching the Battle of the Five Armies. After the show at 10.45pm we drove to the nearby gardens, with its fine display of Christmas lights, due to switch off at 11.00pm. We walked round the park until the lights went out at 11.15pm, encouraging us to find our car and return to our accommodation.
Sunday 21st December 2014. Day 104 Gardens galore
We started the day with a visit to a suburban garden, planned on a Maori theme, with the added extra of a woodland walk along the river behind the house, the rain started again as we were nearing the end of our walk. From here we travelled into New Plymouth for the morning service of the City Life church. A very talented band with an exceptional lead singer led the active worship and an extended sermon on the trust of relationships, completed the service. Although the day had started wet, there were signs of brightening as we walked along the New Plymouth front.
Our planned route today was around the coast but the gps had other ideas, taking us the inland route around the base of Mount Taranaki, shrouded in thick cloud. The route was narrow and winding, with numerous single track bridges. This was a fortuitous outcome as we reached the Puketi rhododendron garden and we took a walk to see the remaining late flowering blooms.
On leaving the gardens we headed for Dawson Falls, higher on the slopes of Mount Taranaki. As we drove the clouds broke and the summit of the mountain was revealed. From the car park at the visitors centre we walked to see the falls then drove down the mountain to Stratford and the Pioneer Village. The kind receptionist recognised us as seniors, then let us in for half price as we only had 45minutes in the village. We made good use of the time and enjoyed seeing the old buildings, albeit mostly with 1950s contents.
After leaving the village we returned for ice cream in Stratford, then headed south again to Wanganui and settles into our motel room.
Feeling tired we found a nearby fish and chip shop for our evening meal and took the newspaper wrapped parcel back to our room to eat, then had an early night after planning the next day, a trip on the river.
Monday 22nd December 2014. Day 105 Bridge brouhaha
Eric had a yen to visit the iconic bridge to nowhere, deep in the Wanganui National Park. This involved driving to Pipiriki to catch a jetboat tour. The quickest route seemed via Raethi, which meant travelling further than the Wanganui River road. In the end we reached Pipiriki at 10.15am just in time to purchase the last two seats on the trip leaving at 10.30am.
The trip up the gorge was exhilarating and the views spectacular, with many waterfalls and side gorges along the 32 kilometres we travelled to the Manapura landing. Eric had not fully realised that the visit involved a 2.7 kilometre walk to the bridge, which came as a shock to Joyce, she was only wearing shoes and the track was very muddy and slippery. The walk was accomplished with Eric’s aid and the support of the guide who came back to find us. Eric relished the sight of the concrete arch bridge, abandoned as soon as it was completed. After a snack lunch we walked back to the boat, the return journey proving a little easier. We travelled rapidly downstream, with the driver building in four spin turns en route, which were fun but jarred Joyce’s neck, undoing the good work of the chiropractor. One stop on the way back was the tributary which was the home of the endangered blue duck, not seen. Needless to say Joyce had not really enjoyed the trip and was not feeling too well by the end.
From Pipiriki we took the river road downstream, passing through Jerusalem, London and Athens and enjoying the scenery before heading for our B&B at Woodville. Just before we reached the town we travelled up the Mangawara gorge, with the road on one bank and the railway on the other.
We had a very warm reception at the small holding where we were staying and enjoyed dinner with our hosts. They were raising sheep for milk to produce their own feta, and also bees for honey.
Tuesday 23rd December 2014 Day 106 Interisland interlude
Today we finished the trip down the west coast of North Island. From Woodville we drove back down the gorge and spent some time in Palmerston North, walking around the Square. Joyce was aching and not feeling too well after the experience of yesterday.
On our way to Wellington we stopped at Pakepake beach and Porirura. Joyce was aching and not feeling too well after the experience of yesterday but started to feel a bit better after a long lunch break in a café next to a garden centre just outside Wellington. We enjoyed walking round the garden centre, which was full of British bedding plants, vegetables and fruit trees and some native plants, and had a very small display of Christmas decorations. We then drove to the ferry port where we sat on the quayside until time came to board. Although near the front of the queue our line was the last to board.
The crossing was calm and Eric enjoyed the views of Wellington harbour, then the sound on the way into Picton. Joyce still feeling a bit unwell stayed indoors and caught up with the TV news and emails on the free WiFi. Once we had docked we left the ferry fairly quickly and headed for the address on our list for tonight’s stay, only to find that we turned up to the wrong place. Eventually we made our way to the right campsite and our cabin for the night. This was a tiny wooden cabin, with shared toilets and kitchen in a nearby building, we made straight for bed.
Wednesday 24th December 2014. Day 107 Compelling Carols
Eric foraged for coffee in the morning and we quickly packed and headed into Picton to find breakfast, after a drive to the marina and bay, we finally found breakfast on the main street. We then walked down the street and found the main beach with lots of cafés. After doing food shopping to prepare for the holidays, we took the Queen Charlotte drive, which was very winding but offered excellent views of the sound from the lookouts.
As we headed down from the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, we passed a tree decorated for Christmas on the road to Nelson. Bypassing the town we found our motel at Tahunanui beach. After a short rest we walked along the beach then headed into Nelson for a meal. We found our way to the Cathedral and discovered that Carols by candlelight were to be held on the steps at 8.45pm. The first restaurants we found were fully booked, but eventually we found a place to eat, enjoying a fillet steak. After the meal we joined the crowd around the cathedral steps and enjoyed the carols and readings, holding our candles. The event also included a haka and a vignette of the first preaching of the gospel by Samuel Marsden, 200 years ago on Christmas Day. The service ended with Jingle Bell’s with the added verse:
“Splashing through the sea, Or lazing in the sun, Off with friends we go, Laughing having fun; we love picnicking, to keep our spirits bright. Oh what fun it is to sing, when there’s no snowflake in sight!”
After the carols we returned to the motel.