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Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail – Mar 2017

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Our blissful lunch stop on the shores of Lake Aviemore.

The Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail has got to be one of THE most stunning cycle trails around. Superlatives abound when describing the trail and they are well justified.  With its snowy mountain ranges, wide open grassy plains, shady tree lined streams, intensely blue canals and lakes……its beauty is all around everywhere, every day you cycle.  Needless to say, we all LOVED it.

The Wall of Remembrance in Christchurch.

Our adventure started in Christchurch.  We all arrived at our YHA accommodation at different times of the day depending on flights.  Some of us went off for a bus tour and then a walk around the CBD to see the effect of the earthquakes.  I was actually really shocked.  I hadn’t been to Christchurch since before the earthquakes and I didn’t expect it to still look so bad.  There seems to be endless road cones everywhere, crushed buildings with sheets of plastic and “keep out” tape flapping in the breeze.  Yes, there has been some building going on and there are some lovely little areas and lots of beautiful artistic ‘graffiti’ and the Botanic Gardens are looking great….but…..I really thought there would have been a lot more done in the CBD area.

Our arrival day ended with dinner out where we all officially met each other.  We were all feeling excited and really looking forward to the next 6 days together on the A2O.

Day One – Tekapo to Twizel – 54km (5.5 hrs)

We were all up and organised early for breakfast at the YHA then a short walk down the road to catch the 8am bus to Tekapo where our bikes were being delivered.  It was a lovely bus ride, the beautiful scenery all around us was certainly an indicator of what was to come.

Our bus dropped us off at the busy car parking space on the shores of the lake.  Camper vans and tourists were everywhere.  We had time to head to the local pub for some lunch before our bikes arrived.

And we’re off!

It takes a wee while to get 12 women all fitted out properly on their bikes, little adjustments here and there but soon enough after the obligatory “at the start” photos were taken we headed off…..only to find that it was a bit confusing actually getting out of Tekapo.  Finally we were on the right path and we just breezed along beside the incredible turquoise blue canal waters of the Tekapo Canal.

However, our ‘breezing’ along soon changed to ‘battling’ along against a vicious side wind that threatened to topple us off our bikes, some even had to get off and walk. It didn’t last too long though but it certainly tired us out.

Me, in my happy place.

Whizzing along the Pukaki Flats into Twizel was one of the main highlights of this whole adventure for me. I loved the huge wide open space, the purple shadows on the rolling hills, the vast blue sky with surreal cloud formations.  My soul soared, my heart sang, I was in heaven!

After a quick supermarket visit we biked around to our accommodation in 2 separate houses and settled in for the night, feeling like we’d biked 80 odd k’s instead of 54!

Day Two – Twizel to Lake Ohau – 38km (4 hrs)

This morning a few of our bikes needing “tweaking” so we stopped off at the bike depot and had adjustments made before heading off following the river trail out of Twizel.  There were a few big gusts as we cycled along the Ohau Canal but nothing like we had had the day before.  Lunch was at the Ohau Dam and then we were off again cycling a lovely trail around the edges of Lake Ohau.  Lots of twisting, turning, little ups and downs, through scrubby growth full of bright red rose-hip bushes and surrounded by massive hills and mountains, most of them with pockets of snow at the top.

Lake Ohau Lodge.

As beautiful as it was, by the time we reached the road into the little settlement of Lake Ohau we were ready to stop, though we had another 5km to go to go our accommodation at Lake Ohau Lodge.  And what a relief it was to get to such a stunning place.  We had very nice twin share rooms and soon we were showered, rested and enjoying our pre dinner drinks in the lounge overlooking the lake.  After an absolutely sumptuous dinner and lots of laughter and stories we each retired for a well earned sleep.  We were definitely going to need it for the day ahead!

Day Three – Lake Ohau to Omarama – 45km (6hrs)

Climbing up to the pass.

Today we were in for a long steady climb up to the pass and then pretty much downhill all the way to Omarama.  Sounds relatively easy…….  On our way up to the pass it started spitting with rain and getting bitterly cold.  At times the path was steep and rocky and right on the edge of a long drop down to the hills below.  Some of the group needed to get off and walk and we ended up in two separate groups.  There was no time to stop and regroup at the top of the pass as it was just too cold.  Despite the cold we all marvelled at the beauty that surrounded us and there were still lots of quick photo stops!

No, it’s not a mirage, it really is a coffee van!

It was a fast and furious ride down from the top on a stoney trail that wound its way down to the plains below.  We had heard that there was a coffee van at the old historic wool-shed but didn’t want to get our hopes up just in case it wasn’t there…..We still could hardly believe our eyes when there in the absolute middle of no-where, like a surreal mirage,  was the coffee van with lattes, flat whites, hot chocolates, the works!  We practically swooned with delight.

Enjoying our hot chocolates!

Sitting in a sheltered spot in the sun with our hot chocolate, eating our lunch was just heavenly.

And on we went….. Unfortunately there was no time for the side trip up to the Clay Cliffs but we managed to meet up with some of the first group who had made the one and a half hour detour to view this amazing sight.

Heavenly hot tub spa!

Our motel accommodation in Omarama was a very welcome sight and the long soak in hot tub spa over the road was absolutely divine!   Dinner was at the local pub just down the road and then it was off to bed for an early night.

 

Day Four – Omarama to Kurow – 80km (8hrs)

Today was an incredibly beautiful ride but just a bit too long as we had extra mileage added on to get to our farm stay accommodation out of Kurow.  It was a very chilly start to the day with frost on our bike seats and we were all bundled up in our thermals and gloves as we headed off on what was to be one of the most beautiful days on the cycle trail.

We sped along beside Lake Benmore, it’s deep blue waters sparkling in the sun, then up onto State Highway 83 where we carefully rode in single file as we climbed up to the Otematata saddle with big trucks roaring past.

Cafe stop at Otematata.

Our morning tea stop was at the Otematata café.  We stocked up on food for our lunch at the local Four Square before heading off on the next section.  It was a short but pretty steep climb up to the top of the Benmore Dam and what a stunning view from the top.

Our blissful lunch stop on the shores of Lake Aviemore.

We couldn’t have asked for better conditions as we cycled around Lake Aviemore, it was so sunny, still and calm that you could clearly see the reflection of the surrounding hills in the lake.  Golden leaves on the trees that fringed the lake, a flock of sheep being herded ahead of us, crab apples ripe (but still sour) for the picking, the warm sun on our back, our lunch stop sitting gazing at the lake, were just some of the delights.

A lovely flat riverside ride took us into the small town of Kurow where Richie McCaw stands proudly in his All Black splendour.  We rode on through and stopped at the Kurow Winery for much needed refreshments as we were all starting to feel the effects of our long day.    In hindsight, we should have all been picked up from the Kurow Winery and taken to our farm-stay accommodation as the extra k’s were just a bit too far for most.

After showers and a rest we gathered together for pre dinner drinks and then a wonderful huge home cooked meal before retiring.  All up, it had been a beautiful but huge day’s ride!

Day Five –  Kurow to Burnside Road – 55km (6hrs)

After a lovely big breakfast we were all packed and ready to go.  4 of us were taken to where we had stashed our bikes under some trees beside the road when we got a lift up to the farm the day before.  The rest (who had bravely rode their bikes) all the way, headed off from the farm to meet us at the crossroads…..except it didn’t quite happen that way.  Due to a misunderstanding we all missed each other but we eventually all met up together when a local stopped was able to courier the message to those of us who were waiting, (phone coverage wasn’t that good there.)

It was a lovely easy start to what was to be quite a hilly day.  We sped along the highway before getting back onto the trail, wending and weaving our way through pockets of shady trees, through paddocks and alongside the river and eventually into Duntroon.  We were looking forward to a coffee stop but there was no café.  However we found out there was a coffee machine at the Vanished World Museum so we a happy bunch of women sitting in the sun outside the museum sipping our coffees and eating our huge morning tea that was part of our farm stay packed lunch.

Elephant rocks.

There were a couple of historic sights for us to visit on our way.  We stopped at the Takiroa Maori rock art drawings and then started on one of the many climbs we were to do that day.  We stopped and admired the Elephant Rocks, and then it was another long and winding climb up to Island View, with fast and fun down-hills!  An abrupt turn took us off the road and onto the trail that goes through Rakis Tunnel.  Out came the torches as we walked our bikes through and out the other side where we cycled through lovely little pine forest glades carpeted with pine needles and then another long hot hill, cycling in the sun to the top of Peaks Rd.  Most of us found our way up to Burnside Rd but unfortunately a couple of the front riders continued on the cycle trail and ended up cycling into Enfield before being redirected back to our accommodation at Burnside Historic Homestead.

Burnside Homestead.

Our last night on the A2O was spent in THE most beautiful accommodation.  Practically all the women had their own rooms, all decorated in the old period style.  There were 4 poster beds, free standing claw foot baths; it was like we had stepped back in time. Even the couple that run the place are dressed in period costume.  We wined, dined and slept in absolute luxury and loved every minute of it.

Day Six – Burnside Rd to Oamaru – 20km (2hrs)

We all slept so well and woke feeling refreshed, most of us wanting to stay an extra day and just enjoy the place a bit more.  We had a beautiful big breakfast before we cycled off to Oamaru, literally just down the road, and the end of the trail.  Once again the sun was shining and the conditions were perfect as we sped along what used to be an old railway line.  I cycled along thinking of all the beautiful places we had seen on the last 6 days, it was almost overwhelming and I felt quite emotional as I cycled into Oamaru.  What a lovely way to end the trail, riding through the Oamaru Botanical Gardens and on through the Victorian Historic Precinct with its alleyway type streets leading to the Oamaru Harbour.

We made it!

We gathered together for the obligatory “end of the trail” photos, all feeling immensely happy and proud of what we’d achieved.

 

Art Deco Festival – Feb 2017

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If you love dressing up, dancing, music, parades and all the style and fun of the 1930’s/40’s then you would love the Napier Art Deco festival.  

Guided tour in Napier.

Held over 4 days, this festival is absolutely jam packed full of fun things to do and see.  It was very hard to choose the ticketed events for our group to do!

After arriving from our drive down from Auckland and meeting up the other two women of our group, we headed off for our Guided Tour of the Art Deco streets and buildings of central Napier.  This was a great introduction to our weekend as we learnt about the earthquake that pretty much destroyed Napier but at the same time reclaimed it so that what was under water rose up to became land, (which is now the airport area.)  Napier may have been destroyed but what was created to take its place was guided by the fashion, the era, the post war feeling of the time.

It was one of hope, splendour, boldness, glamour and the positivity of what was ahead.  And it only took 2 years to completely rebuild!!

Enjoying our wine tasting at Clearview.

The itinerary I had planned went by the wayside a bit due to the very wet and rainy weather.  We couldn’t complain though as Napier had been in the clutches of a drought and desperately needed this rain.  So on Day 2 instead of cycling out to visit wineries we all hopped in my van and headed out on a “Tasting Trip.”  First stop was Clearview Winery, where we had a lovely wine tasting session (at 10 in the morning!)  Then it was off to Origin Earth, the home of Te Mata cheese for a very informative cheese tasting and delicious lunch at their café.  From here it was a short drive to Black Barn for yet another wine tasting at this beautiful winery.

As we drove through Havelock North on our way to the Silky Oaks chocolate factory, the women couldn’t resist stopping for a bit of shopping and a look around.  We finished our “Tasting Trip” trying out the different fudge flavours at Silky Oaks.

Dressed up and ready to party!

Back at our accommodation in Clive, we had a short rest, before dressing up in all our splendour and heading into Napier for dinner and then the Prohibition Party.  Practically everyone we saw was dressed up in the art deco era and we were constantly oohing and ahhing over the absolutely beautiful costumes we saw.  There was such an air of festivity everywhere, dancing exhibitions, jazz music, pipe bands, busking, spontaneous dancing and singing, people everywhere, like us, strutting their stuff and looking so cool! We all loved the Prohibition Party, a fun evening full of dancing, entertainment, gambling….and yes, we did get “raided by the cops!”

Our decadent breakfast at the County Hotel.

The next morning we were up relatively early for our seating for the champagne breakfast at the County Hotel.  There was such a feeling of decadence as we sipped at our champagne flutes, dressed in our finery, and were waited on for our gourmet breakfast, (and it wasn’t even 9am yet!)

Later that day we stood with many others in the rain, under our umbrellas, and watched the vintage car parade, which was actually more entertaining than I thought it would be.  From there we did some sightseeing and ended up in Ahururi for a late lunch before heading back to Clive for a bit of a rest before another night out.

That night was the Ukelele Beach Party except it wasn’t at the beach as their location got flooded out so we were at the Rugby Club.  This was a fun sing-along evening which would have been even better had we known how to play the ukulele and brought our own.  We managed pretty well with our percussion spoons though!

Enjoying the Great Gatsby picnic.

Finally, the next morning, the sun shone and boy, did it get hot!  We drove into Hastings to the Farmers Market and had a delightful time perusing and tasting at all the various stalls, choosing delicious foods for our Great Gatsby picnic.  And what a picnic it was.  We couldn’t believe all the amazing picnic settings that people had set up as part of the picnic competition; everything from the historic teddy bears picnic to the East India colonialism era.

Bubbly was sipped, delicacies were devoured as we again watched the festivity all around us, the dancers, the strollers, the musicians, and all the old cars…..it was like stepping backwards in time.  All too soon though we had to gather up our picnic things and head back to normality and the long drive back to Auckland.  It had been such an amazing weekend, despite the weather, and one that I’ll definitely being doing again (and again!)

Sunset Kayaking Adventure – Feb 2017

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Armed and ready for our beautiful kayak back.

One definition of the word “adventure” is not ‘knowing what the outcome is going to be.’  That was certainly the case in this kayaking adventure!

Getting to know each other at the start of our adventure.

A group of 7 of us met up with our guides from Auckland Sea Kayaks at St Heliers beach .  It was a bright, sunshiney day.  The beach and the sea were full of people enjoying the summer afternoon.  We spent a good half an hour getting ourselves ready, spray skirts, life jackets, boat shoes, a thorough briefing on the how to’s of kayaking and sharing what experience (if any) that we all had of kayaking.

Gliding effortlessly along.

We buddied up in our double kayaks and carefully paddled off from the beach heading towards the big marker out in the channel.  There was a pretty strong south westerly blowing which made for a lot of sideways, slapping waves against our kayaks.  This was OK for going over to Rangitoto but as our guide pointed out, it would be very difficult for us to kayak into that strong wind on the way back.  So he made the call for us to paddle over to Browns Island, (Motukorea) instead.

It was so much calmer and easier.

It was quite a choppy paddle over and we were all relieved to get around to the back of the island, out of the wind, where it was much calmer.  But not for long!  As we headed around the front of the island to where we were going to beach our kayaks, the strong wind hit us full in the face. At times if felt as if you were just sitting still and paddling no-where!

Pulling our kayaks up onto the beach at Browns Island.

We made it in to shore and pulled our kayaks up high on the beach.  The wind was still gustily blowing and we were cooling down quickly so we added thermal layers and wind jackets.  Our guides soon had teas, coffees and  muffins set out for us which we consumed with much enjoyment and relief.

Our BBQ dinner, steak and salads.

While we sat and rested and chatted, our guides very efficiently cooked and served up our BBQ steaks and yummy salads.  The sun was by now slowly slipping towards the horizon so we set off for the highest point, a bare grassy hill with a stunning 360 degrees view, to watch the sunset.

Huddled together in the strong wind at the top of Browns Island waiting for the sunset.

We huddled together as the wind blasted us and Ian, our guide, gave us a very good history of the surrounding area and islands.  For an Irish guy, he certainly knew a lot more than us!

 

What a pretty sunset.

Although there was a bit too much cloud cover, it was still a very pretty sunset and I loved sitting there on top of an island in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf, with a bunch of great people, watching this beautiful sight.

Enjoying the sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armed and ready for our beautiful kayak back.

It slowly became darker as we walked back down, past the massive crater in the middle of the island, and to the beach.  Luckily, the wind had died down.  We loaded up the kayaks, turned on their little lights, buddied up again and silently paddled off through the dark waters, back to St Heliers, watching the lights of the city get closer and closer.

It is such a magical feeling, gliding along with just the sound of your paddle slicing through the water, darkness all around, just a little golden glow from the light at the end of the kayak and the moonlight shining on the water.

There really is no place I would rather have been at that moment.  Yes, it had been a bit of an adventure, we didn’t end up where we thought we were going, but once again, it was such a good adventure!

Nikau Cave Adventure – Jan 2017

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We crawled through spaces like this.

Did you know we have our own spectacular cave pretty much right on our doorstep, (if you’re from Auckland or the Waikato)?  That’s right.  On the back road to Port Waikato is a wonderful hidden gem, called Nikau Cave.

A group of 10 of us travelled out west of Mercer, through beautiful rolling countryside and pretty little settlements and met up at the Nikau Cave Cafe, (worth a visit in itself.)

The intrepid explorers!

 

After meeting with our guide and getting ready with our helmets and torches, we set off through the paddocks and trees to the opening of this massive cave system hidden in the rolling hills.

A shallow stream runs through the cave so there was no option but to get our feet wet and even our knees when we crawled through a 12 metre very low part of the cave.

 

Although we were all feeling slightly nervous about this part of the adventure, it wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated and we were through it very quickly.

There were heaps of stalactites like these.

 

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos so I’ve had to copy some photos off the website to try and show just how amazing this cave is.   There was just so much to see and ooh and ahh over.  Huge stalagmites and stalactites  were everywhere, massive limestone formations that would have taken thousands of years to grow.  We walked through great caverns where glowworms glittered all around us.

 

 

 

It was just stunningly beautiful!

 

The walk through the cave takes and hour and a half and we were fascinated all the way through.  It really is well worth a visit.

 

 

Our delicious lunch stop at Sylvia’s Cafe at Port Waikato.

From here, we continued on along the road and into Port Waikato with it’s relaxed, laid back vibe.  We stopped at the very popular Sylvia’s Cafe for a delicious lunch before heading down to explore the seriously eroded beach.

 

Getting caught by a rogue wave.

This wild, windy west coast beach certainly lived up to expectations.  The waves crashed and surged aggressively up onto the beach as the wind blew the froth back out to sea.

 

 

Racing down the sand dunes!

We climbed the massive sand dunes and raced down their steep slopes to the bottom.  Strolling back along the beach, we hopped in our cars and headed back to Auckland.

And all of this is, as I said, right on our doorstep!

Tongariro Crossing – Jan 2017

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Slowly and carefully making our way down the scree slope.

What a perfect day we had for this adventure!  We certainly appreciated that fact when we found out that the day before had been unfavourable conditions and as it turned out, the day after was thick with fog!

We headed off from Auckland on a very hot, sunny afternoon and drove via Tirau to pick up the 4th member of our group.  Just a small group but the van was full of our chatter!

Walking in to the local pub with Mt Ruapehu to our left.

We arrived at our very comfortable, self-contained, holiday house and settled in before heading off to the local pub for dinner.  It was pretty much full of other trampers with very few kiwi accents that we could hear.  This was to be our experience on the crossing too, loads of other trampers and all seeming to be from different countries (and all much younger!) We all had an early night so that we could be up early and ready for our 6.45am shuttle van.

7.40am at the start of what turned out to be an almost 8 hr trek. (Lots of photo stops…)

We awoke to a lovely fine, clear day and joined the masses being transported to the start of the crossing.  Bus loads were being dropped off and we wondered what it was going to be like, all jostling for space on the track.  Luckily we did all span out and it was only at the toilets or the “slowly and carefully” parts of the track that we all ended up in queues.

 

On the boardwalk at the start.

 

The first part of the track is easy, boardwalks and pretty flat terrain.  From Soda Springs the track starts to climb up the long ascent known as the Devil’s Staircase, (I think there are a few walks in NZ with a Devil’s Staircase!)

 

 

On the climb up the Devil’s Staircase.

 

 

We were all very pleased to get to the top, have a rest, find somewhere out of the wind to have some food and then head up to the Red Crater. It was during this part that we all noticed a young man on a BMX bike trying to cycle the track!  Mind you, when we saw him he was carrying his bike and I’m sure he would have had to do that for a fair bit.

 

 

The awesome Red Crater! Photos just do not do it justice…

The red crater was absolutely stunning!  So dramatic, almost like something from another planet!  Deep, rich, dark blood red, rusty browns and ominous black walls steeply disappearing into this huge crater.  The fierce cold wind only added to it’s stark beauty.

The magnificent Emerald Pools.

Once again, we sheltered out of the wind whilst admiring the panoramic view.  From here it was a bit more of a climb and then below us was one of the most magical scenes of the whole trip,  the Emerald Lakes.  These honestly have to be seen to be believed.  All around us was this rocky, sparse terrain and in front of us was a huge scree slope heading down to where these 3 magical lakes sparkled and shone in turquoise splendour.  All around us people were taking advantage of the perfect conditions and taking photos and videos.

Slowly and carefully making our way down the scree slope.

We joined the long, slow procession carefully snaking down the crumbly, scree slope.  Many a slip was had but luckily no-one was seriously injured.

 

 

On our way down to Ketetahi car park with the Blue Lake ahead of us.

We walked across the vast Central Crater, the sun shining down, enjoying the ease of the track.  From here it was an easy walk to the Ketetahi Hut and it was about here that we realised that we didn’t have quite as much time left as we thought we did.  Despite starting to feel a little bit weary and foot sore, we needed to up the ante to make sure we were back by our pick up time of 3.30pm.

The track down through the alpine scrub and down into the forest is actually really lovely, especially with the pretty little river rushing alongside.  However, we didn’t get to really appreciate it due to the rush to get back in time! Needless to say, we made it back and thankfully settled in to the air-conditioned shuttle bus and drowsily nodded off on the ride back to National Park.

It had taken us almost 8hrs with lots of stops for rests and photos and we were all feeling very satisfied with ourselves.

Once we were showered and rested, we sat back with wine and nibbles and celebrated the day.  We ended up celebrating a bit too much, or maybe we were just too knackered, and decided to stay home instead of going down the road for dinner.  Yes, it was an early night that night too!

We woke the next morning to this!

And as I said at the start, look what we woke up to the next morning!  Thick fog that lasted all day, in fact, they closed down the track.  Were we feeling a little bit smug and pleased with ourselves that we had done the track YESTERDAY……..damn right we were!

 

Kayaking at Mahurangi – Dec 2016

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Gliding through the grey still water, gentle misty rain caressing my face, a sense of calm and being at one with nature, I smiled as I thought, ‘there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now.’

Yes, the forecast wasn’t good at all.  Yes, we all were having second thoughts before we got there.  Yes, it rained off and on while we were out there.  No, we didn’t get to kayak over to Motuora Island…….but did we have a wonderful days kayak anyway…..? Damn right we did!

We met Logan, our guide, at 9am at the beautiful secluded little Sullivan’s Bay at Mahurangi West, which on a sunny summer’s day is the place to be,  and agreed with him that due to the forecast, we’d stick close to the shoreline and just explore the immediate area.

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Briefing on the beach.

By the time we got the kayaks unloaded, set them up on the beach and had been through our briefing it was almost 10am.  The water was calm, there was no breeze at all just a few spots of rain here and there as we set off, paddles silently slicing through the rain pocked water.

Morning tea on Te Haupa island.
Morning tea on Te Haupa island.

We soon kayaked round to Wenderholm and then over to Te Haupa island for tea, coffee and muffins.

From there we made our way over to Mahurangi East along the coastline and into the tranquil Dairy Bay where we stopped for lunch, sheltering under a huge pohutakawa tree.

The lovely Dairy Bay - lunch stop.
The lovely Dairy Bay – lunch stop.

Seeing these magnificent trees, clothed in their scarlet crimson brush-like blooms against the grey misty water was breath taking.

Feeling nicely well rested and well fed we pushed back out into the water and paddled round to Scott’s Landing before crossing back over with the intention of exploring more of the coastline.  However, the rain had started to get a bit heavier and black clouds were closing in so we headed back to Sullivan’s Bay  instead.

We hauled our kayaks up onto the beach and though we were feeling wet and weary we were also immensely pleased with ourselves and our day out.

Driving back I had this happy little chorus playing in my head, “da da de dah, da da de dee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be…”

 

Living Life On The Edge – Blokarting – Oct 2016

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Wheeling our blokarts down to the beach.
Wheeling our blokarts down to the beach.
Me, whizzing through the wet sand!
Me, whizzing through the wet sand!

OK, I admit it, I was a bit nervous about doing this adventure.  I had visions of the blokart speeding uncontrollably along the beach, me hanging on for dear life or the blokart flipping over and me getting hurt or crashing into some poor beach walker……. I’ve never really sailed before and I didn’t know whether I’d “get” how to do this tacking thing I was told we had to do in order to get back.

Well, I needn’t have been nervous at all.  I loved it and had so much fun!  We wheeled the blokarts down to the beach, the wind was blowing in a nice brisk fashion, (that’s landlubbers language for 15 to 20 knots.)  We were given as much info as we could handle without going into information overload and not remembering any of it, then we climbed in, got down low, strapped ourselves in, wheeled ourselves around so the wind was behind us, held the rope to the sail in one hand, the steering wheel in the other and away we sped.  Just like that!

So, reluctantly I turned the kart around or tried to.  Pulling the sail in hard as I turned I suddenly flipped up onto 2 wheels and before I knew it I was over on the sand, my hand and foot out of the kart to brace myself, which is exactly what we were told NOT to do.  I felt like a cast sheep as I wriggled around trying to undo my seat belt so I could get out and right myself.

And they're off!
And they’re off!

I could see the others flying along the beach ahead of me and into the salty mist beyond.

Talk about exhilarating, it was amazing!

Watery wet sand flew up from the wheels and plastered me from head to toe, even in my ears, before I slightly turned the steering towards the dryer sand and continued zipping along.

I knew I’d better not go too far as I’d have to do this tacking thing to get all the way back.  Some of the other women were starting to come back and didn’t seem to be making much progress.

Getting some help to turn around.
Getting some help to turn around.

I noticed I wasn’t the only one either.  In fact, we were told at the start that everyone ends up flipping over.

A couple walking along the beach came to my rescue and the very kind gentleman not only righted my blokart but proceeded to help me master this tacking skill.

Every time I stalled, there he was, correcting the kart, running behind me, pushing me in the right direction until the wind got my sail and I was off again, only to stall when I tried to turn again.  Finally I got the hang of it, or should I say, the “feel” of it.  It seems to be very much a “feeling” thing.  Knowing just how much rope to let out, how tight to pull it back in, what speed to get up to before attempting a turn. Once I got it, I was away, joyfully shouting out thanks to my helper and his patient partner who had to walk by herself most of the way.

Had enough!
Had enough!
Smooth tacking back to the start. I've got this!
Smooth tacking back to the start. I’ve got this!

I noticed some of the other women were also confidently tacking back while a couple of others had problems with their karts and were trying to wheel them back.

I zig zagged back and forth across the beach, so proud of learning this new skill.  Just about every time I turned I was up on 2 wheels, zipping along, but now I knew how to control it.  Yep, no doubt about it, I was actually “living life on the edge” and loving it!

Bay of Islands – August 2016

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At the start of our walk in Paihia, pre the accident.

Well, what a weekend that was!  We had perfect weather, a great group of women, a lovely place to stay, an absolutely beautiful walk on both days…..the Bay of Islands really turned it on for us and definitely lived up to its reputation as the “winter-less north.”

Poor Helen with her broken ankle being ferried across the little bay.
Poor Helen with her broken ankle being ferried across the little bay.

What we hadn’t expected to happen was a broken ankle!!

A slight hollow in the track, a misplaced foot, the ankle turned and down Helen went, painfully landing on her bent leg with the ankle underneath her and, to make matters worse, it was her previously broken ankle!!

There were lots of “luckily’s” that then followed.  Luckily, we were very near a road end so we could get transport, luckily she could be piggy backed out, luckily there was a guy in a little dinghy who could take her the short distance from the track across the water to the little bay with the road end, luckily our taxi driver who I rang, was an ex ambulance driver and chairman of the St John’s, (it was quicker to get him than to send for an ambulance), luckily she could be easily lifted into the back of the taxi van and taken to nearby Kawakawa for x rays etc.

Needless to say, despite all the “luckily’s” she was gutted to have had the accident and missed out on the rest of the day’s hike from Paihia around to Russell.  We were very near Opua when it happened so a good 2 hrs into the hike. One of the other women, her cousin, went with her to Kawakawa and the rest of us continued on, catching the 5 min ferry from Opua over to Okiato and from there we walked to Russell.

At the start of our walk in Paihia, pre the accident.
At the start of our walk in Paihia, pre the accident.

 

As I said earlier, we had perfect weather.  The sun was shining and one by one the thermal layers starting coming off.  We climbed up the bushy hillside, up and down along a ridge and back down lots of steps to the water’s edge.  We stopped for lunch at the end of a little jetty.  It was such a quiet and tranquil spot with a lovely little breeze that refreshed our sweaty brows.

Up and down the bushy path on our way to Russell.
Up and down the bushy path on our way to Russell.

 

 

We continued on, along the boardwalks, beside the road and finally into the streets of Russell.  We were a pretty tired out bunch of women but also very pleased with ourselves and what we had done.

 

 

 

 

A happy but tired bunch of women.
A happy but tired bunch of women.

We caught the next ferry, met up with the 3 other women, (one of whom had just done a shortened version of our walk), commiserated with Helen who was now hobbling around on crutches and hopped into our vehicles and headed back to Auckland.  what an adventuresome weekend it had been!!

Tiritiri Matangi – July 2016

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Listening to the birds.

Well, who would have thought it…….?  The weather forecast wasn’t looking too good and it was touch and go whether the trip to Tiritiri Matangi Bird Sanctuary was going to be called off or not, but it turned out pretty much to be a perfect winter’s day!

Arriving at Tiritiri Matangi.
Arriving at Tiritiri Matangi.

If you’ve never been to this island bird sanctuary, if you’ve never heard the sound of what the New Zealand bush must have sounded like way – way back, then I definitely recommend a trip to Tiritiri!

Listening to the birds.
Listening to the birds.

We were all overwhelmed at times by the beautiful and very loud song and calls of all the different native birds. At times it was so noisy you had to raise your voice to be heard by the person next to you!

Listening to our very informative guide, Kathy.
Listening to our very informative guide, Kathy.

Once we arrived, we were given a 2hr very informative guided walk about the history of the island, the birds and the native plants and trees.  Although we didn’t actually go very far on the walk, we saw so much and were constantly stopping to see the many tui, bell birds, saddlebacks, robins, kereru ……

On the ferry, a lovely quick trip.
On the ferry, a lovely quick trip.

After our lunch there was only time to go for a bit of an explore before we caught the ferry back to Gulf Harbour, (it only takes half an hour) and Auckland, (another 50 min away from Gulf Harbour.) The weather was starting to change, it was getting cold and windy, but it was a pretty calm trip back.   We were all feeling like we’d like to go back again for another visit and more of a look around.

I’m definitely thinking about taking a group over for an overnight trip.  There’s a lodge you can stay in there. Staying overnight means you can do a night walk to see the kiwi (hopefully) and the tuatara. The night sky apparently is incredible so there’d be some star gazing and then in the morning we’d be up early to hear the dawn chorus.  Sounds like a great weekend trip doesn’t it?!  Keep an eye out for it coming up in the summer months.

 

Great Barrier Island – May 2016

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looking out over Whangapoua. Just gorgeous.

A rushed ride to the ferry and a panicked ride to the airport bracketed the beginning and the end of what was otherwise a fabulous four days of exploring  Great Barrier Island.

On our way into Tryphena from the ferry.
On our way into Tryphena from the ferry.

We left at 8am from the Sealink ferry terminal in Auckland for what was supposed to be a 4hr trip…….5 hrs later we arrived in Tryphena after a very choppy crossing with most of us feeling a bit green around the gills.

However, the sun was shining and the sea was now calm and sparkling beside us as we walked along the road into the little township of Tryphena.  Stopping at a General Store we bought some basic supplies for our meal that night and breakfast and lunch the next day.  We divvied up the food between us, squeezed it into our already full day packs and set off for the approximately 3 hr walk over to Medlands Beach, following the Kowhai Valley Track.

At the start of the Kowhai Valley Track.
At the start of the Kowhai Valley Track.

It was a long climb up Rosalie Bay Rd to the start of the track and by now the sun was slowly slipping towards the horizon.  We hoped we would get to our accommodation before dark.  Did we make it ………..well …… no. The last 10 minutes or so we walked along the road in the dark with our headlamps blazing before finally making it to Medlands Beach Backpackers.  It had been a long and eventful day and we were all ready for showers, dinner and an early night.  The bottle of wine that one of the women had stashed in her backpack went down a treat too!

looking out over Whangapoua. Just gorgeous.
Looking out over Whangapoua. Just gorgeous.

The next morning we were picked up by Lianne from GO Great Barrier and taken to the start of the Heretaonga Coastal Track.  This pretty track meanders gently around the hills overlooking the coast with all it’s stunning secluded bays and coves.

 

We couldn't resist stripping off for a swim.
We couldn’t resist stripping off for a swim.

We made it in plenty of time to our pick up spot at Heretaonga Bay so decided to check out the beach and couldn’t resist stripping off and running in for a very refreshing swim.  We couldn’t believe the water was so nice for May!

Lianne picked us up and drove us to our next accommodation at Crossroads Backpackers, stopping to look at the gorgeous views of the island along the way.  We were hosted by the very friendly and chatty Kate and Bruce.

Our evening at the local Sports bar.
Our evening at the local Sports bar.

Dinner that night was at the local Sports Bar which was pretty much right next door.  This was a  lovely big open plan wooden building with a big blazing fire, which wasn’t really necessary but added to the ambience. We all thoroughly enjoyed our evening there, chatting with the locals and of course the great food.

Day three and we were up, leisurely breakfasted in the sprawling comfy kitchen/dining room and off up the road to the start of the Te Ahumata Track that would take us up and over to Whangaparapara and our next accommodation at Great Barrier Lodge.

Quad stretch at the top of the Te Ahumata track.
Quad stretch at the top of the Te Ahumata track.

The Te Ahumata Track is an easy walk with an hour loop up to the look out at the top of the big flat ridge.  It was another lovely blue sky sunny day as we ambled along, chatting and laughing, enjoying the day. The view from the top, though slightly hazy, was still well worth the climb.

Our well deserved lunch at Great Barrier Lodge.
Our well deserved lunch at Great Barrier Lodge.

We strolled down the road and into Whangaparapara to the Great Barrier Lodge where I had phoned ahead to let them know we’d be wanting lunch.  I was so glad I had as we were all feeling pretty hungry and wolfed down the BLT’s, toasted sandwiches, moist carrot cake and plunger coffees!

Exploring the tranquil bay.
Exploring the tranquil bay.

Some rested after lunch and some of us went off kayaking, exploring the calm and tranquil bay. Tui’s sang from the nearby trees, the water was glassy and smooth as we silently paddled, absorbing the beauty.

Fresh snapper and salad for dinner, sitting out on the deck of one of the cabins, rugs over our knees, talking together, sharing our stories…… just perfect. Once again, I’d been blessed with such a lovely group of women to share another adventure with.

Heading off to the Hot Springs.
Heading off to the Hot Springs.

Our last morning on what was to be an exciting and almost disastrous day. We were up early and on the track to the Hot Springs by 7.30am.  We were running to a relatively tight schedule to get to the hot pools, have a soak and walk out to the road to be met by Steve, (Lianne’s husband) and taken to Claris to get our 12.30pm flight.

Loving these hot springs!
Loving these hot springs!

All went beautifully to plan, we had plenty of time for our walk, loved our long soak in the natural hot springs pool, got out to the road with 10 minutes to spare…… 40 minutes later we were still waiting!

We were starting to get worried as our flight would be leaving in half an hour and we still had to get the rest of our stuff from the Lodge which was in the opposite direction to the airport.  We managed to flag down a local and get them to ring Steve, (there was no phone reception where we were) and soon Steve turned up apologising profusely. He had read our pick up time as 1.30, not 11.30! A speedy dash to pick up our bags (as much as you can on the winding Great Barrier roads) and a then a return rush into Claris to the airport where we made it with 2 minutes to spare! As much as we all loved being over there we all had lives to get back to on the mainland.

We made it! Our flight back to Auckland.
We made it! Our flight back to Auckland.

We clambered into the little 8 seater plane and had a lovely flight back, (just ahead of a big storm, thankfully) marvelling at the beauty below us.

Goodbye Great Barrier.
Goodbye Great Barrier.

Once again, Great Barrier Island seduced us all with her beauty, her friendly locals, her laid back lifestyle and sense of New Zealand as it used to be.  I’ll be back again with another group next year, count on it!