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Standup Paddleboarding – Matakana River – Nov 2014

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Trying to line ourselves up for a photo....

Kneeling upright on the board I gingerly and slowly bring one foot out from under me and place it on the board.  Hmmm….so far so good…….I then ever so gently bring my other foot out and holding onto the paddle in front of me I slowly rise up from crouching to fully standing, leaning forward, soft knees, my legs shaking slightly, my bare feet gripping the board.  A gust of wind blows and I brace myself, totally focused on my balance, phewww, I slowly let out my breath and relax a bit.  Now for the paddling part!

Paddling down the river.
Paddling down the river.
We're getting the hang of this now!
We’re getting the hang of this now!
Trying to line ourselves up for a photo....
Trying to line ourselves up for a photo….

 

Gradually it all starts to come together as little by little I grow more confident and manage to stop myself from getting caught in the mangroves, from falling off when a gust of wind blasts me as I round a bend in the river and when my board starts going backwards.  It’s an exhilarating feeling to be in control of this big board, to feel the board surging forwards when I thrust the paddle in.  It’s also an incredibly peaceful and almost meditative feeling to be quietly gliding along the river as it meanders through the farmland , herons stalking through the shallows, ducks paddling past…..

Standup Paddleboading was the perfect end to our full day adventure outing.  We started the day at the Matakana Market, browsing through the many stalls, sampling their wares, rushing for cover under awnings when the squally showers came down and sipping our coffee listening to the lively jazz band playing.

At the start of the Ecology Trail.
At the start of the Ecology Trail.

 

Next stop was the beautiful Tawharenui for lunch and a lovely walk on the Ecology Trail that took us along the beach, up over the headland and down through the bush back to the start.

 

 

 

 

Walking up over the headland with the wind blowing.
Walking up over the headland with the wind blowing.

 

From there we drove in the van back to Matakana and down to the river for our Standup Paddleboarding lesson and guided paddle.

 

 

 

 

Enjoying tea, coffee and muffins at the end of our adventure.
Enjoying tea, coffee and muffins at the end of our adventure.

 

 

The river was the perfect solution for where to paddle on this unpredictable day.  I can highly recommend Matakana Beach Outfitters and our friendly and enthusiastic guide, Ashley.

 

http://www.matakanasup.co.nz.

Timber Trail – Pureora Forest – Oct 2014

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One of the many suspension bridges.

Speeding flat tack down the bumpy forest trail, cold wind whipping past, eyes watering, intensely focused on the rutted, pot-holed, muddy, branch strewn track. Standing, crouched low on my pedals, body leaning forwards over the handlebars, fingers splayed lightly over the brakes, alert to all the possible dangers…..this was totally exciting, exhilarating and scary!

This was The Timber Trail.

Four of us were in the heart of the Pureora Forest to do the 85km mountain bike trail with little idea of what to really expect. We knew it would be a challenge, but just how challenging, how tough, how physically and mentally demanding it would turn out to be, we didn’t yet know. By the end of Day One we knew and our numbers reduced to half.

Our two injured and very knackered women get a lift back on the quad bike.
Our two injured and very knackered women get a lift back on the quad bike.

 

Two of the group ended up having to be picked up by quad bike near the halfway mark as both were exhausted. One had a nasty deep gash in her leg where the pedal had gouged her when she came off, the other had come off over the front of her handle bars and was pretty sore as well. Both decided to flag Day Two and rest, re-coop and explore the many different walks around our accommodation art Blackfern Lodge.

 

Sandy and I soldiered on. And we were glad we did, though it took everything we had and we’re both pretty fit women! We cycled over huge suspension bridges that swayed in the strong breeze, we cycled through dark, natural tunnels made of over arching trees and ferns and through a ‘real tunnel’, through regenerating forest, through old mossy lined forest and up steep forest tracks. It was beautiful with stunning views across the valleys. Best of all was the 30km fast ride down hill pretty much all the way to Ongarue.

It gets pretty windy being up so high!
It gets pretty windy being up so high!
Riding through the forest tunnels.
Riding through the forest tunnels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, it was challenging, demanding, tough but if you’re fit and into mountain biking, you’ll love it!

Samoan Cycling Adventure- Oct 2014

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Stunning!

Day One: Arrival Day

Ahh Samoa……soft warm sunshine embracing us as we step off the plane, guitars strumming, melodic voices harmonising as we go through customs, flowery shirts, lava lava’s, jandals and smiling brown faces…..We have arrived and are feeling fine, just fine!

Our van driver awaits us, we are taken just up the road to Airport Lodge where we pick up our bikes and are given a thorough briefing and then we’re off….our first stop is Aggie Grey’s only 4km up the road where we stop for lunch and a swim before catching the ferry over to Savaii.

Biking off the ferry and off to our accommodation just 2km away at Lusia's Lagoon Chalets.
Biking off the ferry and off to our accommodation just 2km away at Lusia’s Lagoon Chalets.

 

The thrum of the engines, the soporific warmth and our general tiredness after such an early start to our day, means that one by one we succumb and start nodding off. It’s been a long day.

An hour later we arrive on the island of Savaii and excitedly ride off the ferry and a short 1km later we are at Lusia’s, our upmarket accommodation for the night. Ahh, what bliss! We shower, we rest, take a look around, have a lovely meal and with not much else to do and feeling very much in need of it, we head off to our rooms for an early night.

Day Two: Lusia’s to Lano – 20km

First stop today is the big market place a couple of km’s up the road to buy what we need for lunches and snacks for the next few days. I have my shopping list and together we choose delicious tropical fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, tuna, spreads etc and load it all into our support van.

Doing the groceries shopping at the market.
Doing the groceries shopping at the market.

 

By this time it was mid morning and getting pretty hot. Even though it was only a short ride today, we needed to get going before the midday heat hit us. We were certainly looking forward to our fresh water swim stop at the John Williams memorial pool and it was divine!

So cool and so refreshing!
So cool and so refreshing!

 

 

 

 

A deep, cool, natural spring water pool by the side of the road where we wallowed, feeling totally refreshed and energised. Fresh juicy mangoes and paw paw followed and 5 happy women then cycled off for a further 30 min to our accommodation at Lano.

 

 

 

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Our fales at Lano, right on the beach.

Our fales were right on the beach and at high tide the water went right under us! We put our bags that were waiting for us into our fales, had a lovely picnic lunch with our ‘market food’, rested, went swimming and snorkelling, sat on the beach sipping mojito’s and eating potato chips……….Bliss !!!

Dinner was meant to be an umu (traditional Samoan meal cooked in hot coals) but a breakdown in communication meant that the staff were not told and so we missed out. We were disappointed but I knew we’d more than likely get an umu meal further on in the trip, which we did.

Day 3: Lano to Manase – 33km

Up and organised, our breakfast was Samoan cocoa porridge which was like a chocolate tasting runny sago (not too bad once I mixed our muesli into it) fresh tropical fruit and an omelette.

We were away by 8:30am with the warm wind at our back, skimming along the deserted road, through villages full of the children’s cheerful cries of “bye bye, bye bye!” We were to hear “bye bye’s” throughout our trip and no matter how many times you cheerfully called “bye bye” back to them they just kept on calling it. There were definitely times when we were puffing and panting up hills, dripping with sweat, sandwiched between the sun beating down and the heat of the road ‘beating up’ (if there’s such a thing) when the last thing you had any energy for was to cheerfully call out a returned “bye bye!”

Cycling up hot jungle roads.
Cycling through hot jungle roads.

 

Through the hot jungle roads we cycled with the trees completely covered in jungle weed, through villages with piglets scuttling, chickens scratching, roosters crowing, fires smoking and everywhere friendly faces waving, smiling and calling out hello or bye bye!

 

 

 

 

A view of the lava inside the church.
A view of the lava inside the church.

 

Stopping at the Mauga lava fields we guzzle down fresh, cold coconut juice straight from the coconut (so pleased we put them in the fridge the night before) and feast on sweet, juicy paw paws before we take a tour through the ruins of the church that was destroyed when a meter of lava flowed through it during the volcano eruptions that happened between 1906 and 1911. What is fascinating is that the lava flowed everywhere except over the burial site of the chief’s daughter.

20 min of cycling later and we were at our accommodation at Jne’s Beach Fales in Manase. We are shown to our lovely open fales and I’m back in the same fale that I’ve had 3 times now. It’s looking a bit in need of repair and the deck out the front has a definite lean on it but it still brings back fond memories of my first stay in Samoa with my husband and 5 years later when we brought 2 of our grandkids over. I admit I felt a little bit homesick and teary eyed…..

My familiar fale.
My familiar fale.

A lovely picnic lunch, a nice long rest, a swim and a snorkel and pre dinner cocktails at the beach bar rounded off the afternoon nicely. A large group of Samoan high school teachers were having a Professional Development weekend and were sitting in groups out on the grass singing, laughing and supposedly practising their skits for that night’s performance. All we seemed to hear was them cracking up laughing all the time. I wish my PD weekends when I was a teacher had been as much fun!

After dinner and chatting to the other guests we ended up with drinks on the (sloping) deck of my fale before heading off to bed for what was to be a very stormy night. I awoke during the night to flashes of sheet lightning far out at sea, the sound of the waves crashing and then surging under my fale and horizontal rain lashing in through the open door. Luckily my bed was behind a wall so I didn’t get wet but the matting on the floor was pretty soggy in the morning…..

 Day 4: Manase to Vaisala – 42km

What a long hot day’s ride this was and yet it started so beautifully! We left later than what we had planned and were on the road by 8am. Cycling along in the cool, fresh, clean morning air was so uplifting. Everything smelt and looked like it had been washed clean from last night’s storm. The colours were all so vivid and bright. The greens of the jungle, the turquoise blues of the ocean, the reds and pinks of the flowers and the yellow and orange of the village fales were a feast for the eyes. We sped along through the quiet and peaceful coastal villages delighting in it all, big smiles on our faces.

Getting a bit of Samoan manpower to push us up those hills!
Getting a bit of Samoan manpower to push us up those hills!

 

Then the road headed up and inland, through the jungle area and it got hotter. Gone were the gentle sea breezes, gone was the flat easy cycling road as with faces flushed and sweat dripping we cycled up the long hills panting in the heat.

Stopping in the shade by the side of the road for our fresh tropical fruit morning tea totally revived us and on we went up and down the undulating road that gradually headed over to the coast.

 

Before getting there though we stopped at the Aopo Lava Tubes, an amazing network of tunnels or tubes that goes for miles, where the lava flowed underground and out to sea creating these huge lava tubes where little swiftlets birds live. With our torches and headlamps we were led through some of these tunnels while swiftlets fluttered like bats around our heads.

A very welcome coconut and pawpaw stop.....it was very hot biking!
A very welcome coconut and pawpaw stop…..it was very hot biking!

 

 

By this time it was lunchtime and we were starving. Cycling uses up a lot of energy! Another big picnic lunch with loads of fresh juicy pineapple and then we were on our way again. What’s that they say about ‘mad dogs and Englishmen…..”

 

 

Our next and ‘bestest’ stop was the big fresh water swimming pool at Agua Asau.

A very welcome swim after a long, hot and hilly ride to Vaisala.
A very welcome swim after a long, hot and hilly ride to Vaisala.

We sped down the long jungle hill road knowing that this pool was waiting for us and what a welcome relief it was!! Slipping our hot sweaty bodies, fully clothed into the cool, crystal clear water was pure bliss! We frolicked, we dunked, we did handstands, we lay on our backs and floated enjoying every energy reviving minute!

Another 4km and we had made it to Vaisala Hotel – a large, sprawling, ‘seen better days’ old fashioned hotel right on the beach and what a welcome sight it was. This was definitely our hardest day on the trip and we were all glad it was over and we had a full rest day to look forward to the next day.

Our bikes were stashed in a large empty room and we were shown our rooms with big heavy double and single beds, ceiling fans, air con and fridges……SORTED!

View from the water of our accommodation at Vaisala where we stayed for 2 nights.
View from the water of our accommodation at Vaisala where we stayed for 2 nights.

 

We spent the next few hours refreshing and reviving ourselves with showers, rests, swims and the obligatory pre dinner drinks. We ended up having our first late night (we’re talking just after 10pm!) The other guests were from William Colenso College in Napier and we were treated to an impromptu performance as well as a bit of a fia fia from the Vaisala staff. You can bet we all slept well that night!

 

Day Five: Rest Day

How timely that our day of rest ended up being on a Sunday. Three of us were taken to the local village church, a lovely light, airy, open, cool and breezy church. About 150 villagers all in white, solemnly sat all around us. It turned out to be the yearly christening service and there were lots of babies looking like little dolls in their lacy, pretty, frilly little dresses being proudly taken, usually by their grandmothers, up to the minister to be christened with a sprinkling of water on their foreheads.

Inside the beautiful church.  We LOVED the singing!
Inside the beautiful church. We LOVED the singing!

 

Though we didn’t understand a word of the prayers, the sermon or the songs we still enjoyed the whole experience, especially the singing.

Oh my, the singing!! The men’s deep voices surging and swelling like a Welsh choir, the rich and harmonising women’s voices together creating such a worshipful sound, it was well worth going for the singing alone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was actually quite a rough ride round to Vaimoana!
It was actually quite a rough ride round to Vaimoana!

For lunch we decided to get a ride on the pontoon around to Vaimoana, a lovely resort and spend some time there. It turned out to be a rather choppy sea and we were pretty much drenched by the time we got there. Luckily the trip back wasn’t quite so choppy.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch, a bit of a snorkel (not nearly as good as the snorkelling at Vaisala) and two of the group treated themselves to a massage.

It had been a lovely, much needed, relaxing day and we were all ready after some more snorkelling when we got back, drinks and then dinner, for an early night.

Day 6: Vaisala to Falealupo – 19km

It’s amazing what a day’s rest can do. We were up and on the road by 8am and all feeling keen and looking forward to our short ride to Falealupo at the very top and most remote part of the island. Yes, it was a short ride but she had a killer hill in the middle of it!

We started out cycling through these lovely little coastal villages and then the road turned inland with a short sharp climb that then continued on still climbing till we reached the loop road turnoff. It felt like it was never ending and even though it was only mid morning it was very hot and humid. At the top of the long hill was a little shop that sold these delicious milky vanilla iceblocks, sold in little plastic tubes. They were absolutely delicious and just what we needed!

Ice-blocks were such a welcome treat for us hot sweaty cyclists.
Ice-blocks were such a welcome treat for us hot sweaty cyclists.

 

Within minutes we were off again and turning on to the loop road we continued on a sandy, pot-holed, rugged road that had virtually no traffic. We sped along, up and down the easy undulating hills, enjoying the coastal breeze. We even saw a huge pod of dolphins frolicking and leaping and splashing about.

 

Only a few more kms and we arrived at what is my favourite place to stay, Falealupo. The accommodation is so basic and so simple and the location is just stunning. I think the remoteness adds to the beauty of the place. We stayed in little beach fales only meters from the sea with gently waving palms dotted here and there. There is a toilet/shower block and an eating fale and that’s it. There seems to be an atmosphere to the place that just invites and allows you to just stop, relax and quietly enjoy. And so we did.

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Lovely remote Falealupo.

 

We slept, we read, we wallowed in the shallows and when the tide came all the way in, we snorkelled. Dinner was cooked for us and served to us at a table on the beach. That night I lay in my open fale watching the full moon slip across the night sky, listening to the waves crashing far out on the reef, feeling the warm soft breeze gently billowing out my mosquito net…………

 

Day 7: Falealupo to Satuiatua – 38km

The relaxed atmosphere of the place meant we got away later than what we should have if we wanted to avoid the heat that would hit us from mid morning on. At 8:15am we headed off down gorgeous coconut palm tree avenues, beside rocky shorelines of pounding frothy surf and then once again the road turned inland and up we started to climb. We climbed pretty much all the way out to the main road. From there on it was easy going and we just loved speeding along with the breeze cooling us down. One more big long hill before we stopped at Lovers Leap for a break and some coconuts.

Lots more undulating hills in the hot sun through villages with carefully swept and manicured gardens, children calling out their “bye bye’s”, skinny, tired looking horses tied by the side of the road, groups of people just sitting under trees, in fales, outside shops and lots of pigs, chickens and dogs. (We had no trouble from dogs chasing us or barking at us. If any looked like they might chase or bark at us we’d just shout, “Ah loo!” and they’d leave us alone.)

What a welcome sight our accommodation was at Satuiatua Beach Fales. Our fales, once again, were right on the beach but with a difference. They were all under this HUGE banyan tree. Our support van had gone ahead, as per usual, and dropped our bags off so we trundled and lugged our bags down to our fales before ordering our lunch.

Our fales on the beach under the HUGE banyan tree.
Our fales on the beach under the HUGE banyan tree.

 

While we waited we sat, relaxed and enjoyed some fresh banana bread still warm from being baked in the umu. Yum!! Along the way, we have met up with a few other kiwi’s and aussie’s and all are suitably impressed and envious of our cycling adventure. It really is the perfect way to explore a place.

 

We enjoyed an afternoon sleep after our lunch while we waited for the tide to come in and then we were all off snorkelling in one of the best snorkelling places on Savaii. We walked down to the far end of the beach and then swam out into the channel where the gentle current carried us along over all the coral just teeming with fish. No sooner had we finished snorkelling and got back to our fales than it poured down with rain which looked really weird as the sun was still shining. Warm, dry and sheltered, we watched the rain from under the banyan tree fales.

Grating the coconut before squeezing it in this fibrous stuff to make coconut milk.
Grating the coconut before squeezing it in this fibrous stuff to make coconut milk.

Just before dinner some of us went and took part in a coconut cream making demonstration. We sat and grated the coconut, then squeezed it through this fibrous loofa type material, till eventually there was only the milky creamy liquid left.

Pre-dinner drinks sitting and chatting together, a delicious fish curry for dinner, finishing off with kahlua over ice-cream for dessert and we were very happy little campers. Off to bed early as we had an early start the next morning.

 

Day 8: Satuiatua to Sili – 40km

We loved having an early start this morning. We were on the road by 7.30am and it’s definitely the best part of the day. There’s such a beautiful, clean, fresh smell in the early morning. The road was easy with undulating hills and we happily cycled along, stopping to take photos, buy fruit, or chat to the kids along the way. We came across a very welcome mini geyser leak in the water pipe beside the road and all jumped off our bikes and stood fully clothed in the sprinkler, an instant refresher!

Thar she blows! Coconuts were dropped in to the blowhole and blown sky high!
Thar she blows! Coconuts were dropped in to the blowhole and blown sky high!

 

 

Next stop was Taga and the Alofaaga Blowholes. These are amazing! The hiss and the roar and the sheer power of the sea as it literally ROARS through the holes in the rocks and shoots up into the sky is incredible! We shouted and clapped with glee!!

 

 

 

 

Enjoying a pounding good wash!
Enjoying a pounding good wash!

 

Then we were off again, next stop one of 8 waterfalls in the world that fall into the sea. We stood under the falls, pummelled by the force of the water as it tumbled over the rocky ledge and onto the beach below. Feeling energised and revitalised we hopped back onto our bikes and 10 min later we were at our home-stay accommodation in Sili, a little village a few km inland off the main road.

 

We stayed with the family of the local chief and it is definitely one of the highlights of this trip. They are such a lovely, friendly, family who treated us so well. After lunch and a rest in our fale we went for a walk through the village and stopped off at the fale next door where the local women’s committee were busy weaving huge mats. Within minutes they had us joining in not only the weaving but also up dancing with them as they sang and danced around us. It was such a happy, joyful and impromptu time together.

We were shown how to weave the flax ....
We were shown how to weave the flax .

 

Then it was off to the river for a lovely refreshing swim with the local children before we wandered back and rested in our fale, waiting for the umu to cook our dinner.

 

And what a lovely dinner it was! Huge amounts of coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves, chicken and noodles in the rich soupy broth, eggplant, tomato and onion mixture fried together. It was all so tasty and delicious. Our hostess Kisa, chatted with us throughout the meal while the rest of the family chatted and waited in the adjoining “kitchen fale”. Once we had finished they came in, cleared away what we hadn’t eaten and ate that themselves.

The start of our evening of singing and dancing was a lovely hymn from Kisa's niece.
The start of our evening of singing and dancing was a lovely hymn from Kisa’s niece.

 

After dinner we all came together and had a very entertaining and lively evening with lots of reciprocal singing, finishing off with a special request for the Hokey Tokey. (They remembered it from last year’s group.)

 

It had been a full on day and we were all ready for a good night’s sleep…..unfortunately though, this was not to be! Dogs barked and fought, roosters crowed at hours when roosters are not supposed to crow and one by one we crunched our way over the volcanic gravel, past the 9 sleeping dogs, who didn’t even blink at us, to use the outhouse. At about 5am the eldest son was up and in the kitchen busily making 150 steamed chicken buns, one each for the stream of local children who later passed by on their way to school.

 

Leaving Sili amid the "peak hour traffic!"
Leaving Sili amid the “peak hour traffic!”

Breakfast for us was a real treat; hot pancakes, steamed chicken buns, cocoa porridge and fruit. Feeling very full, satisfied and happy with our stay with this lovely family, (despite our sleepless night) we headed off on our bikes at “peak hour” traffic time….which meant biking into hordes of school children as they walked in large groups down the road, all happily waving and shouting “bye bye, bye bye” as we weaved and waved amongst them.

 

Day 9: Sili to Salelologa 25km

Leaving the village of Sili behind we rode about 10km along the inland road before coming out onto the main road and stopping off at Afu Ahau waterfalls for a lovely refreshing swim. A short 5 min ride after our swim we stopped to watch the tapa cloth making demonstration.

Having a go at making our own tapa cloth bookmarks.
Having a go at making our own tapa cloth bookmarks.

 

This is a fascinating, interactive demonstration. We were all amazed to see the bark of a spindly tree transformed into a beautifully patterned, soft piece of tapa cloth and enjoyed being part of the process.

Back on our bikes again and into the heat but only for about 9km before we were at the market place. It seemed incredible that 8 days had passed since we were last there buying up our stores to take with us. We had come almost full circle and none of us wanted it to end. We had seen and done so much in those 8 days. First stop in the market was buying our much looked forward to ice creams, then we roamed around buying this and that, chatting with the stall holders (who were always amazed to hear that we had just biked around their island) and had some lunch.

Next stop was the ferry 3 km down the road. While waiting on the ferry we watched a large turtle lazily swimming beside us before disappearing in the depths below. Only one of us had managed to see a turtle when we were out snorkelling so it was a real treat to all get to see one now, even we were weren’t actually in the water with it. Back on Upolo and on our bikes for the last time, we rode the final 3km to Airport Lodge to drop off our bikes, all looking a lot healthier, tanned and more relaxed than when we had arrived.

After a chatty de-brief with Ross and Frances from Outdoor Samoa, we climbed into the van and headed off to Lefaga Bay and our lovely, comfortable accommodation at Valasis Fales. Although we were all feeling rather tired from our long day and sleepless night the night before, we all wanted to see the giant clams for which this bay is famous for and the tide was right for us to snorkel out to see them.

We were so glad that we did! They were HUGE! About 1 metre long and half a metre wide with big open “lips” that would slowly close if you hovered your flipper over them. There were about 30 of the big ones and about 20 that were about half that size.

A quick shower and a fresh change of clothes before we sat down to a beautiful 3 course dinner of Thai coconut curry fish chowder, stir fry chicken and veges and banana cake for dessert. Delicious! Our beds were a very welcome sight that night. We all crashed!

Day 10: Upolo Island Tour Day

We had an awesome day today exploring some of the most beautiful places on Upolo. Our first stop was checking out the upmarket beach resort just along from Lefaga Bay called Return to Paradise. It’s not quite the place I’d want to stay at and there are definitely nicer beaches to swim at but it would definitely suit some people.

Climbing down the long ladder to the pool.
Climbing down the long ladder to the pool.

 

From there we went to see Togitogiga Waterfalls which had a lovely big swimming hole and then on to my favourite place, To Sua Trench with it’s big long ladder into the huge deep sinkhole below. We stayed and swam and enjoyed this incredible place.

We had a lovely lunch at Taufua on the bottom of the south coast where most of the damage was done during the cyclone. It was amazing to see how much growth and vegetation there was there now. If it wasn’t for a few derelict, roofless buildings you’d never know of the devastation that was only a few years ago. We continued on to the Sopoaga Waterfalls with its gardens full of named plants.

Our van driver, Alacosi, plays the Samoan drums for us.
Our van driver, Alacosi, plays the Samoan drums for us.

 

Our van driver, Alacosi, entertained us on the Samoan drums and then with a coconut cream making demonstration.

From there we drove on over the island to the other side and swam in the Piula Cave Pool that goes right underneath the theological college that sits on the cliff above. We had time for a quick visit to the Mailelani Soap Factory, a small but very prosperous cottage industry where we all bought soaps and lotions to take home.

By now we were all ready to stop, have a bit of a rest and get freshened up for dinner. Our accommodation at Amanaki was ideal. We retired to our hotel style rooms and luxuriated before meeting up for dinner and cocktails at the hotel restaurant. After a gorgeous meal and a few drinks, bed beckoned but 3 of us decided to have a little wander into Apia and see what the Friday night life was like…… 3 hours later, hot and sweaty from non stop dancing to a great band at Cocktails on the Rocks, we arrived back, happily tired, ready for a shower and bed.

Our lovely upmarket accommodation, Amanaki, in Apia where we stayed for 2 nights.
Our lovely upmarket accommodation, Amanaki, in Apia where we stayed for 2 nights.

Day 11: Apia and our final day.

What a lovely relaxing day this turned out to be. After our totally western style breakfast complete with “flat whites and cappuccino’s” we ambled off down the road to the huge market place.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1042It was a busy, bustling noisy place with colourful arrays of lava lava’s, clothing, tapa cloths, carvings and ornaments. We arranged to meet up an hour later and get a taxi to the home, now a museum, of Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a stunning huge colonial style house set on a huge lawn that was a pineapple plantation when he lived there. It is well worth a visit and the guided tour is very informative.

 

Such cool buses!
Such cool buses!

Our taxi picked us up again and dropped us off at the Home Café, a delightful cool, funky, trendy café with delicious food. From there we caught a local bus back into Apia to our hotel and had a relaxed afternoon, swimming in the pool, resting, reading, meeting up for drinks before dinner, while outside it poured with rain.

 

Our last night’s meal was at the very flash Paddles restaurant further around the bay. We dined in style and with no Saturday night life happening, we headed back to our beds for our last night in Samoa, all feeling a bit sad and sorry that our time had come to an end and we were flying back to the “real world” tomorrow.

It had been an awesome trip. We had had so many different experiences and would be going home with lots of wonderful memories to take a moment to bask in as we went about our busy working lives back in NZ (not to mention heaps of photos!!) I’m planning on going back for another adventure in October 2015. Wanna join me?!

Cycling – Waiheke Island – Sept 2014

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More hills!!!

The forecast didn’t look that great as 9 of us headed over to Waiheke Island for a day of cycling, visiting wineries and exploring. Thank goodness we went anyway as the day turned out perfectly!

The sun was shining as we set off on the ferry.
The sun was shining as we set off on the ferry.
Ready to hit the road!
Ready to hit the road!

 

We arrived and met up with 2 of the women who were already over there, got our hire bikes all organised and off we cycled, straight up the first of many hills into Oneroa township.  A cafe was our first stop!

 

Some walked, some cycled, either way, some of those hills were pretty steep!
Some walked, some cycled, either way, some of those hills were pretty steep!

 

Then it was off and up a few more hills as we cycled along the top of the island heading for Onetangi Beach.  After a bit of a “de-brief” at the top of one of the hills we decided to take the easier, quicker route down towards Ostend and round to our destination – Stonyridge Vineyard – where we stopped for our well deserved wine tasting and lunch.  What a gorgeous place it was too!

Well deserved wining and dining!
Well deserved wining and dining!

 

We sat dry and snug, enjoying our delicious food and wines while outside the one and only rainstorm poured down!  Then, “out came the sun and dried up all the rain so off we went a cycling, yet again.”

 

 

 

Over looking Onetangi Beach.
Over looking Onetangi Beach.

 

We ended up splitting into 3 groups, some took the hilly long way back, some took what they thought was the flatter short road back, but ended up the hilly, shorter road and some caught a bus!

 

 

Cycling along The Esplanade at Blackpool Beach.
Cycling along The Esplanade at Blackpool Beach.

What a perfect day!

 

Cycling the Hawkes Bay – Aug 2014

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Cycling beneath the trees on our way to Puketapu.

Six of us headed off down to the “sunny” Hawkes Bay for 3 days exploring the cycle trails that run in, around and through the beautiful Hawkes Bay.

Our chalet accommodation at Clive Motor camp and Chalets.
Our chalet accommodation at Clive Motor camp and Chalets.

Our accommodation were these warm, cosy cabins in Clive.  Once we got settled in and got our bikes organised we then set off for a sunset bike ride along the beach front heading towards Haumoana.

 

 

 

 

The eclectic "Tsunami Bar" on the beach at Clive.
The eclectic “Tsunami Bar” on the beach at Clive.

On the way we stopped off to admire this incredible, eclectic mix of flotsam and jetsam that has been used to build a very creative “Tsunami Beach Bar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to hit the trails on our first morning.
Ready to hit the trails on our first morning.

 

Day One dawned warm and sunny but incredibly windy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We battled the wind along the waterfront into Napier where we stopped off to learn more about the history of Napier with it’s unique art deco architecture.

Art Deco Tour in Napier.
Art Deco Tour in Napier.

Then it was off again, out to Ahuriri, West Shore and Bay View.  At times we were almost blown off our bikes! After stopping off at the Snapper Cafe at Bay View for lunch, (very nice) we sped back along the cycle path with the wind at our backs.  It felt sooo good!!  Dinner at Mister D’s in Napier that night was absolutely divine!

Looking towards Cape Kidnappers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Two we awoke to spitting rain but no wind so off we headed out west to the Puketapu Pub for lunch.

Cycling beneath the trees on our way to Puketapu.
Cycling beneath the trees on our way to Puketapu.

 

This was a beautiful ride with the trail winding it’s way through fields of cattle, pine trees and alongside the river before coming in to the pretty and picturesque little village of Puketapu.  We sat back in the warmth and cosiness of the pub with it’s roaring fire,  chatted and laughed together and enjoyed our yummy pub lunches.

 

 

 

 

 

Stopping to put our coats on as the rain came down.
Stopping to put our coats on as the rain came down.

On the way back it really started raining and we all looked a mess when we got back….. the wet fine limestone gravel was splattered all up our backs, legs and all over our bikes!  After literally quick 2 min speed showers we all piled in to my van and drove down the road to our sausage making session at John’s house.

 

 

 

Cutting up the meat and mixing the herbs and spices.
Cutting up the meat and mixing the herbs and spices.

John and his mate Dan gave us a very informative presentation on sausage making and we asked lots of questions before we launched into chopping the meat, weighing and measuring the herbs and spices, mincing it all and making the sausages.

Look what I made!
Look what I made!

 

 

 

We were all feeling very proud of ourselves especially making the real butcher looking loops of sausages!

 

 

Day Three was meant to be our ride out to the wineries with lunch at Ash Ridge Winery.  However, the rain had set in and it was much colder so we opted for Plan B….. we hopped in the van and went exploring and then wine tasting at Clearview before our lunch at Ash Ridge.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take some photos though!  It was a lovely way to spend our last day and we all agreed, it had been an excellent time that we’d had in the lovely “sunny” Hawkes Bay! 🙂

 

The Otago Rail Trail – in Autumn 2014

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On the way to Middlemarch, speeding along!

We didn’t quite get to see the central Otago area in all it’s Autumnal glory but it was such a lovely adventure anyway!

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All geared up and ready to go!

A warm, sunny, blue sky day , the bikes were sorted and we were on our way!

Nine of us headed off in perfect conditions, just cruising along, chatting together, getting used to our bikes and to each other.

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Just cruising along amid the Autumn leaves….

 

 

We were heading for Omakau, 37km away, where we were to spend our first night at the Omakau Bedpost, the converted Post Office building and Postmasters house.  But first we had a stop at the iconic Chatto Creek Tavern, 25km along the trail.

By the time we got to Omakau it was 5.30pm and after quick showers we were into our “going out” clothes,  picked up by shuttle van and taken to the beautiful Pitches Store in Ophir.  Our meals and the wines were absolutely gorgeous and we tucked in with gusto!

 

Our slightly wet, but still warm , start to Day 2.
Our slightly wet, but still warm , start to Day 2.

Day 2: Omakau to Wedderburn

A leisurely start to our morning saw us off at 9am with our rain jackets on as it was just spitting lightly.  Only 7km down the trail and we stopped for  coffee’s at Lauder, hey… we were in no rush!

 

Atop the Poolburn Viaduct.
Atop the Poolburn Viaduct.

Off again through one of the most spectacular parts of the trail, the Poolburn Gorge, where we crossed the 37m high viaduct and went through 2 long and very dark tunnels.  Good job we had headlights on our bikes!

The next part of the trail was actually quite long and straight and unless you were having a really good conversation with someone then it was quite taxing.  We were all definitely ready for our packed lunches by the time we got to Oturehua!

From there it was just another 8km of gently climbing trail to our accommodation for the next 2 nights at Mt Ida Farmstay.

A lovely hot spa awaited us there and after relaxing and “refreshments” we were ready to go out for dinner just down the road at the famous Wedderburn Tavern.

Frantically sweeping the ice to make the curling iron go faster!
Frantically sweeping the ice to make the curling iron go faster!

Day 3: Exploring Day

I hired a 12 seater van for the day and off we set for a day out exploring the nearby district.  First up it was Curling at Naseby, which was a lot of fun.  Our 2 teams  competed fiercely against each other!

After a warm up coffee, (it was really cold in there) we headed off to Dansey’s Pass Coach Inn for lunch.  This is such a lovely old Inn and certainly well worth the 45 min drive.

The stunning lake at St Bathans.
The stunning lake at St Bathans.

Then it was off to St Bathans for a lazy Sunday afternoon of strolling around the little township with its old stone houses, walking around the lake that was the 168m deep mining pit and of course enjoying the well known Vulcan Hotel.

After stopping off in Ranfurly for supplies it was back to our cosy accommodation where the fire was glowing and the wine was flowing and there was lots of talking and laughing together.  It was a lovely way to finish such a great day out together.

Such a pretty little spot.
Such a pretty little spot.

Day 4: Wedderburn to Hyde

Up and on the trail by 9am on this rather cool morning.  We sped along on the downhill trail to Wedderburn in no time at all.  After the obligatory photo stop by the Green Shed, made famous by the local painter Graham Sydney, we were off and speeding along to Ranfurly.  We were all feeling refreshed and keen after our day off and our backsides were definitely feeling better for having had the rest!  This for me is one of the prettiest parts of the trail as you bike along beside the Taieri River and the trees were just starting to “turn”.  In a few more weeks time it would be simply glorious……ahh well, never mind……

Our very nice accommodation at Tussock Lodge in Waipiata.
Our very nice accommodation at Tussock Lodge in Waipiata.

We sped along the trail once more, our motivation was to get to the Hyde Hotel before it closed at 3pm!  We zoomed in there bang on 3pm only to find it closed at 3.30pm.  YES!  Sitting outside in the afternoon sun enjoying our drinks was just lovely.

We were picked up at and taken back to our accommodation at Tussock Lodge which was a very nice place to stay for our last night on the trail.

 

Gorgeous!!
Gorgeous!!

Day 5: Hyde to Middlemarch

A beautiful red sky morning greeted us when Mark, the owner, picked us up at 7.30am the next morning and dropped us off back at Hyde where our bikes were waiting for us.  From there it was a very easy 27km ride into Middlemarch and the end of the trail.

We had had a fantastic 5 days together.  Friendships were made, stories and laughter were shared along with fine wining and dining and we had all been wowed, impressed and quietly moved by the wide open skies, the golden rolling hills and the rail trail that had been laboriously built so many years ago.  To see more photos,  check out the photo album.

Yaay! We did it!
Yaay! We did it!

“Glamping” on the Queen Charlotte! Feb 2014

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If you want to combine fine wining and dining and sleeping in white sheets and pillows with 4 full days of tramping in one of THE MOST picturesque places in New Zealand, then doing the Queen Charlotte track as we did it, is the way to go!!

Day 1:   Arrival Day

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Wining and dining at Twelve Trees Restaurant at Allan Scott’s Winery in Blenheim. Very nice!

We started off our luxury adventure with lunch at Allan Scott’s Winery in Blenheim before heading over to Picton and staying the night at Sequioa Lodge Backpackers.

Julie helped me to buy a huge big load of groceries at the local supermarket and then pack it into boxes for the various days on the track.  We were to make our own breakfasts, most lunches and a couple of evening meals to keep the costs down.

Day 2:   Ship’s Cove to Endeavour Inlet – 16km – 5hrs

Up early the next morning we loaded the van full of our suitcases, day-packs and food boxes.  On this track you get your bags transported to your accommodation by taxi-boat, all we had to carry was our day-packs.

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Imagine trying to carry this lot! So glad we just had our day-packs to carry.
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Our lovely Chalet accommodation at Furneaux Lodge.

Our taxi-boat transported us to the start of the track at Ship’s Cove and we walked around to Endeavour Inlet, about 5 hrs away, stopping on the way for lunch.  Our accommodation at Furneaux Lodge had been upgraded to the Chalet accommodation which was VERY NICE!  Our bags and food boxes were there waiting.

 

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Tip toeing over the stones into the water. So nice and refreshing!

 

 

After a refreshing swim we continued relaxing, doing some group stretching and chatting together.  Gourmet meals at the Furneaux Lodge Restaurant, a visit to see the gloworms and then off to bed in our white sheets…..no manky sleeping bags on this adventure!

 

 

 

Day 3:   Endeavour Inlet to Punga Cove – 11 km –  5hrs

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Looking across Endeavour Inlet to Furneaux where we had just stayed. The colour of the sea was incredible.

After a leisurely breakfast we headed off on this lovely easy walk to Punga Cove full of breathtaking views.  The sun was shining, (as it did every day on this adventure) the birds were singing (ditto above) and we were all happily chatting away as we strolled along admiring the views…….

We arrived at Punga Cove, ordered our Pizza’s and salads and sat in the shade sipping on cold drinks while our waitress brought us our food……

We spent the afternoon either sitting in the spa chatting ,  swimming in the pool or the sea, sitting on the little wharf eating an ice-cream and reading a book or resting under a tree….

 

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Enjoying our wine and nibbles before dinner.

 

Wine and nibbles in the late afternoon sun and Nacho’s with salad and lemon meringue for dessert finished off a perfect day.

The easy day walking and the restful afternoon were needed before our big tramp the next day.

 

 

 

Day 4: Punga Cove to Portage Bay – 24 kms –  8.5 hrs

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The 360 views at the lookout were well worth the climb to get there!

A long hot day today!  We climbed out of Punga Cove and up onto the ridge where we had stunning views of inlets on both sides.  An extra climb up to a lookout point along the way was well worth the effort and was a lovely stop for morning tea.

There were lots of little stops along the way to take yet another photo, or have a drink (we needed lots of water) or to have a little rest.  We all loved our sandwiches that we made every morning and sooo looked forward to our lunch breaks.

After arriving at our accommodation at Treetops, we showered and headed down the hill to the cafe at the Portage Bay Resort for our tea.  We were all feeling quite tired so it was an early night.

Day 5:   Rest Day

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Words honestly fail to describe how perfect our morning’s kayaking was.

Ahhhhh, the sheer bliss and beauty of kayaking in absolutely perfect conditions.  There was not a breath of wind, the sea was glassy and soooo still and calm.  The sun shone and sparkled on the water.  We paddled and we just sat….and soaked it all in.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing……..more wine and nibbles later in the day, lots of laughter and chatting and another delicious “home cooked meal.”  Tomorrow was going to be our last day on the track and we needed to be up early and on the track by 7.30am in order to be there waiting for our taxi-boat at 3.30pm.

Day 6:   Portage Bay to Anakiwa – 20km – 6.5 hrs

By the end of our walk today we were convinced that the DOC signs had an added hour or so onto their times as we made it to Anakiwa with 2 hrs to spare.  There is a little shop caravan at the end of the trail so we all enjoyed our reward of ice-creams, cold drinks or a coffee.

QCS Track 053We had walked 71km over 4 days with a rest day added in the middle.  The days were simply perfect and the views, the tranquility and absolute beauty of the Queen Charlotte Sounds totally won us all over .

Yes, the “glamping’ added an extra element of fun and ease to the walk but in no way did it detract from what is, we believe, one of New Zealand’s finest walks.

For more photos, check out the album in the Photos Gallery.

PS:  I’ve already “pencilled in” some of the accommodation for Feb or Mar 2015.  So if you missed out this year, then don’t worry, I’ll definitely be doing it next year!

 

 

 

Horse Riding – South Head to Murawai Beach – Nov 2013

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Going up into the Woodhill Forest.

Pulling on the reins, trying frantically to control a horse that just wants to gallop madly along the wild deserted Murawai beach, was quite an exciting and scary challenge for a relatively beginner rider like myself!  Thankfully my horse also liked wading in the water which seemed a better prospect of falling off into should he decide to take off on me!

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What a fantastic 3 hour ride we had today. We rode around little lakes, noisy with the sound of hundreds of croaking bullfrogs, over lupin covered farmland, through towering pine forests and onto the stunning Murawai beach.  I can thoroughly recommend this adventure and will definitely be doing it again.  Excellent for the slightly more experienced rider!

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Ohakune Cycling Weekend: Oct 18/19/20 – 2013

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All geared up and ready to go!
All geared up and ready to go!
All geared up and ready to go!

A picture perfect absolutely stunning weekend!  16 of us travelled down to Ohakune for a weekend of cycling and walking and what a weekend it was!  We found out when we got there that the Old Coach Road that we were meant to be cycling along had suffered badly from the major rainfall they’d had in the last week and so we now there was Plan B.  As it worked out, Plan B actually turned out way better.

What us women do best....chatting together while wining and dining!
What us women do best….chatting together while wining and dining!

The 3 carloads arrived within half an hour of each other and we soon made ourselves at home at our Mountain view Lodge at LKNZ.

We soon all got chatting and mixing and mingling  over  our complimentary drinks and our bar meals.

 

The next morning we were up early (ish) to a bit of an overcast day that soon cleared to give us a “one out of the box” picture perfect day.  Our Plan B route took us through back roads, dirt roads, “paper roads, around lakes and back into Ohakune .  And as we rode along with skylarks chirruping above our heads, Mt Ruapehu smiled down on us, her snow capped brilliant whiteness stark against the brilliant blue sky.  (I think we spent more time taking photos than cycling!)

 

What a day! What a mountain!
What a day! What a mountain!

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Lunch stop was atop the highest hill in the district where we surveyed the beautiful valley/basin below us.

Lunch stop.
Lunch stop.

Back into Ohakune in time for some afternoon tea and then off for our walk

to the viaducts on Old Coach Road.

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The new viaduct in the foreground and the old one in the distance.
The new viaduct in the foreground and the old one in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bay of Islands Tramping Weekend – June 2013

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Saturday morning 8.30am and my van was loaded and packed with 7 other women and our gear for our tramping weekend in the Bay of Islands – and what a perfect weekend it was!

We arrived at the Base X backpackers (they had a great deal of; accommodation, free glass of beer or wine – and we’re talking a good healthy sized glass of wine – and a really good hearty BBQ), we got ourselves settled in and strolled ofBay of islands June 2013 039f into Paihia for our packed lunch sitting on the wharf watching the busyness. After lunch we literally “hitched” a ride with a friendly local tour opBay of islands June 2013 041erator who took us up to the top of the Haruru Falls.  With all the rain we’ve been having the falls were very impressive.  We learnt that Haruru Falls is one of only two waterfalls in the world that is horseshoe shaped.  The other one is Niagra Falls…..just a bit bigger!  We walked along the very pretty track and out onto the Waitangi Reserve where we visited the grounds and the Treaty house.

A PD (pre-dinner drinks) stop at Shippey’s Bar on the old Tui boat was very welcome, before we continued on our walk back to the backpackers.

Some of us had a not very hot spa 🙁 before our delicious BBQ meal of steak, sausages, baked potatoes and salads.

Highlight of the day – the 2 lt tub of ice-cream drizzled with Kahlua shots that we all shared!

The next morning we were up bright and early, it was a very chilly morning, there was even ice on my van….I didn’t know they got ice up in the “winterless north!”

After a good Bay of islands June 2013 050healthy breakfast we were off on our 6 hr Full Day Circle Walk.Bay of islands June 2013 045

Starting from Paihia, we strolled around the waterfront, along the beach, over rocks and followed a coastal path as it meandered around some very pretty little bays and into Opua.  A coffee stop at the local general store right on the wharf and then we caught the 5 min car ferry over to Okiato.   From there the walk was easily signposted.  There were a few hilly bits as walked through the bush track but nothing too challenging at all.

We came out to a lovely little bay, “Orongo Bay” where we stopped for our packed lunch.  It was one of those stunning sunny, calm and clear mid winter days.Bay of islands June 2013 053

 Around the bay a bit further and heading for Russell was the ‘boardwalkey’ bit.  Lots of lovely long boardwalks that made for very easy strolling along. Bay of islands June 2013 056  A little bit of road walking before we were back on the track and coming in to Russell.  We then ambled easily along Florence Ave and right into the heart of Russell.  Russell is such a pretty little place, hard to believe it was once the “hell hole of the Pacific!”

Within half an hour wBay of islands June 2013 060e were on the ferry and on our way back over to Paihia.  This was definitely a walk I would highly recommend.

Highlight of the day – sitting on the little jetty eating our lunch in the sun in such a beautiful little bay.