Despite the predicted stormy weather, we managed to get in two fantastic days of kayaking in the Hauraki Gulf and even some sailing! Watch the video to see what I mean.
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Despite the predicted stormy weather, we managed to get in two fantastic days of kayaking in the Hauraki Gulf and even some sailing! Watch the video to see what I mean.
I’ve joined together 3 absolutely beautiful South Island cycle trails – The Roxburgh Gorge, The Clutha Gold and the Around The Mountain – all up 6 days of cycling and close to 300km. The scenery, especially cycling around the Eyre Mountains, is spectacular.
If you like fun, fashion and frivolity, dancing, music, wining and dining…then you’ll love the Art Deco festival in Napier.
This cycle trail covers everything – beach, forest, rivers, lakes….It is absolutely beautiful and such a pleasure to cycle!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 gathered together for the obligatory “end of the trail” photos, all feeling immensely happy and proud of what we’d achieved.
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.
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!!
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.
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!”
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!
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!)
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!
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!)
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…”