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23 2017 Mar

Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail – Mar 2017

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.

 

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23 2017 Mar

Art Deco Festival – Feb 2017

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!

Guided tour in Napier.

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!)

 

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7 2017 Feb

Sunset Kayaking Adventure – Feb 2017

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!

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7 2017 Feb

Nikau Cave Adventure – Jan 2017

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!

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7 2017 Feb

Tongariro Crossing – Jan 2017

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!

 

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11 2016 Dec

Kayaking at Mahurangi – Dec 2016

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…”

 

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30 2016 Aug

Bay of Islands – August 2016

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!!

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31 2016 Jul

Tiritiri Matangi – July 2016

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.

 

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18 2016 May

Great Barrier Island – May 2016

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!

 

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27 2016 Apr

Bali Adventure – April 2016

Bali wove it’s special magic over us us all with its stunning scenery, its beautiful temples, beaches, people, incense and flowers. We did lots of exploring, had lots of fun and laughter, enjoyed the beaches and swimming pools, the spa treatments shopping and adventures.  It worked out to be the perfect balance between doing “stuff” and just chilling out.

Read on to find out some of the highlights of what we did…….

Day 1:  Arrival Day

Ahhhh….the perfume of Bali, the smell of incense, of flowers, of clove cigarettes wafting by in the warm sultry air…..It’s always the same and it always fills me with a feeling of pleasure and happiness.  This feeling was soon to be tested though as 4 of us  arrived without our bags…..due to the short transit time they didn’t get loaded onto the plane from Sydney to Bali.  They arrived the next evening though so all was well and I’m happy to say it certainly didn’t detract from our excitement and pleasure at being in Bali.

Our arrival in Bali.

Our arrival in Bali.

Our drivers, Buda and Nyomen, met us at the airport. Full of smiles and warm polite greetings they efficiently helped us to their waiting vans. They were to prove to be excellent drivers and guides with lots of local information and with great senses of humour. Once we had sorted out our rooms in Sanur (a laid back beach town) we strolled down to the beach for dinner at one of the many little restaurants right on the beach, delighting in the warm evening air. Then it was a swim in the pool, so lovely and warm, before bed and a good night’s sleep.

Day 2:  Sanur

The first of many beautiful sunrises on this trip.

The first of many beautiful sunrises on this trip.

We all awoke early and met up for a stroll along the beach to watch the sunrise, (the first of many we were to watch) chatting, taking photos, delighting in being over here. Then it was back for another swim, breakfast at a gorgeous little restaurant with a lovely big lotus pool right next to our accommodation and then some cycling.

2016-04-14 10.18.34We hired bikes and rode along the long promenade that runs the length of the beach, stopping for cool drinks and checking out some of the many clothing stalls along the way .

Waiting for the sunset at Uluwatu.

Waiting for the sunset at Uluwatu.

The afternoon was spent resting before leaving at 3.30pm to watch the sunset at Uluwatu.  This is a not to be missed experience and we could certainly see that, as the road there was clogged with buses and cars all on their way out there.

Monkeys at Uluwatu.

Monkeys at Uluwatu.

 It is an amazing location high up on the towering cliffs with the sea crashing below.  Families of monkeys stalk the walls and while they are very interesting and amusing to watch you also have to be very careful around them and not wear or have anything they can snatch off you like sunglasses and water bottles.  We saw a number of tourists get their belongings taken and have to get the warden to divert the monkeys attention to get the stuff back.

At Jimbaran enjoying the local show.

At Jimbaran enjoying the local show.

From there we went out to Jimbaran, known for it’s seafood restaurants on the beach. We had a lovely evening eating and being entertained by a Balinese theater group and musicians singing at our table……

Day 3: From Sanur to Ubud.

After another sunrise, early morning swim in the pool and breakfast, our drivers picked us up and took us up to Ubud – the cultural capital of Bali where we were to stay for 4 nights. There is so much to see and do around the area of Ubud and we had a full and exciting itinerary to look forward to.

Our lovely pool in Ubud.

Our lovely pool in Ubud.

Our accommodation was right in the heart of Ubud on Monkey Forest Rd, yet was such a quiet, tranquil and pretty place to be.  We all took advantage of the Spa Treatments that were located there!

The Kecak performance in Ubud.

The Kecak performance in Ubud.

The afternoon was free time to explore, swim, rest, shop…..before meeting up for dinner and the Kecak performance at a local temple. This is a must see experience as it is very much part of Balinese culture.  Although we didn’t really understand a lot of what was being enacted (despite the notes that we were given) we were still mesmerized by the performance and the setting . We were sitting outside in a temple courtyard with a huge banyon tree lit up from below. The finale was the fire dance where a dancer scattered burning hot embers around the courtyard with his bare feet!  We were all off to bed relatively early as we needed to get a few hours sleep before getting up at 1.30am in time to be picked up for our sunrise walk up Mt Batur.

Day 4: Mt Batur Trek.

A foggy sunrise up Mt Batur.

Although the sunrise wasn’t that great, the whole experience was just awesome!  We joined literally hundreds of other trekkers in the dark with our headlamps and torches as we slowly made our way up the 2 hr climb to the top of Mt Batur.  Each group had their own guides who were very helpful.  Ours was a lovely young woman who just loved being our photographer and was forever wanting to take “just one more” photo of us in the various locations.  Our other guide had stayed behind with one of our group who was not able to make it to the top. We definitely had our heads in the clouds once we got up there, it was quite foggy and cold.

Sipping our hot coffees watching the sunrise.

Sipping our hot coffees watching the sunrise.

Our guide looked after us though and brought us hot coffees and our breakfast of bananas, bread and hard boiled eggs, (boiled in the steam from under the ground – it is an active volcano.) We had to be quick though as the monkeys up there were pretty adept at stealing food!  Once the sun came out it soon warmed up and we were shedding our layers. We then had a lovely trek around the top of the craters and down to a big cave before heading back down.   From there we visited a lake temple and had another breakfast snack at a coffee plantation. By the time we got back to our accommodation it was almost lunchtime, it had been a long morning, so it was free time till the evening when we met up for dinner.

Day 5: Cooking Class

Morning walk through the rice fields.

Morning walk through the rice fields.

Today was a “free day” until our cooking class that was booked in for 4pm.  So a group of us headed off exploring on a walk through the rice fields.  We followed the Camphuan walk up onto the ridge.  This is a lovely walk and very easy to follow. There is also a beautiful lotus pond cafe up there that makes delicious banana bread and smoothies.  It pays to go early though as it gets very hot and sweaty. We then explored another pathway and though we did get slightly lost it is never difficult to find someone to ask.  The area around Ubud is absolutely lovely with stunning views and homes set among the rice paddies.

Busily preparing our wonderful meal.

Busily preparing our wonderful meal.

Once we got back, had a swim and some lunch and a rest, we met the others (who had been busy shopping) and headed off to our cooking class.  We had 3 chefs for our group of 10 (3 others were on the course) and we had a lot of fun making our way through creating a delicious 5 course meal.  We then enjoyed the meal with a few glasses of wine.  I finished the day off with a lovely massage before rolling into bed…..ahhhh……..

Day 6: Cycling Tour

Sampling all the different teas and coffees.

Sampling all the different teas and coffees.

Today we were picked up at 8.30am and taken by van up to Kintamani to the start of our downhill cycling trip.  Before we got there though, we visited a coffee plantation and learnt all about the famous Luwak coffee and sampled all sorts of different coffees and teas.

Cycling through the many villages on our way.

Cycling through the many villages on our way.

We then set off riding gently downhill all the way through little villages, alongside rice fields and under tall towering palms that lined the roads.  Children called out “hello, hello” as we cycled past.  We watched a line of women each with a 50kg sack of rice of her head, gracefully making their way through the rice fields to the waiting truck.  Our guide took us into a family compound and told us heaps of information on Balinese religion and culture. We were taken to a beautiful house for a really delicious lunch. Having done the cooking course the day before we were able to recognise the different foods and know how they were made. We all thoroughly enjoyed our easy cycling and very informative day.

A warm monkey crotch right next to my ear....ewwww!

A warm monkey crotch right next to my ear….ewwww!

Once we got back some of us went and visited the Monkey Forest and were even brave enough to have the monkeys climb on us.

Day 7: Ubud to Lovina

Our fantastic 4 days in Ubud had come to end and so we headed off to for our overnight trip to Lovina at the top of Bali, stopping off to explore historical sites along the way.

 

Walking through the famous rice fields at Jatiluwih.

Walking through the famous rice fields at Jatiluwih.

Our first stop was the World Heritage site of the Jatiluwih Rice Fields and they are pretty impressive. Layers upon layers of rice paddies that gently wind their way around the hills and up and  down into the valleys. We had a stroll through, marvelling at it all.

From there we drove to the Bedugul Water Temple, a popular tourist spot and very beautiful, where we were enthusiastically interviewed by English students from Java.  From here we continued up to the lookout for the 2 lakes before cruising downhill through many villages to the coast and Lovina. It definitely looked poorer over this side of the island with lots of rubbish in the villages and poorer looking dwellings.

Sunset watching at Lovina.

Sunset watching at Lovina.

We were just in time to see the sunset (Lovina is a great spot for sunsets) and we sat with our drinks  listening to a group of local young men singing with their guitars…… (unfortunately they sounded pretty bad!) It was then a nice long swim in the pool then out for dinner at a beachside restaurant before turning in for the night. It had been a long day.

Day 8:  Lovina to Sideman (snorkelling on the way.)

2016-04-20 10.52.36

Snorkelling at Tulamben.

Today we headed off from Lovina down the East Coast road stopping off at a couple of snorkelling spots before we got to our accommodation at Sideman. The first snorkelling location was at Tulamben which is the where the WW2 Japanese boat went down.  It is not far out from the shore and there are lots of fish to see here though the water is a little bit murky.  Unfortunately the Balinese don’t seem to have the same concern for the environment that we are used to in NZ and there is a lot of rubbish on the beaches and in the sea. Things are slowly changing but I think it will take a long time to change the “chuck away” attitude.

Snorkelling at Blue Lagoon.

Snorkelling at Blue Lagoon.

From here we then stopped off at the lovely  Ujung Water Palace and had lunch before heading off to the Blue Lagoon just over the hill from Padang Bai.  This is a lovely snorkelling location.  It’s just like snorkelling in a huge fish bowl.  There are heaps of fish and the water is pretty clear.

By now it was late afternoon and we still had an hour or so to get to our accommodation at Sideman.  The road there was pretty rough but it was well worth it.

2016-04-21 06.50.36

Our cute little pink cottage at Sideman.

Our accommodation and the location of Sideman is just lovely. We are staying in cute little pink and blue cottages with lovely open air bathrooms and little back porches with hammocks overlooking a babbling little stream all set in a beautiful forest.

 Day 9: Rest day in Sideman

Even though it was actually a “rest day” we were all keen to explore this lovely area. We headed off straight after breakfast and soon found a little track beside the road that we decided to follow.

Morning walk in Sideman.

Morning walk in Sideman.

The track wound its way up and down through lots of little garden sites with narrow little waterways running through.  It was a pretty rough track though, not as easy as we had first thought. We did manage to find our way out to the road and gratefully stopped at a roadside shop for a cold drink. A couple of the women continued on and found a temple at the top of a hill which they said was well worth seeing……it’ll have to wait till next time.  The rest of us went back and lazed by the pool and waited for our massages we had booked.  It was a lovely day and we all enjoyed the peacefulness and beauty of Sideman.

Day 10: From Sideman to Nusa Lembongan

I was awake early this morning and I set off with another one of the women, Ingrid, for an exploring walk.

Part of a lovely walkway in Sideman.

Part of a lovely walkway in Sideman.

We found a delightful little track that led up through the rice paddies along side a concreted water course.

Unfortunately we couldn’t keep going as we had to be back in time for breakfast and to leave Sideman. I’ll just have to check it out next time.  It was definitely easier than the one we had done the day before!

Waiting at Sanur for the boat to Nusa Lembongan.

Waiting at Sanur for the boat to Nusa Lembongan.

Today we were off to Nusa Lembongan for 2 days. First we had to catch a fast boat from Sanur which was a 2hr drive from Sideman. The boat trip only took 30 min so we were there by lunchtime.

Once we had settled in, had the obligatory swim in the pool and something to eat, we were then ready to go off exploring. So we hired some bicycles and off we went.  We cycled along the coast road, through sparse areas that had lots of rubbish, along pot holed roads and past little roadside stalls.

Cycling over the bridge to Ceningan.

Cycling over the bridge to Ceningan.

It doesn’t take long to cycle around the island so some of us headed over the bridge to the next island, Ceningan.  Once over there we ended up on a road that took us up and over a very steep winding hill to the other side. It was hard work and pretty rough and tough going. Coming down the other side was almost just as bad!  The road was so bumpy and pot holey with lots of loose stones and very steep.  We were dripping with sweat and my hands were sore and cramped from gripping the brakes! We were pleased to get back to our accommodation, have a swim and head out for dinner.

Enjoying the band at Lemongrass restaurant.

Enjoying the band at Lemongrass restaurant.

We ended the day at a lovely little restaurant called Lemongrass, listening to and singing along with a band, sipping on our cocktails…..

Day 11: Nusa Lembongan – Snorkelling Trip

Beautiful sunrise walk on Nusa Lembongan.

Beautiful sunrise walk on Nusa Lembongan.

After a lovely warm early morning walk along the beach in the soft dusky pink haze, it was time to get ready for our day’s snorkelling trip.

Check out the guy fishing off the cliff....not a marine reserve then....

Check out the guy fishing off the cliff….not a marine reserve then….

We boarded the boat at 8am and headed off with a few others to 4 different snorkelling spots.  The first spot really wowed us with this huge mantaray gently gliding beneath us as we snorkelled all around it.  The other spots were amazing too, with lots of fish and coral (though the coral wasn’t that great.) One location even had this massive Buddha head and “attendants” around it and big bell shapes.  It was amazing! All sitting on the ocean floor like part of the lost city of Atlantis.

At our favourite Bali Eco Deli cafe.

At our favourite Bali Eco Deli cafe.

Once we got back we headed out for lunch at one of the best cafes we’ve been to. It was the Bali Eco Deli and not only did it have amazing food but it is dedicated to ridding Bali of all the plastic rubbish, (which usually bugs every tourist to Bali) and has a great recycling project in place plus they will fill up your water bottles for free.  Tick, tick, tick!

Our day finished with 2 for 1 cocktails on the beach watching the sunset, dinner at Lemongrass, a swim in the pool and bed.

Day 12: From Nusa Lembongan to Seminyak – Final full day

We caught the 9.30am boat back to Sanur where our drivers picked us up and took us to Seminyak for our last night in Bali. Seminyak is a busy, bustling place with lots of high end shops, restaurants and accommodation.  Our accommodation was at the quieter end and only a short walk from the beach so we headed down there for lunch while we waited for our rooms to be ready.  During the afternoon we either explored, shopped, swam in the pool or rested.

Ordering our drinks, waiting for the sunset.

Ordering our drinks, waiting for the sunset.

We met in the evening for our cocktails on the beach watching the sunset along with hordes of other locals who clogged up the road on our way there.  It was a lovely way to spend our last night. The music was playing, the sun was setting, we were all feeling very relaxed and happy plus a little bit sad that it was all over.

Day 13: Going home day

Early morning walk along the beach at Seminyak.

Early morning walk along the beach at Seminyak.

Today started with my final sunrise walk along the beach I was feeling very happy and pleased with how this trip has been and giving myself a little mental pat on the back.  Some of the others had gone for a long run, it’s a great beach for long walks and runs! Due to a muck up with our flights, some were leaving at 10pm and the rest of us were leaving at 3pm.  Those who had longer time headed off with one of our drivers to Nusa Dua for the day.  A couple of us headed off for a cycle ride all the way along the pathway almost to the airport.  After a thoroughly invigorating swim in the pounding surf at Seminyak we sat and enjoyed our drinks on the beach.  Then all too soon it was time to get a taxi to the airport for our flights home.  If you missed out on this trip this time round, don’t worry, I’ll definitely be doing it again next year!

 

 

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14 2015 Nov

E-Cycling and Eco-Ziplining on Waiheke Island – Nov 2015

Wow! What a fun day out we had over on Waiheke Island!  We hired electric bikes and off we went!  This has got to be THE way to get around on hilly Waiheke. You get to see so much more, to explore all the beautiful beaches and hidden away little bays and yet you are still cycling….just with a bit more ooomph!

Eco-ziplining was fast, exciting but unfortunately over all too soon!

Wine tasting at Peacock Sky winery, with delicious tasty little food matches that really brought out the flavours of the different wines, was absolutely divine.

Then it was off on our bikes again, exploring more of the island before heading back on the 6pm ferry.  What an awesome day!

(Check us out ziplining on the video clip at the end of this post.)

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29 2015 Oct

Hawkes Bay Cycling Weekend – Oct 2015

Take 8 lively women, add in a huge dose of laughter, fun and humour, some fine wining and dining, a bit of sausage making and a bonfire on the beach and of course, some cycling through the sunny Hawkes Bay and you have the recipe for a deliciously wonderful weekend!

Enjoying tapas at Deliciousa.

Enjoying tapas at Deliciousa.

We drove down from Auckland on the Friday picking up women along the way and soon the van was full of excited and animated chatter as the women got to know each other. On arrival in Napier we got fitted out for our bikes, sorted ourselves out in the motel and then went off into Havelock North to Deliciousa Tapas. We can highly recommend their gorgeous tasting tapas.

Bleak but beautiful!

Bleak but beautiful!

The next morning we woke up to a rather gray and dismal looking day with light rain spitting down. We had some time before going on our guided Art Deco walk so we hopped in the van and drove up to the top of Te Mata peak which still had an absolutely beautiful view despite the weather. Then it was back into Napier to find out more about the Napier earthquake and how they rebuilt the Napier CBD in the art deco style.

Biking along the coastal cycle-path to Bay View.

Biking along the coastal cycle-path to Bay View.

By the end of the tour the rain had eased off a bit and we headed off along the coastal cycle track right out to Bay View and to the Snapper café for lunch.

This all used to be under water!

This all used to be under water!

The rest of the day’s cycling was through the wetlands area around the Napier airport and back to our motel.

Loving the hot pool soak!

Loving the hot pool soak!

A lovely long soak in the Ocean Spa pools nicely relaxed all those cycling muscles before we headed out to dinner at Milk and Honey, a very nice top quality restaurant.

 

Going through one of the many gates on the cycle-path.

Going through one of the many gates on the cycle-path.

Cycling day two dawned bright and sunny as we cycled off for our pub lunch at Puketapu Pub, exploring and enjoying all the different areas along the way. There were wide smooth paths through suburb back streets, crushed limestone paths through fields, under pine trees, beside rivers and little lakes with so much to see and enjoy.

Making sausages.....

Making sausages…..

Once back from our cycling, we then went on to our sausage making course which was a lot of fun. We made two different types of gourmet sausages and they were sooo nice!

Cooking our sausages on the beach.

Cooking our sausages on the beach.

That evening we had a fire on the beach with bubbly, wine, nibbles and hot chips and cooked some of the sausages over the fire. We finished off with roasting marshmallows over the fire….divine!

 

Cycling along Oak Avenue.

Cycling along Oak Avenue.

Our last day’s cycling was out to Te Awa winery where we once again enjoyed amazing food in a beautiful setting before cycling back to Clive to drop off our bikes, hop into the van and head off back to Auckland. It had all been a simply perfect long weekend. I’ll definitely use that ‘recipe’ again!

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22 2015 Sep

Bay of Islands Tramping Weekend – Sept 2015

The forecast wasn’t looking that great for the weekend but we headed off anyway, feeling positive and optimistic that we’d cope anyway (and think of a Plan B just in case!)

We did a bit of a “tiki tour” on the way stopping at Kaiwaka to check out the huge kauri carvings at The Art Factory (well worth a look.)

From there we travelled up to Whangarei stopping for a delicious coffee break at the i site. They do these wonderful coffees with coconut milk and oil added to them….The tourist shop right next door proved to be a great little shopping spot and we all got some excellent bargains.

Whangarei Falls.

Whangarei Falls.

The next stop was the Whangarei falls just out of Whangarei and a very easy 10 min loop to check them out, (worth a look.)

 

 

BOI 2

The Hundertwasser toilet block in Kawakawa.

Our last stop was at Kawakawa to have a look at the famous Hundertwasser toilet block (again, well worth a look.)

 

 

From there it was just a short distance to Paihia.

Haruru Falls.

Haruru Falls.

Lunch, (according to my itinerary), was to have been on the beach but with the rain spitting down we decided maybe not, and went to a cafe instead.  From there we caught a taxi up to Te Haruru Falls and followed the track out to Waitangi and back into Paihia, walking in the pouring rain!

Dinner out in Paihia.

Dinner out in Paihia.

Showered and warm and dry, we headed out for dinner in Paihia and then back to our motel for a good night’s sleep before our big walk the next day.

 

We walked on coastal pathways….

The morning dawned bright and blue skyed but with big black clouds on the horizon. By 9am we were breakfasted and on the coastal track from Paihia to Opua.

The full circle day walk is a delightful mixture of coastal pathways, beach walking across little bays, bush tracks, boardwalks and through the streets of Russell.

                                             across pretty little bays…..

through beautiful bush.....

through beautiful bush…..

 

 

 

 

 

From Opua we caught the 5 min ferry over to Okiato and on to Russell.

BOI 9

along boardwalks in the rain……

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were on again, off again with our rain gear as rain clouds came and quickly went.

Happy little trampers!

Happy little trampers!

In Russell we only had 2 minutes to spare to catch the ferry (or wait for another 40 min).  Big ice-creams finished the day off nicely and we clambered back into the van for the trip back to Auckland (no tiki touring this time.) It had been an excellent weekend, spitty, showery rain and all!

 

 

 

 

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30 2014 Nov

Standup Paddleboarding – Matakana River – Nov 2014

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.

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1 2014 Nov

Timber Trail – Pureora Forest – Oct 2014

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!

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28 2014 Oct

Samoan Cycling Adventure- Oct 2014

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?!

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14 2014 Sep

Cycling – Waiheke Island – Sept 2014

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!

 

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6 2014 Aug

Cycling the Hawkes Bay – Aug 2014

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! 🙂

 

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5 2014 Apr

The Otago Rail Trail – in Autumn 2014

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!

ORT 2014 003

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.

ORT 2014 005

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!

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1 2013 Jul

Bay of Islands Tramping Weekend – June 2013

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.