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Clive & Melanie Morris - Narrowboat Folkies



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February 12th 2011 - Motueka

Posted by clivenmel on 14 February, 2011 at 23:36

February 11th 2011 – We left the campsite in Waikawa Bay after breakfast and headed for Picton and the road to Nelson.  We had decided to take the scenic route – well why wouldn’t you!  We hadn’t been travelling more than a few minutes when I spotted something and asked Clive to stop so I could go and take a photograph.  During all our travels through North Island we have seen many big trucks carrying logs, most of them were towing a trailer as well.  Well what I had spotted was a log yard – I’ve never seen so many logs in my life!


What a lotta logs!


We resumed our journey and it certainly was a very picturesque route indeed.  We passed through one or two tiny little hamlets then arrived in a place called Havelock, which is evidently the Green Lipped Mussel centre of the world!  They actually have a Green Lipped Mussel festival!  I have to admit, I’m not fond of the usual black mussels we get at home but the Green Lips are absolutely delicious and I reckon they deserve a festival! 


We continued on this road, one minute climbing a steep gradient, muttering “I think I can, I think I can”!  Then hurtling downwards hoping the breaks were going to stop us, twisting and turning all the way, an awesome route!  Finally we arrived in Nelson, thankfully in one piece!  The campervan is amazing, considering its 20 years old, it just keeps going and going!  So far the temperature gauge has barely moved no matter how hard the engine is working, it’s a little gem really and we are so grateful to have her.


We had decided not to stay in Nelson but we drove around the town a couple of times and took some photos just to say we had been and I also nipped into a shop for some fresh veggies and milk.  Nelson was quite pleasant and once again the main street had been tarted up a bit with hanging baskets etc so it looked quite nice. 


Nelson town centre

We carried on to Motueka where we had decided to stay for a couple of days and finally arrived there late afternoon.  It was a very pleasant campsite and had a swimming pool and a private spa in which, because we are members of the Top Ten campsite chain, we got a complementary half hour!  We decided to take advantage of that straight away, so as soon as we had got the van plugged in we changed into our togs and headed for the spa pool.  It was gorgeous, just to relax in the hot bubbling water, lovely!  When our half hour was up we went for a swim in the pool, that was good too.   After our swim we went into the office to book ourselves on an excursion to the Abel Tasman National Park the following day. The trip entailed a bus ride, a boat ride and a bush walk.


After dinner we decided to go for a walk into town.  We had spotted a pub on the way into Motueka called Motty Malone’s Irish Pub!  Well it was Friday night and we reckoned any Irish pub worth its salt would have some sort of music on.  We were right, there was a poster outside stating that The Gypsy Pickers would be performing from 8.00pm – it was ten to!  We got drinks and found a table just in front of the stage area and sure enough at 8.00pm a very skinny guy, with a long ponytail and a hat on walked onto the stage with an old battered Ovation guitar!  He didn’t look much I have to say, in fact as soon as he opened his mouth to speak and I heard his American accent I thought he must hail from Kentucky, he had tombstones for teeth and looked very much the hillbilly! However, he wasn’t, he originally hailed from Flagstaff, Arizona but has lived in New Zealand since 1989!  He also explained that the other half of the The Gypsy Pickers duo, was his wife and she had sprained both her wrists mowing the lawn when the mower hit a rock!  She couldn’t play the banjo nor the mandolin so he was on his own!  I needn’t have worried though, looks can be deceiving!  He was the most awesome performer, a brilliant guitarist and a great singer!  He did everything from Simon and Garfunkel, through Bob Dylan to Lynyrd Skynyrd and even The Beatles!  He played from 8.00pm through to 11.00pm with only one short break and he was about to go on again but we couldn’t stay any longer!  We had had a tremendous evening and were very sorry to have to leave but we had to be up at the crack of dawn to go on our excursion!


Ron Valente (iPhone pic)


February 12th 2011 – we were up bright and early the following morning and decided to leave the bed made up as we were going to be out all day.  As soon as I was dressed I nipped over to the kitchen, hard boiled a couple of eggs and made some sandwiches to take with us for lunch. Once back at the van I just had time to pack my camera and grab my hat and we were off to catch the bus outside the camp office.


The bus took us through acres and acres of fruit crops, mainly apples.  The driver gave a bit of a commentary and explained how the fruit is ripened and then harvested.  He also explained that this part of New Zealand was once a big producer of tobacco! This has all but gone now apart from a few intrepid farmers who still grow a bit of it but only on a very small scale.  It wasn’t a long trip on the bus and we soon arrived at Kaiteriteri where we were to meet the boat.  We all piled off the bus and crossed the road to the beach and waited.  Eventually we spotted a catamaran approaching the beach. I was beginning to wonder how on Earth we were supposed to board it as there was no jetty!  I needn’t have worried, the family who run this trip actually purpose build their own boats and had an ingenious way of getting the passengers on board.  As the boat approaches the beach it tosses an anchor out at the back,  it slows up and a gangway folds down, it has a roller on the very front which as it touches down on the beach just rolls up the sand until the boat stops!  The passengers all get on, the gangway is retracted and then a windlass pulls the anchor chain back up, which gently tows the boat back off the beach – genius!

Crusader with the ganway down on the beach


Once free of the beach the boat revved up and we were off.  It was a little bit overcast and I thought we would be better inside for the trip as it is nearly always chilly up on the deck of boats!  The other thing was that we had to travel light, Clive had his bag with him, which had the binoculars in it, I had my bag, which contained my camera and long lens, we also had a cloth carrier bag containing the packed lunch and a drink – no room for jumpers or waterproofs – we had dressed in shorts and tee shirts and had our fingers crossed!  We cruised up the coast occasionally pulling in close to the shore to look at places of interest.  The first of these stops was to see The Split Apple Rocks. 


Split Apple Rocks


The split in this huge boulder is assumed to have been caused by ice!  Small cracks fill with water which freeze and increase the cracks, eventually the pressure is just too much and the rock splits in half.   In fact all the way up the coast there were the most amazing rocks and boulders, worn by wind and sea into incredible shapes. The next of these that we stopped to look at were The Arch Rocks.


Arch Rocks


The Skipper of the boat informed us that when the tide is in people in kayaks actually attempt to get through the archway to the other side!  We continued up the coast and soon approach Tonga Island and once again the boat slowed right down so that we could all have a good look at this rocky island, the reason for this was that New Zealand Fur Seals frequent this island and come here to have their pups.  There were several young pups basking on the rocks, totally oblivious to our presence!


Fur Seal Pup


There were different variations on the trip we were on, we had gone for the full whack which was to take us all the way up to Totaranui, right at the top of the Abel Tasman National Park, however some people were getting off sooner and walking back to previous beach to be picked up, so we pulled in to a couple of beaches on the way up to drop these passengers off.  We carried on up to Totaranui then turned around and headed back down the coast. We eventually pulled in to Bark Bay and this is where we were to disembark for our bush walk.  We all piled off onto the beach and Crusader reversed off and disappeared round the headland – we were on our own!  The first job before setting off on the long trek through the bush was to have a pee!  They are very sensible in New Zealand and provide loos in the most out of the way places but they are a very welcome sight!  I had to take a photo because we just don’t have anything like this in the UK at all, more's the pity!  These are known as Dunny’s or Long Drop’s!  There are no chemicals involved, under the seat is just a long drop, literally! 


The Dunny!


Once that was over and done with we set off on our 6km trek to our pick-up point in Torrent Bay.  It was a great walk through the bush but we were a bit disappointed at the lack of birdlife, we were expecting the bush to be ringing to the sound of Tui's at least, in fact there weren’t even many Cicadas singing either, surprisingly it was very quiet indeed!  We took a detour off the path to a scenic view point at South Head.  It was a bit of a trek and the path was very worn but when we finally arrived the view was fantastic!



As you can see from the photo the clouds were dissipating and it was becoming quite warm! We were now very glad that we hadn’t put warmer clothes on!  We trekked on, sometimes the path got quite steep and I struggled up, giving myself a cardiac workout on the way!  Then of course it would descend and my knees complained bitterly all the way down – I can’t win!  I keep trying to convince myself that I am going to be really fit at the end of this trip – providing of course that I don’t have a heart attack!!  I nearly had the latter when we came to the next obstacle – a swing bridge!!  Eeek!  Well I had no choice, there was no going back!  Clive suggested that I go first and he would take a photo of me in the middle, then he would join me and I would take the camera, continue across the bridge then turn around and take a photo of him, all well and good but I have to confess I had to close my eyes in order to turn around!!




Once that was behind me I felt a lot better.  We continued on for a little while longer then found a nice boulder to sit on and have our packed lunch.  Its amazing how delicious a hard boiled egg and a ham sandwich tastes when you’re outdoors! After our repast we continued on our way and a short time later we got another spectacular view of the coastline through the trees.  We could see the most beautiful secluded beach in an inlet from the sea, it was absolutely stunning!


Inlet beach - can you spot the beached yacht!


We had now been walking for almost three hours and we were just beginning to wonder how much further it was, when we rounded a bend in the path and there ahead was Torrent Bay, our pick-up point!  We made our way down the path and finally reached the beach.  It was a lovely beach and the sea looked very welcoming, I really wished I had my togs with me!  However, it didn’t stop me going for a paddle!  We were back in good time and there was about an hour before Crusader was due to return to pick us up, Clive decided to wait in the shade but I headed for the beach!  I had a lovely paddle, I made my way up the beach, wading through the surf up to my knees, it was gorgeous!  On the way back I did a bit of beachcombing and came up with a beautiful shell and a little piece of yellow granite!




Finally Crusader appeared around the headland and we were soon on board and heading back to Kaiteriteri to meet the bus which would take us back to the campsite in Motueka.  All in all it had been a really lovely trip. When we got back to camp Clive went for a shower but I went for a swim in the pool, it was lovely! 


The question of dinner cropped up, as we had been out all day we decided to have a meal out.  Clive had only one thing on his mind: Kentucky Fried Chicken!  KFC is his favourite fast food and we had been spotting Colonel Sanders’ picture all over New Zealand, there just happened to be one in Motueka too!  We set off walking, passed Motty Malones and carried on walking and walking and walking – it was right at the other end of the town!  We finally arrived and ordered our meal, fortunately it did have eat-in facilities!  I have to confess it was delicious, we both really enjoyed it, then we walked off all the calories on the way back to the campsite and bed!


Next instalment soon!!



February 10th 2011 - Waikawa Bay, Picton, South Island

Posted by clivenmel on 13 February, 2011 at 0:16

Saturday Feburary 5th – we were up at 7.00am! We had to be at the Vector Arena in Auckland by 10.00am to see the amazing horseshow, El Caballo Blanco – The Dance of the White Stallions.  My camera was well charged and packed in my handbag but before we set off I went on line to check on the rules and regulations for the show to see if we could take a packed lunch with us – the answer was No!  However much to my horror it also stated that no photography was allowed and that no cameras or video equipment would be allowed into the arena also that bags would be searched!  I obviously didn’t want my camera confiscating nor did I want to be refused entrance to the show so I very sadly left the camera at the house!


We drove into Auckland and soon found a parking space very close to the arena.  There were lots of people outside already and it was still well before 10.00am!  We bought a programme, so that I would at least have some pictures to remind me of the event, then we went inside and took our seats.  Before the show even started I noticed people taking photographs!!!  I was not a happy bunny!  Not a soul had asked to look in my handbag, nor anybody else’s for that matter, I was really very peeved indeed!  The show finally began and it was absolutely awesome.  The horses were just  stunningly beautiful.  There were Andalucian’s, Lipizzaner’s and best of all the beautiful black Friesians.  Not only did they look beautiful they were soooooooooo well trained.  The only thing that spoiled it for me were the hundreds of people taking photographs with flash!!  By this time I was spitting feathers!  There was an interval of 20 minutes and when we took our seats again officials were walking round holding up posters saying “please turn of the flash on your cameras” – I couldn’t believe it!  Clive had his iPhone with him and managed to get one or two photos with that but he couldn’t zoom in close like I could have done with the Olympus!  Ah well, never mind!  The show was absolutely spectacular and I will always have my memories.  At least we had all really enjoyed it.


El Caballo Blanco - courtesy of the iPhone!


We drove back to Lindsey’s and got ourselves organised for the next event – celebrating Philly’s birthday! We got our glad rags on – well Lindsey did – I put my best shorts and a new tee shirt on!  We piled into Philly’s mini and headed off to Clevedon where we met Mary.  For a change we were giving her a lift.  We drove back into Auckland, the venue for the “party” was The Java Rooms in Parnell, a suburb of Auckland and a very nice one too.  There are lots of big, beautiful houses in Parnell and a lot of them have rather beautiful cars parked outside them too – well at least Clive thought so!    We found the restaurant tucked away up a little alleyway and only a few minutes later Philly and the rest of the party arrived.  Anne’s sister Hilary had arrived from the UK for a three week holiday that morning and was managing very well to stay awake! There was also Belinda and her husband Pete (I had met them before Christmas at the Conversazione which Belinda hosted) and another friend of Philly’s, Margy, who is a local GP, so altogether there were 10 of us!  The food was absolutely fantastic, all Asian (Thai, Indonesian, etc etc) and utterly delicious!  We had a really wonderful time.  It was also nice for Clive to have another man to chat to, it made a change, he’s normally been the only guy amongst all us gals!


Philly, Belinda, Pete, Hilary and Ann


Mel, Lindsey, Mary and Clive



I had some wonderful news from home yesterday by the way, my niece Alison gave birth to her twin boys a little earlier than expected!  She was due to have them by Caesarean section on the 17th but they decided not to wait and came into the world under their own steam, well with a little help from Ali!  They are to be called Tom and George.  They are absolutely gorgeous and are already wowing everyone who has seen their very first photo! Many congratulations to Ali and Mike and also to their big brother, Harry!


Tom and George Rhodes - my gorgeous twin Great newphews!


Sunday February 6th – Lindsey had to go to a Forest and Bird meeting at 10.00am, this included a bush walk!  As she still can’t drive Clive gave her a lift.  We were also expecting Philly over later to swap the vehicles over and stay for lunch.  It gave us chance to say goodbye as we’re not going to see her again for several weeks once we are off on our travels again.  We didn’t really do much for the rest of the day. 


One thing I forgot to mention in the previous blog was that over the weekend when Lindsey had injured her hand she had stayed at Philly’s.  When she finally returned home it was to discover that there had been a “King” tide and the little stream which flows adjacent to her property had completely backed up and flooded!  Nearly all Lindsey’s front paddock must have been under water for several hours but by the time she returned home it had subsided.  She only realised what had happened when she noticed the grass looked slightly flattened and muddy.  Needless to say once the sun came out again the grass had gone berserk, it was about eight inches high!  Clive mowed it again for her.  Not only the grass had benefited from the flood, all her trees had suddenly had a spurt of new growth too, its like Spring again!


Monday February 7th – we were up in good time as we had a lot to do before we finally set off. Clive gave the inside of the van a good clean and I repacked all the clothes, we refilled the fridge and cupboards with all our provisions, then it was time to go.  We said goodbye to Lindsey and headed off once more, this time our destination was South!


We had a great drive and got a lot further than expected, we actually reached Taupo!  On the way we passed through Cambridge!  A sweet little place, much smaller than our own Cambridge but pretty nevertheless. We decided to go and stay at the same campsite where we had stayed on our previous visit to Taupo as it was such a good one.  We got checked in and had dinner then decided to go for a bit of a drive before bed to check out the Huko Falls – I had seen a photo of them in the camp kitchen as I was washing up and they looked worth checking out.  It wasn’t a very long drive but we had also spotted a sign to a Bungy Jump and on the way past we could see people watching what was going on so we decided to call there on the way.  The Bungy Jump was closed by that time but we could still go and look at the view and what a view it was!


Blue Waikato River


We drove a bit further and soon found the road heading for the falls and a short time later we arrived at the place and parked along witha few other cars on the outside of a locked barrier to the car park.  There was a sign on it saying “Gate locked at 6pm sharp” – it was 6.05 when we arrived. We locked up the van and set off down the path, just as we were approaching said gate a car drew up, on the car park side, with a bewildered looking Chinese couple in it – oh dear! They tried the barrier but of course it was locked – it said so!!  There was also another note on the inside of the gate – “if locked in call this number xxxxxxx – call out charge of $30 applies”.  We left them on their mobile phone making the call!!


It wasn’t long before we arrived at the falls – what a sight!  This is the Waikato River, the longest river in New Zealand and the only river draining from Lake Taupo.  It is quite narrow at this point, about 15 metres wide and 10 metres deep, therefore the river is a raging torrent here travelling at about 40 cubic metres per second! Not only that, its bright blue! Also, because of the turbulence it is full of bubbles which accentuates the colour! Unfortunately the light was going as it was almost sunset but I still managed to get some great photos – shame you can’t hear the sound of the falls as well!  When we returned to the van the Chinese couple had gone – they must have paid the $30 and been released!!

Turbulant River Waikato

Huko Falls


Tuesday February 8th - we said goodbye to Taupo again and continued our journey South.  The first part of our journey was very familiar as we had travelled the same route only a couple of weeks ago on our way to New Plymouth, however we reached a junction and turned off, from then on we were on unexplored territory!  The landscape here is incredible, once again very obviously created by the debris from various volcanic eruptions.  In places though it was just simply moorland and reminded us very much off the Pennines back home, then in other places it was like a moonscape!  We crossed over a bridge and looking down I saw the most amazing gorge, it was just like the Grand Canyon but much smaller!  On our right hand side we could see the foot of a volcano, which we think was Mt Ruapeho but its peak was shrouded in mist. We decided to stop for coffee and a TimTam and let Clive have a break from driving.  It was quite windy and the mist, swirling around the peak of the volcano, kept tantalizing us by revealing bits of the peak then covering it again before I could get a decent photo!


Mt Ruapehu we think!


We continued our journey and a short time later I noticed a sign to a Scenic Viewpoint so we stopped. Clive stayed in the van and I hot footed it to the top of the path to see the view.  It was of the river winding its way alongside huge white cliffs.  I also noted a strange tripod-like contraption at the viewpoint, next to it was a yellow box wrapped in polythene, I went to have a closer look and this is what I found:




We finally arrived at our destination for the night, Paekakariki.  We soon found the campsite, which was very pleasant and only a stones throw from the beach it said.  After dinner we decided to go for a walk to see if we could find said beach – we did and were rewarded with the most fabulous sunset! 


Paekakariki sunset


Wednesday February 9th – we left after breakfast and headed off to Wellington.  It wasn’t very far and we arrived there mid morning. We parked the van down near the Wellington waterfront and went for a walk.  We had intended to stop and have a coffee in one of the waterfront café’s but when Clive saw a sign outside one of them advertising Fish and Chips he couldn’t resist!  It wasn't much after 11.00am but we decided to stop and indulge ourselves anyway!  They were scrummy yummy!  Not your average F& C but goujons of Tarakihi, Clive’s favourite New Zealand fish, a small portion of luscious chips and a lovely salad as well, really delicious! 


After lunch we continued on our exploration of the sea front then found our way to Te Papa, the museum.  We went in and had a look around, there was a photographic exhibition, which I found very interesting and then we explored some of the other interesting exhibits, one of which was a facsimile of an earthquake!  You actually stood inside what appeared to be someone’s front room, watching their TV as the news of an earthquake was being broadcast, then the whole thing started to shake!  It was very well done – perhaps it gave us a taster of things to come if Christchurch is still experiencing aftershocks when we get there!!


We went back out into the sunshine again and found our wayback to the van, then we set off to locate the campsite which Clive had booked us into not far from Wellington.  It didn’t take us long to find it and we were soon settled in.  It was actually a Motel perched on the side of a hill next to the main highway into Wellington, with a large car park at the side, which had been fitted with power sites for campervans.  It certainly wasn’t the most picturesque campsite but it suited our needs completely. We spent about an hour in the lounge area of the motel using their internet facilities so that I could do the last blog – I am very behind and trying desperately to catch up!!!


We ascertained from reception that there was a very good bus service into the city so, after getting washed and changed and me actually putting a bit of makeup on for a change, we caught the bus from across the road and were soon heading back into Wellie.  We had arranged to meet my friend Sue Reeves near the Town Hall.  Back in 1977 when I was pregnant with our daughter Vicki I went on a local National Childbirth Trust course, it was there that I met Sue when she was expecting her eldest son Alex. Sue and her husband Chris came out to New Zealand several years ago on a two year contract with his job.  Very sadly Chris had a heart attack and died whilst they were here but Sue decided to stay on.  Her younger son, Ian, lives with her in Wellington but Alex remains in England and now lives in London.  He is a drummer and also has his own recording studio.


We found Sue sitting outside a restaurant across the road from the Town Hall – she really hasn’t changed a bit!  It was great catching up on old times over dinner and then she invited us back to her home for the rest of the evening.  She has a lovely house with the most awesome views looking out over the sea. We even saw one of the inter-island ferries making its way back into Wellington – we would be going the other way tomorrow! We finally said goodbye and Ian very kindly ran us back to the campsite however we have agreed to meet up with Sue again on our return from South Island in a few weeks time and she has invited us to stay with her for a couple of days, that will be lovely.


Mel, Clive and Sue



Thursday February 10th dawned bright and fair and boded well for a smooth crossing.  Our ferry was due to depart at 1.00pm but we had to be there by 12.  We packed everything up and then spent another hour or two in the Motel reception using their internet facilities.  I finished typing the blog but had only got half the photographs downloaded and for some reason our website was playing up and wouldn’t download the rest!  I had to save it as a draft and leave it until we arrived at our next destination. This is not helping me to catch up with the blog at all!!  Finally we piled back into the van and headed off to the ferry terminal.  We were a bit early so once parked in the queue for the ferry we put the kettle on and had a coffee and a TimTam to pass the time!  Then it was time to board – we were off on the next phase, South Island here we come!


The crossing was fantastic. The sea was as calm as a millpond and the sun was shining.  I expected it to be really cold up on deck so we had stayed in the lounge for the first half of the trip but as we were approaching the Marlborough Sounds we decided to go upstairs.  It was really warm!  The sea was the most incredible shade of blue I think I have ever seen, it was absolutely beautiful!  The scenery was incredible too.  When we did this trip the first time, back in October 2004 it was very grey and cloudy, in total contrast to today!  We passed our sister ship coming the otherway!


Ships passing in the daytime in the Marlborough Sounds

I took so many photographs of this last part of the voyage, it was so incredibly beautiful.  There were lots of little islands and inlets with tiny “baches”, little holiday cottages, tucked away into quiet little bays only accessibly by water.  There were Gannets diving into the sea for fish, the sun was sparkling on the water, it was just wonderful.  Then finally we saw Picton up ahead and it wasn’t long before the ship was berthed and we were driving the van down the ramp.  We have arrived in South Island.




We had agreed that it would make sense to stay somewhere not far from the ferry terminal for the night and then make a fresh start in the morning.  However first we decided to go and find a shop to pick up a few bits and pieces that we had run short of.  We finally found one in the centre of Picton and then Clive spotted a bar right down at the sea front so we moved the car to a 60 minute parking space and went off for a Speight’s!  It was lovely just sitting there in the sunshine watching all the boats in the marina – oh this is the life!  Finally, we tore ourselves away and made our way to the campsite at Waikawa Bay and got settled down for the night.  Finally I managed to download the rest of the photographs and post the blog, about a week behind!


As this blog is rapidly turning into War and Peace I am going to leave it here, hopefully I will get chance to do another blog very soon which will bring us up to date!  Watch this space!!!



February 4th 2011 - Ness Valley

Posted by clivenmel on 8 February, 2011 at 23:53

When we woke up the next morning we were very disappointed indeed as it was drizzling and there was a lot of low cloud, obviously we were not going to see Mt Taranaki yet again! We had breakfast and packed everything away then headed back into Wanganui to do a bit of shopping.  We were actually looking for a Whitcoulls, New Zealand’s answer to Borders or Waterstones.  Clive and I had both received a Whitcoulls gift card from Ann at Christmas and wanted the opportunity to spend them.  We managed to find somewhere to park down Wanganui’s pretty main street on a meter.   I say pretty because, unlike most of the towns which we pass through on our journey around New Zealand, this one looks like a normal high street and it is festooned with hanging baskets and lined with trees.  The majority of the towns we pass through look like something out of a Western movie and you really wouldn’t be surprised to see a horse tied up to a rail outside some of the shops and bars! 


Wanganui High Street


We soon found the bookshop and headed inside for a browse.  I ended up buying a lovely little Maori/English dictionary.  The Maori language is quite beautiful and very interesting and as a vast majority of the towns and virtually all the plants, birds and insects have Maori names I wanted to be able to understand what they meant, the book was exactly what I was looking for.  Clive ended up getting The Stig’s biography – I think I will enjoy readthat one as well!  One thing that surprised us both was the price of books over here, they are really expensive, at least double the price of books at home!


Having made our purchases we headed back to the van and set off once more on our wonderful tour of North Island.  Our only disappointment was that the clouds hadn’t gone away and we still couldn’t see Mt Taranaki, the whole reason for coming down to this area!  The clouds never lifted all the way to our next port of call, Opunake!  We knew exactly where the volcano was but it just wasn’t there! However soon after we arrived the clouds started to blow away from the sea and the sun came out. The volcano was still “not there” but the beach was bathed in glorious sunshine by the time we had got the van on our pitch at the campsite, which was right at the beach, so we decided to go for a swim!   The surf was fantastic, we had to be careful to swim between the flags on the beach as the Lifeguards were watching that area and it would be easy to get into difficulties in surf like this.  We had a brilliant time then made our way back to the campsite for showers and dinner! 


Great surf!


We had decided to have a barbecue.  Most of the campsites we have stayed at have communal barbecues, you just bring your meat and cook it on the barby when it becomes available. Luckily we decided to eat early so didn’t have to wait. We really enjoyed our meal, it made a nice change to have something hot as we normally tend to just have salads.


After  dinner Clive noticed there was something different about the air quality and he suspected the clouds might be dissipating so we quickly washed up, piled back into the van and headed off up the road from the campsite.  We had found a spot at the top of the village with a clear view to where we knew Mt Taranaki was.  We arrived a few minutes later and were delighted and thrilled to find the volcano in all its glory in full view!  Out came the camera and the I started snapping away.  The sun was going down rapidly and we decided to go on a mad dash to see if we could get a better view before the sun went too low.  We were rewarded with a wonderful view.  It looked amazing because there was still some cloud around the base and it looked as if it was floating in the sky! The only thing that could have made it better would have been a snowcap but as it is full summer and very warm indeed that wasn’t going to happen!


Floating Taranaki!



We arrived back at camp just as the sun was setting and I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos, it looked so beautiful and for a change, instead of being pink it was bathed in gold!


Golden sunset!


The following morning we left Opunake and set off for New Plymouth.  We were so glad that we had gone to look for the volcano last night because once again it was dull and gloomy and Mt Taranaki had disappeared, again! Almost the whole drive to New Plymouth was shrouded in the mist coming off the sea.  We finally arrived and were surprised to find that it was quite a large city!  There were high rise office blocks and high street shops  and a three lane highway running right through the middle! We decided to find somewhere overlooking the sea for a coffee and a TimTam!  TimTams are the most awesome chocolate biscuits ever!  They come in various flavours; original (choc biscuits, with choc cream in the middle and a chocolate coating); chewy caramel (the same but with a gorgeous chewy caramel filling); white chocolate (awesome – our favourite) and black forest gateau (our least favourite).  We found a lovely spot looking out to sea in a small car park. 


Great spot for a coffee!


We were soon joined by another car with a bloke inside eating a McDonalds, then another car with a couple in, both eating McDonalds, then a third car with a couple in, both eating McDonalds! We passed the McDonalds a few minutes later on our way to find a campsite!!  Obviously its where people come during their lunch hour!


We found a lovely campsite at the other end of New Plymouth with a fantastic view over the sea.  Once we were booked in we decided to go and explore New Plymouth.  We found the most amazing place, Pukekawa Park, adjacent to the racecourse.  We parked the van and went for a walk through this beautiful park.  It took me back to my childhood when I used to go to Scarborough with my parents and I used to nag them to take me to Peasholme Park, preferably at night!  The reason being that there were wonderful light shows there during the summer, there were gnomes and pixies and toadstools, all lit up amongst the trees and shrubs, it was a magical place.  Well this park has a festival of light during the summer too.  Unfortunately as we were there during the day we didn’t see them all lit up but there were all sorts of things like dragonflies and multicoloured balloons and fantastic chandeliers hanging over the lake, wonderful! 


Multicoloured balloons in the park


However, in the daytime it was beautiful too, it was full of native trees and shrubs and therefore there were Tui’s singing their beautiful songs and Keriru (huge native pigeon) flying through the trees and their wings make an awesome sound as they fly.  There is a zoo in this park so we decided to go and find it but were stopped by a big fence and a man with a walkie talkie!  It turned out that the park also has a fantastic natural bowl which serves as a venue for concerts and that night Joe Cocker was due to give a live performance so all the animals from the zoo had been put inside closed doors in case they got frightened and therefore the zoo was closed! The concert was however thrown into jeopardy as Joe’s mother had evidently died the day before and it was unsure whether he would be able to go ahead with the concert.


The lake in Pukekawa Park


After meandering through the park we stopped off at the lakeside café for a coffee and a snack – I had macaroni cheese, it was divine!  On the way back to the van we went into the Fern Display area which turned out to be very cleverly disguised greenhouses or conservatories.  The plants in there were incredible and you could hardly tell you were under glass at all, it was all really beautiful. There were plants and flowers from all over the world, it was absolutely stunning.  There were little places to sit and just drink it all in, I managed to get a couple of photos of  Clive doing just that. However the first time he sat down the seat was all wet but I made him sit still while I took his photo!


Clive amongst the ferns


We returned to the campsite and had dinner then settled down for the night to the sound of the surf below us.


The next day we left Mt Taranaki behind us, still in the clouds somewhere!  We were continuing up the West Coast to a little place called Kawhia (Pron. calf –ear).  We had a lovely run and the scenery was absolutely stunning.  We stopped off for a coffee (and a TimTam!) at an amazing place looking out over an estuary, watching the tide coming in.  I also spotted a cicada which I had homed in on by listening to him singing.  This one is known as a Clapping Cicada because besides making a high pitched sound he also makes a clapping sound which is quite characteristic.  I actually never realised how many different types of Cicada there are!  Anyway, this one was very obliging and sat still whilst I took his photo!


Clapping Cicada


On our way to Kawhia we had to pass through the town of Otorohanga.  It is a very special place for one reason, it has a Kiwi house!  We have been there before, back in 2000 but couldn’t resist going again.  We got our tickets and went in through a little door in a dark room, it took a few moments for our eyes to adjust but then we could see the enclosures behind glass. Suddenly there was a rustling noise and we saw something moving in the gloom and then there it was, a Kiwi! They are the most adorable creatures, prodding the earth with their incredibly long beaks looking for food in the leaf litter.  Photography wasn’t allowed in the Kiwi house because flash photography would really upset the birds, however Clive’s iPhone can take photos in the dark without flash so he surreptitiously took a few without being noticed! 

Kiwi - how cute is that!


There aren’t only Kiwi’s at Otorohanga, there are many other New Zealand birds in enclosures outside so we spent some time wandering around having a look at them too but time was pressing and we still had a way to go unfortunately.  We nipped back into the Kiwi house to have a last look at them before jumping back into the van and continuing our journey. There will be more photos in the Gallery.


Finally we arrived in Kawhia and got settled on our pitch at the campsite.  There isn’t really much to say about this place, it was very quiet and not much to see.  Whilst we have been travelling, we have been eating mainly salads and every now and again we feel the need of something different.  I had been craving vegetables!  We solved the problem by having freshly picked corn on the cob for dinner, it was delicious.  We really didn’t need much else after that, they were quite big cobs!  So it wasn’t long before we settled down for the night.


The next day we took a little back road from Kawhia to Raglan.  This road was not metalled. There are lots of unmettled roads in New Zealand, some are better than others, fortunately this was  a pretty good one.  We were almost in Raglan when we noticed a sign off to the right  “Bridal Veil Falls 4Km”!   Clive asked me if I fancied going to have a look and I said yes! Sooooooooooo glad we did!  We soon found the spot and parked the van along with several other cars and campervans and headed off down the track signed “To the falls”!  It didn’t take us long to get there and we peered over a balustrade at a small stream pouring over a lip, it didn’t look much really! 


Short falls - taken from the top!


However there was a sign to the viewing points, one said it was 100 and something steps to the mid-point! We set off – my knees, being somewhat arthritic do not like going downsteps at all!  However I persevered and the view from the midpoint was incredible! There was also a sign which said “You are half way down – or, you are half way up”!!


Bridal Veil Falls from the middle viewing point

Clive asked me if I wanted to go any further, I did but my knees didn’t! However I was determined to see the falls in all their beauty so I gritted my teeth and continued to the bottom, a total of 227 steps – ouch!  It was totally worth all the pain and effort, the view was wonderful. 

Bridal Veil Falls from the lower viewing point


I took lots and lots of photos (trying to take my mind off the thought of having to climb all 227 steps back to the top!).  It really is the most beautiful waterfall.  Finally gasping and wheezing I arrived at the top step – I’ve never been so relieved in my life!  Oh but it really was worthwhile and I felt very satisfied with myself for having achieved such a feat!


We piled back into the van and resumed our journey to Raglan, which didn’t take very long at all and we were there by lunchtime.  We found the campsite and got the van all settled in then we went for a walk back into town.  In order to reach town from the campsite one has to cross an estuary via a bridge. This bridge is very popular with locals and visitors alike for jumping off into the river below!  We spent several minutes watching these foolhardy folk climbing onto the balustrades and leaping off into the water below! 



Raglan town is lovely really, it has a very happy atmosphere somehow, probably because its full of holidaymakers!  There are lots of bars, café’s, restaurantsand interesting shops.  We decided to popinto the oldest looking building, the hotel, for a wee drinky poo and to watch he world go by.  In the afternoon we decided to go for a walk as we wanted to go and look at the fishing boats at the wharf.  It was actually a lot further than we anticipated but it was a pleasant walk and we finally got there.  There were lots of people fishing off the wharf itself but unfortunately no fishing boats coming in, we had forgotten it was Sunday! 


Raglan Wharf


There was a pottery at the end of the wharf and I went in to have a look round.  There was some lovely stuff and as Philly’s birthday was the following week I decided to get her a nice piece of pottery. I ended up choosing a lovely green oven to tableware dish which had a swirl in the centre and reminded me of a Koru.  It was very carefully wrapped up by the potter himself!  He informed me that ithad only come out of the kiln the day before! Newly hatched!!  Interestingly he explained that they were currently in temporary premises as about 9 months ago there was a fire at the wharf and the beautiful old colonial building that housed their pottery went up in smoke! He explained that it is now going to be rebuilt in the original style to restore the wharf to its former glory.


On the way back from the wharf we passed a pub!  Well, it was a lovely evening and we were thirsty so we sat outside looking at the sea sipping our drinks for a while before returning to the van! A little later in the evening, after we had had dinner, we decided to have a walk down to the beach to watch the sunset - how romantic!  We were suprised to see some guys fishing using a net!  Clive had a chat with them, they were all Indians and have been in New Zealand for seven years and love it here, well who wouldn't!  They had managed to catch six flounders already, which I spotted in a bucket!  It was quite interesting watching them fish in this way but they didn't have much luck whilst we were watching, the only thing they netted was some weed!

Flounder fishing


The following day, Monday, was very overcast, it had been raining all night and was still drizzling on and off.  We decided to stay put in Raglan for another day and just relax. Finally the rain stopped and in the evening we walked up into town again to find somewhere for dinner.  We ended up at Costa Pizza!   They had various sizes of pizza and there was a semicircle template on the menu giving the sizes.  We both decided the Extra Large was far too big and settled for the Large – big mistake!  They were huge!  I managed to force mine down, it was absolutely delicious, Clive was totally defeated by his, which had even more topping than mine!  So, totally stuffed, we waddled back to the van and bed!


Whilst we were in Raglan I was on the internet checking my Facebook page and there was a message from Lindsey – she had tripped over a broken paving stone in Clevedon which had resulted in a broken a bone in her left hand and she now had a plaster cast on half way up her arm!  Oh dear!


We left Raglan on Tuesday morning and headed back to Auckland, we arrived at Lindsey’s soon after lunch.  There she was with her arm in a pot, bless!  The plaster cast came right down to the tips of her fingers and she couldn't use the hand at all.  Needless to say she had been told not to drive!  The other problem was that her glasses had flown off her head and been run over by a car when she fell!  All in all she was in a bit of a state!  We unpacked all our stuff from the van and moved back into the house, Radar was very pleased indeed to see Clive!


The following day I drove Lindsey into Papakura to look for some new glasses.  It was the first time I had driven anything at all for quite some time, let alone a van!  However I coped but didn’t drive at my usual speed, I took things rather sedately in fact – not like me at all!  Lindsey finally chose some really nice glasses and her rather dishy optician got her all set up with an amazing piece of kit which measured the frames and her eye movements and plotted it all on a computer, very clever indeed. He referred to it as "Peter Jackson Technology"!  She just has to wait for them to be made now!


That evening it was Pub Quiz Night so we all piled into Lindsey’s van, Clive drove, me in the passenger seat and Lindz in the back with Radar!  It was only to Clevedon though where Mary was waiting for us and she drove us into Howick for the quiz.  We didn’t win!  We did have a good time though, it was great to see everybody again.  It was also Philly’s birthday!  However, we were waiting to celebrate it properly on Saturday evening.


Thursday and Friday passed fairly uneventfully except that I drove Lindsey back to the A&E department to see the doctor again.  He decided the pot could come off and he put her a bandage on instead.  We then went shopping to get some vegetables and spent quite some time just browsing round the Asian (Oriental) shops, amazed at the incredible variety of produce that was available, some of which we had never seen nor heard of before!  We came home with some potatoes and baby Pak Choy!  We returned via Philly’s house to swap vehicles as Clive didn’t fancy the idea of driving into Auckland on Saturday with Lindz in the back of the van, its not really safe and certainly can’t be legal!  So I got the chance to drive Philly’s lovely little Mini Cooper S convertible home to Ness Valley!


Next instalment very soon – I promise!










January 26th 2011 - Wanganui

Posted by clivenmel on 26 January, 2011 at 15:13

23rd January 2011 – The weather didn’t improve at all today! In fact if anything it got worse! The rain continued to lash the campsite and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the wind got up as well! Fortunately all the standing water around the campsite gradually soaked into the ground and the puddles finally disappeared. At least that meant we could go to the loo without being ankle deep in water!!  So very sensibly we decided to stay for another day!


Finally, late afternoon there was a lull and Clive and I took the opportunity to go for a walk down to see the beach.  Wrapped up in our waterproofs just in case!  Wow, what a beach!  Unfortunately it was shrouded in mist, or sea fret, or haar, or whatever the kiwis call it! The surf was pounding on the beach and there wasn’t a soul to be seen.  It is an amazing beach though, incredibly long and I am sure when the sun is shining it is fantastic. Well actually I know it is because my nephew Nick has told me so! 


Papamoa Beach in the mist!


On the way back from the beach we called at the home of one of Nick and Sam’s friends.  In fact it was where they stayed for their last week in New Zealand after they had handed the keys to their house over.  Unfortunately their friends weren’t in, however a young Austrian lady who was looking after their cat just happened to come around the corner as we were ringing the doorbell and she told us they were away for a few days.  We left her our card with a message to call us.  The reason for our visit was that my great niece, Molly, had left her favourite silver sandals in their garden and we were hoping to pick them up and bring them home for her.


The rain started again so we hurried back to the campsite and hunkered down in the campervan for another night of wind and rain!


24th January 2011 – The rain has finally stopped, well almost, it was kind of like a heavy mist, just sort of damp!  The Scots have a wonderful word for weather like this, its “dreich” (pron. dreekh, the kh as in loch!).  We got everything stowed away and headed out of the campsite but we decided before leaving Papamoa Beach that we really had to go and see Torbin Place, where Nick, Sam and the children used to live.  We found Torbin Place but couldn’t find their house, No 9!  We knocked on the door of No 4 as we knew that Nick and Sam’s very good friends and neighbours, Raewyn and Jason lived there with their two children Eden and Harrison.  They were in and delighted that we had called and insisted that we stay for coffee. They are really missing Nick and Sam and I know that they in turn are being sorely missed too.  We hit it off with them instantly and Jason and Clive discovered something they have in common, their love of English comedy!  Now I am not talking alternate comedy here, I’m talking Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies, Eric Sykes etc etc.  Now as it happens Clive got a DVD for Christmas from Lindsey; The Morcambe and Wise shows!  Jason was ecstatic!  He suggested that we should call back at Papamoa Beach on our way back from South Island in a few weeks time so that we can stay with them and have a comedy night! We’re definitely up for that and are looking forward to it already! 


Jason, Raewyn, children Eden and Harrison and their friend Camrin


We finally tore ourselves away with a promise to return and headed off to our next destination – Rotorua!


We arrived in Rotorua mid afternoon and decided to have a look around the town.  We were here back in 2000 and really enjoyed our stay but things have changed quite a bit since then.  We parked the van and went for awalk around town.  There is the most amazing building here, which is now the Rotorua Museum but is actually quite old and was originally the first bath house built to accommodate all the Victorians who travelled here to “take the waters”! 


Rotorua's Museum


The area around the museum is known as The Government Gardens and there are several bowling greens situated in front of it and a pavilion for the Rotorua Bowling Club. As we were walking down the avenue from the museum we noticed two guys looking a little non-plussed and gazing at a large rectangular pond.  We then realised that said pond was in fact a flooded bowling green!!  We stopped and had a chat with them, they have quite a challenge ahead as at the weekend there is a bowling tournament and they need all their bowling greens so the fact that this one was six inches under water was not good!  We noticed another guy across the other side of the flooded green plunging a rod up and down in one of the gratings trying to free it and get the green to drain. We wished them luck and carried on with our stroll!  The thing that sets Rotorua apart from other towns is that there are steaming, bubbling pits dotted about in random spots.  The aroma of rotten eggs is constantly in the air as the sulphur laden steam permeates the town, its quite amazing!


Bubbling, steaming vent in the centre of town!


Clive decided he fancied a pint!  I remembered the last time we were in Rotorua, when Vicki was with us, that we went to a pub and I recalled sitting outside in a sort of beer garden.  I mentioned it to Clive but couldn’t remember what it was called, however I was sure there was a pig connection!  I had a vague idea which street it was on and we headed up there, sure enough there it was, The Pig and Whistle!  What a memory I have!  So we nipped in and had a drinky poo then headed off to find a campsite. We soon found one on the shores of Lake Rotorua and got ourselves booked in but then we nipped back up the road to a Chinese takeaway we had spotted earlier.  Ooh it was lovely food and made a nice change from salad!


We allowed our dinner to settle for an hour or so then got changed into our togs and took advantage of the free mineral pools on the campsite.  There were three of them.  Two round ones under cover, one was about 36 degrees and was very pleasant, which we spent quite a while in, we then went over to the rectangular pool which was actually open to the stars, except we couldn’t see them cos it was cloudy!  It was marginally cooler than the first one.  We stayed in a few minutes then went back to the round ones and decided to try the other pool – flipping heck it was hot!  It was more like 40 degrees!  We didn’t stop in that one very long, it was just too hot!  We had another few minutes in the pleasantly warm pool then headed back to the van and bed, glowing all over!


25th January 2011 – After breakfast I went off to the kitchen block to wash the pots, when I got back I found Clive feeding the birds – not just any birds, Pukekos!! They were sooooooooooo funny!  He was also feeding a little hoard of Sparrows and was throwing crumbs to them, which the Pukekos were chasing after, their feet are so huge they really don’t run well at all.  If ever a bird fell out of a cartoon it was the Pukeko!


Hungry Pukekos!


We left Rotorua behind and headed off on the road to Taupo but on the way we realised we were passing the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve.  No visit to Rotorua is complete without exploring one of the thermal valleys so we decided we just couldn’t pass this one by.  We have actually been to it before, back in 2000 but were really looking forward to seeing it all again.  Unfortunately we had missed the opportunity to see the Lady Knox Geyser blowing her stack, as that happens at 10.15am daily and by this time it was after 11.00am!  However we had a wonderful time, even though it was still drizzling a bit.  We didn’t bother with waterproofs, it was too warm, we just got damp! 


These thermal parks are just amazing, you are very, very close to Mother Earth here and realise just how powerful and unpredictable she can be!  One of the most impressive sights is The Champagne Pool.  This occupies a sinter lined 700 year old explosion crater which is steep sided and 62 metres deep, water enters the pool through a deep conduit at a temperature of about 200 degrees C and cools within the pool to about 74 degrees C with a pH of 5.4.  The water then flows over a flat area known as The Artist’s Palette (due to the different coloured mineral pools on its surface) towards sinter terraces, the temperature then drops to about 15 degrees C and the pH increases to about 7.6.  The gas bubbles rising to the surface are carbon dioxide and the orange coloured edge contains arsenic and antimony sulphur compounds rich in minerals including gold and silver.  Unfortunately I can’t show you a photo of the whole Champagne Pool as it was shrouded in mist!


Champagne Pool - can you see the bubbles?


We also saw steaming, bubbling craters of graphite mixed with crude oil, lakes of lurid green, turquoise and grotty looking grey which did not look very pleasant and one pool, The Devil’s  Bath, which was the most bilious of yellows!  A couple asked Clive if he would take their photograph in front of it, so we asked them to reciprocate!   


Clive and I with the Devil's Bath in the background!


Whilst we were peering into one of the weirdly bubbling craters my NZ mobile phone rang!  It turned out to be Sandra, Nick and Sam’s friend in Papamoa Beach – she had found Molly’s silver sandals -  hooray!  I have now contacted Raewyn who is going to collect them from Sandra and we will pick them up on our return to Papamoa Beach in a few weeks time so we can take them back to England with us.  I just hope Molly’s feet haven’t grown too much since last October when she left her shoes in New Zealand!!


All in all Waiotapo Valley was a wonderful experience topped off by a visit to the fabulous shop at the visitor centre, where they sell wonderful New Zealand arts, crafts, souvenirs and clothing at very reasonable prices.  We bought ourselves some lovely new tee shirts to replace the ones we bought here ten years ago and are still wearing!  Maybe we could discard the old ones now, they are getting a bit long in the tooth!!  We also popped into the café for some refreshments before heading off once more, this time for Lake Taupo.  We had one last call to make though before hitting the main road, we couldn’t pass up a visit to The Mud Pool!  This is exactly as the title says, a pool of boiling, bubbling mud – it’s awesome!  Every now and again one spot in the mud lake will suddenly swell up and explode in a shower of boiling mud, the fun part is trying to capture it on camera as it happens.  I did manage to catch a few.  Here’s one, there will be more in the gallery.


Exploding mud!


It was quite a long drive from Rotorua, a good couple of hours in fact.  We finally arrived and went straight to a Top 10 campsite and got ourselves booked in for the night.  It was a brilliant site, probably the best we have been to.  The facilities were fantastic, very clean and very modern. We had dinner then settled down for the night, we were quite tired really.


26th January 2011 – we were up bright and early this morning, before 8.00am in fact! As soon as we had had breakfast and tidied up we headed off to have a look around the town of Taupo.  We also stopped off in a lakefront café for a coffee and it was very pleasant indeed just sitting there looking out over the fabulous lake.


The awesome thing about Lake Taupo is the fact that it is actually a huge collapsed volcanic crater, a caldera.  As far as we know this last erupted around 700 years ago but it was the previous eruption around 181 AD that created the caldera and was reputedly the largest volcanic explosion within the last 5000 years!  I have to say here, one does actually take one’s life in one’s hands when visiting New Zealand, after all the whole of North Island is basically a volcano, or lots of them in fact!!  Travelling through the country this is in evidence everywhere!  Then of course there are the earthquakes!  We are heading to South Island in a couple of weeks and the last we heard Christchurch is still shaking! It had another quake of 5.1 on the Richter scale just last week – eek!


After our coffee we set off once more and took the road which runs adjacent to the East shore of the lake.  We pulled off at a picnic spot half way downto look back at Taupo itself, the view was stunning.  The shore of the lake is strewn with rocks and I picked a familiar looking one up and sure enough it was pumice!  I took it with me and it is now in my sponge bag!


Clive on the shores of Lake Taupo


Finally we left the lake behind and started climbing up into the Tongariro National Park.  This is the high country of North Island where some of the highest volcanic peaks are situated, such as Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngaurohoe and the biggest of all, Mt Ruapehu, which is just under 2,800 metres and which last erupted as recently as September 1995!  Unfortunately Ruapehu’s peak was shrouded in cloud today and we couldn’t really see it!  After climbing for some tim we stopped off again at a view point and had an absolutely stunning view of the whole of Lake Taupo, just had to take some more photos!


Stunning view of Lake Taupo

We stopped to make some sandwiches and have a cuppa in National Park Village.  This place has lots of bars and café’s and booking offices for various activities including what they call “crossings”, these are guided walks through the National Park taking in the passes through the volcanoes – we’re not quite up to that really!  At the junction near where we parked was the most awesome piece of sculpture I think I have ever seen! It is totally made from pieces of  “driftwood” and is absolutely incredible and perfect down to the last detail!


Driftwood Kiwi


We continued on our way after lunch but were totally unprepared for the amazing landscape we were to travel through over the next few hours.  Unlike anything we have ever seen before.  I mentioned earlier about North Island being one big volcano, well it was never more in evidence than in this part that we were travelling through. Conical hills, now grass covered, but with obvious slippage which forms ridges around the slopes.  These are formed of volcanic ash which has been eroded by wind and water over the years into dramatic shapes.  The road was cut through these hills and it was obvious that over the last few days, following three days of very heavy rain, there have been numerous rockslides onto the road, which have now been cleared and several stretches of road were also under repair, again!  At the sites of many of these rockfalls water was still streaming down the rock face where it had undermined the top layer.  We were very alert to the possibility of dodging boulders bouncing down onto the road!  Talking of boulders, there was a lot of evidence in the cuttings of layers of volcanic ash from various different eruptions over the eons.  One layer in particular was heavily strewn with boulders of all sizes.  We also saw huge boulders in the fields at the side of the road which had obviously been spewed out and deposited miles away from some eruption or other in the dim and distant past! 


Boulders scattered around in the fields!


All in all it was fantastic experience and we hardly noticed how long the journey took from Taupo to Wanganui, in fact it turned out to be nearly three hours!


Approaching Wanganui (W pron. normally) we were travelling alongside the Whanganui (Wh pron. F) River and it is huge!  It is easily as wide as the River Thames is in places and by far the biggest river we have seen since our arrival in NewZealand!  We found our campsite and booked ourselves in then headed back into town to do a bit of shopping.  Wanganui has a lovely town centre, it is very elegant with lovely wide streets gracefully decorated with beautiful hanging baskets, it was really very pleasant indeed.  We also wanted to visit the Memorial Tower as it evidently boasts a fantastic view of Mt Ruapeho and more to the point Mt Taranaki!  We had caught a very distant, hazy glimpse of Mt Taranaki on the journey here, it is a classic conical volcanic cone and Clive was really excited about seeing it.  We finally found the monument, parked the van and climbed the 176 steps(!) to the top. The views from the top were awesome but imagine how disappointed we were when we discovered that somebody had nicked Mt Taranaki! It just wasn’t there!  However there was a bank of cloud stretching all across the horizon and obviously Mt Taranaki was hiding behind it!  We thought for a minute that David Blane had been here and done one of his amazing magic tricks!!  So we are now going to have to wait till we get to New Plymouth, which is at the base of Mt Taranaki and just keep our fingers crossed that the mist has cleared and the peak is visible! 


Watch this space…………………!

January 23rd 2011 - Papamoa Beach, Tauranga

Posted by clivenmel on 22 January, 2011 at 22:28

17th Jan 2011 – Hourhora Heads


When we woke up in the morning it was extremely overcast and drizzly and the hills were all shrouded in mist, it was like being in Scotland!  We decided to stay another day and relax for a bit.  Clive isn’t used to driving for hours every day anymore and the van, being extremely old, doesn’t have power steering! Also the driving position is very upright with short leg space so it’s a bit like driving a bus really! We therefore spent a leisurely day reading and relaxing.  The weather cleared up later and Clive went and sat outside with Philippa’s guitar and practised some songs.

Guitar man!

 18th Jan 2011 – it was very windy when we got up this morning and Clive was a bit concerned about driving the van in such high winds, it is a high sided vehicle when all said and done and does get blown around quite easily!  However, we decided to risk it and just take it slow.  It wasn’t as bad as we expected once we got back to the main road, the campsite was of course right on the beach so the weather there was coming straight off the sea, the roads inland were more sheltered. There were signs left by the high winds through the night though, the roads were covered in debris from trees, especially the Eucalyptus trees which lined the road, they were completely stripped of bark which was all over the road!  We turned off the main road at Kaitaia and soon passed Ahipara where we had stayed a few nights ago.  The countryside we were driving through was all very agricultural and flat, it reminded us quite a lot of the fens back home!  Eventually we arrived at a little place called Kohukohu where there is a ferry. Just as we were boarding the ferry it started to rain.  The ferry took us over a large inlet to a little place called Rewene.  This is quite an interesting place, not very big but quite old, one of the first settled areas in New Zealand.  There was a lovely little café at the water’s edge called The Boat Shed and we went in and had a lovely lunch. Clive had a bowl of Tom Yum soup and I had a whole flounder baked in tinfoil with Thai herbs and spices and croutons – very yummy indeed!  One of the interesting thing sabout the coastal areas around New Zealand is that there are Mangrove swamps!  There are small Mangrove trees in almost all the inlets and their periscope roots are everywhere.  They also drop little bright green pods which soon sprout and grow into young trees. Rewene was no exception and as the tide was out we could see tiny crabs scurrying around amongst the roots and then disappearing down little holes!

Mangrove roots

 After lunch we drove a little further up from the waterfront and followed the signs until we arrived at the Rewene Campsite.   By the time we had got settled in it was raining steadily so we just battened down the hatches and stayed in.  Well apart from the odd excursion to the loos and showers, which were very close by fortunately so we only got a bit damp!


19th Jan 2011 – the rain had all blown away but it was still rather overcast though by no means cold!  When Clive and I came to New Zealand on ourfirst trip back in 2000 our daughter Vicki was also here, she had come out in June 1999 on a temporary working visa for a year.  We had met up with her on our arrival and she and a friend of ours, Iain Hysom, toured around New Zealand for a couple of weeks together, staying in motels.  One of the places we visited, which I absolutely loved, was Omapere (pron.Oh-ma-pear-i) so we decided to stop off there for a coffee as it was on our way.  It was just as lovely this time except that unfortunately it was overcast instead of sunny.  I remembered that when we were here in 2000 Iain and I had an argument about where the sun was going to set!  I said we should be able to see the sunset as it would be over on our right but Iain said we wouldn’t as the sun would be setting over to our left behind the hills! I said he was talking rubbish as everybody knows the sun moves from left to right!  Of course I was wrong, I had forgotten that here in the Southern hemisphere the sun moves from right to left!  Its quite hard to get your head round that one!


After our coffee we continued on our journey, our destination being the Kauri forest.  A Kauri is an amazing tree which is only found in New Zealand.  When the first settlers arrived these trees were felled in their thousands and used for house buildin and making furniture, in fact just about everything was made from Kauri wood! Unfortunately they almost felled them into extinction and Kauri’s are now protected and can no longer be cut down. The only Kauri wood which can be used today is bog Kauri.  These are ancient trees which have fallen and been preserved in bogs over the centuries which have then been excavated.  The wood is still in excellent condition and can be used to make all sorts of things. You can buy Kauri souvenirs all over New Zealand.  In fact we have one on our boat at home from a previous visit, its really beautiful.


In this particular Kauri forest there are two very, very old trees and they are both huge!  One of them is Tane Mahuta, which means Lord of the Forest.  In the Maori cosmology: ‘Tane is the son of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuki, the Earth Mother.  Tane tore his parents apart, breaking their primal embrace, to bring light, space and air and allowing life to flourish.  Tane is the life giver.  All living creatures are his children’.  This tree is the largest living tree in New Zealand.  It is difficult to accurately estimate its age but it may be that Tane Mahuta sprang from a seed around 2000 years ago during the lifetime of Christ! Its dimensions are: Trunk height 17.7m; Total height  51.5m; Trunk girth13.8m; Trunk volume 244.5m(3)

Tane Mahuta - Lord of the Forest

(if you look close the little figure at the foot of the tree is Clive!)


The other tree is even older!  You come around a bend in the forest and there it is in front of you, it looks like a cliff face!  It’s name is Te Matua Ngahere, which means Father of the Forest.  This one is not as tall as Tane Mahuta but is wider.  Its dimensions are: Trunk height 10.21m; Total height 29.9m; Trunk girth 16.41m; Trunk volume 208.1m(3).  It obviously would have been even taller at one time but has lost a lot of its topmost branches.  They reckon this tree could be as much as 4000 years old!

Te Matua Ngahere - Father of the Forest


Whatever the size and age of these two trees you get a very strong feeling of emotion and awe being near them and knowing just how long they have been standing in this forest and what has happened in the world since their seeds first took root in the earth! You come away feeling rather puny and somewhat humbled.


The walk through this wonderful forest is just amazing.  It is sub-tropical of course so the vegetation is very diverse.  There are Kauri’s of all ages and sizes and like the Eucalyptus tree from Australia they are dimorphic.  Their leaves change completely when they reach a certain age/height so the young trees look quite different to the mature trees.  There are also Ponga’s, the native fern trees of New Zealand, these of course are quite primitive and date back to the age of the dinosaurs.  Then there are the flaxes and grasses amongst the trees and wonderful mosses and lichens. All in all it is a quite magical place made even more so by the wonderful songbirds like the Tui’s and Bellbirds.  We were quite sorry to leave and make our way back to the campervan!


We decided to have a spot of lunch and a cuppa before setting off again and whilst doing so another campervan arrived and parked up.  It looked exactly like the one we were in but was obviously from a hire company! I just had to go down and say hello to the English couple on board.  I discovered that it was the exact same Ford Econovan, it even had the same curtains as ours!  However it turned out to be even older – ours is a 1991 model theirs was 1989!  They said it ran very well and they had only had to have the AA out twice during the previous week!!


We set off once again any by now the clouds had lifted and the sun was coming out.  We had spotted a campsite in the book in a rather out of the way place but decided it might be worth the drive so we headed off for Tinopai. This place was right at the end of a peninsula which juts out into Kaipara Harbour, North of Auckland.   After travelling down little country roads for quite some time we finally arrived there.  It was lovely!  The campsite itself wasn’t one of the best in terms of facilities, which were all a wee bit spartan but the location was amazing.  Our pitch was almost on the beach!  However I have to say our campervan looked very tiny and rather ancient next to the three enormous, luxurious Phoenix Motorhomes that were parked next to us!  They were fitted out like luxury yachts with every gadget and gismo known to man, including huge flatscreen TVs and satellite dishes on the roofs!  Still, never mind they wouldn’t be able to get to all the places that our small but perfectly formed Ford Econovan can get to!!


The tide was out when we arrived but by the time we were going to bed it was fully in and the waves were lapping on the shore only a few yards from the back of the van.  The clouds had all disappeared and the moon came out, full.  It looked absolutely beautiful and made a lovely shining path across the waves.  We did manage to get some photos but they don’t really do it justice.


20th Jan 2011 – The tide was just on the turn when we got up and there were Oystercatchers all over the rocky beach.  Just before we left another bird arrived, this one was quite different and very beautiful.  It was a Pied Stilt, gorgeous.

Pied Stilt


We had to drive all the way back up to the top of the peninsula before rejoining the main road which headed back towards Auckland.  Our plan was to turn off onto a smaller route which went down the side of the Southern end of Kaipara Harbour.  We reached the junction and took the smaller road but after a while we were surprised that we didn’t seem to be getting any nearer to the sea, which we could see in the distance!  By this time the sun was on full beam and it was warming up!  We pulled over into scenic reserve car park and had a drink and a bite of lunch.  We had put the folding chairs outside expecting to enjoy our sarnies in the sunshine but it was just too hot! We had to take refuge in the van!  We set off again after lunch heading for a place on the East coast called Waiwera as we knew there was a campsite there adjacent to some hot springs.  We were rather surprised to find when we eventually met the main road again that we had somehow ended up South of Waiwera instead of North and we had to turn round and head back for a while till we finally got there!  We checked the map and realised that we must have missed the B road we had intended to take back at that junction and had taken a small back road instead!  It’s a good job we hadn’t broken down, we wouldn’t have had a clue where we were!!


Once again we had an incredible pitch at the Waiwera campsite, right next to the beach!  The tide was out when we arrived.  We decided to go for a stroll to ascertain where the hotpools were and in so doing we found a pub!  We went in with the idea of having a wee drinky poo and ended up staying for dinner!  The food was yummy!  After that we sauntered back to the van.  By the time we got back we had neighbours; a young English couple in a Spaceship! Remember I mentioned we had parked next to one of these incredible vehicles at a previous campsite.  We got chatting to the couple and they were quite happy for me to take some photos oftheir amazing campervan!  Then it was time to get into our togs and head for the hotpools.  We had a great time soaking in the hot mineral pools then it was back to the van and bed.  The tide was in when we got back and once again the full moon was making a silvery path across the waves.  Once in bed we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves rolling up the beach - lovely.


21st Jan 2011 – When we woke up in the morning the sight that greeted us was awesome! The tide was right in and the waves were breaking just the other side of the low wall at the rear of the campervan. We could lie in bed and watch the surf, it was incredible! 

Surf through the window!


We were quite sorry to leave there really!  The previous evening, whilst we were having dinner at the pub, I discovered I had lost a screw from my prescription sunglasses when one lens fell out!  So our first job today was to find an opticians to see if I could get them mended.  We had been reliably informed that there was one in Orewa, which was just a couple of miles South of Waiwera.  It didn’t take us long to get there and we drove around town until we spotted the Opticians on a corner.  We were just pulling over to the left in order to park outside the shop when the van engine cut out!  It wouldn’t restart, it turned over but wouldn’t restart! Oh dear!  We managed to push it into the kerb and park safely then Clive lifted up the front seats to get at the engine to see if he could see what the problem was – he couldn’t see anything obvious.  We had to call out Roadside Rescue!  I managed to get my glasses sorted out whilst we were waiting and soon after a big tow truck arrived.  Dennis, the driver, came and had a look as well and he said to Clive “its either spark or fuel”, which Clive had already deduced!!  Next thing, he connected a cable to the underside of the campervan and hauled her up onto the truck then we piled into the cab and he took us to a local garage only a couple of streets away.  The culprit turned out to be a broken spring on one of the points, very cheap and easy to fix thank goodness, so we were soon on our way again only about $80 dollars lighter.


We headed inland once again, this time we planned to break our journey at a place called Te Aroha as there was a campsite there advertising spa pools and free WiFi!  When we arrived were very disappointed!  Said pools were merely tepid and not very clean, we didn’t fancy them at all and to add insult to injury the WiFi was so poor that I couldn’t get a strong enough signal to get onto the internet on the laptop! Clive managed to get on line on his iPhone however so I did manage to make contact with the outside world on Facebook!  I was gutted really as I wanted to take the opportunity to do a blog, which would have made this one a lot shorter!!!  

I also decided to take advantage of their laundry facilities – big mistake!  The washing machine had a really weird programme setting and the whole thing ran on a metered electric supply.  I put $5 in the slot, selected the programme and set the machine going.  I went back a short time later and all the lights were flashing and it was beeping!  I made a few adjustments and set it going again.  I went to check it again and it was doing the same thing! I actually reset it four times then the power supply timed out and the washer was still full of water! I put $1 in the slot and advanced the machine to “spin”.  Finally I ended up with clean looking washing  but whether it was still full of soap or not I will never know!  I decided to save the drying until the following morning! I had toyed with the idea of hanging it out on the washing line but was very glad I didn’t as I woke up in the night to the sound of rain pounding on the roof!


22nd Jan 2011 – As soon as I got up I rushed over to the laundry and put the washing in the dryer.  We breakfasted and abluted whilst it was drying and then once it was dry, folded and put away we headed off once again.  Our next destination has a very special place in our hearts.  It is a small town called Matamata, which a few years ago was a sleepy, one-horse town surrounded by farmland.  What makes it special now, you ask?  A few miles from the centre of Matamata is a 1250 acre sheep farm owned by the Alexander family.  This farm was spotted from a helicopter back in 1998 and it was noted that there were rolling hills, a lake and a very strategically placed large tree!  It was the perfect place to become The Shire for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring sfilms!!  We went to visit this film set back in 2004, long after the filming had finished.  It is the only one of the LOTR film locations in New Zealand which had been left with some vestiges of the set.  All the hobbit holes were still in place but with no frontages, which had been made of polystyrene!  There were just white boards with openings for doors and windows.  I took Clive’s photo in what was once Bag End, Bilbo’s home! 


We had decided to go back to Matamata on this trip to find out if anything had changed since our last visit. We didn’t want to bother doing the trip again if it was all the same as before.  We arrived in the town centre, which had grown considerably since our last visit! There were many more shops, coffee bars and restaurants and a wonderful new all singing all dancing public conveniences, the best public conveniences I have ever been in!  We found the Hobbiton booking office and went in to have a word. We were informed that the whole site on the Alexander’s farm has been rebuilt ready for the filming of The Hobbit to start next month!  The tickets were $66 each – a bit steep but we thought what the heck, we might as well, its only money!!  Well, it turned out to be the best $66 we’ve ever spent!  The new Hobbiton is absolutely awesome!  All the hobbit holes have been rebuilt with some extra ones, there are now 40 of them! The new Bag End is huge and looks fantastic.   It is big enough for them to actually film inside it this time, not just in the studio.  They have rebuilt the bridge over the lake and the Green Dragon Inn and the old mill too.  It all looks totally real!  Also, as Clive and I are both under 5’ 5” we can officially be classed as Hobbits!  The other thing that has changed from last time is that they have used robust materials to build the whole set this time.  Not just plasterboard with polystyrene fronts but metal frames, concrete etc etc.  All the little stone walls are built with what look like real stones but which are in fact moulded concrete “stones” which have been painted to look realistic. But the best news of all; it is understood that it is all going to remain after the filming is completed, so the tours of Hobbiton from the little town of Matamata in the heart of New Zealand, will continue for many years to come and the Alexander’s farm will now always be a part of Middle Earth.


Unfortunately, we had to sign a confidentiality agreement before embarking on the trip to Hobbiton and therefore our lips are sealed and we can’t post any photos yet, even though I took over 80!

On the way back from Hobbiton we stopped off at the Wool Shed, still on the Alexander's farm, where we were treated to a demonstration of sheep shearing and Clive got the opportunity to bottle feed a young lamb - bless!

Clive feeding a young lamb


We returned to reality and the campervan and set off once more, this time heading for Tauranga on the East Coast in the Bay of Plenty.  My nephew Nick, his wife Sam and their three children, Jamie, Molly and Daniel, have been living here for the past five years, in fact Daniel was born here. They have just recently returned to the UK for an extended holiday of about two years but they plan to return to New Zealand in February 2013.  They only returned to the UK in October and are already missing their Kiwi life terribly – I’m not surprised, it is such a wonderful country and a great place to raise a young family.  I hope they realise their dream and get back here very soon. 


We arrived in Papamoa Beach, Tauranga late yesterday afternoon and got ourselves settled into the campsite.  It turns out we are very close indeed to where Nick, Sam and the kids used to live. So much so that Nick has asked if we would call in at the house of one of their friends to see if Moll left her ballet shoes there!  We haven’t been able to do that yet as shortly after we arrived here the heavens opened!  It has been raining solidly all through the night and all day so far.  It is just now beginning to ease up but it is very, very windy!  The very heavy rain has diminished to a fine drizzle and all the puddles in the camp ground are beginning to dry up.  We had no problems during the night, well apart from having to slosh through the puddles under an umbrella to go for a pee and returning to the van very damp with wet feet - yeuch!!  Others have not been so lucky – several campers were bailing out their tents this morning after being deluged during the night – poor things!  Evidently the terrible weather conditions that Australia has been experiencing have wandered their way across to New Zealand and we are now getting the tail end of one of the tropical cyclones that caused all the flooding over there!  Fortunately the weather is due to pick up over the next couple of days – she says hopefully!


Sorry this was a bit like War and Peace! It wouldn’t have been if I had had chance to do a blog a few days ago! Will try and keep it shorter next time – promise! Its also the second time I've posted this blog, the WiFi timed out and I lost it all! Sorry there aren't many photos either, I haven't much download left!






January 16th 2011 - Houhora Heads, Northland

Posted by clivenmel on 16 January, 2011 at 16:08

Wednesday January 12th


We reluctantly left our spectacular view behind at Ruakaka and headed off on the next leg of our journey to Whangerei.  It wasn’t a very long journey and only took us about an hour.  We managed to find a one hour parking spot in town, locked up the van and headed off to search for a Vodafone shop.  It wasn’t long before we found one – there seems to be at least one in every town here!  After a quick chat with the young lady in the shop she sorted us out with a very basic Pay As You Go phone with a $20 top-up, which should see us OK for a while.  It has one advantage, we can phone any land-line in the UK for up to 60 minutes for only $2 – you don’t get rates like that at home!


Happily clutching our new phone we headed back to the van and set off to find a better parking spot. We eventually found a carpark that was actually free!  We managed to find a spot that was under the shelter of trees as well, which was excellent as it was extremely hot and sunny and we didn’t want the van to heat up too much as the fridge was running on battery and we weren’t sure how long that would last!!


We had a lovely walk round Whangerei and ended up sitting outside an Irish pub (as you do!) supping a pint.  After that we found our way to the marina and whiled away the time looking at all the lovely yachts, Clive getting all wistful – he dreams of sailing around the world in a yacht, bless him!  Finally we headed back to the van and made our way to the campsite, which was a couple of miles outside town.  It was an excellent campsite, no spectacular view this time but the facilities were very good indeed.  We got chatting to the couple on the next pitch to ours, they were from England too. What we found amazing was what they were travelling in – its called a Spaceship!  Its basically a Toyota MPV which has been modified into a sort of campervan.  It had an awning which fastened on the back of the tailgate thereby extending the vehicle by about three feet.  The back seats all fold down and form a double bed!  Under this is loads of storage space, including a fridge!  There is also an awning which fits onto the side of the vehicle to increase the space even more.  All in all it is a fantastic piece of kit and there are quite a lot of them touring around New Zealand.

Whangerei Campsite


The following day, Thursday January 13th, after breakfast and another chat with our next door neighbours, we said goodbye to Whangerei and headed North.  A couple of hours later we arrived at the Bay of Islands, which is exactly what the name suggests!  We got the ferry from Opua over to Russell, which was once the first capital of New Zealand.  We have been to Russell before, on our first trip to New Zealand in 2000 and we like it very much.  We parked the van and went for a wander around the town (it doesn’t take long, its quite small!).  It was lunchtime and we were both rather peckish so we decided to have fish and chips! We sat outside the chippy and ate them out of the paper along with quite a few other tourists, they were delicious! 


After our lunch we used the new mobile phone to contact a holiday camp to see if they had room for us, they did and we were told that the camp was only five minutes outside the town centre so we decided to go and get the van settled in then head back into town to do some exploring.  Once again the campsite had excellent facilities but alas no view!  We headed back into town and Clive informed me he had spotted a pub earlier!  We soon found it and enjoyed a drink sitting outside in the sunshine.  After that we wandered down to the front and watched the boats for a while then had a stroll along the pier.  While we were at the far end of the pier we heard music, which at first I thought was coming from one of the tour boats but we soon realised it was coming from the shore and it wasn’t a recording, it was live!  We quickly walked back along the pier and soon found the source of the music, two guys were set up on the beach across the road from the Duke of Marlborough Hotel doing a grand job of entertaining the diners on the terrace.  We decided to stay and listen. 

Live music on the beach!

We managed to find a couple of seats and a table just across from the band and we stayed there for a couple of hours just enjoying the great music and the wonderful scenery, it was absolutely lovelyand we really didn’t want to leave!  I went down onto the beach to take a photo of the hotel, my photo included a couple sitting on a bench and as I was walking back up the beach the guy said he hoped he hadn’t cracked my lens! He and his wife were English and they spend six months every year in New Zealand touring in their campervan, the other six months they spend on their narrowboat Duke back in England!!  Isn’t that amazing!  We must have cruised right past their boat back in May last year when we were rushing to get through Braunston before the Historic Boat Festival started – they were actually there! Their boat, Duke, is a traditional narrowboat with a Lister engine and they go to the Braunston festival every year.  We will have to look out for them when we are on the canals again in the summer.  They also told us that a tuna had been landed and the boat that caught it was due in any minute to get it weighed in.  So I went for a walk with them down to the end of the pier to wait for it.  Before it arrived anoth boat came in and they had been catching crayfish.  Now crayfish at home in the UK are rather small creatures and you would need quite a few of them to make a meal, the ones they catch in New Zealand however are a different matter - they're huge! Actually the size of lobsters but you can tell the difference as they don't have any claws!

Huge crayfish!

The boat with the tuna finally arrived and I was very disappointed with the fish!  I was expecting something enormous but it was a mere 7 kgs!  Its claim to fame however is that it was the first one caught in the Bay of Islands this year!  I went back to find Clive and tell him all about it then finally we returned to the van and got settled down for thenight.  We are enjoying watching the latest season of House on our laptop before we go to sleep!


The next morning, Friday January 14th, we left Russell and headed for Kerikeri.  When we arrived we did a bit of shopping then drove to the campsite.  Once we had got settled in we  had a spot of lunch then went for a walk into town.  Kerikeri is a bit of a one-horse town and there wasn’t really a lot to see or do. We found a bar and sat outside watching the world go by for a little while then headed back to the van for the evening.  We had just got back and opened all the doors and windows to get some air into the van when the most beautiful cat sauntered over and jumped up into the van like he owned it! He spent quite some time exploring every nook and cranny then finally curled up under the table with the intention of going to sleep!  Clive had to shoo him out in the end!

The feline stowaway!


Saturday January 15th dawned hot and sunny once again.  We have been sooooooo lucky with the weather, its been absolutely incredible!  We had breakfast then packed everything away, we were just about to set off when the lovely cat arrived again and jumped inside. He promptly settled down under the table again and I honestly think he would have remained there and gone with us if Clive hadn’t physically pulled him out from under the table and ordered him to leave!  I would happily have adopted him, he was a really beautiful cat with the softest fur and the most beautiful blue eyes!


Finally we headed off once more, this time we would be leaving the East coast of Northland and heading across to the West coast.  On the way we decided to stop for a coffee in Doubtless Bay and found an idyllic spot at Cable Beach.  We were just about parked on the sand, it was absolutely fantastic. 

Beachside coffee break!

Whilst we were sitting drinking our coffee a car pulled up with some young people in it, they all dived out onto the beach and then one of them sauntered over and asked if I would take a photo of them.  I obliged, expecting them to want one taken with the view behind them – no, they wanted one with their car!  They turned out to be a group of Brazilian students, studying English here in New Zealand! 

We continued on our journey and soon arrived at Ahipura where we planned to stay the night.  We finally arrived at the campsite and once the van was on her pitch and plugged in we decided to go for a swim on 90 Mile Beach!  This beach really is awesome, I don’t think it is actually 90 miles long but its very long indeed, it just goes on and on and on, endless miles of fantastic beach with hardly a soul on it!  Just the occasional 4x4 and a few coaches racing each other down the beach to give the tourists a thrill!  The sand however, which is extremely fine, was very, very hot!  I was wearing flipflops and ended up doing a very strange dance trying to keep my feet from burning! We had a lovely swim, the waves were quite big but with nowhere near the strength of the surf we had encountered at Tawharanui last weekend.  Then it was back to camp and showers to get rid of all the sand and salt!


This morning, Sunday January 15th, we decided to make the trip up to Cape Rienga, just about the Northernmost spot in New Zealand.  It is right at the tip of a long finger of land pointing up from the top of New Zealand.  It took us two hours to make the drive but it was worth it.  The views we encountered over the last few miles were breathtaking and at Cape Rienga itself, awesome!  Cape Rienga is a very spiritual place for the Maori people of New Zealand.  It is said to be the place where the spirits of the dead leave to go back to their homeland.  It is also where two seas collide; the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, this causes some very strange currents and we could see swirls of sand being carried by these currents and forming circles, almost like the Koru, the new curl of a Ponga (fern tree) which symbolises new life for the Maori’s. All in all it was an amazing experience, we walked right out to the lighthouse and had to have our photo taken showing how many miles it is from London! Well, it had to be done!

Been there, done that, tick it off!


We eventually tore ourselves away from this amazing place and made our way back down the road.  We took a detour at one point back to 90 Mile Beach, which is on the East side of  the “finger” just to take some photographs.  They really don’t do it justice and cannot really show just how vast this beach really is.  What I think is wonderful is that unlike other beautiful beaches around the world this one is totally unspoiled, no highrise hotels and all the razzmatazz that goes with them, just a long, beautiful beach surrounded by huge sand dunes, its awesome.

                                    90 Mile Beach looking North

90 Mile Beach looking South                                   

We have ended up at yet another amazing place.  Houhoro Heads!  This is actually situated on the West side of the “finger” at the mouth of an estuary. We parked the van and plugged her in then went for a walk.  What we found was fantastic, the brightest, bluest water just begging us to go for a swim! So I took a few photos then we rushed back to the van to change into our togs and went for a swim.  It was very shallow and we had to walk out quite a way before we could actually swim.  Oh but it was lovely!  We were very hot and sticky after our long drive up to Cape Rienga and the water was blissfully cool and refreshing. 

Houhora Heads

As this campsite has WiFi access I decided it was a good opportunity to do a blog, the trouble is that we are now travelling daily and seeing so much that I could do with blogging more often but can only do it where there is reasonable WiFi access. This site has a good one that allows plenty of download over a three hour period.  Other sites offer a different WiFi which gives me unlimited time but limited download which will allow me to do emails and Facebook etc but won’t accommodate a blog and photographs!  Ah well, you can’t win ‘emall!!  Till next time………………



January 11th 2011 - Ruakaka Reserve

Posted by clivenmel on 11 January, 2011 at 0:36

Wednesday January 5th 2011 – Ness Valley - Lindsey had suggested that we go for a bush walk in the hills above Clevedon so after lunch we donned our walking boots and drove into Clevedon village and parked the van then headed for the hills!  We had an absolutely amazing time walking up through the native bush with our expert guide, Lindsey, pointing out the various trees and plants to us.  We were surrounded by birdsong and it was very tantalising catching a glimpse every now and again of a Tui or a Fantail, neither of which would sit still long enough for me to photograph!  It was quite steep in places and I was struggling a bit so Clive found me a couple of small branches to use as walking sticks and they made all the difference in the world – I’m going to have to buy myself a couple of those power walking sticks I reckon!!  !  I have to say it was rather disconcerting on the way up to be overtaken by extremely annoyingly fit people who were running up!!

Finally however we reached the top and then I realised that all the pain and effort had been really worth it as the view was awesome.  We could see Auckland in one direction and various bits of coastline in other directions and also back towards where Lindsey lives in Ness Valley, it was absolutely fantastic.


Auckland in the distance

We went back down a different route, this one was just a natural path whereas the ascent had a man made path and steps in many places.  Going down was even harder for me as my knees are rather arthritic and going down slopes makes them feel as if I have a screwdriver through each kneecap! However my two trusty walking sticks were a great help and I have to admit that without them I would have probably gone base over apex more than once! Clive and I both felt very satisfied after our walk to the top and back but also absolutely cream crackered!!! It was by a unanimous vote that we agreed to call in at The Clevedon Hotel (the local pub!) for a very well earned pint or two and, unusual for me, I had two pints of lager, not my usual tipple at all!!


Thursday January 6th - We were up at the crack of dawn as we had booked tickets on the ferry from Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi, an island about an hour’s cruise from Auckland which has been turned into a predator free bird sanctuary.  We have been before, ten years ago in fact in January 2000 on our first visit to New Zealand.  It is an incredible place which now that there are no longer possums; cats; dogs; rats; mice; weasels etc etc the native birds have flourished.  Some have been introduced to the island from other sanctuaries and some have found their own way there.  Once again we trecked through the bush surrounded by the calls of Bell Birds, Tui’s and Kakapo’s and it was wonderful.  My camera was working overtime I can tell you, however all these New Zealand birds are very elusive and it is not always easy to photograph them, more often than not you end up with either a silhouette or a blurr! Nevertheless I did manage to get some decent photos of many of them and will put them in the gallery. 


One species of bird on Tiri is very special indeed, the Takahe.  There are 12 of these birds on Tiri but there are only about 200 in existence altogether, making it one of the rarest birds on the planet!  We arrived at the Visitor Centre after our bush walk and picked up the rucksack, which had been ferried up there on the Ranger’s truck, then made our way to the picnic area to have our packed lunch.  We were absolutely delighted when Greg, a 17 year old Takahe, arrived to join the picnickers, he wandered about under the tables, through people’s legs, sticking his beak into bags in the hope of finding a crumb or two but we had been given very strict instructions – all bags must be zipped up, all boxes sealed and nothing left out for Greg to grab!  The simple fact is that some foods could kill him – Takahe’s live on grass!! 

Clive admiring Greg the Takahe!

After all the excitement Lindsey and I went to explore the shop in the Visitor Centre – she bought herself a book on rare New Zealand birds and animals, I bought myself a lovely tee shirt with a Tui on it!  Then it was time to make our way back down to the jetty to catch our return ferry to Auckland.


Friday January 7th - We decided it was time to get ourselves organised for our forthcoming “holiday”.  Lindsey and I left Clive at home and went off to the supermarket to stock up on food to take with us and also in preparation for dinner that evening, we were having a barbecue as Philly and Ann were coming over. They duly arrived in the campervan and Philly gave Clive a guided tour, showed him where everything was and gave him some instructions on how various things worked. We had a great barbecue and ate out on the decking being rewarded with yet another wonderful sunset.

Another glorious sunset!


Saturday December 8th - we were up early in the morning as we had quite a bit to do before we could set off on our travels. We sorted all our clothes out and decided what was going with us and what was to remain at Lindsey’s.  The campervan is small but perfectly formed and there isn’t a huge amount of space but Philly had got some wire baskets for clothes storage and these fit perfectly into a space above the cab.  They were soon filled with our clothes and stowed away. We managed to squeeze the guitar and the flute on board as well – well we can’t go anywhere without music can we! 


We couldn’t set off until late morning as Lindsey was expecting a couple of friends to call around 10.30am, they were coming to collect some stick insects for their garden! Graham and Rogan arrived on the dot, complete with a delicious cake, which Rogan had baked that morning!  So after introducing Graham to his new wee beasties we sat and had coffee and cake on the decking.  Once they had left it was time for off!


It had been decided that Lindsey would come with us for a couple of days as she wanted to show us a nature reserve which she has been involved with.  Radar couldn’t come with us as no dogs are allowed so he went to stay at Philly’s.  We finally set off, Clive and I in the campervan and Lindsey in her Caddy van. The campervan only sleeps two so she had cleared out the back of her van, packed pillows and a sleeping bag and a change of clothes and that was that.  We managed to set off around 12.30pm.  We arrived at Tawharanui (pron.Tar-far-a-noo-i) in good time and decided to go for a swim before we did anything else!  The beach there is fantastic and the surf is incredible!  We had a wonderful swim in the pounding surf laughing and giggling like kids as we were tumbled around and bowled over by the huge waves, it was great fun. 

Huge waves!

When we had had enough we headed back to the vehicles and changed back into our clothes. All we needed now was somewhere to stay! We had phoned a couple of campsites nearby but they were all full! One guy had suggested we head to a place called Snells Beach as there is a car park there where campervans can stay for a maximum of two nights.  We soon found it and got settled in for the night, very tired, covered in salt but quite content!  We made a salad for tea, had a Speights each (NZ beer!) and spent an hour or so doing a huge crossword together then Lindsey retired to her van and we made up our bed in the campervan.  We were very fortunate as the car park also had a public conveniences!


Sunday January 9th - again we were up bright and early, so were the dog walkers and the joggers!  A lot of people stopped to chat, asked where we were from and where we were going etc it was almost like being at home on the boat! Lindsey emerged from her van after I presented her with a cup of tea, amazingly she had slept very well, better than she has in her own bed for quite some time! She’s contemplating sleeping in her van when she gets  home!


After breakfast we headed back to Tawharanui again, this time to do a bush walk.  The special thing about this place is that it is on a peninsula and this has enabled the conservationists to put a huge predator proof fence across to cut it off from the mainland – it’s a bit like Jurassic Park! This has formed a similar sanctuary to Tiritiri Matangi as once again with the predators eradicated the native birds and reptiles can thrive in the safe environment.  As with Tiri some species have been introduced from other places but the Bell Birds have found their own way there and the bush was ringing with their wonderful song.  Again we had an incredible time walking through the bush.  There are many ancient trees which have fallen over time and these lie there looking like amazing works of art, I just couldn’t resist photographing them. 

Fallen trees make a natural work of art!

Once again the Fantails were driving me mad!  They are so inquisitive and sooooooooooo tame, they fly very close, landing on twigs so that you could reach out and touch them but they will NOT sit still! They flit from twig to twig and make it very hard to photograph them, however I did eventually manage to get a couple of decent shots!

A Fantail at last!


After our walk we headed back to the beach for another swim but the surf was much higher than the previous day, the huge waves were unrelenting.  We would struggle to get out far enough to catch the waves before they broke then one would break early and sweep us back in again where we were pounded by the surf.  It was great fun but absolutely exhausting!  We had soon had enough and headed back to the vans to get dry.  Then it was time for Lindsey to head back to Auckland – she had to return to work on Monday!  We said our goodbyes then went our separate ways.  Lindsey returned to Ness Valley , we to Snell’s Beach carpark.  Besides the public conveniences there was also a shower, albeit an outdoor one for the people coming up from the beach to use.  I was covered in dried on salt and my hair felt like a Brillo pad so I had to bite the bullet and have a rather cool shower in my swimsuit in a public carpark!  It certainly did the trick though, I felt so much better once the salt was washed off.  Clive followed my example and did the same.  We had tea, finished off the crossword then called it a night and hit the sack!


Monday January 10th - Again we were up bright and early and after breakfast we set off to Matakani to see if we could find a garage! I hadn’t mentioned that we were having a spot of bother with the campervan!!  The Britton’s campervan is a 1991 Ford Econovan, as I mentioned it is small and perfectly formed but is getting a little long in the tooth!  We had been reliably informed that although it was getting on a bit it still ran as sweet as a nut!  However this did not turn out to be the case at all, it was far from well! Clive was struggling to keep the engine going, every time we stopped at a junction it stalled, every time we went up hill it was struggling in second gear, no, definitely not well!  We managed to find a garage and the nice mechanic, Justin, said he would take a look at it and get it sorted for us.  Just leave it with me and come back after lunch, he said – that was at 10.30am!  So we went for a walk down to the river and sat and read our books for a while, then we headed back into town and had a leisurely lunch in a great pizza place called the Rusty Pelican!  Finally we headed back to the garage – when we got there we were informed that the distributor cap was cracked badly, the petrol filter needed replacing and so did the condenser!  As the bits were all fairly cheap Justin had gone ahead and ordered them, he told us he was expecting them within the hour and suggested we went off and entertained ourselves for the afternoon and come back later, so we went to the cinema! We saw a great film called Morning Glory starring Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdam, which we really enjoyed.  The cinema itself was amazing, the whole ceiling was made up of paper flowers and there were silk birds; Tui’s and Fan Tails amongst them and hanging from the walls! It was called “The Paradiso” cinema!  When we got back to the garage the work was finished and we were back on the road again, the campervan was now running sweet as a nut!


We still needed to find somewhere to stay for the night and the young apprentice at the garage suggested Goat Island so we headed off there.  It didn’t take too long to get there and fortunately there was room for us to stay.  We got a nice spot too with a lovely view. 

A room with a view!

The Goat Island campsite is a typical Kiwi campsite designed with backpackers in mind.  There is a big indoor kitchen area where you can cook a meal and wash up afterwards, there was a TV room, table football machines, lots of sofas and chairs etc then there was the outside area, a huge campfire with lots of seating all around and picnic tables.  There was also a children’s play area with two huge trampolines for them to play on. There were also loos and showers, all included in the price.  We had a nice salad for tea then made the bed up, got all tucked up and watched the first two episodes of House on the laptop as we had power!! 


Tuesday January 11th - We woke bright and early again this morning and after breakfast headed down to the beach.  Goat Island is a protected marine reserve and people come from all over to snorkel in the shallow waters in order to see all the wonderful fish and other marine life that live in these protected waters. We did the same.  We were in the sea by 10.00am!  We had a lovely swim, the only trouble is at the moment we only have one snorkel, which we borrowed from Lindsey!  So Clive used it first and spent quite a while swimming around watching the fish, I just enjoyed swimming around.  Then it was my turn to use the snorkel and it really was great watching the fish, sometimes so close you could touch them.  Finally we had had enough so we made our way back up to the car park, had another cool, outdoor shower to get rid of all the salt then got dressed in the van. 


We headed off again with the intention of camping at a place called Waipo Cove, however when we got there they were full!  It is the summer holidays after all!!  We are at a bit of a disadvantage at the moment as we haven’t got a cell phone we can use here. However we are hopefully going to sort that out when we get to Whangerei (pron. Fang – a – ray) where there should be a Vodafone shop!  Anyway, we were given some suggestions as to where we might stay and finally ended up at Ruakaka Reserve and were delighted to find they had a space for us, with power and WiFi.  We followed the map to our spot and were absolutely blown away by the most fantastic view – I actually think we have got the best spot on the campsite, its awesome!

Fabulous pitch at Ruakaka Reserve campsite - what a view!


That’s all for now folks, sorry its such a long one!  As we are now travelling and there is more to report on I will try and blog whenever we have WiFi available – watch this space!



January 5th 2011 - Ness Valley

Posted by clivenmel on 4 January, 2011 at 18:06

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! Here's to a happy, prosperous and healthy 2011 to one and all!

So, what's been happening since the last blog?  Well after I had posted it on 27th  December Lindsey, Clive and I headed off to Auckland's Botanic Gardens with Radar and Phillipa's lovely dog, Saffy.  We had a wonderful day exploring the gardens and seeing all the wonderful plants that grow there, it was a lovely experience. Fortunately it was a little overcast initially so it wasn't too hot but the sun came out later in the afternoon, it was a good job we were well slathered with sun tan lotion!!  I took a lot of photos and some of them will be in the gallery. 

Whilst we were walking amongst the trees at one point Lindsey noticed an Australian Magpie take off from one of the trees and then she spotted what it had left behind, a fluffy fledgeling! He sat there in his tree and watched us and posed beautifully for the camera!

Young Australian Magpie

All in all it was a really lovely day out and we all enjoyed it very much, especially Radar and Saffy!

The next day, December 28th it was raining! It actually rained all day and then finally brightened up in the early evening.  We piled into the van, Lindsey driving, me in the passenger seat and poor Clive in the back of the van on the cushion again with the dogs!  The plan for the evening was to head over to Phillipa's and drop the dogs off, go out for dinner in Auckland then on to the Arts Cinema to see The Disappearance of Alice Creed.  We drove to Clevedon where Mary was waiting for us, parked Lindsey's van and transferred to Mary's car for the journey to Howick, where Philly lives then we headed into the city.  We had a great meal in the Tapas bar and thoroughly enjoyed the film in a tiny little cinema with room for about 16 people and a screen not much bigger than a large flat screen TV, it was quite an experience!  As Philly and Ann were heading off in the campervan the following day for about a week Ann had very kindly offered us the loan of her RAV 4 whilst they were away, we were very grateful to her as it meant that Clive wouldn't have to ride in the back of the van!  So we drove back to Lindsey's in the RAV.

December 29th dawned warm and reasonably sunny so we decided to go out for the day.  We packed a picnic and folding chairs and headed off to the Tapapakanga Regional Park.  We found a lovely spot under the Pohutakawa trees looking out to sea and had our picnic.  The beach there was quite stony and pebbly so we decided not to go swimming there and after we had finished our picnic we packed everything up and headed back to the car.  Some years ago Auckland Regional Council put "picture frames" in various places of natural beauty and there are quite a few of them still around.  There was one overlooking the beach so I made use of it!


Pretty as a picture!

We headed off around the coast and had a lovely drive, stopping off at the Miranda Shorebird Centre for a browse around the shop, then we continued on to the Miranda Hot Pools!  We had all brought our swimsuits with us (or togs as the kiwis call them!) and we were soon ready for a swim.  On entering the complex you see a large swimming pool, it looks quite normal, nothing out of the ordinary, until you step into it, it is really, really hot! I'm talking hot bath kind of hot! The water is not heated by any man made means, it is all geothermally heated, in otherwords we're talking volcanoes here!!!  We had a great time swimming in the wonderfully hot, mineral rich water.  It makes your skin feel all silky soft.  There is also another pool which is called The Sauna, which Lindsey and I tried but it really was too hot and we couldn't stay in for more than a few minutes without feeling as if we were being boilled alive!!  On the way back home from Miranda Lindsey just happened to mention that we were about to pass a renowned fish and chip shop - that did it, Clive (who was driving) immediately pulled over into the car park, forget the salad tea we were planning he fancied fish and chips!  They were awesome!!  The fish was absolutely divine, not your average cod or haddock but a lovely New Zealand fish called a Tarakihi. The chips were pretty good too!!

The next day, December 30th was overcast but very warm.  We decided to go off on another expedition, this time to Piha Beach (pron. peehaa).  This beach is a surfers paradise as the waves are really quite big.  It is also quite a dangerous beach as there is a strong undertow and several people have been swept away and drowned and lots of people have needed rescuing!  There are flags on the beach showing where you are allowed to swim when the Lifeguards are on duty.

Piha beach

As you can see the sand here is very dark, that is because it is volcanic!  We had a great time beachcombing and walked the full length of the beach.  There were some strange bugs on the beach, which I photographed and you can see some of these in the gallery.  We did paddle and the sea was really warm, I would have liked a swim but didn't have my togs with me this time!  There were also great clumps of some kind of kelp on the beach and Lindsey grabbed the end of one and pulled and pulled and pulled till she had it stretched out to its full length - it really was long!

Really long seaweed!

The next day was December 31st, New Year's Eve!  It was absolutely glorious when we got up so we decided not to waste it, packed a picnic, packed our togs and headed off to Maraetai Beach.  There was a good reason for going there, we had been reliably informed that there was going to be an air display on Waiheke Island, which is directly opposite Maraetai!  Well we sat and ate our picnic and waited and waited and waited!  In the end we gave up and went swimming.  The water was a bit chilly at first but once you were in it was absolutely lovely!  We even to Radar in for a swim but I don't think he was very impressed!  He swam straight back to the beach and wouldn't come in again!  It was very hot at the beach and although we had put suntan lotion on we still ended up getting a little crozzled!

It was soon time to head back home to get ready for the evening's festivities.  We had been invited to a New Year's Eve party at the home of a friend of Lindsey's who is also called Lindsey!!  We had also been asked to take our instruments with us to add to the entertainment.  We had a great time and just before midnight everyone went out onto the lawn and to a CD turned up really loud danced the Gay Gordons!  It was hilarious, everybody seemed to be doing a different stage of the dance all at the same time, it was total chaos but great fun!

Gay Gordons on the lawn!

(our hostess Lindsey is the lady in the middle in the black leggings)

So, goodbye 2010 hello 2011!  Can't believe how fast this year has gone!  It doesn't seem a whole year since we were celebrating New Year's Eve with our good friends Heather and Les Welch up in Nantwich when Lady Arwen was stuck in the frozen canal!!  It is certainly a very different story here in New Zealand!

We had a quiet day on New Year's Day but the following day we headed into Auckland, Lindsey had suggested (as we were all sunburned!) that we do something indoors so we went to an Art Gallery.  We spent an hour or so wandering around the gallery admiring some wonderful paintings of Maori people by two artists Gottfried Lindauer and Charles F Goldie.  They are the most incredible paintings, almost photographic.  After that we went down to the quayside and Clive found the shop where he had purchased his favourite pair of shorts back in 2000!  These shorts had the logo of the Americas Cup which was taking place at the time.  The shorts, which originally were navy blue, are now faded to almost beige and he most definitely needed a new pair!  The shop is now selling everything relating to the Rugby World Cup which takes place here in New Zealand in September.  Clive managed to find and identical pair of shorts to his old ones but this time with the Rugby logo on instead of the Americas Cup - he's delighted! With a bit of luck these will last for ten years too!  After buying his shorts we found a waterfront restaurant where we have been on a previous visit to New Zealand and ordered lunch.  We all decided to have the cheeseburger and fries but were staggered by the size of them when they arrived!!!


Needless to say we were all absolutely stuffed and didn't bother to have any tea when we got back!

The next day, January 4th, was Lindsey's birthday!  We had a lazy morning, Lindsey got quite a lot of phonecalls from all over the place from people wishing her a happy birthday!  Then we decided to go into Onehunga (pron. onny hung a).  Lindsey took us to an amazing second hand bookshop - one of those places where you could just spend hours poring over all the books, it was very quaint and quirky inside.  Then we went to a large shopping centre called Dressmart as Clive desperately wanted to more tee shirts.  He managed to find just what he was looking for eventually then we headed off home again to get changed into our gladrags as we had been invited to Mary's house for dinner to celebrate Lindsey's birthday.  We had a lovely evening with Mary and another couple of friends, Jenny and Dave.  Mary had cooked an amazing dinner of venison, pheasant and quail - delicious.  This was finished off with the most amazing cakes, one of which was a plumcake to die for!  Just as we had finished our meal I had noticed a loud chirping which seemed to be coming from the corner of the dining room! Dave looked behind him and found a young bird sitting on the lamp table.  I dashed off to grab my camera and when I got back Clive had picked up the little bird - we think it is a baby Bell Bird!

Possibly a baby Bell Bird, a native New Zealand bird with a wonderful song

He very carefully took it outside and placed it on a branch of the Jacaranda tree in Mary's front garden in the hope that its parents would find it.  A short time later when we were all going home it had disappeared off the branch so we do hope it found its family!

Well that's about it for now, we are just about to head off for a walk up into the hills near Clevedon, need to get my hiking boots on!  There will be another bulletin next week.

Dec 28th 2010 - Ness Valley

Posted by clivenmel on 27 December, 2010 at 18:28

Well, what an awesome Christmas we've had! Its been very different indeed to what we have always been used to at home but equally enjoyable.  It all kicked off with Lindsey and I going shopping to a local farmer's market for all the fruit and veggies that we needed to cater for six of us over the festive period.  That in itself was quite an experience, it was wonderful seeing all the local produce.  We managed to get everything we needed, with one exception!  As mentioned in the previous blog I had offered to make the starter for our Christmas dinner.  This consists of field mushrooms stuffed with stilton and mozzarella topped with king prawns.  Well they didn't have the right size of mushrooms at the farmer's market to do this with!  However they did have something as a substitute.  It cost $10 (approx £5)!  Clive's face was a picture when we got it home and showed it to him!!

Giant field mushroom!

Lindsey and I started getting ourselves organised (no mean feat with the two of us!).  The first thing was to get the Christmas tree sorted.  It was now quite perky having been repotted and well watered and we soon had it beautifully decked with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights, it looked really lovely. The next thing was to set the table and Lindsey decided it would be nice, as her mother Pat would not be spending Christmas in New Zealand this year, to cover the table with the beautiful cloth and napkins which Pat had embroidered so she would be with us in spirit! When it was finished it looked really lovely and very festive with the mini Christmas tree we had got for the quiz as the centrepiece!

The Festive Board

One thing we didn't have to do was the housework, when Lindsey and I returned from the farmer's market in the afternoon Clive had cleaned the whole house, dusted, polished and swept from top to toe - I definitely picked a good one didn't I!

Finally all was prepared and it was time to go to bed for some well earned zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's!

Christmas morning dawned a little overcast but it certainly wasn't cold.  We piled into Lindsey's van and headed off to collect Mary.  Lindsey was driving, Mary in the passenger seat and Clive and I were in the back with the dogs (no seats!) hanging on for grim death as Lindsey hurtled along the winding roads to the beach at Duders. I'm sure its not legal but fortunately we all survived and the police were nowhere to be seen!

Philly and Ann arrived almost simultaneously in the campervan and we were soon parked up and Philly and Ann set to making the bacon sandwiches with beautiful homemade bread that Mary had made.  It wasn't long before we were all sitting outside munching our sarnies and drinking Champagne watching other families with children playing on the beach and swimming in the sea.

Bacon sarnies and Champagne at the beach!

Even though it was quite cloudy we all ended up a bit pink as we hadn't bothered with suntan lotion, oops!  Finally we divided up into the various vehicles for the journey home.  Clive and Ann went in Ann's RAV 4, Lindsey and Mary headed off to Mary's house in the van to pick up Mary's car and Phily and I went in the campervan.  On the journey back to Lindsey's Philly had been giving me the low down on driving the campervan and explained that we had to be wary if it was windy as it is a high vehicle and does get blown around, also that it doesn't have power steering etc etc.  I had noticed that she kept veering a bit towards the kerbside and was beginning to wonder if she had had a glass too many of the Champagne! All of a sudden the van really veered to the left and Philly had to fight the wheel to keep it on the road!  We pulled over and I opened my door and looked down - this is what I saw!!!

Oh bother!

Well Philly said something along those lines!!  Philly managed to get the van across the road onto a dirt track and then set to getting the spare wheel out from under the van, not an easy task!  As she was in the middle of this undertaking Lindsey arrived in the van on her way back from Mary's.  She said she would go home and send Clive back to help.  In the meantime Philly had got the jack out and was in the process of trying to loosen the wheel nuts.  She discovered, much to our suprise, that the wheel nuts were screwed on opposite to the way we would expect them to be. Instead of loosening them by winding anti-clockwise that tightened them!  How bizarre!  Clive arrived just as we had discovered this and couldn't believe it!  Between them they soon had the flat tyre off and the spare tyre on and we were ready to rock and roll.  There was something else though, when Philly had moved the van from the road onto the track I had noticed a large puddle of liquid on the road - it was coming from the engine!!  Not good!  However we managed to get back to Lindsey's in one piece and decided to get on with the festivities and worry about the van later.

So we all got ourselves a drink and headed for the lounge to see what Santa had brought for us all!  There were loads of presents piled under the tree by now and Lindsey agreed to play Santa and pass them out.  We all had lovely presents.  Lindsey and Philly were delighted with the large bars of Cadbury's Dairy Milk we had brought with us from the UK and even more delighted with the Thornton's Continental Chocs which we had brought with us from their mum Pat! We got lovely gifts from everyone too, including home made cookies from Mary (she is one clever lady!); insect repellant and sting soother from Ann (a very welcome gift indeed!); tee shirts, a book about the NZ film sets from Lord of the Rings films and how to get there and a really lovely book on NZ wildlife which will be invaluable to us on our travels in the New Year as we won't have Lindsey with us to identify all the birds, animals and insects that we come across.  All in all I think everyone was very pleased with their prezzies.

Santa came whilst we were at the beach!

Then it was time to get the dinner ready - its all go isn't it!  First of all, we all got a large gin and tonice! Then, whilst Philly and Ann took charge of barbecuing the butterflied lamb, which had been marinating overnight in the most awesome concoction and smelled wonderful, Lindsey set to preparing all the veggies to be roasted in the oven, meanwhile I prepared the starter.  We hadn't let anybody else into the secret of the starter so it was a great surprise when I presented the baked, stuffed monster mushroom to them!

The monster mushroom!

Everyone was suitably impressed by its size alone but fortunately it tasted good too, it was really meaty in the middle!  I just cut it up like a pie and gave everyone a wedge on a bed of salad.  The lamb came next and it was absolutely delicious, it really is a wonderful way to cook lamb. I wonder if English butchers could be persuaded to butterfly a leg of lamb if asked?  The veggies were yummy too.  All in all it was a feast fit for a king and was beautifully finished off with Mary's exquisite homemade Christmas pudding with brandy butter accompanied by a delicious dessert wine.  We were replete!

After dinner we adjourned to the lounge and spent a hilarious few hours playing Call My Bluff which Mary had brought with her.  I think the best word by far was dyspagel, which means "a hairy bottom"!!!

The evening ended with the most glorious sunset!

Christmas sunset

The sunset presaged good weather and sure enough when we awoke on Boxing Day morning the sun was shining and the Cicadas were singing very loudly in the garden, sign of a hot day to come and it certainly lived up to it!  We had a great day.  After breakfast we adjourned to the decking and played Scattegories - for hours, it was great fun and we were constantly giggling and laughing!  We adjourned for coffee and mince pies and then decided to have a game of Trivial Pursuit with more Champagne!

Trivial Pursuit on the decking

Unfortunately as I was getting back into my chair after taking this photo I lost my balance, grabbed the table and the Trivial Pursuit and Champagne went everywhere!!!  Oh dear!

A few of us went for a short constitution around the garden and Lindsey spotted something and brought him back to me to have his photo taken - isn't he amazing!

Stick insect!

Well we had decided to skip lunch and make do with the mince pies but eventually we were all starting to get a bit peckish so we abandoned the Trivial Pursuit and headed for the kitchen.  This time the guest of honour at our Boxing Day repast was a huge Snapper!  Once again Philly and Ann took charge of the barbecue and Lindsey managed miraculously with an almost blunt knife to split the fish down the centre and open it up like a butterfly.  This was sprinkled with lime juice, course salt ground up with chilli pepper and then dotted with liberal amounts of butter and placed on the barby topped with prawns.  The leftover roasted veggies were heated up in the oven and all this was accompanied by gorgeous breads and copious amounts of wine - yet another banquet fit for a king!

Huge snapper on the barby (apologies to all you veggies out there!)

The meal was finished off with a glorious tropical fruit salad which Lindsey had prepared and that was accompanied by homemade honey and lavender ice cream which Mary had made, unbelievably luscious! 

All in all its been a truly wonderful Christmas with great company, wonderful food and lots and lots of wine!  The diet begins next week!!

Dec 21st 2010 - Ness Valley

Posted by clivenmel on 20 December, 2010 at 23:06

Well another week has passed by.  It was the pub quiz again last Wednesday and this time it was a bit special, it was the Christmas Quiz!  Everybody dresses up for this one and so we put in a bit of an effort (not too much!) and aimed to make our team's table the most Christmassy one.  We bought a little tree and decked it all in gold baubles, stars, drums and prezzies etc and it looked very cute.  We also had a collection of headgear, namely reindeer antlers, santa hats, halo's etc.  All in all we didn't look too bad and everybody got into the spirit of things.  Our team, Grey Matter, didn't win the quiz, in fact we came 9th (we're getting worse!) but we did win the best dressed table prize so we were well pleased.

Grey Matter in festive mood!

We've had quite a busy week on and off.  Clive and I have been to the supermarket again and stocked up the fridge etc.  Lindsey, Philly and I went Christmas shopping at the weekend and left Clive at home in peace.  Now I have all my prezzies bought, wrapped and labelled, just waiting to go under the Christmas Tree. Said tree has been living in Lindsey's garden in a pot for some time and latterly the poor thing was on its side! However it has been resurrected and repotted and its not looking too bad at all.  Once it is bedecked with baubles, lights and tinsel I am sure it will rise to the part!

The other thing to mention is the fact that it has been raining, on and off all week!!  When I say rain, I mean RAIN!!  It has really been coming down in stair rods but the wierd thing is, it was warm rain!  I actually got caught in a downpour trying to get from one shopping centre to the car wearing my flip flops! Now anybody who wears flip flops knows that running in them is impossible!  I got absolutely soaked but just couldn't stop laughing, it was hilarious!  I soon dried off in the next shopping centre we went to.

When we got back from our shopping expedition we found Clive getting a wee bit concerned about the rising water levels in the stream adjacent to Lindsey's land!  Normally we can't actually see the water itself from the house, just the water course, however now it was a different story altogether!

High water levels in the stream!

Fortunately the water had subsided considerably by the next morning and is now back to normal, phew!  However just because it has been raining we haven't been confined to barracks.  We actually went to the cinema the other evening to see the latest Harry Potter movie; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!  We really enjoyed it but that was only part one, we have to wait until some time next year for part two!

On Sunday night we were invited to a party.  Lindsey's neighbours, Ken and Pete, have a party every year just before Christmas.  We had a lovely time, it was good to meet all Lindsey's neighbours. Ken and Pete were great hosts and the wine was flowing freely.  There were also wonderful snacks and nibbles, all home made - mmmmmmmmmmmmmm!  The only thing that marred the evening is that I ended up bitten to death by sandflies again!! Pesky things!  However although the bites are itching like mad I don't seem to be having the bad reaction that I had in the first week. Perhaps I'm building up an immunity to them!

New Zealand has some absolutely amazing birds which are totally unique to these islands.  One of them is the Tui.  Lindsey's garden, having been lovingly planted with lots of indigenous trees and shrubs is now an absolute haven for birds and we were really thrilled when a Tui came and landed on her New Zealand Flax plant and I managed to get a few photos, still a wee bit blurred as it was quite a distance away.  The Tui has the most wonderful song, very characteristic.  We have heard them singing but this was the first real opportunity to photograph one.

A Tui

So now we have only a few more days to Christmas.  Lindsey has decided to host Christmas at her house this year.  We have got the day all planned out (hope the weather holds up!).  The plan is to all head for the beach on Christmas morning with the campervan and once there we will cook and eat bacon sandwiches and wash them down with Champagne (doesn't everyone?!).  Then we wll all trek back to Lindsey's for Christmas dinner later in the afternoon.  We are not going for the trad Christmas lunch with turkey etc we are having baked, stuffed field mushrooms with prawns as the starter, followed by barbecued butterflied lamb (a leg of lamb which has been deboned and flattened out) plus a barbecued snapper.  These will be accompanied by roasted veggies and new potatoes and the whole thing will be finished off with one of Mary's glorious homemade Christmas puddings with brandy butter!  However for those who aren't fond of Christmas pud (namely Clive!) there will be a tropical fruit salad as well.  Can't wait, it all sounds yummy!  I'm making the starter so hope it goes down well!  Have to thank my mate Marian for the recipe - she will also be in the Antipodes for Christmas, visiting her son Steve and fiancee Kayley who are getting married at the beginning of January!

So all that remains is for us to wish you a very merry Christmas and a really happy and prosperous New Year.