General New Zealand Tiki 2020

New Zealand Tiki Day 29 – Putangirua Pinnacles

So we were welcomed in to the Martinborough Mews by the lovely Robyn, who without hesitation agreed that we could stay on during the lockdown. We were originally due to stay in Martinborough for two nights, then going on to Wellington. As long as Robyn did not ask any of her staff to work at the premises and we didn’t have any contact with her, we would be fine to stay. We were offered the choice of Unit 1 or Unit 5 which was almost identical, but has a bath. We opted for the bath and moved over after one night in Unit 1.

Enjoying the sunshine outside Unit 1, Martinborough Mews
As lovely as it looks, seven weeks in a hotel would have been very difficult

So we had one day before level 4 when in theory we could move around and see things, although with hindsight we probably weren’t supposed to do much driving.

We’d planned a trip to the nearby Putangirua Pinnacles, a site that features in Lord of the Rings as the the setting for the Paths of the Dead in the “Return of the King” and looked amazing geologically and scenically. Getting there would be a 35 minute 45km south westerly drive, down to the coast. We went.

There are two walking routes possible when you get there, one which stays down in the valley with the pinnacles towering above you, and the other which goes up to the lookout point. Robyn had suggested we stayed on the lower route and we did.

We set off up the dry riverbed
A beautiful sunny day
With some rather phallic formations
The canyons go deeper and deeper
Looming above
Until you could get no further without climbing
Quite eerie
On the way back down. Hot here today!
Just as well there has been no rain recently. A flash flood could be tricky
And we are out. With the sea in the distance.

Allow two hours for the round trip walk from the campsite car park. Take a hat and water. It’s hot in there. It is also spectacular and well worth a visit. We were glad that we had. We saw three other groups walking that day, so we weren’t alone.

Nearly back to the carpark/camping area

We got back to the car and a man nearby was nonchalantly loading a dead deer into the back of his ute (utility vehicle, pickup truck, bakkie). He had presumably just hunted and shot it, unless it had conveniently died of natural causes, which was unlikely.

We passed this adorable little church on the way back. It really is God’s own country.

We journeyed back to Martinborough and prepared for lockdown. No venison for us. But also no shortage of wine.

And if you get the chance – do visit the Putangirua Pinnacles. They are a bit special.

Oh and we can recommend you stay in the Martinborough Mews while you are in the Wairarapa – it’s fab there. We spent 8 unexpected weeks in Unit 5 – so we should know!

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

New Zealand Tiki Day 28 – Rangiwahia to Martinborough

Early morning at the Mairenui Rural Retreat

After a hearty breakfast we bid Sue and David farewell at the Mairenui Rural Retreat and stopped briefly a short distance down the road to admire the nearby Ruahine Dress Circle from a distance.

The Dress Circle from the lookout point
Interesting local history and detail about Papa rock
We took the rest of the scenic route south – no other cars in sight!
The rolling hills seemed to go on forever
Until we came to the wind farm
Even more impressive from up close
Where’s Don Quixote when you need him?
Dramatic sentinels overlooking the dramatic landscape. And windy too 🙂

We stopped again at Ballance to admire the mighty Totara tree. And to stretch our legs with a short 30 minute walk.

I’ve not done this justice again…
Putting it in perspective…
Little did we know this would be our last meal out for 7 weeks…
And my first pie of the trip – in the Farriers, Masterton. Yum!
Everyone else had already gone home to hear the level 3 lockdown announcement
Jucy was full of stuff. Maybe we have a chance to use it up over the next few weeks.

We drove on from Masterton and arrived safe and sound in the haven of Martinborough, 48 hours before the move into level 4 and the end of our Tiki. For now.

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

New Zealand Tiki Day 27 – National Park to Rangiwahia

The mountains have vanished

The day started damply. What a contrast to yesterday! How lucky we were to complete our Tongariro Alpine Crossing tramp in the dry. No hiking today, even if the Corona virus restrictions had not been announced.

We didn’t need to get going early as we only had a few hours to drive today and Chris the kind manager at the Pukenui Lodge had offered us the chance to stay on as long as we liked. So we did, and sat out the worst of the rain. Two french couples came and went in the kitchen/dining room but didn’t share their brunch. Gail and Rob were heading off to Auckland, so we exchanged details and wishes them bon voyage.

Kitchen, dining and table tennis area.

We got chatting to Joanne, also staying at the lodge. Joanne is a brave and enterprising Australian who was solo cycling the North Island, but had a puncture and a tyre jammed on its rim, so she couldn’t repair it and was effectively stuck. She was wanting to get to Palmerston North by Friday so she could get a plane back to Perth. She had been in touch with the bus company who were still running shuttles to Palmerston but wasn’t sure of they’d let her take her bike on board. And even if they did, she couldn’t ride it or even push it at the other end.

I wasn’t thinking too clearly as my mind was boggling with the potential impact to us all of the travel restrictions announced, but eventually came to my senses and realised that with a short trip down to Ohakune, we could visit a cycle shop that Joanne had spoken to and confirmed they were open and happy to repair the faulty wheel.

So we left Heather as a deposit and jumped in Jucy with the rain bucketing down. So an adventurous trip there and we were happy to arrive in Ohakune without incident and see the smiling faces at the bike shop sort out the jammed tyre, which took some doing even with all the right tools. It was also sunny and dry in the town so spirits were lifted.

Conversation flowed on the way back with the bright and interesting Joanne and we were back in no time despite the heavy rain on the way. Joanne put the newly repaired wheel on the bike and looked very pleased to be mobile again.

The communal lounge area at the Pukenui Lodge. No social distancing – yet!

Heather and I said our cheerios and headed off to Rangiwahia- through the torrential rain and back to sunshine in Ohakune, where we stopped for lunch in an Italian restaurant where we met the young managing couple who were just in the process of buying it themselves. What a time to be doing that. But if they can come through the next difficult weeks and carry on serving such excellent pizzas and lasagnas, they will surely do well.

The view from our patio at the Mairenui Rural Retreat

We arrived at the Mairenui Rural Retreat, our stop for the night after a good drive down interesting small rural roads, to be greeted by charismatic and well travelled hosts Sue and David. In their late sixties, they were obviously concerned by their vulnerability to travellers like us giving them the virus and quite rightly exercised caution in social distancing.

So we had a strange dinner, with the hosts joining us in the dining room but not eating with us, while their son Matt prepared our meal which was excellent. We weren’t the only guests and shared the dining table with an eccentric lady from Luxembourg who we agreed later would be challenging to spend an extended time in lock down with.

Lovely veranda and a gentle breeze on a sunny evening was peaceful and calming

All the news of the virus rather spoiled what would have been a lovely stay, and to be fair David and Sue did their best to be entertaining hosts, although their broader concerns were apparent.

Plenty of space to swing a cat, if only I can find one.

We had a relatively early night and set off fairly early after breakfast, escaping the crazy ideas of our fellow guest, one of which was that the Italians were having a tough time with Covid-19 because they eat pizza. Gluten lowers ones resistance apparently.

It’s a risk Heather and I are going to continue to be prepared to take.

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

New Zealand Tiki Day 26 – National Park & Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Map courtesy of the DOC.

Our flight back from Auckland to Bangkok has been cancelled. Covid19. Our flight from Bangkok to London still stands, which is not all that helpful as we can’t get to Bangkok without a flight. No point in calling Thai Air today on a Saturday, I’ll wait until Monday.

Meanwhile with a stroke of great fortune, although closed yesterday and terrible weather forecast tomorrow, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is open today. And conditions are great.

There’s snow on them there hills……

I packed way too much stuff. We have copious cups of tea and make sandwiches, have toast and get to the pick up point for TCS outside the YHA Backpackers by 7.45am.We were first there and gradually more and more arrive. When the 8.00am bus finally pitches at 8.10 it only had room for all of us and was packed. No social distancing here then….

We set off from the start at 8.30. As do many others. In fact I can’t remember being on a busier walk ever. The first hour is a gentle warm up. Then it gets steeper. Not crazily so.

What we were in stall for… Elevation detail courtesy of the DOC.
Off to a gentle start…
I hope we don’t have to climb that….
Or that…

This is often referred to as the best day hike in New Zealand and one of the best in the world, so we have been looking forward to it, although with a bit of trepidation as we knew it would be tough. I’d consulted office supplies guru Martin Wilde before we left as I knew he and his wife and boys had done it. “I think you’ll be fine,” Martin encouraged me, “It is a bit steep at one section and the scree makes it two steps forward and one step back, so we struggled a bit there, but with your Everest experience….”

The bit before the first steep bit. We rested here and started to make inroads into the L&P and Diet Coke

I reminded Martin that it had only been to base camp and it was a few years ago. But buoyed by his optimism we put it on our bucket list for our trip.

And this was the reason we were dragging our Sherpa boots round with us, freshly disinfected at Auckland Airport, despite my best efforts to get them clean, which failed inspection on arrival.

Suggestions, hopefully practical ones, for those considering the walk. Please…

  1. Check the weather before you go. We used the met service which gives an excellent summary of whether conditions are right or not. You can also see what the temperature is forecast to be at Red Crater.
  2. Take a shuttle. Don’t try and park your car/van and then walk the trail. There is a 4 hour restriction on the parking within the park which makes doing the crossing impossible as a self drive. You therefore should use a shuttle company. All the prices are the same (free market?), $40 per person return. Quite a good business model, given there were about 70 – 80 people on our coach! According to the DOC, shuttle services run from Whakapapa Village, National Park, Taumarunui, Turangi, Raetihi, Ohakune and Taupo.
  3. Stay nearby. It probably makes sense to book a shuttle in advance, as they do offer both an extension and a cancellation option if the shuttle doesn’t run. If they aren’t going to run, they might email you, but given we didn’t get a booking confirmation from TCS who we used, and if you do, it is probably best to check their site which gets updated at 7.30pm and 7.30am. The shuttle takes 20-30 minutes, first pick up at 6am and then it is available every hour until 10am inclusive in summer. We decided to stay in the National Park, which was close to the starting point. There are six different pick up stops including one near the station. You can also stay at the Mangahuia Campsite, even closer to the start and the pickups from there are 10 minutes later than the National Park. We stayed at the Pukenui Lodge where our host Chris was excellent and very helpful. It is basic with no frills and priced to reflect that, however it was clean and tidy with a comfy bed and it suited us fine. We had a private bathroom, but the lounge and kitchen are large shared facilities which we enjoyed as it meant a more collegiate and social experience. It was really well placed to get to Schnapps – a rudimentary but friendly bar/eatery which is only a 2-3 minute walk away. Also we used the YHA Backpackers pick up for the TCS shuttle which seemed to be the most popular and was only 3-4 minutes away.
  4. Take plenty of water (2-3 litres advised per person – there is none on the trail) and a hat and gloves. Wear suntan lotion. Take enough warm clothing for the mountains as conditions can change fast. Take snacks and lunch. Bring toilet paper – there are toilets on the trail – in 5 different locations from memory, but none will have paper, and regrettably some are in rather a nasty condition we were told. Let someone you are going on the walk and what time. Take a walking pole or two. We didn’t and regretted it until some kind kiwi gent came to Heather’s rescue like a knight in shining armour and lent her his one.
  5. Take a mobile phone and the number of the shuttle company. There are 5 return shuttles, starting at 1.30pm and leaving each hour on the half hour until 5.30pm inclusive. If you think you are going to miss the last one, you must phone them to advise. They will come and pick you up, but only if you let them know. We got the 8.00am out and the 2.30pm bus back, which only actually left when it was totally full at 3pm or just after.
  6. Wear proper boots with good ankle support. I think trainers and other less sturdy footwear are inviting the possibility of a twisted ankle.
  7. Take your best camera. But leave behind that long lens. I carried mine (heavy!) and never used it – you only need landscape lens capabilities, not close up or telephoto in my experience.
  8. The excellent DOC say take a torch and spare batteries, but if your phone has a good charge and a torch function, that might be enough. It is hard to see how you can get lost if you follow the trail markers, and when we were walking there were so many people ahead and behind us it would be impossible to get lost. Take a photo or map of the route though, so that you know what to expect. We fell into a false sense of security after the first large climb, thinking we had cracked it, when actually there was another steeper section ahead.
  9. Fitness levels, exposure? You need to be in good walking fitness IMHO. And if you suffer from heights, then there is some exposure but not too much. Heather managed it fine by focusing on the way ahead and there were hardly any narrow sections, just one or two quickly traversed. We measured it at 23km (The DOC says 19.6 but maybe we zigzagged a bit) with 1200 metres change of elevation. We took 6 and 1/2 hours and that included a 20 minute stop for lunch. Emerald Lake/and or Blue Pool are good sheltered spots for a half way break for something to eat.
  10. Don’t be deterred by the signs asking you to think again and go back. Yes, they are right, it does get tougher, but you will get through to the end if you have a reasonable level of general fitness and if you stay sensible and determined. I was a hoping that after several signs telling us to think twice before we continued, there would be a sign near the end congratulating us and saying that they always believed we could make it. Worth a thought, DOC?
  11. It might make sense to try and walk this on a weekday if your schedule allows. Just because it gets so busy. As it happens we walked on a Saturday and we were lucky we did as both Friday and Sunday were rained off, so our window was perfect. It did mean however that the trail was rammed – I reckon 800 to 1,000 walked it on the day.
From the first flat false top, after the first steep bit. No issues so far…

Anyhow – enough of this – it sounds like I’m unintentionally lecturing and I hope the advice is seen as helpful, rather than prescriptive. And all of the above refers to summer – in winter a totally different set of suggestions would apply, including being able to park for longer in the car parks etc.

Back to the walk itself. We rested after the first hour, which was largely in the sun and then refreshed tackled the first steep bit. It is brilliant how much investment has gone in to these really well made paths and boardwalks. The first steep bit was lots of steps. We rested a number of times and got a bit hot and sticky despite being in the shade.

From the top of the second ridge climb – looking back on a flat bit below.

Reaching what we thought was the top, we congratulated ourselves too soon as we sauntered across the flat volcanic basin, with noisy chattering walkers behind us loudly sharing their love lives frustrations and aspirations whether in French, German, Spanish. We let them pass, to enjoy each others company and the surroundings in semi-solitude. That was a waste of time as each time we did, they were replaced by another set doing the same. Only the language changed, occasionally into English, but mostly European.

Looking back on our first steep section.

What incredible scenery. Almost out of worldly. I imagined it would be like the surface of the moon in some parts, and we could see how Peter Jackson had come to choose this setting to show it as Mordor from the Lord of the Rings.

Looking jaunty before the tough section.

We then saw the first warning sign and the short looking but steep ascent ahead. Again on reaching the ridge, we puffed our cheeks and congratulated ourselves – once more prematurely. The next sign said words to the effect of “That was the easy bit, now it gets serious. Are you sure? You can turn back now if you want, but once you go on….”

Amazing scenery

This next bit was the toughest. Climbing anyway. The neatly manicured paths were replaced by bare scree. Nasty stuff. Heather was struggling and I was finding it tough going too, not really able to help her much. A really kind man came all the way back down from the summit to lend Heather his pole. What a wonderful thing to do, and only added to our growing evidence that kiwis are some of the friendliest and thoughtful people we had ever met.

And more stunning views – tough bit to follow!

We popped over the top with a sense of relief. All downhill from here we laughed.

Looking back down the trail from near the highest point.
This was as high as we got

Ah. Now it really did get difficult, almost dangerous, with very steep scree and a variety of semi suicidal methods being employed around us of getting down it, from running to sliding on posteriors. Taking a very slow sensible and cautious approach, Heather kept to one side to avoid the main rat run. And the pole was invaluable. Without it we might still be up there.

Thank heavens for that pole….
It was steep – did I mention that?

Once safely down the very steep section, we found the kind man waiting for us so we could give him his pole back and thanked him profusely. We the took a well earned break and ate half of our sandwiches overlooking the stunning Emerald Lake.

The Emerald Lake, living up to its name…
The view of Emerald Lake from our picnic spot

Twenty minutes later, refreshed, we tackled the short downhill section where just adjacent to the Blue Pool (half way on the walk) we caught up with Gail and Rob who were making good progress and had taken just a while longer than us for lunch. We had a good chat and parted company again a little later.

Blue Pool – our halfway point.

We had one more uphill section in front of us. So much for it being all downhill. But this one was a doddle and soon we were at the apex and could see the trail unwinding itself snakelike into the distance.

It really was all downhill from here, apart from a very small uphill section an hour further on.

We felt that we had made more progress than just over half way. Indeed our feet were telling us we were nearly there. But there was a lot more to come. Heather’s watch was showing that we had done 17 km even though the trail markers said only 14. I started to get a headache and realised I had been exposed to a lot of sun and quickly put my hat on and had some more to drink, which sorted me out.

The trail wound down the hill in series of s bends, for kilometre after kilometre.
Lake Rotoaira ahead of us and in the distance, Lake Taupo.

After what seemed like ages and with the telltale soreness under the balls of our feet, and with Heather’s toes bruising at the ends and causing her some pain, we entered the forest part of the walk. Rob and Gail caught us up and passed us. As did many others. We limped in, literally.

The attractive and shaded forest section of the walk – only another 3-4 km!

Eventually we emerged like exhausted prospectors that had been living in the rain forest for weeks. The coach was there, steamed up slightly from all the occupants. We were one of the last ones allowed on and when the last places were filled 15 minutes later, off we went, dropping off passengers in the reverse order from the pickup earlier.

Back at the giant Kiwi between the YHA backpackers and the Schnapps Restuarant.

We stumbled back to the lodge, showered and changed and although we had hoped to share a celebratory drink with Gail and Rob, noted their car wasn’t there and so went on to the Schnapps Restuarant ourselves, thirsty and slightly hungry.

The MG Goldie in the car park – it has certainly had some adventures!

After sticky ribs and pasta carbonara, we went back to the Lodge and settled our weary limbs in the lounge. New Zealand had announced a step up to stage 2 restrictions due to the Covid 19 Virus, which seems to be taking hold everywhere. Stage 2 allowed us to move around, but for New Zealanders to limit their domestic travel, and for everyone to limit their contact with others, and to be cautious.

Meanwhile back at the lodge…..

Rob and Gail met us in the lounge and we enjoyed a glass of wine or two together and a good chat. The virus and its impact on our travel plans was the main topic of conversation. Eventually they went off to eat and we weren’t too late to bed, as we expected to and did sleep very well.

Is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the world’s best day walk? It is certainly hugely impressive, but I think the DOC might need to restrict the numbers of people walking the trail in future, as despite the impressive paths, the erosion impact is evident and the noise pollution from the other punters off-putting. Still very deserving of 5 hippo hurrahs of course. And well worth the effort – we were really pleased with our achievement.

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

New Zealand Tiki Day 25 – Lake Taupo, or how I learned to catch trout and become a dairy farmer. Then National Park Village.

We checked out at 8.00am from the Alpine Lake Motor Lodge

How brilliant to see Roger again and meet his wife Amanda and daughter Brooke at a splendid dinner in their Beverley Hills style house on the hills overlooking Lake Taupo the previous evening.

And if that was not enough there were more treats in store as they had offered us breakfast on board Southern Cross, their 12.5 metre RayGlass moored in the convenient marina in the town centre.

The closest I got to a photo of Amanda… Sorry about that!
Discussing fishing tactics for the day

And better still, it was nice enough weather for Captain Roger to take us out for a spin on it across a part of the lake, to see the centuries old (a good spoof story Vice Admiral Roger likes to tell) Māori carvings, that were actually impressively put into place in the 1970’s. They are 14 metres tall and and still exercise the mind as to how they were done. Only accessible by boat, we were treated to a close up by Admiral Roger’s excellent seamanship in waters that turned quite choppy.

Abseil down or scaffolding up? Either way quite a feat.
Lovely when the sun is out.
I’m not sure I can remember all this stuff – jigging you say?

And then fishing. Or jigging. Or both. I first made a birds nest out of my line, which the patient Amanda unravelled and before you could say: “What do we shout? Tickle my trout!” Roger had snagged one. Handing the rod to me, a risky strategy, did in fact to all of our great surprise work out, as a few minutes later the fish, a lovely glistening trout (25kg? plus :-)) was with us on board.

Is that it?
Gently does it….
We’ve done it! Team effort. What do we shout…?

Not for long, as Roger the skipper-turned-fishing-tutor, likes to throw them back. Which is great. This one did look knowingly and resignedly at him as if it was a favourite pet coming back to be caught again. Imagine that, a homing trout.

Shortly thereafter we were visited by rangers from the Department of Conservation coming to check our licences. Only for the second time ever for Roger and Amanda. We thought they might have picked a day when there weren’t many boats on the water, to lighten their workload a bit. Call me an old cynic? Luckily they were fine with email evidence of the licences as the physical hard copy ones, although on board, were hard to find. Satisfied, and keen to do a bit of fishing themselves, they were soon on their way. Of course no sooner had they gone than Amanda managed to locate the licences on board.

Then there was a chance waterborne meeting with another boat whose crew recognised Roger, although he may wish to fire them as his character references….

Masterchef on bacon rolls

Then he turned from masterfisherman into masterchef, is there no end to his talents? Bacon rolls were produced like magic on the Weber. Very tasty too. This was when Roger regaled his family with the fact that he made bread every day on Pegasa, too cries of incredulity: “You’ve never made bread since!” was the accusation, which wasn’t too strongly denied.

Licence? What licence?

Expertly docked back in the Marina by Fleet Admiral Roger it was farewell to the farm group’s busy business manager Brooke, who had already given us much of her valuable time and excellent company.

We then went off in search of cows, leaving Jucy and her low slung undercarriage in the marina carpark, and setting off in Roger’s capable 4×4.

Cows. Hundreds of them. All over the place on one of Roger’s biggest farms.
One of the duck (just leaving) ponds Roger has clever crafted from originally boggy and waterlogged land.

It was an absolutely fascinating rest of the morning, touring the farm, meeting some of the workers, seeing the cattle, admiring the just born calves, understanding some of the challenges, seeing the opportunities, asking a thousand dumb questions. Roger and Amanda were both very patient. And obviously love what they do with a passion that is evident. Although I did wonder how many cows=a very well off retirement….?

Some calves were only days old. These are reared for veal rather than slaughtered at birth. And although relatively short lived, they are really well looked after.
I’ve no idea what I’m talking about, but the cows we saw did look both extremely well and very happy.
The milking station – one of the biggest around, taking 36 at a time.
“Do you want to sit in a tractor?”, he asked… Do I……

After learning a lot about dairy farming and being full of respect for the enterprise, ingenuity and sheer hard work that it appears to need, we said our goodbyes, hoping that we would get the chance to meet up again when we were on the way back to Auckland in Rotorua. We’d had a brilliant time, and we were very grateful to Roger and Amanda and Brooke for making us feel so welcome. And there’s something a bit weird but wonderful about how I could reconnect with Roger so quickly after so many years. But he was a good bloke then, and he is now too. Only older looking, not much, and a whole lot better off. And if he can keep that photo of me with no kit on from ever appearing in public again, I’ll be most grateful.

We headed for National Park village, where we were staying for two nights with the prospect of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the following day. It wasn’t looking great weather though…

We arrived and checked in to the Pukenui Lodge. We had wasps in our room – 12. Loads of them. And in the bed. And under the bed. And swarming against the windows like a mob of angry buzzing things. But trying to find Chris the manager to ask to change rooms and pressing the reception bell didn’t work immediately as there were so few people staying that he had probably gone offsite for a bit.

View from the public areas of the Pukenui Lodge. There should be a volcano or two behind those clouds.

We went to the Schnapps Bar and Restaurant next door instead. And had a huge noisy plate of fish and chips each. Then got back to the lodge and managed to change our room then to a much nicer one – 16.

Schnapps anyone?
Ensconsed in the Pukenui Lodge lounge.
We saw Goldie tonight and again tomorrow. More on her later.

We then met Gail and Rob, a nice couple from Devon also staying in the lodge and we had a good chat and a glass or two of wine. They were walking the crossing tomorrow too. The weather had improved and it looked like we were good to go. The shuttle was booked. The alarms were set.

We went to bed. Then had a restless night waking up constantly because of wanting to make sure we didn’t miss the alarms and then the shuttle. Nervous excitement I guess.

Anyhow it had been an epic day. I had helped catch a trout and I knew loads more than I did before about dairy farming. It doesn’t get better than that.

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

NZ Tiki Day 24 – Napier to Taupō

This was a day I’d been looking forward to immensely as it was this evening that I was hoping we might get to see my very old shipmate – Roger. A dairy farmer in Taupō, we had last seen each other about 33 years ago when he, I and our American friend Doug had crewed the good ship Pegasa, a 43 foot long, double-ended wooden sloop built in 1938, owned and skippered by Tony Fox. Together the four of us sailed her from Cape Town to Granada in the Caribbean over the course of 3 adventurous and memorable months with nothing more than some charts, a Brooks and Gatehouse log and a sextant.

We must have been mad.

Or just young and impervious to risk. Anyhow it created the sort of bond which 33 years can’t remove and I was very much looking forward to seeing Roger again, having tracked him down via some digital sleuthing on a trail resulting from his admiration for a certain brand of German tractor. And with the subsequent go-between help of his lovely daughter Brooke, who has more of a digital presence than Roger “Don’t leave me a message, I never listen to them anyway!” we had established contact.

But we still had to get to Taupō. It was a nice day and we thought we should start it by revisiting the Bluff Hill Lookout from which no view had been possible two days before in heavy rain.

Nice early morning in Napier
A busy port below Bluff Hill
You can make quite a few pencils from that lot….

We were just enjoying the scenery when we heard a crunch, and turning round we could see that someone had just backed their camper van into Jucy. I rushed up to assess the damage and Dennis (the menace) jumped out sheepishly and before I could think twice shook me warmly by the hand. “I’m Dennis” he explained, like an overbearing labrador.

Luckily Jucy has seen tougher days than this, and there was no more damage than she already displayed that we could see. And no bruises on the camper van either. “It’s my friend’s”, he offered, while his partner stayed sitting in the passenger seat and hid her face in embarrassment. “I’m struggling to come to terms with it.” Refraining from the obvious reply, I bid Dennis farewell. “Have a safe trip!”, I encouraged him with, slightly unhelpfully.

Not sure what was worse, being bumped in to, or having my hand shaken humidly by a possibly infected Dennis, we drove to Taupo without further incident, wishing we had some disinfectant hand gel.

On arrival we checked out the location of the Alpine Lake Motor Lodge and then went straight to the Fox and Hounds for a well earned pint of London Pride, that tasted remarkably similar to the stuff back home and realised we now had no further reason to return home, especially as the accompanying bangers and mash were quite good too.

No reason to go back to Blighty now….

After lunch we checked in and then set off to the Huka Falls, parking in Spa Park and walking the 90 minutes that the DOC suggested in 45 fairly leisurely ones along the riverside track. I can see why it is the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand.

Encouraging to see the OP industry here doing its bit….
The Waikato river gently building up steam
It splits into two at this point
It has a sort of “Heart of Darkness” feel to it along the walk

You can also park just near the falls and walk a few minutes to them, but we enjoyed the dramatic buildup to the crescendo of the falls themselves. At 220,000 litres passing through the narrow gap every second, the liquid disappears faster than Heather drinking her first glass of wine after a long walk, but only just.

I’m all right, she never reads this….:-)

Lake Taupo, which is enormous, drains through these falls. The Waikato river, normally 100 metres wide, gets squeezed through a 15 metre gap at Huka (Maori for foam,) and the results are spectacular.

Roger told me that people do swim and kayak through here. Madness. Six have died.
It does start to foam…
And finally falls 11 metres
Which is all worth a visit and a photo or twelve
The way back was equally peaceful and again 45 minutes. Who are the walkers the DOC thinks take twice that time?
A nice spot for a camp or picnic
Clever use of the number plate Mrs Whippy….

Back to the motel and after showering and getting my best clothes on, we called Roger and he invited us to share dinner with him, his wife Amanda and eldest daughter Brooke at his mansion twenty minutes out of town. Or at least the driveway was twenty minutes out of town, as the drive up the driveway to the most stunningly located house seemed almost as long.

Roger has clearly done really well since I last saw him. He and his charming wife Amanda have also been married 30 years and in that time have raised 4 girls. If the other three daughters that we didn’t meet are as nice as Brooke who we did, then they will all be very fine ladies indeed. I’m not going to say how many dairy farms and cows Roger and Amanda own, just in case the Revenue reads this, but it’s a lot.

We had a great evening. Poor Amanda, Brooke and Heather had to put up with loads of Roger and I going : “and do you remember when…” as they endured stories they had all heard us embelish many times before. We raised a glass to our other shipmate Doug and hope that we get the chance to see him again soon too. Roger had managed to dig out all the old photos – heaven only knows where I’ve put most of mine. I only managed to dig out a few before I left – some of those are below. Some of Roger’s were quite scary, including my moustache and me emerging from the water like Phillippe Cousteau (as Roger nicknamed me). Not for polite viewing.

Left to Right: Tony, Roger (he still looks the same) and Doug
Roger showing us his best side whilst retrieving a coconut in exchange for all the skin on the inside of both thighs…
That moustache….

Roger made us an excellent braai of great quality filled steak (not from his herd of course) and Amanda rustled up a lovely roast vegetable salad and a very tasty pepper and mushroom sauce to go with the steaks. A few brandy snaps and many laughs later and we called it a night – a great fun night – as a big day is planned for tomorrow too.

I won’t embarrass Roger and Amanda with pictures of them in their stunning house, largely because in my excitement, I forgot to take any.

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

NZ Tiki Day 23 – Napier

View from our bedroom. It was a much better day weather wise to explore the city.

Today was the day we were going to discover all about “The Day that changed the Bay”. On February 3rd 1931, a force 7.8 magnitude earthquake lasting 2 and a half minutes and centred 15 miles north of Napier, devastated a large part of the city and killed 256 people. Incredibly, the coastal area in the area rose by 2 metres and in doing so it created a large tract of land 40km square which had previously been sea bed, including the Ahuriri Lagoon, which rose 2.7 metres and drained 2230 hectares. This is now part of the new Hawkes Bay agricultural and business area and is where the airport is located.

But first a stroll along the beach walkway alongside Marine Parade. We walked down Shakespeare Road from Bluff Hill where we were staying, only 12 minutes, steeply downhill.

The sea was quite rough from yesterday’s cyclone.
Too windy for gulls to fly
Lots of colour in the gardens by Marine Parade
A quick coffee in the Six Sisters
And the day was brightening all the time
But not one for swimming….

We enjoyed a quick coffee and had sympathy for the manager who had to listen to a tirade from some Swedish or German religious fanatics who were telling him how the Corona virus was God’s message to us all that we needed to reform and change our lives.

The view from the Marine Parade back into town

We had a strong sense of how interesting our afternoon tour was going to be by having our own wander around, but concentrated our attention on areas we thought were less likely to be covered by the tour guide, and then went to lunch.

The large stick chasing Rottweiler hasn’t got here yet
As lovely as any mural…
Must be a great bandstand/outdoor theatre area in the sunshine
I expect we might see this again this afternoon….
Noted for Ron. Later Ron….
What if we have lunch in the Emporium, just across from the Art Deco Centre where our tour starts?
That sounds like a plan.
All for the sake of Art Deco research you understand…
A wonderful room
Better tuck in – our tour starts soon
Not by car, but on foot.

Our tour, run by the Art Deco trust, was really fascinating. Our guide was a Dutch immigrant some twenty years resident, who admirably shared her passion with us for the history and architecture of the world’s youngest city.

Impressive architecture all around
Now that’s our sort of street!

Our two hour walking tour went very quickly, and the twenty minutes film on the earthquake was equally interesting.

Only a small selection of lots of Deco photos taken on the day
One of my favourites – modelled on Buck Rodgers
The theatre was incredible
And changes colour!

Although we couldn’t go inside all the buildings that our guide wanted to – some because of the virus, some because they had changed ownership or in one case gone bust, we got to go inside enough to enjoy what we saw. And actually none of them were quite as impressive as the Emporium where we had enjoyed lunch, apart from the theatre, which was incredible.

Back where we started. Or just next door.

Feeling rather smug when our guide suggested that in our spare time we explore the Emporium and the Masonic Hotel entrance next door, we repaired to Monica Loves (Who shot the barman?) where we had a glass of White Caps Chardonnay and then called an Uber to avoid the long uphill walk back to our apartment. $6 well spent.

Ready for a game of rope-tug?

Back there, Lulu was wanting to show us how strong she is in a game of rope tug of war. She won.

The late afternoon was lovely and sunny – as another view from our bedroom shows

With the late afternoon sun strengthening all the time, we sat on the little sun trap of a private patio, having retrieved the washing, even the drowned bath mat, and put our feet up.

We even got a little sun burnt.

Another great day. Congratulations to the Art Deco Trust and all its volunteers and supporters. You have something very special here.

Now can we fit Lulu in the back of the Jucy suzuki?

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

NZ Tiki Day 22 – Napier & Hawkes Bay

We’d been really lucky so far. 22 days into our trip and the weather had been fantastic – when it had rained, it politely did so at night. However today we ran out of luck as the cyclone promised swept windly and wetly across Napier, spoiling the spectacular view.

No matter. Plan B. Wine.

But first a driving tour of the Bluff Hill area of the city in the neighbourhood surrounding us. It probably is better to drive this tour as it would otherwise be a lot of upping and downing. And when it invited us to get out and walk, we ignored it, as we would have got wet.

That wetness is coming our way…

Talking of getting wet, the shower head this morning was positioned such that I drenched the whole bathroom very effectively. I though of adjusting it, but conscious of not wanting to change things, I didn’t. Mistake. The bath floor mat may recover – eventually.

Anyhow – drier outside than in the bathroom, our tour progressed nicely and we admired the many interesting houses, only occasionally falling foul of no turn and steep one way in, one way out cul-de-sacs that with Jucy’s turning circle abilities meant a serious steering wheel whirling work out at those times.

Some historic houses up on the hill

When we had driven back up Shakespeare road for the third time, we claimed victory on the tour and went in search of the recycling centre, wine bottles clanking in the shelf they exaggeratingly describe as a boot.

Now a B & B but very lovely

It was some way out of town in a place called Taradale. It had made me laugh yesterday at the I-Site when the man we spoke to tore a map of Napier off the pad with a flourish and then drew an arrow off the bottom end of it with his yellow highlighter. “It’s off that end there”, he said rather unhelpfully.

Not knowing exactly where we were heading therefore and conscious that the abortive attempt yesterday to find a recycling facility had ended in an industrial estate in front of a building merchant/recycling specialist who wanted no truck with our collection of empty wine bottles, we were relieved when the sign took us over a bridge and into a well organised recycling facility. Never sure whether the wine bottles are brown or green I sought advice. “Green, eh?” I was told in no uncertain terms.

Now, time to replenish that stock of empty bottles with some full ones. Martin and Faye had recommended Elephant Hill, so we went there and arrived just in time for lunch. What a lovely meal we enjoyed of Matangi Beef sirloin, medium rare (also available well done) with gratinated potatoes, a butternut puree and scorched brussels spouts ( I had Heather’s). We had an excellent bottle of their Chardonnay (yes, I know we are supposed to drink red with beef, but hey, call us phillistines.)

The meal was outstanding and the waitress so effervescently bubbly that I thought she might explode.

Lovely meal – effervescent waitress

We moved on after a a first class cappuccino brought the perfect end to lunch, just after which I had a quick phonecall with Roger to check he and his family were still ok to see us on Thursday. “I’m virus free” I assured him. “How do you know?” he enquired. All I could offer him was that I had no symptoms and was enjoying my glass of wine. He knew of Elephant Hill and was a fan of the 1pm to 6pm lunch there. My type of bloke. I’ll look forward very much to seeing him again on Thursday.

Imagine this on a sunny day – even more spectacular

We moved down the road to Clearview which was in our guidebook suggested tour of estates at the very end of the route. We were in Te Awanga, right on the coast. We enjoyed our visit here where my namesake Philip was friendly and informative. We bought a bottle of White Caps Chardonnay – made in the 80’s style, just how we like it.

The cellar door
Choices, choices
Happy with White Caps

Then on to Sileni – about 30 minutes drive away across the bottom of the Hawkes Bay wine area. Here Doug was really informative and we enjoyed a lovely tasting of a variety of their excellent wines. We bought a couple of bottles, a Pinot Gris and a Pourriture Noble.

Running out of time, we made the 20 minutes journey to Mission Estate Wines, just arriving ahead of their cut off of 4.30pm. Darryl, a retired South African, took us through the range of whites. We bought three bottles – two rose and a late harvest.

It wasn’t a Mission to come here, anything but…
Lovely interior to the oldest winery in the area.

Realising that our wine purchasing was logarithmically incremental, it was just as well it was 5pm and we retired back to the apartment, happy with our day in the rain.

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

NZ Tiki Day 21 – Gisborne to Napier

We did feel we had slightly shortchanged Gisborne and should have stayed another night. I should also have taken some photos of the lovely place we stayed in on Russell Street – doh.

A choice of walks in Gisborne…

We decided therefore to take the morning to walk around the city a bit. Choosing from a selection of town walks in a leaflet in the apartment, we opted for the Houses and Gardens described as a “leafy circuit” from the free parking in Marina Park which I reckoned was about 4km. It took us an hour, so that must have been about right.

Very pleasant hour spent in suburbia
Along the bank of the Taraheru river which runs through the centre of Gisborne

It was a very pleasant stroll through quiet suburbia and then the botanical gardens, before completing the circuit alongside the Taraheru river. Lovely properties again, my goodness, another place in NZ we’d be happy to live! Indeed it might be easier to make a list of places we wouldn’t want to live…

Some des resses…
Wyllie Cottage – one of New Zealand’s oldest – still looking swish!
Nearing the walk end near Marina Park
Pierless? I don’t think so.
What’s that down there?
Just about to be chased off by an aggressive gull

List of places in New Zealand we wouldn’t want to live:

  1. Opotiki.

Sorry Opotiki, that’s it.

We gapped it from Gisborne at 11am, knowing we had about a 3 hour journey ahead, despite it being around 216km. Lots of bendy roads I guess.

A glimpse of Gisborne

We wanted to visit the memorial site to James Cook, which we did, with Laurie’s recent message recalled that “He isn’t very popular round there as he killed a few Māoris and called the place Poverty Bay.” We found the memorial surrounded by the commercial harbour. It was fine enough, but after the walk to Cooks Cove the previous day, lacked a sense of the occasion. We didn’t linger.

On this spot….
Unusual to celebrate squash too….

We then headed for Young Nick’s Head – named after the cabin boy on the Endeavour who had been first to spot the East Coast of the North Island on James Cooks epic voyage in October 1769. We were disappointed by Google Maps taking us to a dusty turning circle on an unfinished road, still some way from the headland itself. I guess we were supposed to walk from there, but it looked a very long way away.

So we abandoned that idea and headed off.

We had been eyeing up the Morere hot springs en route, as the idea of sulphur free saline hot water to plunge into sounded appealing. And about an hour into our journey, there they were. We had been considering a private pool for $18 each, but couldn’t agree on which of the two best suited us, the cooler which I would prefer, or the warmer for Heather. The suggestion from the DOC staff onsite was that given it was quiet and there were three different temperature pools a short 400m walk through the Nikau grove, that we might have almost to ourselves, we should do that. Good idea, and the $8 saving would be handy too.

It was a lovely walk through the jungly forest. As we arrived three Māori lads had just finished using the pools and gave us some advice on which stainless steel lined plunge pool was which and what order to visit them in, before leaving us to enjoy them in solitude.


About half an hour of blissful soaking later, a French couple arrived. I had already boiled and frozen myself sufficiently at this point, so ignoring any childish thoughts bubbling up abut boiling a frog, we passed them our baton of tranquility. We went back via the 800 metre loop walk through more Nikau forest, ending up near to the entrance, where we enjoyed a sandwich picnic on one of the tables in the sun.

Great spot for a picnic

We drive on after lunch noting first the agricultural landscape and then increasingly windy and hilly roads as we approached Napier, with some lovely beaches on the north of the city. Two hours later it felt like one of our longest days drives, which it was.

On arrival at 9 Convent Road, Bluff Hill, at around 4pm, we checked in to our wonderful apartment and headed for town for a quick Countdown shop and a visit to the i-Site for advice on where to recycle the increasingly large collection of empty wine bottles. We had a quick drink across the road at the Lone Star Bar after which we headed back up Bluff Hill just in time to meet up with the lovely Amy the owner, her two daughters and affectionate German Shepherd Lulu.

The view from our room – another cracking spot!

The evening consisted of home microwaved cottage pie, a few glasses of wine, reading about corona virus, and a relatively late night after fiddling around with some photos and writing this stuff.

Another grand view from our room.

It feels very autumnal today and with a cyclone forecast to come in tomorrow, we might need to celebrate St Patricks day with long trousers on! Just hoping my brother of the same name gets back from his trip to Singapore ok…..

General New Zealand Tiki 2020

NZ Tiki Day 20 – Lottin Point (East Cape) to Gisborne

We left sharpish at around 8.30am saying our farewells to Marija and the others at the Lottin Point Motel, where we had enjoyed our stay.

First stop of the day was the giant Te Waha O Rerekohu – allegedly the oldest Pohutukawa Tree in New Zealand in the school yard in Te Araroa. Easily found and it was massive and one can easily believe the claim.

Maybe I’m getting the hang of photographing these big trees. Oh no! Where’s the top?

Second stop – Tikitiki on the recommendation of Laurie and it was a wow stop at the charming St Mary’s Church – the outside picture postcard and the inside decorated so beautifully in Māori symbols. Well worth a fifteen to twenty minute break here.

So peaceful outside
So beautifully decorated inside…
With Māori stained glass
And welcoming visages

We didn’t detour into Ruatoria, despite its billing as the biggest town on the East Cape. Also not tempted by Te Puia Springs we tried to find a coffee in Tokomaru Bay, taking the signs for the Te Puma tavern, but that was closed. As was the whole town. I guess it was Sunday.

Go south! There’s coffee there…..

We travelled further and found a cafe and a cappuccino and toasted cheese and tomato sandwich in Tolaga Bay, before setting off to walk the wharf. All 660 metres of it. There and back. Brilliant to see it in such good condition and we enjoyed our wander out to sea – atmospheric. A few fisherman were at the end playing reggae and chilling.

There it is – all 1.2 km there and back
And we’re off..
Great colours today.
In good nick still.
What time’s lunch?
Still oozing memories
And crying out for the pano shot…

Nearby was the start of the Cooks Cove walk – described as 2 1/2 hours in length, and so we were happy to complete the outbound leg in 40 minutes. We were delayed a bit at the lookout by John, who emerged from underneath the platform like a cross between gollum and a hobbit, covered in grass and leaves and introducing himself sheepishly and toothlessly by gasping “I’m geocaching eh? Have you heard of it?”

There was no swearing either up or back – I’m impressed.
To me the beauty of the surroundings is memorial enough, but hey.
See what I mean?

“How many have you done?” I asked, knowing sanctimoniously that it’s not all about the numbers. We then discussed the relative merits of tupperware hides versus earth caches and set off after ten minutes of pleasantries, with John’s advice still ringing in our ears “It may not be the right state of tide for the cache at the hole in the wall!”

How many times can I photograph this?

As it happened it was ok. I diverted to said hole in wall and walked through right it with dry feet, while Heather went on to soak up the bay.

A lot…
I did warn you…
And from the other side..
Last one…promise

What an atmospheric place. It felt almost spooky, the amount of history hanging humidly in the air. You could imagine without closing your eyes, how Cook and his men would have come ashore here and how the interchange of cultures took place between the local iwi and the European visitors. Luckily it went well, unlike further down the coast in Napier.

If you said James Cook was arriving in the next ten minutes, I’d believe you..

Our next local human contact wasn’t so positive about the role of migrants and the globalisation of the world, although he and his bristling and greying Chez Guevara moustache walks over here every day to soak up the sights, given he lives locally. He is disapproving of how the world has become so multi-cultural, how London is full of too many foreigners now and how much the English sense of nationality identity has been squeezed and subverted. He also complained how the British Royal family “have got themselves in a bit of a state, eh” over the Harry and Megan thing, but nevertheless and I have to assume tongue firmly in cheek, asked us to remember him fondly to Liz.

Here today…
Gone tomorrow
Choices, choices…

He is the classic epitome of a Brexiteer and was therefore horrified when I explained why we weren’t for it. He must have forgotten that his family would have been migrants in this fair land, perhaps not that long ago. Not for me to remind him of this though and we parted ways reasonably amiably on the way back up the hill, with our ideologies clearly not at all compatible.

Who’s been framed?

It was a tremendous walk – easily worth 5 hippo hurrahs and it entertained us for about 2 hrs in total with just 80 minutes of return walking. The balancing 40 minutes was spent chatting to hairy toed cachers and moustachioed bigots and otherwise enjoying the amazing scenery. On our must list for NZ? Absolutely.

Looking north from the lookout point

We got to Gisborne at around 3.30pm and Nadene greeted us with her traceable Joburg accent, having been here for only 8 months with her husband Herman, and loving it. I’m not surprised. And we were to love their tidy and very comfortable modern sparkly clean apartment, tacked neatly on to the side of their quiet suburban house.

The Rivers restaurant in Gisborne provided a well earned Guinness and a bottle of local Chardonnay, as well as a bacon feta and tomato quiche for Heather (more like a pie really with all that puff pastry, but delicious none the less) and I had the most amazing corned beef, colcannon, leek, mashed potato and pea dish that was home Irish cooking at its very best. And not even St Paddy’s day yet….

We then discovered that despite driving, we weren’t actually all that far from our accommodation in Russell Street. We very much liked the look of Gisborne and that I suspect was helped by the sun coming out again. We decided we would spend the following morning here rather than rush off to Napier. In hindsight, we could have done with another day here. Lucky Laurie suggested we spent at least one night!

Foolishly, we didn’t take any photos of our overnight stop, which is a shame. It was very good – a lovely comfy bed and great shower. Despite the great kerfuffle across the world about the virus, and fifth of our pension value being wiped off by the resulting share crash, we slept like babies. And no, not waking up and screaming every half an hour.