New Zealand Blog

March 2019

This was the trip that was booked in early January, shortly before our visit to the local GP for a skin check. We had booked flights, insurance, car rentals, and accommodation, and arranged all the meetings with our friends. But then we heard about the melanoma diagnosis of Tim's 'ugly duckling' on his back and were catapulted into the Melanoma Institute of Australia, with cuts, path tests, more cuts and more path tests, lots of uncertainty about long term options, treatments; and of course, whether we would have to postpone or even cancel the NZ trip. But to cut a long story short, 6 weeks later, with much of Tim's back cut out we were given the all clear that the melanoma had not spread, and that there was no reason to cancel the trip, or even to inform the insurance company. All that we had to do was look after the somewhat significant wound.
Well, with that out of the way, of course we were really looking forward to the NZ trip.
In Wellington we picked up the rental car, which they upgraded to a larger one with its own GPS and parking censors, so our own GPS lugged across from Australia was redundant.
We had booked into a motel that provided free parking and was slightly cheaper than other inner Wellington accommodation, but wonderfully located. It lived up to all it had to offer. Good parking and location, but just a little down market. However, we spent so little time there that it did not matter, apart from the traffic noise overnight that was 30 times worse than the Anzac Bridge in Sydney.
On arrival we explored our surrounds and rediscovered Cuba Street, a bohemian area that we recalled so enjoying when we lived in Wellington in the early 1970s. It had not changed much. We had a mission - to try to find Tim a guitar and a cushion, and sheets for the AirBnb in Foxton that preferred we did not use their sheets (which, on our arrival, we also preferred not using them, but that is a later story).
We purchased Tim a recycled guitar worth so much more than we paid for it because of the arrangement that Alistair's Music in Cuba Street had of repurchasing at 2/3rds the price anything he sold, which he then resells. Also, his shop housed the most amazing old string and special instruments, most of which he would not sell, but allowed serious musicians to borrow for performances in Wellington. Apparently the cast of "The Hobbit" when filming in Wellington used to purchase and return, or repurchase from him.
We also purchased a small ukelele and several tambourines for the Woolley children, although this may have been cruel to the parents.
We asked the shop owner about the best restaurants in the area, and he put us onto Ombra, almost next door. It was great - Italian, sort of sharing plates, but good food. The next day we purchased a pillow at the Army Surplus store in the area, and they put us onto a cheap warehouse for our sheets and towels.
On our first full day in Wellington we drove to Petone to visit Kim Saffron, a longstanding and good friend. We enjoyed tea in her lovely period home, well appointed with furniture and wonderful prints and paintings. She took us to lunch in Eastbourne, the most Eastern wing of the Wellington Harbour. Tim was able to get a few photos.
That evening Jonathan met us at our accommodation and hiked us up through a park to Brooklyn (we had no time or breath to take photos). It was an area we did not know about, and were amazed at how lovely the path and vegetation were. He is able to hike this daily to work (weather permitting, which from memory of Wellington, may not have been too many days). But the weather was glorious for us.
We arrived at Jonathan and Angelica's new home (they had spent 5 years in Sydney where we got to know them well), enjoyed their wonderful views, catching up with Xavey again, now 4 + and young Jasmine, not quite one year old. Michele (Jonathan's sister) and Mike and their children were also there - we knew about Felix 3+ years, but not Hazel (just 3 weeks old). It was lovely roast lamb and veg meal, with backed pears and ice cream for desert - both families having provided it.
Then after another somewhat disturbed night, given the traffic that made me think they had changed the Wellington Airport flight path to go past our window, we packed up and visited George and Hilary Troup, en route to Foxton Beach.
George and Hilary were our neighbours in Johnsonville when we first moved to Wellington in 1972 - 1974. They studied in France, became fluent in French and ended up in Foreign Affairs with very senior postings to Washington, Mexico and the EU. They have had a rich and full life and have a special perspective on world issues.

They hosted us in their lovely typical Wellington home with stories and views. Hilary pointed us to the a New World shopping centre in inner city Wellington, where we were able to stock up so easily, before heading to Foxton Beach.
Our impressions driving through Johnsonville, Porirua, the Kapiti Coast, Paraparaumu, Otaki, Levin etc., were that not much had changed. There were a couple of sections of motorway that seemed to help traffic flow, but the bits that were still single lane reduced the advantage of the motorway. Fortunately we were heading north, and kept moving, but there was a totally stationary parking lot on the southern lane all the way from the northern end of Levin to the southern end of Otaki. I suspect everyone was trying to attend a concert on the farther side of Wellington, which was, according to rumour, already so full that there was no movement. We were glad we were getting out of that bottleneck.
Foxton Beach has smartened up a bit, but has not changed substantially, although the section fronting onto the estuary where we had owned 'Sanbama' as a bach while in Palmerston North now included very up-market large homes, all enjoying the views over the estuary and river mouth, with wonderful birdlife.
As always, when we revisit Foxton Beach, our first trip is to walk along the estuary and look at the bach we once owned, and so enjoyed. It had been painted, and it appeared that the pane windows had been replaced with more regular ones, but in substance it remained as it was.
We happened on the new owner, mentioned that we had owned the place, and gave her lots of history. She invited us in to have a look. The old wooden kitchen sink bench has been replaced, a new bathroom etc. added directly onto the house, but they have maintained the outdoor facilities we used - shower and toilet, that I recall a friend of Kim's (Jeremy) helping us fix up using stuff from the Foxton tip. It was a classy fix and the new owner commented that they had left it as it was. The plot had been subdivided, with a large mansion on the back section that used to sport very large and scary trees. We purchased it for NZ$15,000 in around 1978, and think we sold it when we left for Australia in 1985 for around NZ $35 - 40,000. We rudely asked the owner what she had paid - NZ $450,00, but apparently when the new motorway is finished, properties will take off and the esplanade is seen as a million dollar lane.
I can see why - it remains simply magic, with amazing views, bird life galore and total privacy, apart from the fact that they have kept a walkway along the estuary, as they should.
Some rituals have to be repeated in Foxton and we enjoyed paua fritters and a few other gourmet fish fritters and wonderful fish fillets from the take out. We also happened to coincide with the 'Godwit' researcher we had met on our last visit about 4 years ago. He did his PhD at Massey about 12 years ago and has returned to Foxton Beach every year since in March, when the Godwits fly from the estuary to Alaska. Apparently they are flying a bit earlier this year and there are only about 150, when at their peak there were many more. Some of the decline is due to changing dune sand bank structure in the estuary, which even we can attest to, as we used to be able to float our dinghy from the front of our bach at high tide. Now it only reaches that level on limited occasions. As the Godwit count across NZ has grown, the drop at the estuary in Foxton Beach is probably due to the local changing geography, although everyone is exploring the role of global warming.
Our BNB accommodation was funky but actually quite good, even though it was on Linklater Avenue, not on the estuary. It had a lovely secluded and protected back area that enabled one to eat out, and spend time outdoors even in the wind - a feature of Foxton. The colour scheme reminded us of the homes in towns in Chile - very bright and varied. Although quite small, it had all we needed, including a washing machine - much appreciated as we had a full load after the first part of our trip.
We spent an hour on the estuary, watching the sun set and trying to capture birds and returned to the outdoor area where Tim used his new guitar to entertain me - the three nights he has played so far have made the purchase well worthwhile.
Cheryl and David joined us at Foxton Beach on Sunday and we walked along the estuary, to the mouth of the Manawatu River, then along the beach and back to our accommodation - about 8km, mostly flat, but on sandy surfaces. Afterwards we picked up fish and chips and more gourmet paua fritters and chatted and argued about issues in our funky Air BNB.
On the Monday we travelled through to Palmerston North, remembering the road well travelled when we lived in PN to go to our bach in Foxton Beach at week-ends.
We took Judy Brook, a Massey colleague, out to lunch at the Herb Garden Cafe about 15 minutes out of PN - just lovely catching up with her and then called on Audrey Shouksmith, in an aged care village and were able to spend a very special hour with her. George, her husband, was my PhD supervisor and boss while at Massey, but one has to admit that Audrey was the one who kept everything together. She was and is, so special, has a wonderful sense of humour, and has managed old age well - she is into her 90's.
We returned to Foxton Beach via Shannon, where the library provided free Internet. We enjoyed the drive on roads last travelled about 40 years ago.
Our last evening in Foxton Beach provided a different set of photo opportunities over the estuary, as there was lots of cloud, but the sun did peek through. Birds were around.
Foxton Beach will always have a special place in our memory, as it was what made Palmerston North bearable.

Tuesday 5th March

We drove through to Whanganui (or Wanganui as it was known when we lived in NZ). We had high hopes, but were disappointed, in part because the highlights we had identified visiting were not open, and because the special bush areas required at least two days to access and enjoy. It is really sad how little native bush remains in New Zealand and we have had to work hard to find it.
We did visit a homestead and an enclosed fenced area of native bush. Most of the activity seems to be around the homestead and the offer of Devonshire Tees. We had hoped to perhaps have something to eat there, but two busloads of elderly folk were visiting the place, each of whom seemed to be paying for their share using the Internet, which was really slow and we worked out that we did not have the time so just hiked the short tracks in their small bit of native bush, which was great (see the photos), before heading toward our accommodation on Mount Egmont (or Taranaki as it is now known).
Just in case we stocked up with a few eats not requiring cooking, as we were unsure about what our accommodation would offer.
But on arrival we realised the cabin was special - an old shed converted, with all that we needed, including a small fridge to keep things cool, and enough to enable us to cook meals. It sported a hot tub which we did not try because of Tim's wound and because it is not really our thing. We just enjoyed the privacy and the access it provided to hiking. Although we were not sure, we assume that the reason we booked this, in haste, was because of its close location to the track head of the major hike we wanted to do and it was. Whew!
Tim entertained me again with his guitar songs and music - special.

Wednesday 6th March

We hiked the Mangorei track to the Pouakai hut, in drizzly but not pouring rain. The entire track involves duck boards and steps and in a few places slip resistant pads - 12 km and 660 m climb to the hut. Although cloaked in our wet weather gear, we enjoyed the New Zealand bush and obtained interesting pictures. The return hike was long and a little boring (2 plus hours). At least when one is climbing up hill one is engaged in aerobic exercise.
We then ventured into New Plymouth. There is not much one would want to comment on, but we did manage to get the maps we needed for hiking at the i-centre, and we stocked up at the local supermarket. We also sorted out a non-existent problem with our local NZ mobile. They send really misleading messages, but that is another story.
Back at our accommodation we enjoyed a fish BBQ with mashed kumara and vegies, and watched a very watered down sunset compared to our experiences at Foxton Beach. But at least the sun was out so we knew where it set.

Thursday 7th March

We started out expecting the worst - wet weather and no visibility, but we were wrong. Luckily from the Mt Egmont/Taranaki Centre, we learned that the weather was good for the day, but would deteriorate later in the afternoon with a deluge the next day. This encouraged us to do the hike half way up Mt Taranaki, to the tower, before taking the track west and back to the National Park Hut. We could have managed to hike further up Mt Egmont/Taranaki, but the weather advice was uncertain, and on balance we are pleased we explored the various views of the mount, its vegetation, and the challenge of hiking on different terrain.
We enjoyed a home cooked meal in our wonderful accommodation, but that night the rains came, and they stayed.

Friday 8th March

We managed to pack up and get into the car in pouring rain, and travelled through to Turangi (about 500 Km) in the worst weather we have ever experienced while driving. It was a challenge but we managed.
Creel Lodge is a good place to stay - expensive, but private, and with all we needed. We purchased more Mountain Ridge tops - warm weather gear (last purchased some here about 4 years ago that have been well used), and were advised that the weather would be OK for the Tongariro crossing.

Saturday 9th March

We decided not to bother with the shuttle service and the crowds on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing - we did it the last time we were in the area. Rather we drove to the Mangatepopo Car Park, usually the drop off for shuttle busses, planning not to cross but to walk to the saddle and return. It is obviously big business now, as there were many busses, small shuttles etc. who had dropped off folk intending to do the crossing. We were somewhat dismayed to see signs saying that one could only park for 4 hours, which suggested that they did not want us to do what we were doing, but rather use their expensive shuttle services. However the Maori ranger was helpful when I explained our plan, agreeing to extra time - we needed five hours, and could have done with more.
The weather was exceptional, with lovely bush and views of the mountains. Mostly the hike was fun as we left late enough to avoid the 2500 people doing the crossing (according to the ranger). But unfortunately lots of those were slow so we caught up with them quickly, and realised that it was a bit of a 'traffic jam' getting through sections of the hike. There were more toilets on the crossing than we remembered (essential with so many people) but they were cleverly disguised to blend with the environment.
But we optimised, enjoyed, and obtained lots of photos.
The trip back was comparatively people free and hence enjoyable. The stats were about 16.5 km, 650 m climb, and about 5 hours. We do more in the mountains, but not at that altitude.
We found a New World, purchased sufficient food to ensure we did not need to eat out, and enjoyed our Creel Lodge accommodation. The weather turned a bit in the evening so we realised how lucky we had been.
Most of Creel Lodge that night was occupied by old car enthusiasts driving from Auckland to Cromwell in the South Island where there was a meeting/rally of old cars. All quite fun! They seemed really happy and social.

Sunday 10th March

The trip to Tauranga was leisurely with a few photos of Lake Taupo, a visit to the Huka Falls and the Wairaki Thermal Power station, a picnic lunch, and a surprise discovery of the Okere Falls, north of Rotorua. We had not visited them before.
Lati's new home in the Pacific Coast Village is a classy affair, with a three bed-roomed two bath-roomed villa and communal facilities including a heated pool, gymnasium, theatre room, formal dining restaurant as well as a more casual cafe, lots of organised activities, all very new and well kept. I think she made a good decision moving there.
We explored the beach that is close to her new home, and visited the Mount on the following day.
Lati had U3A event to organise so we climbed the Mount and also completed the circuit at the base. Views were quite spectacular, and we obtained several good pictures of birds.
That night we ate out at an Italian restaurant in the Mount. Catching up with Lati was fun.
On Tuesday we drove through to the Thames area, first visiting the Miranda Shorebird Centre assuggested by Lati - lots of godwits waiting to fly and pied oyster-catchers, but quite far away.
After booking in at our wonderful Tree House BnB, we were advised by the owner, an ex forest ranger, to do the Waiomu Kauri hike. It was just what we needed, only 1.5 hrs and not too much climb, but lovely bush and we were rewarded with a very impressive stand of Kauri trees.
On our last full day in New Zealand we revisited the Pinnacles track in the Kauaeranga Valley, having done it on our last trip to the Coromandel. This time we turned around before the top as we were running out of time, and the weather looked like it would change.
But overall we had been unbelievably lucky with glorious weather for hiking and rain only falling on days when we had to drive.
Our flight back to Sydney also sported rain and we had to circle at Sydney Airport for 45 minutes because of a weather event there.
Then, on the Friday after our return the awful massacre occurred in Christchurch. It seems so unfair that New Zealand, in general and Christchurch in particular experienced such awful events. The earthquakes in Christchurch and the South Island over the past years have left many scars. The massacre is the last straw. But the NZ public response is only to be admired. What a wonderful people.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.08.
On 5 Apr 2019, 17:25.