Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Driving Creek Railway and Pottery

Driving Creek Railway
Terracotta Tunnel, The Track, Pete our Driver

We rode this small railway built by Barry Brickell, a well-known NZ potter and obvious engineering genius, which runs up steep grades, across two trestle bridges, along two spirals and four switchbacks, through two tunnels and finishes at the "Eyefull Tower" with extraordinary views all the way to the islands off Auckland. An amazing trip through rejuvenating native NZ bush planted by Barry and his staff. He bought the land in 1972 and began building the railroad to bring clay down from the hills to his pottery. Now, it is run as a tourist train, and the last extension was completed by Barry in 2001. The tracks and trains themselves were all built on site in a foundry. The trains run on bio-fuel made from reclaimed fish and chips oil. It's a great trip.

Afterward, we went into Coromandel to the Hauraki Gallery and met the man himself who was working the desk at his most recent gallery show. There were beautiful pieces on display by Barry and several other local potters. Too bad the ones I wanted were too big to carry home.

Lunch in a great restaurant, Umu, where Bill had the local mussel chowder (he licked his bowl), and I enjoyed fresh grilled fish on a fresh fruit and vegie salad. I licked my fingers. Perfect. This whole month has been a great trip!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Coromandel Town

These views of Cathedral Cove would have been spectacular had we had some sun, but it was still worth the 40 minute hike down and back up. We had cloudy weather all day with a cool breeze, but no rain.
Cathedral Cove is on the east side of the Coromandel Peninsula, and after taking the little ferry across to Whitianga this morning (it runs continuously and takes 5 minutes each way), we returned to Cooks Cove and ate a picnic lunch. The gulls are almost as agressive as the ducks on the Queen Charlotte Track. It's fun to watch the alpha-male chase all the smaller ones away at the expense of getting any bread crumbs. There's a great big brown gull lurking around who never makes a fuss but just elbows in at the last minute and grabs any hand-outs. The little guy does all the squaking and posturing and never cashes in.
We are staying in Coromandel Town on the west side of the peninsula tonight after crossing over the mountain range, up and down a highway that matches any the mountain roads in Jackon County, NC have to offer. Again, incredible views, almost to Auckland. Our new motel is lovcly, with a great balcony looking out over the harbour and oyster farms. We expect fresh oysters for supper! This motel, The Harbour View, is a great one, and I was lucky to find it on the internet at the last minute this morning. Such nice "hosts," the owners, just as we have found at so many places we have stayed. They really treat you as their special guests.
Hope we'll stay here tomorrow night, too. There's lots to do in this area before we fly out on Friday night. Lots of oysters, mussels, and scallops to eat, too.


Not great weather for the beach; however, yesterday afternoon the sun came out and I got some great pictures of the beach here at Hahei. It's incredible. The water is rougher than usual, as there is a lot of wind.

We are moving from The Church motel as it is just too remote, and there is no internet service. We have taken the ferry across to Whitianga and I'm posting this from an internet cafe. We plan to move to Coromandel Town tonight, and just look for a place to stay. Shouldn't be a problem as it's mid-week. If I can get service, I'll post another blog.
We are hoping for the sun to come out!!! Better pictures that way, and the scenery is magnificent.
If we can't do another blog, remember we leave Auckland on Friday evening at 7:30. That's your Thursday. We'll be back in LA on Friday morning. Fly back to Greenville on Saturday.
It's been a great trip. Everyone must put NZ on their travel list!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pureora Pictures

Bill at the summit, and me with the sign showing the way back down. It was "breezy" on the top. I have not idea why the trash bin at the ranger station is labeled this! I really looked inside to see what it was! Just trash.

Nice Walk - Pureora Mountain

I love the way Kiwis describe strenous hikes up-hill for two miles, and then straight down again. It's a "nice walk" the ranger said at Pureora Park headquarters. We drove about 3 miles further into the park to the trail head without seeing another car and were reasurred because there were a number of school vans and other vehicles parked there with "Hilltop School" on the side. Great, if kids can do it; it can't be too bad. Ha! I should have guessed from the name, it is probably a school for gifted and talented mountain climbers.

Sixth graders, about 50 of them and assorted chaperones met us on the way down (for them). They were very jolly and very polite. They all smiled, told us to have a good hike, and chatted with us about where we were from. Then, we climbed another hour to the summit. The signage indicated it was a 2 1/2 hour hike, return. Maybe for a sixth grader. It took us 3 1/2 hours, but, we made it and were rewarded with amazing views for hundreds of miles in every direction. The bush (which is really a fern and moss covered understory with huge trees and "Tarzan vines") is green and beautiful. We were entertained, again, with the Tui birds who make a series of calls and throaty "werks", some of which are so high pitched the human ear can't hear them.

Our weather was perfect for hiking - sunny and bright but cool breezes. Sorry, blogger is not allowing me to put up photos. I'll try again later.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Taupo Lake

Dr. Seuss trees along the trail to the Huka Falls. There are large patches of these in the bush everywhere.

A calm view of the river above the Haku Falls. These pictures are from our walk yesterday.

Here are the locals enjoying the warm water in the river where the thermal stream enters the water. It must be wonderful. Maybe I'll try it out tomorrow.
We had a great cruise on the lake today. The brunch consisted of a full English breakfast, plus fresh fruit, croissants, and lots of coffee or tea. Our hostess cooked the English-style bacon on a gas grill on the back of the boat. Delicious. We saw the Maori rock carvings whch were commissioned in 1979 by the Arts Commission of NZ and done by art students. Smart thinking. I can't imagine how many tourists come here to see these.
Lake Taupo is a volcanic crater created in 160 AD when the volcano under the lake (still active, and that's why there are thermal streams and hot beaches here) erupted sending debris 40 miles into the atmosphere. The resulting ash darkened the sky as far away as Europe and was recorded by the Greeks and Romans. They reported three days of darkness. The resulting lake is the largest in Australasia. It's also very turquoise and clear and stocked with California rainbow trout and brown trout from Germany.
We saw a young man get off one of the charter fishing boats about noon with a big grin on his face and a string of rainbow trout, three of them (which is your limit) about 3 - 4 pounds each. Wish I were having dinner at his house. The average size is 2 klg. which is about 5 pounds. NZ does not allow trout farming; therefore, you can only eat what you can catch in the wild.
We'll settle for some lamb shanks and mash, which is the specialty of the restaurant we've picked for this evening.

Lake Taupo

We drove through undulating hills and mountains and then up into higher mountains covered with tree farms - some of which had been harvested for lumber leaving eroded and ugly moutainsides. However, new trees had been planted and the mature trees that have not yet been cut are magnificent, thick almost black green pines. This is the only "rest stop" between Napier and Taupo, about 85 miles, but has good coffee, nice people, and clean restrooms. There are lots of gorges and white water. It's a beautiful area. You can see a grove of eucalyptus at the top of the hill in this shot.

Taupo is NZ's largest lake with a shorline of 90 miles. It's the biggest fishing spot in the country. You can use a spinning rod out on the lake, but flyfishing is required in the three rivers that flow in or out. There's a prawn farm on one of the rivers. Waikato River, NZ longest river, flows NW out of the lake and drops 9 meters through a narrow canyon creating these impressive and foaming falls, Huka Falls. We walked the river trail up to see them. Supposedly, the water that flows over the falls in one minute will fill 5 olympic size swimming pools. There's a jet boat ride that takes people right up to the base of the falls. While we are going out for a Sunday brunch boat trip on the lake this morning, I think we'll skip the jet boat this time. There's also a bungy jump in town. Skip that, too, unless we just watch from the bottom.

On the trail to Huka Falls is a thermal hot stream pouring into the river. It's steaming and almost too hot to put your hand into. There were lots of people floating and relaxing in the warm water at the mouth of the stream. When we came back along there about 5:00 p.m., the beer had been passed around. Sweet.
Upstream from the falls, the river is swift but calm and a beautiful clear aqua color. Lots of willow trees and pines help shade the walk. The local community has planted a lot of native shrubs at the beginning of the path in order to re-claim the bush that was destroyed by timber harvesting. There's also a big park with play grounds and picnic areas, trails, etc., all well-maintained. Although the town is sort of resort-like there seems to be a real community interest here.
We ate at Brantry Restaurant last night. (Recommended by a doctor we met in Highlands who had done an internship here in Taupo last year.) More great food. I won't go into detail for those of you who are tired of food-writing, but we have discovered fresh squid here which is tender, salt and pepppered with a little flour and fried lightly. It doesn't resemble the calamari we get at home! We've ordered it three times in the last four days. The first restaurant served it with an Asian slaw of cabbage and a sweet sour sauce. Yum. Also, the scallops here look like real shell fish. They even have an orange segment which I've never seen before. Very sweet and tender. Great seafood. By the way, you cannot order trout in NZ from a restaurant or buy it in a store. It must all be wild-caught.
More later, if I can get back on the internet. This is a pay as you go service.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hawkes Bay

We left Martinborough about 9:30 and drove up through more valleys between more spectacular mountains to Havelock North, a small up-scale town south of Napier. There are lots of vineyards here and beautiful wineries. Te Mata Peak towers over the village - a tall barren mountain with craggy out-croppings and a few black cows way at the top munching the grass. How they get up there or why is a mystery. There must be lots of grass at the bottom!

We feel there are many more cattle (dairy and beef) here this time, and not so many sheep. Seems I read somewhere that farmers are converting over as there is more profit in milk than wool. That doesn't surprise me. Maybe the cattle won't munch all the vegetation down so far either.

We stopped yesterday at the Mount Bruce Wildlife Preserve. They specialize in breeding and protecting endangered species of birds. It's a beautiful place, and we actually saw a real kiwi in his cage. Since they are shy nocturnal birds, they make the kiwi house dark during the day so the birds will come out. NZ has lost almost 90% of the number of birds they once had, and some species are already extinct. It's good someone is trying to do something about the problem. (Part of which is the NZ possum - imported for fur from Australia but very hard on the bird population.) The preserve was beautiful bush and wetlands.

The "pirple" car is a good example of the Kiwi sense of humor. That's how they would pronounce "purple." Cousin Cliff wants to know if New Zealanders call kiwi fruit "our fruit?" He's pretty clever, too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cape Palliser Lighthouse and Drive

This is Burnside Church built by settlers in 1875 in the country south of Martinborough.

The Cape Palliser Light House is the southern most tip of the north island. It was a beautiful drive down through the wide green Wairarapa Valley and right along the coast, next to cliffs on my side. There are indeed 250 steps to the top, and here's the view to prove it. We could see Mt. Cook on the South Island for almost the whole length of the drive. Magnificent day!

We were delayed by a herd of sheep in the road going down, and cows in the road coming back. Needless to say, it's a major agricultural area, and livestock have the right of way. The sheep herder was on a motorbike and aided by two sheep dogs. When the herd got off the road and into their pasture, the sheperd whistled and both dogs jumped on the back of the motor bike and off they went. Honest to God. He had a special platform built just to fit the two dogs. I couldn't get the camera out fast enough.

We had fresh fish sandwiches at the Lake Ferry Hotel for lunch. Beautiful views of the Straits and a cut through from the salt-water "lake" to the ocean. Then, drove up to Greytown which was settled in the late 1800's. Lot's of Victorian small houses and churches. We met a young man in front of the school, maybe the "mayor" of Greytown, who pointed out several landmarks to be visited. He also informed us the Maori word for Greytown is "hupanui". Translated it means "big snot." Not very complimentary. He was, by the way, a Maori.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wairarapa Wine District

The rain and winds followed us over the mountains from Wellington this morning. Aside from this beautiful rainbow, we couldn't see much. We had lunch at Murdoch James Winery about 5 miles south of Martinborough before checking in to our motel. Their vines are green and healthy, and we saw chardonay grapes ready for harvest. Tasted their wines which are minerally because the soil is former seabed - lots of calcium and other minerals. So, they taste uniquely of their "terroir." The riesling was especially good, but a little too fruity for our taste. Pinot noirs are the specialty of this wine area, and not one of our favorites. However, I tasted one in the wine tasting center in town (where we were trapped by a heavy downpour, oh darn!) by Voss which was more to my liking. It is exported to the states, and a favorite of many of the American customers (according to the girl at the tasting bar). So, you might want to look for it - if you are a pinot noir drinker.

Martinborough is a little farm town with some nice small painted Victorian houses and churches. Tomorrow, if the sun comes out, we'll head for Cape Palliser, the southern most spot on the north island. There's some walking trails there and a lighthouse to climb. Only 250 steps.
By the way, we've had "pork belly" twice to eat. Bill ordered it for lunch. It's very tasty pork which appears to be the equivalent of beef short ribs. Does anyone know any different? I had a great beetroot and feta cheese tort. Sounds strange, but a lovely red color and very good. We have had different foods from at home, but none of them have been too strange or exotic. All of the food is fresh and made to order in the cafes and restaurants. Nice change from micro-waved main dishes in some of our places at home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tuesday in Wellington

Neil, this billboard above is for you. Keep on training!

How can you not appreciate a country where the school girls dress in 1920's uniforms. I wish I had gotten a picture of the younger ones in the black straw boaters, pig-tails (really), blue cotton shifts and black stockings. They looked like Pippi Longstockings.

Queen's Wharf is a lovely venue with lots of joggers at noon time, cafes, and coffee shops. You can walk along the harbour almost the whole length of the city and not have to worry about pedestrian or car traffic, all of which stay to the left.

We rode the old-fashioned cable car to the botanical gardens above the city. Lovely views from up there on a lovely day. People in the city are still talking about the winds yesterday, which were unusual even for Wellington. Although there were 25 guys holding down a ground cover at the Australian/Kiwi cricket match, it blew away, taking several of them for a merry ride. Evidently, the wind also confounded the Aussie bowlers because the Kiwis won the match. It's an ill wind that blows . . . . . . . .

Sunny Welly

What a difference a day makes. Today is bright sunshine and no wind. We are headed for the rickety cable car to the botanic gardens and then back to Te Papa. What a museum! and, it's free.

Here's a picture of the interior of old St. Paul's. You can see the US flag and the US Marine flag hanging on the right side. We couldn't stand up straight enough yesterday in the wind to get a picture of the exteior.

Windy Welly

The old Parliament House is on the right. The new beehive parliament office building on the left.

They don't call it windy Welly for nothing. We had wind gusts to 75 miles an hour today and grey skies. There were times when we leaned into the wind to stand up, and times when we grabbed the traffic light posts to keep from being whisked away. Amazing.
This fish sculpture is down near the harbour. You can see the man struggling up the steps. We were struggling right behind.

Wellington is a city with a sense of humor and a great respect and support for the arts. The column on the left is a piece of sculpture. It might have been blown over by the wind. It just looks as if it's the remains of ancient Pompeii. Many of the sculptures in public places are whimisical and intriguing. One we noticed yesterday consisted of a number of huge multi-colored cups that filled with water and emptied into each other in a random pattern. There are four major theatres (not cinemas), in a city of 170,000. Eilene, you should see the fashions, both on the street and in the shop windows. Incredibly innovative.

The beehive building on the left is the new (1992) office building for the parliament. We had a great tour of the new and old parliament buildings, all of which were re-engineered in the same year to with-stand earth quakes. They lie on a major fault line. We felt safe while in the buildings. Coming home was something else.

We also visited old St. Paul's cathedral which was built in 1865 of local timbers in the Gothic style. It is still consecrated but only used for weddings and funerals, no services. It is remarkable there is a US flag hung from the arches there, and a US marine flag, because during WWII American troops were sent to Wellington to protect the citizens from attack. There were several thousand marines stationed here while the Kiwi troops were sent to the allied front. The Kiwis have never forgotten the "sons" of the US who came here. It was impressive to see the flags still displayed, the one with only 48 stars.

We had lunch at Pravda, a lovely restaurant in the center of of the city. Our waitress, Caitlyn, is from the US (California) and attended the College of Charleston! She has received a permanent residency in NZ because she has a Kiwi partner. Good girl. Good decision.

Bought our dinner at New World Market, a huge grocery store 2 blocks from our hotel. It's so nice to come home to our own space and be able to eat-in, no matter that there are great restaurants within blocks. It's still windy tonight, but predicted to be sunny tomorrow.
Great and interesting city. Don't particularly enjoy the windy-bits.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


We arrived in Wellington right on time, at 1:05 p.m. after a calm beautiful crossing of the Cook Straits. The skies are slightly overcast, but the sun comes and goes. It could be much worse in Wellington, so "they" say.

Wellington is a bustling city on Sunday afternoon, with lots of young people out shopping and sipping coffee. Coffee is certainly a national pre-occupation of the Kiwis. Everywhere there are coffee shops with many different kinds of short, long, flat white, and fancier brews. We skipped the caffeine for a lovely pint of NZ cider brewed at "Mac's Brewery" on the harbour front near the Civic Center and Te Papa Museum. Our wonderful apartment hotel is just one block from the latter, is very modern, has a kitchen with a dishwasher, etc., and it's own private balcony on the 4th floor looking across the city. Nice digs for $168/night NZ dollars.

Here are some pictures of the Queen Charlotte Track and our trip across from Picton today. The two at the top are taken going out the Marlborough Sound and looking through the channel to the Straits. The next one on the left is leaving Picton Harbour. (Matt, check out the yacht on the left.) The other four were taken on the Track: A view from one of the ridges; looking back down the track on day 3 at the ridge we'd just come over; typical track scenery in the bush; and a vew of Endeavor Inlet.

Friday, March 19, 2010

We did the Queen Charlotte Track!

We are back in Picton at our same very nice hotel, no worse for wear except for some bug bites - Bill got stung by a NZ wasp, but took three benedryl and survived with no reaction (he is very allergic to US wasps) and I have three bites from ankle-biter-no-seeums from three days ago, which are still itching. We did very well on a very challenging track. We walked a total of about 32 miles in four days, stayed in excellent lodges with great food, and struggled over two ridges on the third day that were 400 meters above sea level, and we did walk up from sea level.

It was an incredible experience, one of those self-challenging things you do when you think you are getting old, and know very well that you are. The scenery was magnificent from the tops of the ridges, and I'll download some pictures tomorrow when we get to Wellington. We leave on the ferry at 10:00 a.m. We are doing laundry now, and planning on dinner and an early to-bed. Last night, we were in bed by 8:00 p.m. It's tough, you walk four -five hours, arrive at a great lodge, take a shower, drink some wine, eat a gourmet dinner, and go to bed. Get up and do it again. We are not of the camping generation.

I'll try to get the pictures off the camera tomorrow and catch you up. It was a great four days, and we earned the T-shirt, but there don't seem to be any available for purchase! I think someone should have been at Anakiwa with gold medals!

You can check out the Queen Charlotte Track on the internet. There are all the details there, but I will write more later.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Picton Harbour

The Inter-island ferry coming in right beyond our balcony. It's a great hotel, The Harbour View Motel. We have a studio kitchen, balcony, lovely bedding, and a friendly host. I think the New Zealanders are great conversationalists, second only to the Irish, but gaining.


These were all taken in Kaikoura. Look at the sunshine! It was raining the night before. NZ as an island country has constantly changing weather.

We have re-packed everything because the water taxi takes a small bag, each for us, out to our hotels on the Queen Charlotte Track, and we carry small day packs on our backs. The motel will keep our big bags until we get back on Saturday afternoon (your Friday). It has been a challenge to re-organize, but I think we've got it!

This is the view from our walk this morning on the Kaikoura peninsula. We walked through pasture land, always with the Pacific on one side. It is a very dramatic coast line with heavy surf on lots of rock out-croppings. It's also a seal colony. Beginning to get our fill of seals. According to the locals, they are protected but eating up the fish.

We leave on the water taxi at 10:00 a.m., walk for nine miles, and stay at the luxurious (well-deserved) "No Road Inn," for the first night. We will be out of touch for three full days because I'm not lugging this Toshiba on the track. It stays here in Picton. We hope for clear weather like today.

Pictures, we hope, from yesterday

We are now in Picton - glorious, glorious, Picton. The sun is shining, the palms are rustling, and the interisland ferries come in from Wellington right in front of our balcony. It has been a gorgeous day, and we started by walking the peninusula walk in Kaikoura. It was cool and breezy, but the sun was warm. Bill said, "this is why we came to NZ." True. That and the wine, and the few people, and no traffic, and the friendly natives, and the fresh seafood, etc.

So, let's see if these will come up for you. First, the choir "boys" from Christchurch cathedral for L. J. Then, more from Maida Vale (left top) and the botanical gardens. The patio above right is seen from our lovely studio room at Lorenzo Motor Court in Christchurch. We've had wonderful motels.
We had lunch at Allan Scott Winery on the way here from Kaikoura. M.J. and Bob, wish you were here. More later.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Christchurch Pictures We Hope

Here goes, I'll try to put up some pictures from the Gondola Ride to the top of the Banks Peninsula, the botanic gardens, and Christchurch cathedral. We were there on Sunday afternoon and heard the choir rehearsing. (I said, "Larry Joe would give his right arm to be here right now!" )