Wet Wellington, wobbly tummies and mud huts….

Sunday 22nd – Windy, wet Wellington..   We have a ferry to catch tomorrow and so need to make it to Wellington by Sunday evening where we are booked in to Rowena’s VIP Backpackers. With that to look forward to we head south out of Taupo and along the pretty road that skirts the huge  lake before ascending into the central hills. The surroundings become gradually more craggy and desert like and the huge central mountains become an obstacle to circumvent. Mt. Ngaurtuhoa is the largest of these. There is still lots of snow about on the peak and the general temperature has dropped significantly.  Gradually we leave the plateau behind us and travel through the more verdant wine fields before approaching Wellington. We can tell that we are approaching civilisation again when we come across a polo game in full swing in the town of Sansom. I manage to get a shot of a score before a shower drives me back to the car.

As we arrive on the outskirts of Wellington the heavens truly open and soon we are driving through a deluge of real proportions. The local drivers must be used to it because they continue to speed through it while I am guessing where the road goes most of the time. As the rain eases to a drizzle Marilyn navigates us easily through a quiet Sunday afternoon Wellington to our maze of a hostel. Our stay here is purely expedient as we have to be up and away early to hand in the car and check in for the ferry the following morning. The room is basic but it is lovely to have a soft mattress and a decent pillow to sleep on. Like most of these budget places the kitchen facilities are adequate and it is all comfortable enough.

We stroll around a drizzly Wellington on a Sunday evening so we are not seeing it at its best but we are not really impressed mightily by what we see. It could be any city in its centre. I remember from my last visit that the bayside in the sun is pretty but we are not going to see that tonight and head back for a sleep in a bed for a change.

Monday 23rd – Ferries, funny tummies and mud huts……

We make the ferry with time to spare and soon realise that we are on the smallest of the Interislander  fleet of three. I notice that although the day has started fine, there is the usual Wellington wind and I suspect we might have  an interesting ride. However we are not worried as we have both endured very rough crossings to France and to Holland. Why should this little three hour jaunt cause any problems to such hardened sailors? Still Marilyn expresses her disappointment that we are on the ‘Baby bear ferry” as we settle in our seats right at the bow with a panoramic view of our journey to look forward to.   The captain greets us with the announcement that conditions in Cook’s Strait will be ‘less than favourable’ and we should not use the toilets if we are sea-sick but the bags provided. As we pull out of the lee of the harbour I can see the white tops and estimate it is blowing a force seven. Within moments spray is breaking against the windows of the observation lounge and the bow is crashing through waves that are rapidly increasing in size. I decide to go out onto the outside deck to get the full benefit of the conditions and leave Marilyn looking after the bags. I am surprised after a while, to see her staggering out to join me. Everyone by now is staggering and gripping handrails. She says she is feeling a bit funny but will be fine if she can fix on the horizon. Within a few minutes I turn around to see her collapsed on the deck, a putrid green colour and gripping her newly acquired sick bag like it is a long lost friend. She has mercifully not been sick, but has actually passed out and needs to lie down under the seats.

In this recumbent foetal position the worst of the journey passes for her without further incident and eventually the sea calms again as we approach the inlet to the Sound that leads us into Picton after another hour and a half sailing.

Recovered, she can enjoy the quite stunning progress through this brilliant blue water, the islands and inlets that make up the Marlborough Sounds. The weather has done us proud again and the colours are showing off to their best as we arrive to pick up a fresh car in the little port of Picton.

Hawkswood Staging Post…..


We have nowhere booked to stay tonight and decide to see what we can find near Kaikoura, famous for whale watching and swimming with dolphins. After our recent ferry experience and with the sea still raging in the fresh northerly wind we will probably not go out on a boat tomorrow!   Another Highway 1 that hugs the sea is a delight to drive. At times we are literally feet from the water. I have Marilyn on whale watch but the water is a little too choppy. We do see sea lions on some of the beaches however.

Kaikoura is a busy little place and although there are plenty of places to find a room there are only large campsites so I follow my instincts to get out of town and away from the beaten track. Some small campsites right on the water’s edge are spoilt by having the highway also only feet away and seem to have some people from the cast of ‘Deliverance’ staying there long term, so we head into the hills for an hour and spy a little sign that leads to ‘Stagecoach at Hawkswood’ on the Kaikoura Walking Trail. Now this sounds ideal and we head into yet another little paradise. We discover there are campsites ( we would be the only campers) but there are also some little rustic cabins for $55 a night. The cabin we are offered is delightful. Called Pise, it is essentially a little cob hut with a huge pine bed and cosy interior. I like the washstand fitted into a wine barrel for instance.

We have free run of a kitchen and the showers and toilets as there are no walkers here tonight just the three students who help out.   The place has an interesting history as a farm and a staging post between Christchurch and Kaikoura. Weary travellers have been calling in here for ages for a roof and some tucker and we are no exception. The last owner, who has recently died in his late eighties, was a lover of the arts and brought ballet and music to Hawkswood and staged an open air festival each year, as well as renovating and building from scratch original horse carriages and coaches. His son and his partner have started renovating the place and have teamed up with two neighbouring farms to create a three day walking experience with stops along the way in this place and two other similar bunkhouses. It is a little haven set in the hills and far enough away from the main road to be very quiet. The night stars here are as clear as I have ever seen except in the Australian centre. Marilyn awards me lots of Brownie Points for finding such a spot and deciding on the bed for the second night on the row.   I begin to fear we are going soft and have decided we camp tomorrow when we reach Lake Tekapo – come what may.


Opoutere to Rotarua and Taupo


Marilyn becomes very excited this morning.We are packing the tent and putting away  our dried washing that we have had to wash and wring by hand and dangle over various guy ropes when she spots someone in one of the big camper vans who unfolds a mangle from a side compartment of the van and proceeds to wring dry their washing before hanging it on a pop up washing line.

“ No dangle for the man with a mangle!” she exclaims.

I don’t know if I am more shocked by the sight of the unfolding mangle,Marilyn’s exhuberance at spotting it or her rhyme.

One of the fantastic experiences on my trip ten years ago was my stay at the YHA hostel at Opoutere. I had followed my golden rule of finding somewhere to stay on a road that is off the beaten track and that leads to nowhere and had found a peaceful and well equipped site along such a road. As our stay at Fletchers had not disappointed I decide to try for Opoutere again and we set of on the 300km drive in high expectation.

The road back to Coromandel seems easier this way round. We see countless pukekos – a bird rather like a black chicken with a tiny head and a red beak that scurries around like a road runner. It is gradually losing its power of flight and is endangered somewhat by the predatory stoats that eat them and the possums and rats that steal their eggs. Everywhere the Department of Conservation is fighting a battle to trap and kill these introduced predators.

Along a stretch of stream we see kingfishers all perched, at intervals, along the telegraph wire. And there seem to be deer everywhere. Perhaps these are livestock there are so many.

In Coromandel Town we discover that in New Zealand these days even the small towns do a mean line in good coffee. Refreshed, we set off over the hills  and then down into the plain that leads to the Eastern Coast.

We are disappointed at Hot Water Beach to have missed the low tide and so we cannot make our own hot water pool by digging in the sand. However the day has turned a little grey and threatens rain and the beach is already pretty crowded so we are also a little relieved that we don’t  have to get wet and sandy by sitting in a pool of warm water with a small football crowd and we move on to our destination. We decide to forgo the ‘Sushi ‘n’ Crepes’  that is on offer in our eagerness to get to our destination with stomachs intact.

To my amazement I find Opoutere and it is as if time has stood still at this little hostel. The term ‘Youth Hostel’ is a bit of a misnomer these days. Although there are some gap year backpackers in these places you are just as likely to meet the ‘mid-life gapper’ or even old timers like us enjoying the facilities. This is probably even more true in these quieter backwaters.

And the facilities are excellent. There is a well equipped and clean kitchen, a small, snug sitting room with a fair library and a wood fire that I remember having to use last time I was here. The showers and toilets are impeccably clean and very welcome. The two small bunk rooms look comfortable and the little chalet type rooms are well set up and all have verandahs.

We decide to camp in one of the three pitches – in the same place I did ten years ago actually – only this time we have one neighbour in a tent on one side of us, and on the other side, nestling in the palms, a young post graduate student is staying in a slightly battered caravan that looks very cosy. She is doing a masters in ecology and helps out in the hostel while also doing some study in the surrounding reserve.

We are getting to be expert at the tent erection now and more time is actually spent in moving it around  the pitch and the practice lie downs so that we ensure the softest, flattest bed is found.

The hostel is perched above an inland lagoon formed by a sand spit that protects it from the sea. The spit has a small forest all along it and the lagoon itself has reed beds and sand dunes all of which is a bird nesting paradise and the air is full of their various songs day and night. All manner of wading birds feed on the falling tide. We can watch it all going on from the lawned terrace above the spit.

We take a short walk through the woods and onto the beach as evening sets in. A lone surfer tries unsuccessfully to catch some waves and I can’t help thinking that he or she is a little foolhardy to be doing that on their own in these big seas. But these Kiwis are a hardy lot.

As darkness surrounds us we take a short walk along the banks of the lagoon where I remember glow worms were abundant when I was last here. And yes they are here again! The bank is lit up as if with fairy lights in a random pattern and I am delighted to be able to share them with Marilyn this time.

We are serenaded back to our tent by the call of the morepork owl and some other nocturnal birds that call to each other from the surrounding forest. We eventually fall asleep but not before wondering if these birds ever do anything like hunting in order to keep alive as they seem so intent on out singing each other all night.


We would love to spend another day at Otoupere but decide to head south to Taupo so that we have a couple of days to explore the centres of Rotarua and Taupo and all the interesting thermal bits that they have to offer. Today is largely about the journey and finding somewhere to stay in Taupo.

Again the driving is easy and the miles are eaten up away from the coast and on to a more  mountainous and volcanic scenery until we reach the lakes of Rotarua and Taupo. We find a quiet spot to pitch our tent just outside Taupo deciding against a hostel in the centre of town and, after a brief exploration of the town, we enjoy an authentic Italian meal in a family restaurant. The green lipped mussels are particularly fine and suitably huge.

Craters of the Moon and Rotarua….

The area around Rotarua and Taupo is on of the world’s great geo-thermic sites. I have to confess a fascination with all things volcanic that is maybe a bit ‘laddish’ and I set off with enthusiasm to share with Marilyn some of the sites in the area. Many of them have been mercilessly commercialised and so I start with one that I remember from my last trip. “The Craters of the Moon’ has a name that is enticing enough. It is cheaper than most other sites but should give a feel for the whole rotten eggs smell, squidgy  erupting boiling mud, fumeroles and hissing steam, and earth stained in all sorts of colours.

Half way around the hour long walk we have smelt the sulphur, seen the steam, witnessed a few blobs of molten mud and I detect that Marilyn is decidedly underwhelmed. I try to be enthusiastic but perhaps the site has lost some of the potency I remember from years back and the next site will get her geo-thermic juices going. We move on towards Rotarua and to Waimangu – the site of of a huge volcanic explosion in the 1880s that blew half a mountain away along with all the tourists who were enjoying swimming in the thermal lake from the pink terraces. A whole new lake and eco system has formed since then. Exploring this is bound do the trick.

A two hour walk to the lake will cost $36 each. Include a short boat trip around the lake – $90 a head. Over a tasty lunch Marilyn persuades me that she is fairly interested in some of the old photos of this disaster but that really the rest of the package would be a waste of money as she had seen enough boiling mud for the day and that really all this gurgling and hissing and pongy steam doesn’t really do it for her. I can’t persuade her to join me in a thermal mud bath or a Polynesian spa and so we end up spending a very pleasant afternoon in Rotarua sitting in the sun on the lake watching all the activity of helicopters and sea-planes taking off. Para-gliders and jet boats, pedalos and wind surfers enjoy the water. The black swans beg for food and squabble over it.

We take our stroll through Government Gardens – a very English/colonial park. There is a huge match of mixed bowls taking place and the summer flower beds could be replicated in an English country garden. It is all very gentile and surprisingly pleasant and a long way from explosions and eruptions and steamy fumeroles. It is quite easy to forget the powerful, destructive forces just a mile or so under our feet.