Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Leaving NZ didn’t turn out to be easy. Our first issue as we did our normal panic packing  was a realisation that we had an extra bag. A full 23kg+ bag over our allowance, of which we were over weight already. How could we have miscounted?? We decided that there was nothing for it but to hit the airport and hope they didn’t cut up too much. It proved to be a minor issue. We paid $70NZ for the extra bag and weight – no problem at all. However, we immediately hit a bigger stumbling block.

Because we had flown in to NZ SO long ago (November – really?), the airline wanted to know where our onward ticket was, a requirement of entry to French Polynesia. All our protests that we were European or simply on our return flight to our original location didn’t cut it with the lady behind the desk. “No, we didn’t have a letter from the yacht allowing us to join it. It is my boat and I am it’s Captain”.  In the end, confused, she sent for the manager, who having asked us our tale, told the desk firmly they didn’t NEED to know about us and to book us on. After lots of Neanderthal looks from the desk at the manager, lots of ardent thank yous from us to the manager, we headed to departures. For those following on from us, be aware that FP is tightening up the regulations and even as a European, if you leave your boat in FP, you require a return ticket out off FP or a bond arranged with an agent in Tahiti for the airline to let you back in.  Make sure you check the current regs before you travel. We got lucky with the manager who dealt with us. You might not be so.

We had two nights in Papeete in a little flat, running around ordering bottom paint and a big food order to be delivered up by the supply ship, Cobia. We met up with John, Julia and Murphy of Mary Ann II and they were a massive help in showing us around. They had spent the summer in Marina Papeete in the middle of town and, having explored the town in detail, John had co-written a guide for yachties on where to find pretty much anything you needed. He was able to point me to a funny little machine shop by the dock which incidentally stocked Jotun and Hempel paints at commercial prices for the fishing fleet. Louis, the shop’s owner and a keen rugby fan, wanted two thirds of what the Apataki Caranage wanted for one I’d never heard of before, half the price of ABC3 (what I had on) and a third of the price of Micron 66, lovely paint but foully expensive. I ended up buying 20l of Hempel  – a good German commercial brand. John’s investigative work saved me a fortune! His document is published in both Noonsite and the Soggy Paws’ blog site. In the same style as the Panama Guide, it is excellent and I strongly recommend it to you if you need to shop or stock up in Tahiti. 

I’m afraid we had less luck with Tahiti Sail, the one operating “sail maker” in Tahiti. We had asked them for a quote to look over and tart up the sails to get me down to Tahiti as I intended to order new sails to take us across to Aus. After advice and finding that such noted yachts as Lumiel, Mary Ann II and So What all had new sails done by Lee Sails, an outfit in Hong Kong, I went ahead and got quoted for a new main and genoa.  The repair quote I got back from Tahiti Sails for, frankly, not a lot of work was staggering and higher than the quote I got from Lee Sails for new. I even went back to them to ask if they were quoting for repair or new sails! On a whim, I asked them to quote for new sails too and was amazed to find that their price was more than double than Lee Sails – over 10k Euro. When asked why, they answered “quality cost” and that the sails would be coming all the way from UK! In the midst of this, I got an email from the one sail “expert” in the firm to say he had fallen out with the owner and he was leaving the business. I eventually allowed them to fix a small patch on the genoa only. I know people believe that FP is at the end of the earth but importing goods is easy, there is a price point for value and Tahiti Sails has yet to meet it. I understand the owner (not a yachtie) believes he can squeeze the market as he has to date had the monopoly. My advice would be, unless you absolutely have to have work done by them, don’t. We have since found that two ladies, a yachtie and a local have just set up a small repair shop down near Marina Taina and they have been getting good reviews.  For new sails, look abroad yourself and simply appoint an agent to get your tax free goods in. It isn’t difficult.

Whilst dawdling with Mary Ann II in Marina Papeete, we also met up with a couple of kids boats, Be and Be, an Aus boat with four kids and Sangvind with two boys. We had a good night out together, eating down on the waterfront in the street stalls, the kids skateboarding in the park and having deep and meaningful conversations out of earshot of the parents! We are hoping to be able to catch up with both boats a little down island. Good people.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

We flew back up to Apataki to find the yard had been battered by a storm a couple of weeks previously with winds hitting 85kts. The phone lines were down, the jetty and workshop was gone and it had taken two days to dig the slip and launch channel out. Thankfully all the houses had survived, as had all the boats in the yard. 

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Skylark, other than a small infestation of ants, a common problem in the yard, was in good nick. But it was so hot! With the yard sheltered from the slight breeze there was, daytime temperature hit 40+C inside and the night time was only a few degrees cooler. We left the tinfoil over the windows to keep some of the heat out and it helped a little. With time to kill, the girls decided to have fun with their hair again. Frizzy is in!

 Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

I helped Alfred, the yard’s owner, fix the swing and the girls had a great time twisting it up and trying to make themselves sick.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

I took to getting up before dawn as the only time the heat was bearable when working on Skylark was before 0900hrs. There were days enough to waste some time wandering across the atoll to see a few dawns as well. Hannah decided she wanted come one morning and we were blessed by a beautiful sky.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

With the heat and with lots of mosquitos about, our first few days back are easily described as very unpleasant. We got more bad news when we heard that the Cobia wasn’t to deliver to Apataki for another week, potentially meaning extra and unwanted time frying on the hard. We asked why she wasn’t running to Apataki and simply got a shrug. Presumably not enough business. With our sails, paint and food all due on her, we were unhappy that our timetable had been knocked back by at least a week. Frantic calls by Skype (and a lot of help by John and Julia at the Papeete end) meant we were able to rearrange delivery on another ship to Arutua, an atoll some 40 miles W of Apataki. It cost us $100US in fuel costs to pick our stuff up but it meant we could eat something other than eggs and start painting.  In the meantime, we polished the hull, changed the anodes, did the small bits and pieces we needed to do get her re-commissioned inside and out.

We sanded Skylark down. Wearing the painting zoot suits was an exercise in torture but on the bright side, it was a great way to sweat the weight of NZ overindulgence off!

 Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

The girls, desperate to help, got in on the act and helped with the sail drives and props with their separate non-copper epoxy paint job and touching up with barrier paint where required whilst we waited for the hull paint to arrive.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Once that appeared they got in the act again. The large size suits were hilariously massive on them and they couldn’t last long in the heat but they were a big help throughout.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

In the end, we had enough paint (and time) for three coats for the hulls and four for the edges and waterline. It was a sweaty exercise but there is something very satisfying about seeing your yacht turn into a swan again. Compared to the coats of red and blue paint she has been dressed in before, we think she looks best in black. 

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

We launched without incident and were so glad to be back at anchor and into a breeze again. We had a few days to wait for our sails but life had started to look up again. We swam, snorkelled and explored the water around us, just chilling. 

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

One of the yachts in the yard was owned by a Frenchman, Léon Philibien. Léon is a professional photographer and he travels everywhere with his paraglider, which he take most of his shots from. He took some wonderful ones of the yard, atoll and of Skylark for which we are very grateful for the use of. I doubt if many yachts have their own aerial shots set in the Tuamotus! We are hoping that we meet him down island when we can repay his kindness again with his favourite tipple – whisky! His blog is pretty impressive  – lesadventuresdelamatine.blogspot.fr . The five photos below are his copyright.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the HardReturning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Our sails arrived on the Cobia (Tahiti Sails missing delivery by a week) and we had the engine on and the anchor up before we even had them hanked back on. We had had enough of Apataki, not its fault, just too much heat and a degree of frustration meant we needed to get going. Our first sunset on the move again on 2017 was beautiful.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

We ran out the N pass with no wind, engines on and a 60 mile overnight passage ahead to get to Rangiroa.

Returning to French Polynesia – Life on the Hard

Auckland and farewell to NZ

Lou had been working hard to get the car details out and about in the hope of a quick sale of it and all the camping stuff that we had.  Of course, it is never that simple and we had had no bites at all from the posts she had put up.

For our final period in Auckland, she had arranged for us to stay at a workaway in the Mt Eden area. Right up on the hill at the end of the road, the house was at the end of a steep drive. Rented by Kharen, a single mum and Alex, her lovely 12 year old daughter, she had decided that with the hours she worked, the large garden would never be brought under control unless she got help and so her looking for workaways. It was great fun. We lived in an enormous room on the ground floor with probably as much floor space as our flat in Stockbridge. We were able to spread out, clean, wash and repack all the stuff we had acquired in NZ, separating what we would take back to the boat and what would be left behind.

The work on the garden entailed everyone getting involved. I did the noisy stuff and cut down some trees, Lou and the girls weeded and picked out huge numbers of unwanted bulbs and I even managed to do a little carpet laying to the outhouse, converted into a hideaway for Alex. I tried to make a new shelter under the deck area with a large tarp which looked good until the rain came. With not enough angle and too little tension, it failed. I understand that Kharen will try again with more angle and perhaps supports fitted too.

Of course it wasn’t all work. We had some great meals and chats with Kharen. Hannah was particularly appreciative of her time with Alex, someone who shares her love of art and is in this person’s humble opinion, exhibiting a considerable talent already.  There was a visit to the Auckland Zoo where Hannah, near beside herself,  got to see a baby giraffe (for those not in the know, her very, very favourite animal) and even a Kiwi in a special low light environmental area. No photos allowed though, so you get to see the sign.

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We had a good time doing the last real mall shopping we expect to be able to do until we either see Australia or perhaps the UK. Clothes were delivered back to Op shops, more clothes were handed down by Alex and bags were packed. I managed to run around a variety of boat shops and found most of my shopping list – new bearings for the main track, an acid wash for the water generator, West System epoxy, a gel coat repair kit, bulbs and copper strip being the main items.  Lou continued to try and get rid of the car but we still had no luck.  In the end, we took it back to the company that we bought it from, signed it in to their care for sale and left it with them for eventual disposal. It may take a while but we should get some money back in time.

We also managed to run out to see the Hobans for an evening, the Workaway family we stayed with back in November. We yet again had a lovely time with them and I hope that we will see (at least!) the kids on our side of the world when they spread their wings. Lovely people.

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We left NZ with a big smile on our faces. We had had a wonderful time, staying with four great families and meeting many more good people as we travelled around.  We were regularly blown away by the hospitality we encountered and the help and advice we received was excellent. Our thanks to you, the Shafts, Hoban, Sell and Hope families. You were wonderful and we hope that one day we will be able to return your hospitality.

And the sport and the outdoor lifestyle? Just marvellous. You don’t see many smokers (priced out of existence – $25+ a pack and rising at 10% a year) and you rarely see overweight – people are just too busy at either some sport or just out tramping. As someone said to us, there is as much pride shown here for someone that gets even to a district sports team as getting good exam results. The number of small towns we drove through with huge signs up, congratulating pupils getting in to a junior NZ team was great to see.

NZ is still a young country and there remain historic difficulties due to the land grabbing tactics of the original white settlers from the Maori clans. However, the modern acceptance and integration of Maori culture and acceptance of the debt suggests that the country is in a far healthier state than say USA, SA or Aus are with their indigenous minorities. The mania for rugby helps, of course. Don’t think I met a NZ child who didn’t know the haka and wasn’t intensely proud of where it came from!

Although we liked the cosmopolitan nature of Auckland, we both thought that it is getting too big , with an influence that is becoming even more pervasive than London is to the UK.  I’d suggest that if there are to be problems in NZ in the future, it will be because of this seemingly unchecked growth and the hoovering of resource, personal and finance, from the rest of the country. Whilst I enjoyed the warmth of the North, the majesty of the South Island attracts me massively and I’d love to explore that better. What a place. I think, as I have said before, it is Scotland on acid.

Would I go back to NZ? Could I live there?

Yes.

In a heartbeat.

Best thing I can say about a place, really.

NB. Be aware all views stated here in the singular form are solely the views of the author. They may or may not be subscribed to by the long haired Admiral!

PS. We will be returning to the UK on 6 Dec 2017. The flights are booked.

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Coromandel

The Coromandel is the popular peninsular and beach holiday area, just 60 miles from Auckland. Wildly popular during the holiday period, it had been recommended that we not visit it in the Christmas holidays on our travels S. On the basis everyone was back to work and school by the start of Feb, it seemed to make perfect sense to make it our last stop before we returned to Auckland.

We found a campsite which sounded rather interesting. A pool, close to a couple of towns with shops and a butterfly farm? We had to look. We had also made arrangements to met back up with the Belgium family who had taken a house somewhere on the W coast.

The campsite was a good one. A bit run down in places but the pool was good and the butterfly farm doubled up as a green house for exotic plants and flowers. You were supposed to pay each time you entered but Hannah didn’t read the script, made friends with the man who ran it and was constantly in and out of it. Eleanor took these photos.

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One of the great attractions of the Coromandel is Hot Water Beach. With hot springs bubbling up from under the sand, it allows you to dig your own pool and wallow in superheated water. Having borrowed spades from the campsite, it was about an hour drive across the peninsula. We stopped on the way and found an excellent dive shop where Eleanor equipped herself with a underwater noise maker and we all ate a good size lunch of fish and chips.

We arrived at the end of the road and walked the 500m out across the sand to where we joined a couple of hundred others digging out pools at low tide to wallow in. It didn’t take long to dig something impressive out. Along the beach over the length of maybe 200m, the water came out as simply steam (scalding) to where we dug our pit, somewhere in the 45-50C range. There were places in our wee pool where you simply couldn’t put your feet but it was fun once you learnt to to regulate the heat.  Running into the sea was as good as a cold plunge after a sauna and was wonderfully invigorating after the sulphurous smelling hot pool.

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For our trip across, we had picked up a guest, Caroline, a French dentist on an extended cycling tour of NZ staying at our campsite. She was a bit stuck as her bike had been stolen a couple of days before but it had been thankfully dumped and found quickly by a local with nothing stolen from it. The only issue was a broken derailleur whose replacement needed to come from Christchurch. We took pity on her and she came across to enjoy a day not being stuck in camp. NZ justice being as it was, the local cops had caught the thief within a day and to mitigate for the crime and save everyone’s time, got the thief to pay for the damage. She got her bike back, fully fixed the day we left for Auckland.

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As an interlude and final stop off before we headed back to the city, the Coromandel was a good choice. I’m not sure if it would be that great with the crowds there but in the off season, it suited us pretty well.

Lou phoned Kharen, the lady of our last workaway to see if we could arrive a day early to Auckland as the rain that had dogged us all the way back up the N island had caught up with us again. We packed a wet tent in the back of the car and drove a little less than two hours to Auckland.

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Concerning Hobbits

Lou had been determined to see Hobbiton in the dry and so we had come north quickly to ensure our day there would be before the scheduled wet weather forecast. We got it right and arrived in sunshine, the last there was for several days.

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Although Lord of the Rings was filmed nearly 20 years ago, with limited funding and perhaps a degree of short sightedness, the original Hobbiton was largely deconstructed with just a couple of hobbit hole doors being left on the farm land used as the set. When the family that owned the land was approached to allow the filming of The Hobbit, they agreed but with the proviso that this time, the set would be preserved and turned into a tourist attraction as a joint venture with the film company. With the success of both trilogies, it is no surprise that the site has become wildly popular and averages between 2000 – 3000 visitors a day. Open 364 days in the year, at $90 a head basic entry fee, the turnover is impressive. That’s before you add in the gift shop, restaurant and alike. Want your wedding there? No problem – pay the price and you too can have a private ceremony by the Party Tree! Yup – a real money spinner. But beautifully done.

The whole set up is impressive in its attention to detail. The buses that take you from the visitor reception to the site must have the best audio and video kit I have ever seen on a bus and there is no stinting on the money to keep the place top notch. With a team of dedicated gardeners, the whole place looks terrific. Given a free hand, each hobbit hole’s garden is individually decorated and the gardens are real. The gardeners were even having an internal competition on who could grow the best pumpkin!

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I think that the photos say it all. It is a lovely visit to do. Admittedly, it is an immersion into a film set world and you are held by the hand as you walk around, kept to a tight schedule for your particular visit surrounded by other tourists.

But for anyone with an imagination, you really are in The Shire.

A great day out.

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North Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and Tree Running

Wellington lived up to its nickname of the Windy City. Whilst the campsite we used just out of town was well sheltered (but as a DOC and v low cost, was inhabited with a bunch of German lads drunkenly, loudly and increasingly desperately trying to pull some traveller girls camped there too until 0230hrs…), Wellington requires you to lean in to the wind.

We met up with the Belgium family at the wonderful Otaga Museum and spent the whole day there, wandering around the halls. As it was a school day, the crowds were light and we had no queues to stand in to get in to the museum’s major exhibit on Gallipoli. Yet again Sir Peter Jackson had got involved and the exhibit was terrific. It took a couple of hours just to go around it and I could have happily gone around again, there being so much information on offer.

Saying our goodbyes again and a promise to try and meet up again at Coremandel, we did a big jump N towards Rotarua, famous for its hot pools and geysers.

North Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree running

We had been given the details of a thermal river,  about 30km S of Rotarua that you could go and soak in by the Ranger at the Wellington Campsite and we headed for that. Three or four miles down a dirt track took us to a small car park and a track down to the smoking stream. We visited a couple of the pools and loved the heat. We thought the water must have been around the 40C mark. We shared the top pool with a bunch of Korean ladies, gabbering away, everyone talking at once and saved one’s phone after she fell in to everyone’s amusement, trying to get that perfect shot of the rest. A good humoured lot!

North Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree running

The next morning, much to the kids delight, we surprised them by heading off the main road and taking them to a “Go Ape” tree runners centre. Technically, Hannah was allowed only to do the first two of the six levels because of her height but the staff was happy for her to try the harder stuff as long as Dad went too. I thought it a fair cop. The courses started small, gradually getting longer, more complex and higher off the ground.  Needless to say, she did us proud, nervelessly throwing herself over the courses and the staff were a little surprised to hear her screaming her way down the big death slide (called “flying foxes” in NZ – no idea why) with a ecstatic smile at the end of level four! Eleanor and I completed level five but we ran out of time to complete last level.

North Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree runningNorth Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree running

We had a timetable to keep with a dry Hobbiton and with 60km to get there and a little over an hour to get there, we needed to move – fast!

North Island again–Wellington, Rotarua and tree running

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

It was rather strange packing up all by ourselves after so long in the company of Starcharger and ZigZag. Our time left in NZ had ticked down to a few weeks and with a need to spend a bit of time back Auckland selling the car, we decided we needed to start heading back towards the ferry.

We stopped in Nelson almost by chance. This is next town W of Blenheim. We were very glad we did stop as we arrived to find the town absolutely buzzing. There was a street performers festival on and performers from Europe and the US had made the journey to show and the town centre was full of street market stands as well. The girls were captivated by some brilliant acts and the street market provided both lunch and one of the most extraordinary blue slushies, by the look of the debris, definitely enjoyed by Hannah!

We hadn’t booked a camping ground for that night and directed by a sign we saw at the side of the road, ended up staying in one above a river that rented out gold panning equipment. The last big dig at it had been about 10 years previous and there were lots of photos of the gold nuggets extracted from the river, sadly for the owners not in commercially viable quantities. We tried our hand and Eleanor found one tiny flake but I am afraid the excitement was overshadowed by being eaten alive by the worst concentration of sand flies we had encountered anywhere in NZ. There were some other kids there from a Jehovah Witness group up for a weekend from Christchurch and the girls had a happy time playing in the river with them. They were also impressed by the passion singing of Christian battle songs – definitely militant Christians!

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We had tried to keep an eye out for Hobbit and LOTR filming sites and we came across one, used for the barrel running scene as the dwarves escaped from the Forest Elves dungeon. We had a great time jumping from the rocks into the deep pools, the girls shaming some teenagers into following them off the high ledges they used. 

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We kept moving, stopping briefly in Havelock, proclaiming itself “The Mussel Capital of NZ”.  We found an excellent little chandlery where I finally found the wire mesh I needed to fix my water-maker. It is a good little store with helpful staff and a big section of the place put aside for second hand stuff which is well worth a rummage. To our surprise, on the other side of the road was a proper, traditional UK pub, the first we had seen. The place was newly re-opened and was very smartly done up. Owned by an ex sailor, the old photos and ships reliefs detailing his time at sea on blue water trawlers was fascinating. The beer was pretty good too.

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

We stopped at our last campsite on S island, just an hour away from the ferry. Smith’s Farm is a neat, well run and sheltered campsite, now the main endeavour of a farming family that just couldn’t make end’s meet with the moderately sized dairy herd they had. They sublet most of their land out but have held on to a few acres for the campsite. They still keep a few sheep, cattle, goats and rabbits but it is as an campsite attraction only. On your arrival you get a bag of pellet food and a muffin each. The muffins go down well and the petting animals are nearly round, so successful is the campsite! Its other attraction is a waterfall about a 30min walk into the hills where you can see glow worms once the sun has set. It is a easy walk up and back but remember to take a torch each as the ground in the forest is rough and it is pitch black under the canopy. We surprised a couple of possum on the way back down. I hadn’t realised how dumb these beasties are and was surprised at how close they allowed us to get to them, presumably dazzled by our lights. The farm has made a real effort to kill them off as they devastate local bird numbers but they aren’t been helped by the next farm down refusing to do likewise. Classed as vermin, it is stated NZ government aspiration to clear NZ of possum by 2040.

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferryNelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

We met a Belgium family at the camp site with three kids are travelling the world by plane for a year. We helped them move their camping equipment in our car for the ferry crossing. They had been stuck with the need to change cars (bizarrely rentals needed to stay on the island they originated on – none too helpful when you are loaded down with camping equipment) and our poor beast was down on its axles as I drove on to the boat. The family had to walk aboard as there was no room for anyone but me! The crossing was benign and we parted ways with the promise of meeting up at the Wellington Museum the next day.

Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

 Nelson, Havelock and back to the ferry

Abel Tasman

The Abel Tasman is a glorious area. Situated at the NW corner of the South Island, it is an area of outstanding natural beauty by the sea extending into the hills, very much at the end of the road and it would be the last place we would visit with Alastair and Gill as they needed to head N to fly home to the UK.

We decided to stay at what turned out to be a fairly noisy campsite on a roundabout at the edge of Motueka, the last “big” town on the S edge of the park. However, the town was beside the sea on an estuary and an even bigger plus, had a marina less than a mile walk away which Alastair and myself were keen to look at. The campsite that we had originally thought about, set in the hills at the end of a rough track was being used for a week long festival, the festival we had been told about by a lady we had met in our very first campsite in Auckland the week we arrived in NZ. Called “Illuminate” it did sound fun, but not at $250 each for a weeks ticket being the only time period you could buy! There is a UK festival of the same name, organised by some of the same people. We may investigate when we get home.

We had a good look around the town, did some shopping, visited one of the best kept cemetery we had seen (H was most impressed by the flowers) and walked around the mudflats of the estuary. Abel TasminAbel TasminAbel TasminAbel Tasmin

We also ran in to Gollum, Smaug and Gandalf sitting on top of the local sports hall!

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The coast line of the Abel Tasman is spectacular but unless you want to walk the trail which is a five day trek, the best way of seeing as much as you can is to take a fast boat out along the coast, get dropped off and then walk back to another prearranged pickup point. We went for the longest available walk, about 18km. It was a great trek. We saw and heard lots of cicadas, met a nosy Weka, another one of NZ’s flightless birds, tramped across lots of wire bridges and caught some great views. We stopped towards the end at the Pools of Venus for a cool down swim and to go down the natural slides. Only Eleanor and I had the nerve to go into the chill but wonderfully refreshing water.

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For our last day we had planned to go up into the hills by way of a tortuously steep road. With the engines and gearbox straining hard, we ascended into grey cloud and lots of rain. With visibility no more than a few hundred metres, our hope of great views died and after a short reassessment at one of the viewpoints, we turned tail and headed back to Motueka. We did what Alastair said we had to do on such a day and found a pub. We had to wait for it to open but it turned in to a very civilised afternoon, sampling a few of the local microbrewery produced ales.  We shopped in the town, dodging the rain. Eleanor, Hannah and I had an interesting time at the local gun shop, admiring the kids .22 rifles in neon blue and I admiring somewhat bigger calibres. Hunting is a big deal in NZ and gun ownership levels are high. Interestingly, the incidence of gun crime is very low which would suggest that the NZ attitude to their use is a healthier one than the US, where the need for “protection” far outweighs hunting for the pot.

We said our goodbyes to Gill and Alastair as they headed back up towards Auckland to put the boat to bed and fly back to the UK. We had a wonderful time with them and even if there was a requirement to save their bleeding ears from the constant flow of consciousness of our eldest every now and then, they were marvellous with the kids. Of course, grown ups, still travelling with their teddy bears (Pickles and Habitat respectively) suggests that they are both still very much young at heart too! Our grateful thanks for their company throughout our travels of the S island. They helped make NZ special for us all but our friendship goes back to Galapagos.  We have heard that they won’t be returning to the boat for perhaps another year whilst they sort a few things out in the UK so we are looking forward to catching up with them on our return in December.

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