Tag Archives: camping

Ile Des Pins –New Caledonia

The sail down from Ouvea towards the Iles Des Pins can be a difficult one. With the sea running from the SE and the wind regularly set from there as well, it can be a long beat. PJ of Stormy Monday had suggested that rather than going straight for the island, we should run on to the main island, go inside the reef and take our time in the sheltered water exploring the rarely used anchorages on the E side of the island. It made sense so we initially headed for  about  two thirds of the way down the island. As we cleared Ouvea, we found that the wind was from a wonderfully unexpected ENE direction so we hardened up and aimed further S to take advantage of it.

The next morning found us inside the reef in flat sheltered water and we pushed motor sailed SE the last few miles to Pass de Tare and anchorage described to us as a cyclone hole. We went in and found ourselves in a wonderfully sheltered bay, completely surrounded by forest. Wolfi and Cathi were in just before us having pushed a bit harder upwind. With a good muddy bottom, we anchored in 40’.

We spent a day looking around and met a delightful Frenchman who had been given permission from the locals to convert a small patch of one of the islands into a vegetable  garden. Once a violinist in Paris, we had found his way to New Caledonia and had never left. He does some trading with the locals and enjoys his life parked up in the bay.

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We moved on early the next morning escorted out of the pass by a couple of dolphin for the short jump to Iles Des Pins. There are a couple of routes into the huge sheltered nature park and we chose to head for Bay de Gadji which is on the N of the island. With only 15miles from Bay de Tare, it didn’t take us long but we had time to catch a King Mackerel. Finally, a fish with white flaky meat!

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We arrived to find Nigel on Varaiki leading a group of Rally boats off, all ducks in a row,  towards the narrow pass to the main town on S side of the island,  Hannah was disappointed to see her friends charge off but as we pointed out, Rally fleets are normally a bit more focused on moving on and are running to a timetable, something we have always tried not to do!

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We parked up for the first night at  a v sheltered anchorage in about 25’ of water just on the W side of the channel outside Bay de Gadji. The next morning having recce’d the route, we moved 500m E into the far shallower Bay de Gadji in 10’ of water into the whitest sand we had seen since the Bahamas. What a place! Lou has posted on Facebook that this is her favourite anchorage of the whole trip and it is difficult to argue with her. A huge area of sheltered water with great holding, oh so white sand and for the first few days at least little wind  meaning that Skylark looked as if she was floating on air, the water so flat and clear.

The original plan was to stay for a couple of days but we just loved it here. Joined by Be and Be and Plastik Plankton we had a great time being surrounded by beauty.

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Geoff decided he needed some time away from it all and took himself off on his paddleboard. He didn’t need to go far to find peace! I rather liked his style.

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We had a period of fantastic calm and beautiful sunsets. These are my two favourites. I’m quite proud of them considering they were taken on our little compact.

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Of course, as always with Hannah involved there was a continued drive for sleepovers and after several, we managed to get rid of the whole problem by suggesting a camping exhibition to one of the islands. The suggestion was joyously taken up by the smalls and we had a great time finding wood enough for the fire, selecting the right trees for the hammocks and then agreeing who would be sleeping with who.

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The view from the campsite was pretty impressive.

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Of course the adults couldn’t simply desert the kids so we got to visit, feed and water and hang out at the camp, at least until the kids told us it was time for us to leave them on their own.

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With one girl in each hammock, there was a minimum of strife. Shelby, smart girl she is, decided to enjoy the relative peace of Be and Be without her siblings!

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After rousing the kids out early after a few days ashore, we moved around to Kuto, the village in the main bay on the S side of the island where the ferry comes in. The ladies were disappointed again by the lack of fresh product available in the shop (singular). When pushed the shopkeeper said there might be fresh coming in by ferry a few days hence but it wouldn’t last long. I find it amazing that the service from Noumea to the outer islands is so poorly operated. With a fast foot ferry operating a couple of times a day, there must be opportunity for someone to spark. At the moment the only people who get reasonable service amd access to the plentiful produce of the main island are the hotels who ship in their own.

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We operated a taxi service in and out of the dock as you aren’t allowed to tie up to the ferry dock or the passenger dock (reserved for cruise liners) and we weren’t happy leaving the boat on the beach. It worked well and we all got to run about. Hannah did a good job as Dinghy Captain.

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The bay at Kuna has Dugongs in it. We kept a good look out for them but all we saw was the very occasional glimpse of a dark shape as it rolled underwater. We even tried a engine off drift through where we though we had seen a couple but with no success. Similar to Manatee, the big difference is the tail which looks like a Whales rather than the spade the Manatee has.

We climbed N’Ga, the highest hill on the island which overlooks the bay. Hannah had to hauled up the last little bit. Hot, bothered and without Eleanor to motivate her, she was not a happy chappy Smile 

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At 262m, N’Ga isn’t that high but the views are spectacular. With a 360 visage, you can certainly see why the island has its name. Interestingly, the island was originally a penal island and was used by the French to get rid of inconvenient political prisoners for a brief period in the mid 19C. It is a lot nicer than the hell hole of Devil’s Island, made famous in the film Papillion, but it proved to be too expensive to maintain.

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We needed to move on and see a bit more before we left Skylark. There is a huge amount to explore at the S end of New Cal and we could have spent weeks exploring. We looked and discussed, asked opinions, researched online and eventually decided that the weather was settled enough to go for one of the less visited small islands W of Ile Des Pins. Be and Be headed off to pick up family coming out to see them from home. Plastik Plankton and Skylark headed towards our final stop before handing her over, the island of Ua.

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Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the top 100 places to visit in the world. Fjordland, the National Park in which it sits, is ranked second only after Yellowstone. With that in mind, we were pretty excited to be headed towards the area. Our only reservation was it is also one of the wettest places on Earth with more than 6m of rain falling annually – six times the national average of NZ – and summer was already a month late. And it was cold. And raining……

Milford Sound is very definitely at the end of the road. The nearest town, with the last access to food and fuel is Te Anua which is about 100km S of Milford. It also has an excellent pie shop called Miles Better Pies. The Venison and the Chicken and Cranberry ones are strongly recommended – yum.  The whole area is protected and only officially approved sites have been developed, most of them to a basic standard. Few businesses are allowed to operate within the park and are tightly controlled. The number of campsites is small and each is allowed few campers. For self contained vans, it is a little easier with several dedicated sites that they can park up on. Conservation is the name of the game.

We chose to stay at the wonderfully named Knob’s Flat, about 50km short of Milford Sound and the last campsite that had space for tents. Note for others – you MUST book ahead if you wish to stay in the Milford Sound. If you don’t you are most likely going to find yourself all the way back at Te Anua. We arrived in the rain and set up on a damp spot, surrounded by bog. The whole area had had heavy rain for several weeks, summer just not arriving as it was supposed to and everything was waterlogged. Sadly that also meant low cloud and fleeting views of the hilltops around us.

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The campsite had an excellent little kitchen which, due to the small number of campers allowed, never felt too busy and was a friendly chatty place.  We met some exchange students from Edinburgh Uni doing some exploring and a UK mum, Alice and Rose, her very small daughter, travelling in a beat up caravan, wondering if she really wanted to go back to Europe.

Although advertised as such, it didn’t really have “the best showers in the world”. Saying that, we saw a few walkers coming out of them with big grins on their faces, having warmed up for the first time in days. It is all relative.

I dare say the drive up to Milford would have been amazing if we had been able to see anything. As it was, there were an awful lot of waterfalls, lots of steep green slopes disappearing into the cloud and a boring amount of rain. The highlight was the 1.5km long tunnel, burrowed through a mountain to reach the valley that led to the Sound.

Even though we could only see to about 1100m, Milford Sound was still pretty special. The waterfall by the ferry port was thundering away and throwing our huge amounts of water and spray. We walked around the Sound on one of the trails, dodging the rain and seeing some bedraggled wildlife, mainly consisting of Chinese tourists, of which there were many……

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On the way out from Milford Sound, on the recommendation of our camp manager, we stopped at The Chasm. Well named, millennia of water has torn through the earth, leaving interesting shapes ground out of the rock, a very, very deep gully and lots of roaring noise.

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In the car park, we met NZ’s parrot, the Kea, of which there are thought to be about 5000 left. One took a shine to Eleanor’s boots. They are not tame as such, just so used to being watched they feel totally unthreatened. There are notices up everywhere asking tourists not to feed them at all.  Their colouring allows them to blend in to the green canopy. Once they flex their wings, you get a glorious blast of colour as the hidden orange and red plumes suddenly become visible. Their habitat was hard hit during the logging eras of the past century but their numbers are now on the increase.

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Our last stop in the Sound was at Lake Marion. There were a couple of walks we could have done including a few hours hack up to the lake itself but with more rain forecast and not being well equipped if bad weather had come in,  we opted for the shorter walk, following the trial up the hill for a couple of miles, crossing a rather wobbly swing bridge (largely due to Hannah and Eleanor’s antics on it)  to see the rumbling waterfalls.

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The whole drive back to Te Anua was in drizzling rain and again we got to see only the bottom of the valley. I suppose we were just unlucky with the weather but it was a shame that one of the most glorious areas of NZ had chosen to hide itself from us. We left Knobs Flat and Milford a little disappointed and headed  towards Cromwell and Queenstown. Queenstown is a winter skiing destination, described as very touristy in the summer season but a favourite of Lorna of Quatsino and Cromwell, just up the road , a recommendation of Paul Sell, an area he loves for its walks. We stopped just once more at the pie shop and headed N following the inland road to our destination.

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Workaway – NZ Style

Sometimes, life treats you to a gem. We found one in the shape of the Hoban Family. It was with a little trepidation that we set out from Auckland to Albany where the Hobans live. Who would want travellers just to rock up at their house, having communicated only by email to check our compatibility, not knowing you from Adam? The Hoban’s, apparently.

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New Zealanders are big on showing off their country and even bigger in welcoming visitors. We had been pleased and surprised in Auckland when Lou, in having her eyebrows done at a beauty parlour, had fallen into conversation with a lady and her daughter who were getting their nails done. It turned out she lived up in the direction we were going and “would love for us to camp in her garden” when we reached her area. She handed us her phone number and address and instructions to find the house. We left slightly stunned with the sheer in your face-ness of her friendliness. We have found the same basic characteristic everywhere we have gone.

Both workaway and woofing (working on an organic farm) are a big deal and established practises here. It is a great way for typically poor young backpackers to get around NZ. You live at a farm or a house and work there, earning your bed and board.  We, as a travelling family, are a bit of an oddity but the Hobans read our blog and decided they wanted to meet us.

We arrived and the first word out of our mouth was “wow”. The house is a new build that they completed two years ago. Maurice and Sarah designed it themselves to be as energy efficient and economical as possible. They equipped it with very efficient double glazing and a huge array of solar panels which feeds back to the grid and brings their electricity bill down by a large amount. Maurice reckons that they paid for their installation in 18 months. It is, typical of housing in New Zealand, a  bungalow. Lots of land space and lots of earthquakes have taught them the value of wooden framed houses close to the ground! The design at the back of the house incorporates massive floor to ceiling windows giving the kitchen and main living area fantastic views all around. Throw in a large decked area and sitting in a couple of acres plot, you have a glorious living space. 

Maurice and Sarah had been travellers themselves and having travelled from the UK to NZ, where Maurice was from to settle, they decided to be as accommodating and helpful to folk of the same ilk as they had found themselves treated by strangers on their journey.  They have three kids, Finn, Amalie and Theo who are great and didn’t seem to mind being invaded by us. Our two, of course, threw themselves in to the kids action with wild abandonment. They have been missing kids’ company and 3+2 became a very happy feral mix.

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I did some little projects for them, rebuilding a door frame, clearing the garage up and putting up wire for their climbing plant frames around the back of the house which cost me a squashed finger when I cocked up and tried to swage my finger in with the wire. I felt a right prat. I also had a great time with a petrol strimmer, clearing one of the slopes too steep for a mower over a couple of days. It was so nice to do land based projects with boys toys tools! Lou did work around the house and the kids helped to walk Frodo. We would normally work in the morning and then head out to explore places suggested by Sarah. And what places, all within an hour of the house, both sides of the country. The weather had been wild and the seas at the beaches were spectacular. Lou and the girls visited a gannet colony and beach at the Muriwai Regional Park,  The pathway took you very close to the birds who were not bothered by you at all.

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Amalie guided us to the less well known Lake Wainamua, an inland lake on the W coast which, due to the prevailing winds has huge black volcanic sand dunes, drifting up a valley.  It was closer to powder than sand and you couldn’t help coming away black. There we were introduced to the delight of sand dune boarding. It all went well until Hannah got on, forgot to brake and hit the bottom going way too fast, wiping out spectacularly in true cartoon cartwheel style. There were tears.

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Walking down towards the beach took us past an excellent little mobile cafe. Hot chocolate and a lolly took precedence over another beach view and Lou and I were heartlessly deserted after the wallet had been fleeced.

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Talking about fleecing, we finally found a decent number of sheep on one of our walks. Hannah, of course, needed a photo.

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The NZ philosophy of life includes a need for being busy outside and I’d suggest is far less sedentary than the typical UK lifestyle. There are bike tracks and walks taking you to endless great views everywhere you go . There is a constant reference to sport, boating, hunting, camping, trail walks or just being out and about. And the facilities are there for you to be able to do so. There are huge national and regional parks, well run and looked after, set aside for people to disappear in to and explore.

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And the playparks inside towns? Wonderful places with great toys for the kids to run riot on.

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Eleanor and Hannah both got to go to Amalie’s and Theo’s school for a day too. I think they were both secretly glad that they found themselves easily able to deal with the work they were set. They were pleased and surprised to learn that it is still enshrined in law that NZ kids in the summer months are allowed to come to school in bare feet! There was also the schools swimming pool to play in. You buy a family key for access and it is a great meeting place to cool down in the hot afternoon sun.  Note the inappropriate sides that no-one injures themselves on. Health and Safety morons haven’t really managed to break in to NZ society yet. Long may it last. On another civilised NZ trait – did you know it is not possible to sue over personal injury? You use a facility on your own assessment of its danger to you. You have to think of the consequences of your actions and there is little sympathy if you are a prat. Your fault if you screw up. However, the state will pick up any medical bills to fix you. Same goes for car accidents. Whoever causes the accident simply gets hammered by the courts and the state pays out a reasonable compensation. Whilst some would argue they are not perfect, laws like this would put half the current legal professions of the USA and UK out of work and might change the disastrous blame culture that seems to be prevalent in both countries. An idea to look at, I’d suggest.

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All told, we spent just over a week with the wonderful Hoban family. And we loved it. They are marvellously welcoming and I think they provided us with just about the perfect reintroduction to family living on land. We said our goodbyes and left for the drive up towards Opua and the Bay of Islands where our sailing friends were about to arrive in to after finishing their long Pacific crossing to the safety of NZ waters.

We are hoping we will get the chance to see the Hobans again before we leave. There is a golf game that would be great to get to but may not be possible due to the travel plans to go to but we are hopeful we will see them in the New Year, possibly even down on the S island where they will be camping. Either way, I am hoping that we will be able to reciprocate their hospitality one day. 

For anyone thinking about trying workaway or woofing, there are sites that you can find people interested in hosting you. Expect a bit of too and fro as you nail down what each party want out of the arrangement but if you go in to it with an open mind, you will find yourself well rewarded, having the chance to meet some great people and being able to experience true local culture far better than any package holiday.

Look here at the Workaway website

For woofing in New Zealand only, look HERE or

For international woofing, look HERE instead.

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