Tag Archives: Pickles

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!

Abel Tasmin

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.

Abel TasminAbel TasminAbel TasminAbel TasminAbel TasminAbel TasminAbel TasminAbel Tasmin

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.

Abel Tasmin

Gentle Annies

Heading N along the coast, we saw a signpost for Pancake Rocks and just had to stop. We walked down to the coast line and walked around a small bay, formed by an undercut allowing the sea to surge in to form several blowholes. The rock structure really was like a stack of pancakes – quite odd – and as the soft rock eroded so the coast resembled endless small canyons. There were several sizable blow holes too. It was well worth the stop.


Whilst we had been heading N, some of our favourite people had been heading S from Auckland, having finished converting their van which they collected at Christmas.


We met up with ZigZag at Westport, a small town close to Pancake Rocks. After sitting down for lunch, we persuaded them to follow us an hour back N to the wonderfully named Gentle Annies’ Campsite which sits at the mouth of the Mokihinui river. We had been told about it in passing conversation by another traveller and what we researched after that, pleased us.  Voted third place in a national pole of campsites, we thought it must be good and so it proved. It is a lovely set up. A central house with a small cafe, a long communal room with a fireplace, fish tank and decent internet, surrounded by sheltered camping areas, split up by hedges and flower borders providing shelter. And right beside the sea with the gentle rumble of waves providing a night time soporific. Lovely! The ground was soggy in places as the site had been subject to the deluge we had had but the weather stayed dry for us and the ground slowly drained itself.


The current “managers” of the camp sight are a couple of Brit travellers, working to replenish funds. He is a gardener back home and he has got the gardens looking terrific.  And of course, a big trampoline for the kids is a great attraction.


The other great thing about the camp, unlike most of the rest of NZ,  was that there were several fire pits which we were able to use. All you needed to do was to collect wood from the beach, where there was a huge supply, to run either a pit by the tents or as we did one night, to heat the pizza oven up by the main house. The pizza turned out well! As the evenings were still a little chill, the warmth of the fire was greatly appreciated.


We had planned to stay a night or two. In the end we stayed four. It was a great place to base ourselves and there were some wonderful places to visit close by.

There was , the longest wire bridge in NZ at Buller Gorge. Pointlessly expensive to get in to, we looked at it, announced “it is big, isn’t it?” and drove quickly on. ZigZag did go in and took this snap. For us it was not worth the $15 a head to spend a minute crossing it. I understand the NZ requirement to make money from tourists but as a traveller rather than a bone fide tourist with the holiday cash to burn in a couple of weeks, it is a bit annoying being asked to put your hand in your pocket for not unsubstantial sums for most activities. It just means that we have had to concentrate on the free to do stuff.


A case in point. We visited the Charming Creek railway line that supported a coal mine and logging operation back in the days. Some of the rail is still there and it is a 18km walk from end to end. We did the first 6km which allowed us to visit a great waterfall, go through several tunnels sparkling with glow worms and cross another long wire bridge built by the NZ Army after the last one washed away. It was a good walk even though the smalls found it tiring as proved by Mia collapsing on me as we walked back to the car park. I got a good workout carrying her wrapped in my top, her in complete floppy mode for a couple of miles!



We also visited a cave system at the Moria Gate Arch. It was a little like going down the rabbit hole but the caves were impressively large, echoed wonderfully as proven by the smalls and were a good explore. Pickles came too and Mia was a very responsible carrier!



Georg had a pleasant time playing around with the settings of his camera, far grander than our little pocket one. Some of the shots turned out very well.


We separated again with Starcharger and Skylark heading towards Abel Tasmin, the NW corner of South Island which is a huge National Park. ZigZag headed south to carry on their explore of the South Island. We have loved the time we have had with them in NZ. Unfortunately it doesn’t look as if we will get the chance to meet up with them in 2017. They have decided to limit their sailing this year due to the wonderful news that Irene is pregnant again. With Fiji and Tonga providing a high risk of exposure to Sika virus, they have taken the sensible decision not to travel there and will be concentrating their time in NZ and maybe New Caladonia. We will, I am sure, manage to meet up with them again but it will be a little further down the road than we both expected.  We look forward to seeing the photos of the new arrival later this year and perhaps in the flesh in the Caribbean in a few years time!


Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We headed up towards Cromwell. We decided against basing ourselves at Queenstown as the more we looked at it the more it seemed to be a summer alpine town with lots of posh shops, bars for après ski and a concentrated area of tourist money holes. We found a huge campsite at Cromwell whose kitchen seemed to be largely occupied by seasonal workers from Argentina. Nice folk but they did take up a lot of room. You needed to get into the kitchen before them or wait until late to get dinner. Over the next few days we had a good wander about. Queenstown, darling of Lorna, perhaps because of its alpine après ski feel proved to be an interesting place but not really to my taste. I felt a little mugged going in to the high price shops, there to collect an easy buck from the adrenaline junkies it has as visitors. Saying that we did find an excellent pizza place. We were charged  a fair price for a 3’ X 1’ pizza which was rather good!

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

The Queenstown area offers all the “dangerous” activities – anything from sedate canoeing to white water rafting, parachuting, caving, skiing (in season) and of course lots of bungee jumps. It even has the largest swing in the word where you sit in and enjoy a 70m free drop. It would have been lovely to do some of these but it would have burst the budget very quickly. We went and watched some folk throw themselves off the original bungee bridge at XXXXXXX. It seemed to be fun (once they had finished) and quite a few jumped, I am sure, purely to escape the abuse that was directed their way by the onlookers!

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanake


Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakeCromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

We had been told of a good, relatively short walk which took you around the Bannockburn Sluicings, once a thriving and successful gold mining area. The walk was an easy one though a bare arse area that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a spaghetti western, with regular stops to read boards with explanations of what you were seeing. We found a couple of caves going back into the cliffs and wished we had brought a torch or two. They were accessible at least to 20m which is as far as we dared finding our way with a camera flash. It was evident from the info boards that the people that really made a killing in this above ground sluicing were not the miners. The water rate amounted to about 80% of the total costs of a miner. You needed to be very lucky to get rich as a miner. Those controlling the water, the very same people who owned hardware store selling the spades and food, made the fortune!

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We moved another short jump N to the town of Wanaka. Set on the edge of a lake it is a pleasant little town ringed by hills large enough to be snow capped. With the wet weather we had been enjoying,  there had been a unseasonable build up of snow down to about 1100m. It did make the place look spectacular but it was chill at night.

 Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

It wasn’t too busy but it had with all the right kind of cafes, bars, shops and water sport facilities. We arrived just in time for a Red Bull Challenge event. Set over a weekend it pretty much boiled down to a couple of biathlon events, done in teams of two. Off road cycling and canoeing were the sports with a bit of abseiling thrown in. At the finish line, the girls met a Wanaka local and current World Champion Paddle Boarder, Annabel Anderson, (who was as fit as a butchers dog and hard as nails) who was great. She signed her autograph for Hannah with the comment “Girls can do ANYTHING!” I concur. 

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We had a great time winding Eleanor up on her birthday. Comments like “big long walk…..” “it’ll be fun….” “bit steep at times…..” produced a pensive, thoughtful face. Her joy when we arrived at the excellent Wanake Puzzle House made us all smile! The house is split in to two parts. Outside yuo can wander an enormous maze which can take hours to complete. The inside walk through is all about optical allusions and is quite excellent. I’ve included a few photos to give you a feel.

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

We finished Eleanor’s birthday with a BBQ and cake with reused birthday signs and balloons providing decoration. It was a fun night at the well appointed Kiwi Campsite, a big step up from the Top 10 ones we had been using.

Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakeCromwell, another Birthday and Wanake

The sun came out and we took the chance to climb Mt Rocky, a short drive N from Wanaka, a recommendation of the campsite for a walk suitable for kids. It was great fun, a steady but not difficult climb and the views from the top were spectacular. It made for a great day out and we happily recommend it. We all enjoyed a snooze at the top and Habitat enjoyed his first selfie. We used the western route back down which was a lot steeper and enjoyed meeting a Quail and a large brood of chicks that didn’t seem that bothered about us being close.


Cromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and WanakaCromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

After all the rain of Milford, it was great to enjoy some dry and at times, even sunny weather for a few days. We all needed a bit of respite after the drownings we had had and both Cromwell and Wanaka provided us with some wonderful memories. Next time (or if the girls were a little bigger) it would be fun to explore some of the more severe slopes around this area. I might leave this beauty to my brother David though..…….

Cromwell, another Birthday and Wanaka

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

We arrived in Bluff. Gill had decided she wanted a house rather than a campsite to celebrate her birthday in so we booked a bach and stayed for two days. The house was lovely even if the décor was a bit 1970s. It was a proper house with lots of fires, polished wood and enormous bedrooms. There was a screaming red bath suite in it but we forgave it for that. We got the log burner going in the kitchen and the house soon heated up. Whilst Gill was sent off for a walk, the girls cooked a birthday cake and decorated the house. We had a good day, opening presents, eating cake and having a rather good evening meal of Beef Wellington, using the first full kitchen we have had access to for a long while. We all got a bit carried away and dressed up for the occasion. All were aghast when Alasdair appeared in trousers. There is a first time for everything!

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

There was also lots of boogying around the kitchen as we plumbed the music in to the decent hi-fi speakers the house had. Hannah was happy to perform and there was a good amount of tomfoolery. Pickles, Habitat and new friend, Kevin the Kiwi joined in too.

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

We walked 20mins down from the house to Bluff, officially the southern point of mainland NZ. It was windy, a little wet and reminded me so much of a decent Lewis walk. The air was crystal clear and we could see Stewart Island, sitting about 35miles further S as well as a smaller group of islands just off the point. 

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Coming back from Bluff point towards the village,  we walked past the narrow channel to the sheltered bay which the peninsula of Bluff protects and were surprised at just how strong the tide was as it ripped out. A conservative speed of current, estimated by Alasdair and I, was six knots. It would be a nasty place to try and enter times other than slack. The rather hideous building on the other side of the channel is an enormous Aluminium smelter works which is a major contributor to the local economy. It unfortunately seems to be constantly nearly going out of business. It is on an upswing at the moment due to the strength of the dollar but it has “nearly” been closed regularly for the last 15 years which is a worry to the locals. It consumes about 13% of NZ’s entire electricity supply and has a long jetty where a series of container ships were filled whilst we were there. 

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Alasdair desire to see the Fastest Indian was the primary reason we were this far S on the island. We originally hadn’t planned in going beyond Dunedin before we crossed over to the W side of the island. However, having seen the film about the crazy New Zealander, Burt Munro, who turned up at Bonneville Salt Flats with a home made faired motorcycle and proceeded to establish a still current World Record for a normally aspirated 1000C motorbike, we decided we needed to go too. If you haven’t seen it, The World’s Fastest Indian is a brilliant film, stars Antony Hopkins and is well worth a watch. The bike is displayed is in a hardware store, E Hayes and Co  which contains over 100 motorbikes, racing cars and engines dotted around the shop. It is a Temple to Speed as well as being one of the best stocked hardware shops I’ve seen.  It is amusing wandering through the shop, going past the paint to find yourself face to face with an old F5000 car, turning round to see the car used in the film by Hopkins driving across USA, then past a collection of 1970’s race bikes as you go walk the drill bits. Then in the power tool section, the gem. The actual bike used to set the World Record back in 1960s. Beside it there was a nutter 600cc methanol bike which Burt used to set another world record in the early 70’s. That record was only broken a couple of years ago which is testimony to the engineering skill Burt must have had to push the technology he had so far in his time. He worked in the garage at the bottom of his garden. Most of its content is now in the store on display. The official record for mile and back was set at 184mph but the bike was recorded at 205mph during a straight run which Burt crashed on. An extraordinary tale.  

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

On the way in to visit Invercargill, we had noticed a sign up saying that the NZ Superbike Championship were visiting, racing one of the national series at the local Teratonga track, the southernmost FIA approved track in the world. We waited in town until the rain had blown through and although we missed the first couple of races, had a great time watching everything from full works team superbikes to sidecar and a good selection of 125, 250 and 600cc races as well. All for the price of $10  a head! The really nice thing about it was that it was assumed that everyone there was a petrol head and other than the post race scrutinising area, everywhere else was accessible. It was great being able just to walk up to team tents and watch them in action. It meant you had to be careful as bikes were called to the next race as they weren’t interested in stopping and it was up to you to jump out of their way as they went to the assembly point before being released on track. The standard of racing was high and there was a good amount of overtaking. Note the lack of barriers in front of where we parked between us and the racetrack! It was all pretty laid back and a great day out.

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a BirthdayBluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

After two weeks heading nothing but S we finally were able to turn N towards Milford Sound which sits in Fjordland, the mountainous SW corner of NZ. We had a great time in Invercargill and we very much liked the easy going nature of the people we met. I would happily go back there and I’d like to explore the wild lands E of Bluff and those W at the S end of Fjordland. The weather is a bit drafty for the most but a reminder of what we would expect in the Outer Hebrides!

Bluff, The Fastest Indian and a Birthday

Steampunk, Dunedin and Royal Albatross

We broke the journey S from Christchurch by visiting the town of Oamaru, a pretty town about half way to Dunedin. We had heard of it as it is the World HQ of steampunk. The term steampunk was coined in the 1980s and is based on imagining inventions the Victorians might have created for the modern world, using steam power as the base tech. Steampunk inventions have been used in such films as the Mad Max collection, Wild Wild West and Stardust. A whole fashion industry has grown up around this strange alt neo-Victorian style. I’ve put the wiki link for anyone that wants to understand more.  It is a hoot! The town itself is largely unchanged from its heydays in the 1870s. Unfortunately for the town at that time, it went bust and a lot of the population moved away. Fortunately for us, it was so poor that it couldn’t afford to redevelop and so now that money has returned, you have a main road through an unchanged town which is still wide enough to allow for a “four bullock cart’s” turning circle and many of the original Victorian buildings, fully restored.

Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

These are built from a local white stone and are beautiful. Now attracting tourists simply because of its prettiness, the town is well worth a visit. The playground, right beside Steampunk HQ has had the full treatment and the kids had a great time on the very fast death slide and fantastic swings hung from a 10m tall Penny Farthing. The area around the seafront is the place to go with some excellent shops, one of the finest travel book stores equipped with a replica Shackleton boat, used in the Kenneth Branagh film, a whisky distillery (with tasting room) and a brewery. And of course Steampunk HQ. We loved it and had a great time wandering over the all exhibits.

 Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

The campsite we stayed in was the nosiest we have ever stayed in but also one of the best. The culprits were Blue Penguins, the smallest penguin in the world, who initially colonised a quarry on the edge of town and have now just moved in wherever. We had two couples within 10m of us and I wished that I had put earplugs in at 0300hrs when they decided to do some “bonding” before they head out for the day’s fishing. There is a visitors’ centre dedicated to them that you can go to but in the end, we didn’t bother. We just stood by the front gates of the campsite just after last light and watched these tiny creatures, standing no more than a foot high, wander in, waddling from car to car trying to keep out of the light. They are noisy but not unwelcome residents to most of the houses and buildings along the seafront. Sadly my photos didn’t come out well.

We continued S, stopping at the weird Moeraki Boulders on the coat line, just along the road from Aviemore. These spherical rocks were formed mud, pebbles and shells were deposited in a quiet sea floor, some 55 million years ago. Lime built up around them and this formed the hard sphere. As the region was uplifted, the sea eroded the softer rock around them leaving them sat on the beach as they are now. There are a couple that have split and sucked in sulphur, now forming yellow crystal lines running through the sphere .

 Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Dunedin is named for the capital of Scotland, generally anglicised as Edinburgh with burgh being a literal translation of the Gaelic “dun”, meaning fort. Although there were settlers in the area before, the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland, through a company called the Otago Association, founded Dunedin at the head of Otago Harbour in 1848 as the principal town of its special settlement. The Wee Frees get everywhere….

Originally making its money as a busy whaling port, the town exploded in population due to a nearby gold strike in the 1860s. It was, until 1900, the biggest city in NZ by size and population.  During this period, Dunedin’s town architect was instructed to make buildings that would not have been out of place in the grandeur of Edinburgh. The railway station is a prime example. It is said to be the most photographed building in NZ but these days it is only used for historic train rides up and down the coast. It is beautifully if just a little over the top!

 Steampunk, Dunedin and AlbatrossSteampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

These days the town’s main “industry” is that of education. The University of Otago (the province that Dunedin sits in) has a large student population and provides over 20% of the towns population. It also has the Speight Brewery which is open to the public. Gill, an ex-Bass employee,  was less than impressed at the cost and time we would have around the place so we retired to a bar across the road and did our own sampling there instead.

Dad had asked me to see if I could prove an old Henderson story that Capt T Henderson, an ancestor and skipper of big boats in the late 19thC, had brought settlers from Scotland and delivered them to Dunedin, at the time the main ingress point for immigrants. I visited the excellent Toitu Otago Settlers Museum where I was able to use their reference section to try and prove one way or another whether he had visited. I rooted around Past Papers, searching the old newspapers of the time that always recorded ships arriving to NZ which made excellent reading.  Sadly whilst I was able to find the list of ships that brought settlers in, found in the Council’s papers, as I didn’t know what ships he had skippered I wasn’t able to complete the work. I’ve handed the copies of the records on to Dad in the hope that we can make the link. My search wasn’t helped by the fact that it seems a Mr P Henderson and Co of Glasgow, Ship’s Agent, appears to have handled every Scottish emigrant’s passage and appeared everywhere.   

Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

We stayed at a campsite at Portobello, a little way out of town but close to the big attraction of the area for me, the Royal Albatross Centre site at the end of the protecting peninsula for Dunedin Harbour. We visited the centre which was excellent but decided not to pay the $130+ to be allowed to walk up the hill for an hour. We stood at the wire fence and watched the birds soar above us instead. Just superb. In all our travels, we had never before had the pleasure of seeing an albatross on the wing. There were some in Galapagos and folk have even seen them around the Society Isles but we never had the luck. The birds are magnificent and sodding huge. In the UK, I suppose a Goose or Kite might be the largest bird you will normally see. They are tiny in comparison. With a wingspan of up to 12’ and weighing up to 30lbs, with its close relative, the Wandering Albatross, the Southern Royal Albatross are the largest birds in the sky. They are truly majestic.

 Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

We left Dunedin and its surrounds having had a great time. Alasdair was fair bouncing to be off, wanting to get down to complete our road trip to the two ends of NZ. Of course it might have something to do with the Fastest Indian being in Invercargill! Lastly, if anyone knows anyone in the T-shirt printing business, I want one of these. In regard to one of my true heroes, it says it all, I think.Steampunk, Dunedin and Albatross

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

The route we had originally wanted to use, around the East coast of the South island has been closed since the Kiakoura earthquake. In the meantime the only way to get to Kiakoura, is to head SSW from Blenheim and then cut back across a mountain pas E to get to the coast. What was an hour and a half trip takes six. It is ironic to think our first experience away from the civilisation of Blenheim was a small town, famous and rich for harnessing the Earth’s power and its hot volcanic springs when our original destination had been damaged by that same but this time, spastically unregulated power.

Hanmer Springs lies on the cross country route to Kiakoura and became came our first stopping point on our journey down the East coast. Although it adds on many hours and miles in distance it  did mean that we got to drive through some spectacular countryside as we crossed the mountains.

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

We had organised to meet Gill and Alasdair there. Surrounded by mountains, the view from the campsite was fantastic. The natural hot springs have been well developed into a great open air spa area with numerous small pools, spa tubs as well as a couple of large pools too. Of course there are slides as well and the kids had a great time going up and down, generally very loudly enjoying the hot water, less so standing in the cold wind queuing. Alasdair and I were required by the girls to join in the action and I’m afraid to say we probably were the biggest kids there. The ladies decided to refrain and stayed in the sanctuary of the pools. The water temperature ranges from 34-42C. We spent most of the day there are we would strongly recommend it, with kids or not. It is worth spending the extra $10 for the slide pass. If you are a member of the Top 10 camping organisation, you can claim discounts and a free re entry pass too – worth it if you want to leave and get lunch back at the campsite or in town.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

With our next destination, Christchurch, being the third leg of a triangle, we decided to stay in Hanmer Springs, leave the tents where they were and drove to Kiakoura for a days road trip instead. The road was mainly clear but obviously damaged by the recent quake and there were many points where building work was ongoing. It took us about an hour and a half to do the 100km trip.

 Hot Springs and Kiakoura

The town itself showed little obvious damage beyond the old theatre on the sea front that had barriers up around it. However, looking a little closer a lot of the shops were closed, with little white notices up saying they had failed building inspections and were closed until rebuilt/fixed. The shop below was luckier and was open for business. The trouble is, with the road to the N and the ferry closed, the only way to get to Kiakoura is by an out of the way route adding 5-6hrs to the journey time. The road, vital for its prosperity, will take something in the order of 18mths to be fixed. The town is hurting as it is not getting its annual fix of tourists either staying in the town or at least stopping for lunch or dinner on the way through to Christchurch a couple of hours to the S. One of the shop owners I talked to has written this summer season out and is just hopeful of getting a decent year next to be able to survive. The NZ government is helping local businesses with wages, securing jobs for an as yet unspecified period which has been well received but it is survival money and nothing more.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

As our kids found (and I include Gill in that number) the school playground was a cracker. We arrived in time for the morning Saturday market in the park in front of the school. Whilst the grown ups went around the few stalls there buying some fantastic chutney in the progress, the kids had a good time, hooting and howling around the play park.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

It is on the seafront you can really notice the difference to the landscape.  There are parts of the local coastline that have been raised 5m or in old money, 15 feet! It is a staggeringly number. Vast areas of the until recently fertile fishery grounds along the coast have been destroyed due to this upheaval. There is a real worry that it will take a long time for the local fish and crustacean stocks to repopulate in decent numbers, a real source of income for the town. The biggest difference post quake is the colour of the water in the bay, said one of the local artists. It is now a far lighter blue indicating the bed has been raised there too. The pier at the S end of the bay used to be in the water. It will never see sea again.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

There is a good walk from the S edge of town that takes you down and along the coast, allowing you to walk along a cliff route returning by the shore line through huge numbers of nesting seagulls and seals. It took us a couple of hours. The views across the various bays were great. We kept to the paths and the noisy fledglings gulls were oblivious to us. The seals simply ignored us. You are allowed to snorkel and dive from the shore and I think it would be fascinating to do so. It is a long walk in and out though so perhaps snorkelling would be best. Take a wetsuit. The water temp isn’t up to much.

P1060493Hot Springs and Kiakoura


Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

We took the cross country road back across to Hanmer Springs again. As an impressive reminder of the power of the Earth, we saw this distorted road marking just short of one road bridge which had been destroyed in the quake, some 30 miles from Kiakoura. The road has been moved just a few inches and the damage to the bridge had destroyed it. Just what it was like to sit/cower through the big one lifting you and the Earth around you several metres doesn’t bear thinking about……

A bit terrifying, if I say so myself.

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

Crossing “The Wine-Dark Sea”

We stayed at Ua Poa for just two days and have had a sad parting.

We had hoped for a few days more but the weather gods dictated that we cut this visit short. However, we manage to pack in a fair amount, not everything we had hoped for but enough to remind us why we liked this island so much. The bakery got hammered, we took Mia to the cross at the top of the hill and we even had a clear view of the Spires for a few minutes.

We managed to get up to the Catholic church which is highly recommended. The clever open wall design ensured the place is light and airy and the carvings inside are excellent. Hannah got a bit freaked out by the older ladies she met there but they all were super friendly! Serve her right for looking small and cute.


Mia has been having real problems finding a flight at a reasonable price from the islands in the Tuamotus that we are hoping to visit and she wasn’t able to alter the ticket she had. There is also the issue that many of the flights are only once or twice weekly, so leaving her with an expensive layover in Tahiti. Tough life, I hear you say, but when you are on a travellers budget it is just that and choices must be made.

Starcharger, newly arrived at Ua Poa from Hiva Oa, is shortly leaving the Marquesas and after a couple of stops will arrive in Tahiti within a couple of days of when Mia has her ticket home. To that end, as we looked to make our way back E to Hiva Oa, she has jumped ship and joined Alastair and Gill. We loved having her on board for the short time we did but we are glad she will have a proper time in the Tuamotus before heading home to Denmark.

We have also promised to put the word out for her as she would like to join a yacht crossing the Atlantic this Nov/Dec. We give her a big thumbs up for her friendliness, competence and work ethic. So if anyone knows of someone doing the ARC and is looking for crew, I present you with a highly qualified ICU nurse (a great skill to have on board) with a skipper’s ticket, a diving instructor to boot and has a Pacific crossing doing solo watches under her belt. She has a great attitude and the kids loved having her around. Perhaps more importantly, so did Lou. Get anyone interested to drop us a line and we will put them in touch.

Mia made one last early morning run for bread with Hannah and then moved her kit across. Our thanks to Starcharger for taking Mia with them and for a great last night together. We look forward to seeing Alastair, Gill and Pickles again in New Zealand at the turn of the year.


We wish Mia all the very best and hope we will get the chance to catch up with her further on down the road.

We had to jump East today. It is the first time in over a month that the islands have had a period of no wind and we couldn’t afford to miss it. We really want to visit Fatu Hiva before we leave the Marquesas. It is the furthest SE of all the islands in the group and can be unpleasantly difficult to get back to. According to the forecast (never an accurate beast but the best we have) the calm will last a maximum of 30hrs before the trades fill in again.

As soon as Mia had moved across, we left Ua Poa with another two boats all trying to claw back the easting they need to get to Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva, normally a long 70 miles away upwind. Although we needed an engine on throughout the day as the most wind we saw was 3kts, I got no abuse for uphill sailing! The seas moderated to this extraordinary polished calm with a long swell of about 2m height.

I always thought Patrick O’Brian had simply used his imagination for his book title and the name I have adulterated for this blog. Not so. As the sun set we had a gorgeous lighting effect. Behind us, the sun set behind Ua Poa in a boil of colours and in front, well, I tried but the photo doesn’t do it justice. It was like looking through a glass of Beaujolais.  You can just make out Hiva Oa and Tahuata, about 40 miles away.

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I have no photos of the night sky but my memory will long remember the The Milky Way blazing from horizon to horizon, reflecting back off the sea, making it seems if we were travelling through some sort of starry tunnel. It was the clearest and most vivid night sky of our trip so far.

As the bay here is very dark and the moon will not be up until 0200hrs, I will be ashore tonight to try and recapture on film at least some of what we saw.

We arrived at Tahuata in darkness and decided to park up in Hanamoena Bay, an easy wide bay and safer than attempting the tight Atuano anchorage on Hiva Oa. I woke up this morning to look down at my anchor, clear as a bell in 35’ of water on white sand. We may decide to stay here a few days…….



Having finally received the new bearings for the rudders, we were keen to leave Santa Cruz as quickly as possible. Lou phoned our agent, Irene and an hour later we were stood in front of the Immigration man who cleared us out of Ecuador. We needed to clear out from Santa Cruz as Isabela, although the most obvious island to leave from, 60 miles W of Santa Cruz, doesn’t have any Customs or Immigration facilities. We also got our Zarpe from the Port Captain, allowing us to move to Isabela. It is a bit of a strange system. Officially we have left the country but we have as much time as we really want in Isabela as long as Isabela was on the original Autografo. Some people without agent are given a time limit of just a few days by the Port Captain. We, with the excellent James Hinkle acting for us, Bolivar Pesante’s island representative, are treated a little different, I fear simply because money is seen to be going into someone’s pocket on the island.

We decided to travel overnight and had a tedious motor-sail into about 5kts of wind. It was very very dark with no moon and only the occasional glimpse of stars. We woke to the islands showing the form of a huge  largely sunken caldera with boobies dive bombing around us.



We arrived at Puerto Villamil at 1115hrs, parked up beside Taranga and in front of Jade. The Port Captain’s representative was on board within 10 minutes. After a little bit of confusion, we fed him coffee, James spoke to him on the radio and we promised to bring all the paperwork ashore for James to present to officialdom. James is an American, who, having driven to Ecuador in the 1960’s, became one of the first Darwin Guides and married a local. After raising his family in the USA, he and his wife have retired back to Isabela. They are a lovely couple and of great help to us both here and in helping with some pushing of FEDEX when we were back in Santa Cruz.

A quick word on the anchorage here. Having got used to the surge and roll of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, it was a delight to anchor in 5m of water in  a wonderfully sheltered bay, protected by low islands and reefs. We have not had more than 10 boats in at any one time.

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It is the best anchorage we have been in for months with no swell at all and even the monohulls sit unmoving beside us. It is also beautifully picturesque.  Strangely, it reminds me strongly of some anchorages in Scotland. It is the only official anchorage that Charlie’s Charts doesn’t have a picture off.  Trying to keep people away?  Maybe.  The other delight is the lack of traffic here.  There are few tourist boats operating here and only the occasional taxi so there is very little wash.

The anchorage is full of life.  Turtles, baby sharks, sea-lions and penguins.  Tiny little things but real penguins.  And Manta Rays.  Great big enormous wonderful Manta Rays.  One we caught a glimpse of, decided to have a tour around the anchorage.  No photos yet but we are still hopeful.

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As with all the islands, you are restricted from doing most things sensible with your boat.  You may snorkel around your boat (but not clean it) but may not go across to the reef to where the iguana and penguins hang out as this is the main snorkel area for the locals to bring the tourists.  If you want to go there, you need to pay.  However, no one seems to bother you if you use a canoe.  There are a couple of beaches ashore by the harbour that you can snorkel off which are well used but full of iguana, turtles and seals.  The main beach which starts at the town and heads W is great.  White sand, good surf and there is a good play park too. Close to the play park and across the road from the Captain’s office are public showers.  The water gets switched on to them around 1700hrs daily for people to rinse off from the beach.  

There is a dinghy dock here so you can get yourself to shore without the need of the rather expensive water taxi ($2 a head each way – for comparison, Santa Cruz was $0.80).  Advise is to make sure you lock everything up and take the fuel hose with you.  Our friends on Tika came back to find theirs had been stolen.  Not impressed.  Make sure you tie up on the inside of the dinghy dock too.  The locals use the dinghies as big fenders as they crash in.  Not real friendly.  Returning to your yacht after night fall is a challenge as there is a reef, rocks and a sandbar between the dock and the anchorage.  Make sure you take a BIG torch to allow you to spot the infrequent buoys marking the safe route and I’d advise having a good look at the route in daylight hours before you try it at night.  Lots of people have either ended up crunching their propellers or running aground. 

The town is a bit sleepy but I love the fact that other than a pompously wide road from the dock which stops short of town, the rest of the roads are either sand  or volcanic gravel.  There is a good selection of restaurants which are reasonably priced, particularly for lunch, and have a great selection of sea foods.


One note on money.  There are no ATMs on the island so you will need to load up with cash before you reach here.  The bank is a basic one and for locals to use, not tourists.  Beware also the bars and restaurants with signs up saying that they can take credit cards.  They can but there will be a service charge of 22%!!  They know they have you over a barrel if you haven’t brought cash………

The girls have had an active social life here.  We have had a couple of sleep overs and birthdays too.  Grace and Evie, two UK girls travelling with their parents Adrian and Christine, by land around the world came for a stay.  Evie turned 7 and had a birthday party of pizza and far too much sugar!

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Then, having had Meriel stay (the girl with the interesting choice of headwear) the girls had a return night with her and Nerana, her sister, on Persevere.  They had a couple of film nights there as well, watching on their huge TV – a 60” beast!



Then we continued the surfing education at a birthday party for Arsene off Quatra who turned 10.  Audrey, his mum surprised us with a fantastic birthday feast on the beach.  

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The S end of the island can be explored by bicycle and although the sand tracks are hard work, it is great fun.  We were joined on this trip by Pickles, Gill from Starcharger’s ever present childhood bear, who Hannah carried and introduced to a number of new friends!  Watch out for him in the photos.

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There are tourist trips to The Tunnels (volcanic tubes – now flooded) but you aren’t allowed to snorkel in them and we thought $80 a head was a bit steep.  However, on the bike route we found a tube running down to the sea that we could explore for free.

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We also visited the Wall of Tears, built by political prisoners between 1945-59 as something meaninglessly tedious to do.  The island had a fearsome reputation and many prisoners died here.  The wall is huge. Roughly 10m high, about the same wide and it is about 300m long.


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The climb above the Wall of Tears to the three viewpoints is hot, long but worth it.  We nearly broke the kids!  You get a spectacular view along the S coast of Isabela  and inland to the highlands.  The gentle breeze at that height is a life saver too.


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Having cooked on the bike trip to the Wall of Tears (there is a lot of uphill riding required), we were all ready to cool down.  We visited two gorgeous beaches, Playa del Amor and La Playita, that we shared with more marine Iguanas than we have seen before and an awful lot of land crabs.


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Although there is a “official” flamingo lake, a inland brine affair, the birds don’t like it! We were pointed to a pit near to the Tortoise Sanctuary just N of the town as a better place to go to see these pink marvels. We also saw some lovely little birds showing no fear of us at all.  Twitchers – over to you to name them please.


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Hannah found us a wild Tortoise, a rare find, dozing under a tree whilst she was looking for some shade on the bike ride out and it was still there on our way back to the beaches.  By its size, we think it was about 50 years old.  We also stopped in at the Tortoise Sanctuary to look at the work being down there.  Currently there are about 800 turtles being raised, a mix of the five species of Tortoise present on Isabela.  The great difficulty that the tortoise have is that rats, introduced from ships visiting in the past, eat the eggs and it has become more and more difficult for tortoise to survive to hatching, let alone the first few years.  The Sanctuary raises the tortoise until their size can give them the protection they need.


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We were recommended a good snorkelling site, El Eskro,  by Gem, a London lass working at at the Surf and Bike shop.  However, try and go at low water.  There is too much surf at anything more than half water.  We rented both surf boards and bikes from that shop and were impressed with the price and quality of kit.  A handy map of the area is below. 


We made the boat ready for the crossing with the last of the provisioning done in the small supermarkets here.  The Farmer’s Market, held on a Saturday, was a disappointment with little in the way of offerings and poor quality.  The problem is lack of rain.  Produce just isn’t growing either as large or as plentifully as is the norm.  Hopefully once El Nino has cleared things will improve.

With a significant amount of help from fellow OCC members, Starcharger (Alisdair, Gill, Jane and Alex) we tried but failed to fix the rudders.  After all the palaver of waiting for the rudder bearings, once we dropped the rudders out to be able to get at the bearings, we found that replacing them correctly in alignment was near impossible without lifting Skylark out of the water.  Further, the bottom bearing had been epoxied in and the top actually had a layer of fibreglass over it so even digging them out is a major endeavour.  Foutaine Pajot’s name was taken in vain several times.  In the end, we replaced the rudder and have tightened everything up as much as we could.  There will remain a little movement in the stock and we will just need to monitor it and baby it as necessary until the Marquesas.  We commiserated our failure with an excellent chilli and far too much rum.

We have our Zarpe to allow us to leave 24hrs either side of 9th May and we think we have prepared as much as we can.  We are due light winds for the first couple of days but thereafter we should be in the trades.  All being well our next post should be from The Other Side of the World.