Tag Archives: Starcharger

Bula, Fiji!

The sailing grounds of Fiji are huge and we will have the delight of exploring them for about two months. The Lau Group alone is over 200 miles long or half the length of the Caribbean. Then you have the Yasawa Group, two huge main islands and lots of other individual islands to explore. We decided we would explore as much as we could but with the primary goal of visiting the Lau Group, difficult to do unless the weather plays nice for you. These islands, very much off the beaten track and very definitely off grid, have only been opened up for cruisers to visit in the last five years. The Fijian Government stopped issuing permission in the mid 90s as it was felt that the island communities were being corrupted by the few visitors they were getting. Cruising licences were granted again in 2012. Last year around 100 yachts visited the chain.

On our passage from Tonga, we came through the Oneata Pass during the night and then turned N for the 170miles run up to Savusavu. Our first sight of land in daylight was the island of Taveuni, a huge old volcano lying to the SE of our destination, Vanua Levu island.

Bula, Fiji!

We booked in at Savusavu on Fri 9th Jun. Savusavu is the northern and most eastern of the available booking in ports of Fiji. The Customs and Immigration Staff were pleasant and we had no problems. Charges are made for the Biosecurity and the Health inspectors (a total of about $230 – about £85 – exchange in Jun 17 was $2.70 to £1 – all pricing given in Fijian $). Don’t book in at a weekend as you get hit for automatic fees for the Customs and Immigration with a minimum charge of three hours staff costs, another $200 or so. The only issue we had was as we had no Fijian money on us, we needed to find their offices on the following Monday to pay. We had a few attempts where the staff were nowhere to be seen, presumably busy with duties but it did mean we explored the town well!

The other embuggerance we found is that until you gain your sailing licence you aren’t allowed to tour Fiji. Stupidly, it requires another application to the Customs staff after you have booked in. We did it through the Marina office and it took a further three days to be organised and for us to be called into the Customs office to finish the paperwork off, a total of a week after we arrived. Why it isn’t done automatically with the information you supply with your advance notice C2 paperwork, I don’t know. Once you have the licence, there is a second requirement to phone in to Customs with your plans once a week so they can track you as you go through the islands.

Bula, Fiji!

We had a fantastic week at the Copra Shed Marina, sitting properly still for the first time after all the fast jumps we had had since Tahiti and met some good people. It took a few days to work out that we knew Ding from Opua when he had been parked beside ZigZag and we had mutual friends in Gill and Alastair of Starcharger. We had a good day watching Scotland beat the Aussies and then the Lions match afterwards.  There are three marinas in Savusavu. You have the Yacht Club, a mile or so up E outside the town. This is home to the long term liveaboards that have decided not to leave Fiji. We were invited down one evening for a pot luck supper which was great fun. They are a nice crowd. It was great to meet Jimmy, a 15yr vet of Fiji who has now qualified for residence. His story of building a platform on his newly gained land with an ISO container and putting a yurt up on top to live in until the house is finished is inspirational!

Next you have the Copra Shed. With some dock space and plenty of balls, it is the most swept up and commercialised of the marinas. It has an excellent bar and restaurant, laundry, shops and a couple of chandleries with a surprisingly good selection. Their electronics were better priced than NZ. The marina will also organise, free of charge, your booking in and out, calling the Customs and Immigration staff in as you arrive. Well organised and with a secure dinghy dock, it is run by Geoff Taylor (the OCC PO in these parts) and his staff and is a good place to be. To point out a star, Pretty, the lady who runs the marina office is superb at sorting out your questions and problems. Our week on the ball cost us $15 a night and our evening view was fantastic.

Bula, Fiji!

Lastly you have the Waitui Marina. These days it is pretty run down but its balls are even cheaper than the Copra Shed. If you really need to save cash go here, but don’t expect frills. It has a small dinghy dock, a bar and the evening restaurant is a BBQ stand at the front of the building. Saying that they are the best of the marinas at listening out on the radio and are excellent at sorting out taxis. Bula, Fiji!

Turning right out of the marina, there are several restaurants along the sea front. The Chinese is excellent (portion sizes are massive) and the Indian is pretty good too. You really need to ask for hot here as if you don’t you will get a bland offering. When they do heat it up, it is excellent.

In regard to services, the Copra shed is excellent.

Laundry is cheap at $8 a load and generally done within the day. Water and fuel are available (water from the dock at a small charge – fuel from the local Total petrol station – not tax free but easily organised).

We wouldn’t recommend Shabnam, the lady who sits outside the Copra Shed and says she is a seamstress/sail repairer. She did some inside cushions for us on the basis we could check her work before we gave her our sail cover,  parasail and bimini for repair. What came back didn’t impress and I certainly wasn’t going to hand anything more valuable to her to do given her standard of work.

Internet is always a thorny problem in the Pacific. FP was stupidly expensive but we were impressed with Tonga. Fiji is even better. Fiji has an good 3G phone coverage and data cards for your phone cost $50 for 50Gb download, valid for a month from Vodaphone, the provider we were advised to use by locals. We bought a card and then a dongle to allow us both phone and data access. Full service and good internet about $140? And $50 credit for calls throw in for free? Excellent! Bizarrely international calls are $0.15 a minute, local calls are $0.42. Go figure……..

We explored Savusavu thoroughly. It is a small town with one main street running maybe half a mile long with a bus station and a large indoor market for fruit, veg and the all important dried kava roots, used to make the local tropical beverage of choice. The majority of the shops are cheap, a bit chaotic but great fun to explore and the people are uniformly helpful and pleasant. It has been great to get back to better prices than FP. My Keen sandals were starting to fall apart. Fixed by the shoemaker for $6.  Could have bought new flip flops for $5 but hey! It isn’t a population with much money and the pricing in shops (and you have to say the quality of goods in the shops) reflect this.

Bula, Fiji!

Our first of four sets of Fiji guests arrived. We last saw Shena and Kinsley from Almost There in Puerto Rico for Christmas ‘15 just before they moved off their boat and back to North Carolina. Kinsley has shot up and now is as tall as me at the grand old age of 13…. It was lovely to see both of them although the long flight out here had taken its toll. The goodies they brought out with them (new handheld, the new Delorme, new cable for the VHF and some god awfully sour sweets called Warheads for the girls) were gratefully received. The Moonshine that came too will be appreciated at a later date!Bula, Fiji!

We had a couple of days exploring the local area with them.We visited a tropical rain forest, run by locals. We spent more time looking for kava to present them and then getting stuck on the v small road to the village (thank you to the bloke who took pity on us and took us the rest of the way in his 4×4 – no way would our hire care have made it) than we did actually looking around the trail.

Bula, Fiji!

It is well worth a visit if for nothing more than the fresh water crayfish and the bugs we found. I enjoyed being surrounded by that slightly off rotten smell you get from true rain forest, very much a land smell. My legs didn’t really enjoy having to climb up and down hills for the first time in a long time.

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We visited a village that looks after a waterfall. After our sevusevu ceremony where our $20 stick of kava root was formally accepted, we were given permission to look around the village, buy some trinkets made in the village and then visit their waterfall. I’m afraid I succumbed to the charms of an enormous shell and the ladies had fun buying bracelets. I had some fun with two very small boys wanting to throw a rugby ball around and we toured the neat, small village, proudly being show the church and the Fijian equivalent of the church bell, a hollowed out tree, used as a drum. Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!Bula, Fiji!DSCF1719DSCF1712Bula, Fiji!

We headed back into town and Lou got very excited about a sign she saw. Apparently her Dad went to St Bedes when he was growing up………..

Bula, Fiji!

We met up with another couple of kid boats, Mrs Goodnight from GE with Katrina on board and most impressively Lil’ Explorers from USA with 6 kids on board!

We had a good night at the Savusavu Yacht club with a pot luck supper and visited the old plantation club in town too. It had extracts of A to Z of White immigrants in Fiji where the detailed views of the planters on the intractability of the “natives” in the late 19C was a horrifying non-PC but very interesting. I’d have to say the current internal problems with the take over of administrative and management roles within Fiji by Indian émigrés (now 4 and 5th gen Fijians themselves) started a long time ago and seems to me to be very much down to British colonials  bringing in more “tractable” staff……

We loaded up with fresh from the excellent market as there is a very limited ability to pick up anything in the islands beyond the local’s hospitality.

Bula, Fiji!

We moved from Savusavu SE to the end of the point beside the Jacque Cousteau Resort to meet up with Mrs Goodnight and Lil’ Explorers and to wait for a weather window to move to Taveuni, a large island 40miles W but well placed to give us a decent sailing angle down into the Lau Group, hopefully our next destination. Whilst we waited we had great fun with a movie night on board Lil’ Explorers and then an education for all of us in the delights of Halyarding. Great fun, a little scary and with the potential to go wrong if you mistime it, it was an adrenaline buzz loved by all.

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Shena and I got up to a fair height but the wee ones got to the full stretch of rope. Hannah went one better and launched just as the rope went taut, firing above the line like an arrow. It took us all by surprise. I think she reached well beyond 10m in height and took a long time to reach apex and fall back into the water!

Bula, Fiji!

The passage to the Lau Islands is not an easy one. The prevailing winds of Fiji are the SE trades. To get back into the Lau Islands from either Savusavu or Suva, the two booking in ports means a either a long beat upwind or waiting around for weeks to get a window of 36hrs or so when the Trades collapse as a system goes through. There had been one just as we arrived in Fiji and one looked likely as we moved around to the Jacque Cousteau Resort. To position ourselves, we beat a further 40Nm E around to the island of Taveuni. It was not a pleasant sail and we had big seas until we got into the lee of Taveuni. We stopped at the Paradise Resort near the S corner of the island and met back up with Stop Work Order.

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The resort is owned by two Aussies,Terri and Alan . Deemed too old to do so in Aus,  they moved to Fiji to be able to adopt kids and now have four happy smalls. Good people, they have decided the resort will be a cruiser friendly place and have put in 6 buoys in place for visiting boats. The buoys are free as is the use of the showers and pool. The food is excellent and the evening ambience, helped along by being serenaded by a guitar playing local was very pleasant. Internet is v expensive ($50 a day against $50 for 50Gb lasting a month via Vodaphone data card) as is laundry (more than 5x the price of getting it done at the Copra Shed) but we required neither service.

I did get an education in wearing my “man skirt”. In FP, men wear the sulu with the front cover going to the right, just as I would wear a kilt. In Fiji, men wear the front cover to the left; ladies to the right. I was a little surprised to be wolf whistled at by the grinning guitar player but he explained why and we laughed. He did offer to exchange his own more formally correct Fiji suvu for mine but I rather like my Bora Bora flowery one…… I did change the wrap around before anyone else took advantage of me and got another knowing smile and a nod when he saw me correctly dressed!

The kids had a wonderful time and Hannah enjoyed a couple of nights being invited to dinner with the Resort owner’s kids. Much laughter, great fun and we thank Terri for the invitations.

We had two great days at Paradise before leaving on the tide N to make more easting in the shadow of Taveuni. Two days of sailing stretched in front of us, most of it on a best course to windward.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 XXXX 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We jumped a few miles N and back W towards the coast, just in time to catch a bit more rain and cloud rolling in from the W. Our luck has just not been with us weather wise.

We tried to get up on to Fox Glacier but were disappointed two fold. Firstly there had been too much rain overnight so the access road was closed and secondly, because the glacier had retreated so much, the only way to get on to the glacier was by helicopter, at only $400 a head……

.Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We headed for a low level walk around Lake………. It is the place where that perfect, flat water, snow clad reflected Mt Cook photo could be taken. There was bugger all chance of that with the wind and low cloud we had!

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S IslandFox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

However, it was a pleasant (and dry – yeah!) walk around the lake, stomping past endless Chinese tourists and by the time we finished the walk at lunchtime, the access road to the glacier had been reopened.

Just a couple of miles driving took us to the car park where we started the 2km walk up to where the last view point is for the glacier. It is an easy if exposed walk but be prepared as it is cold, steep and the weather can change suddenly. We watched a few families turn back on the track, caught out by a sudden shower with no raincoats and in one case, wearing just flip flops and a wife beater.

The glacier is dirty where it terminates but impressive in size once you understand the scale. What is more frightening is just how quickly the ice has regressed. In 2008, when our friend Kirsty Baxter was here, she was able to step on to the glacier from where this photo was taken.

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

That means the ice has retreated at about 100m a year since then.  The Ranger we spoke to said they saw no evidence that the retreat would slow down. It won’t be long before it shrinks back up to the upper ice field only.

We headed back to the campsite and were sitting down for tea when suddenly, finally, out of the gloom, we could just see the sharp white peak of Mt Cook. We ran for the car and raced a few miles to get to a position that we could see the full mountain. For half an hour, it stood proud, unencumbered by the low grey clouds and took our breathe away. In the evening light, it was spectacular.Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We had intended to spend more time exploring the West coast but as the rain determinedly continued to fall, we decided to head N to where we hoped it wasn’t as wet. We stopped over night at Greymouth, staying in a two room lodge with Alastair and Gill, watching the rain pour down. The upside was the campsite had a very good hot tub that we cooked in for a while and we took the chance to turn the lodge heating up full to dry out some of the camping gear.

The next day we pulled in to Pocatika, the home of NZ greenstone carving. We visited one of the greenstone carving houses and watched the carvers at work, making beautiful artefacts being sold at huge prices.  You could say that greenstone is the NZ semi-precious stone. Many Maori wear a necklace using one of the traditional patterns of a tiki, a fishhook or a spiral (single or double) being the most common types. Each shape has its own meaning. I’ve taken to wearing a fishhook which is supposed to bring good fortune to those who travel by sea. I’ll take any help there!

The Maori have a story of how greenstone came into being. Once upon a time, a god became enamoured by a beautiful woman who perhaps unwisely turned down his advances. Annoyed, the god killed her by throwing her down in to a lake. When she touched the water she turned into the mother lode of greenstone, so supplying the Maori forever more with a much admired, very hard rock to make ornaments and their traditional weapons from.

As we headed N so the clouds gradually broke up. We even glimpsed blue sky. We lived in hope.

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.

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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

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.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

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……

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

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.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

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.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surroundings

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.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

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.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound and Surrounds

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