Monday, March 29, 2010

More Golden Bay and Gentle Annie

Our buddy John, from Pakawau camp, gave us green lipped mussels and a tour of Golden Bay

New friends Sarah and Paul (originally from London) now live in Nelson, New Zealand with their boys Zak and Harry with whom Gregory became fast friends (see below).

Gregory, Zak (6) and Harry (4)

Motueka Library

Taylor Gold Pears and Gala Apples $2 a bag!! The orchards are loaded right now!

Our First Cabin Stay - Reading with Friends

Riverview Campground Cabin (On the Buller River near Murchison)

Buller Gorge Swingbridge - The Longest in New Zealand (Note: Flying fox zip line to the right that Mike and Greg came back on.)

Jet Boat Ride (Seen passing below us as we crossed the bridge.)

Greg and Mike ready for their Tandem Comet Line flying fox (zip line) ride across the Buller Gorge.

Gentle Annie

Afternoon Tea with the Sandflies

Mike frying up some rig (shark) under the protection of his head net.
Gentle Annie Campground

Sunset at Gentle Annie

A Cheeky Weka explored our camp at Gentle Annie.

Written March 20, 2010 (posted Mar. 30)

We were all reluctant to leave Pakawau (Golden Bay) after 5 relaxing days but no one more than Gregory because he had some friends to play with. He, Zak and Harry became fast friends. They chased each other about, spied on the parents, played cards, made mobiles out of shells, roasted marshmallows, played in the waves and their mom Sarah broke out her beautiful art supplies and we all got creative. Sarah, Paul and their sons live in Nelson but immigrated to New Zealand many years ago before the boys were born. They have been very happy with their decision and enjoy their life in New Zealand.

Sarah gave us some recommendations for books/authors that she and the boys like and one was a British author named Enid Blyton. She has been around for ages but Sarah said the kids just love her. Before we left camp Gregory traded a book he had for one an Enid Blyton and he devoured it in one day. Since then we have been on the look out at every used bookshop and op shop (St. Vincent de Paul “Vinnies”, Salvation Army, Hospice, etc.) for these books. She has a couple of series. One is called The Secret Seven and another is The Famous Five (which I understand was a TV series). We are so pleased that Gregory enjoys reading and we can all climb into the tent at night with our headlamps and have a good read. He keeps trying to read in the car but we keep saying look out the window at the spectacular scenery! Reading in the car does tend to make him a bit carsick though, especially on the winding roads, so that sort of gives him a break.

The other day we were visiting with our Akaroa hostess, Val, and I mentioned how pleased I was that Gregory has downtime to just read and relax. In America (as well as elsewhere I imagine) kids tend to be entirely over scheduled and with the TV and video games so readily accessible it seems kids don’t tend to just have the time, or make the time, to read for the pleasure of it. Life just seems to have a good balance right now with time for studies, time for reading and journal and time to explore new surroundings and meet people from around the world.

When we left Golden Bay we made our way to the west coast, driving through Westport and then north along the coast to Gentle Annie just beyond Seddonville. It is nearly to the end of the sealed road and is a peaceful seaside enclave with grassy camps set amongst hedges of agapanthus (pretty blue and white flower heads), pink lilies, roses and other flowers. One particular flower called Queen of the Night had a most intoxicating scent that is particularly fragrant in the evenings. Lucky for us the camp host gave us a little tip about a nighttime bush walk where we could see glowworms. (Many places charge to take you on a nighttime boat trip to the glowworm caves so we were particularly thrilled that we could see them while avoiding the tourist trap.) Though I had been yawning through dinner and we were all a bit tired, at around 8:30 PM, I convinced the boys to pile into the car and make the short drive to Chasm Creek to go on a glowworm hunt. As we walked down a narrow track of this old railway bed with only our headlamps to make the way and Gregory clung to my hand pronouncing it a bit scary while Mike proceeded to make ghoulish groans to scare him further. After walking for about 10 minutes we spied the a few green glowing specks on the steep wall face to our right. Hooray! We’ve seen glowworms! Even still we decided to continue a bit…

After we’d tramped a bit further we came to a tunnel and as we crossed through the entrance (getting dripped on a bit in the process) we were greeted by the amazing sight of hundreds of tiny green glowing masses on the roof of the cave. We slowly made our way down the tunnel intermittently turning on the headlamps to make our way and then turning them off to observe the glowworms in all their glory. It was a thrill.

I would venture to say that that thrill probably didn’t compare to the thrill that Gregory and Mike got when they rode the Tandem Comet Line over the Buller River Gorge! This flying fox (zip line) was something else! The Buller Gorge Swingbridge is the longest in New Zealand and we crossed this as jet boats full of passengers whizzed past us far below. Then, after a brief hike Mike and Greg had their ride of a lifetime. Gregory got to sit in the front and I took video as he shouted with delight the whole way across. They get you on the fees for these things but this was one case where we felt the $45 dollars (NZ) was well spent.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Golden Bay and Abel Tasman Coast Track

Gregory gets some good photos on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Crossing Awaroa Inlet at the turnaround point on our Abel Tasman tramp

The return trip across the inlet was a bit deeper once the tide started to come in.

Returning to Totaranui camp after our tramp on the Abel Tasman along with new friends Lars and Mette from Denmark

Mette, Lars and Gregory playing cards

Mike investigates the noise in our wheel and dislodges gravel from our recent drive on unsealed gravel roads.

Pakawau Camp on Golden Bay...seaside tenting!

Calamine soothes the mean sandfly bites.

Gregory finds a lump of coal on Pakawau beach along with many starfish, mussels, cockles, oysters and scallop shells!

Morning stroll on Pakawau Beach
Stu and John were headed out fishing and later brought back a load of green-lipped mussels that they shared with us!

Feast of steamed green mussels, mussels sauteed in garlic and butter, thresher shark and rig shark all complements of our new friends at Pakawau.

Sunset at Pakawau

One of John's three kittens, Mischief or Miss Chief

Gregory totes his nikau palm frond "sled" out to the sand dunes at Wharariki Beach via a 20 minute Hilltop Walk.

Wharariki Beach

You can't get much closer than that!
Gregory just loved watching the fur seal pups who were putting on quite a show for us!

Near Cape Farewell, the northern most tip of the South Island

Now that is one MASSIVE cave! (Mike, Gregory and our new friend John make the descent...)

John snapped this shot of us from inside the cave...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I haven’t written in over a week because I’ve been savoring every moment of the sun, sand and scenery of the northern part of the South Island. We are currently in Pakawau on Golden Bay with plans to stay a fourth night. It was a favorite spot when we visited in 1995 (we stayed 5 days) and the same holds true today. Our grassy campsite overlooks the sea that lulls us to sleep each night. At times the waves are crashing so loudly you think they might engulf the tent yet when the tide is out they are just quietly there. Night before last we did have a bit of a restless sleep for there were gale force winds that we thought might carry us away. It kept us up most of the night. I’d just nod off and be snapped out of sleep instantly extending my arms to hold the roof of the tent. No worries though because my husband very professionally staked the tent out to perfection. Gregory slept through most of this mind you and only awoke when Mike reentered the tent after getting out to move the car to block the wind. He awoke and said, “What’s happening!?!” We just had to giggle and told him it had been blowing this hard for several hours. It didn’t faze him much and he nestled back into his bag and was asleep again soon. We heard there had been a cyclone off the coast that brought these winds.

We’ve met the best people here at Pakawau. Margaret and Bruce are campers here on holiday from Australia and we’ve enjoyed the nicest conversations. They’ve kindly offered to have us stay with them when we arrive in Sydney (they live just outside the city) and to keep a look out for a camper van for us.

John rents a cabin here at Pakawau camp and is a “feller” a bit ahead on his job (he cuts the lumber and another crew does the cleanup) so he has been kind enough to show us around a bit. He gave us some nikau palm fronds to use to slide down the dunes at Wharariki Beach and met up with us for the hike. The sand was a bit damp from rain the previous night so the “sleds” didn’t work out quite as we hoped but the views were stunning and Mike and John had a visit up on the dunes while Gregory and I explored the coastline. We found 5 seal pups in the shallows of a cove and got within a few feet of them. They were really putting on a show for us. There was one pair in particular that were quite playful “rolling around” in the water and posing on the rocks. It was so delightful to just watch them in their natural environment. Once back up on the dunes Gregory found that he could touch the edge of the dune just at the top and start this avalanche of sand. It worked likewise if disrupted from the bottom of a dune where the sand would give way little by little until in reached the ridge. This kept us entertained for quite a while and Gregory didn’t want to leave, however, we eventually rejoined John and Mike and tramped back over the hilltops to the car park (about 20 minutes) and drove on a ways to a spot John wanted to show us. As we entered the car park we were prepared to begin tramping when John invited us into his 4-wheel drive and took us over the hilltops and through two farm gates on a road where “unauthorized vehicles not allowed” though it is obviously not strictly enforced. Everything is pretty laid back here! When we reached the peak of a rise we tramped down the other side, across narrow planks that had been strategically placed across streams and crevasses, and down to an empty beach with a MASSIVE cave and spectacular cliffs layered in sandstone and conglomerate rock. At first we thought we’d see no seals but after exploring the cliffs and caves we found a couple of adult females sunning themselves (we kept our distance because they can bite) and a few playful pups swimming in some underground caverns. Once again we were delighted to have yet another of New Zealand’s stunning beaches all to ourselves. The paddocks we crossed to reach our destination were dotted with sheep and an iconic wading bird, called the Pukeko (swamp hens), that can been seen all over New Zealand feeding in the grasslands.

I have to mention that when we first met John he and the camp manager Stu had just come back from a fishing trip with a boatload of green mussels and gave us a bucketful which we steamed and then sautéed in plenty of garlic and butter. They were delicious. To top it off he gave us a sampling of smoked snapper and about six, inch and a half high Thresher Shark steaks and several good-sized chunks of Rig (another type of shark that feeds exclusively on crab). We cooked it all up, along with everyone else in camp, and we had a fish feast!

Last night after coming back from exploring the dunes and beaches we met Jamie and Ricki who are from the UK and we all ate our supper in the “dining room” (along with John and Kevin, another friendly local resident) while we chatted about where our travels have taken us and where we hope to go. Inevitable destinations were shared and since we’re all traveling along the West Coast next we hope to cross paths again. They’ve just come from 4 months in Southeast Asia and will go to Australia on April 3rd with plans to work for a bit to raise further capital for continued travel.

Prior to our arrival in Pakawau on Golden Bay we spent a couple of days at Totaranui on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Totaranui is a DOC (Department of Conservation) site and though we had to travel many kilometers of dirt track to get to it, we found the facilities to be very nice. The ablution (amenities) blocks were complete with toilets, showers (cold but hey they were showers!) and great basins and hand-operated ringers for laundry. We tidied up when we first arrived and then had some time on the glorious golden sand beaches (we did more swimming than sun bathing, due to sand flies) and we encountered a rather large stingray in the shallows. Fortunately, a gentleman had been following it down the beach and taking photos therefore warned us of its arrival! Gregory followed it down the beach and warned a couple of fisherman and a swimmer. (Again we had almost the entire beach to ourselves!) This was the first camp where fires were allowed so we had a great roaring fire and visited with Phil from the Isle of Mann who was traveling by motorcycle. The advantage of staying up past dark is witnessing the billions of stars that blanket the clear night sky. I must admit that the skies of New Zealand put on the grandest display I’ve seen in my lifetime.

On our second day in Totaranui we hiked about 11 km (6.8 miles) of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It winds along under a canopy of dense forest including tree ferns, nikau palms and manuka rising enormous heights above the sea and dumps you down on to golden beaches where you tramp along only to rise back up into the forest and meander along until you reach another inviting beach. We brought a picnic lunch that we thought we might enjoy on the beach but the sand flies had another idea and we ate quickly and swiftly got moving again. We tramped for about two hours to reach Awaroa Inlet where we had planned to arrive at low tide so we could make the crossing and come back before the tide came in again. Crossing the inlet was an experience with thousands of tiny cockles crunching under our feet as we crossed streams of water to reach the Awaroa Lodge (a hut that houses those who spend 3-4 days hiking the entire coast) and then made our way back. Gregory wanted to go back around the coast rather than up through the forest and we headed that direction, since we’d talked to others who said it was doable with a bit of rock scrambling, however, with only about three feet exposed to the waterline and the tide rising rapidly I said no to that idea. [We were told that this was the fastest rise and fall of the tide in New Zealand at four meters (13 feet) in an hour.] As it was, the water was up to our thighs when we crossed the inlet. The whole tramp took about four hours and we were so proud of Gregory that he completed it. There was a bit of complaining on the way out but as is usual the return portion seems to go easier. We met a nice young couple from Denmark, Lars and Mette, who were on their third day of the track and carrying 50-pound packs. We crossed paths on the way back and invited them for a fire that evening where we enjoyed swapping stories. They too are traveling for an extended length of time. The next day as we were off they planned to have a rest day and then turn around and hike three days back along the Abel Tasman to Marahau, their jumping off point three days prior. Oh to be young again!

Also at Totaranui we had the pleasure of meeting Thurid and her husband Allen along with their two young children Ken and Asta who are from Germany. Thurid and Allen actually met while bicycle touring in New Zealand and are now back with their children. Steve and Susie (from the UK) were also camped out with them and had their two little girls with them, Lolo, just a wee tot, and Aiya their 4-year old. It was so nice to visit with other families who are traveling and of the same mind set as we are.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Marlborough Sound

Camping at Kenepuru Head on Kenepuru Sound

Kenepuru Sounds Sunset

Camping with a view (see above sunset)

Relaxing at Kenepuru Head on Kenepuru Sound

Eco World Aquarium, Picton

"The hills are alive...." Marlborough Sounds
The winding drive was a bit much for Gregory so he got to sit in the front seat but as you can see the views are worth it!

Hydro slide in Nelson ~ Gregory's hips were raw after a half hour of slipping off the mat but he still wanted to give it another go...

Bumpa Boats, Nelson

Governor's Bay, Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds

Go carts in Nelson

Playing with "Tank" on Tahuna Beach, Nelson

Tahuna Beach, Nelson (Our camp looked out over the water...)

Monday, March 8, 2010

It is a glorious morning here in our camp at Kenepuru Head, Sounds Foreshore Reserve. Our camp is just on the edge of an embankment overlooking the Kenepuru Sound, which runs adjacent to the Queen Charlotte Sound and one of the Great Walks in New Zealand the Queen Charlotte Track. It was a twisting winding drive to reach the end of the sealed road and Gregory had to sit in the front seat to keep his stomach down. It was worth it though. The views are spectacular and the trees are full of birds singing us a symphony. Mike is chatting with some cyclists from Austria and I’m sure has them convinced they should come to America to ride the TransAmerica Trail. Last night we met a couple from Croatia while we tried to snap pictures of the cheeky little weka birds that poked their heads out from the underbrush and eventually came in to our camp looking for a hand out.

Night before last at our camp kitchen in Waikawa we met Jouni (Finnish and pronounced “Yonnie”) and Kirsty who are from London and are traveling around the world for the next year. They have already been throughout Southeast Asia and to Australia and Mike commented that they are probably about the age we were when we first went traveling on our honeymoon 21 years ago. Gregory quickly made friends when they pulled out the playing cards. They taught him “Cheaters” and he taught them War, Speed (which Jouni called Rapid Fire) and Go Fish. We visited well into the evening and they tipped us off that the Eco World Aquarium was having “Day of the Child” the next day and entrance would be only $5 vs. $20!

We met up again at breakfast and again at the aquarium and kept crossing paths throughout the day as we wandered about the port town of Picton. Gregory wanted to follow them on their 3-day tramping excursion along the Queen Charlotte Track but we explained that we weren’t equipped for that kind of hiking (no hiking boots or packs). We did have an excellent time at the aquarium viewing a wide variety of fish, an octopus, turtles and eels, sea horses, tuatara (a lizard that has been on earth since the time of the dinosaurs), New Zealand birds and the Weta (a native insect that has been making a comeback since they have created rat-free habitats for the weta). I thought it was especially interesting that scallops don’t like starfish and will “swim” away when one is introduced next to the shell opening. The shell opens and closes as the scallop sort of “puffa-puffs” away across the rock pool. Also the spiny kina (sea urchin) will use its spines to flip itself over if put on its back.

At the Picton foreshore we made our way around the festival complete with music, dancing and food! Mike and I tried sausages with grilled onions on a slice of bread with steak sauce and it was delicious. We road on a wee train with Gregory and watched children sail their wee wind powered boats in a man-made pond.

A couple of days ago in Nelson we again camped right on the beach with a wide expanse of sand shores to explore. Gregory was thrilled to play with the many dogs out for a walk and to splash along the shoreline and collect many shells. We saw loads of oysters, mussels, cockles and clams. On our first evening, in came a sudden rainstorm, which burst from the clouds and we gathered for shelter near the kitchens where we shared a picnic table with Scots Frank and his brother Doug (who lives in Christchurch) and Frank’s girlfriend Kay. Frank and Kay are here on holiday to do some fly-fishing and Doug is accompanying them. We watched them grill some of the famous green mussels and they let us sample some trout they’d caught. They storm passed and we visited until late in the evening. Doug it turns out is a cyclist and was interested to here about our journey.

We reconvened in the same spot at breakfast and Frank threw the football around with Gregory and I but the fun ended when Gregory stepped in a hole and twisted his ankle. We found out that Frank was a medic for 82nd Airborne, which is the same branch of the military my brother-in-law served under. They were off to Murchison to do more fishing and we were off as well so we said our goodbyes and exchanged emails. We hope to connect with Doug again when we depart Christchurch.

After saying farewell to the Austrian cyclists Mike playing auto mechanic and helped a stranded lass get her van going. He figures she flooded it but it was definitely running a bit rough. We are quite a ways out in the middle of nowhere so she was very grateful for his help especially since she was on her own.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

St. Arnaud Bach & Nelson Lakes National Park

Kerr Bay on Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park near the town of St. Arnaud

March 3, 2010

After a leisurely morning at Bob and Christine’s on Tuesday, March 2nd, where I put the finishing touches on my handbag and we packed and made phone calls, we said our goodbyes and promised to let our hosts know where we finally land. The have been so generous and have even offered up their bach (holiday home ~ pronounced “batch”) in St. Arnaud for our next stay. St. Arnaud is south west of Blenheim and just a couple of hours away.

As I mentioned in my previous entry we stopped at Highland Estates for vineyard views from their observation tower and a sampling. The day was a bit overcast and we did have a bit of rain on the drive but it didn’t spoil the views of this picturesque region. We had our first livestock-crossing encounter. Cattle were moved across the road as we drove on past. We also passed Rainbow Ski Area in the Upper Wairau Valley. Bob and Christine are quite involve with fundraising to maintain this non-profit club where any money made is put back into the maintenance of the area. Employeess are paid but all other funds go back into the ski area.

The bach is located in Nelson Lakes National Park and just a short walk from Lake Rotoiti. The home is set amongst a wide variety of beech trees and other lush vegetation and the birds sing to us from the treetops. It is quite spacious and it can sleep up to 8 in 2 self contained units. We are enjoying the cozy fireplace and mountain views.

Last night Gregory and I took a walk down to the lake bringing along Which Native Tree? by Andrew Crowe so that we could identify some of the trees and shrubs. Just down the road from the bach is a shelter for dining and cooking, a camping area and a scenic little dock that makes its way out into the lake. Ducks came to the crystal clear waters edge to greet Gregory and we watched some young German travelers jump off the dock into the chilly lake. The young lady commented later how glad she was there were hot showers! We had a small taste of the pesky little sand flies that inhabit these islands. Christine had warned us not to go out without repellent but we had forgotten. We swatted them away from our faces yet each still got a couple of bites that we had to attend to when we got back.

We played Trivial Pursuit Genus Edition and it was quickly apparent that this edition was made for the kiwi crowd. There were lots of questions about New Zealand people and places. We were proud that we were able to answer some questions correctly! Gregory did some research on the kiwi bird and today took the information from his graphic organizer and wrote his “sloppy copy” for his kiwi bird report. I’ll post it when he completes his final copy.

Blenheim & Marlborough Wine Region

Christine and Bob were our wonderful SERVAS hosts in Blenheim
Highland Estates Winery in Marlborough Wine Country near Blenheim

March 2, 2010

On the morning of our beach evacuation for the potential tsunami we ended up at a takeaway (café) around 8:30 A.M. having a coffee and watching the news. The first waves hit Gisborne on the eastern coast around 9:20 A.M. Thought waves were predicted as high as 1-3 meters they weren’t this severe. We decided to stay away from the beaches this Saturday (Feb. 28) and rang up several SERVAS hosts in Blenheim. I haven’t really explained that we are members of this international host organization that promotes peace and cultural awareness world-wide. We have the opportunity to stay with the people of New Zealand during our travels here and will host others when we are settled once again. Fortunately for us we connected with Bob and Christine and had a fabulous two-day visit. Though they’d just returned from a two-week holiday and were still unpacking they gladly opened their home to us. We arrived mid-morning and directly had tea with biscuits (cookies) and green grapes just picked off their vines. After a visit and being shown around it was soon time for lunch where we had an opportunity to try venison salami (there are many deer farms in New Zealand) and it was quite delicious. We happily offered to help with the yard work they’d planned on doing and Gregory did the majority of the lawn mowing with Mike finishing things off and I pulled some weeds after getting our laundry started.

Our hostess Christine is a fiber artist and does felting using primarily wool but also other fibers such as silk. Her business is called Felt Good, which I thought was quite clever. She graciously offered to let Gregory and I each do a project so I made a purse and Gregory did a wall hanging. We found out that wool has scales on it therefore when you overlap wool in opposite directions, add a bit of water and wool wash, and do a bit of smooshing with your hands, the fibers grab one another and make an almost indestructible fabric. Christine showed me how to make a pattern from bubble wrap for my purse and after layering the darker Gotland wool (and smooshing) we flipped the bubble wrap over to do the opposite side and again to add the lighter Corridale wool on top. Each time water and wool wash are added with lots of smooshing. The edges of wool that overlap the bubble wrap are wrapped around to form the edge of the purse. Once finished layering the wool, the whole piece is covered with plastic, smooshed some more and then rolled in the plastic along with a towel. This roll is worked back and forth using pressure and the fibers continue to bind together. Gregory’s piece was a bit more straight forward as a wall hanging but once he had is base layer of dark Gotland wool he added bits of colored wool creating a designed wall hanging. As art lovers ourselves Gregory and I were just in heaven and made pieces that we will treasure for a lifetime.

Blenheim is on the Wairau plains in the Marlborough region, which is famous for its vineyards. The countryside is quite picturesque and Blenheim is “one of New Zealands sunniest towns, boasting over 2500 hours of sunshine in 2008”. (AA Visitor Guide 2010). During our visit we had an opportunity to sample some Sauvignon Blanc to accompany a delightful dinner of blue cod that was caught and prepared by our hosts. Award winning Sauvignon Blanc varietals are produced in this region as well as sparkling wines, pinot gris, gewurtztraminer, riesling, chardonnay and other white wines. Pinot Noir and other reds are produced here but whites are predominant.

Upon our hosts recommendation we visited Highland Estates where Gregory enjoyed walking up and down the rows of grape vines and climbing the observation tower to view the miles and miles of vineyards and surrounding mountains. We met some Canadians while we sampled the 2008 and 2009 sauvignon blanc and the pinot noir. We congratulated them on their Olympic hockey win and wished them safe travels.

At Bob and Christine’s house we watched the final ice skating exhibition of the Olympics while we enjoyed a gorgeous pavlova with raspberry sauce. Pavlova is a traditional New Zealand dessert. They fed us like kings during our entire visit including a barbequed steak dinner, salads with fixings fresh from the garden, homemade bread and homemade raspberry jam. The beet root (beets) from the garden were also delicious. We’ve only been in country about a week and my pants are already getting tight!