Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Plants and birds

I suppose it wouldn't be me writing if there was no mention of the plants, there are hedges of agapanthus, huge hedges of phormium, hydrangeas and of pampas grass, it seems so natural here in its normal habitat, rather than an English garden. The tree ferns are to die for, up to 30' tall and between 6' and 15' across the top, enormous pohukatawa trees that are maybe 50' wide with lots of their branches resting on the floor and which are covered in red bottlebrush blossoms in spring; big and small kawakawa (Aussie Bush Basil) shrubs, japanese anemones, erigeron, cannas, even the occasional montbretia. They have rimu trees which are a sort of spruce, but with long hanging leaves around 8" long and miro trees, a bit like an English yew; then there are the kauri trees,

they are a form of pine but grow straight up without varying in diameter, much prized by carpenters and boatbuilders in years gone by and so now they are cherished as there were few left and they are trying to regenarate their kauri forests. The growth is so luxuriant everywhere, it's fabulous to see.

The birds are exotic as well, green and red crowned parakeets, eastern rosellas, tuis, silvereyes, pukekos, (a bit like our moorhens),

kingfishers by the hundreds, bigger than the UK version and not so flashy turquoise, but a beautiful blue instead; harriers everywhere you look, saddlebacks, wild turkeys, hihis, bellbirds and I could go on; oh yes, I forgot the magpies, they used to have white magpies and black magpies but after much fraternisation they now just have black and white ones! The oystercatchers are the same, they have variable ones now, although some black ones still survive. Gulls and terns abound all over the place as you're never far from the sea. Paradise shelducks are in every field and we have seen so many charms of goldfinches too, huge flocks of maybe 300-400 at a time, just stunning to watch.

Mailboxes and strange cattle

One of the things I have noticed whilst we have been driving asround is the vast variation in mailboxes, the personal ones not the official ones. They range from halves of old oil drums to beautiful birdhouses, bits of boxes, a milk churn etc etc, some covered with bits of driftwood, some beautifully painted; there's no end to the variety of them. The Rural Post delivers the mail along with the newspaper to even the most isolated spots.

As to cattle, we have seen every variety going and then some....cows that look like saddleback pigs, black with a white central stripe; cows with black eyepatches like spectacles, Highland cattle, black cows, black and white cows, brown cows, brown and white cows, black cows with gold backs, cows with white manes, Jersey cows, Guernsey cows, cows that are a sort of taupe colour, reddish cows, you name it, we've seen it! Strange when you consider that most cattle originated in UK and were shipped to NZ, but yet, we have nothing like some of them there!

Rotorua and around

Well, we arrived here after continuing on the Pacific Coast Highway, which was certainly scenic, some beautiful beaches and headlands, we even made time for a paddle and a lie on the beach at last! We passed the 2000kms mark today; h'mm, no champagne appeared!

The smell found us first, it was clear we were getting near to Roturoa but it wasn't as bad as I had heard it was and you soon failed to notice it at all.

We had a good wander around the town, hunting out a restaurant for later on; walked through the Government Gardens, with mud pools gurgling and splashing away and then went to find the Polynesian Spa where we thought we might spend some time the following day.

We wandered back to our motel and jumped in the pool at a cool 35C for a while and then went out for dinner at the Pig and Whistle, which was quite raucous; some poor guy celebrating his birthday with a loads of women who were determined to embarrass him by singing to him. The food was good and the beer better!

We woke up next monring to RAIN, just pouring down, so turned over and went back to sleep for a while; it cleared up eventually and we set off for breakfast and the Polynesian Spa. We called into 'The Mad Dog' for food and chose to have chunky toast....oh yes, it was chunky all right, over an inch thick and we could have shared a plate of it, there was loads, but we made a heroic effort and ate it all; we also discovered why The Hatton Estate were making wine in bottles labelled 'Mad Dog', clearly just to sell it at that restaurant...there were poems and ditties all over the place there, on the walls and backs of chairs but my favourite was....'The boy stood on the burning duck, which was a shame as it was on the BBQ'!

Oh what a hard day we had after that; several hours lazing at the Spa, in pools of 36C, 38C, 40C and 42C; it drizzled periodically but it didn't worry us, I don't think I've ever been so clean! We managed to stagger out of the pools after a few hours to replenish our fluid levels and sat and read in their very comfy lounge for a while and then, oh what hardship, back to the water, just to be certain we got our money's worth, you understand! Off back to the hotel later, getting very wet en route as the drizzle turned to pouring rain, but I guess we won't shrink, so never mind.

A quick trip out for dinner to a pizza restaurant and the end of a really busy day!

Moving on tomorrow to Lake Taupo, although the weather forecast is not good, so we shall see what happens.

Napier to Hicks Bay

We took the Pacific Coast Highway from Napier after two days pottering around there; it's a pretty town, devastated by a huge earthquake in 1931 and completely rebuilt in Art Deco style, some beautiful buildings, pedestrianised streets and friendly people. It's right beside the beach and the main road into the town is an avenue of Norfolk Island pines, simply stunning.

We took the opportunity to do some wine-tasting here and went off with Vince's World of Wine tours to four wineries; Askerne, Salvare, Hatton Estates and Moana Park, where we got to taste about 40 wines in four hours!! Lots of spitting was in order or we'd not have made it past the first one, where there were twelve wines to taste. We tried Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Viogniers, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, some wines called 'stickies' which are dessert wines, some of which were like ports. None of these wines are we likely to find in UK unless we go to Gordon Ramsey's restaurants, so it was fun to try ones that we'll never see again. The Moana Park Viognier is to die for, crisp and delicious; I'll be looking out for other versions of that one.

What on earth are the strange string tents for, we wondered; ah kiwi fruit, we eventually realised. Surrounded by tall poplars or man-made windbreaks, there were these tall poles with string attached to them, looking a bit like the umbrellas we used to have in kids' playgrounds; they train the kiwi plants tendrils around them so the kiwi fruit hang down and are easier to harvest. There must be millions of plants in the East Cape.


Arriving at Wanganui, we hunted around for a motel and found a Backpacker Lodge called AnnDion Lodge, no prizes for guessing the names of the owners! It was beautiful, we took the Riverside Suite and very posh it was too; incredibly friendly people and the place was immaculate. Full kitchen facilites were provided as well as a lounge and the internet, a swimming pool and hot-tub; very civilised.

We settled in and organised ourselves for the next day's drive up the Whanganui River Road, some of which was on sealed roads and some not; after our experiences of unsealed roads the other day, we weren't quite sure what to expect so were well-equipped with water and food!

We met a Maori guy at a small cafe at the end of the River Road and had a couple of long chats with him about the possum problems in New Zealand and he also gave us some insight into the struggle that the Maoris had with the first European settlers in that area. The house that he lived in, which was built by his great-grandmother, can never be sold apart from to members of his family; Tim commented to him that it was a peaceful spot and he responded by saying it was hot, wet, cold, lonely, full of sandflies, windy, etc., etc., but that he still wouldn't want to let it go out of his family. He said that the Maoris who refused to sell their land to the settlers and caused problems were left with their land but told that they must never go off it as they would be shot, as it would be a Maori Reservation so they were stuck there; his land was miles from anywhere of any size and he had just a handful of neighbours.

I asked him why all their fruit trees had metal cylinders up their trunks and he told us that it was to try to make it more difficult for the possums to steal the fruit, but he said that they just found other ways to get to it, like bouncing on the branches of trees that were higher up so they could drop down on to the orchard trees that way! Originally possums were introduced from Australia as they were cute, furry little things that would make pets for the children, but that on the luscious bush in New Zealand they grow to twice the size of Australian possums and literally eat the bush away. The possums around there grow to approximately the size of a Lassie-type collie! The Dept of Conservation has a continuous programme of eradication of the possums as if they don't, then the bush will disappear and the land will flood as they rely on the bush to soak up huge amounts of rainwater and without it, the rivers will rise tremendously and most of the properties along the Whanganui would disappear. There are about 400 people living on that road, farming mostly and a few B and B's and there are a lot of activities that take place on the river, rafting, kayaking etc, which would all disappear. It's a very peaceful river which flows gently along at present.


We found a small town called Dannevirke, (Danish Town), nothing notable about it except that it had a great bakery and gave us a good laugh.

There was a local election due soon and so lots of posters were about with pictures of the candidates etc; nothing funny about that, you may think until we got to the one of Judy Babe! Anything less like a babe you cannot imagine, she was a lady probably in her sixties, but the years had not been kind and her hair was wild and frizzy and so was her expression, we giggled all the way back to our car, most unkind really but if you'd seen the picture, you'd understand!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Auckland and more

After a long, boring flight from Los Angeles, which, incidentally is the most disorganised airport I have ever flown in or out of, we arrived in Auckland at 0530; it had been quite a bumpy flight but otherwise uneventful, thankfully. We crossed both the Equator and the International dateline and totally missed out on March 3rd, leaving Los Angeles on Mrach 2nd and arriving here on March 4th.

We had to declare any food we were carrying, which we would have had to hand over, and also whether we were carrying sports footwear or any form of swimming gear; they are very keen to avoid any plant debris on shoes or any waterborne bugs so we didn't introduce anything foreign into NZ.

We got through Customs quite quickly and by shortly after 0600, we were on a shuttle bus and headed for our hotel. The bus dropped various people off at other hotels and eventually it was our turn.....by now it was just after 0700 which was excellent as our hotel reception didn't open till then. It was our lucky day as our room was instantly available and we settled down for a couple of hours sleep, before venturing out for breakfast. We are staying in Parnell, which is a historic part of the city and has lots of upmarket shops and restaurants, very quaint.

We wandered into Auckland on foot after breakfast and pottered around the harbour area where there were lots of fabulous boats as the Boat Show starts on March 5th. We then wandered around the shopping area to find ourselves a bird book and then took the Link bus back to our hotel going the long way round, which took about an hour, but gave us a tour of Auckland for the princely sum of NZ$1.60, (the exchange rate is about 2.7 $ to the £). I went back to bed for a couple of hours when we got back and then got up in time for dinner which we had in 'The Bog', no, stop laughing, it's an Irish pub and Tim fancied a pint! They had good food, I had a great steak and TIm had sausage and mash, it was just a few minutes walk from the hotel so very convenient. It's been a week now since we had a car, but has been interesting hopping around on buses and walking miles too. An early night was in order and after a somewhat disturbed night with some man shouting at 2am and the wind banging around our wooden Venetian blinds, we got up around 0800 and wandered off to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, then walked to the Parnell Rose Gardens which were still blooming well and also has some spectacular trees, they are huge; the wind was fierce but it was still warm. The Myna birds are very common, screeching around and seem quite tame too.

We walked back to the hotel ready to go off to Kelly Tarleton's Underwater Adventures, which is slightly tacky but nonetheless interesting if only to see sharks swimming about over your head and to read about Scott and Shackleton's trips to the South Pole; they had a reconstruction of Scott's Base Camp as well. Later, I was listening to someone asking some questions about the fish at the aquarium and was horrified to hear that they used to have a touch tank for people to handle various things like starfish etc, but that one day a group of children had visited and were found with all the specimens on the floor and they were stamping on them! Where was their supervision I wondered and what did they learn from that experience? I would have liked to have been there that day, little horrors! That was the end of the Touch Tank!

The weather had changed when we emerged from the aquarium, rather damp and murky to say the least, so we got the bus back to town and loaded ourselves up with brochures and maps ready for tomorrow morning when 'The Big Tour' starts!

We left Auckland in the rain and drove down a very busy M1 towards Hamilton, before escaping off it on to a much quieter and more interesting road towards Raglan, we saw pukeko birds everywhere, some paradise shelducks, lots of kingfishers, harriers, a bittern, variable oystercatchers, welcome swallows, spur-wimged plovers, Australian magpies and some eastern rosellas. We found a cabin at Raglan by the water and decided to stay for 2 nights, the owners are very friendly and the cabin is well-equipped and so much quieter than Auckland, I am looking forward to a good night's sleep! Outside our cabin was rather like an English garden with sparrows, starlings, thrushes, goldfinches and greenfinches.

Today we drove from Raglan to Kawhia along some interesting roads! A great deal were unmetalled and had huge potholes and holes where the rain had made channels across or down the road, we never got out of second gear for ages. We went to see the Bridal Veil Falls, 55 metres high after a short walk through the rain forest where I saw a tui, a honeyeater bird with a big white lump under its chin. The epiphytes growing on the tree trunks were amazing, so many of them on one tree. The rain forest was full of dicksonias and tree frogs too. There were yellowhammers about too.

We stopped and watched the surfers at Manu and Ngarunui Beaches too, some of them were very skilled. It was drizzly but quite warm.

Kawhia was a small town with few inhabitants, little accommodation or shops. We saw some white-fronted herons on the beach along with some red-billed gulls. We found Te Puai beach and clambered up over the sand dunes to try and find the hot springs which are just under the sand at low tide, but it was jolly chilly so we didn't hang around, the black sand was wonderfully soft though. Lots of pukekos were about by the roadside with chicks, which were fun to watch. We also saw fantails, Californian quail, grey teal and NZ pipits. I has continues to drizzle on and off with a few heavier showers too, but I guess that's what makes the scenery so green.

We returned to Raglan on the main roads, much faster, if not quite so interesting but the scenery has been fantastic all the time. We treated ourselves to ice cream when we got back, I had a hokey cokey which was vanilla with lumps of hardened melted toffee in it along with some orange chocolate ice cream too!

Tomorrow we are off to New Plymouth via Taumarunui to see Mt Egmont, the weather has improved greatly this afternoon and evening, so we are hopeful it will be good tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Los Angeles

Arrived here in the evening of 26 Feb 2009, bit jaded but not too bad considering the 12 hour flight from UK. Pleasantly warm after a cool London.

Checked into our hotel and then walked a few steps to the local Italian to grab a snack before hitting the sack! Had a lovely chicken BBQ salad and then crashed out back at the hotel. Mind you, that was after a text message from my friend sending her condolences about Siobhan......panic stations, whatever had happened as soon as I turned my back...after a frantic phone call, I discovered that she had had an altercation with a van whilst on her pushbike...guess she came off worst! I never asked how the bike was, but she's OK, just bruised and shaken up, with a battered wrist, thankfully. What a relief!

Slept well considering the jetlag factor and wandered off to the beach the following morning at Marina Del Rey, walked up to Venice Beach and down the pier and got into the middle of some filming, no idea what film it was, but it was interesting to watch them pretending there were lots of dead surfers in the sea and trying to organise a rescue of a living one.
Film Crew

We carried on and passed Muscle Beach...sadly there were no men showing off, must have been too early for them, I reckon! Venice Beach was rather a disappointment, bit like Skegness on a bad day. We stopped for a coffee and watched the buskers for a while. One man had a piano there, heaven only knows how he gets it down there each day.

Continued up to Santa Monica and went to Bubba Gump's on the pier for lunch, it's a shrimp restaurant and was heaving and had fabulous food. I had a gorgeous Caesar Salad and Tim had a shrimp sandwich, it was huge! Wandered into the centre of Santa Monica after lunch, much more well-heeled than Venice Beach, thankfully.
Santa Monica

Managed to find the bus back to Marina del Rey as the old feet were beginning to complain by now.

It is bizarre to see winter cherries blooming alongside roses and day lilies, it doesn't seem to know what season it is here at all.

Spent a couple of hours in the hot tub and the pool and then went off to find a Mexican restaurant for dinner and had enchiladas and burritos; they were excellent and again, the reastaurant was heaving. No shortage of money here for most people it seems, although there are a fair few homeless folk about too. Back to the hotel for an early night, though we're coping OK with the jetlag, it's really not bothering us much at all.

We decided to have a lazy day on the 28th, wandered up to Venice Beach having had a look at the marina at Marina del Rey on the way up; found a heavenly ice-cream shop and just had to try it out and so sat and people-watched for a couple of hours there and then wandered off into the canal area at Venice beach which was lovely, very serene and lots of birds to see, humming birds, pelicans, gulls, mourning doves, snowy egrets.....they're comical with black legs and yellow feet! The a slow stroll back to the hotel grabbing a Subway sandwich on the way; another afternoon by the pool and tub, just relaxing and then out to Tony P's dockside grill for an early dinner; Tim had ribs and I had a steak, both beautiful. Wandered back to the hotel and relaxed for a while before another good night's sleep.

Up quite late this morning, Sunday 1st March...drat...forgot to say'white rabbits', just made it to breakfast before 10am! Another lovely day, so we're doing our washing before going out for another wander; those chores still need doing, lol.

Got the bus up to Santa Monica again, a real hive of activity there, lots of street performers, from legless acrobats to singers and breakdancers, a real holiday feel to the place, they even ban smoking from the pedestrian area!

Cooler today, Monday, 2 March, rather overcast with some rain in the breeze. Had a walk up to Venice Beach again, yet more filming going on, it's clearly a popular spot for that. All packed and waiting to leave for the airport...going to cross the dateline so March 3rd won't exist for us this year, how very strange! Our plane is at 1930 local time and we arrive in Auckland at 0530 on 4 March, with only a 12 hour flight, bizarre. I think NZ is either 3 or 4 hours ahead of us now, so jetlag shouldn't be a problem, just the fact that we will have missed a night's sleep. Ah well, you only live once. We'll be south of the equator in our next post, we left winter in UK, had spring here and now we're off to summer and autumn, fast year this is turning out to be.