We had decided to set off from home good and early so that we could arrive at Eurotunnel with an opportunity of an early voyage under the Channel. So out of the door just after ten and on our way to Sainsbury’s to pick up lunch. Sudden realisation that we haven’t got Jane’s driving license which might be useful in France. Fortunately Andrew is playing cricket and is able to pick up the license and bring it over.
Smooth trip round the M25 and M20 to the Folkestone terminal and we are almost 2 hours early for out 1450 train. We are able to book for 1350. Unfortunately, when the train boards there seem to be too many high vehicles and flexiplus and two lines of us are left to wait for the 1420. So just half an hour gained. Had lunch while waiting and were watched closely by the seagulls.
Once in Coquelles we go to Auchan to pick up fuel and Majestic for beer and wine. Then off down the autoroute towards Rouen. Before we get there the satnav sends us off down a series of minor roads, including some “Stop” signs for which there seems no particular justification. Arrived in Les Andelys, a pretty town on the edge of the Seine, where Chris and Bruce have moored TORTUS in front of a restaurant
We offload the car to reduce the temptation of a break in and have supper. Really great to see them again.
Napier is 319 km and about 5 hours from Wellington up SH 2. So we set off bright and early. Our bags had to be outside the room door at 0700.
We had been allocated our seats in the coach . A plan showed where they were, spread fairly randomly around. The idea was that you moved one number up on each journey which meant that you moved around and didn’t become territorial. This worked pretty well over the next 10 days.
As we left Wellington in brilliant sunshine the roads were pretty clogged. A bit of a shock after the sparse traffic over most of the South Island. Typical commuter traffic. But not bad when compared to UK.
On the way North we stopped at the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre. It has a cafe. Where in NZ hasn’t?. And we were expected (it is obviously one of the places the tour director uses frequently) since we were offered the option of waiting while fancy coffees were prepared or self-help filter coffee. No need for a decision.
Filter coffee in hand we went outside to look at a grassy area behind the building, on the edge of native bush, where two takahē were expected to appear. The takahē is a blue, flightless bird, a bit bigger than a hen and found only in NZ. They had been thought extinct but were rediscovered in the 1940s. Since then they have been helped to breed in protected areas in order to increase numbers. Mount Bruce has a protected habitat although the birds are too old to breed. At about 1030 the birds appeared. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that they are fed at that time?
While outside we were pestered for a time by a couple of kākā which are a type of parrot and one of the species in the Mount Bruce reserve. The Centre is also home to kiwi and eels in its inside displays. We gave those a miss.
We arrived at Napier at about lunch time, getting off the coach on the seafront by the iSite. We were sent off to find our own lunches before being split into groups and taken on guided walks by members of the Napier Art Deco Trust.
Napier today is the direct result of the devastating earthquake which struck the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand at 10.41 on 3rd February 1931. This remains the countries’ most deadly natural disaster, killing 256 people, 162 in the city of Napier. Almost all the buildings in the city were destroyed and the sea bed rose 6 feet in the surrounding area, creating more than 5000 acres of new land.
Following the earthquake the city had to be rebuilt. Government commissioners were appointed and the new buildings were constructed in a quick, earthquake-proof form as reinforced concrete boxes. Decoration was in the Art Deco style which was then fashionable. Although some redevelopment took place, much of the Art Deco city remained in place in the 1990s when its architectural importance was recognised and it was protected. Since then development has often included restoration of Art Deco features and the city is one of the most important examples of this architecture. We enjoyed the walk round (and the photo opportunities it offered)
After the walk round we saw a film about the earthquake at the Art Deco Trust centre before being taken to an hotel for afternoon tea. This was a little under-whelming and we didn’t want to eat much since we had arranged to meet Dick and Carol Tuschick, our American partners in AMAROK, for dinner later. They were touring NZ in a camper van in which we later discovered they have a share. (Hmm. Sounds an idea.) As we were walking back to the hotel to prepare for the evening who should pop round the corner?
They had parked their camper van in a free park just up the road from the hotel. We had a look later. Might almost tempt us to try motorhoming at some future stage.
We had an excellent meal at Indigo, an Indian restaurant which we had found which had good Trip Advisor reviews. Justified in our view. It was great to catch up with Dick and Carol, particularly as we won’t see them in the boat this year.
We had a day to see the sights of Wellington before the tour set off round the North Island. Our first excursion was a guided walking tour. Two guides led two groups from the iSite at 1000. We went down from the iSite, through Civic Square and, via a new bridge, onto the harbour front. We passed a basin where a group of youngsters were having canoeing lessons. A great day at school.
In days gone by the water front would have been bustling with commerce. Now it is a promenade area for the locals. As we walked past warehouses, repurposed as shops and restaurants, towards the Harbour Board offices, now a museum, we were shown how the sea had been driven back to find more land on which to trade.
Walking on through the streets, our guide was adjusting the pace so that we were at the Old Bank shopping arcade just before 1100. We were just in front of the other group which was fortunate as there was only limited room for groups inside. The building had been the Bank of New Zealand HQ. It had been built on reclaimed land over the timbers of a ship which had been used by John Plimmer, one of the earliest merchants in the area, as the first jetty for the embryo town of Wellington. The ship had been covered when the land had been built up following an earthquake in 1855. Some of the ship’s timbers were found when the foundations of the BNZ were being dug. They are still preserved there.
When the BNZ no longer required the building it lay empty for some time until it was bought by developers and converted into the arcade which is there today. The conversion has retained a lot of the old fabric and feel of the building. One major attraction is an animated musical clock which, on the hour, every hour, shows four scenes depicting the history of the Arcade site.
From the Old Bank we walked down Lambton Quay towards the government area. We saw a couple of pieces of street art. First a realistic statue of John Plimmer and his dog, Fritz, at the bottom of Plimmer Steps which lead up to the upper town. Then “A Woman of Words” which depicts Katherine Mansfield, one of New Zealand’s greatest literary figures. Both enjoyable.
In the government area we walked past what had been the NZ Defence Ministry (the architecture is very reminiscent of MoD Main Building in London.
Then on to the Supreme Court building. As the court wasn’t sitting we were allowed inside. The building is striking with a copper interior which is meant to represent the kauri cone.
The next port of call was the Old Government Building. An amazing construction made out of wood. Still in use by the Law Faculty of the University of Victoria. And we were allowed to walk round part of it!
Old St Paul’s Cathedral is a tiny little building. Much too small for the main church in a capital city. It was replaced as the cathedral in the 1960s but still remains a consecrated church. A lovely place.
I contrast. the current parliament building is rather ugly, a bit like a castle keep. What was interesting was that the “go” light on all the pedestrian lights around had a depiction of a woman dressed in Victorian dress to remember Kate Sheppard who led the campaign for women’s suffrage which meant New Zealand became the first country in the World where women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
We walked back through the bus station. Integrated transport.
Then, as we made our way to the tram up to the lookout point above the city, I was able to look up and around and see the buildings.
Our afternoon ploy was to go up on the tram to the top of the lookout and walk down through the botanic gardens. We had seen quite a queue when we passed earlier (cruise liner in port) but by the time we got there, via a chemists to buy a new pair of sunglasses for Jane, it had quietened down a bit.
The tramway has a cross-over section in the middle where the up and down cars pass. Apparently one of the sets of tram bogies is flanged and holds the rails. the other is flat and slides. Try as I could, I couldn’t get a picture of this.
After lunch in the cafe at the top, we walked down through the botanic gardens, calling at Lady Balfour’s rose garden on the way.
Once we had descended what was quite a steep path we went back to the bus station and caught a bus to a stop near Te Papa, the main national museum. This is very well stocked but a bit confusing if you don’t know how it all works. We were able to see the sections on the flora, fauna and geology of New Zealand and also the exhibition on the NZ forces at Gallipoli. This was almost overwhelming. The exhibits included a number of 3x life-sized mannequins. They were incredibly realistic.
There was just so much to see. Eventually we were weary and went to have a cup of coffee as the cafe closed.
In the evening we went back to the waterfront area to look for a restaurant. We found the Crab Shack which seemed very well frequented so we went in on the off chance. We must have been lucky because the maitre’d found us seats as another couple left. Others who tried the same thing later on were not so lucky. We had an excellent meal of shrimp (prawns) followed by crab and pasta.
Walked back to the hotel through the evening lights.
We dropped off the car at Avis as planned. Or at least nearly so. The vehicle was booked on a 21 day hire package and we were an hour or so early in trying to return it. To change this meant recalculating all the hire costs. Nobody wanted to do that. The solution appeared to be that we were given the hire agreement number and that we went into the office on arrival at Wellington where they would complete the hire and print out the paperwork. A bit strange but it appears to have worked.
Having got rid of the car we checked in our baggage and boarded the boat. We found ourselves a nice comfortable bit of saloon and settled down to the crossing. The weather was better than the previous evening; the wind had dropped. But it was still pretty claggy and the sound wasn’t much to look at as we passed through. We had definitely seen it at its best when we drove the Queen Charlotte Drive on our way to Havelock.
When we got to Wellington we took a taxi to the hotel and checked in. For the rest of the afternoon we had a look round the town and visited the iSite to help in planning the rest of the visit.
When we checked in the hotel staff had said that we should be in the hotel lobby at 6.30 to meet up with the tour director. We went down and found a group which we approached, thinking it was ours. No. It was another tour. Nev, our tour director, and three other people were in a different part of the lobby, hidden behind a pillar. It was at this point that we discovered that the five of us were to be joining a tour group,which had already been together for a fortnight, touring the South Island. The dynamics involved in joining a group like this are not easy and we wouldn’t choose to do it again.
In the evening we went out to the Hummingbird restaurant where we had an excellent dinner, included as part of the tour package.
Our final day on the walk was again blessed with glorious weather. Our steady walkers set off ahead. They were followed by Dave, an independent-minded farmer from the North Island. As on a number of occasions, he rather forgot to keep Connie in the picture and one of the memorable things about the walk was the frequent question, “Where’s Dave?”.
The route out of the Bay is tide dependent. We were leaving at nearly low water and so we had to walk across quite an expanse of sand and mud to make the crossing. I had decided to do this in bare feet in order to keep my slip-on shoes, which had proved quite difficult to get dry and clean, free of sand and water. Unfortunately, the path we followed was across a lot of shells and sharp stones and I soon fell behind the others. So, plan B, put the shoes on. Much less painful and I soon caught up again.
Early in the walk we came across a dead fish in the water which Curtis, the group’s fishing skipper, promptly identified as a garfish. A popular prey for snappers apparently.
Another sighting was a bell bird. We had heard them often during our NZ trip but, try as we might we had never been able to catch sight of one. This one was calling against another so perhaps he was a big less wary. Even so, it was difficult to get a photograph through the foliage.
As we walked on towards Apple Tree Bay, which was to be our lunch stop, Adele Island came into view. This was named by the French explorer Dumont D’Urville after his wife. The island is said to resemble a reclining woman wearing a dress and crinoline. Not easy to see! Start on the left.
At Apple Tree Bay we were joined by again by Anna and Michelle, her kayak guide. The beach was well served by an excellent example of the NZ “long drop”. After lunch our kayakers set off and paddled all the way to Kaiteriteri.
The walkers aimed for the edge of the Abel Tasman national park at the North end of Marahau bay. Where there is a café which is a convenient place to wait for the coach back to Motueka. We all took the opportunity for a snack.
On the way back to Motueka we were dropped off in Riwaka to pick up our cars which were unharmed. At Wilsons we handed back borrowed items, settled bar bills, had a final photo and then went our separate ways. We followed the coach back to the outskirts of Nelson, where we lost sight of them and then drove to Picton where we were to catch the Interislander ferry the next day.
When we got to Picton we went down to the ferry terminal to check out car return and boarding arrangements. Everything was shut but we could see what we needed to do. The motel was fine. Unfortunately the restaurant was temporarily shut so we braved the cold wind to walk down to the supermarket to buy supper.
The forecast for our second day’s walking was good. And when we went outside the view across the beach seemed to promise a perfect day.
We set off in waves. Our two steady walkers wanted to start early. Their plan was to walk to Tonga Quarry beach and to catch the boat from there to our next overnight stop at a Torrent Bay. This would give time to relax before the rest of us arrived and would avoid the suspension bridge over Falls River. Connie briefed them on how to stay on track and off they went.
The rest of us followed. It was soon clear that the younger members of the group were keen to push on. Connie stayed with we oldies and so we almost had our own dedicated guide.
The walk started upwards to take us over Tonga Saddle to Tonga Quarry. It included what Connie described as “a bit of a toughie”. Nothing like the steep bits of the Milford though. As we got towards the top the views both forward and looking back towards Awaroa were spectacular.
The track down from the saddle reaches the beach at Tonga Bay via a bridge and a board walk. Here we saw another Weka and a couple of busy Oyster Catchers.
By the time we got to Tonga Quarry Connie reckoned that we should have caught up with our steady walking group. At the Quarry beach is a shelter with basic catering arrangements. Here we met up again with our faster
walkers. There were also a number of Wilsons’ kayak instructors who were to guide Anna, one of our group, in a kayak to Torrent Bay and also to shepherd some of a five-day walking group. They had been on site for some time but they had seen nothing of our two. Connie radioed the lodge to make further enquiries and, as there was little else we could sensibly do, we continued our walk.
From Tonga Quarry the track went up again, over another hill, and down
to Bark Bay and met up with our “steadies”. They had been walking well and decided that they might as well walk the whole track. I’m sure Connie was relieved to see them. We had lunch there and were joined by the kayak group.
After lunch the scenery just continued. We crossed the swing bridge at Falls River then looked down at Frenchmen’s Bay which all the guides we spoke to reckoned was the prettiest spot on the Abel Tasman. Connie showed us an Easter orchid plant. Then, eventually, we were able to look down at our destination, Torrent Bay and Torrent Bay Lodge, our stop for the night.
Again the Lodge was very pleasant and we had a room in the main house. The water in the bay in front of the house was shallow. When we went in to swim we had to walk out a good distance before we could float easily.
We had a leisurely start to our walk. Most of our group were being brought by coach from Nelson and would not arrive until about 1130 so we were able to have a bit of a drive around and look at the scenery.
We arrived well before we needed to and met Connie who was to be our excellent and long-suffering guide for the walk. We dropped the hold-all. When the others arrived they got sorted out and back on the coach which set off towards Kaiteriteri from where the boat would take us to the start of the walk. We hopped into the car and followed to Riwaka where we parked in a small town car park with Connie parked behind us. This arrangement is apparently safer than leaving cars parked in Motueka.
We joined the coach which set off again to Kaiteriteri where we had lunch while waiting for the boat. We were ten in the group, a much smaller number than we had on the Milford Track, enough for one guide to handle. Also much easier for people to get to know each other.
The boat arrived. It was fitted with a clever extending gangway which allowed easy access when the boat beached. We, and others, embarked and the boat set off along the coast calling in at a number of beaches where people, mostly on short walks, disembarked or boarded.
The skipper provided a commentary and visited points of interest such as Split Apple Rock and Tonga Island to allow passengers to see seals.
We landed at Totaranui, the furthest point on the boat’s schedule, and set off on the track. We were a group of multi-speed walkers. The young who keenly pushed ahead, middle paced and those who were happy to make steady progress. I think it was a bit difficult for Connie who wanted to tell us about the flora, fauna and a bit about the geology of New Zealand.
Quite early on the walk, when we were all walking together, Connie took those who wanted for a short detour off the track where there was an amazing tree, growing horizontally, along which people could climb, and delivered an ecology lesson there.
In Goat Bay the track runs across lovely golden sand and Connie made good use of this to show how New Zealand is affected by the movements of the tectonic plates.
As we walked into the Abel Tasman National Park we were told that we would be moving into an area with very limited mobile signal. Those of us who were used to being in contact used every fleeting opportunity until the signal was lost.
As we walked along the beach, before climbing up over a large rock with s line of granite running through it (another supporting prop for Connie to tell us more about geology) we met a woman coming towards us, carrying a kayak paddle. Later we saw what must have been her kayak being towed by another. We never did find out what the story was.
The approach to Meadowbank Homestead at Awaroa, the lodge we stayed in on the first night, is across a tidal creek. We had to wait until the water had receded far enough to make it safe to cross. Depth of water wasn’t the main issue; the strength of the ebbing tide was surprising. It tugged hard even when we were only calf deep.
The Meadowbank Homestead was originally built by William and Adele Hadfield in the 1880’s. It was rebuilt in the late 20th C by their great granddaughter to be a lodge for those on the Abal Tasman with Wilsons. In addition to the house there are more rooms at the back. Like the lodges we stayed in on the Milford Track it provided an excellent level of service.
The view from the front of the house overlooked the beach and was stunning. Our room was at the front and even the bathroom window looked onto the bay. Another contender for “best view from the room” I think.
The road from Havelock to Motueka which is where Wilsons, the company which runs the Abel Tasman walk, is based runs over the Pelorus river. From the bridge DOC manages a number of tracks. We didn’t have time to go very far but we were able to walk up the river for a short while to a swing bridge and back. The river scenery at this spot is quite beautiful.
Back on SH6 we drove up towards Nelson to meet up with Jim Kennard again for lunch. The road passes over the Bryant Range and is steep and twisting at this point.
Having joined up with Jim we drove into the city to buy some batteries for the GPS.
We then went to Founders Park. This is another area where historic buildings and artefacts from the city and surrounding area have been brought in order to preserve them and for display. It also has an excellent café with brewery attached. Or perhaps it is the other way round.
We enjoyed both lunch and a nostalgic walk round (many of the items on display were in use in our childhood) before setting off to Motueka.
When we got there we checked into the motel then drove to Wilsons to make sure we knew what was to happen in the morning. We borrowed a back pack to supplement the one we had brought from UK and were given a small hold-all in which to pack any clothes and other things we wanted for use overnight in the lodges we were to stay in. (Unlike the Milford track, we did not have to carry everything we needed on the track. Wilsons transported the hold-alls.) We also picked up large plastic bags to act as waterproof liners for both the back packs and hold-all.
Back to the motel via the local New World supermarket to buy supper.
The following morning we woke to yet another glorious day. After breakfast we set off to the pier to catch the Pelorus Mail Boat. I went via the local bakery to pick up sandwiches for lunch. When I caught up with Jane at the pier we realised that I had forgotten to bring the dark glasses so I went back to the motel to pick them up.
The mail boat runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. It covers a different route each day and carries goods, possibly animals and local passengers as well as mail and fare-paying tourists. We were on the Thursday route which goes out as far as Beatrix Bay, not the farthest of the routes. Many of the places the routes serve have no road link. Other houses overlooking the sound are very expensive and have all mod cons.
As we left there was no wind and the water was glassy smooth.
We were one of a number of boats on the move that morning. Some with greater urgency than others.
Jim, our skipper, was an ex-airline pilot from Elgin in Scotland. He provided a good running commentary as well as managing his boat. The
As we went out along the route we passed Pipi Beach. This is apparently where the settlers from the outer stations, in the days before ferries were organised, would stop and sleep under their upturned boats on the journey to and from Havelock. An alternative, practiced by what must have been a formidable lady, was to row to the town and back on the same day. Even if she got the tides right this must have been hard work. Her modern day equivalent takes the mail boat then gets off at this jetty. She then walks for 15 minutes to where her rowing boar is secured then returns in this to pick up her shopping.
As we went along the route Jim did his best to educate us about the activities taking place in the Sound. We saw salmon farms, We went through mussel farms and had the process explained to us.
We saw logging taking place on the hills around. This is a managed activity even if harvesting the logs does cause scars on the landscape.
And we went to the local gannet colony to watch their flying displays. Their landings are not very good.
On the way back we called at the Jacob’s Bay picnic area for people to get off, stretch their legs or have a swim. Unfortunately there was a private cruiser moored on the jetty so Jim secured somewhat precariously across the end of the jetty to let people off. He then stood off until the pleasure boat had left. We went for a walk up to a lookout and it was a bit disconcerting to see the boat leave while we were ashore but it soon returned and secured in its normal place where some used it as a diving board.
On the final part of the journey we saw a very scenic cloud formed above the mountains.
Shortly after arrival Jim Kennard joined us and we had a great mussel-fest. Ours were steamed, Jim’s were baked which was, we thought, the better option.
Before leaving the Blenheim area we wanted to see two museums. The first was the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre which had been highly recommended to us and the second was the Marlborough Museum where we hoped there might be more information on the Seymours and their relations.
We went to the air museum first. This concentrates on WW1 (although a WW2 section is due to open shortly). It has a great collection of memorabilia from all the warring nations’ aviation history. This includes a number of superb replica or original aircraft. Some of these are set in tableaux with extraordinarily lifelike mannequins. Much of this is courtesy of Sir Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings and other great films fame. The only thing we found slightly disconcerting was the amount of space given to Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) in contrast to a number of other significant “aces”. Suppose his life makes a great story. We stayed for a couple of hours and skimmed the surface; in depth study would take days.
The Marlborough Museum was much less well financed. It is part of a complex to which the local council has moved a number of old buildings and artefacts. I think it probably houses an amount of documentation and the displays were interesting, but they could not compare with the slick show at Omaka which is a pity.
Leaving the museum we went int town to buy lunch, plus some “invisible” socks for me to wear with shorts. Never had any before. A bit strange. Then back on SH1 on the road to Picton.
We wanted to get our bearings in Picton in preparation for our departure from there a week hence. After a bit of a satnav moment we worked out that the place wasn’t very big and finding the ferry was easy so we went on towards Havelock which was our evening destination. There are two routes, direct and via the Queen Charlotte Drive which winds tortuously above the water above the Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound. The weather was glorious and we plumped for Queen Charlotte. It was a good job that we did; the weather when we made the return journey was much less pleasant.
When we arrived in Havelock we checked into the motel (very adequate) before walking down to the pier to recce things for the morning’s trip. Then to the supermarket to buy supper and a cold beer in pleasant pub.
We had two reasons to visit Havelock – it is billed as the green-lipped capital of the world and it is the port from which a post boat makes three trips per week out into Pelorus Sound. We wanted to experience both so on the way back from the pub we booked a green-lipped mussel meal for the following evening and we arranged for Jim Kennard (home alone, with Sheila in Australia) to join us.