Goodbye North Island – Hello South… 27/11/18

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Waking to blue skies and sunshine again has led us to start losing faith in the weather forecast and are now just going to start believing that the sun will shine every day for us …. ha ha, yep – right, dream on!

After breakfast we headed towards to the train station and for $15 return each, within half an hour we were in the center of Wellington … not too bad. Although the sky was threatening to be emotional – very moody clouds – we decided to risk it and head up through Bolton Street Memorial Park and on into the Botanical Gardens and Observatory so we could look out over the city from high.  The route took us past the ‘Beehive’ Houses of Parliament (above) and then through Wellingtons oldest cemetery dating back to the 1840’s. The cemetery itself was closed to new burials in the 1890’s but controversially, it was split in two by a motorway in the mid 1970’s, requiring roughly 3700 graves to be exhumed.  The cemetery is the oldest in Wellington and is in three sections, one part each for Catholics, Anglicans and Jews … the Jewish section only having 40 gravestones, although to be fair there were only 1334 headstones in the whole cemetery – of which 35 are made of wood – for what they believe to be 8500 people buried so there may be a few more Jewish graves in there somewhere. Not wishing to ramble on about cemeteries I will conclude by saying that it is worth a visit if you are nearby!

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We walked up to the Observatory which offered pretty impressive views out over the bay and then over to where the cable car (which originally started in 1902) comes up as well before heading back down through the botanical gardens which were beautiful, offering a lovely place for a quiet walk as well as lots of spots for educational sessions for kids.  Very impressive at the way that they have incorporated it into the NZ educational programme and made it such a lovely space for everyone to enjoy.

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Pleased that we had managed to take in the views on a clear-ish day we decided to walk round the waterfront and out past Oriental Bay.  In contrast to Auckland, Wellington has started to really make the most of the waterfront, providing promenades for walkers/runners and cycle paths for bikes as well as lots of activity centres for climbing, indoor football, kayaking, etc…. encouraging everyone to get involved and off their backsides.  There also appear to be lots of bars and restaurants all the way along the front, some just little coffee or shake huts,  others providing a more comprehensive ‘dining’ experience – nothing we saw appeared to be too ‘posh’, everything was pretty normal and open to everyone no matter if you were out for a business lunch or with young kids which is unusual for water frontage in big cities.  I am sure that there are some really expensive places hidden in there somewhere but we didn’t come across them!

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After watching the swimmers and kayakers in the bay whilst eating our lunch, we headed into town to explore Cuba Street and some of the quirky cafe’s and shops, before finally heading back on the train to Plimmerton with tired feet.

I spoke too early as we have apparently run out of blue and yellow in the sky pallet and Day 2 in Wellington brought rain.   Although it started to rain gently whilst I was out for a run, upping the anti roughly ten minutes from the end, thankfully it didn’t really pour down except for while we were inside so we were happy! Considering the weather, we had decided to bite the bullet and headed straight for the Te Papa (New Zealands National museum), surprising ourselves by actually managing to pretty much complete the whole thing … to be fair one floor was an Art exhibition, which took less time to look around and a couple of the other exhibits were closed … needless to say, I think we will be holding off on any other museums for a little while!!

The history of New Zealand is incredibly interesting and for us although we were aware that the government is doing everything they can to protect the species of birds and animals that they have here, I don’t think we were quite so aware of the quantity of animals native to New Zealand that are now either extinct or nearly extinct – specifically birds.  Evolution is cruel and as New Zealand was such a safe and protected place without predators, many of the birds got lazy and lost the use of their wings over time so when vermin such as Rats and Possoms were introduced they were easy picking.  A couple of birds worth mentioning are the Kakapo, of which their are currently only 148 known living birds, it is the largest and heaviest of the Parrot family (look it up as they are also pretty odd looking and very unusual in their breeding habits) and the Kiwi which although is still around in different sub-species, is also classed as endangered.  I hadn’t realised until we read it in the museum that they also lay the largest egg in relation to their body size of any bird in the world…. learning something everyday!

Properly ‘museumed out’ we headed to the Leeds Street Bakery for a Chai Latte and Hot Chocolate before we meandered back through the center to catch our train back to Ava in Plimmerton.

Leaving Wellington behind us we had planned this weekend around some friends (John and Jo) who moved over here nearly five years ago and have now settled in Martinborough, one of the other areas (in addition to Hawkes Bay where we were last week) renowned for vineyards in New Zealand, this area being particularly well known for its Pinot Noir.

Both John and Jo work in Wellington and weren’t going to be back until later, so we decided to take a slow wander over to Martinborough, stopping to do some food shopping in Upper Hut – which appears to constantly have a grey cloud over it -before heading up into the cloud to get over the hills to reach Featherstone, a little village known for its cheese shop.  We are a little spoilt in Europe in regards to cheese but it is fair to say that ‘C’est Cheese’ does an excellent job of offering the Kiwi equivalent… although some of the cheeses on offer were French or Dutch, the majority were local.  Naturally we bought a selection of Goat, Blue, Cheddar and unusually for us, a vintage Gouda …. all of which were tucked into on Saturday night after a beautiful Steak cooked on the Bar B Q by John’s fair hands and were delicious.

Second stop after Featherstone was Greytown which apparently won the prize for New Zealand’s most beautiful small town in 2017.  It is full of boutique shops, cafe’s, restaurants and a lovely butcher where we stocked up on some chicken and a couple of varieties of sausages to go in a cassoulet before finally heading over to Martinborough to park up and settle for the weekend.

Martinborough is tiny with a population of just over 1600 people although in contrast it has nearly 40 vineyards … not bad proportions if you ask me!  The town itself was founded in the 19th century by John Martin who designed it in the form of the Union Jack – something only really visible from the air but an interesting concept none the less.  We headed out to stretch our legs before John and Jo got home and fell upon the only brewery in town – The Martinborough Brewery – and felt obliged to stop and do a little tasting before heading back to put the casserole on just to help ease us into the weekend – little did we know that John and Jo know everyone in Martinborough and we would meet the owner and brewer in one of the bars on several occasions over the weekend!

It was lovely to catch up and we tasted several different wines, including a lovely bottle that John and Jo had kindly laid down for us in one of their local establishments before heading back for the well cooked casserole on Friday night. The town definately has a lovely feeling to it, a real community.

Saturday was wine tasting day and after some delicious bacon sandwiches for breakfast, we headed out on foot to explore a small handful of vineyards. We stopped in at Schubert, Tirohana Estate, Poppies, Stonecutter and then finally Columbo tasting different versions of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose and Pinot Noir in the whole with a couple of additional Germanic grapes and Syrah’s thrown in as well.  We were lucky with the weather until we got to Columbo when the skies opened so we took it as a hint that it was time to get some food then head home for the evening.

Waking to grey clouds, John very kindly took us out for a drive to see a bit more of the local area whilst Jo caught up on some Ironing. I think that between us we turned the house into a bit of a Chinese laundry on Sunday morning, when one of us took a load out of the machine the next put one in… playing catch up!

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We drove out to see Lake Ferry which has volcanic black sand, then round the coast to Cape Palliser which is beautiful in parts and then a little bleak as you get further round as it is very rugged and dry. We learnt a lot about New Zealand farming as the company John came over to work for provides software for cattle and sheep farms …. just a little bit different from email and web security, but all very interesting and it helped us understand more about some of the farms we have seen so far in New Zealand and their set up.

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Hungry, we headed back to find Jo, hoping that she hadn’t been completely consumed by the ironing and to head out for lunch and a lazy afternoon before Jo cooked Toad in the hole for dinner…. not really what we were expecting half way round the world but it was very tasty despite the oven being a little on the temperamental side.

Trying to find a dry day to do the crossing over to the South Island (whilst also being swayed by one of John and Jo’s favourite places cooking a curry on Monday night) we decided to stay and extra night and book the crossing for Tuesday.  So with a free day … albeit very grey and rainy, we booked ourselves in for lunch at Poppies, something John and Jo had hoped to do with us on Saturday but it was full.

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Needless to say we were not disappointed, apart from being a fantastic venue, the platter contained pretty much everything you could think of … roast beef, freshly smoked salmon, brie, houmus, polenta cake, tapenade, pepper stuffed with cheese, vine leaves stuffed with rice, pork belly, tortilla, roasted red onion and pickled red cabbage – delicious.  All washed down with a lovely glass of Poppies Rose which is definitely one of our favourites from the last few days.

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Contented, we set out in search of some Lighthouse Gin as my stock levels appear to be getting low and John introduced me to a local one which was pretty tasty on Saturday.  We followed the road and ended up in the Te Kairanga Vineyard where they distill the gin and also produce some nice Sauvignon Blanc’s and Pinot Noir’s which we decided to try before making our purchase and heading back to the house to wait for John and Jo to go out for our last night in Martinborough.

Unknown to us, Martinborough can become a little cut off when it comes to rain and as it had been raining heavily for 48 hours the water levels had increased quite dramatically closing the normal route to Featherstone and Wellington.  More cumbersome for John and Jo in the morning to get their train at some ungodly hour, we just set off slightly earlier and although the rivers were running high and several fields were flooded it didn’t impact our journey to the ferry terminal too much – although it looked like we were in for a rough ride.

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Despite taking an addition 15 minutes and probably having 45 minutes of a bit of a rough ride, it was wet, windy and very grey but not too bad considering what we were looking at when we started out from Wellington AND we saw a Penguin …. which is worth 3-4 meter swells any time!!

Arriving into Picton just before 7pm we headed for the RSA club to park up tonight to welcome in the South Island and the next part of our trip.

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Mud glorious mud …. 20/11/18

 

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I am pleased to say that Keith was not disappointed.  After a tranquil night we set off to walk to some hot springs, leaving the motorhome at the Tavern and we fell upon some mud baths which provided ample mud, air and loads of plop …. just what we were looking for!

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The noise as the air bubble bursts in the mud is actually oddly relaxing … although still fairly smell!

After a wander back to find Ava and helpIng some South American damsels in distress … their hired campervan (if you can call it that as it was a death trap) had a flat battery so we push started it to get them going again, encouraging  them to call the rental company as the tyres were bald, brake light wasn’t working and apparently the fridge didn’t work either and that was the second time the battery had gone completely flat…. not a good sign.

After we sorted ourselves out, we set off en route to Taupo where we stopped and sat by the lake to eat our lunch before having a wander through the town, getting coffee and a lassi and finding a butcher to get some meat for dinner over the next couple of days.  Taupo was pretty much as I remembered it – fairly touristy and not a huge amount going on but it is a central hub for the area and any sports activities so it had some fantastic outdoors and bike shops.

We had decided to stop over at a NZMCA just by the airport which was lovely, spacious and peaceful…. until the morning at least when the first plane went up with parachutes at the crack of dawn – but to be fair they were few and far between.  The location of the NZMCA site was great as, although on the highest point, it wasn’t too far to walk down to the lake where there was a lovely cycle path which enabled us to  head out for a bit of an afternoon stroll to enjoy the sunshine before the night set in.

With the weather looking like it is going to close in on us after the weekend we decided to do a hop, skip and a jump over to Napier where we had planned to chill out for a few days and take in some of the vinyards.  We headed for the NZMCA site which is just outside Napier and once again were pleasantly surprised as it was a lovely open, peaceful site not too far from the seafront… this time we were welcomed by a bag of lemons on the gate …. it would be rude not to, although we did only take the one!  Boring as it may be we needed to catch up on washing so trekked into Napier and a couple of hours later were fully fresh and clean! …. why we chose here where the launderette is 5km away when most days there is one about 500m from where we park I don’t know !!

After a peaceful nights sleep and a nice morning run we set off into Napier to search out the Art Deco buildings and the Saturday market and although we didn’t find anything interesting or pretty yesterday whilst looking for the launderette, just a couple of blocks further on and we struck gold – A cultural town with lots of colour and style.

 

The market was like a farmers market where almost everything was organic and seasonal, with lettuce, broccoli, Avocado’s, Broad Beans and Strawberry’s to name a few bits currently in season over here and we even spotted some rhubarb! A taster market before the big one tomorrow apparently, so we only bought the necessities to get us through the night…. and 6 Advocados…

Back at the motorhome and we actually had a couple of hours to chill and relax in the sunshine trying to fend off the mosquitos by topping up the G&T levels (I’ll use any excuse but the little buggers have been doing their damage!) before enjoying a bit of Dijon Chicken on the Bar B Q for dinner.

We set off in the morning towards Hastings which is only 20km away, stopping at the Hawkes Bay farmers market en route to stock up the cupboards.  The market was exceptional, almost like a small food festival in the UK with musicians and about 65 local producers selling everything from Wine to Milk and Cupcakes to Bacon Butties, thankfully the weather has been holding out and they were having a good morning so we managed to pick up some Asparagus, Lamb Sausages, Beef (for a chilli), Smoked Gem Fish and some kind of white fish (sorry John and Lorraine we are useless at remembering the Kiwi names!!), Grapefruits, Soft Cheese as well as some lovely Black Pudding …. certainly enough to give this weeks menu a bit of a helping hand!  With dinner sorted for tonight we headed into Hastings for a look around, finding more Art Deco buildings to admire although it was a little bit of a ghost town in comparison to Napier.

 

We parked up at the Havelock North Club which has a small car park behind it that they allow NZMCA members to use – another really quiet spot just on the edge of the very pretty, yet quite affluent village/town of Havelock North.

For those of you unfamiliar with New Zealand, Napier, Hastings, Havelock North and Te Awanga are all in the Hawkes Bay Area which is one of New Zealand’s big Vinyard areas so we thought it would be rude not to partake whilst here and wandered up the road to find a couple of small producers to do some tastings!

First stop was Red Barrel which is a tiny producer with only 2.62 Hectares of vine … a real ‘micro-boutique’ vinyard.  The owner of the Piku Izakaya Japanese restaurant (which currently sits at the front of the vinyard as it is moving into Havelock North next July) did the tasting with us and he was not only generous but also took his time to explain each wine although he was also managing the tail end of Sunday lunch.  The wines we tasted were a mixture of Chardonnay, Rose, Merlot and Syrah – all delicious and it is fair to say that both the Chardonnay we tried were exceptional.

Moving on from the Red Barrel, we headed slightly further down the road to the Black Barn which is also small (although not as small as the Red Barrel) but certainly understands the words ‘diversification’ and ‘marketing’.  The wine was obviously the core product but over the years they have grown to do Weddings, Conferences and Events in their restaurant and amphitheatre as well as offering 18 properties for accommodation to rent.  The Cellar room is just behind the restaurant which opens out onto the vinyard and the valley, a beautiful setting to relax, have a glass of wine or two and perhaps a bite to eat.

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Unfortunately, although the setting was lovely we were a little put off by the staff.  The tasting was paid for – which wasn’t an issue – but it felt a bit lacking in detail and passion which you kind of want from a small producer who is trying to get people to buy his/her wares.  Needless to say, we drank our wine and headed back to the motorhome to settle in for a quiet night.

In the morning, after a quick shop to top up our market produce we headed over to Te Awanga where we parked up on the beach in the nature reserve, looking over towards Cape Kidnapper listening to the waves crash down just a couple of meters away from us.

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Not too bad …. it was dry so we headed out to see if we could find any Gannets – as that is apparently what Cape Kidnapper is famous for – but within fifteen minutes the skies had opened and we were in for a pretty wet walk.  We didn’t find any Gannets as the tide was high so we couldn’t walk around the cape at all, although we probably wouldn’t have gone much further considering the weather and time anyway. So we found somewhere to stop to eat our sandwiches whilst the rain held off for a few minutes and then headed back to the vineyards to do a bit more wine tasting.

The closest was Te Awanga which is a mid-sized vineyard but still family owned.  As we headed up the driveway the rain got heavier and heavier so our presence was felt as we walked through the doors looking like slightly desperate drowned rats despite the fact that we had our waterproofs on.  They were very welcoming though and the Cellar Bar was warm so we tasted five different wines, learnt a bit about their vineyard and process and chatted with a couple of the locals before buying a bottle of wine and moving on 500m up the road to find the next Vineyard.

We ended up spending quite a long time at Te Awanga so we had managed to dry off  a little and things were looking hopefull as it was only spitting slightly when we left.  Unfortunately we only got half way down the drive before it settled in again, leaving us damp, although not quite as damp, for our second tasting of the day.

Clearwater Vineyard is quite a different set up, rustic and welcoming and a good family run feel coming through. We got a good tasting of six different wines between us along with a bit of history – all in all a good tasting session.

Not particularly wanting to leave as it was torrential outside we hung around, looked at a few articles and fell upon a book of all the Vineyard dogs obviously put together by someone who had way too much time/money but quite amusing all the same!  When the other set of clients left we decided to take our leave too and were pleasantly surprised that the rain had eased slightly, enabling us to make it back to the motorhome without getting completely drenched again.  The original plan was also to go to Elephant Hill Vineyard for a tasting as well as for dinner but we were put off by the prospect of the restaurant being too formal and possibly a little protenscious so cancelled but still planned to go for a tasting, however as it happened our time ran out (they closed the tastings at 4pm) so we settled back in the motorhome, cooking dinner with the waves thundering down near by.

The waves and the rain gave us a good concert through the night …. it felt a little like the battle of the proms although I think the waves had the staying power at the end of the day as we woke to clear blue skies and sunshine again, although a little crisper.

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Today was a long drive (in our terms ….. actually only 240km) as we wanted to get to a place called Plimmerton which is just outside Wellington so we can spend the next couple of days exploring the city.  We found another NZMCA site and the station is five minutes walk away with trains into the city every half an hour …. so we are all set to explore tomorrow.

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Plimmerton itself is a pretty little coastal commutertown which we managed to enjoy in the sunshine this afternoon walking along Sunset Boulevard.

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Don’t forget if you want to visualise where we are you can have a look at the map on Travellerspoint by clicking here

Settling in… 14/11/18

Now we have spent a bit longer in Ava (the campervan), we have had the chance to get to know her a bit better.  It is a bit of a change from the Concorde …. but all in all, for her size, the configuration is really good, the bed is comfy, the lounge and seating area is fantastically light and spacious, the only thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the combined shower/toilet and remembering that we need to take the loo roll out before we have a shower – so far so good!

It’s great though as being in a smaller motorhome means that you appreciate what you have all the more and we are so glad that we decided to do this trip in a motorhome rather than a car and hotel/airbnb as even only after a couple of weeks we have parked up in some beautifully tranquil spots, waking up to amazing views and we can only see this getting better as we head further South.

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After a lovely run from Rainbow Falls in the humid sunshine, the cloud started to close in dampening our hopes of eating breakfast outside … thankfully not literally as we stayed inside but it was fair to say that the best part of the day had gone by 9am.

We hit the road again and after a impromptu/subconscious detour via Kawakaw to see the famous Hundertwasser toilets we headed back to John and Lorraine’s to cook them some Paella for dinner.  Although we still have eleven weeks in New Zealand, we were heading south of Auckland and they flew out to Nelson for the weekend so the likelihood of us catching up again before we actually leave was minimal.  As always, it is such a treat to have locals who show you a different side to a country and we couldn’t have had a better introduction to New Zealand, we were even introduced to Pinapple Lumps – although we were a little aprehensive when they were described to us as pinapple encased in chocolate – assuming they were crystallised – however, we were pleasantly surprised when we tucked into them and found effectively what can only be described as pinapple flavoured honeycombe encased in chocolate … a real flavour burst… we get it now!!

Waking to birdsong and after a walk down and along Long Beach in the morning – something to do with the fact that last week I went the wrong way when I went out for a run – we popped by the local butcher and then headed South, tackling the Auckland traffic – which was practically non existent at mid-day – towards a place called Ray’s Rest, recommended by Geoff and Tracey.  We parked up and ate our lunch whilst looking out over the bay and Wetlands before heading out for a walk towards the Miranda hot springs with the black clouds looming.  Unfortunately they didn’t ‘loom’ as long as we had hoped and 6km in to the walk the skies opened and it poured down.  Rather than battling on, we decided to turn around and head back to the dry where if it had been a nice day we would have been able to watch a lovely sunset, instead we settled in and Keith cooked a lovely Chilli Con Carne … although he forgot to add the kidney beans…apparently that is how they do it in the USA so as we learnt at the Smoke and Fire Festrival over the summer …. again the subconscious kicking in – It was still very tasty though!

Waking to the sea lapping about two meters from the motorhome we admired the view out of our bedroom window – what a fantastic thing to do – before our normal morning routine and heading off towards the Coromandel Peninsula and more specifically Coromandel town.

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What an amazing journey – the road twisted and turned and each time it did, the bay looked beautiful but in a different way.  It wasn’t however until we climbed up into the hills and looked down over the peninsula that we really got to appreciate the full beauty of it all … personally, I would say even more beautiful than the Bay of Islands, although I am sure that I will get criticism for such an agressive opinion!!

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We parked up at the NZMCA site in Coromandel ($3 per person, per night) which is pretty average as a site goes but it is in a fantastic location. After lunch we walked out onto the Wyuna Bay which is on the peninsula where thankfully most of the houses that were for sale that we walked past didn’t have a price on them as we would have happily signed on the dotted line there and then …. the photos don’t do it justice, it was stunning!

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Coromundal is home to many of New Zealand’s Mussel farms and also I believe a fair few Oyster farms as you can see in some of the photos. It is a small town centralised around fishing with a fair few cafe’s, bars and restaurants – not bad for a stopover.

In the morning after a quick empty and fill, we set off on the long windy road over the top and down into Whitianga.  Although different to the West coast of the Coromandel peninsula, it was beautiful in a different way.  We had been invited to go and stay on Karen’s parents driveway but we didn’t want to impose so instead, we parked up at the NZMCA site just at the edge of town which again was $3 per person per night.  It is a fairly new site, peaceful with just grass and a fresh water tap – perfect for what we needed.  As we arrived reasonably early we decided to walk into town and eat our sandwiches on the bay ….  stunning.

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It is obvious that Whitianga is a fairly touristy town due to the Nature Reserve, Cathedral Cove and the Hot Water Beach which are not too far away but it also has a ‘real’ town feel which gives it a lovely ambiance.  Although we didn’t go stay with Karen’s parents, we popped over with a bottle of wine and some beers for a drink and took in the afternoon sunshine with views out onto the estuary – what an amazing position for a house.

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Lots of lovely stories, a bit more wine, a cheese platter which ended up evolving into dinner and we had lost five hours – a lovely evening!

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We had obviously worn out the sunshine as we woke to grey cloud and rain and despite having been told that the weather forecast was rarely right, it appeared to be pretty spot on today unfortunately.  We had planned to stay a couple of nights and take a boat round to Cathedral Cove but as the forecast was grim for a couple of days we bit the bullet and decided to move on although as we were driving close to Hahei Beach – which is where you can park and walk to Cathedral Cove – we decided to take the detour as the rain had stopped for a bit.  It was obviously fate as it stayed dry for the majority of the walk and the weather had kept the majority of people away, enabling us to enjoy a ‘moody’ Cathedral Cove in peace!

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As the day went on and we headed further south the clouds lifted giving us some hope that we were going to be moving to nicer weather.  Parking up at Waihi Beach NZMCA (again $3 per person per night) we managed to get out for a walk and get the first BBQ in, unfortunately however, Monday morning brought with it low cloud and rain … thankfully not until 9am so we got a most dry run/exercise in.  We decided to hold out on setting out to explore in the hope that it might dry up catching up with some work…. ah well, has to be done at some time I guess!

The rain did ease a little just after lunch so we decided to make an exit and walk along to Waihi Beach with the hope of walking up to the trig point and seeing the views out over the bay.  Unfortunately no sooner had we left Ava, the rain started to fall again so we settled for a nice walk to the surf club, checking out Waihi Beach and the waves on the way… not too bad really and the rain did give us a break on the way return leg – we can only say that as it really chucked it down after we got back!

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After a lovely Kedgeree and a good nights sleep we woke to blue skies and a little too much warmth (we had left the windows mostly closed to stop the rain coming in).  Quite quickly the clouds started to come in just as we were eating breakfast but we weren’t going to be put off and decided to drive out to Waihi to do the Hauraki cycle track out to the Karangahake Gorge.  Roughly 30km later and with a sore back (me – I am so not used to being on a bike any more) –  we were happy, although rather (sweaty) bunnies!

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Happy to sit on a normal seat rather than in a saddle we headed to Tauranga where we parked up at an RSA (Returned and Serviceman’s club) for the night in one of the suburbs and settled into some delicious New Zealand Lamb for dinner.  It was busy … I think that the line dancing turned into a bit of an open mike night before calming down by about 10pm providing with us with a reasonable nights sleep!

With the sun still on our side – I have to say that as it is threatening to disappear on us – we headed over to Mount Maunganui this morning which is just the other side of the Bay of Plenty and sits 232m above sea level. The area itself surrounding the mount has fantastic surfing beaches and a real cafe culture and if you take the path up to the top of Mount Maunganui, it provides the most amazing views over the bay.

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After a lovely walk and a bite to eat we set off south to Rotorua to see the bubbling mud pools and thermal springs …. the mud pools in the town itself were a littledisappointing so perhaps we will see better tomorrow or perhaps it is just the time of year.

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Tonight after a bit of a search around for somewhere to stay we have ended up in Waiotapu at the Waiotapu Tavern which has a little area for campers out the back as the three places we tried before here were either full or no-one around to check in…. must be coming into that kind of season!  All good though and Keith has tried his first pint of TUI whilst I had a nice cold glass of Chardonnay in the bar.

New Zealand – One week in… 6/11/18

Having packed everything up in Hattie we took her down to storage and then loaded ourselves and my mum onto the plane at Heathrow ahead of the long flights to Auckland via Singapore.  Surprisingly, the journey was far better than any of us expected and we all arrived in Auckland a little tired but able to make it through to a lovely Israeli meal before we passed out at about 8pm local time!

I have always been rubbish at sleeping and changing timezones and this trip doesn’t appear to be an exception but thankfully both Keith and my mum were slightly better so we were able to get up and after Keith and I had a quick visit to the gym, we explored Auckland despite the rain that it had decided to offer us!

We walked around the shopping area and then up into Parnell before passing back through the Auckland museum grounds to take in the views over the city and returning through the University quarter … all in all not to bad considering jet lag and the weather.  It is fair to say that we aren’t really city people and although it was a good place to catch up on ourselves and also catch up with Paddy and Marie (Paddy was an old Bath Uni friend of Keiths’), we were all (including my mum) happy to move on after a couple of nights.

So on Wednesday morning we packed our bags and set off to drop my mum off at her hotel in prep for her Moatrek tour and we headed to go and meet Paddy and Marie for a lovely lunch and catch up before John very kindly tackled the Auckland traffic in the elongated rush hour – yes, it really is that bad – to be taken out to the suburbs to pick up the motorhome.

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We met John and Lorraine in San Juan, Alicante a couple of years ago when they were taking a year out to travel through Europe and we hit it off (possibly the love of food, wine and the outdoors helped) and haven’t looked back since.  When we said we were looking to come out to New Zealand they were kind enough to introduce us to some of their friends who have agreed to lend us their motorhome for our New Zealand adventure…..

So, here we are, one week in with Ava (as we have now named her) which means ‘like a bird’.  She is 6.5m long (with the bikes on the back), has a lovely light lounge area at the back with a drop down bed and suits our needs perfectly for this trip.  We set off on Thursday last week and made it all the way back to John and Lorraine’s (roughly 25km’s)  to park on their driveway for the night and be fed with Oysters (cooked and Raw) and Whitebait Fritters – Kiwi style …. their whitebait are nothing like ours, measuring in at roughly 1 inch, completely transparent except the eye – despite my reservations – all absolutely delicious.

Moving on from John and Lorraine’s driveway we headed up the coast to One Tree Hill which is where John and Lorraine have their holiday house shared with Chris and Karen … or Bach as it is called over here.

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The drive up the coast gave us our first insight to what the North is really about ….beautiful sandy beaches that just go on and on….

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The house is right on the estuary, the garden big enough for us to park up and the views from our back window weren’t too bad either…..

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We were treated like royalty with John, Lorraine, Karen and Chris inviting us into their home – although we did sleep in the motorhome – and showing us a beautiful part of the North both in terms of the the food and the scenary.  Saturday morning … or to be fair it was probably almost afternoon by the time we got there, we set off up Mount Manaia which is situated directly across from where the Bach is, although about an hours drive away.

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A long walk up but stunning views once we were there.

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Following lots of steps, we were rewarded by the most delicious seafood platter at one of the local watering holes that looked out over the bay afterwards ….albeit that we were conscious that we didn’t want to spoil our appetite for the roast lamb that Lorraine was cooking for dinner …. she had obviously forgotten our appetites and love for food!!

The following day, after a fabulous cooked breakfast containing Chris’ golf winnings along with some left overs from last nights’ dinner we set off, leaving John, Lorraine, Karen and Chris in peace to venture northwards before they unfortunately had to head back towards Auckland.

Before coming over to New Zealand we joined the NZMCA which is the Kiwi equivalent of the motorhome club and provides a selection of places to stay – Sunday night was a service man’s club in Paihia costing just $5 a night to park up.  Safe and Tranquil and only five minutes walk to the seafront.

We were using Paihia as a stop over to get to Russell as although it was fairly quiet when we were there it is evident that it is a tourist trap and in the height of summer it would be horrific!

After a run up into the park where the treaty was signed (me) and a bit of exercise whilst being invaded by school kids (Keith) we ran down the road and caught the ferry to Russell.  It is still a little overcast up here on occasions and the boat trip was a bit choppy but it didn’t stop us from walking up to Topeka Point via Flagstaff hill where the views out over the bay of Islands and back into Russell were incredible.

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And we even managed to see some Kiwis … the bird, not the fruit!  Two adults and two babies, seperately – apparently they are normally night birds so we were quite lucky although it was too dark to take photos and we didn’t want to scare them.

Moving on from Russell we were conscious that unfortunately the poverty in the local community is high and as we didn’t want to invite any problems we found ourselves a nice little campsite to stay at in Pukenui costing us NZ $32 a night and as the evening was looking pretty good we decided to bite the bullet and drive up to Cape Reinga to take in the northern most point of NZ before settling in for the night.

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Not only is it the northern most point of New Zealand, but it is also the place where the Tasmanian Sea and Pacific Ocean meet providing a dramatic view out past the lighthouse.  This part is also famous for its 90 mile beach and sand dunes … although why it is called a 90 mile beach when it is only 90km I don’t know!

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Having taken in the northerly most point we headed back to the campsite to cook our steak on the campsite bar b q for dinner before settling in for the evening.

Woken by birdsong this morning we both got up and did our exercises before showering, breakfasting and heading back South to a beautiful spot at Rainbow falls near Kerikeri where we are staying tonight.

We are parked roughly 100m from the waterfalls themselves and there is a walk that goes from the NZMCA site (which is $3 per person) all the way along the river into Kerikeri which is a lovely little town.

Autumnal Air… 23/10/18

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As we are on countdown now to go to New Zealand I was looking at the map of where we have been in Europe over the last four and a bit years – each colour is a different trip and it is definitely fair to say that the darker/olive green, which was our first year and a half away was far more extensive!  Year two/three was the lighter/grass green, followed by Year three/four in blue and we are now just starting Year five which is purple, but won’t fit on this map as we are flying out on Saturday to New Zealand to start eleven weeks of a new mini adventure…. its quite impressive though – although it does make us realise how slowly we go!

I am not quite sure where the last four weeks has gone – I could have sworn it was only a couple of weeks since the last blog…. obviously the wonderful English weather is going to my head – or perhaps that is what I am trying to convince myself whilst our teeth are chattering when we crawl out of the van to do our exercise in the morning …. to be fair it hasn’t gone below 3 degrees yet overnight but we are hopeful we aren’t going to be around long enough to see any minus numbers!

We have been keeping busy though not only making lots of lovely Autumnal food including a really tasty Lentil Ragu, experimenting with Pizzas as well as cooking Halloumi on the BBQ and for the first time – I can only say that we are late starters as it will definitely be repeated! But also helping my mum run a Macmillan Cancer Coffee Morning.  Unfortunately, it has got to the point where pretty much everyone has been touched by Cancer and it is fair to say that the Macmillan nurses aren’t the only people who do an amazing job but as we love baking so much, this was an easy task!  We were overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone … even the postie stayed for a coffee and a brownie, helping to raise an enormous total of £345… and all the cakes were delicious too – well we had to try what we had made to ensure we weren’t poisoning anyone!!

Taking a break from cakes we decided to venture over to St Albans with Hattie for a few days (Woodstock CL £14 per night inc.). Although I had warned the owners of our size – possibly a little larger having consumed rather a lot of cake – they had forgotten to tell us that there was an electric cable at 3.2m over the entrance. Thankfully there was someone on site who cleared the way through the rubbish so we could get into the site … passing the remnants of the all night summer party on our way to the top of the field.

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Once Parked up Hattie had a great view … although she did feel a little light as her front wheels were dangling in the air – wouldn’t want to be doing this for more than a few days and I wouldn’t have wanted to be the caravan directly in front of us at the bottom of the field!

Although a little grey we managed to get out and did a lovely circular walk on the Sunday and went into St Albans on Monday for a look around and again on Tuesday to meet my mum for a mooch, dog walk and lunch – all very civilised. We were a little disappointed though as our expectations of St Albans were very high and although the old town and the park were very pretty, the rest was a little bit underwhelming unfortunately … apparently this is what happens when you start to visit lots of beautiful places!

We headed back at the farm in Holyport for a couple of nights before leaving Hattie and heading away to Weymouth for the weekend with the Andersons – a good location for a family get together despite the gale force winds …. a sobering run on Saturday morning to say the least.

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We had decided to set a food challenge for Saturday lunch – each couple having to prepare something ahead of time from a category pulled from a hat.  The Categories that we all agreed ahead of time were open to interpretation and the results were pretty good as follows:-

  • Savoury Pastry – Lentil and Meat Sausage rolls
  • Biscuits – Raspberry and White Chocolate
  • Bread/Rolls – Focaccia, Water Biscuits and a nice white loaf
  • Cakes/Muffins – Lemon drizzle cup cakes
  • Pizza – Spinach, Goats cheese and Caramelised Onion on one and Chorizo on the other
  • Wildcard – Black Pudding and Sausage Meat Scotch Eggs

… although way too much food and we did eat the huge Scotch Eggs for Breakfast as Paul and Carly didn’t make it down in time for lunch.

After an amazing summer in the UK both in terms of the weather but also exploring new areas with Hattie, the countdown is now nearly over and we are pretty much ready to take Hattie to storage ahead of our flights to New Zealand on Saturday.  It’s only eleven weeks and I am sure that it will fly by but watch this space for updates and hopefully lots of photos!

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…and just in case you need some more of the UK before we go, here are a couple from last weekend in Christmas Common which I can’t believe we haven’t ever visited before as it is so close … thank you Jonah and Karen!

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Autumnal air…. 23/9/18

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After an amazing summer, little by little we are noticing the days are getting shorter, the nights cooler and the rain has started to fall a little more frequently….. Autumn is finally here.  It’s strange though as the colours changed on the trees and the leaves started falling so early due to the lack of rain, we are a little out of sync with our seasons and inevitably therefore we have been caught out a couple of times by the rain coming out of nowhere – helped by gale force winds – giving our washing (and us) a second (unwanted) rinse whilst we were out …. just one of those things we will have to get used to! We aren’t going to complain though as we have been so lucky over the last five months and although it has pretty much rained for the last 36 hours, the sun looks like it is doing its best to push through the cloud and as I look out the window of the motorhome (which is lovely and snug with the heating on) there is a woodpecker having a good peck at the tree next to us …. life’s not that bad is it?

After a busy few days in Bath catching up with lots of friends and seeing our old house we set off towards Gloucestershire to find our next little spot.  I missed a photo opportunity as we pulled in en route to refuel at Asda. Although the forecourt was 3.5m – just tall enough – the bit we had to get through to pay was a little interesting to say the least.  Not only very narrow but quickly followed by a sharp turn to the right, so as Keith eased Hattie through the gap tickling her left ear on the barrier, I guided him with less than an inch to spare to turn narrowly avoiding the back end taking out the post…. not sure why I didn’t think about taking a photo as bemused car drivers watched on, waited impatiently to pay for their fuel. Next time we will go to the sainsburys a couple of miles down the road which looked like it had easy access… or should I say exit!

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We had booked ourselves into Passage Farm CL (£17.50 a night all inc.) which was about 1km from a tiny little village called Arlingham in Gloucestershire, right at the end of a little lane in the curve of the Severn River.  Although a little more expensive than many others, the site was lovely and tranquil surrounded by walking routes,  a fantastic Community pub in Arlingham, loads of blackberries and an abundance of free apples …. pretty much everything that we like and should you want a little more there was also a Michelin recommended fish restaurant 300m away.

We did three lovely long circular walks, each one in slightly different weather and light conditions making the village of Newnham which is on the opposite bank of the River Severn look different each time we saw it.  After lots of Fresh air, we finally gave in to support the local community pub on the Thursday night before we left where we were served up good beer and wine to go with pie and fish and chips.  A great location if you are happy to be a little remote and don’t mind doing a little bit of a limbo to get in to the site, as yet again we found that the trees stroked the top of Hattie despite lowering the suspension and limboing  through….. we definately need to invest in some tree loppers!

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With the change in the weather and being further west we have had a chance to check out Hattie’s insulation, the temperature dropped to 6 degrees over night in Arlingham and we remained nice and snug without any heating.  We have however since had the heating on a couple of times and it looks like we may get good use out of it this week assuming we don’t run out of gas as the temperatures are due to go down to 3 degrees tonight and tomorrow … not really the kind of slow introduction to the cold weather that we are accustomed to!!

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After our normal morning exercise routine, which apparently kept the site managers amused whilst drinking their tea in bed in the morning, we set off to Abergavenny for the last food festival of the summer.  We had booked into Blossoms Caravan Park (£18 no elec) which is roughly 2 miles outside Abergavenny ….. up hill. It is Wales after all so we were expecting hills and rain …. and we got both!

We did a quick recky on Friday walking down into town to do some food shopping and then on Saturday, after both heading off on a run in different directions – part intentional and part due to me getting lost – we rolled down the hill to eat our way round the markets.  Abergavenny is probably the biggest of all the festivals that we have been to over the summer but it is set up in multiple locations around the centre of the town making it interesting and showing off areas of the town that you wouldn’t necessarily visit if you popped by on a whim.  Each food market area focussed on slightly different foods – 1) Cheese, wine and cider 2) Food Market (i.e. to eat there and then), 3) Indoor Market (variety of food and drink) 4) New Producers, 5) Fish 6) Farm Animals (Education and child focussed) and 7) Fire at the castle …. (outdoors / wilderness based) they all offered a variation of foods and drink both to buy and eat, then additionally there were also other stalls in the streets around the town which anyone could access, rather than the former being accessible by wrist band.

Needless to say we tasted a lot of cheese and a fair bit of gin amongst other things and with way too much choice we ended up opting for two enormous savoury onion and cheese muffins for lunch on the Saturday and some seriously fiery houmus , flatbreads and scotch eggs on Sunday.

We managed to buy our own weight in Cheese and cured meats not to mention the local Sausages, bumped in to a friend from Horsham who has recently moved to the area, learnt about preserving, curing and smoking and avoided the best part of the rain…. can’t all be that bad!

The weekend was finished off by a visit from an old friend who had come over from Monmouth for dinner ….. a homemade Cassoulet with Apple and Blackberry Crumble – despite having been spoilt by all the food at the festival you still can’t beat good home cooked food on a dark, wet evening!

Monday morning we woke in the clouds with a damp mist that looked like it was going to turn quickly into rain but thankfully it held off whilst we did our exercises and got ourselves on the road – a complete change from what we found by the time we got to Reading …. Sunshine and 26 degrees.  As much as we love the country, I think it will be a while before we go back to Wales!!

We are settled back at the farm again now in Holyport with five weeks until we go to New Zealand, just contemplating whether we can get another trip in before we go….. watch this space!

It’s all about food…. 8/9/18

Not that it ever isn’t but this last month has been less travel and more experimentation as we have stayed fairly local to Windsor and Maidenhead except for a long weekend away with Hattie to Essex to the Smoke and Fire Festival (Mundon CL, Maldon £9 a night) ….. need I say more ?

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The above pretty much sums up the whole weekend… it was meat, meat, meat and a bit of beer and cider to go with it!  The festival had different competitions throughout the weekend, the most enjoyable – or perhaps I should say beneficial for us – were the Chilli making contest, where you could buy a spoon for £3 and we got to go round each of the 15+ competitors happily receiving a small pot from each to try, the only difficulty was deciding who we wanted to give our spoon to at the end, demonstrating our personal favourite … naturally there were a few that needed a couple of tries!  On the Sunday the competitors cooked up pulled pork, Brisket and Ribs, unfortunately they cooked way too much to submit to the judges so they gave out the rest to passers by … result.  Not really a festival for non-meat eaters but to be fair several of the stalls had a vegan option… not sure how well they did as there wasn’t many a vegetable that passed our lips that weekend!  Gary did sample the only fish / seafood BBQ stall though which was equally as impressive!

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As the weather has remained so good we have been making the most of the Bar B Q … although controversially we have actually just replaced the Cadac.  Our long lasting old faithful which has been with us all the way since we set off four years ago, cooking everything from paella’s to casseroles and Sausages to veggie burgers has now been donated to a new home, hopefully they will get as much use and lovely food as we have.

The new Bar B Q – a Napoleon before anyone asks – joined us just over a week ago and has pretty much been used every day since …. Beef burgers, Chickpea Burgers Swordfish Steaks, Lamb Steaks, Roasted Vegetables, Corn on the Cob, flat breads and Pizza …. (for those of you haven’t seen my blog before, just click on the highlighted word for the link to the recipe or go to the recipe tab above)

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We have been building up slowly making sure we get the temperatures right before we start to use it for more ….. we are very impressed so far and excited by the prospect of roasts and smoking food going forwards – so watch this space!

I jumped ahead of myself with our new addition … obviously far too excited about the array of foods we are going to cook but I also appreciate that our life isn’t as interesting for the rest of you when we stay put but as you can see, food experimentation has been the theme this month and despite the festival being fairly meat oriented, the experimentation has had a bit of a vegan twist including Chickpea Meringues which you wouldn’t know were eggless…..

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I have made them a couple of times now … even for a slightly more picky audience (Yes, that is you Steve and Alex!) and they went down a treat – well worth a go!

We have also made Vegan Meatballs which we served with Spaghetti Squash and a ratatouille sauce which were gorgeous

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Other new recipes that have been added to the blog which were also equally as tasty are Spicy Jackfruit Fajitas, BBQ Jackfruit Burgers ….. yes, I have just found Jackfruit and it does actually come out like pulled pork if you put the right spices with it – really delicious!

Wanting something slightly quicker to make than rolls on occasions, Keith has been having a play with flat breads and even did a Masterclass on Pashwari Nan with Paul Jagger (Bake Off) at Great Missendon Food Festival a couple of weeks ago, whilst I have been experimenting with crackers and come up with Chia Seed Cracker which are really quick and easy to make and go really nicely with a good bit of cheese!  Not unfortunately what can be said for the Cauliflower Nachos that we tried earlier this week which were a bit of a disaster…. not even going to bother adding the recipe I am afraid.

We have hit the road again and are back in Bath for a few days to catch up with friends with the hope that the summer will give us another few weeks of sunshine even though the days are getting shorter.