A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

A tale of three cities

a converts guide to New Zealands cities

all seasons in one day

I would say I was a country bumpkin. I grew up in the country, not quite the sticks but we did get cut off in the snow and collect milk from the local farm. After a brief dabble in the big smoke in my twenties I knew that, cities really were not for me and purposely sought out a future in the countryside. As the years have gone on I feel more and more out of place in cities, so imagine my suprise when after 3 months in the remoteness that is New Zealand I find myself yearning for people, noise and streets that buzz after 9pm.

I thought I would love the miles of space that New Zealand offered. The miles without people. The getting away from it all feeling. But instead I have craved human company, towns with people and even ,yes, dare I say it cars!
The roads in new Zealand are widely empty, the main traffic seeming to be tourists. When we were in the West Coast staying in Teapot Cottage we were at first disappointed to find that we were next to the only main road. Most of the day it was quiet but everyday like clockwork from about 9 to 10 and 5 to 6 it is a constant stream of rental camper vans, all heading south... rush hour in the west country ! A couple of months later when leaving our friends Bach next to a beach in remote Hawkes bay, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving an hour along gravel roads until we at last found a main road.
If you like space and getting away from people New Zealand is for you. In North Island there is a lot of bush, and I mean a lot. This is so dense it is actually quite hard to get into, this is a good job because people have been known to dip into the bush to relieve themselves, then are never seen again! Talking of bush last week we 'popped' in on a friend who is running an outdoor centre under the shadow of Tongararo. When we got there we asked ourselves why is there an outdoor centre here? All we could see was miles upon miles of bush. She explained that under that bush were increadible gorges, rivers, and the thing that most surprised me, caves. Of course you do have to know where to look!

Auckland is New Zealands biggest city, although not its capital. Around half of the population of New Zealand live in Auckland although to be honest that's not a lot. I have been amazed by its diversity and beauty. I have never before stayed in a city where you can camp next to the beach (Takapuna) then wander into the hub ub. Everything feels really close and very green. Aucklanders have some great ideas, such as in the centre it has a bus service that is almost idiot proof with the buses being the same colour as the route on your map and only 50c (about 25p). Almost everywhere you go in Auckland you can see the sky tower which is great as along with the sea you are unlikely to get lost. If you do get lost there are these cool information people zipping around on those upright wheely things.

Wellington is the capital, it is the first city in New Zealand I properly visited. The boys and I took a train into the centre from the outskirts which were very hilly, green and full of characterful weather boarded houses. I was completely gobsmacked to find the ticket lady on the train was really friendly I'm sorry Britain but I haven't come across that before. Infact she was positively cheerful greeting everyone as if they were old friends (maybe they were). I did have a slight mis location problem when we got off the train but on asking a friendly passerby where the sea was (much to my kids embarrassment )I was soon off in the right direction. Cities by the sea are useful like that. I was impressed with Wellington, it's water front is lovely (great playground) and Te Papa which is a museum does have a ridiculously large squid (size of a large car) which shouldn't be missed. On the downside it does seem to be a tad windy, not great for immaculate hairdos.
The third city we visited is Christchurch. People advised us not to bother going here. There is nothing left they said. I'm glad I ignored them. Post earthquake Christchurch is moving, yet hopeful. The people seem to have an incredible optimism, seeing the devastation as an opportunity to rebuild bigger better and of course earthquake proof.

Impressions of Christchurch
Twisting metal
Rubble soup
Buildings stranded
Hubub gone
Replaced by a silent epitaph of space

Nature mocks man
Man fights back
Embracing opportunity
Optimism persists
A vision of cultural excellence


For now
The dust billows in silence
Tram lines disappear
Cracks ominously remain
and punts drift along a green avenue oblivious of the chaos around them.

So three cities later, I am now a convert, I have decided I like cities. Next stop Bangkok.

Posted by antheahanson 00:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Snow balls in summer time

all seasons in one day 0 °C

'For the umpteenth time Daniel we are not going to have snow at Christmas ,it's summer here!'
Daniel has been struggling with the concept that Christmas can occur if it isn't winter. His levels of anxiety leading up to Christmas grew and grew with concerns over Father Christmas finding us and of course if he did find us would he have anything we could actually take home with us?

As it happened his concerns were unfounded. Father Christmas did incredibly well, particularly as he only had one day on the job. Christmas morning came about and the sun beat heavily down on the driftwood Christmas tree we had left hanging on the veranda. The stocking which had been carefully carried out from England was bulging on our friends wood burner (not lit), and all the usual Christmas festivities were had ,albeit without the rousing verses of the 12 days of Christmas from our family. It was hot and it was nice but as soon as it was over it was back to the increasingly weary business of travelling. We are here to have fun and we blooming well will even if it kills us!

More than half way through our travels and moving on is becoming harder. The comfort of staying in our friends house for a week was hard to leave behind. This travel lethargy was increased with the knowledge that from now on the whole of New Zealand was on it's holidays so no more empty campsites or just turning up and hoping for the best. We packed our stuff up and tried to decide where to go next.

On the day of departure we still hadn't decided where to go. I had found a fantastic looking tramp in the Mount Cook area which involved a bit of an alpine route and a stay in a hut, perfect for Daniels first big mountain experience but one look at the weather forecast and we nearly unpacked again. After lots of umming we decided to head that way anyhow and hoped for the best.

Three hours later and boy we were pleased we had. Mount Cook loomed at the end of the valley like a beautiful giant. I have been to many mountainous places in the world with mountains much bigger than Mount Cook but there is something about the way this mountain stretches right up from the valley floor with the lake infront of it and glaciers around it which surpasses much that I have seen. As we arrived the mountains were clear and it was a glorious evening it was easy to forget the horrendous forecast for the next day.

On waking the next day it was still clear but you could see the weather coming in from the west. The Mueller hut is on a first come first served basis which is why it wasn't already booked up, so were down at the DOC office by 7.30 eating our breakfast on it's doorstep ready to sign up. However after much deliberating and searching every forecast I could find I broke the news to Daniel that we couldn't stay in the hut as it would be too risky waiting until Sunday to come down, instead we would go for Plan B walking up to Sealy tarns (the half way point) and back in a day.
With much lighter rucksacks we set off. Stunning landscape met us every inch of the way. Starting in fields of lupins (considered to be weeds) then trudging slowly up 1810 steps to Sealy tarns. These steps were quite a feat to build I am sure, but by the time we got there we hated steps. For Daniel this was the biggest walking challenge of his life. In terms of distance it is nothing but in height gain it was about 1000 metres. When we got to Sealy tarns we could see the snow line enticingly just above us and we could also see that it was the end of the blasted steps. Luckily Daniel was easily bribable and with just the promise of an ice cream I got him to carry on. From here on the path was unmade and as we got higher we crossed several snow patches. This actually made it much more fun but also more serious if the weather deteriorated. Four and a half hours after leaving the car park we made it to the ridge. Fantastic! I was very proud of my boy and it opened up all manner or Mother/Son outings in the future. This route was an amazing first alpine tramp for Daniel as in a short time he had seen glaciers, heard seracs collapsing, seen the very unusual sight of a glacier ending in a lake with icebergs floating on it and looked far below to the valley he had climbed up from. It was tempting to carry on another half an hour to the hut just out of curiosity, but the wind had increased and the weather was about to hit us so reluctantly we started the long journey down. Just as we hit the bottom step the heavens opened and by the time we had walked back to the village we were soaked though but happy. From that point on rain fell, thunder bellowed around the mountains and on our drive out we got hit by massive hail, so, sorry to have missed you Mueller hut but we definitely made the right decision at at least we got to throw snow balls at Christmas time.

Posted by antheahanson 02:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains children snow Comments (2)

Time travel on the West Coast

For Janet and other history buffs

rain 16 °C

I'm sitting watching Dave light the fire under a bath! The bath has a chimney, even stranger! This novel washing apparatus is set in a garden filled with foxgloves and rather bizarrely teapots. A thick mist pours off the mountains to our right and meets the equally thick sea mist drifting lazily off the sea. An occasional car or truck thunders its way past on it's journey up the West Coast bringing us back to modern day reality. Where are we? In a little Bach called Teapot cottage just North of Hari Hari.

The West Coast of South Island is a wild place, a thin stretch of flat land interrupts the journey between sea and mountain. Along this stretch of land lives the bulk of the population of Westland although in saying this that doesn't amount to a lot. Once upon a time this land held promises of great things. People flooded here from far afield. Like the story of Stan Stephens who immigrated here in 1921 along with his 6 brothers and sisters. The reason...GOLD! In those day immigration from Britain involved an eight week voyage by sea followed by a horse drawn coach over the then precarious Arthur pass, followed by train and finally coach and horses to his final destination Waiuta. You would think after such a journey they would be grumbling, but they were ecstatic to arrive in such a place, covered in snow and with such a friendly welcome. Immigrants like Stan's dad were welcomed in New Zealand, they had the skills needed from there lives in the tin mines of Cornwall. It reminds me again perhaps why the Kiwi's are often seems so tough, they came from pretty tough stock.
On the way here we stopped off at an 'attraction' called Shanty town. I was fully prepared for some glitzy americanised theme park with very little to actually see but lots of extras to pay for. Shanty town was nothing like that. We spent about 5 hours there and could easily have spent longer. It was a recreation of a gold town and mine and was fascinating and even better, empty. All along the West Coast there are reminders that once this industry was thriving, towns were built on it, the logging industry thrived on it, with the need for timber in shafts and tunnels and of course there were all the things needed to keep all the miners and loggers fed, watered and entertained. Then almost within a couple of decades the whole industry folded. When mine's like Stan's closed towns became ghost towns almost overnight, people moved away and much of the land reverted to bush. We haven't succumbed yet to the activity of gold panning yet, but I must admit my heart does miss a beat when you spot something shiny glistening in the bottom of the river bed.

So back to teapot cottage. While my children soak in the steaming water of the outdoor bath I shall tell you a little about this little gem. The two bed roomed yellow weather boarded little cottage is like stepping back in time, our modern day backpack and laptop stand out like a sore thumb against a backdrop of mainly 50's furniture and nick nicks. In the corner a record player blasts out tunes such as the Seekers and Alan Parsons. The kids are fed up with us saying 'we remember this' as we dig out melamine beakers and dance to the Wombles (surprisingly good!) the fun doesn't stop there. With old suitcases full of clothes, and drawers full of 60's jewelry, glasses and curlers our time travelling experience is complete. Thanks Dan and Kath oh and the fishing was great too!

By the way just a random fact to do with shiny things, did you know glow worms get light envy if you take a torch into a cave?

Posted by antheahanson 02:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged island south Comments (0)

Travelling with children

A recipe for sanity

sunny 19 °C

Travelling with kids is all about compromise and not having too much of an agenda. So when Dave and I actually had the chance to do something that got the muscles aching and the heart pounding last week we were overjoyed. We had wanted to do some of the Abel Tasman coastline tramp but we had been struggling to know how . So far our 4 year old had only managed 20 minute tramps before the moaning set in. We had the grand idea of doing a small part of it by kayak. The challenge was, who would rent out kayaks to people with a child under 5 or even an 8 year old for that matter?

Some friends, travelling a few weeks earlier, found the answer for us. An operation called Golden Bay Kayaks in Tata Bay. These guys had a small child and understood the frustrations of active parents. Once they had assured themselves that we knew what we were doing they let us out with two double sea kayaks, having only to sign a disclaimer that said if we killed ourselves or our kids it was our own stupid fault. What a relief!

Compared to what we might have done a couple of decades ago the adventure was tame, a gentle 3 to 4 hour paddle taking in deserted beaches and wildlife along the way but to the kids it was a huge adventure. Staying in a hut, carrying all our stuff (except cutlery which we forgot) and the icing on the cake kayaking amongst playing seals.

This paints an almost idilic picture of what a family can do doesn't it? I can almost hear you all packing up your dry bags and heading for Golden Bay. Well admittedly it was one of our more successful plans but when you are packing those dry bags don't forget entertainment for the wee one. The small child that is as excited by a wood louse as a seal and has an attention span of a knat. The small person that has hiccy fits over the oddest of things. It's not enough just to take them to beautiful places you have to entertain them as well by creating boats they can pull along, pretend paddles and stopping to build a shelter for Eeyore.

There are also other people to consider, fellow travellers unencumbered by small people who imagine an evening peacefully contemplating the stars not listening to children pretending to explode pieces of wood. The fellow travellers we came across were thankfully extreamely tolerant or blissfully spoke little English so couldn't complain.

Travelling with kids certainly gives you a different perspective. And I don't just mean bending down low to see if Finn can actually see the erupting volcano from where he is standing behind a bush. No, by a different perspective I mean we get to see the parts of a country that are not mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. In fact we are thinking of writing a guide of our own. We now know the playgrounds of South Africa and New Zealand intimately and I must say the later are very good . They are well adorned with comfortable adult seating, toilets so you don't have to pack up and go when the children inevitably need the loo and many are conveniently next to the beach. Some even have cafes; very civilised!

Talking about toilets travelling can be quite unsettling for children. After a while we realised we needed to slow down a bit and spend a few days in one place rather than moving on every day. This especially hit home when Daniel got out of bed one night and looking like he was awake strode purposefully to the bedside table opened the draw and weed in it. He then closed the draw and went back to bed. He had thought he was in the place we were staying the day before. I hope he doesn't do that when we stay in a tree house!

Each day we think what would we like to do, we then figure out how to make that possible/fun exciting. In many ways it is no different than home. There are basic needs such as food and clothing that need to be packed, and actually getting out the door in the morning is a mission in itself. Today we went to pancake rocks, crazy rock formations with blowholes on the pounding west coast. Finns attention was held for about an hour particularly by one particular blow hole which soaked unsuspecting visitors, he would then embarrassingly hooted with laughter. However in the main he is most concerned with what goes in his tummy.
In Lesotho he spotted our guide had some crisps in his bag; he nagged us for them whilst our bones were shaking in the rickity vehicle which took us along the dirt tracks; he nagged us when we were in the local school talking to children who had probably never eaten crisps in their lives and he nagged us when we were served the local dish of maize and spinach. He never got the crisps. The upside of having a Finn sized person however is the cute factor he gets us noticed and opens up opportunities for conversations we would never have had.

Daniel at eight is far more switched on to what is happening, he was happy to get up at four a clock in the morning to see a rhino up close and personal. He has mostly remembered his manners when served dishes that he woultd turn his nose up at home. He flew up the rigging when given the opportunity on a tall boat and I positively had to drag him away from the Te Papa museum in Wellington.

It hasn't all been roses though, late nights and the unsettled nature of moving on every few days has taken it's toll. He frequently refers to a blog we have been following called 'Travels with a nine year old.' The family, an intrepid mother and son have been travelling so long they had to rename their blog.
Daniel is facinated by the son and how he is always moving on, never having long to make friends and hang out with people his own age.
Daniel and Finn, of course, have each other which a parent of more than one child will know can be a blessing but is also fuel for bickering and more importantly noise. There have been many times that it has been hard to tell if it is happy or distraut sounds coming from the back of the vehicle. Blissfully when we had the camper van on North Island it was too noisy in the cab to actually hear the boys in the back.

All in all the noise, the fussyness and the constant demands are worth it. They are only children for a short time, by doing this we get to spend important time with them, form life long memories and realise that the simplest things are just as special.

Memorable kiddie moments so far

Daniel and finn climbing the rigging on a tall ship in the bay of islands.
Finn realising, when staying with some people who had icelandic ponies in Abel Tasman, that a foal was a baby horse not a cow.
The look of joy on Daniels face when we kayaked with seals.
Watching them jumping everywhere. Accross rocks down sandy slopes in fact any place you can jump.
The sheer innocence of how special something is, for example, building a camp in the back of the car while on safari rather than looking at the animals. (Finn)
The realisation that something is special and waiting patiently for the next moment (Seals)
Building things out of what ever is there shells, stones, sticks, leaves, you name it.
Learning from the environment around them. Particularly successful are numbers on letter boxes which are bright cheerful and often very artistic. Scratching letters and numbers in the bare earth (Drakensberg) or the numerous sandy beaches (New Zealand)
Daniel (and me) realising that not all volcanoes are volcano shaped.
Daniel realising the value of money and that by cutting back in some areas we can have fun in others.
Doing Daniels blog together.
Searching for glow worms.
Collecting smiles.

For safari we put together an eye spy sheet
Downloaded loads of free stories on to an I pod.
We travel with a pencil case crammed with lego, pens, pencils, Celotape and kiddy scissors that are allowed on the plane.
We took two very thin waterpoof sheets for those 'just incase' moments and boy are we glad we had them.
We have eaten pasta and cheese almost every other day along with cucumber and apples, all of which have been possible to get every where. There have been moments where stubborness has meant they have gone hungry for example plane journeys and in Lesotho. Thailand could be interesting!
We have two adult Rucksacks, one small rucksack for Daniel to carry ,a drag along small suitcase and a car booster seat.
One rucksack is crammed with wetsuits, buoyancy aids, waterproofs and walking boots. The only thing we haven't used much yet is the walking boots.
We managed to pick up loads of books from second hand shops including some almost mint condition phonics books for Finn. We also have a kindle but this isn't great for small kids books.
We have stayed in backpackers, a van, friend's houses, baches and a lot of cabins. The later are great as they are no hassle and are on campgrounds so there is alot of space to run around in.
We have met up and stayed with 2 families who kindly invited us to stay even though they hardly knew us. This was great for the kids as they had other children and toys to play with. It also meant they got to see a couple of New Zealand schools.
Finally, travelling with kids is constant, hard work but ultimately rewarding and if you have travelled before in that distant past where you could make descisions based on a whim you will see the world from a completely different perspective.

Posted by antheahanson 23:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Some like it hot!

Travelling along a fault line

sunny -28 °C

Hot springs
Hot mud
Hot weather
Hot sulpherous steam
Hot sand
Hot tub
Hot Volcanoes
and me i'm hot well in a sweaty kind of way.
The last couple of weeks has been full of crazy experiences. Picture the scene two small children walking down the beach with their buckets and spades, that all sounds perfectly normal doesn't it. Now add to that image a frying pan an egg and a flask of milk. Ok a little bit stranger...now pan out to the whole vista. An empty beach with perfect waves and then oh my word who are all those people and why are they sitting in what looks like steamy nests all squeezed together. A bizare sight. It is a hot water beach. The beach is indeed hot, so hot you could scald yourself but apparently not hot enough to cook an egg much to the amusement of all the scantily clad twenty somethings watching. Oh well it was worth a go, at least our hot chocolate worked.
All this hotness is a result of a dirty great fault line which we have been following from North to south. From White island in the Bay of Plenty which we looked at from a respectfull distance right down to Mt Tongararo which is still emitting smoke after erupting last week.
I think the wierdest thing has got to be arriving in the night at a campsite and peering into the gloom only to find that we were parked right next to a boiling mud pool, even wierder to find the next morning that it was adjacent to the kids playground. These Kiwi's are tough, no wrapping their kids in cotton wool.
The same went for the main attraction for the area Wai o tapu sulpherous pools boiling hot, mud splurting out with big farting sounds and a teeny fence just perfect for balancing on when you are a 4 year old. They did have big fences at the viewing areas but I wouldn't have liked to take Finn a year ago. As it was the kids were fascinated by the other worldy nature of the place and didn't even complain about the smell!

Posted by antheahanson 17:22 Archived in New Zealand Tagged island north Comments (0)

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