Thirty Seven Days On North Island 4

20 January 20

Posted at 8:44

Our five day stay in Coromandel Town ends this weekend which in some ways is sad as it’s a gem of a place. We stayed here for a couple of days in a camper van about four years ago so it was not all new and of course on our first stay we visited  the famous Driving Creek Railway built by the eccentric Barry Bricknell who has unfortunately now passed away. We didn't go back this time even though it is just a few hundred metres from our cottage but if you ever do venture here it is a must Driving Creek Railway

Yesterday we took a short, and again windy, drive east along R25 heading first of all to Kuaotunu. A natural bay with endless sandy beaches, nearly deserted, apart from an area where people come to launch their fishing boats. We of course arrived after most had sailed, well powered, off across the horizon for some sport or to catch their supper. The only evidence that they were here were numerous boat trailers hooked up to a variety of 4x4's and tractors. However they were lost in the vastness of the bay so did not spoil the experience. Facing the bay are a lot of well tasty houses with panoramic windows. They are built into the cliffs or on stilts. Pricey no doubt. There is a kind of grading with at the north end of the beach more modest chalets and holiday homes, even a campsite. The quality and size of the accommodation improves as you go south. This all culminates at Kuaotunu Village the centre piece of which is Luke’s Kitchen. A great eatery just across from the beach, staff are brilliant and pizzas to die for. There's nothing at Kuaotunu like plastic seaside attractions, fast food outlets, slots etc. just the natural world on the beaches where anyone and everyone can have adventures to their hearts desire. However if something a little more commercial is what you require Whitianga is just sixteen kilometres further South. Whitianga is a town, has a little port, a little ferry that takes you across the peninsular to some hilly walks and of course a wide array of restaurants, even an Irish pub. Our landlady describes Whitianga as 'upmarket European with real shops', make what you will of that. I think it suffice to say that it is a less rural community than Coromandel Town and light years away from Colville. The 'plastic' seaside attractions for kids are predominantly wood in structure, look fun and good exercise its all a tad better than we have at home. I guess Whitianga may be one of the tourist highlights of the Coromandel Peninsular.Kuaotunu Beach

This morning after the obligatory stop for coffee we drove to Long Bay on the west side of Coromandel. We set off to do the fairly short Kauri Tree walk which starts at the Long Bay campsite. The Kauri tree, a magnificent tree that grows to a massive size and lives forever is under threat from disease and protected wherever you walk (tramp) in New Zealand. So before setting out you walk over a grid that sprays disinfectant on the soles of your shoes. About halfway round the circular walk through enchanting native bush you come across an unbelievably giant Kauri tree. It's like Jack’s giant beanstalk only much bigger. You can look up and see mini Kew gardens of parasites growing out of where the branches sprout. It is impossible to take the whole thing in with just one look and as this monster grows out of dense bush there is little point of trying to photograph it. The tree is thought to be over 1200 years old. It’s not difficult to see why the Kiwis wish to protect it. We walked on to complete the Kauri tree walk. The end is signified by another disinfectant dip. At this point you may turn left and a five minute walk back to Long Bay or turn right and take a twenty minute route via Tucks Bay.

We visited Tucks Bay four years ago, we cycled there on a route not designed for bicycles I seem to remember so we went that way. On arrival at Tucks Bay we made for the only picnic table and benches in the little bay. Tucks Bay is a beach full of mussel colonies at one end. Behind the beach is a freedom camping area. i.e. a large area of mown grass divided into plots, each plot having a number and nothing else, no camping facilities. A few of the plots were populated by families, tents, boats, children etc. People were frolicking in the sea, fishing and playing, and the campers were going about the tasks of camping. There were not many there so lots of room for all. We sat at our table at the less populated end of the bay, looking out at the islands and generally enjoying our selves. Behind our table were two plots, unoccupied, except in the middle of one was a pile of discarded camping equipment. Fairly neatly piled and covered with two large towels but the contents spilled out, although neat the pile looked more dumped than placed. On closer inspection there were two large mattresses, a flat rubber dingy, cooking utensils, poly bags full of rags or maybe clothes, a polystyrene cool box and a set of lights from a trailer. There was no evidence of a tent. The pile looked abandoned. My mind wandered as to what the story was. It was past midday on Sunday. I decided that a group of youngsters, probably just teenagers had come to Tucks Bay for a few days for a party. After endless hours of fun they couldn’t be arsed to pack up their debris so had just piled it up and returned to Auckland or wherever. I thought, I bet the families here weren’t happy with this mini rave going on night and day and I doubted the authorities would be pleased about the fly tipping. There might even be a letter to the Coromandel Reporter!! Still we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

I was snapped out of my wandering thoughts when a beaten up old pick up truck towing a sizeable boat came roaring out of the bush and proceeded to do a circuit of Tucks Bay freedom campsite at some speed. In the boat being thrown from side to side were two children, a girl of about eleven years old and a boy of about seven. There was a massive gas BBQ strapped in the back of the pick up. The truck and boat screeched to a halt at the top of the plots where we were sitting. A woman got out, walked towards us, nodded and smiled, and began to direct the truck to reverse alongside the plots. It did so at some pace, grounding the tow bar as it crossed a small ridge. To my amazement it parked alongside the camping equipment pile missing it by just an inch or two. Impressive! The lady signalled to the children to get out of the boat and said to the kids, “right, bugger off you two’. At which point they both obediently ran across the beach and into the sea. We complemented her on her parenting skills. Dad got out of the truck, climbed into the boat and hung up wet towels the children had left. Mum rescued another sleepy five year old girl from the rear of the pick up and encouraged her to join the others in the sea. Dad commented how the kids had been swimming all morning and hopefully they would all be knackered later on.The Camper Family

Mum and Dad between them loaded the camping debris pile into the boat in an impressive organised fashion. They worked like it was a well drilled practice. The towels then laid over the boat contents like a tarp. The family was summoned and with the kids on board our new camper friends bid us farewell and drove back into the bush, more sedately than they had arrived.

We made our way round the bay and up and along the non bicycle path. Impressed and a little intrigued at what we had seen. The path eventually arrives back at Long Bay. The campsite there big and formal. Large family tents with awnings under which carpet has been laid to create a home from home. Most have bought more than the kitchen sink with them. There are shower units, a camp shop, fish filleting stations for the many anglers. The whole experience is light years away from Tuck’s Bay just along the coast. So imagine our surprise as we walked along when out of the middle of the campsite came the camping family from Tucks Bay all strutting down to the beach carrying the now inflated dingy from the pile of debris. Before my mind wandered I stopped my imagination running away with a story fitting for what we had seen. You of course are welcome to try and join the dots, I was just too far off beam last time!Tuck's Bay

Back at Orchard Cottage we sit on the deck for the last time this evening, enjoying a beer and a wine or two. The Tui bird, with it’s haunting call, lands in the white flowered bush at the end of the deck to catch insects as it does every evening as the sun goes down. We’ve had five brilliant days at Coromandel Town, tomorrow we drive South 400km to Napier. We might consider sorting the sat nav out on the way. Who knows?



Thirty Seven Days On North Island 1

15 January 20

Posted at 8:30

Thirty Seven Days On North Island


Marilyn and I have returned to New Zealand for a fourth time (over the last 25 years or so). This time we are not living in a motorhome as usual but are travelling around North Island staying at eight different places in an eclectic mix of rented accommodations – all booked through Book A Bach. Hopefully at the fourth attempt I will record a detailed journal of our adventure.


We flew from London Heathrow on Monday 13th January 2020, economy class booked through New Zealand Airlines but flying with codeshare partners Singapore airlines. The first flight was due to take off at 10:55 so being all too aware of the poor reliability of our rail network these days and the car park that is otherwise known as the M25 we splashed out on an overnight stay at Heathrow the night before. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn at Terminal Two, a brand new hotel that is ideally situated if you are flying from Terminal Two.


In my opinion breaking up the 23 hour journey to Auckland by staying for a night or two in Singapore (or HK or KL depending on your airline) is a waste and totally counter productive especially if you have visited said cities before. It is a waste because it is an unnecessary expense and when all is said and done you’ll still be knackered on your first day in NZ. So my idea is to bite the bullet and get to the final destination ASAP. To that end we booked flights with just a 55 minute changeover at Singapore. The first flight of about 13 hours duration was uneventful. I took in three films. Rocket Man a film that is saved by the absolutely awesome music of Elton John and Yesterday an awesome film that also has some pretty good music (and hands down was the winner of the two). Along with a sweet little 90 minute film called Denmark which stars Rafe Spall, I loved it and don’t think that was totally due to the consumption of three gin and tonics along with endless red wine (although nowhere near as much as the lady sitting next to me, the other side to Marilyn). When I did manage forty winks on this first leg I woke with the uncomfortable and upsetting feeling of a cold coming on. I’ve not had a cold in ages!! We landed at Singapore and as the minutes passed by during landing it became clear that 55 minutes between flights may have been a risk. When finally the hundred or so travellers in front of us had got their acts together, remembered which overhead locker their bags were in, checked their mobile phones, scratched, farted, collected kids and finally moved along the aircraft towards the exit we embarked into the metropolis that is Changi Airport. I looked around in a semi panic for a local lass with a board saying. “ Mr Gravett connecting to flight SQ281 to Auckland follow me” but alas this is a service no longer offered. Instead we were spewed out into the endless concourse of bright lights, shops, food outlets and people who dawdle. We will miss our connexion I thought along with all the associated anxieties of the various scenarios that would follow. Gate B10 was our gate, there was no sign saying that it was “five miles away and the extra hand baggage you sneaked in will get heavier every step of the way” but that is what it felt like! Puffing and panting we arrived at the gate with just minutes to spare to find and endless queue of people waiting to go through security to actually enter and as time passed we were more front than end of queue. Why do I always panic like this?? On the second flight which was just nine hours in duration I managed to watch all 8 episodes of series one of a TV drama called Mr Mercedees. I say all eight I actually saw seven one hour episodes plus 50 minutes of episode eight so I have to wait six weeks find out how/if they actually caught him. Good drama though that I had never heard of before.


As we arrived in Auckland at midnight we had arranged to stay at a ‘budget hotel’ near the airport before picking up our hire car next morning. I borrowed a trolley from arrivals to ease the twenty minute walk to the hotel (I couldn’t be arsed to wait for a courtesy bus that may or may not have arrived at that time of night). As we made our way through the darkness it became clear that my cold was now full blown. That coupled with 23 hours of liberal alcohol intake and an eight hour marathon of a somewhat disturbing, well manically disturbing, TV drama series compacted into a single sitting would mean even if the budget hotel room was bigger than about four square metres I still would probably not have slept very well.


New Zealand Road Trip 1

17 March 13

Posted at 8:08

On December 28th 2012 we set off on a swift three week road trip around New Zealand. In hindsight three weeks is not enough time at all but we will return. I last went to New Zealand about 15 years ago visiting the usual tourist venues, Rotarura, Auckland and Queenstown spending the majority of time in Queenstown. This time I wanted to see more of the country at a slower pace so decided to rent a camper van. I hoped to capture  some good landscape images on my travels.

First things first. This was to be home for the next three weeks.

The Van 

Fiat Ducato

Well it's a Fiat Ducato but had a strong resemblence to a Ford Transit. This was to be home for three weeks and I have to say it was remarkably comfortable. Once we got used to battening down the hatches before setting off it was great. Well the was a minor mishap but I'll save that for a future blog. We flew intop Auckland at some unearthly hour, hung around for six hours and caught a flight down to Christchurch, on the South Island where we took possession of the camper van. Without any delay we set off for our first destination, Oamaru.

Oamaru is famous for three things, Limestone, Penguins and Steampunk.When deciding to visit Oamaru I was only aware of one of these, penguins. I though it would be great to photograph the worlds biggest colony of Blue Penguins as they made their nightly return from the ocean to their nest sites in Oamaru. But first of all - limestone...

The Woolstore Oamaru

Omaru The Woolstore

Oamaru is built of limestone. It is quaried at Weston, near Oamaru, and is used in buildings throughout the South Island and further afield.

Oamaru is also famed for Steampunk

Steampunk HQ

This is the Steampunk HQ. An exhibition of some fantastic creations. Each year there is a Steampunk festival, creations, music, fashion and partying. See this video on the   Steampunk festival.

Oamaru has given itself over to Steampunk in a big way.


But as I said earlier I came to see the penguins. Shock, horror, when I arrived at the nest site two things struck me. First of all it is highly commercialised. The nest site has been developed and protected. From a conservation point of view the nest site is protected and the colony has survived and grown as a result. But as the blue penguins instinctively return at nightfall to their nest site they are more or less entering an 'open zoo'. The second thing was that photography is BANNED! Hang on a minute, I came here to photograph the blue penguins. I was advised over and over that photography 'harms the penguins'. Excuse me Oamaru - it doesn't!. Flash may well harm the penguins and would certainly startle them and deter them from returning to their nest sites but that's flash and not photography. Yes I understand that some tourists probably can't even control the flash on their camera and some will still ignore the warnings about not using flash. The authorities in Oamara prefer to police the use of cameras with an attitude similar to the Gestapo than to seek ways to prevent the use of flash. I wanted to see the penguins what ever so I refrained from my usual rebel approach and fell in line. As dusk closed in I did manage a few shots before the penguins approached.

Omaru Breakwater

This is the breakwater pre dusk with a colony of Cormorants sunning themselves at the end. they stay there until just before dark when they leave and the penguins arrive.

Omaru Dusk

A later shot from the penguin viewing point. The last I could take before being 'arrested' for using a camera!

Omaru Gull

Photography did this gull no damage a little earlier in the evening.

Omaru Bay

and here is a shot again from earlier taken from the highest point in Oamaru overlooking the bay with the penguin nest sites hidden behind those trees on the right.


My penultimate shot of Oamaru is a local reciting songs and poetry of the region on a Sunday morning in Old Oamaru. It's a really pleasent place to visit and to stay for a couple of days. I'd love to be there at the Steampunk Festival. Unfortunately the over commercialisation of the penguin colony and their nonsense attitude to photography left a hint of a bad taste. Having said that I'd visit there again if for nothing else than breakfast at The Roost Cafe  divine food, coffee to die for and excellent service..

The Roost Cafe

Coming up in road trip 2 - Lake Wanaka, diesel in the water system and some interesting images, look out for it soon.