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.