Heading home….

And so, with 2014 wrapping up and 2015 yet to begin, we’re heading home. After almost a week of hanging out with family and friends in Wellington it’s finally time to fly back to Aus and say goodbye to New Zealand – for now at least…

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We had a great break and a very merry Festive Season indeed*. We didn’t do too much sightseeing or “touristing” in Wellington, but did get to enjoy some of the best summer weather they’ve had in a few years. In fact, over the past week we’ve discovered a new favourite past-time: sitting outside in the sun in beanbags enjoying good coffee, glorious sunshine and great company at the cafes along the Wellington Harbour waterfront. Why are there not more bean-bag cafes in the world??

*NZ makes some great wines and Wellington is famous for its craft beers and boutique breweries, so it was indeed a Merry Christmas.

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Of all the restaurants and cafes we visited whilst in Wellington our favourite has to be the Chocolate Fish Cafe In Shelly Bay. Just 10 minutes drive from the centre of the city, Shelly Bay is an ex-military area that has recently been decommissioned and is now an artistic enclave. Many of the old barracks and warehouses have been converted into art studios and galleries; and the Chocolate Fish Cafe is tucked in between them. With great views across Wellington Harbour to the city, it’s a great spot to chill and enjoy a good time with family and friends.

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One of the sights we did make an effort to visit was the Te Papa Museum. This is one of New Zealand’s best museums with interactive displays on New Zealand flora, fauna and geology, as well as information detailing the history of both Maori and Pakeha Kiwis. It was there that we learnt a bit more about the Treaty of Waitangi. This is considered to be the founding document of New Zealand as a nation.and is named after the place in the Bay of Islands where it was signed in 1840 by representatives of the British monarchy and various Maori chiefs. The Treaty was put into place after years of fighting between the British colonialists and the indigenous Maori; it gave the British the right to reign over New Zealand, recognised Maori ownership of their lands, and gave the Maori the same rights as other British subjects. Essentially the Maori ceded to the British Crown the right of governance in NZ in return for protection, without giving up their authority to manage their own affairs. An interesting and unique arrangement for a 19th century British colony that has meant indigenous Maoris play a far more prominent and influencial role in modern-day New Zealand than say the Aboriginal Australians do.

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We also took a day trip up to Paraparaumu Beach, less an hour away from Wellington city but a world away in terms of pace and lifestyle. This seaside hamlet has a beautiful beach and a great relaxed, holiday-town vibe to it. We thought about venturing into the ocean for a swim, but the water was seriously cold. It’s hard to get used to how cold the sea is over here – even on a warm, sunny summer’s day the water is freezing!

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*SIGH* It’s a pity we have to go home really – we could get used to living over here. Things are just a bit more relaxed than in Aus, the people are just a wee bit friendly and the scenery spectacular and different enough to be enticing. It’s always great to visit New Zealand – we’re so lucky to have all of this natural wonder right on our doorstep and so easily accessible. We love it over here and to anyone thinking of visiting we say: DO IT!

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If you are looking a visiting NZ, just a few pointers to consider:

  • The scenery is spectacular so allow plenty of time for enjoying the view – don’t rush your visit. If you fell in love with the expansive views in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies NZ will not disappoint. And make time to see both islands – the North and South islands are vastly different in terms of landscape and both deserve an equal measure of attention.
  • The people are lovely – open, friendly and easy-going. So take time to chat to the locals; their sense of humour and quiet, understated ways will lure you in and make you fall in love with NZ all the more.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get between places. The roads are really bendy and often just one lane in each direction so getting between places takes a lot longer than you might expect. Plan to average 60-70km/hour, and allow for lots of time to stop and take photos as the scenery is often too good to ignore!
  • Be patient. Outside of the cities, New Zealand is still pretty rural and the people are relaxed – really relaxed sometime. It’s not quite the “Island Time” of the Pacific or Carribean islands, but the pace of life is generally pretty chilled. So relax, take a breath and roll with it.
  • The Kiwi sun burns. New Zealand is basically directly under the hole in the ozone layer so you can quite readily find yourself cold but sunburnt. This shouldn’t be possible, but it is. Use sunscreen liberally should the Kiwi sun shine upon you.
  • The weather is changeable. Be prepared for sun, wind, rain and cloud, all in the same day (often within the same hour). It’s not a big deal, as long as you’re prepared.
  • If you come in December or January, it’ll feel busy. A lot of European tourists visit NZ in the Northern winter so if you come here in the Kiwi summer, expect every third person you meet to be tourist. It’s not actually that busy, it’s just that all the tourists make it feel crowded for how small the roads and towns are. This is also means you’ll need to prebook stuff like accommodation if visiting at this time of year.

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For us New Zealand remains one of our favourite travel destinations in the world. It’s the scenery (i.e. rolling green hills, blue skies and aquamarine seas), the people and the vibe of the place. It’s an easy place to travel through and an easy place to love, which is why we will indubitably be back!



Windy Wellington

We made it to The Windy City (aka: Wellington)! This is where my brother lives and where we’re going to be spending Christmas. Most fortunately for us, today was one of those glorious Wellington days when the sun shone, there was nary a cloud in the sky and that infamous Welly wind was just a breeze.

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Our drive took a little over 5 hours and took us through New Zealand’s “Lamb Country”. We drove through acres and acres of (relatively) flat farmland, dotted with sheep. Once the plains of Hawke’s Bay petered out, we began climbing into the Rimutaka Ranges, the last geographical obstacle before reaching Wellington.

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Coming down through the Rimutaka Ranges, we entered the Hutt Valley and followed the Hutt River down into Wellington. The Hutt River flows roughly along the course of an active geological fault line which continues through Wellington city itself and into NZ’s South Island. This makes Wellington one of the more earthquake-prone cities in NZ, which is a little concerning!

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Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city; its location intentionally chosen to be as close as possible to the geographical centre of the country. It’s also the country’s second-biggest city with a population of about 400,000. Aside from its ever-present windy weather, Wellington is famous for its mountain-side location* and funky restaurant/cafe/bar scene. We’ve been here before and love the city’s bohemian sense style – this is certainly one cool little capital city.

*Many of the houses here are perched along steep hill-sides and the city itself is built up the side of a steep slope, sandwiched between Lambton Harbour and Te Ahumairangi Hill.

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We’re here for almost a week so we’ll no doubt be exploring a lot more of the city, but for now we’re off to share Christmas Eve with family and friends – hopefully you are too….

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Rugged Te Urewera National Park

In all our visits to New Zealand one area we have never seen is the North-Eastern corner of the North Island. Even during this trip we won’t be heading out to the wild, untamed reaches of the East Cape, as that region is referred to locally – it’s just a bit too far and a bit too hard to get to. Today is the closest we’ve ever come to exploring the rugged, natural beauty of that area, and it was hilly, wet, densely forested and beautiful.

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Driving North and inland from Hawke’s Bay we went up through the ranges and into Te Urewera National Park. Te Urewera is an area of rough, sparsely populated hill country to the North-East of Hawke’s Bay. It is the historical home of the Tuhoe Maori iwi (tribe) and most of the (few) inhabitants in the area are still Maori.

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The area is isolated, with State Highway #2 being the only major arterial road crossing it. Because of its isolation and dense forest, Te Urewera remained largely untouched by British colonists until the early 20th century. In the 1880s it was still in effect under Maori control and, until the mid-20th century, few pakeha* were prepared to risk entering Te Urewera.

*Pakeha is a Maori language term for any non-Maori New Zealander. We’ve been old by some of the locals that not all non-Maori Kiwis like the term as they feel it has a derogatory connotation, but for the most part it seems the moniker has been embraced and is viewed positively.

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Today the region is still relatively wild compared to most of NZ, but is certainly far more accessible. Most of the region is national park, and, though some of the valleys have been given over to forestry and logging, lush temperate rainforest covers most of the ranges.

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There are a number of hikes you can do through the national park, ranging in length from 30-40 minutes, up to multi-day tramps (as the Kiwis call their epic multi-day hikes). Rather than just do one long hike we decided to stop at a few places along State Highway #2 and do a few shorter walks.

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Our first stop for the day was Lake Tutira. This large fresh water lake is a wildlife refuge that’s popular for camping and picnics. Memorable for its weeping willows and prolific bird life, the lake was declared a bird sanctuary in 1929 at the instigation of Scottish farmer/author/ornithologist William Herbert Guthrie-Smith, who once farmed neighbouring Tutira Station.

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We saw heaps of birds as we did the gentle trek along the waterfront, including ducks, black swans, shags, swallows and New Zealand wood pigeons. Crossing a couple of fields we also got to see some of New Zealand’s other famous “wildlife”: cows and sheep*.

*By now you will have worked out that the colour of New Zealand is GREEN; what you may not realise is that New Zealand also has a very characteristic smell. The smell of New Zealand, ladies and gentlemen, is poopy. Think acres and acres of fields fertilised (naturally) by sheep and cow poop, wafting their aromas gently into the wind.

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From there we drove down to the White Pine Scenic Walkway, named after the large groves of kahikatea (white pines) the trail meanders through.

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The White Pine Walkway meandered through the kahikateas and native rainforest. It was a great little walk and an easy way to spend half an hour.

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Finally, after a picnic lunch, we drove on to the Tangoio Falls Scenic Walkway. This hour-long trek took us alongside a picturesque stream whose waters were crystal clear and very, very cold. We walked the easy 2km to the waterfalls through green rainforest glens, past little waterfalls and over moss-covered wooden bridges.

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The waterfall itself was pretty impressive. We sat on the rocks under the falls for a while, enjoying the sounds of the water rushing down the cliff and the solitude of the New Zealand bush around us.

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All-in-all we had a lovely day and got a tiny glimpse of what the East Cape must be like, with its rugged scenery and forested mountains. We’ll have to get over to that part of NZ some day!




Town and country

Today we went out and about to explore a bit of the Art Deco architecture and some of the beautiful landscapes the Hawke’s Bay is famous for. Under cloudless blue skies we got to see some of the best of both town and country.

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On 3 February 1931, most of Napier was levelled by an earthquake. The collapses of buildings and the ensuing fires killed 256 people. The centre of the town was destroyed by the earthquake, and then rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at that time. The whole centre of Napier was rebuilt simultaneously, creating a unique cityscape.

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The rebuilding period after the 1931 earthquake coincided with the short-lived Art Deco era and the Great Depression, during which little “main street” development was being undertaken elsewhere in the world. As a result Napier’s architecture provides a unique snapshot of the Art Deco style and makes the city a major attraction for architecture buffs and Art Deco enthusiasts from around the world. Napier and the area of South Beach in Miami (Florida, USA), are considered to be the two best-preserved Art Deco towns in the world.

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The city really takes advantage of its characteristic style, with beautifully maintained antique cars from the era being available for driving tours of the area, and guys and gals dressed in typical 1930’s styles wandering the streets.

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After taking ourselves on a walking tour around Napier we went to see its sister city just 20km away: Hastings. These two towns are often referred to as “The Bay Cities” and both were affected by the 1931 earthquake (Hastings less so however as it was further from the epicentre of the quake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter Scale). Hastings was also rebuilt in the Art Deco era. Being inland Hastings lacks some of Napier’s coastal charms, but is an attractive town none-the-less, as we found out during our walking tour around the town centre.

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With our desire for exploring the Art Deco “Bay Cities” thoroughly sated we decided to spend the afternoon out bush, hiking through the Te Mata Nature Reserve.

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Te Mata Nature Reserve is just outside of Hastings and provides access to numerous hiking trails that zig zag they way up and around Te Mata Peak (elevation: 399m). We did one of the longer trails and took full advantage the perfect weather to enjoy the views over the Heretanuga Plains and Hawke’s Bay.

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Our hike took us through native forest and groves of redwood trees.

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Though still relatively young, the redwoods were already incredibly tall.

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Coming out of the forest we had to climb over a few fences and cut through some generous* farmers’ livestock paddocks.

*Generous because they’re happy to let random hikers like us tramp through their fields, all in the name of nature-loving!

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We walked past steep limestone outcroppings and along cliffs studded with ancient shells. The cliffs and valleys of the park are made of limestone built from the calcareous remains of billions of sea creatures that lived and died here when this area was all part of some ancient sea floor.

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Finally, after a full day of hiking and wandering the streets of Napier and Hastings, we headed home to enjoy an awesome seafood feast at a local beach-front restaurant. Perfect end to a perfect day in Hawke’s Bay!

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The grass really IS greener on this side of the pond!

New Zealand is just so GREEN! All we saw out the window on our drive from Tauranga (in the Bay of Plenty region) to Napier (in the Hawke’s bay region) was green. Green rolling hills of soft, fluffy grass; green forest-covered valleys; green pastures dotted with sheep; green, green, green. And then at the end of it, after 4 hours on the road, the splendour of Hawke’s Bay…

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And here are some highlights from our road trip today…

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Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s prime wine regions. The area’s sunny and dry climate attracted wine growers from Europe early in the 19th century and today the whole region is peppered with wineries. It’s also a premier beach holiday destination, with the wide arch of Hawke’s Bay attracting visitors from far and wide – and even from not-so-far (e.g. from Australia).

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We’re staying in Napier whilst we’re here. This small town is one of our favourites destinations in NZ – partly for its epic bayside location, partly for its great food-and-wine scene, and partly for its wonderful architecture*.

*Napier and its neighbouring sister city of Hastings are famous for their Art Deco architecture. Both cities were flattened by a big earthquake in 1931 and then rebuilt in the style of that era. The result is one of the world’s best Art Deco cities.

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We’re here for 3 days and are really looking forward to seeing as much of the beauty of the area as possible. For today though, sunset down on the beach awaits…

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Visiting friends in Whaktane

Whilst travelling through Eastern Europe last year we met Paul and Marie, an awesome Kiwi couple from Whakatane. Given that Whakatane is just a few kilometres down the road from Tauranga, we decided to go visit them today. We had lunch with Paul and Marie and their family, then spent a great afternoon catching up and shooting the breeze. Spending quality time with friends and family – that’s what the festive season is supposed to be all about really, isn’t it?



Not wanting to waste the opportunity to explore a bit more of NZ we got up early and headed out to Whakatane in the wee hours of the morning, thinking we could fit in some sightseeing before lunch. The 90km drive from Tauranga to Whakatane was lovely – long stretches of white beaches down one side and lush green hills down the other.

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Whakatane itself was sooooo cute. The town is built around the Whakatane River and the estuary where the river meets the aquamarine waters of the Bay of Plenty.

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Whakatane has an urban population of about 20,000, with another 15,000 people living in the outlying areas around the town. Basically its big enough to have all the “mod cons” but small enough to retain its sense of community and soul. We had a morning coffee in a cafe on the main street and  watched people going about their Saturday morning shopping. It was lovely seeing people stop in the street to have a chat and wish each other a Merry Christmas. There were even a couple of carollers regaling us with Christmas songs while we enjoyed our lattes (all slightly nauseating really, but very cute).

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Some of Whakatane’s key attractions are its beaches – especially Ohope Beach and Otarawairere Beach. Ohope Beach is an 11km-long stretch of white sand that, we were informed, has been repeatedly voted NZ’s Most Loved Beach.

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We also did the short (but STEEP) hike that goes down to Otarawairere Beach.This secluded bay is framed by ancient pohutukawa trees coverd in bright red flowers, just in time for Christmas.

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We were lucky enough to have some sunshine during our morning exploration of Whakatane. This came as no surprise however as Whakatane holds the record for being New Zealand’s sunniest town – it gets an average of 7.5 hours of sunshine a day and enjoys a temperate climate with day-time temperatures of 15-20C all year round. Sounds perfect – especially compared to Brisbane’s hot and steamy summer temperatures!

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Today was our last in the Bay of Plenty region and it was lovely to spend it with friends. Tomorrow we leave this wonderful corner of New Zealand behind and head across to our FAVOURITE part of the North island: Hawke’s Bay. So hei kona ra from Bay of Plenty!

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A gorgeous hike through Karangahake Gorge

The Karangahake Gorge was formed by the Ohinemuri River carving its way through the Kaimai Ranges. This steep-sided canyon is about an hour inland from Tauranga and was our destination for today’s excursion.

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Far from the coastal splendour of the Bay of Plenty, the Kaimai Ranges and  Karangahake Gorge provide their own kind of special attraction. The lush forest and undulating landscape are spectacular – especially under brilliant summer sunshine like we had today!

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We drove out into the ranges to go hiking along the Karangahake Gorge Walkway. This hiking trail follows the old railway line that used to link the Karangahake gold mine to the town of Paeroa.

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The hiking trail runs alongside the fast-flowing Ohinemuri River, past rapids, waterfalls, and epic scenic vistas.

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Following the old railway line as it does, the hiking trail took us through old railway tunnels, over old rail bridges and along disused railway tracks.

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The Karangahake gold mine one of the busiest and most lucrative gold-strikes in New Zealand. It ceased operation in the 1950s after almost a century of operation; remnants of the mining machinery and infrastructure were peppered all along the hiking trail.

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We saw the ruins of a few of the old stamping batteries during the hike. These huge machines were used to crush the gold-laced rock excavated in the area. Harnessing the power of the Ohinemuri River, they smashed rock day and night. Given how peaceful and serene it was in the gorge today, it was hard to imagine how noisy that must have been!

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We enjoyed a great day of hiking in the gorge, listening to the birds in the forest and basking in the gloriously warm sunshine. We definitely give Karangahake Gorge the thumbs up!

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