Wednesday, 20 February 2019

White Island volcano

White Island Volcano
Feb 2019

Following Mondays earth tremor we pushed the boat out today and took a 30 mile sea crossing to White Island, New Zealand's most active marine volcano.

 Ohope Beach at sunset

I have a passion for geology and plate tectonics so visiting an active offshore active volcano is something of a treat. The island is the caldera of an old volcano which blew up thousands of years ago but has been spluttering away ever since, and having its last real eruption in 1976.

Sulphuric White Island

These days it is pretty calm but still suer heater sulphur spews out of steaming fumeroles and fills a central lake which gently simmers away at 50c. But don't bathe in it because it is 60 times as acidic as a car battery!

We went in armed with hard hats and gas masks should the wind shift and blow the sulphuric gas over us.

The island was home to a sulphur factory for 10 years between the wars, but it ended tragically when there was a minor eruption which killed all the workers. Today just he ad and corroded remains stand as an object for the handful of visitors who make the passage to see the place.

On the way back we met a huge school of dolphins which played on our wake and offered a challenging photography.


February 2019

I feel I have known Gisborne for years. It is, of course, the home of Barry and Sandra (Homebrew Boat) before they came to England and we have heard soooooo much about the place. To be honest I was more that a little apprehensive lest it not live up to expectations.


We drove up from Napier and arrived at lunch time and what better time to visit Verve, the coffee shop run by Barry's brother Ray.  It wasn't hard to find and with Gisborne being home to about 30,000 people its a very accessible sort of place. Ray greeted us so warmly and we spent the lunch period together, drinking eating and having a detailed discussion about Brompton Folding Bikes and the local satellite launching facility - as you do!  

Verve cafe, Gisborne

Then it was on to Wainui Beach which provided the backdrop for Sandra and Barry's non boat wedding where we wandered on the golden sands and generally chilled out with a sea breeze taking the edge off the heatwave.

Wainiui Beach

Barry and Sandra had warned their friends that we would be coming and Anna and Andy very kindly offered the use of their drive and washing machine. We had already met them at the Black Country Boating Festival four years ago so it was great to catch up.  The space on the drive soon expanded to a meal in the evening, shower and even a lovely real bed for the night. The Camper bed is ok, but after three weeks it is revealing its shortcomings.

We had a great night and inevitably talk turned to earthquakes. Then, would you believe it, I woke soon after 1.00am to a real shudder and the house gave a good creak. reference ti the internet revealed a 4.5 quake from the fault line which runs beneath Wainui's breakers.

 The following morning included a whistle stop tour of Tuaheni Point and the town museum. Its easy to see why the place gas such a big place in Sandra ad Barry's hearts. It was lovely to be invited into a friends home and to be made to feel so welcome. Gisborne is a lovely place where European and Mauri cultures mingle. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Napier Art Deco Festival

Napier Art Deco Festival
Feb 2019

Napier is famed for its Art Deco style of buildings, which came about due to a massive reconstruction effort following a massive earthquake back in the 1930's. As a result the while town looks like something out of a period drama. I was quite surprised no to meet David Suchet in a cafe!

The town has taken its Art Deco persona to its heart and every year in mid February the town transforms itself into a living breathing Art Deco experience. We knew about the festival and a change on our plan meant that we could visit on the Sunday of the 2019 event.

The town was heaving but we managed to find a pitch in a somewhat sub standard camp site, but at least it put us close to the action. 

The site was full of vintage Indian Motorcycles who had been parading on the Saturday and many campers were decked out in period attire.

We made an effort with shirt and dress and got a taxi into town - not sure what to expect.

In the event the place was quite magical. There were period gazebo's everywhere on the sea front Marine Parade to which groups would retire for elegant picnics at lunchtime, but not before the legendary go cart derby.  This is an annual fixture with the most amazing engineering creations being raced down Emerson Street, with crowds lining the pavements and cheering the young participants on.

Then there were the street performers, classic cars and live period music but most of all the event is all about people watching, there to see and be seen. It is one of the very few events where taking photos of strangers is positively encouraged.

Napier is lively in its own Art Deco way, but add thousands of enthusiastic participants during the Art Deco Weekend and you have a complete theatrical experience.

All this kind of made up for a camp site with few facilities, no wi fi and with one of the islands main roads being just over the fence!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Crossing to Wellington

Over to North Island
15 Feb 2019

One of my nerdy ambitions on South Island was to look at the stars without all the light pollution we have to contend with, even in the darkest bits of the UK.

So, before we went to bed at Pohara Beach I set the camera up on a small tripod, attached the zoom lens and aimed upwards. The shot of the moon was satisfying, especially the clarity of the craters at the edge of the light / dark interface:

The Moon

But my real satisfaction came from a shot of a random bit of sky. Ok, its a bit blurred, but the thing which shocked me was the variety of colours on the stars - its the first time I have seen red shift for myself (Google Red Shift).  Also, when I lightened the background the density of pinpricks of light visible through a standard lens was amazing. Its no Hubble image but it pleased me in its own small way.

and the stars

Anyway, we have now spent a damp night in Picton, with Helen indulging in her passion for Mussels at Havelock along the way. The Marlborough vineyards are impressive in their sheer scale and its hard to imagine that much wine.

We have now moved over to North Island by the InterIslander Ferry which entailed a very smooth and sunny 3.5 hour crossing and are ready to move up to Napier and its Art Deco weekend tomorrow.

Last views of South Island

So it's goodbye to South Island and goodbye to Fi and Andy, our travelling companions for the last 10 days.

The gang's last supper

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Paddling in Pohara

Pohara Beach
February 2019

We have covered a lot of ground sing our last post, over 700km and have moved from the Southern Alps to the sandy north coast on the Golden Bay.

The West Coast is famed for its insane levels of rainfall and finally, after two weeks of wall to wall sunshine, the clouds rolled in and gave us a massive drenching. In fact it rained so hard we had to stop the van and wait for the squalls to pass. it seemed slightly surreal that we were heading for Nelson which was reporting wildfires and the closure of Route 6, on which we were travelling. In the event we saw nothing of the fires - not even a smudge on the horizon. But the ground in the north is tinder dry and the pastures are very brown.

For the last week we have been listening to Rose Tremain's "The Colour" which is set in New Zealand and follows the fortunes of a settler couple who suffer the privations on their small farm outside Christchurch and then get caught up in the gold rush of the 1860's. By a strange coincidence the main character came into Hokitika from the sea just as we arrived by road, but separated by 160 years.

Hokitika retains the feel of a frontier town with its single story buildings, wooden store fronts and victorian covered walkways. 

We spent our first night on the north coast in Nelson, one of the largest towns on South Island using it as a stop over site after 260km of travel through the mountains. Then it was north west to Golden Bay and a night on the fabulous Pohara Beach.

The sad thing is that we are closing in on Picton, the point we will leave Andy and Fi, our travelling companions for the last 10 days, and catch the ferry to North Island and the rest of our journey to Aukland.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Glacier Country New Zealand

Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier
Feb 2019

New Zealand has a big network of "Freedom" Campsites which are semi regulated wild sites.

Last night we used one at the north end of Lake Wanaka, hunkering behind the bushes to avoid a howling wind and enjoyed an unspoilt beach which was completely devoid of any human rubbish.

Today we crossed to the west coast on Highway 6 via the Haast Pass and then north to Glacier Country where we stopped near the Franz Josef Glacier. For the last week we have found the southern alps crowded with Chinese visitors celebrating their New Year but we are finally entering the much more isolated west coast where things are quieter.

The view from the camp site

We covered 240 km and crossed dozens of single track bridges, pausing at various waterfalls and beaches plus one unscheduled stop courtesy of the New Zealand Highways Police for speeding on section under repair. One fine later and we were on our way.

Our destination was the Franz Josef Glacier which involves a one and a half hour hike to reach its current end. All along the trail were markers saying when it was last at this point and the scale of the retreat in the last century is shocking. That said it is still awe inspiring and well worth the effort.

The snout of the Franz Josef Glacier

One top tip given to us was to go and see it on the day we arrive if the weather is good, because it rains 350 days a year! Today the sun shone and we had great views.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Don't go down the Crown Range Road

Notes from New Zealand 2
February 2019

To be fair, Maui were very explicit when we took over the vans that we were not to follow the Crown Range road and we even signed a statement to that effect. The problem was that we had only the faintest idea where this dangerous road was and on the map it looked like a tiny mountain track - so what kind of idiot would take a camper van there?

The problem was, as ever, technology. We were in Wanaka and wanted to get to Queenstown so we booted up the SatNav and off we went. The climb into the old gold mining area of Cardrona was very gentle and suddenly we found ourselves on a crest 3000ft above sea level and Andy and Fi's van playing up and our engine temperature worryingly high. Of course, we were just where we shouldn't be!

But hey ho we were there, so we pressed on only to be confronted by a terrifying squiggle of hairpins on the southern side. We were committed so we had to trust the brakes and make a steady descent. All was well except for the tiny car who missed a bend and came round in front of us with tyres squealing and only three on the ground....

The Southern Alps are majestic, as are the lakes - rather like the lake district but on steriods. Today we turn north and start a long 2 week trek which will end in Auckland.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Notes from New Zealand - 1

Notes from New Zealand - 1
Feb 2019

It's slightly strange to have swapped the frigid winter of the UK for summertime and harvest here in New Zealand, and to be typing the at the tail end of  a warm day knowing most of my readers will just be waking up.

To date I have always maintained that there are no canals in New Zealand but today I came across two. Not that they are navigable mind you, as they exist purely to transfer turquoise cold glacial meltwater from one reservoir to another. 


We started our travels in Christchurch where we picked up our home for the next 25 days - a very new camper van based on a Mercedes Sprinter base, which is comfortable but not exactly nippy! 

We will therefore be making a sedate tour of both islands heading South to the Mount Cook / Queenstown area before heading north up the west coast.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch was laid to waste a few years ago by a big earthquake and it was interesting to see both the ruins of the old cathedral and the temporary "cardboard cathedral" they have constructed. Christchurch is busy rebuilding itself but the shocking thing is he number of "bomb site" car parks, presumably built on the site of collapsed buildings.

Timaru lighthouse

We then moved south to Timaru in the hope of seeing Penguins. Sadly, there are just a couple of a very small variety who sometimes appear just after dark. In the event we skipped the penguins and chose to socialise instead!

Sombre stuff in Timaru

Then it was inland to the stunning Lake Tekapo, stopping at Geraldine on the way. Geraldine just happens to be the home of the largest jam producer in Australia / New Zealand and we were allowed to sample a wide range of their produce, and came away with some provisions and good ideas (Boysenberries) for inclusion in the Wild Side range. The sunset at Tekapo was stunning.

Lake Tekapo at sunset

Then it was on to Mount Cook. Sadly the cloud was down and to be honest the place had all the appeal of Wastwater on a dull day. Added to which it is Chinese New Year and a bank holiday so the place was rammed. We beat a strategic retreat and moved to Omarama where we found both space and sunshine.

The slightly forbidding valley leading to Mount Cook

I wont bore you with lots of words and will instead let the pictures do the talking. 

This is a big country and somehow the only photos which do the scenes justice are the panoramas, taken on my humble i-phone!

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Singapore River

Singapore River
February 2019

What better way to explore a city than by water?

 Singapore financial district from Marina Bay

The history of a place always seems to come to the waterfront and Singapore is no exception. We have stopped over here for a couple of days on our way to New Zealand, making something of what would have been an enforced change of planes in any case. 

Singapore's old centre of trade

We are staying in the very swish Fairmont Hotel with a view over the iconic Raffles Hotel, where we sampled a very acceptable (any expensive) Gin Sling in the Long Bar. Well, you have to don't you?

Life is better by water.....

We always seem to gravitate towards a boat trip when we reach a new city. It is a very natural way to get a feel for the lie of the land and often a good way to get a grasp of the historical overview. Our first attempt at picking up a local Bum Boat was not a success, but when we made it to Marina Bay we found that a handful of river trip boats were running so we took the 40 minute tour.

And even better with beer....

The colonial roots of Singapore show through in spite of its uber contemporary modern face. The relics of the old trading wharfs stand in stark contrast to the modern high rise financial district, but of course they are all just a part of a continuum of trade which runs from the days it was an outpost of the East India Trading Co through to its status of a regional financial centre today. Nice to see HSBC very present on the waterfront, even if the tower block isn't the highest.

Kind of mini Manhattan

Anyway, here are a few views from the water - and not a narrowboat in sight.