The muddy hike to the Crosbies Hut

For a change, I’ve written this in the style I write my diary in, for the simple reason that I have already written about this there and so less brain power needed. FYI in my diary I tend to dismiss grammar, instead going for “rambly” mental imagery so that when I read back it makes me feel all nostalgic and fuzzy. So don’t expect beautifully constructed sentences!

The sun is shining in a cloudless sky, gently warming our backs as we prepare for our two-day hike. There’s no rush – Colin, Shanyn and Lachie are currently shuttling their cars twenty minutes down the road so they’ll be a wee while. Franzie is sitting on the curb lazily threading a lace through Shanyn’s hiking boot and I flop down next to her for a chat. Clemence – Lachie’s new girlfriend who we only met this morning – wanders over and offers to lace the other one. I start rubbing in my sun cream and pass it round like a good mother.

We hear the distant rumble of a car engine and soon the Vulvo makes its entrance along the gravel lane to loud cheers. We all start to get to our feet, recheck our laces, haul our backpacks over our shoulders, adjust our chest and waist straps. I look around me and feel a sudden burst of happiness: all of us are fully kitted out with our hiking gear: poles, proper tramping boots, snazzy backpacks, water bladders, zip-off hiking trousers (all zipped of of course on this sunny day!), sandwich bags filled with scroggin… it makes me so ridiculously happy to have a group of friends who are all so passionately into hiking and the great outdoors 🙂

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And after a quick group photo we are off on day one of our two day hike in the Coromandel. Cue five hours of slipping, squelching and skidding along the muddiest track I’ve ever experienced. Some of the group have completely given up on scrambling along the banks, clinging from tree to tree, and are launching directly through the deep sludge. Our pace is relatively slow – we’re applying caution – and so plenty of time for chats with those around me. We gradually drift around in the line, changing order and conversations.

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We take a lunch stop at a random, fairly dry section of forest, convinced we won’t be able to find a good view spot any time soon (so wrong, of course!). We all slump down, packs wedged behind our backs, and pull out our wide assortment of culinary delights. I eagerly swap half my caramelised onion quiche for Franzie’s salami and brie, which I layer onto the remaining half of my quiche. Then I go to town on my scroggin (the best I’ve made yet, an exciting mix of m’n’m’s, chilli corn kernels and roasted cashews).

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Fast-forward another few hours and hooray – the hut is in sight! We all pull off our muddy boots and set off in different directions: Yann and Renee to complete a yoga session on the sunny deck; Shanyn and Colin to chop up firewood for the wood burner; Lachie and Clemence to assemble their tent overlooking the beautiful view; me to the hut to give my legs a washdown with my wetwipes before changing into my PJs and fresh socks.

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After a while everyone starts to think about dinner. Colin pulls out his travel saucepan and starts heating our chorizo risotto over the fire. The others clutter surfaces with gas burners and plastic bags, cooking up their cous cous and veggie dishes.

Shanyn notices a couple have arrived in the dark to put up their tent in the blustery wind. He goes outside to invite them in to our candle and head-torch lit hut (no electricity here!) and soon we are joined by a friendly French-Australian couple and their very well behaved dog.

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I slink off to my section of the bunk, crawl into my warm sleeping bag and pull out my tablet so I can read an e-magazine. I watch the others – some are gathered around the fire; others are sitting around the table drinking goon; a few have gone outside to star-gaze. I’m feeling all worn out and happy to just laze by myself unnoticed in the corner.

Edited to say: my mum told me I couldn’t end the blog post there as she wanted to know what happened on day two… well day two was very much the same as day one mud-wise and scenery-wise! Another five hours of slipping, sliding and completely stacking it on a regular basis!

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Lovely little trip back to the UK :-)

My last trip back home was Christmas 2015, a rather distant 18 months previously. Colin hadn’t been back to the UK since he left for New Zealand eight years ago and so was keen to also come along for the ride. I wrote that and then reflected back on whether I ever presented him with an option of not coming along for the ride… either way I thought it was about time he briefly returned to his roots (Cardiff) and so set about planning a whistlestop tour of the UK which included a number of mini “holidays within a holiday”. My aim was to get a good balance between meeting up with family and friends while exploring some of the more scenic areas of the UK I hadn’t been to before.

My proposed themes of the trip were: “Quaint villages”, “Food you don’t get in NZ” and “Clothes shopping”.

Day one was spent at my sister Lou’s in Coulsdon (outer London), eating a huge Chinese takeaway and trying to stay awake until 9pm, which I’d firmly decided was the earliest we could retreat to bed. We made it to 8.30pm… just. I had specifically requested a Chinese as they just don’t make them the same way in New Zealand (i.e. coated in sugar and MSG).  Nom nom.

The next morning we set off for Oxted in “Frank”, Lou’s little blue car (I still haven’t developed an eye for car models and so shamefully continue to differentiate by colour and size), which she had kindly lent us for the majority of the trip. Sepha & Brad had agreed I could host a BBQ at theirs, which I figured would be an excellent way to see the majority of my friends in one fell swoop.

On my last visit to the UK I spent a large proportion of my time living in Sepha & Brad’s half-finished loft in London, on a half-inflated air mattress. However, since then they had relocated themselves to a spanky new and rather amazing house in the quaint little town of Oxted, Surrey. They had also acquired a nutty cat called Alto, bought a huge black beast of a car and signed up to a wine club. Colin and I had been upgraded to a cosy spare bedroom with a delightfully comfortable bed and views of the surrounding paddocks.

And the sun was out! Like, properly out! I couldn’t believe it. So we relaxed in the sunny garden with prosecco cocktails while we waited for everyone to start arriving.

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I’m aware from the photo above that it doesn’t look quite as sunny as I just made out; a momentary cloud must have breezed by…

Anyway, I had a fantastic time catching up with all my old friends and felt very content afterwards. Well, contentment mixed with sadness that I wouldn’t see most of them again for a good wee while. That evening Sepha and Brad took us down to the local skatepark as Brad had excitedly bought a skateboard some time ago but had felt too awkward to head down to the park by himself to use it. So we wandered down to the empty skatepark and watched Brad wobbly attempt a few gentle halfpipes. Pretty random but funny evening, as to be expected with those guys..!

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The next day we were off Godalming, Surrey to  spend a few days with ma n’ pa. We spent our time taking walks along the pretty river to Godalming and Guildford, soaking up the English charm of the area: horse-drawn longboats; canals and locks; village Greens and band stands; tudor-style shops; rustic traditional pubs on the water front; cobbled high streets; police with huge machine guns… wait, what?! Well that’s certainly new since I left! We also enjoyed a home-cooked roast beef with all the trimmings and near-constant offers of cups of tea (Dad’s tea addiction appears to have now fully spiralled out of control). And then off we headed to Wales for part one of our UK road trip!

Our first few days were spent in Cardiff (Colin’s neck of the woods) where we spent our time shopping, meeting up with Colin’s friends and family, and relaxing in the private hot tub at our farm cottage Air bnb (our main treat of the holiday). Cardiff didn’t really blow me away (although the cost of parking did – outrageous!!) but I enjoyed the many quaint historical pubs we visited.

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Lovely Air bnb!

We then drove further west to a little town called Narberth where we had hired a cottage with my best friends for the bank holiday weekend. It was SUCH a good little holiday, and not just because the sun shone brightly every day (Wales.. sun… mind-blowing!). I knew it was going to be a good weekend and that nothing/noone has changed too greatly when I noticed how many board games we had brought between us:

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Our time was spent going for beautiful walks which ended in pub gardens; playing board-games (mainly Codenames); and trying to control Chesca and David’s huge hyper English Sheepdog puppy (who managed to wee on my duvet within about five minutes of entering the house!).

I’ve just remembered a quote from the holiday:

Chesca: If you see Tulsie do a poo in the garden can you let us know and I’ll pick it up

Brad: Same applies to Sepha!

 

Although we are all doing very different things with our lives and living so far apart from each other, it was good to know we all still fitted together very well and that my friends were just as awesome as I remember. Dammit, why can’t they all just move to New Zealand so we don’t need to do emotional goodbyes after every trip!!

I should note that mine and Colin’s final day in Wales was spent sitting in our car in the pouring rain eating our sandwiches instead of doing a planned hike in the Brecon Beacons. Which was roughly how I had imagined our whole time in Wales would be spent, so… can’t complain really.

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Frank enjoying the view

We had a fairly breezy journey to London – time flies when you’re listening to “There’s No Such Thing As A Fish” podcasts –  so we could spend a few days hanging out with Colin’s brother Alun. Now Colin had one planning job allocated to him: arranging to stay at his brother’s in Peckham for two nights. To put that in perspective, I arranged the other 19 nights accommodation. So imagine his brother’s surprise when we turned up a day early, and for two nights instead of the proposed one..!

We had a fun few days exploring Dulwich Park, Hampton Court Palace, and the London South Bank, as well as catching up with my friends for brunch/beers (not at the same time, I should add!). Alun also took us to an amazing gay cabaret/circus/comedy night at the Underbelly Festival which did make me really miss London and it’s never-ending stream of quirky and random things to do.

And then we headed onwards to the final part of the trip: a weekend away with my family in the quaint little seaside town of Broadstairs, Kent. Honestly, this place was quaint as! (ugh I said that without too much irony, what am I becoming??).

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It was everything I could have hoped for in an English seaside: fish n’ chip shops everywhere you looked; shops crammed with sticks of rock, buckets & spades, snorkels, and thousands of other plastic toys bundled up and dangling from the ceiling; a little castle high up on the hilltops; colourful beach huts lining the boardwalk; fancy ice cream shops; and beaches filled with excited and rapidly burning British holiday-makers.

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We spent our weekend taking walks along the pretty coastline, exploring nearby seaside towns, drinking local craft beer, gathering pebbles that looked like faces, and playing board games. One night we headed down to the town hall for a very local quiz night where we just about managed to not come last. This coincided with us discovering our craft porters were a mouth-burning 12% 😮

Just before the holiday I had, on a whim, bought my dad a card game supposedly set in the French Revolution. I thought this to be very apt as he had just finished writing his third crime fiction book set in the very same era. However, major fail on my part: I hadn’t realised the game was in Dutch. In most families this would have been the end of a vaguely thoughtful present.. but this was the Honeysett family, and so my mum had painstakingly translated every single playing card and scrawled the English version over the top.

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Good game! (We would have to have pretended it was regardless…).

It was also highly evident to me that my parents had developed a wacky baseball cap fetish (with a big plastic container full of psychedelic hats situated right by the back door at home). Here is my dad proudly sporting his World Map hat:

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It was a lovely, sunny, and action-packed few days with the fam 🙂

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And sadly, that was more-or-less the end of a whistle-stop tour of Southern Wales and England. Before I knew it I was back on the plane, and unbeknownst to me, about to experience a delightful 12 hour migraine (don’t recommend).

Until next time, UK!! 🙂

 

“Anti-Splore” festival and other adventures

In my eagerness to upload my blog post about the geothermal “squeeze” a few months ago I completely forgot to write about a really awesome weekend away back in February. My friends and I had been pondering whether to go to Splore festival – I had been the year before and it was amazing – a chilled out festival right on the waterfront:

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However, ticket prices were crazy expensive, and so Nai had the ingenious idea of organising her own mini festival that same weekend, which she dubbed “Anti-Spore”. She even made her own poster:

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Everyone jumped on board and so the “festival” was on! We arranged to camp at Opoutere beach, just down the road from Whangamata (near the base of the Coromandel).

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Road trip with the kayak!

The plan was to start with a kayaking trip, meeting at Whangamata estuary with either our own, or rental, kayaks .  However, this was as far as the planning went and so it was by pure luck that Colin and I bumped into some of the others huddled under the shelter of a nearby Dairy while the rain pelted down around us. We made hurried plans to meet on the water and then Colin and I drove off to park our car and unload the kayak.

We found a little jetty down the end of a cul-de-sac, set up our boat on the edge of the water and waited for the others to emerge… and waited… and waited. P.S. it was still raining hard.

Eventually we decided to head out and hopefully spot them on the water. And that’s when it dawned on us: We hadn’t actually discussed where we were kayaking to..! You see, you could turn left and kayak out to sea (to Donut Island), or turn right and head down Otahu River.

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We decided to turn left and head out to sea but the water was super choppy and there was no sign of the others so after a while we turned around and headed down the river. By this time the rain had stopped and the water was perfectly still. It was a beautiful stretch of water and we had fun navigating around a maze of mangroves.

However, still no sign of the others – and we’re talking eight other people, hard to miss! So eventually we turned back again and started heading out to sea, and this time we spotted them on their way back from the island, messing around in the waves. So we joined them for a bit, attempting to surf the waves in our kayaks. Colin and I accidentally caught a wave that threw us directly on top of Camilla and Adnaan’s kayak, capsizing all of us, but the water was fairly warm so it was all good!

We then headed to the campsite, where some of the others who’d decided to give kayaking a miss had been busy attempting to set up a waterproof camp, stringing a large piece of tarp into the trees. However, the rain had stopped  for the rest of the day and so we spent our time slack-lining; cooking up a big mexican meal; exploring the beach; listening to Colin and Dan play us songs on their guitars; and attempting ambitious photoshoots with our resident photographer Ben.

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Posing with our cars

It was such a fun weekend away with friends and totally trumped any Splore festival (particularly as it was raining anyway!)

Lake Tarawera and Lake Rotoiti

I’m sitting in front of the fire as I type this, eating a snack of chestnuts and black pudding (random gifts from Colin’s mum).  We’ve just had the shortest day of the year in New Zealand – onwards and upwards! Though it’s been a bit winter-schminter here: the days have in general been sunny and bright, if not a bit chilly in the early mornings and evenings.

A few weekends ago we had a bank holiday and ten or so of the gang hired a bach right on a very remote patch of Lake Tarawera (just across from Rotorua) for the duration.

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We have been away together in various combinations dozens of times now and have gradually developed what is, in my opinion, a fantastic routine involving breakfast of pancakes or Sam and Nai’s delicious stewed apple porridge; dinner of – if we’re lucky – Shanyn’s famous dahl and homemade naan bread; evenings spent playing board games and drinking craft beer or cider; days spent branching off in groups to do whatever we fancy (usually hiking, climbing, biking or kayaking); and a super efficient clean-up session on the final morning. I may have said this before but I absolutely love my crazy, adventurous friends. Every one of the group is a genuinely lovely, friendly and awesome human being and I feel very lucky that we have all found each other 🙂

This particular weekend was pretty chilled out for me. Most of the others headed off to go climbing or play on the Redwood Forest mountain bike tracks; however, Colin, Lauchie, Leah and I took a walking track in the forest, armed with Colin’s new “hobby” (in quotations as I think he has already lost interest 😀 ) a book on edible New Zealand plants.

Colin had excitedly ordered a foraging book the week before, and on discovering all the pictures were in black and white, printed off colour photos of EVERY plant and sellotaped them over the top. His geekiness does at times blow me away.

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So we headed out with the book and spent the afternoon trying and failing to find edible plants. Eventually to our delight we managed to find Mamaku (black tree fern) but while we were tugging at the very firmly rooted (supposedly edible) uncurled new shoots I read further ahead and found they need to be steamed for 48 hours in order to safely eat them. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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My favourite part of the walk was getting to unzip the legs off my brand-new zip-off hiking trousers.

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WHAT? I’m comfortable with my level of geekiness, go away!

In the late afternoon we all headed out to Kerosene Creek, a geothermal hot spring stream out in the sticks, before heading home for a bbq.

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Eating a big cooked breakfast 🙂

A few weekends later we found ourselves heading back down towards Rotorua, this time to stay at Sylvie’s family bach on Lake Rotoiti. This bach was even more remote and we had to use a topographical map to find our way out to it as the tiny gravel roads weren’t showing up on Googlemaps!

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On Saturday we decided to kayak/motor boat out to a beer garden across the lake for some lunch. The journey there took an hour or so with a stop-off at a tiny hot water beach to dig out feet into the warm sand. I enjoyed gawking at all the amazing-looking baches dotted along the lake front, fantasising about owning my own bach on a lake (this fantasy was crushed when I got home and looked up waterfront baches… insane money!).

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I want tha’ one!

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By the time we arrived at the pub our hands and feet were frozen numb and we were all soaked through. Well, those of us in the kayaks anyway! We spent a good few hours drying off while eating pies, drinking craft beer (or in my case a lovely pot of tea), and squabbling over who would get to ride back in the motor boat. The return journey was horrific; it was much choppier and every approaching wave hit me smack in the face and filled the front of the kayak with water. I decided there and then that if I want to do further winter kayaking I’ll have to purchase a sea kayak (a much drier option)… so that’s my next Christmas present sorted!

Once back we lit a roaring fire and some of us curled up on armchairs around it while others entered into (unbeknownst to them at the time) an increasingly tedious three hour game of Risk (zombie edition).

As darkness approached we dragged the others away from their board game and Sylvie shuttled us out to some nearby hot pools in the motor boat. The pools were amazing – they were right on the lake front and only accessible by boat. There were just a couple of others there and we spent a good hour or two lounging our way across the different pools (which were tiered with the lowest level “bath water warm” and the highest level “lobster-boiling hot”. Afterwards we headed home for some delicious dahl and then Squiggles biscuits melted over the fire 🙂

Two absolutely lovely chilled out weekends on a lake. Man, I want to own my own lakeside bach sooo much. Specifically next door to Sylvie’s bach..

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A visit to NZ’s most active volcano (White Island!)

White Island (or Whakaari to give it it’s Maori name) has been on my bucket list ever since I knew it existed. I’ve tried to visit it twice in the last year but each time the tour has been cancelled due to sea swells. And this has been frustrating as White Island isn’t round the corner – it’s a five hour drive across to Whakatane on the east coast. However, last weekend the weather looked promising and Sam’s dad had given us free reign of his little water-front bach down in rural Opotiki, so two car-loads of us optimistically left work early to take a road trip down.

On Saturday the weather was a bit pants – showers mixed with occasional bursts of sunshine. The rain seemed to hit every time we started putting on our shoes to go outside. A few friends headed out for a 90km bike ride (!!) and while we were invited to join them the rest of us decided to make porridge, light a fire and play board games.

When it got to the early afternoon we threw on rain jackets and headed down to the beautiful nearby beach to stretch our legs. While on the beach the sky cleared and the sun came out, so we rushed home to make a huge bonfire in the garden.

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We cooked up some fajitas, drank fireball whiskey and apple juice (so delicious – tastes like Christmas),  and sat around the fire, soaking up the beautiful star-studded sky.

Early the next morning we awoke to a phone call from White Island Tours to say sea swells were virtually non-existent and to get our butts out there asap! Woohoo how we rejoiced!! So we munched down some sea-sickness tablets, bundled into the car and tootled down the road to Whakatane to hop on the little ferry.

Tickets were super expensive – $230 each for the 90 minute ferry ride to the island and a 90 minute tour once there. But we had been told by friends that it was totally worth it. Forty or so of us squeezed onto the ferry and we were off. “Non-existent swells” my ass! The boat swung heavily from side to side and I soon started to feel pretty ill. So ill I couldn’t even laugh when Sam spectacularly tumbled of her seat onto the floor after one particularly heavy sway. I just had to mumble “Don’t worry – I’ll laugh about that when I get off the boat”. After a while one of the tour guides dragged me outside, thrust a sick bag in my hand and told me to keep my eyes on the horizon. I started to feel a bit better after that but was  hugely relieved when we finally approached the island. We were equipped with helmets and gas masks before being ushered out into a little dingy which shuttled us all a few at a time to the island.

White Island sits all by itself thirty miles out to sea, nothing else even remotely in sight of it. It is a steaming, Mars-esque 2km-wide active volcano, privately owned by some guy who bought it for $250 a wee while ago (apparently he just wanted to own a volcano). Back in the early 1900s sulphur mining was attempted but then rapidly abandoned when a lahar (volcanic mud flow) killed all ten workers. Nowadays there is one ferry tour a day and a private helicopter tour, and that’s about it. There have been a number of ash explosions over the past few years; however, no flowing lava, only fumaroles (openings in the earth’s crust which emit sulphur-thick clouds of gas).

I had deliberately not read up on White Island in advance so as not to ruin the surprise so I was just a little disappointed to realise there would be no lava on show. Although I was excited at the prospect of having to wear a gas mask!

We broke into two groups and were led on a tour around the island, up to the roaring fumaroles, bubbling mud pits and hot thermal streams. At times we were immersed in clouds of sulphur which burnt our noses and throats and induced coughing fits until we were able to apply our gas masks. It was pretty cool to be walking around on an active volcano, lava or no lava.

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Before I knew it we were back at the tiny jetty, looking our wearily to the ferry bobbing about in the waves.

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I was in the first dingy crossing, which was pretty ropey – almost immediately after setting off a large wave approached and crashed over the boat drenching us all, and it took a few attempts for us to get close enough to the ferry for us to hop out. As I looked around for a prime spot on the deck the tour lady came up to me and in a secretive tone pointed out “the only spot on the deck you’ll stay dry”. I sat down, gripping the seat hard as the boat rocked heavily from side to side, staring intently at the horizon. As we set off the waves immediately began crashing over the deck and – as promised – I realised I was the only one even remotely staying dry. Everyone else was soaked through within a minute.

Despite a very ill-looking Chinese man plonking himself down on a seat less than half a metre in front of me (directly in front of my view of the horizon), and puking his guts out into a sick bag, I managed to stay reasonably well. However, despite this, I kept up my “rigid seasickness face” in order to hopefully justify to the extremely wet people around me why I should keep my seat.

My overall views on White Island are thus: It was a long way to travel to get there and not a particularly scenic or relaxing journey. I wasn’t blown away by the volcanic activity (literally or figuratively) and was disappointed by the lack of lava. However, I’m glad I went as it was a pretty cool experience to visit an active volcano out in the middle of the sea, and the road trip with my friends was top notch as always 🙂

Start of the autumn adventures

In between the slightly crazy weather the various cyclones have brought us there have actually been a few nice bright weekends and of course being a Brit I made sure to soak up every last ounce of sun (definitely how sunshine is measured, don’t look it up).

Over Easter I headed a few hours north to Whangarei Heads with Colin, Nai and Adnaan for a mini kayaking adventure. And when I say mini I mean fifteen minute’s worth of kayaking from the mainland to tiny weenie Matakohe (Limestone) Island just offshore.

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Spot the kayak

Back in the day the island was used as a lookout for the local iwi (Maori tribe) before being turned into a major quarry and cement works in the 1830s. Sadly, by the 1960s the island was a degraded state, full of rubble and rubbish. However, the local community worked hard to restore it and nowadays it is a quiet and pretty little spot – just trees, beaches, and the ruins of the cement factory.

Colin and I met Nai and Adnaan on the island and we spent the afternoon wandering round exploring. The cement ruins were awesome – we joked that it was like New Zealand’s version of Angkor Wat, but in semi-seriousness, this is the level of history New Zealand tends to provide and I don’t think I’ve actually come across any other ruins since I’ve been here!

We had a really fun few hours on the island and didn’t come across another soul (sheep aside).   Then we kayaked back to shore and drove to a holiday park in Whangarei where we met up with lots of friends who were also up from Auckland, cramming into a little cabin to eat fish n chips, make our own tea out of kawakawa leaves, and play board games.

The next day we all convoyed out to do a six hour coastal hike up and around Bream Head. The views were amazing but it was pretty tough-going – lots of steep uphill slogs!

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Later that day we all parted ways, with Colin and I driving another hour north to the Bay of Islands. We fancied a more chilled out time the day after and so I suggested a nice stroll along the coastal walkway: Paihia to Opua;a ferry across to Okiato; and then up to Russell for dinner before catching a ferry back to Paihia.

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Oh my gosh the walk nearly killed me! It wasn’t particularly hardcore but went on and on (for 14km, I hadn’t actually checked the distance!) and for the last half hour I was just concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other and fantasising about getting to the pub at the end and ordering a nice tall glass of coke.

As an aside, when on hikes I can rate how dehydrated/sugar depleted I am by what level my fantasies have got to:

Level 1: Imagining drinking a pint of cold water

Level 2: Overwhelming cravings for Coca-cola or orange juice

Level 3: Fantasising about diving into a pool with my mouth open

Level 4: Fantasising about diving into a pool even if it’s filled with fish which as some of you know, is normally the stuff of my nightmares

The weekend after was ANZAC weekend and Colin and I headed five hours south-east to the little coastal town of Napier, in Hawkes Bay. This had been on my bucket list for a really long time as the history of the area fascinated me: Napier was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt from scratch, drawing heavily on Art Deco architecture which was popular at the time. The town centre was awesome – I’ve never found New Zealand architecture very inspiring but this place was awesome and really interesting and cool to walk around. We had a lovely sunny chilled out four days ticking off all the must-do tourist activities in the area: wine tasting in the vineyards, exploring the art deco buildings, heading up to Bluff Hill lookout, and taking a little walking trail around all the cool murals dotted around. We also drove up to the remote Waipatiki Beach for an afternoon of geocaching around the beach and surrounding cliffs (definitely one of the best ways to explore an unfamiliar area!).

Ok I think I’ll wrap up there for now, still so many trips to talk about, ugh I’m so far behind!!

Hunt for The Squeeze

I wanted to spend my birthday weekend away doing something awesome but the New Zealand weather system was having none of it and it “weather-bombed” the whole weekend resulting in epic floods, land slides and a month’s worth of rain falling in a day. So I waited patiently until the weekend after when perfect sunshine was predicted every day.

So on Friday morning Colin and I secured the kayak to the roof rack and we headed off down south to Taupo. I had done a fair bit of research into cool-looking kayak trips in the area, and there was one clear winner. A kayak tour company and a kayak club made reference to a route called “The Squeeze” along the Waikato River which involved kayaking along a geothermal strip of the river before stopping at  “the squeeze challenge where you will disembark from your kayak into knee deep water, we take you towards a narrow gap in the cliff faces where we start maneuvering our way through narrow crevasses, climbing boulders and wading through warm waist deep water you emerge in stunning native New Zealand bush and where you can stand under hot flowing water falls”. 

Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything ANYWHERE on the internet about where the squeeze actually was, or really much about it at all. But we were convinced that if we scoured the river edge hard enough we would find it eventually… right?

We set off from Tutukau Bridge, rowing downstream through beautiful landscapes, noticing puffs of steam rising up from the trees and rocks along the bank every now and then. We stopped off several times at potential hot spots and but alas, no luck.

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Hot water but no secret entrance! 

Eventually we frustratedly agreed we had probably gone way past it and should turn back in order to get to our cottage before dark. Defeated, we headed back upstream after a good few hours on the water. The river had gradually turned into a lake resulting in mirror-clear water, which was pretty awesome.

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The next day – Saturday – we climbed Mt Ruapehu (more on that in a bit) but the Squeeze was praying on my mind so I returned to my phone for one last go at scouring the internet for any further clues about its location.

And this time I struck gold! Buried deep within a word document put together by a kayak group was the following picture:

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The squeeze was actually located at almost the exact spot we had admitted defeat and turned back! So we were up bright and early on Sunday for round two. This time we drove to Orakei Kurako Thermal Park (which was a bit closer), had a coffee and mince pie, and then set off into the water on our merry way.

Even though we had an idea of where it was, it was still pretty bloody difficult to find. However, we finally stumbled upon a little opening in the bush behind which lay a warm stream… jackpot!.

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Wooooo found the entrance!!

The water was warm which was pretty convenient as almost immediately we were up to our necks in it! We spent about five minutes clambering and squeezing our way between narrow gaps in the rock as the stream twisted and weaved its way through the forest (no photos as it was too dark and steamy for my GoPro!).  After a while it opened out into a shallow stream (still warm water) which we followed until we got to the end point: an open-topped cave (probably not the right term!) with a hot waterfall pouring down through it.

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The start, before it got narrow!
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Stream-walking
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Entrance to the waterfall
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Ahhh so nice and hot!

After playing round in the hot water for a bit we climbed up the rocks at the side which led to a large natural hot pool. Here we met two “proper-Kiwi” men, a term I use to describe the rugged country folk who stroll round barefoot, travel their farmland by quad bike and would probably wrestle bears if they existed in New Zealand. We had a good chat with them before they headed onwards and we had the place to ourselves.

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Before they left, the men told us about a stream off the river a bit further up which ends with a geothermal pocket of water. We decided to check it out so after a while of lazing round awestruck we bumbled our way back to the kayak and headed on to the stream. You could see the geothermal area from afar – there was steam billowing off it! We glided right into it, testing the water with our hands to make sure it wasn’t “kayak-melting” temperature (okay maybe that was just me). It was really hot in places!

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Steamy hot water!
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Dipping our toes in

We drove back up to Auckland very happy bunnies 🙂 Best. Kayak. Trip. EVER!!!! Can’t wait to return with friends/visiting siblings (hint hint).

Oh and on Saturday we climbed Mount Ruapehu! We were particularly excited about this as the climb wasn’t a clear trail; instead it involved following a pencil-drawn line across a topographical map. Our friend Steph had suggested we do it as she had been the week before and found a lot of the snow had melted, meaning crampons and ice axes weren’t necessary. She plotted out the route she took, which she explained involved a fair bit of rock-climbing up boulders on the ascent, and then sliding most of the way down it on her bum (following a snow chute). She also told us we could skip the first bit of ascent and take the ski lift for free if we told the lift operators we were members of the Alpine Club making our way up to the Club hut. This was amazing news as passes usually cost $35.

So we arrived at Whakapapa ski field just as the lifts were opening for the day, with me feeling particularly anxious about blagging our way up (my mum having instilled the fear of god into me about lying in any shape or form). We arrived at the same time as a group of five men who  began loading crates of food onto the chair lifts. After a few minutes of watching them, one of the men noticed us and called over to us: “Are you with the club?”

Ohhhh no.

After a slight pause we called back “Yeeeees….”, to which they replied, “Great, you can help us load on all the food then!”. At this point a scene played out in my head: us getting trapped in our lie and having to work at the club hut all day.

We loaded a few items onto the lift then subtly faded away into the distance to get a coffee and wait for everyone present at the ski lift to leave. Eventually the coast was clear and we returned. To my immense relief the ski lift operator waved us on without asking for our passes. Woohoo!

Perched at the top of the two ski lifts was a very inviting cafe where we munched on French toast while soaking up the beautiful mountain view.

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The ascent was pretty fun – despite having a topographical app on my phone which pinpointed exactly where we were, we still managed to spend most of our time not on the pencil-marked trail. At one point – as we were doing some pretty mean rock climbing – I glanced over to the right and noticed a faint pathway through a comparatively much flatter area. This happened on several sections of the ascent, but the climbing was fun (I had only one “Arghh this is too hard, I’m going to fall and break my back!” moment). After a few hours we had made our way to the top section, where other hikers emerged and joined us for the last part – a traverse along a ridge to a maintenance shed (and views of a glacier lake).

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Bit of snow on the ascent
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The ridge leading to the hut (sen in the distance)
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And back the other way behind us
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The lake

It was quite windy at the top so we sheltered behind the hut as we ate our crisps and cakes, and then studied the map to work out how to get onto the route down. The track was quite well-formed and we jogged our way down, marvelling at how easy the trail was in comparison to the ascent. And then we were suddenly on the edge of a cliff face and we realised sinkingly that this trail did not lead down. And thinking about it, Steph had promised a snow chute, and there hadn’t been much snow….  Then I became aware of something in the distance that filled me with dread:

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This photo doesn’t really do it justice, but that is an extremely long and steep slope, located several snowy patches to the right. We could see tiny people slipping, sliding and falling their way down the slope. We carefully scrambled and skidded across to it, failing pretty quickly to remain on our feet. I decided to slide down on my bum, which was great fun at first, but the snow was covered in a fine layer of grit and soon it felt like I was sliding down ice cold sandpaper. Not so fun. After that I stuck to sliding along on foot. I was grateful when we got to the end of the snow although the whole experience had been a bit of an adventure!

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The last leg

So there we have it – a fairly action-packed (belated) birthday weekend! It’s going to be hard to beat that one!