Coromandel Peninsula

We decided to travel up to the Coromandel peninsula, which is East of Auckland. The area is sub tropical, which much of the area being hilly and forested.  What it is most famous for is it beaches.

We stayed in a little town called Tairua and toured from there. Many of the beaches are the white sand, blue sea and palm lined locations that you would see on any tropical island.  The area reminded us a lot of the Hawaiian landscapes we had been travelling through only a few weeks earlier.

When we were travelling from Coromandel town we decided to take the infamous 309 route. This is an unsealed road (basically a dirt track) that is going over steep mountains, deep forests and many hair pin bends.  It had a few surprises on the way like the Waiau Falls.


The other excitement for me were the free range pigs all over what can be loosely described as a farm. These really were free range pigs, as there were no enclosures or fences and they wandered wherever they liked.

The Coromandel area would have been part of an active volcanic area at one point. There is still residual geo-thermal activity continuing in places like Hot Water Beach.  It’s name comes from the hot water that sits below the sands.  At low tide, it’s possible to dig a hole in the sand that fills with thermally heated waters, creating your own personal spa.  Some of the spots were so hot, they would scald the skin, so you had to be careful where you dug.

From here we travelled to the geo-thermal hotspots of New Zealand, Taupo & Rotorura.  On the way we stopped at Matamata, best known as the location for the the set of  MiddleShire and Hobbiton for Lord of the Rings.  We only had a taste of it as we travelled through, as we could not visit the actual set. The pictures below are of the tourist information centre in the town, which has been modelled on the hobbits houses.

Little man was feeling a little shy during the last few days, but he’ll be back again soon.


From New Plymouth to Gisborne

We have flown from Christchurch in the South Island to New Plymouth in the North.  Named by the Cornish and Devonish immigrants who arrived on its shores in the mid 1800s, you can see that they didn’t look too far for inspiration when naming the place.  As is evident across NZ, with names as familiar as any across the UK, with landscapes which also surprise in their similarity at times.

One of the main landmarks of New Plymouth is the Wind Wand, which is a 147-foot (45-meter) high sculpture.Designed by Len Lye, the sculpture is so sensitive to movement, that even a bumble bee landing on it will cause it to sway.

We had planned our next Workaway at a horse ranch, but that fell through and we find ourselves free wheeling through the North.   

Our next stop was Wanganui, which is a small town on the South West shores.  We stayed at a budget motel and these are a completely mixed bag over here.  Many have very dated décor, fixings and finshes, but they are at least clean and comfortable and fairly inexpensive. This one was a bit dark and more than a little dated, but for only one night we could manage.

Wanganui has an under ground elevator that brings you up to the top of Durie Hill.  The views get even better if you are willing to take the 176 steps of the war memorial, which I decided was worth the effort.

From here we decided to go in search of the elusive Kiwi, so drove further south to the Mount Bruce Wildlife Park.  Whilst there were many other interesting breeds here, the Kiwi proved a shy old bird and the enclosure lighting (they are a nocturnal) made it near impossible to distinguish anything inside.

 Heading on to  Hastings in  the Hawkes Bay region we stopped at another motel, this one in a bit better shape. There’s a lookout above Hastings and we took the half hour drive up the steep and windy road to see it and were rewarded with a fabulous sunset.

 The next day we visited Napier, renowned for its Art Deco architecture.  The town is by the shore and has a wonderful upbeat feel to it.  Of course the sunshine would have helped.

After taking in the sights and having a coffee and snack at the St Germain café which could provide some sweet and savoury options for us, a rarity, I can assure you. We were able to see the many displays that were as a result of the The Art Deco Festival that was happening whilst we were there.


We decided to go to the Aquarium whilst in town. It has many rare and exotic creatures and a glass walkway under the Shark pool. The unexpected highlight however was a firm sighting of the Kiwi (not in any water I hasten to add), which had a well designed Kiwi house that was still dark enough for their sensitive eyes, but light enough for our not so sensitive eyes to see them. It felt like a huge plus, as somehow coming to the land of the Kiwi and not seeing one would have felt like a missed opportunity.  


Kiwi are flightless, belong to an ancient group of birds such as the Moa’s (originally a NZ bird, but now extinct) and their modern day cousins the Ostrich and Emu. Their evolutionary journey into New Zealand is not clear, but they are not found anywhere else on earth.

Kiwi habits and physical characteristics are so like a mammal the bird is sometimes referred to as an honorary mammal. It has feathers like hair, nostrils at the end of its beak and an enormous egg. They are nocturnal birds that feed from the forest ground and lay their eggs in places like hollows of trees. They are under serious threat from the introduced predators such as Dogs, Cats, Possums and even Hedgehogs.

Most of the remaining population are in managed forests (meaning there is strict predator control) or in captive breeding programs. So as you can see, the sighting of one, even in captivity was a rarity.

From Napier we took the journey to Gisborne.  The scenery changed from pastureland and rolling hills that would not look out of place in any of the British Isles, to deep gorges, mountains and tropical forests.  Slow and steady is the only way to go as we cover 150km in about three hours.


Gisbornes does not have the beauty of many of the other NZ towns, but its one interesting fact is that it is the most Easterly town in NZ and therefore the first to welcome in the new day. Gisborne’s Kaiti Beach is the place where British navigator Captain James Cook made his first landing in New Zealand upon the Endeavour.

The other highlight for us was staying at a The White Heron Motel, which was a modern, well designed Motel, standing out as a beacon of possibility amongst a sea of mediocrity.




Our final few adventures on the South Island

We continued to explore the West Coast of the South Island, by driving from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier.

We have already used up all of the superlatives in the dictionary, describing this amazing land, but we  really wish we had some more to draw upon.

The drive itself (about 5 hours) has to be one of the most scenic routes in the World.  That’s quite a claim, but we went through so many different landscapes it was hard to believe. We started off through lakelands, mountains, then sea shore and tropical forest, before arriving at the Glacier. It was extraordinary.

As the weather was not with us, you’ll have to take my word for it, for the most part.  Here’s the Arrowtown, a historic town near Queenstown and one of the beaches on our way to Franz Josef.

 ArrowtownBeach on way to Franz Josef


We also spotted some of the rarer native birds in their habitats.  The first is the NZ wood pigeon, the Kereru which is about three times the size of our native birds. Honestly, it was a wonder the branch could hold these two up!

Wood pigeon


The other cheeky chappy, just walking around the car park is the Kaka, a member of the parrot family. He seemed completely unfazed by the traffic and the people.  Many of the cafe’s nearby have signs saying keep an eye on your food as there will be no replacements if a Kaka steals it.  Sounds very like the Seagulls on Brighton Beach.



kaka franz josef 

At the end of our 5 hour trip, we arrived at Franz Josef Glacier.  This was a most extraordinary sight, and one that the pictures cannot really convey. It is like a frozen waterfall coming over the top of the mountain.  It’s the cold mountain air and the warm air from the sea meeting on the mountain face that creates this effect.  The perpetual glacier has probably had a presence for thousands of years, but the glacial face has receded at least 30 metres over the last 150 years.  An impact of global warning?  We simply do not know.

 Glacier 1Glacier 2



We continued our journey through Arthur’s Pass the following day which took us back to Christchurch airport.  It is an epic journey and we are so pleased that we got to enjoy the mountain views.

 Arthurs pass

Next adventures will be on the North Island.    

Milford Sounds’ amazing

One of the iconic locations in New Zealand, in a country which is full of them is Milford Sound, a spectacular Fjord on the South Island. Mitre Peak is the largest of the summits at 1690 metres, but it has many spectacular mountains along the route.

We decided it was too important to pass by, so we left our hotel in TeAnau, at 5am. so we could take the 9am cruise. It was a wet and misty morning, which only added to the experience.

It’s called Milford Sound, but should more accurately be called Milford Fjord. What’s the difference I hear you ask? Well it’s all to do with how they are formed.  A Sound comes from a valley being flooded by water.  A Fjord comes from Glacial action where mountains are formed and push against each other and the glacial caps melt. The effect is a very crowded mountainous region, usually in a u shape with deep bodies of water. However the early European settlers didn’t seem to know the difference so the name Milford Sound has stuck.

The boat trip took us right the way out to the Tamsin sea, through some of the most dramatic landscapes imaginable.


There were plenty of waterfalls as you sail through. Here’s a couple.

Despite the cloud, the views were pretty spectacular from every angle and the photos here don’t really do it justice.


Sometimes Dolphins can be seen in the Sound, but we were not so lucky during our visit.

We did see some of the young Seals that hang out here, until they are strong enough to go it alone.

From Milford Sound, we went on to Queenstown, which has an enviable lakeside location. The weather here was considerably brighter and warmer than what we had driven through to get here.

Walking around the town, we were tickled to see this take on the Zebra crossing.

On the road to Te Anau

We drove from Invercargill to Te Anau today and what a fabulous route it turned out to be. We shunned the easier Route 1, preferring instead to follow the more scenic Route 99.
During the three hour drive, we meandered through forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and even hit upon an Alpaca ranch.

It’s hard to capture the beauty of the place, even with good pictures, but here is a glimpse of some of the sites we have seen.
The Monkey Island bay is as beautiful as it looks.

We drove through the mountain passes, and it was a moody vista with the thick cloud bank and layer upon layer of mountains. Even to our eyes, it looked like you were watching a 3D film without the glasses on.

Close to Te Anau, we happened upon the WildWool Gallery, where we spoke to the owner, a wonderful woman called Jessie Haanen, who was both informative and passionate about her Alpaca’s. They are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand for their wool (not for eating) and it is becoming another premium product alongside Merino wool. Most of the animals here were bred and reared by Jessie and her husband. Jessie also makes some fine products from their wool, including silk felted scarves, wool scarves, gloves, hats and many other clothing items. Well worth a visit.

In the evening we visited the Bird Sanctuary of Te Anau, where many endangered and rare endemic birds are looked after. It’s difficult to catch these birds when they are in aviaries, but here is the selection we managed to see.

Many of these birds are under threat due to habitat loss, human activities and predators introduced with the European settlers. The last one shown the Takahé is very rare, with only 300 birds surviving.

Being Vegan travellers has had its challenges. Many places still cater very much for mainstream and we have had to pick our way through menu’s, which given the high number of young and independent travellers is a bit of a surprise. We found the Potpourri Vegetarian café in Dunedin where we managed to get a hot breakfast ( a rare treat).This morning we tried the Tuatara Café  in Invercargill, which is a lovely place to hang out, but had limited hot savoury options for us, so no hot breakfast today. In Te Anau we stopped at Habit Foods, which offered a Tofu option which was quite tasty. We won’t starve, but we wish that finding food options didn’t feel like a chore.

Tomorrow we head to Milford Sound, so we’ll have much more to report soon. Little man was feeling a bit shy today, but perhaps he’ll make a show tomorrow.

Waimate Workaway

We’ve been a bit quiet over the last few days as we have been busy working away at Jimmy and Mary’s place in Waimate (pronounced Why Mat-ee). The area between Christchurch and Waimate is quite flat and full of pasture and agriculture, so it reminded us a lot of Ireland.

The work so far has been general gardening (lots more weeding😊) and house painting.  The weather has been a bit cooler than we might expected, at around 16 – 18c with some cold and breezy days.  Not much need for shorts yet.

The town of Waimate is small and quiet with most shops closing at around 4pm.  It’s most famous claim to fame perhaps is that it had the first shopping arcade in New Zealand. Now a derelict building, you can see that it once would have been a grand affair.

We have been enjoying getting to know our fellow ‘Workaways’, enjoying time with our hosts and playing lots of card and board games.  There are quite a few musicians in the house, so we’ve been treated to a few impromptu Ceili’s. The house is situated at the foot of mountains with some sheep grazing opposite.  Very peaceful and pleasant.


Today we have a day off so we have taken in an inland tour of the lakes.  Here is Lake Tekapo.  The Collie is a monument to the dogs that helped the early settlers to graze sheep on this open and mountainous landscape.



This ended up being a great stopping stop for launch at The Tin Plate  which served Gluten free Vegan pizza.  Happy days!



Christchurch charms

We landed in Auckland and after a quick overnight stop, travelled on to Christchurch. After the country had experienced a heat wave, the tail end of a cyclone hit the island causing major disruption and some coastal damage. We now find the temperatures considerably lower at around 18c and plenty of rain – not far off the Irish summer conditions now.

Christchurch city centre is still in a sorry state, 7 years after a devastating earthquake struck, killing 181 people. Many of the cities oldest buildings were affected including the Cathedral that the city is named after. There are many parts of the city that are still empty or roads closed down or rubble sites. However the New Zealand ingenuity shines through with many pop-up businesses, car parks and even a ‘pop up’ Cathedral made of materials such as shipping containers, polycarbon and cardboard. It sounds like a very ugly affair, but as you can see from the picture, its really very elegant.

We visited the Antarctic centre in Christchurch, which was the stop that Captain Scott and his expedition stopped in 1901 to prepare their supplies before travelling on to Antartica. Christchurch has been a key centre for Antarctic explorers ever since and houses an impressive visitors centre. In the visitors centre you get to see some of the rescued little blue penguins , experience what a snow storm feels like when it hits -24c (bloody cold, I can tell you), and see a 4D Ice voyage film where you are shaken, stirred and liberally sprayed with water.

As part of the experience we took a ride on a Hagglund, which is an amphibious all-terrain vehicle specifically designed for arctic conditions. That sounds tame, but was more like a roller coaster ride, as they took us through a specially designed assault course to showcase its capability.

After the excitement of the Antarctic, we took in the serene surroundings of the Botanical Garden. The range of trees and plants is wonderful to see and the rose garden had a riot of colour. In addition to the amazing trees and plants, there were some wonderful sculptures. We even got to meet a mother duck and her Ducklings. Very cute.



And what about this cute little rainbow we saw.  Anything strange there?

Next stop Waimate for our next working experience.