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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Poor Knights

We recently went diving in one of the world’s “top-ten” diving spots - the Poor Knights Islands off the east coast of Northland - we had been warned that the swells may make the trip out there a bit grim, but with two bits of crystallised ginger for breakfast, my stomach behaved very well.

We had a lovely day and had our first experience of ‘cold’ (21 degrees C) water diving, complete with 2-piece 7mm wetsuits (so 14mm total around our torso) they were a hassle to get in and out of, but they kept us nice and toasty, and we were probably warmer than in Honduras. They also affected our buoyancy somewhat, and I ended up with 10kg of weights, and still couldn’t sink that well!!

The marine life was amazing - there were literally hundreds of fish around us, and even as the boat arrived we saw shoals of trevally and blue maomao at the surface. Underwater we saw lots of pretty damoiselles and snappers, three types of eel and a few black angelfish to name a few. After finally getting to grips with my buoyancy I was able to relax a bit and do some impressive spots - two stingrays, a packhorse crayfish, and the only poisonous fish in these waters - the well camouflaged scorpion fish. We also saw lots of funky nudibranchs - some stripy blue and yellow, others bright orange with white spots. Oh and a cool firebrick starfish. Ah, if only I had an underwater camera….

As the skipper told us, this was different from diving on coral as we could handle things and not worry about kicking the bottom etc. We were therefore a bit peturbed on our first descent by the number of spiny urchins along the seafloor and walls - definitely a good reason for avoiding any surfaces!

A marvellous occurence

After a pleasant evening in Auckland and mildly frantic search for somewhere to live we spent a relaxing morning strolling the shores and headlands of Mahauangi, a touch north of the big smoke. We found lots of curious and new beach fauna and admired a tall ship that was anchored in the bay.

Offshore I could see hundreds of seabirds, but they were too far away for satisfaction. Most vexing. Some time later we clambered up onto a headland and much to my surprise, a few thousand feeding shearwaters had surrounded the aforementioned tall ship.  This was most unusual behaviour; shearwaters are normally offshore feeders.  As the raft of birds was slowly making its way towards the shore I pegged it off down the hill as fast as my little legs would carry me (I confess to abandoning my flip-flop clad beloved atop the hill).

By the time I reached the beach the birds were just metres from the shore. These were Fluttering shearwaters (a poor choice of name I’m afraid). I waded into the water to obtain closer views and was sorely tempted to strip off and go for a swim with them, however just as the urge became strongest, the fishy-things they were feeding on drifted away and so did the shearwaters.

They had caused quite a commotion. Even the local rangers stopped and admired the show, having never seen such a display before (then they asked me what they were!).

My favourite geothermal feature

We’ve crossed through the geothermally active part of New Zealand. Now, you can have all your high profile, big money geysers, fumaroles, lava flows, hot springs, nicely coloured pools, and terribly healthy spa baths and what have you, for me though, you can’t beat bubbling mud. It wins every time, the best noises, the most amusing movements. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be thick, gloopy and to look like molten chocolate. Marvellous.

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Bah, humbug. No dynamism at all with these fellows.

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Now, that’s what I call entertaining. Who could ever tire of watching bubbling mud?

The high life

After our failure with Mt Taranaki, we headed for some more volcanoes in the centre of the North Island - luckily there was not a cloud in the sky and we took the opportunity for a spontaneous climb to the crater of Mt Ruapehu - an active volcano which most recently erupted on the 25th Sept last year… Oh, and also known as Mordor by LOTR buffs.

We took a ski lift up to knock off a few hundred metres of the ascent and then climbed up scree, snow and rocks to get to the crater itself at an elevation of ~2673m (forget exactly) - probably the highest we’ve been on our travels so far. The crater lake was impressive and steaming, although our view was quickly obscured by incoming cloud, so we had to head back down, doing some glissading (skiing in walking boots!) along the way and stopping at the toilet perched near the top- almost obligatory to pay it a visit I thought.

Chris on Mt Ruapehu

This was a good warm up for the next day’s activities which involved walking the Tongariro Crossing -  the most popular day walk in NZ apparently, and judging by the number of people on the track (literally thousands) this claim seems quite true. The track took us up some more steep slopes (so I’m feeling fairly fit just now, although whether my knees will ever forgive me…), past Mt Ngauruhoe (AKA Mt Doom) and some beautiful lakes - the appropriately named Emerald and Blue Lakes which were rather smelly (think sulphur, think rotten eggs). I learnt another mountaineering skill for getting down mountains fast (unless you’re a wimp like me) - scree sliding - we both ended up on our bums at some point on the way down.

To add to our list of ascents we also took the side track up to the top of Mount Tongariro (only 1978m!) where we had a lunch with a spectacular view. Lovely.

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Milk, mountains and rain

During our two months in Honduras, every morning we thoughtfully eyed the Anchor powdered milk tin and its fine illustration of a conical, snow capped mountain with grazing cows in the foreground. Our resident ambassador for New Zealand, Bex, would, at appropriate intervals, bring to our attention that this idyllic scene was Mount Taranaki on the North Island.

From Wellington we made our way North and expectantly drove towards this volcanic masterpiece, which our guidebook assured us was a fit rival for Mount Fuji. Eventually some heavy dark clouds loomed out of the overcast sky. Now, these clouds indicated the precense of an imposing hill, but were rather tiresomely obsuring it from our view.

We spent the night on the coast and had a fine paddle along a black sand beach. The next day it rained. Then rained a bit more. Then a lot more. No scenic views were to be had today. We drove to a nearby lighthouse, and took the opportunity to drink tea and read our books (I read Ian Rankin’s most recent book - but will there be a post retirement outing for Rebus?).

We spent some of the afternoon in New Plymouth, then camped part way up the mountain, hoping for fine views in the morning. No such luck. We drove to the top of the road and enjoyed a fine walk through the goblin woods in thick fog.

Enough. We ran away inland from where we finally saw the confounded mountain, albeit from a distance.

The north of the South

Over the last few days we have been exploring the north coast of the South Island - we started off towards the west with the Abel Tasman national park - there is a coastal track and lots of kayaking going on around there - we went for a couple of day walks around the area to check out some of the beaches, seal and shag colonies that are around - we had lovely weather (with red nose and shoulders to prove it), and the sea was a beautiful colour - so tempting to go for a dip, although a paddle proved sufficiently chilly and refreshing. We punctuated our hard walking (ha!) with afternoon naps on the beach - a habit I could get used to.

We saw in the New Year in a layby with views to the estuary and bottle of Tui beer, lovely!

The second main national park on the coast comprises Queen Charlotte Sounds - on the east side of the island. We arrived late in the afternoon after a scenic if twisty and hilly journey - we stayed in a relatively busy campsite (in comparison to the laybys we had previously been using) and finally went for a swim in the warmish waters of the sound. Yesterday we checked out a small section of the Queen Charlotte Track, which runs along the coast and occasionally into some of the bays and tramped through some overgrown grass and reeds to find our own lovely little beach for lunch - a Weka came and said hello, and Chris went for a quick dip - I was too wimpy and stuck with the paddling.

We are currently in Picton debating whether to go on a boat trip this afternoon for some dolphin and bird spotting. Tomorrow we head off on the Cook Strait to the North Island.

Psycho penguins, argumentative albatrosses, and mellow furries

We enjoyed a fine couple of days in the environs of Kaikoura. The town itself is nothing to speak of but I was attracted by the opportunity to see plentiful seabirds over the edge of the continental shelf, close inshore.

As we approached town Fiona skillfully parked next to a group of Dusky Dolphins, both parties staying in their required moisture status. After finding a mediocre and expensive campsite in town we strolled along the fur seal dotted shore. The furries were all very well behaved compared to their Antarctic counterparts, they didn’t even attempt to bite badly behaved tourists.

We kept walking, away from the masses of grockles, until we found a cave. Of course, a cave must be explored, and inside we found a rather brazen Yellow-eyed Penguin, boldly staring down at us. At the time, I was surprised by his lack of fear of us - we subsequently found out he is locally known as ‘Psycho’, due to his tendancy to chase sheep, people, albatrosses - anything that comes near him.

From the cliff top we watched the whale watching boats and aircraft chasing Sperm Whales. The three big (50 people) boats chasing two whales, with only one boat getting reasonable views was enough to put us off and we opted for an early morning boat trip to the deep water to see seabirds. This turned out to be an excellent adventure - we saw lots of wandering albatrosses of the Antipodean and Gibson’s subspecies or species (depending on your taxonomic point of view). Salvin’s and White-capped albatross were plentiful too. All the birds hang around the back of the boat to try and get a bit of tempting fish liver, frozen, and in a cage, that is used to attract them.

I’ve never watched an albatross/petrel foraging event at sea so close before. Several of the wanderers used their courtship calls, even some Salvin’s seemed to be displaying to each other. Curious behaviour, as they can only form pair bonds with birds that live in their colony. The wanderers would also fight for prime feeding position. Vicious attacks with that big hooky bill are serious business.

Our skipper gave us hot chocolate and ginger biscuits. First class!

Later in the day we opted for a swim with the New Zealand Fur Seals. A touristy set up, but we needed to hire wetsuits and gear. We walked over to a small haul-out of surplus male seals (furries have harems) and jumped in. A few seals cruised around us, but few came close until a couple of boys decided we were interesting. Being eye to eye with a male fur seal is something I would only want to experience in the water: their breath smells and they bite. Under water they are supremely elegant, and even seem to have a nice personality.

Arthur’s Pass & glaciers

After spending a night in a very pleasant forested car park (the local camp site was another unpleasant car park) we opportunistically took the advice of a sign that directed us for a walk.

We started in beautiful mossy forest, passed through lovely dwarf forest, then up a cascading river which took us above the tree line. At the end of the path we found a small, snaking glacier which were most pleased to see (the day before we had run away from the Franz Josef Glacier on account of it crawling with queuing tourists). With a few slightly complex river crossings we were at its snout (the end bit) and enjoyed a fine exploration.

It was a lovely walk. It was raining, but it didn’t seem to matter. There were almost no other people on the hill for most of our walk, but the tourist sheep principle applied, and the car park was full on our return.

‘Tis the season to be jolly

Well, actually in NZ it feels like completely the wrong season mostly - all a bit too warm and sunny. On Christmas day the weather did its best though - it was very wet and rather chilly for quite a lot of it. We did, however, manage a walk to look at the Fox glacier before the clouds burst again. The glacier is pretty impressive, although it perhaps might have been more so if we could see the big mountains that were obscured by cloud in the background. Ah well.

For Christmas we both got flip flops as our previous pairs had sadly passed away over the last couple of weeks - very distressing, especially for mine which have been with me for a good number of years and a few travels - Reef flip flops therefore highly recommended.

We treated ourselves to a buffet style lunch full of our favourite things at a nice picnic spot in the rain, with an almost constant stream of campervans and cars driving past, though there were nice views when the rain stopped. We had a lovely, yummy Christmas cake that Nicola had very kindly provided, and we even got a twinkling Christmas tree for 97c (about 30p) courtesy of The Warehouse in Queenstown “Where everyone gets a bargain” - apparently this is true!

After checking out our planned camp for the evening and finding it was in fact a car park, and busy as well, we headed along the road and found a nice little grassy spot where we had our Christmas dinner - for those interested this consisted of “Marinated Aubergine Steak”, “Sauteed garlic mushrooms and capsicum” and new potatoes glazed with butter. Delicious. This was rounded off with a rather nice white wine from Gisborne, NZ.

Hope you all had an equally lovely day.

Always choose your tent carefully…

T’was Christmas morn by Lake Paringa. We were enjoying the pleasures of a small campsite and a morning cup of tea. Entertainment was kindly provided by a lone camper striking his tent (in the camping sense, rather than in violence).

Over the course of an hour we watched this Mr Bean like character fail to pack his tent away. Now, you might argue that it being the season of goodwill to all men I should have offered my extensive tent folding experience however:

1. He had erected his tent in a position that spoiled our view so we were not inclined towards generosity.

2. It was Christmas, he was alone, thus clearly a psychopath.

Now, why did it take him a hour before he succeeded in his task? His tent was a natty self erecting tent that sprang open and assumed the position as soon as released from its bag. Just when he thought that game was over and the tent in the bag, it escaped his grasp and exploded back to square one.

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