Monday, March 19, 2012

Pencarrow Head

We'd previously walked from Muritai along the coast track to Pencarrow Head, but had turned back as it's quite a long walk (4 hours) and we'd set out quite late in the day and weren't really prepared for a long walk. "We should hire some bicycles and do this" we said, and as we left the car park we spotted the cycle hire shed that had eluded us when we set out.

On Sunday we returned to Muritai, parked up and rented a couple of bikes. We'd packed a picnic in a cool bag, so redistributed that between two rucksacks - along with all the other requirements that we usually forget when we go out exploring and which are written on every map we see when we get to the park or reserve in question: Plan your trip, tell someone of your plans, wear proper shoes, take waterproof/warm clothing, take water and food with you. Normally when we set out we joke about how we would need to be rescued as we were wearing inappropriate footwear, no warm clothing, no food or water, hadn't told anyone, didn't know where we were going etc. But this time we done it proper, like.

I've not been on a bike for about 30 years, so I was a little unsteady to begin with. Also, the concept of gears on bikes was largely foreign to me, so I had to figure out what I was doing with those as well. Fortunately, your modern mountain bike is fairly intuitive in this, so I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

Christ on a bike! Well, me, actually

We set off down the gravel track towards Pencarrow Head, stopping along the way to admire the scenery and the lighthouse - New Zealand's first, which was manned, or womanned, by  New Zealand's only woman lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett.

We headed off the beaten track onto a more rustic one by Lake Kohangapiripiri, and sat down by the track to have our picnic.

The return journey was substantially more arduous as we were heading into the wind, which had picked up quite significantly. Also we were a bit saddle-sore by this point, so we stopped for a breather several times on the way back.

The overall trip is not a long one by cycling standards - I think it was about 8km each way. But it felt longer on the way back.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


On Saturday, the sun was shining, it was warm, and we decided to go back to Zealandia, the wildlife park in the centre (-ish) of Wellington. Well, it's in the central Wellington area. I first visited Zealandia when Nicola's family were visiting, and we took advantage of their special offer for membership, which means we can go there any time we like without paying...for the next year, anyway.

We entered through the takahe enclosure. Takahe are extremely endangered - like many New Zealand birds, they were highly susceptible to predation by both humans and introduced mammals, and only survive on predator-free islands or in reserves such as Zealandia or Pukaha Mount Bruce

We then walked up the lakeside track to the tuatara area. Last time we were there we spotted four tuatara basking in the afternoon sunshine: 

A tuatara in typical pose. The coloured beads identify them to  the staff.

This time around, we only saw two - an adult male and a juvenile - whilst we walked along the front part of the tuatara enclosure alongside the path. But then we decided to take a different turn and walked up the back of the enclosure, an area which is not as sunny, in order to get to the high dam (Zealandia is built around what used to be Wellington's main water supply, until the powers that be realised the foolishness of having a water supply right on the main fault line under the city). We discovered that there were patches of sunlight here where the path curved, and saw two more adults out in the sunshine...then, when we were leaving the enclosure and heading off on a different track, some rustling in the undergrowth attracted us and we spotted another one outside the enclosure. So this was almost like seeing one in the wild!

After walking the high track and the Valley View track (from which we were unable to view the valley) we came to the bellbird and hihi feeding area, where, unsurprisingly, we saw several bellbirds and hihis. They're generally quite difficult to tell apart, but apparently the hihi has a tail which sticks up, whereas the bellbird doesn't.

By the time we'd completed the circuit our sightings of tuatara were a bit out of date (visitors are encouraged to note sightings on a whiteboard, to assist other visitors in spotting them), so we took a quick peek at the wetas in their weta hotels before heading back to the visitor centre.

Friday, March 2, 2012


The weather forecast for our three days in Rotorua was pretty grim: nearly all of New Zealand is in the grip of a huge swathe of rain, and we were right in the thick of it. Nevertheless, we decided that we should go out and explore the volcanic activity in the area, as this was after all what we’d come here for.

First thing to note about Rotorua is the smell. It whiffs. It pongs. It is everywhere, although it seems to come and go in gusts…but there’s always that background level of smell. You get used to it.

We drove about 27km south to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which has a geyser that is set off artificially every day at 1015. We didn’t need to make an early start, but got on the road to make sure we could find it and be there in plenty of time, both of which we achieved with the minimum of fuss. The rain was coming and going in waves, but never completely stopped. We got our tickets to the whole park, including the geyser, and waited around n the light drizzle waiting for the show to begin. As it did, the rain got substantially heavier, and we all got somewhat soaked. The guide told the story of how the geyser had first been discovered by prisoners (it was on the site of an old open prison) and they’d used the hot water pool for washing their clothes. The soap they’d used had broken the surface tension of the pool and caused the geyser to erupt, distributing their laundry over a wide area. Nowadays they seed the geyser with an eco-friendly surfactant which has the same effect, and causes the geyser to erupt.

Who's this geyser?

Thoroughly drenched, we repaired to the café for refreshment and waited for the rain to ease off a little. This it duly did, and we went for a wander around the rest of the park, where that are various pools craters, and assorted deposits and other signs of volcanic activity. We were fortunate that the rain held off for most of the time, and only really set in again heavily when we were just on the last leg, so we rather rushed past those, and headed back to the café for a warming hot chocolate, and a trawl around the gift shop, whilst trying to dry out a bit.

This is where the café gets the hot chocolate from

On the way out, we drove past the mud pools, the final part of the tour. As it was starting to rain again, we decided to give it a miss, and this was vindicated as a truly torrential downpour then ensued as we made our way back to central Rotorua. By the time we got there we were pretty hungry, and we selected Fat Dog Café more or less at random – a good choice, as it turned out, and we had a substantial lunch there. We then set out in search of the fabled Rotorua t-shirt (all the gift shops we’d encountered so far only stocked general New Zealand t-shirts – I was after something more specific!) and had a walk around the Government Gardens, which contain some hot bubbling pools and a now-defunct geyser.

Cute baby pukeko in the Government Gardens