Efate, Lelepa and Nguna – a small taste of Vanuatu

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Vanuatu for almost a month already. We’ve crammed in so much that time has simply disappeared as though swallowed by a black hole. It’s entirely possible that we’ve done and seen more of this country in the last month than we did in Marquesas over 6 months. I won’t write about it all in this post, I’ve got to leave something for Alex to write about after all, but here’s a small taste of our Vanuatuan adventures so far.

Efate

The tiring sail up to Vanuatu from New Zealand was well worth the effort, particularly because I knew my parents were waiting for me at the other end. They currently live in Thailand where my mum works as a teacher and my Dad is enjoying his retirement. They spent a good portion of the school summer holidays visiting Australia and decided to take the opportunity to fly from there to Vanuatu to visit us. It’s a long way for them to come and we’re honoured they decided to make the trip, particularly as my Dad hates flying with a deep passion! Moreover, he likes to feed his fear by watching documentaries about plane crashes in the weeks leading up to a flight. I have absolutely no idea how my Mum managed to convince him to, firstly, move to Thailand in the first place; and secondly, to spend the summer holidays globe trotting to distant corners of the planet to see his one and only daughter. Despite his impending doom he came along anyway. He must really love me! 🙂 All jokes aside, I think they both had a lot of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. Even though I don’t see my parents as often since I started this voyage, the time we do spend together is of better quality and I appreciate it all the more because of that.

We spent many an afternoon and evening chilling out on Bob. The last time my Mum was on board was in a very rolly anchorage in Galapagos and she got quite ill. This time the anchorage was much more sheltered so it was much nicer for her.

This is the first time my Dad has seen Bob and it was great to be able to show him our home and way of life. He seemed to enjoy the experience and learning more about it.

We made the most of the good trade winds and took them for a day sail, which is a first for both of them I believe. They both took turns on helm which of course made mine and Alex’s job much easier.

We took advantage of the nice beach, snorkelling and paddle boarding offered by the resort where my parents were staying.

We had a lot of fun at the blue lagoon. It’s a pool of brackish water near the coast which is a beautiful vibrant blue colour, perhaps because of the mineral composition in the water.

 

We took a trip to The Summit gardens to see the famous view and enjoy the ornamental flora. We were disappointed to find the place was closed to the public due to damage from a Cyclone back in 2015. All was not lost however! After speaking to one of the local gardeners (a wonderful guy named Thompson) we ended up having our own private tour through the gardens with a very experienced and knowledgable local. This secret gem was definitely one of my highlights of Efate, here are some of the photos:

Lelepa

We bid my parents a heartfelt goodbye before heading to some of the smaller islands just north of Efate. First stop, Lelepa. Lelepa is part of an area with significant historical relevance. It was in a cave on this island where a famous chief died some 400 years ago. He was famous for bringing peace to the region after a long period of suffering and conflict. An entire island just west of Lelepa was dedicated as his burial site and around 40 of his friends and family were killed and buried with him. Whether they volunteered for this or not remains a mystery, but it is a sign of great respect for the paramount chief to be honoured with this type of ceremony and resting place.

This is a bat cave in the north of Lelepa. It may not be the death place of the famous chief but I’m sure there have been dead bodies in here at some point in the past. Bats were everywhere and unlike the U.K., you don’t need a special licence to go and see them. Whether or not the bats were happy about the disturbance we caused is another matter.

We had also heard there was a resident dugong mother and her pup hanging around in the waters just a short walk from the anchorage. We set off with snorkel fins in hand at the hope of seeing this unusual creature. We split up our search efforts and amazingly, I was the lucky one who came across the dugongs first. I say I ‘came across’ them but really they found me. I was swimming with them for a whole 10 minutes before the others arrived and quickly scared them away. At least they got a glimpse even if it was only for a few seconds. The snorkelling in this area is truly fantastic! We also saw turtles, a sting ray, a multitude of other fish and I even managed to get some good footage of an octopus, who surprisingly didn’t seem bothered about hiding himself away in the rocks.

This is the beautiful anchorage in Lelepa. It may look hazardous from anchoring perspective, but at least the coral heads are easy to see!

Nguna

We then set sail a little further north to an island called Nguna. This island is home to a large inactive volcano and we chose to anchor Bob outside a small village at the foot of its cone. This was our first proper exposure to rural Vanuatuan culture – where you must visit the village chief and offer him gifts in return for his permission to anchor outside the village. As soon as the anchor dropped we headed to shore armed with a large bag of children’s clothes and ladies underwear (which we’d acquired from a charity shop in New Zealand) as we’d heard they were sought after in these islands. The locals seemed very grateful and the chief spent many hours that day speaking and drinking kava with us and showing us round his village. This was a huge privilege for us as we’d unwittingly arrived on on their Independence Day and many villages from all over the island were gathered here for the celebrations. The chief had a very busy day and yet he took the time to proudly show us his home, the local school, church and all the food and drink stalls set up for the Independence Day celebrations. We were even invited to watch the local football tournament. My dad would have loved it! We we’re also given lots of interesting food by the locals, many of which I have no idea how to eat and some of which I’ve never seen before in my life. It’s always fun to try the local cuisine.

This is Alex with the chief in the village nursery.

This is probably the most spectacular backdrop for a football match I have ever seen with the extinct volcano towering over the pitch.

This is a coco pod. I was aware that you can grind the seeds to make coco powder but the locals use them in a different way. They open the pod and suck the white flesh from the seeds and discard them afterwards. They taste beautifully sweet, like sherbert. We decided to keep the seeds and have a go at making our own coco powder. Watch this space.

This is the aptly named ‘snake bean’. Some beans are even more curly and look even more snake-like than this one. You remove the inside pith and scrape off the outer white skin. What’s left is something that is a little bit like bell pepper – a mild sweet flavoured food that you can fry or boil.

We got to see a lot of Efate with my parents and it was amazing to spend time with them. When it comes to visiting the country itself, it’s the rural lifestyle and unique landscapes that really appeal to Alex and I and in that sense, the best is yet to come…

Wildlife Therapy

I think Bob is very displeased with all this boat work we’ve been doing to her recently. She is upset that we’re disturbing her peace and has decided to show her displeasure in a number of ways. Firstly, she has made every stage of every job just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. This has cost us a lot of extra time and money and will mean we have to rush around even more than originally planned in order to get to South Africa for the next cyclone season.

Bob’s most recent show of disobedience comes in the form of a mysterious brown gunk that inexplicably appears in unforeseen places around the boat. I took a packet of pasta out of the cupboard yesterday for dinner and it was covered in brown gunk. I got a packet of cheese out of the fridge to grate over the pasta and that, too, was covered in brown gunk. I got some cling film out of a different cupboard to replace the cheese packet – it was also covered in brown gunk! Where the hell is all this brown gunk coming from?! Bob is obviously disgruntled and is finding her own ways of voicing this. Meanwhile, after six weeks of living in what can best be described as a damp workshop in the Arctic in a home that anthropomorphically shows her displeasure by leaving disgusting brown sludge everywhere, I am in desperate need of escape.

This is what Bob has looked like most days recently.

We can see our own breath most of the time, even indoors!

This is me fully kitted out in winter attire for cooking dinner. And no, I’m not pregnant. I have a hot water bottle shoved up my top!

A simple and effective form of escape for me at the moment is to simply go up on deck on a clear day and admire the wildlife. Despite the chaos on Bob from all the work, we are lucky enough to be moored in a beautiful location on the Kerikeri River and even though it’s currently the middle of winter, wildlife is still in abundance here.

This pied shag spends most of his time in the water hunting small fish. He can swim better than he can fly.

I found this honey bee on deck last week. She was struggling to move so I tried to revive her with some sugar water.

She is using her tongue to suck up the sugar water. I find this both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Today my chosen escape method is to spend a little time reminiscing about the fascinating wildlife we’ve seen throughout the country. New Zealand has been separate from the main continent for quite some time now. As a result, much of the wildlife has evolved completely differently from anywhere else in the world and has led to some truly unique species. I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

Friendly birds

Many bird species evolved without the pressure of natural predators and as such many have no fear of humans and some have even become flightless. This lack of fear has led to the demise of some species, such as the moa and the huia, which were hunted to extinction by human settlers over the past 1000 years. Many species are now struggling due to typical anthropogenic pressures such as agriculture, introduced species, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and climate change. The species that survive today are playful, curious and a joy to be around. Their presence is an important indicator of the state of the environment and if New Zealand continues with its conservation efforts, hopefully their populations will remain and thrive in years to come.

Weka

The weka is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flightless birds. They are curious creatures and are often attracted to human activity. This one was very happy to take food from our hands and hung around the van while we ate our dinner. It didn’t just attempt to steal my food scraps, it tried to steal the whole bowl when I foolishly put it on the ground after finishing my dinner! It also tried to nibble the white ‘spots’ on my socks mistaking them for food. I guess they’re not the smartest of creatures.

Kea

Unlike the weka, the kea is apparently one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It is an alpine parrot and in order to survive in this harsh environment they have become inquisitive and social birds. They are known to congregate around novel objects and use their strong beaks to manipulate them. They have evolved a neophillic (a love of new things), fearless and mischievous character as a survival mechanism in extreme environments. Unfortunately this has caused some conflict with people and the kea is now listed as vulnerable in New Zealand. Did you know:

  • A kea stole a mans wallet and car keys from inside his camper van.
  • A kea took a mans boots from outside the front door and dropped them down a nearby long-drop toilet.
  • A kea learned how to turn on a water tap at a Department of Conservation site.
  • A kea learned how to use tools to get to eggs set in stoat traps without being harmed.
  • A kea once locked a Department of Conservation ranger inside a toilet hut.
  • A group of keas can write off a car in 30 minutes.

 

Pukeko

The pukeko became established in New Zealand about 1000 years ago but is now facing pressures from introduced predators such as cats and rats. Our friends, Alexa (who we originally met in Niue) and her boyfriend Blair have adopted (or been adopted by!) this young pukeko who turned up at their house one day and decided to stay. This is her getting a cuddle from Blair in their living room. She was decidedly less friendly towards me and Alex. We were obviously not welcome in her territory and she frequently demonstrated her dislike of us by trying to peck away chunks of our toes! I don’t know what it is about birds in this country and their desire to eat my feet, but I don’t much like it.

Tomtit

This little bird is a tomtit, also known as the South Island robin. It flew right into my hand to take some food with no persuasion needed! Very cute.

Royal spoonbill

The royal spoonbill definitely deserves its name. It’s native to New Zealand and is the only spoonbill to breed in this country. Have you ever seen such an unusual and regal-looking bird? They feed by opening their spoon-like bill and sweeping it from side to side to filter out small vertebrates and insects from the water.

Silver tree fern

To the Maori, the elegant frond shape of the silver tree fern signifies power, strength and endurance and is now a national symbol of New Zealand. The trees grow up to 10 meters tall and the underside of their fronds is often white or silvery. This underside reflects moonlight well and in the past they have been used as an aid to navigation.

Glow worms

Glow worms may look as stunning as the Milky Way in the night sky, but don’t let their looks deceive you. They are, in fact, deadly and ferocious hunters. The worms are about an inch in length and they have a very interesting way of attracting prey – they use their poo! Glowworms use their ‘waste’ in a chemical reaction to produce light to attract prey, which then gets caught in a network of sticky silk threads. They essentially have glow-in-the-dark bums! Cool eh? They appear regularly distributed in their environment (like the starry night sky) due to cannibalism that can occur during territorial disputes. I also read that they lay their eggs in batches and apparently the first one to hatch eats the rest. I’d hate to think what happens during mating!

Mammals

Dolphins

This bottlenose dolphin spent a good 10 minutes playing in the wake created by our tour boat at Milford Sound. There were probably about 10 individuals in this pod but they can reach numbers of up to 20. Having spent the morning touring this stunning location surrounded by shear mountains and thundering waterfalls, these dolphins were the cherry on the cake!

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals are sociable animals and we were lucky enough to see this colony from a viewing platform on the south coast. It was fabulous to see mothers with their suckling pups. Some of them have identification tags on their flippers and are part of a population monitoring scheme set up by the Department of Conservation.

New Zealand sea lion

We’ve seen sea lions before in Galapagos. Those ones were a couple of meters in length and we naively assumed the ones in New Zealand would be similar. As we set off down the beach for a windy sunset stroll we noticed a dark cloud looming overhead. We were about to turn back when Alex decided to have a quick run up the beach to see if we could see any sea lions before leaving. He saw what he thought was a large piece of driftwood in the distance. He was somewhat surprised when the driftwood somehow morphed into an enormous male sea lion and squared him off when he was only a few metres away! I managed to snap the photo above as he was speedily on his way back. You get some idea of scale but it doesn’t really do it justice, this sea lion is HUGE (over 3m long) and weighs almost half a tonne! As the worlds rarest species of sea lion, we are incredibly fortunate to have seen it.

That concludes my escape therapy for today. I hope my next form of escape will be more literal – in the sense that I hope Bob will be in great shape (after all this work) and be in a beautiful tropical island in Vanuatu and away from the New Zealand chill.

A magical road trip through Middle Earth

When Lord of the Rings fans think about visiting New Zealand they remember the films and imagine travelling through the breath-taking landscapes of Middle Earth. Many places, in both the North and South Island, were used when filming the Lord of the Rings and its prequel The Hobbit. New Zealand really does have all this, from the mind blowing grandeur of snow capped mountains to the charming beauty of rolling green hills – and all this is surprisingly accessible when you see the country by land.

We wanted to really immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of New Zealand – to have the freedom to visit distant corners of the country and to stay in these places for as long as we desired. It’s for these reasons we decided to travel by self-contained campervan so we could have the freedom to travel and camp as we liked.

This is our self-contained camper van ‘Jacangi’ at one of many glorious destinations in Middle Earth.

 

My brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue explored the North Island of New Zealand in their camper van, aptly named ‘Shadowfax’ after Gandalf’s horse and supposedly the fastest horse in Middle Earth. You can hardly tell the difference.

Our last blog post painted quite a negative picture of freedom camping in New Zealand and we had many messages from family and friends wanting to give advice and show their concern. For this we are extremely grateful. We want to reassure everyone that while this negative aspect is very real, it represents only a very small portion of our overall experience here and on the whole 99% of our road trip was absolutely amazing. Just like Middle Earth, New Zealand is stunningly beautiful and most of the people here are friendly and welcoming. Also like Middle Earth, there are dangers and difficulties. In our case we faced the Orcs of Mordor in the form of the ‘camper van haters’ and faced perilous dangers dealing with extreme weather conditions.

This is a dramatic representation of one of the camper van haters we experienced outside of Christchurch. I hope his face didn’t freeze like this.

This is a dramatic representation of Alex one morning after waking up in our camper van after a particularly cold night near Milford Sound.

Luckily the negative aspects of our journey were sparse and overall our experience was filled with immense enjoyment and adventure. Here are some of the highlights from our road trip through Middle Earth:

1. The Shire – Hobbiton, Waikato

The Hobbiton film set is a must-see for any Lord of the Rings fans. The drive through Waikato to get to Hobbiton puts you in the middle of rolling green hills and lush farmland. You feel like you’re in The Shire before you’ve even arrived. Once at the film set you can visit the 44 hobbit holes and their delightful gardens and veggie patches. You can also see Bag End, the mill, the Party Tree, have a drink at the Green Dragon Pub and use costumes/props to transform yourself into a character from the film.

   Alex is enjoying some respite at the Green Dragon pub. He really reminds me of someone…

 

 The wise wizard greets a young hobbit outside his home to offer some wizardly wisdom.

 

 Young hobbits of The Shire resting by a horse cart.

 

2. Mordor – Tongariro National Park

Tongariro national park and Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) in all its splendour.

This 80,000 hectare national park is one of the most spectacular areas in New Zealand, perhaps even the world. The area encompasses meadows, lakes, alpine landscapes, rocky plateaus and jagged ravines. It is home to natural hot springs as well as three volcanoes Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (better known as the infamous Mount Doom). This is one of the most beautiful and majestic places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The film crew did a great job bringing out the menacing characteristics of the landscape and it’s very easy to imagine Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their perilous journey through the lands of Mordor with the almighty ring.

 “We wants it. We needs it. We must have… the PRECIOUS!”

 

 Mount Ngauruhoe during a fiery sunset. There’s no need to stretch your imagination for this one – the fires of Mordor are blazing.

3. Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park and Fiordland

We had our pointy-ears at the ready and immersed ourselves in the home of the elves – Rivendell – or Kaitoke Region Park as it’s better known to the locals. Although the film stage has been long since removed, it’s very easy to imagine yourself in Rivendell thanks to the helpful information boards and replica elvish archway installed here.

The replica elvish archway in Kaitoke Regional Park.

 

 “Call me Legolas. Come, I will protect you.”

The magnificent backdrop to Rivendell with the immense waterfalls was filmed in Fiordland National Park and is one of the reasons why tourists flock to this area of New Zealand every year.

The magic of Rivendell can be felt at Milford Sound in Fiordland. Huge glaciers carved this fiord out of the mountains leaving behind this vast chasm, surrounded by snow covered peaks and glistening, thundering waterfalls.

4. The Anduin River – Kawarau Gorge

This is the location of a scene in the first film where the Fellowship of the Ring paddles down the Anduin River, which at one point is straddled by a pair of enormous stone statues representing the Kings of Old. The stone statues were added using CGI but the Kawarau Gorge is breathtaking nonetheless. You can see the gorge from its most striking angle by doing a bungee jump from the Kawarau Bridge, which Alex did on his birthday recently as mentioned in a previous post.

 Kawarau Gorge is the location for the scene of The Argonath and Anduin River.

5. The Dead Marshes – Kepler Mire, Te Anau

Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes and past the haunted souls of the dead who lie under the surface of the water. It’s easy to imagine Kepler Mire as the eerie home of the dead, especially if you were to visit on a foggy evening under nothing but candle light for a truly haunting effect.

 “There are dead faces in the water!”

6. Fangorn Forest – Snowdon Forest, Fiordlands

The Snowdon Forest near Te Anau is the location of Fangorn Forest – home of the Ents and where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli first meet Gandalf the White. You have to stretch your imagination here to really imagine yourself in the forbidden forest of the films but it’s a beautiful location nonetheless.

 Snowdon (aka Fangorn) Forest. Is that Treebeard I see in the distance?

After two glorious months our road trip through Middle Earth has finally come to an end. We’re now back on the boat and spending most of our days doing various jobs in preparation for leaving in the coming weeks. We have some major rigging work to undertake and we’re hoping it won’t be too long before we’re able to set sail for Vanuatu. Autumn is now coming to an end in New Zealand, winter is coming and we’re both very keen to head to warmer climes. I’ve come to realise that my body is not built for the cold and Bob in particular is not the easiest place to heat up in a cold spell. At least we can move her to somewhere toastier.

Image credits from top to bottom

  • Shadowfax the horse – image from YouTube uploaded by Screen Themes
  • Orc of Mordor – image from lotr.wikia.com
  • Gimli covered in snow – image from www.theargonath.cc
  • Gandalf the Grey – image from zeldadungeon.net
  • Gandalf with Bilbo – image by Kelly McMorris downloaded from kellybean86.deviantart.com
  • Hobbits by horse cart – image from 8tracks.com from Concerning Hobbits playlist
  • Tongariro National Park – photo by Tom Brooks
  • Gollum with ring – image from maybeshesthatgirl.blogspot.co.nz
  • Fires of Mordor – image from jrrtolkien.wikia.com
  • Legolas – image from lots.wikia.com
  • The Argonath/ Anduin River – image from www.queenstown.net.nz
  • Gollum in Dead Marshes – image is screenshot from film
  • Fantasy Forest – image by Daniel Pilla downloaded from danielpillaart.deviantart.com

Birthday Bungee!

As many of you may well know, Alex turns 34 today. It’s now an annual ritual for Alex to wake up on this day each year and feel old, miserable and dejected. I then spend the rest of the day trying to make him feel young and vibrant again, or simply try to take his mind off things. God knows what he’s going to be like in many decades to come when he’s actually old! This year my job was made a little easier by the fact that Alex decided to do a bungee jump from the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, the worlds first bungee jump. What better way to feel youthful than to fling yourself from a 43m-high bridge! Well done Alex – my brave, wonderful, amazing and crazy man!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

 

Jacangi is the new Bob

This is our new home… for a time at least. We’re now back in New Zealand and have moved from Bob into our new camper van ‘Jacangi’ for a few months to explore all that this beautiful country has to offer.

We arrived back at the end of February after spending a fabulous few months in Thailand with my parents. I didn’t have to wait too long to see family again, however, as just two weeks later my brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue flew out to join us for an epic fortnight exploring the North Island.

The two weeks before they arrived was spent frantically doing various jobs on Bob and Jacangi in preparation for their visit. Most jobs involved preparing Bob to be sailable and then to be left unattended for a few months (again!) whilst preparing Jacangi to be lived in for a few months. I did find some time, however, to make a few home improvements…

This is the galley just after I started working on it. You can see where the old wood has degraded, the counter top is very stained with various disused holes and the tap was starting to get a little corroded.

This is the galley after. Actually, it’s still a work in progress as it needs painting… but you get the idea. The taps were replaced, counter top was tiled and grouted, wood was sanded and varnished (4 times) and I even polished the sink and cooker!

Tom and Sue were only able to take 3 weeks off work to visit us. They spent at least 3 days of that time travelling on various flights, so it was VERY important to make the most of their visit and cram in as much exciting stuff as possible! I think we succeeded. It’s possible to see a lot of the North Island in just over two weeks when you put your mind to it, and it has a LOT to offer.

The Bay of Islands

The best place to sail in the whole of New Zealand is thought to be the stunning Bay of Islands with its tranquil warm waters (well, warm in comparison to the rest of the country) and impressive green islands protruding from the depths. The four of us spent a couple of nights on the boat and luckily had absolutely perfect weather for a few day sails around this spectacular group of Islands.

Sailing through the Bay of Islands on a lovely sunny day.

The group on Bob, minus photographer of course.

Tom was exhausted after our loooong 20 minute hike to the view point on the elaborately named island of Urupukapuka.

A home on wheels

We moved into our camper vans after the boat trip. Alex and I into Jacangi while Tom and Sue moved into their hired camper ‘Shadowfax’. Any Lord of the Rings fans will know the significance of that name as being the name of the horse belonging to Gandalf the wizard. What better way to explore the very land where Lord of the Rings was filmed than on Shadowfax! Although Tom quite rightly pointed out that perhaps the name was a little unfitting as Shadowfax is supposed to be the fastest horse in middle earth – their camper van on the other hand is about as fast as a tortoise on a treadmill. Just like the tortoise, however, we were able to take our time and enjoy some of the enchanting wilderness of this stunning country.

Shadowfax!

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take your home with you as you travel and enjoy many familiar comforts in unexplored territories. As with boats, motor homes also require a lot of upkeep and we had to be constantly aware of our water and power usage. Toilet breaks had to be properly planned and dumping of waste water in appropriate locations had to be considered. This particular aspect was something new for all of us and sometimes proved to be a bit of a challenge, as Tom demonstrated when he accidentally emptied the contents of the toilet all over his hand! Don’t worry Tom, a wise man once said that the most valuable lessons in life are usually the most challenging ones.

Freedom camping near Matamata at one of the Department of Conservation sites.

Camping and doing laundry in the Tongariro National Park

Hobbiton

As huge Lord of the Rings fans, Tom and Sue were finally able to fulfil their lifelong dreams of becoming hobbits. We of course were more than happy to join them in the fun as we visited the charming Hobbiton film set. The set is now a popular tourist attraction and the grounds are immaculately maintained. Very well done to the four gardeners who do a super-human job keeping the grounds looking vibrant and lush all year round.

A hobbit hole complete with its beautiful garden.

You ACTUALLY become a hobbit in this magical place.

Exploring the enchanted hobbit holes.

Enjoying a drink at The Green Dragon.

The wake up call of a thousand Scots

We spent a night camping by the lake in Rotorua, only to be abruptly woken up at about 7am to the sound of bagpipes! As time went on the more bagpipes started playing. Not able to ignore the sound any longer, we stuck our heads outside and to our amazement we could see at least 5 bagpipe bands (all fully kitted out in the proper Scottish attire) playing instruments in various streets and car parks in the vicinity. It turns out that the National Bagpipe Championships were being held in Rotorua that day and everyone was practising for the upcoming parade – what a wonderful and fortunate surprise!

Practising in the streets of Rotorua.

Here are a few snaps during the parade. I know Scottish music isn’t renowned for it prowess but I promise you they all sounded and looked amazing! I guess they were the best in the country.

Getting hot and steamy in Rotorua & Taupo

Some of New Zealand’s active volcanoes are located in the region around Rotorua and Taupo and have led to some truly amazing natural wonders. Scalding hot water, bubbling mud pools, serene hot springs and explosive geysers are all products of volcanic activity deep beneath the earth’s surface.

Having a dip in the natural hot waters of a hot spring near Taupo. The temperature is about 40 degrees Celsius – perfect bath water temperature.

A mud splat at the bubbling mud pool near Rotorua. There was an entire pond like this – just amazing!

A hot water beach with a man bathing in the apparently ‘scalding’ water. It was a bit chilly at the time so I was quite envious of him.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been voted as one of the best day-hikes in the world. It spans the oldest National Park in New Zealand and crosses adjacent to the peak of Mt Ngauruhoe – an active volcano better known as ‘Mount Doom’ from Lord of the Rings. The track covers rare alpine landscapes, babbling streams, luminous turquoise mineral ponds and violently boiling pools of sulphurous water. These natural wonders are combined with amazing views of awe-inspiring scenery. Who knew Mordor was so pretty?!

Tom and Sue on the climb to the summit of the crossing. You can see Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe) in the background. Unfortunately, I stupidly had my camera on the wrong settings so these photos are not so good. Tom took some better ones which I’m hoping he’ll share with me soon.

The turquoise mineral pools of the crossing. You can also see the steam from the boiling pools to the right of the photo.

After four hours of uphill hiking we finally made it to the top! Hurrah!

Ohakune Old Coach Road cycle track

We decided to do a bike ride over the Old Coach track in Ohakune. This trail covers areas of historical significance and passes over some wonderful old viaducts, bridges and tunnels as well as through beautiful native bush with stunning views. The locals have done a fantastic job at restoring this trail and have installed a lot of information boards along the way. It also has the bonus of being mainly downhill. Unfortunately this only served to highlight my unfitness as I still spent most of my time struggling to haul myself and my bike through the uneven terrain. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

Admiring the lovely stream while having another quick rest during the bike ride.

The old viaduct on the Old Coach Road cycle track. It’s a lot higher than it looks! In fact, it was one of the first places in New Zealand to bungee jump from – until killjoys… erm… I mean ‘health & safety legislation’ put a stop to it.

Another old viaduct on the journey. There are three in total.

There were a number of other highlights along the way which of course added to the whole experience. We enjoyed the sun filled afternoons in the outdoors with cold beers and board games. The Milky Way was prominent on clear nights, it’s vastness never ceasing to amaze. There were also treetop adventures at Adrenaline Forest, which is like GoApe but even more intense. Tom and Sue (being a little more flush than us at the time) also splashed out on a white water rafting experience and a cave tour to see some glow worms. Oh and I can’t forget about The Big Carrot – one of New Zealand’s finest attractions.

One of the easier obstacles at Adrenaline Forest in the Bay of Plenty. I’m told the views were wonderful, but I was too scared for my life to notice.

We weren’t able to watch Tom and Sue on their white water rafting adventure as we were busy doing laundry. We did, however, get another opportunity to watch some brave people fall down a waterfall in a bright yellow inflatable tube. This is what they looked like and how I see Tom and Sue in my minds eye during their experience.

The photo of these glow worms were actually taken near our friends house (Alexa who we originally met in Niue and her boyfriend Blair) after Tom and Sue had already left, but it’s similar to what they must have seen on their tour.

It’s a big carrot!


Tom and Sue flew back to the UK at the end of March while Alex and I have continued to drive south to visit friends and explore more of New Zealand. It’s always heartbreaking to say goodbye to those you love, not knowing when you’ll next see them again. Hopefully next time won’t be quite as long. It reminded me of just how many people I care about who I’ve not seen in far too long. We still have the rest of April to enjoy our road trip, so there’s still time if anyone else would like to join us! Anyone tempted….?