Fiji with the Fab Four – Fiji

In June the Fab Four headed to Fiji – our only other overseas jaunt had been pre kids (them not me, apart from Steve of course). On that trip we only just made our flight to Noumea due to some over zealous shopping in duty free. We had our names called over the PA system so we sauntered to the departure gate to find it empty : 0. In those days you had to catch the bus out to the plane so they had to send a bus back to get us. Needless to say we were not very popular when we boarded the plane – to be fair we were too busy laughing to be too worried!

This time we were determined to do better : ). I got to the airport in good time as I had stayed in Auckland the night before – Jen and Camilla were travelling up from Hamilton and meeting Sheree in Papakura. They thought they had left in plenty of time but the traffic was diabolical. Meanwhile I am standing in the self checkin area looking like Nigel No Mates calling them every five minutes to see where they are. I then thought I could check us all in online but no I needed their passports. Next move was to check myself in only to find that I was 3 kilograms overweight when I went to the bag drop and it was going to cost me $100! I flagged that idea and decided to wait for the others.

Check in closed at 8am and they got there with five minutes to spare. It was all go though as Camilla was also overweight – she thought the limit was 25kg – unpacking and repacking commenced! It was all the food and drink supplies putting us over the limit, not the clothes! Due to all my tootooing with trying to check them in the kiosks were now rejecting us! We got in the line which was actually quite long – panic was setting in. I then spotted an unattended staff member and made a bee line for her – thankfully she calmly checked us in reversing all the mess ups I had made!

Phew, we were on our way. We cleared customs and did our duty free shopping in the time allocated and made the departure gate to find our fellow travellers still there – bonus!

We arrived to 30 degree temperatures in Fiji – bliss after the cold winter we had been enduring in NZ. I had a card from a taxi driver we used last time we were in Fiji and I had arranged for him to pick us up and he didn’t let me down.

We were staying in the Terrace Apartments in Denerau and they upgraded us to a three bedroom apartment. They were a bit tired but very functional with a large kitchen, dining and lounge area and a great big deck overlooking the pool and golf course. What more could four fabulous girls want?

We hit the pool straight away. It was so nice being back in the warmth with minimal clothing on : )

It wasn’t long before the cocktails were calling us at the Port so off we went to Hard Rock Cafe.

Our daily routine started with a 6km jaunt along the beach and through all the resorts on Denarau. Sheree then had us doing interval sprints, well when I say ‘us’ I really mean me – Camilla couldn’t be arsed and Jen participated half heartedly for a few before sauntering off with Camilla. This only lasted a couple of days until Sheree tweaked her calf muscle.

We had decided to do a trip out to Cloud 9 which is a floating party pontoon out in the ocean. I had been to a 40th there before so I knew how cool it was. I went over to the Port to book it and ended up booking us our own private charter! It actually worked out cheaper and we were able to add in some sightseeing and snorkelling too.

We went over to the Port just before 9am on the Friday to meet our skipper Toby. He was wearing a Chiefs jersey so we knew we were in good hands – we all hail from the Waikato after all.

Toby took us out to the surf reef first up – people were surfing in the middle of the ocean – very cool.

Next stop, Cloud 9. We got there just after 10am and found some chairs. We were only going to be there for a couple of hours so we thought we better get into the beers, cider and pizza. We all jumped off the top of the pontoon and had a swim in the sea – the colour of the water is amazing. It was so much fun and we probably could have stayed there all day.

Toby turned up again at 12.30pm – he had been off fishing and sleeping – two things the Fijians excel at : )

All on board and we were off on a tour of the island resorts.  I have been to Fiji many times and have heard of the various resorts but it was actually cool to see them all and their relativity to each other.  There were a few I hadn’t heard of too as well as some under construction.

Toby chose a snorkelling spot just out from Castaway Island – there was a good reef there and we saw lots of fish.  Camilla and I spent a bit of time out there while the other two had a brief look and then proceeded to lie on the floating pontoon and catch a few rays.  Speaking of rays, just as I was about to head back to the boat I spotted two stingrays  cruising beneath me – very cool.

We then headed back to the Port – the wind had got up and the sea was quite choppy so it was a bumpy ride back in.  Such a great day and I would highly recommend checking out a private charter if you have a group of people – it works out cheaper and you can be flexible with what you want to do.

More cocktails down at the Port were in order that evening – we had discovered FJ10 frozen margaritas at Cardos and thought it was between certain hours in the afternoon but alas no, it was all day long – result : )

The Port was also the scene of the selfie queens (Camilla and Sheree) perfecting their pouts.  It was fair to say that Jen and I were rather inept at this form of art : )  Add a cocktail or two to the selfie queens and boom 💥 they really come out to play.

I had taken Jessica my Jersey cow for a tropical sojourn because a. She was freezing in NZ and b. Sheree hates her!  There is a bit of history behind this hate relationship and I love the reaction I get when I present her on these Fab Four get togethers : )

On our last full day in Denerau we hired some electric bikes and did a bit of a ticky tour around – to be honest you can’t go too far but it was fun.  The cost to hire the electric bikes was FJ9 or NZD7 per hour – that is so cheap.  OK they weren’t the flashiest bikes but they went alright.  We had a blast cruising around and ducking into gated communities with a smile and a wave to the security guards – just act like you belong there and they don’t seem to mind.  Fake it till you make it as the saying goes.  We did a bit of off road and ended up at the back of the golf course next to the sea.

That afternoon Sheree and I had a pamper session booked – we went offsite to the Beauty Spot on the edge of Denerau.  It was interesting!  Sheree’s therapist had a cold or something and was actually quite unwell so Sheree asked her to stop for fear of catching what she had.  They replaced her with another therapist so all’s well that end’s well.  She even went back the next morning and got a new hairdo. 

After five nights it was time to head back to NZ and the reality that winter was still alive and kicking as were the husbands and kids and there constant demands.  The real mum’s amongst us had a blissful time being able to do what they wanted, when they wanted without a constant demand on their time.  We shared many laughs and re lived old memories while creating new ones.  Where to next Fabs?

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Port Douglas – Queensland, Australia

In late May we headed to Port Douglas in Northern Queensland to catch up with some friends who have moved up there and to have a family holiday with Laura, Paul, Ashleigh and wee Taj : )

Our friends Kim and Graham who are originally from the UK but who have spent some time living in NZ decided to make Newell's Beach their home in July 2016.  Newell's Beach is located about 20 minutes north of Port Douglas.

It has been years since I have been up that way so it was nice to re acquaint myself with the area.  Kim is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to all things travel so she had some good tips and also showed us a few of her favorite spots.  The first one was a walk in the Mossman Gorge.

Mossman Gorge forms the southern sector of the renowned Daintree Rainforest. The Daintree Rainforest was World Heritage listed in 1988 and is the last remnant of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world. Here visitors are afforded a rare chance to revel in its beauty and take in every aspect of the Daintree region.  The Daintree Region is an area of ancient tropical rainforest containing one of the most complex ecosystems on earth. Spanning 120,000 hectares, the Daintree Rainforest is the largest portion of tropical rainforest in Australia.

The region contains over 135 million years worth of heritage making it a worthy inclusion on the World Heritage list. The listing has also aided in the fight to preserve the area for many generations to come.

The Kuku Yalanji people are the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and have a history dating back 50,000 years to the earliest human occupation of Australia. They are true rainforest people, living in complete harmony with their environment. It is part of them and they are part of it. Their traditional country extends from south of Mossman to Cooktown in the north, and Palmer River in the west.

The Mossman Gorge is steeped in history and legends that have been passed down through the generations of the Kuku Yalanji.

One of their greatest legends is a tale about the striking backdrop to the Gorge – Manjal Dimbi. Manjal Dimbi is the most prominent of all nearby mountains. Roughly translated, Manjal Dimbi means "mountain holding back". According to Aboriginal dreamtime stories, the large humanoid rock represents Kubirri, who came to the aid of the Kuku Yalanji when they were persecuted by the evil spirit, Wurrumbu. Kubirri holds back the evil spirit, who is now confined to The Bluff above Mossman River, Manjal Dimbi has been anglicised to "Mt Demi" and Kubirri is known as the "Good Shepherd.”

After our walk in the Mossman Gorge we took a drive to Silky Oaks which is a luxury eco lodge that sits high above the crystal-clear waters of the Mossman River and is enveloped by the lush Daintree Rainforest cloaking the steep mountain sides from the riverbanks.  A cocktail and high tea were in order – what a lovely spot.

We awoke on our second day to tropical rain – it was fair pouring down.  After a leisurely breakfast we took a drive to Tranquility Falls – a waterfall nestled in the rainforest which has a great swimming hole.  We were hoping that the rain would abate but it didn't – we wandered to the falls but none of us found swimming particularly appealing!  We drove back into the Daintree Village to have a coffee while the boys played a quick game of pool.  The rain had stopped by now.

That afternoon Kim and I drove into have a look around Port Douglas while Steve, Graham and Mark (Graham's nephew from the UK) played pool in Mossman.

We had a couple of great dinners with Kim, Graham and Mark.  It was good to see them and to see where they are living – frogs, cane toads, snakes, crocs and all : 0

We left Kim and Graham's early on day three and headed to Cairns Airport to pick Laura, Paul, Ashleigh and Taj up.  We hadn't seen Taj since December so we very much looking forward to seeing him.

On our way back to Port Douglas we called in to Chill Cafe in Palm Cove for breakfast – it was delicious and just what everyone needed.

We then carried onto our accomodation at the Pool Villas in Port Douglas which were very nice.  A refreshing swim in the hotel pool before we ventured back to the Mossman Gorge to do the walk.  You catch a bus from the Vistor's Centre to the start of the walk and the last bus back leaves at 5.30pm.  We had just over an hour to do the walk which is about 3km so plenty of time.  The swimming spot is towards the end of the walk so I decided to take a dip – it was about 5.25pm.  We fast walked the last 200 metres to see that last bus pulling out – we ran after it waving but it didn't stop.  We waited about ten minutes thinking maybe there was one last bus but no so we walked the 4km's back to the car – luckily it is pretty much all down hill and we didn't have Steve with us who would have moaned the whole way : )

The next day we decided to do a food and wine tour – there is an organised one you can do but unfortunatley they don't accomodate babies so we did our own one after some valuable input from Kim.

First stop was Kuranda which is a village in the rainforest where you find lots of art, tropical handicrafts and jewellery by local artisans. I had a wander down to the railway station where both the train and the Skyrail from Cairns come in.

Kuranda was first settled in 1885 and surveyed by Thomas Behan in 1888 in anticipation of development that would accompany the arrival of the railway. Kuranda Station is one of the earliest stations to be built in Australia. The current railway station was completed in 1915 using standard concrete units, and is one of the oldest remaining examples of its type in Queensland. Tourism started in Kuranda in 1930 when the first tourists arrived by train.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway opened in 1995 and is a world first in environmental tourism which takes you over Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest canopy and deep into the forest. The cableway is 7.5 kilometres long.

Next stop was de Brueys Boutique Winery where they specialise in tropical fruit wines, liqueurs and ports. We did a full tasting of all the wines, liqueurs and ports and they were very nice. The winery itself grew mangoes but acquired the other tropical fruits from local growers. There was also a whole rafter of turkey's who gobbled every time someone spoke to them. They provided good entertainment for Taj while we were tasting : )

We then went to the Mt Uncle Distillery who produce premium spirits and liqueurs. However, we were there for lunch rather than tasting this time. The Bridges Cafe and Restaurant came highly recommended and it didn't disappoint. They also have a few animals that you can visit like alpacas and donkeys.

The perfect after lunch treat is coffee and chocolate so the next stop was Coffee Works who are the original boutique roasters and chocolatiers of Tropical Australia. You pay an AU18 entry fee which allows you to try as many coffees, teas and chocolate flavours as you like – heaven! Luckily they were closing within the half hour or we could have been quite ill! They also have a coffee museum which was interesting – coffee has been a vice for many centuries : )

The Coffee Works museum is the result of Ian Bersten's lifelong passion with coffee.

Ian Bersten, a commerce graduate of the University of New South Wales, began roasting coffee in a small shop in Sydney in 1968 and was the founding director of the large coffee roasting company Belaroma, in Sydney. He sold his remaining share in the business in 2008.

Ian Bersten is an entrepreneur, writer and inventor. He has invented a coffee roaster, coffee brewer, coffee hoppers and a coffee grinder. In more recent times, he invented the Chaicoffski gourmet coffee and tea brewer. Ian has written four books, the most famous of which is in every serious coffee roasters library, Coffee Floats Tea Sinks. Ian also initiated a chocolate shop in Willoughby in Sydney in 2005 called Chocolate Genie.

Bersten's passion and his ability to speak 5 languages led him to dedicate 37 years of extensive research, including countless trips across the globe visiting vaults and historical archives to trace the origin, history and evolution of every style of coffee maker.

His attention to detail and insistent demand for facts, led him through the Patent Offices in Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the USA. He then went on to source and collect over 2000 significant coffee and tea making treasures dating back to the early 1700s. Coffee World is the culmination of Ian's life's work, and is the largest and most significant collection of its kind in the world.

Rob and Annie Webber, the owners of Coffee Works, have been in the coffee roasting business since 1988. Rob and Annie were casual collectors of antique coffee machines themselves. Ian's book Coffee Floats Tea Sinks was used as a reference book for purchasing around 400 antique coffee items. Rob and Annie purchased Ian's collection in 2005 and Coffee World was created in 2007. Prior to this, the larger parts of the Bersten collection were stored in cardboard boxes in a warehouse in Sydney and even Ian himself had not viewed the entire collection on display in one place.

Coffees of the World

All coffee growing countries of the world have a grading system for their green coffee beans. Obviously, the higher the grade, the better the quality, the greater the demand, the higher the price. There are 2 species of coffee plant grown commercially worldwide: Robusta and Arabica.

Robusta is a more robust plant in every way. It is tougher, higher yielding, has double the caffeine content and can grow right down to sea level. Quality and flavour of Robusta coffee is very inferior to Arabica coffee. Robusta sells for less than half the price of quality Arabicas on the world market. Robusta is used to make instant coffee. It is also used extensively by large commercial coffee roasters who blend Robusta with low grade Arabica coffees to produce coffees to compete on price rather than quality.

Arabica is higher grown and better quality coffee. Within the Arabica species there are approximately 20 different varieties of coffee, all with different characteristics.

Only 10% of all the Arabica coffee grown worldwide is of a quality to be classified as 'A grade' or speciality coffee. High grown Arabica coffee of this quality commands premium prices and is only sought after and used by speciality coffee roasters such as Coffee Works.

Key indicators used by all countries to determine the grading of their green beans ready for international sale are – the colour, size and density of the green bean and the presence or lack of impurities and imperfections found within a sample batch of green bean. Cupping quality is established by cupping roasted coffee samples to determine the presence of unpleasant and undesirable flavours or taints.

Coffee Facts

What does the coffee tree look like and where did it originate? Coffee is a subtropical plant with evergreen leaves. It originated as an under story plant in the highland tropical rainforests of Ethiopia. Coffee bushes can grow to 30 feet in height, but they are kept pruned to 12 feet for mechanical harvesting.

Where does coffee grow around the world? In a subtropical belt bordered by the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Which species of coffee is grown in Australia? Arabica only.

How long does it take for a coffee bush to bear it's crop? 5 years from planting.

What is the life span of a coffee bush? 50 years plus.

When and how do the fruit form? Trees flower and fruit once per year.

How often do trees flower and fruit? Flowering occurs about 6 weeks after harvest in October / November. Coffee flowers resemble that of Jasmine. They are a beautiful white and slightly perfumed and last about 1 week.

When is flowering and what do the flowers look like? Coffee sets its fruits after flowering. The fruit begin as small green buds and take 8 to 9 months to ripen to a cherry red colour. The coffee bean roasted at Coffee Works is the seed from the centre of the coffee cherry. Each coffee berry contains 2 seeds.

How are coffee tree planted? From seedlings which can be grown directly from seed. It takes 18 months from seed to seedling ready for planting. Seedlings are planted in rows with 3 metres between rows and 1 metre between trees within the row. From planting it takes 5 years for a coffee plant to bear its first crop.

How is ripening of the cherry controlled in Northern Queensland? Growers purposely stress their trees immediately after harvesting by withholding irrigation and stressing the trees for 6 weeks. They then irrigate the trees heavily to make them flower uniformly.

At what time of the year is the Australian coffee harvest? Harvesting of ripe red coffee cherries occurs between June and August depending on the season.

What is the preferred method of processing Arabica coffee and why? Wet processing which gets better quality and hence better prices.

How much coffee does each tree bear? From every mature tree you can expect to get 1 to 2 kilograms of roasted coffee.

How much coffee is harvested per hectare? This varies from year to year but on average 1.2 tonne.

How much coffee is grown in Australia? 200 tonnes per year.

What percentage of the Australian crop in grown in Northern Queensland? 90%. There are twelve farms in the area. The only other place where coffee is grown in Australia is Northern New South Wales (NSW) where the land holdings are much smaller. It is hand picked there and therefore extremely labour intensive. There are about 70 farmers in Northern NSW and they produce about 10 tonne per year.

The major diseases affecting coffee are Coffee Rust and Coffee Berry Disease. These diseases are spread in the form of spores carried by the wind. Australia and Hawaii are the only two countries free of these diseases.

Temperatures below 7 degrees and above 33 degrees slow growth and reduce coffee production. Coffee bushes are highly susceptible to frost.

A viable size plantation is about 40 hectares and it costs about $1.4 million to establish a commercial coffee plantation. With hand picking one person can harvest about 12 kilograms of green coffee beans per day. Machine harvesting enables one person to harvest 8 tonne of green coffee beans per day.

After sampling lots of coffee and tea and an excessive amount of chocolate it was time to head back to Port Douglas.

The next day Paul, Ashleigh, Taj and myself went for a drive to the Daintree Discovery Centre which is north of the Daintree River which we had to cross via car ferry.

First up though we needed some sustenance so we visited the Floravilla Biodynamic Icecream factory where they make over 26 flavours capturing the essence of the local ingredients to make their unique range. It seems strange to have an icecream factory in the middle of a tropical rainforest but it works. They use biodynamic and organic ingredients – the milk is sourced from Mungalli Creek Dairy who use biodynamic farming techniques. The icecream was delicious – I had the signature icecream simply called Daintree Rainforest – it contained lemon myrtle, coconut, ginger, Daintree organic vanilla, kale and spirulina. OMG it was perfect.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is a window into the workings of the rainforest from the plant life to the bird, animal and insect life. They have different areas focusing on the different aspects. They also have an aerial walkway and 23 metre canopy tower allowing you to get into the canopy of the rainforest. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much wildlife – the ranger we met said that it can be a bit hit and miss depending on the time of the day. The centre itself is extremely informative with lots to see.

The Daintree is one of the few places where the rainforest meets the reef, but it is its antiquity that sets it apart. It is the oldest intact lowland tropical rainforest in the world. Thought to be around 180 million years old, it is truly one of Earth's most precious, living treasures. The Amazon rainforest is only though to be 7 million years old.

Around 120,000 years ago, consecutive ice ages occurred. The rainforest contracted and expanded and animals either adapted to the conditions or disappeared. The Daintree region, which sits in within the Wet Tropics, became a refuge for ancient and unique plants and animals.

Within this refuge many species were able to live without reason to change and their descendants today retain many of their primitive characteristics, some dating back 110 million years.

The plant diversity and structural complexity here is unrivalled anywhere else on Earth. It includes 12 of the 19 primitive flowering plant families and represents the origins of many of Australias most familiar flora. The Wet Tropics represent a major stage of the Earth's evolutionary history – almost a complete record of the evolution of plant life.

The wet tropical rainforests of North-East Queensland contain the richest fauna diversity in Australia. The region, which represents less than 0.1% of the Australian continent by area, contains:

20% of Australia's bird species

35% of Australia's frogs, marsupials and reptiles

65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species

Even more important is that over 70 animals and 700 plant species found in the Daintree Rainforest are endemic to North East Queensland.

One bird that we were all very keen to see was the Cassowary. I had never even heard of this bird before my visit to the Daintree Discovery Centre. They are a keystone species, which means they are vital for seed dispersal in the rainforest. Described as living dinosaurs, these ancient birds began to evolve around 60 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, when non-avian dinosaurs were the dominant animal life on Earth. More than 150 rainforest plants rely on them to spread their seeds, especially the large fruit species.

Fully grown female Cassowaries stand at 1.8 metres tall and weigh over 60 kilograms. Mature males are much smaller at 1.5 metres and about 35 kilograms. Cassowaries tend to be solitary. They are quite territorial and will defend their local patch if threatened. In fact, mature birds only tolerate each other during mating. However, they avoid confrontation wherever possible and generally announce their presence by making a deep rumbling sound. Fruit makes up 99% of the Cassowary's diet, with the other 1% being mostly insects, snails and fungi.

Cassowaries usually breed from June to October. The female generally lays about four eggs in a sheltered spot directly on the forest floor. The male then incubates the eggs for about 50 days. Once the chicks have hatched, he then takes sole responsibility for rearing them for up to 16 months.

The latest study lists the number of Cassowaries in Australia's Wet Tropics to be around 4000.

The next day Paul and Ashleigh travelled down to Cairns to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. That meant we were in charge of Taj for the day. Laura was on hand for the main duties, one of which was nappy changing 😂😂

We walked into Port Douglas as there was a big craft market on as well as a concert for kids being performed by the LaLa's. We thought that sounded like a bit of Taj but when we got there he proceeded to sleep! Laura and I didn't think we would get much out of the LaLa's so we went for coffee instead. Along the way we saw a mechanical life size elephant and again Taj slept through all the excitement.

However, he did wake up for a trip on the Bally Hooley Steam Railway line.   The coal fired train takes you from Port Douglas to Choo Choo Cafe just around the corner from where we were staying. There are a couple of trains that make the journey and these were the last trains used by the Mossman Sugar Mill to haul sugarcane to the Mill before switching over to diesel.  The historic track has been in existence for over a century. 

We spent the afternoon relaxing and then waited for Paul & Ashleigh's return. Unfortunately there was a serious accident between Cairns and Port Douglas closing the road which meant they had to take the inland road which doubled the travel time. Taj was great all day but was super excited to see his Mum and Dad when they finally got home about 7.30pm.

On our last day in Port Douglas we were lucky enough to go out crocodile spotting with our friend Graham. He skippers a boat called Solar Whisper that does wildlife spotting tours on the Daintree River. The boat is powered by solar and electric engines when there is not enough sun. The tide was quite high but we were fortunate enough to see 7 crocodiles. We even got to see the big daddy of his part of the river called Scarface. He is huge and got his name due to the number of scars he has on his face as a result of lots of fights with other crocodiles.

There are two species of crocodiles in Australia, the Saltwater and Freshwater species, and only the "salties" inhabit the Daintree River. It's scientific name is Crocodylus Porosus and its habitat ranges throughout the Indo Pacific regions.

Although history suggest the animals to be very big, the largest crocodiles seen in Australia these days would be between 5 and 6 metres. The Daintree River has a population of about 70 adult crocodiles, the largest being the males at about 5 metres. The females reach about 3.5 metres, and there are many juveniles and hatchlings.

The population is described by the experts as being low density, and that is because of prolonged hunting over many years. By 1974 the numbers were dangerously low and legislation was introduced to protect them. The numbers have come back slightly to the present sustainable level and they are still breeding successfully.

They breed during the summer by laying many eggs in a large composting mound which they construct. The eggs are incubated for three months until they hatch during the Wet season. There is about a 30% hatching rate. The hatchlings are 20cm long and stay with the female for several weeks or months before dispersing. If one or two survive, nature has been successful.

Some of the predators include goannas which will dig into the nest to take the eggs, while fish, sharks and birds attack the hatchlings. For safety while fishing, hatchlings move along the edges in the shallows catching prawns, crabs and small fish. The larger crocs have a staple diet of fish and crabs although they are opportunistic and great scavengers.

After the boat cruise we said goodbye to Graham and headed back to Tranquility Falls. It was a lovely day today so no excuse not to go swimming. Only Paul and I enjoyed a swim – the others thought it was too cold. Compared to NZ fresh water swimming holes it was tropical : )

That night we enjoyed a lovely meal at the Beach Shack which is a neighbourhood restaurant not in the heart of Port Douglas. It was set outdoors with a sand floor. The food was lovely so would highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

We had an early start the next morning to get back to the airport in Cairns and to go our separate ways back to our respective homes. It had been a great few days and I really enjoyed exploring what the area had to offer which is a lot. There are a lot more boutique food producers in the Tablelands that we didn't get to visit so we'll put that on the list for next time.


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Hobbiton – Matamata, NZ

Back in May we were fortunate enough to be given free tickets to visit Hobbiton.  Hobbiton is located just outside Matamata in the Waikato region of New Zealand and has been nicknamed Hobbiton.  It was originally used to film parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where temporary hobbit holes were built creating The Shire.

Filming of both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy happened in a number of locations around New Zealand, namely:

Nelson and Marlborough, South Island

Aoraki Mt Cook and the Mackenzie region, South Island

Otago, South Island

Ruapehu, North Island

Fiordland National Park, South Island

I personally haven’t watched any of the movies but I had heard such great things about Hobbiton that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.  It was a crisp winter’s day – minus 1 with a frost covering the ground.  By the time our tour started the sun had melted the frost – it was the perfect winter’s day with not a cloud in the sky : )

Our tour guide was Scottish and she had moved to New Zealand specifically to work as a tour guide at Hobbiton such was her obsession with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.  She had applied for the job online, had an interview on Skype and was winging her way to NZ within a couple of weeks.  She said it is her dream job and she is absolutely loving it and you could tell – she was so passionate.

She told us that over the summer months it is so busy she can do up to six tours a day.  The guides are also responsible for keeping the Hobbit holes clean so every morning they clean the inside and outside of the windows and dust the props you can see in the windows.  Although the hobbit holes are now all permanent structures there is only one that you can actually go into.  The others are too small.

Hobbiton has four permanent gardeners who take care of the gardens in the Shire’s rest and grow various vegetables.  Apparently they are quite competitive so they are always having competitions as to who can grow the biggest of something.

The Hobbiton Movie Set is the only set that remains intact from the trilogies, and that allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the wonders of The Shire.

The Hobbit is a film series consisting of three high fantasy adventure films directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson. They are based on the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, with large portions of the trilogy inspired by the appendices to The Return of the King, which expand on the story told in The Hobbit, as well as new material and characters written especially for the films. Together they act as a prequel to Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The films are subtitled An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

The screenplay was written by Fran Walsh (Peter Jackson’s wife), Philippa Boyens, Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, who was originally chosen to direct before his departure from the project. The films take place in the fictional world of Middle-earth sixty years before the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and follow hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is convinced by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to accompany thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The films also expand upon certain elements from the novel and other source material, such as Gandalf’s investigation at Dol Guldur, and the pursuit of Azog and Bolg, who seek vengeance against Thorin and his ancestors.

The films feature an ensemble cast that also includes James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace and Luke Evans, with several actors reprising their roles from The Lord of the Rings, including Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis. The films also feature Manu Bennett, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Fry, Mikael Persbrandt, Barry Humphries, and Lawrence Makoare. Also returning for production, among others, were illustrators John Howe and Alan Lee, art director Dan Hennah, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, and composer Howard Shore, while props were again crafted by Weta Workshop, with visual effects managed by Weta Digital.

The first film in the series premiered at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand on 28 November 2012. One hundred thousand people lined the red carpet on Courtenay Place, and the entire event was broadcast live on television in New Zealand and streamed over the Internet. The second film of the series premiered at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California on 2 December 2013. The third and final film premiered at Leicester Square in London on 1 December 2014.

The series was a major financial success, with the films classified as one of the highest-grossing film series of all time, going on to outgross The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Although critically considered to be inferior to The Lord of the Rings, it was nominated for various awards and won several, though not as many as its predecessor.

How Hobbiton came to be…….

In 1998, Sir Peter Jackson’s team of location scouts were searching for the iconic rolling hills and lush green pastures of Hobbiton™. An aerial search led them to the Alexander farm, a stunning 1,250 acre sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato. They noted the area’s striking similarity to The Shire™, as described by JRR Tolkien, and quickly realised that the Hobbits™ had found a home.

In one particular part of the farm, a magnificent pine tree towered over a nearby lake, adjacent to a rising hill. Bag End now sits atop that hill, overlooking the Party Tree, as that pine would later be known. The surrounding areas were untouched; no power lines, no buildings and no roads in sight. This meant that Sir Peter Jackson could leave the 20th century behind, and fully submerge himself in the fantasy world of Middle-earth™.

In March 1999 the crew began the nine month quest to bring the ideas for Hobbiton to fruition; help was provided by the New Zealand Army, and soon 39 temporary Hobbit Holes™ were scattered across the 12 acre plot used for the set. Secrecy was key, and strict security measures were put in place by the production company throughout construction and filming. Filming commenced in December 1999, and it took around three months to get a wrap on The Shire.

After an initial attempt at demolition, 17 bare plywood facades remained. These shells would serve as the catalyst that propelled Hobbiton forward into the public eye, with guided tours commencing in 2002.

In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy, and he left behind the beautiful movie set you see today; 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes, in the same fantastic detail seen in the movies. In 2012 The Green Dragon™ Inn was opened as the finale to the journey. Guests now finish their Hobbiton Movie Set experience with a refreshing beverage from the Hobbit™ Southfarthing™ Range. There’s an abundance of movie magic nestled inside the fully operational farm.

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The finest walk in the world – Milford Track Day 5

There was no walking involved on day five of our trip, just a boat cruise on the Milford Sound.  The glorious weather we had for the last day of the walk continued.  Everywhere you looked there were picture postcard opportunities – the Sound is stunning.  The downside to this awesome weather is that there are not so many waterfalls to see but we saw a couple.  We also saw some fur seals lying on the rocks.

We stood on the upper deck to start with taking in the breathtaking vistas.  Once we reached the Tasman Sea and turned around we were on the sheltered side of the Sound where the sun hadn’t managed to get to yet making it rather chilly.  We ended up going inside the boat but I went back up onto the deck a few times to take more photos – I couldn’t get enough of the scenery.

After our cruise we hopped onto the bus for our trip back to Queenstown – it was going to take four to five hours.  We dropped one of the guides, Mark, off in Te Anau Downs – he was off to meet the next group that were starting the track.  We then stopped in Te Anau for lunch before carrying onto Queenstown.  We got a got a good run and were back in town by about 3.30pm.

That night all sixteen of us enjoyed a meal together at The Public Kitchen in Queenstown.  It was a lovely evening in Queenstown and it was hard to beleive that Auckland was being tormented by the Tasman tempest.  Sheree had some funny prizes to give out to reward some of the shenanigans over the past few days.

It had been the most amazing trip.  It was so well organised and run by Ultimate Hikes.  The guides were all fantastic and shared their knowledge and passion for the outdoors with us enthusiastically.  The group of people we did the walk with were all friendly and as enamoured with the beauty of the place we call home, as much as we were.  I learnt a lot about a part of the country I had heard so much about but had never visited.  If the Milford Track is on your bucket list then I highly recommend putting it on the top – it was simply awesome.

Tourism on the Edge

Looking Back

Adventuresome and rich overseas tourists, crossing the Tasman from Australia with the Union Steamship Company, were visiting Milford as early as 1874. Word of the splendid isolation and grandeur of the place spread rapidly thereafter following European explorations of the late 1700s. Visitors arrived by sea, as land routes were first unknown. But despite being named on early maps as Milford Haven, no one was tempted to permanently settle at the head of the isolated sound until the 1880s.

“Ah, my Milford haven may never be the same…..” Donald Sutherland diary 1888, commenting on the international publicity Sutherland Falls was receiving.

One man who visited Milford and stayed to appreciate the area’s wild beauty was Donald Sutherland. He made Milford his home in 1877. In 1880, while searching for an inland route to Queenstown with Mackay, paid in part with government funds, he came across the falls that now carry his name.

Living here all year round, without the modern highway and facilities today’s visitors and temporary residents rely on, required exceptional skills which for many years, few had. Donald Sutherland utilised the natural resources around him and obtained supplies from the Government lighthouse steamer, which called occasionally.

Despite the isolation and hardships of living at Milford in the early days, the pull of the visually stunning and spiritually inspiring terrain was powerful. People kept arriving, especially after the opening of the Milford Track. Even the government recognised the importance of tourism to New Zealand’s economy and as early as the 1900s was subsidising private enterprise into tourism ventures. Immense physical hurdles were overcome with the formation of the Milford Road and Homer Tunnel, first started with pick and shovel as a Depression work scheme in the 1930’s and finally completed in 1991.

Now the isolated edge has been broken through and thousands of visitors a day are able to visit Milford all year round; future visitor numbers are expected to increase.

Looking Forward

As the flow of time continues to change this place from one of isolation to one of high visitation, the challenge is to retain the spectacular landscape spirit of Milford / Piopiotahi so the future generation can experience it as we have today.

Tangata whenua – people of the land

It was the koko-takiwai (pounamu) and kakapo which primarily attracted Ngati Tahu to Fiordland.  The koko-takiwai is favoured as a softer type of pounamu, more easily shaped into a finer quality of end product.  It was therefore particularly sought after for the making of ornaments, such as hei-tiki.  The area also offered many other mahinga kai to sustain parties on their arduous expeditions, including a range of Manu (birds), fish and kaimoana resources.

There are two principal trails linking the Fiordland coast with the rest of Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island).  A sea route around the fiords links Piopiotahi to Murihiku, and was the main route by which the koko-takiwai gathered from the end of the fiords was transported.  The inland route for transporting koko-takiwai by backpack lay over what is now known as the Milford Track.  In addition, a trail from Martins Bay, up the Hollyford Valley and over into the Routeburn Valley to the pounamu source at the head of Lake Whakatipu-wai-maori, was commonly used by Tai Poutini iwi, who regularly traveled south via this route to obtain koko-takiwai.

Tauranga waka (landing places) occur up and down the coast, and wherever a Tauranga waka is located there is also likely to have been a nohoanga (fishing ground or kaimoana resource) with the sea trail linked to a land trail or mahinga kai reserve.  Similarly, the lakes and the Waiau River were very important mahinga kai areas.  The tupuna had considerable knowledge of whakapapa (genealogical decent), traditional trails and Tauranga waka, places for gathering kai and other taonga, ways in which to use the resources of the lakes, rivers and coast and tikianga (protocols) for the proper and sustainable utilisation of resources.  All of these values remain important to Ngai Tahu today.

Particular stretches of the coastline have their own traditions.  For example, the visit of Tamaahua to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) in search of Poutini, who had absconded with his wife Waitaiki, is linked to the creation of pounamu further north on Te Tai Poutini (the West Coast).  The koko-takiwai which is found in Piopiotahi has its basis in a visit to Piopiotahi by the waka Tairea.  A woman, koko-takiwai, and her children, known as Matakirikiri, were left behind by the Tairea and were turned into Pounamu.

Maori legends about Milford Sound

Milford Sound was known to the Maori, who named it Piopiotahi – for the single piopio, a now extinct bird.  The name derives from a legend about the last endeavour of Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, the great Polynesian demi-god.  Maui set off from Hawaiki accompanied by a piopio, in an attempt to gain immortality for mankind.  To acheive this goal, he had to enter the womb of Hinenui-te-Po (the goddess of death), travel through her body and emerge from her mouth.  After Maui’s failure and death, the piopio who had witnessed the tragedy, fled south to Milford Sound to mourn for the death of its mate.


New Zealand is not known as ‘the shaky isles’ for nothing.  Every year thousands of earthquakes, most not felt, occur as the massive Pacific plate and the Indo-Australian plate jostle against each other.  Stressed to breaking point, rocks within the plates eventually give way with a jolt, relieving the stress but making the earth shake, with occasionally catastrophic effects.

New Zealand earthquakes are caused in a more complex fashion than in many other parts of the world.  There are two processes at work: one of the plates sinking under the other (subduction); and the plates sliding sideways past each other.  The Alpine Fault results from the latter process.  In New Zealand’s main seismic region, the Indo-Australian plate rides over the Pacific plate, but from Fiordland south the reverse happens.

A shock of magnitude 6 or above occurs on average once a year in New Zealand, magnitude 7 once in a decade, and magnitude 8 only once a century.

On average Fiordland experiences one earthquake a day, sometimes more, and most we cannot feel.

Earthquakes are caused when the movement of the plates builds up tension, which on release causes a shock wave or jolt.

The Alpine Fault

The Alpine Fault, which runs for 600km down the spine of the South Island, entering the Tasman sea at the mouth of Milford Sound, is one of the world’s major geological features.  It’s the “on-land” boundary of the Pacific and Australian Plates.

This fault has ruptured four times in the past 1000 years, each time producing an earthquake of about magnitude 8.  Approximate rupture dates are 1717 AD, 1620 AD, 1450 AD and 1100 AD.  Horizontal movement of the Alpine Fault is about 30 metres per 1000 years – very fast by global standards.  Each time it has ruptured, it has also moved vertically, lifting the Southern Alps in the process.  In the last 12 million years the Southern Alps have been uplifted by an amazing 20 kilometres, and it is only the fast pace of erosion that has kept their highest point below 4000 metres.  The glaciers and rivers have removed the rest of the material and spread it out across the lowland plains or onto the sea floor.


The high rainfall experienced in Fiordland helps to create a unique marine environment.  In this high rainfall zone, a large volume of freshwater flows in to meet up with the saltwater in Milford Sound.

Being less dense, fresh water forms a 5 centimetre to 10 metre layer of fresh water on the surface of the saltwater.  Tannins, washed out of the vegetation on land, stain the water the colour of weekly brewed tea.  This creates a dark layer on the surface that cuts down the amount of light entering the sea water, restricting most of the marine life to the top 40 metres (light levels at 10 metres in the fiords are equivalent to those at about 70 metres in the open sea).  This band (below the freshwater layer) is calm, clear and relatively warm and is home to sponges, corals and fish of sub-tropical, cool water and deep water varieties.

Certain animals found on the continental shelf at depths of 100 to 200 metres turn up commonly in the fiords in the water less than 30 metres.  They include red and white hydrocorals, shrimps, sponges, sea pens starfish and orange line perch.

The fiords support one of the world’s largest populations of black coral trees (about 7 million colonies), with some of them up to 200 years old.

The fiords are also home to Branchiopoda; clam-like animals that have remained relatively unchanged for over 300 million years.

Although the fiords extend to depths of over 400 metres, life peters out quickly in the gloomy depths.

Bottlenose dolphins (aihe), New Zealand fur seals (kekeno), Fiordland crested penguins (tawaki) and little blue penguins (korora) are resident in the fiords.


You may see different species of Dolphin in Milford Sound.  Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) are the most common dolphin seen.  The smaller Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhychus obscurus) are sometimes seen as well.


Once hunted to near extinction, the New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) can now be found along most rocky coastlines in southern New Zealand and can usually be seen in Milford Sound.  It is thought that many of the seals at Milford are young males.


The Fiordland Crested Penguin (Eudptyes pachyrhynchus) or Tawaki is only found along the Fiordland coastline, it is one of the rarest penguins in the world.  They are recognised by a sulphur yellow eyebrow which extends over the eye to the back of the head where it develops into a plume.  At times of the year they are seen for short periods in Milford Sound.

Black Coral

Black Coral (Antipathes fiordensis) is endemic to Fiordland and grows at depths as shallow as 5 metres, but grows especially well at depths of about 15 metres where it crowds the near vertical walls.  It forms colonies that in places resemble small to medium sized trees.  Black coral grows less than 20 millimetres a year so trees over five metres tall are estimated to be over 300 years old.  Black corals are actually misnamed being neither black nor true coral.  Living trees may be yellow, orange, green or white. Only dead skeletons are black.

Milford Road

The Milford Road eventuated as one of the unemployment schemes set up by the government during the depression years of the 1920s.  Beginning in 1929, 200 men with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows formed a new road to Te Anau Downs Station from the small town of Te Anau.

Workers carried their gear and straw mattresses up to the road workers camps.  “The only tools the road gangs had were picks, shovels and crowbars.  While four of the gang did the picking and shovelling into wheelbarrows, the other two wheeled the spoil away to build up the foundations of the road.  Extra barrows were provided so that there was no standing around waiting for your barrow to be filled.”  The workers were paid 14 shillings a day for six days of the week, but if it was wet there was no pay at all!

The roadmen continued the road through to reach the Divide at the head of the Eglinton Valley in 1934.  In October 1933 engineer John Christie, an experienced climber, was chosen to lead a party of ten men to carry out a reconnaissance survey of the Hollyford and Cleddau Valleys and survey the proposed Homer Tunnel.  The reconnaissance survey had been completed in the remarkable time of only seven months (from October 1933 to April 1934).  Christie remarked later that “it was really a two year job.  But you know how it is, the politicians think about it for a long time and then want it done yesterday.  So we did it.”

In November 1934 engineer Harold Smith (Smithy) was sent with a party of 25 men to begin work at the Milford end of the road. Because there was no accomodation at Milford, Smithy and ten men walked the Milford Track beforehand to put up tents prior to the arrival of the others by sea.  There was still no wharf at Milford so the party set about building one, also a wharf shed, a water reservoir and an access road to the hotel.  They then carried out a systematic survey of the road right up to the future tunnel, pegging out the road and the bridge crossings all the way.  This job took until January 1935 to complete and during this time rats got into their precious flour supply.

Road construction continued and the Milford crew met up with the Homer crew in 1940 when the tunnel had been pierced by the tunnellers working from the Homer End.

The Homer camp for the construction of the tunnel was in the “safe area”, out of reach of avalanches, about 500 metres short of the tunnel.  Winters were particularly harsh with snow, ice and avalanches and the men living in only tent style huts.  The standard hut had a wooden floor and wooden boarding halfway up the wall.  The remainder including the roof was just canvas, or if you were lucky it was topped with corrugated iron.

Homer Tunnel

A tunnel beneath the Homer Saddle was proposed as early as 1889 by William Henry Homer, the discoverer of the saddle.  In January, Homer and his mate George Barber explored the upper Hollyford Valley and camped beside the Hollyford River, where Homer prophesied that some day a road, or possibly even a railway, would come via the Eglinton and Hollyford Valleys.

It took nearly half a century before the decision was finally made to proceed with “Homer’s Tunnel”.

On 4th July 1935 Martin (“Digger”) Scully and a party of seven men trundled their heavy wooden wheelbarrows up the valley.  Then, armed with only picks and shovels they began cutting their way through 100 metres of loose scree to approach the solid rock wall, shoring up the scree sides with timber on the way.  It was slow, tedious work under wet, cold conditions with the ever present threat of an avalanche from above.  But by early 1936 they reached the cliff face and went underground.

Initially the tunnel was excavated “24 feet wide by 17 feet high” with an arched roof and a steep 1 in 10 gradient towards Milford.  Then they struck an unexpected problem.  Water was pouring through the roof and this had to be pumped out as fast as it came in, otherwise the downward trending tunnel would fill up.  So the dimensions were reduced considerably to “14 feet by 9 feet”, with the idea of punching a smaller tunnel through more quickly and getting the water to drain out the far end.  The enlarging could come later.

Drills, operated by compressed air, were used to bore the holes in the rock for the gelignite.  Then after the drill holes were loaded with explosive the charges were fired electrically from a remote control panel.

A light railway was built into the tunnel and after dynamiting, the shattered rock was scraped up into buckets and loaded into dump trucks that were pulled uphill to the entrance by an electric winch.  A diesel locomotive then took the trucks to be tipped for the foundations of the approach to the tunnel.

By 1940 the tunnel had been pierced by the tunnellers working from the Homer end.  The problem now was how to remove the rock debris from the Milford end.  A huge bulldozer was brought by boat to Milford.

Work on the tunnel ceased in 1942 due to World War II.  The unfinished tunnel was opened up to Milford Track walkers in 1947 to enable a round trip back to Te Anau.  Work on the tunnel was not recommenced until 1951.  The tunnel was finished in 1953 and opened officially to traffic in 1954.

During the construction of the tunnel there were three fatalities due to avalanches.

On 6th July 1936 Leigh Overton was in the crib house at the entrance to the tunnel when without warning at all the wind blast of an avalanche hit the hut.  It took over an hour before the men found Overton’s badly mutilated body pinned under the remains of the crib house.

On 4th May 1937 Donald Hulse, the engineer in charge and Thomas Smith, the tunnel overseer were killed by an avalanche that swept away the building they were in.

After the double tragedies a concrete shelter extension was built straight out from the tunnel.  Although the new tunnel portal was made of heavily reinforced concrete, it was crushed completely flat by an avalanche in 1945.

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The finest walk in the world – Milford Track Day 4

The sun was shining right from the get go on day four so we knew we were in for a stunner.  We began descending a rocky hill known as Gentle Annie before passing an old slip where the track flattens and we entered lush rainforest. We could see Sutherland Falls in the distance.  The track condition was excellent which made for easy walking.

We stopped at Boatshed for morning tea.  Boastshed was built in 1928 and housed the boats that used to move supplies from Lake Ada.  Nowadays there is a swing bridge that crosses the Arthur River.  It was such a gorgeous morning and the vistas were amazing.

Today I walked with Sheree and Karen and we pretty much chatted the whole way – no surprises there!  It certainly made the day go fast.  

Our next stop was Mackay Falls named after John Mackay one of the pioneers of the track along with Donald Sutherland.  Apparently they are among the most photographed waterfalls in the world.  

Next to Mackay Falls was Bell Rock.  The story of Bell Rock is that over millions of years the water eroded the inside of this rock and then in an earthquake many years ago the rock was moved to it’s current position.  You can actually stand up inside it and Mark told us that on a guide training walk they managed to fit 28 guides in there.  Karen & I hopped in there and both commented that we’re not sure we would be too happy to be in there with 26 other people!

We carried on to our lunch stop which was at another waterfall called Giants Gate Falls.  We all climbed down and sat on the rocks to eat our lunch – it was like eating lunch in paradise.  The water was unbelievably clear but wow it was cold.  I put my hand in and it felt a lot colder than the water at Sutherland Falls had felt.  A couple of the guys took their boots off and put their feet in the water – they went numb pretty quickly.

After lunch we only had about 4 kilometres to go to get to Sandfly Point.  The flat and wide track skirts Lake Ada and was built by 45 convicts in 1890.

As promised the sandflies greeted us with enthusiasm when we arrived at Sandfly Hut.  I had actually taken all my layers off so lathered myself in insect repellant.  They hovered but didn’t land.  Steve had got to Sandfly Point before me and had put every item of clothing on – there was no way those sandflies were going to get him!  We had to put our name down on the boat list and fortunately we made it into the first group of 18.

Today’s 21km would have to be the best half marathon distance I have ever walked – good company, fabulous vistas, a great track and sunshine to boot.  How lucky are we!

We had the obligatory photos at the 33.5 mile marker, Steve’s photo being taken under duress again : 0. 

We then had about a ten minute boat trip around to Milford Sound where we got our first glimpse of Mitre Peak.  Everything looked so impressive basking in the sunshine.

We got bussed to Mitre Peak Lodge where we got settled into our rooms – talk about a room with a view.

Across the road there is a foreshore walk so I decided to do that while I still had my boots on – the tide was out so I walked right out to the foreshore.

The second boat took quite a bit longer to come in so by that time we were all enjoying the bar offerings.

After dinner we were all presented with a Certificate of Achievement to say we had successfully completed the Milford Track.  It had been thoroughly enjoyable and we got incredibly lucky with the weather.  We also made some new friends along the way – the group had been great providing lots of laughs and encouragement.

Mitre Peak Lodge History

Donald Sutherland initiated the modern history of Milford when he became the first European to take up residence at Milford Sound.  In 1878 he built a simple slab hut with a thatched roof that sat just above the shore line.  To this modest home he gave the grand title of “Esperance Chalet”.

By 1880 he had two neighbours: a prospector from Big Bay named John McKay and James Malcolm.  Sutherland named this collection of three huts “The City of Milford”.

In 1890 Sutherland married Mrs Elizabeth Samuel of Dunedin and the couple started development at Milford Sound by building and operating an accomodation house.  This remained in business for several decades, as long as the Sutherland’s were alive.

When Donald died in 1919, Elizabeth continued to run “The Chalet”.  In 1922 it was purchased by the government Tourist Department and demolished shortly after Elizabeth Sutherland’s death in 1924.

After this, the only accomodation of track walkers was at Sandfly Point.

When the Sandfly Lodge burned down in 1926, tent accomodation was offered to walkers until 1928, when the new Milford Hotel opened.

In 1950, the Tourist Hotel Corporation was established and took over operation of the Te Anau and Milford hotels from the Tourist Department.  In February of that year the east wing of the Milford Hotel caught fire and was destroyed.  Because the hotel was such a vital link to the track in the days before Milford Road opened, the track was closed for two years while the hotel was being rebuilt.

Fire struck again in October 1959, gutting the kitchen and administration block at Milford Hotel.  It was rebuilt in time for the following season and caused less disruption to the track operation that the 1950 fire because the Milford Road was now open.

Te Paepae Tirohanga o Piopiotahi – Milford Foreshore Walk

The foreshore walk allows you to step out on a short journey around the edge of the Cleddau River delta, the only easily accessible coastal river delta in Fiordland.  Maori call the river Te Awa Piopiotahi.

Places on the edge, where rivers meet sea, undergo constant physical changes that we can observe from clues that are around us.  This is evident from the regular rhythm of the salty, twice daily tides; the irregular pounding of storm strewn driftwood; the continuous flow of fresh mountain water and the gushing rage of silt laden floods.  Within this intermittently changing place, plant and animal edge dwellers adapt and survive.

The delta and nearby flat land adjoining Fresh Water Basin has attracted people over the centuries, those with resourcefulness and fortitude to adapt and survive.  

The maori of Milford Sound or Piopiotahi represents the essence that binds the physical and spiritual elements of all things together, generating and upholding life.  All elements of the natural environment possess a life force, and all forms of life are related.  Maori is a critical element of the spiritual relationship of Ngati Tahu Whanui with this area.

Piopiotahi was first visited by Maori more than 1000 years ago.  They were drawn to the area in search of resources including its magnificent stone – pounamu – which they carried out over the ‘inland route’.  The stone was worked ‘back home’ during the winter months, fashioned into various forms of treasured adornment and sometimes minor tools.

Maori travelled the ‘inland route’ from Lake Te Anau-au, along Te Wai-Tawai (Clinton River), over Omani (MacKinnon Pass), along Te Awa-O-Hire (Arthur River) to Piopiotahi – the same route that is now the Milford Track.  Then via the ocean pathway of the fiord they accessed a special form of translucent ponamu (or bowenite) known as takiwai, found at Hopokeka (Anita Bay).

Nohoanga (seasonal camps) here on the Cleddau River delta were welcomed for mahingakai (food gathering) and resting places between mountain and sea, and were rich in natural resources which generation after generation of Ngati Tahu whanui knew how to utilise for survival.

Kaimoana, food from the sea, was the Maori staple, supplemented with foods from the forest.  Hunting, gathering and preserving were vital tasks.  Upon leaving the nohoanga here on the delta, the people walked back over Omani and beyond Te Anau-au to their kainga (settlement) on the lower Waiau and along the southern coast.  On their backs they carried young children, preserved birds, seal skins, unworked takiwai and enough flax to repair and replace sandals as they negotiated the mountain terrain.

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The finest walk in the world – Milford Track Day 3

Day three was the day we were most anxious about – at the previous evening’s briefing we were told that we would climb 700 metres over 6 miles and descend 900 metres over 3.5 miles.  There are 11 switchbacks going up and one of the switchbacks has 7 mini switchbacks on it!

Start time was 7.30am and Steve and I got on the track early. The tracks were in good condition and we made good progress. Steve stopped to take a few layers off and I kept moving hooking up with Matthew. We started the switchbacks but I didn’t count them so didn’t really know where we were at when one of the guides, Hannah, went by and said you’re on switchback number 9, not far to go now. The sign at Mintaro Hut said it would take us two and a half hours to the Memorial Cairn and we did it in one hour and twenty minutes!

The boys looking hopefully at the Heli pad sign

The temperature had dropped and the wind was blowing about 55 kilometres per hour when we reached the Memorial Cairn.  It was freezing.  Hannah had hot drinks available which I took advantage of.  Matthew decided to keep going up to Pass Hut which was our lunch stop.  I waited for Steve.  I found a little spot behind the Memorial to shelter in.  The clouds were passing overhead pretty quickly and every now and then you would get a glimpse of the mountains but they didn’t clear altogether.

Steve wasn’t too far behind but he was frozen so I managed to get a quick photo of the two of us at the Memorial Cairn. As you can see from his face it really was the last thing he wanted to be doing.  He certainly wasn’t interested in a re take!

We carried on past the highest point on the pass and then up to Pass Hut – I gave Steve one of my gloves but then decided to stop and get out a pair of socks.  We ended up with one glove and one sock on each.

We got into Pass Hut and Kelly told us to take any wet layers off and get dry and warm again.  Kelly also told us this was a pretty calm day with 55 kilometre per hour winds.  I braved the toilet which was out on the cliff edge but didn’t hang around too long to take any pictures – it really was a room with a view though.  Standing in the hut eating my lunch I could feel the cold draft seeping up my legs.  I decided to put my leggings on and then we started our descent.

The timing for the descent was three hours but we thought given we had blitzed the climb we would blitz that.  Within ten minutes of leaving the Hut all the clouds had cleared and the sun had come out – we felt instantly warm – it was such a nice feeling.  The vistas were amazing.  There were a few helicopters buzzing around overhead as Wednesday is supply restocking day for all the huts.

We made good progress zig zagging down the hill and a few of the others caught us at Cascades Shelter.  The waterfall and rock pools were stunning and the colour of the water was beautiful.  From memory we thought we only had about a mile to go after the shelter.  That mile turned out to be one of the longest miles – the track had got quite rocky and we just kept descending.  I thought I saw the Hut at one stage but was obviously seeing things.  Matthew then thought he saw something but again he was seeing things.  We were very quickly getting over this descent.  We then passed the twenty mile marker but still continued on for quite a way eventually crossing the Roaring Burn swingbridge to find Quintin Hut.  It was a welcome sight.

It had taken us three hours so they were not wrong on the timing of the descent.  Looking at the walk notes afterwards it does say that the descent is some of the hardest walking and it was.

After a little bit of sustenance we (minus Steve) then decided to do the highly recomended walk to Sutherland Falls – New Zealand’s highest waterfall at 580 metres high.  The walk was noted as being one and a half hours return but we did it in just over an hours return.  It was definitley worth it – the Falls are impressive and the volume of water coming down and the force of it is quite incredible.  A few of the freedom walkers were having a swim and Matthew and I had decided we would have one too.

The spray from the waterfall was intense and you got quite wet just getting to it.  Walking over the rocks just to get to the waters edge was also a challenge and I eventually fell over hurting both a toe and my little pinky which remained sore for some days afterwards!  I didn’t find the water that cold although I wouldn’t have wanted to wallow in it for too long.  I lay back and put my head under – you can’t beat fresh alpine water on your skin and hair.

I was amazed how warm I felt when I got out – the further away you got from the spray the warmer you got.  I then enjoyed the walk back to the hut in my wet clothes : ). Luckily the sun was shining and it had turned into quite a warm day.

We were served up another delicious meal and retired to bed reasonably early in preparation for the 21 kilometres that lay ahead the next day.

Pass Hut History

The walk from the memorial cairn to the Pass Hut is the most exposed and dangerous stretch of the Milford Track.

On a calm day it’s difficult to beleive that up here winds can reach frightening speeds, often requiring walkers to hang onto the snow grass to stop themselves being blown off the edge!  These regular gusts have spelt doom for many of the previous Pass Huts.

Built in 1928 the first Pass Hut was prefabricated in Invercargill and packed up to the pass by horses.  Along the way they packers had much difficulty with the heavy curved roofing iron and ended up axing it in half before reaching the site!  Although small, it became a haven and a welcome addition to the tracks comforts.

It was blown down three times during its 40 year service on the pass.  When it was flattened for the second time in 1947, many years passed before its reconstruction.  Thankfully Bill Anderson, hut keeper at Quintin during the 1950s and 60s gave up on waiting for a replacement and laboriously carted box wood lining, and bits of iron up to the pass week after week from Quintin.  He recycled the old foundations, the original door and roof, and parts of the walls found near the site.

At the beginning of the 1958 / 59 season a new “A” frame hut replaced the 1928 version.  This time all the building material was air-dropped in making much lighter work of it.  While this hut made the first one seem like a match box, the numbers of walkers requiring shelter at the Pass continued to increase and a larger addition was soon added.

In late 1967 the first National Parks Board hut was built on the pass to provide shelter for the new ‘freedom’ or ‘independent’ walkers.  This was to relieve the obvious pressure on the guided walks THC hut which was by now catering for up to 60 walkers.  IT had not long been in place when a huge gale lifted it from its foundations and disposed of it in 1968.  At the same time, the original 1928 hut rebuilt by Bill Anderson was finally blown off the pass and the second THC hut was also crumpled!

The force of the winds brought the THC and Parks Board together to build a new hut – another “A” frame hut that was in use through the 1970s.  In the early 1980s it was replaced again before being replaced once more in 2010 by the one that exists today (the sixth version).  So far it has managed to stand strong against the fierce winds crossing the pass at phenomenal rates – but for how long?  

Today, constructions workers encounter the same testing conditions but also face a different set of challenges with modern building requirements!

Using existing concrete foundations laid in 1982, the current hut’s construction began in February 2010.  With winter conditions approaching, workers had a small window of opportunity to complete construction.  The installation of temporary waorkers quarters airlifted in by helicopter (and secured with sacks filled with rocks!) enabled construction all day through most types of weather.  Even minor setbacks from one specific storm could not hold construction despite pushing the workers quarters a few feet off their foundations!  The hut was completed in May 2010. 

Cutting a track up the Clinton

On September 7th 1888, Quinton MacKinnon and mate Ernest Mitchell, left for the head of Lake Te Anau and set up base camp on the bank of the Clinton River.  As they blazed their track up the Clinton Valley they shifted their camp forward each day.

“It was fearful work,” wrote Mitchell afterwards, “through ‘lawyers’ (a prickly plant) and over rocks, the ground getting worse as we got higher”.  It rained continually for several days and everything in the tent got soaking wet.  Then the sun came out and their blankets became “a moving mass of blowflies”.  Mitchell’s dog raided two blue duck nests sucking all 14 eggs dry and doing the explorers out of a feed of pancakes.  But they were both arriving guns and they shot five kakapo for tucker instread.  They also tried kiwi, but found the “flesh far too rank for eating”.

As they approached the pass at the head of the valley they came to a pretty little lake which they named “Lake Beautiful” (later named Lake Mintaro).  “It was the loveliest lake I have ever seen” wrote Mitchell, “with bush on one side and tussocky slopes on the other.  Surrounded by a great amphitheatre of mountains it lay at the foot of the saddle, with lots of paradise ducks on it.”

On October 16th 1888 they hauled themselves up through the scrub and snow grass onto the top of the pass.  Unfortunately it was raining and the visibility was poor, but they groped their way along the pass toward Mt Balloon and descended about halfway down the far side where they camped for the night, fireless and supper less.  The next morning they scrambled down to the bushline and followed the left bank of the Roaring Burn down to a shingle beach where they killed and grilled a blue duck.  Continuing along the bank of the Roaring Burn they then intercepted Sutherland’s track close to his slab Beech but and left a message set on a stick.  The next day they continued out to Milford Sound.

MacKinnon wrote in Sutherland’s visitors book: “October 21st 1888.  Found good available track from Te Anau to connect with Sutherland’s Track at Beech Hut.  Found government maps very much out and the Hermit’s (Donald Sutherland) explorations very much in.”

Memorial Cairn

Today, a rough hewn cairn stands strong in the memory of their achievement.  The memorial is one of the most historical features remaining on the Milford Track.  After Mackinnon’s drowning in Lake Te Anau in 1892, the idea of building a memorial in his honour was raised by the Gaelic Society.  They raised funds over the next twenty years and with government assistance and also funds from the Otago Rugby Football Union, they were ready to have a memorial built.  The Gaelic Society called upon well known Dunedin stone mason, James Robertson, to undertake the task.  James, a Scotsman aged 67, was in two minds about accepting the challenging but prestigious task on top of the exposed MacKinnon Pass.  However he finally gave in and proceeded to Pompolona Hut in December 1914, accompanied by a labourer.  Here they based themselves, walking up the pass every day.  They collected blocks of stone from near the site, then dressed and fitted them using a limestone mortar.  The circular corn was created with a space left for the final Celtic cross and sandstone inscription plaque, which were added later.  The stone work was completed on April 25th 1915.  The rigours of the climate at an altitude of 1100 metres took its toll on James’ health and in July of that year he passed away.

Donald Sutherland

In 1888, Donald Sutherland cut a track to the Sutherland Falls and built a simple slab hut.  He had been commissioned to do so by Cheif Surveyor of Otago C. W. Adams, who was bringing a team of surveyors to map the Arthur Valley, measure the height of Sutherland Falls and hopefully find a route through to Lake Te Anau.  Sutherland’s slab hut was built to accomodate the surveyors, who moved it closer to the river.  It became known as Beech Hut.

In 1897, two corrugated iron huts were built on the present site and collectively they became known as Quintin Huts, named after Quintin MacKinnon, the first guide and discoverer of the MacKinnon Pass.

The lodge has been developed on the same site ever since and remains the only main lodge on the Milford Track not to have been destroyed by fire or avalanche.

Sutherland Falls

On 10th November 1880, Donald Sutherland and John Mackay obtained their first view of a high waterfall cascading down a sheer face of rock in three great leaps.  Naming it the Sutherland Falls, Sutherland estimated that it was between 3,000 to 4,000 feet high.  A generous figure which he later increased to 5,700 feet, but which surveyor C.W. Adams eventually cut back to 1,904 feet (580 metres).On this same trip they had discovered the Mackay Falls, naming it after John Mackay.

William (Bill) Anderson

Bill and his wife May were employed by the Tourist Hotel Corporation (THC) as hut managers at Quintin Hut in 1950.  This was the start for Bill of a 30 year relationship with the Milford Track.  In 1973, Bill built a replica of Sutherland’s original Beech Hut on the same site as the original.  He used hand-pit-sawn timber and traditional methods in its construction.  His most famous exploits were in the exploration and creation of the Anderson Track, a loop track on the true left bank of the Staircase creek, from which a person could obtain a full length 35mm photograph of the Sutherland Falls.


Machinery for construction of an airstrip at Quintin Lodge was airlifted to the site by helicopter in May 1968.  Be February 1969, the airstrip had been completed.  This brought an end to the delivery of supplies by tractor, boat and packhorse.
These were now brought in. by light aircraft.  By the late 1990s, helicopter resupply had completely taken over from that of fixed-wing aircraft and the airstrip was left to be reclaimed by the native forest.



There are resident Kiwi still found along the Milford Track and they can be heard calling at night.

There is debate about whether Kiwi evolved from a flightless ancestor, or lost its ability to fly.  But it does have a very small vestigial wing, with a tiny cat-like claw on the end.  This stumpy wing gave rise to the species’ name – Apteryx – meaning ‘wingless’.

Kiwi have evolved quite differently to other birds.

  • They burrow like some mammals, and their body temperature is lower than most birds, between 37 and 38 degrees Celsius, just like a mammal.
  • The kiwi’s powerful legs are heavy and marrow filled, like a mammal.  They make up a third of the bird’s weight.  The skeletons of most birds are light and filled with air sacs to enable flight.
  • While most birds depend on sight, the kiwi relies on a highly developed sense of smell and touch.  The kiwi’s sense of hearing is also well developed.  It’s ear openings are large and visible, and it will cock its head to direct its ear toward soft or distant noises.
  • A female has two ovaries – like a mammal, unlike most birds, which have one.  The chick emerges from it’s enormous egg, fully feathered and able to feed itself – which is very unusual for a bird.
  • Kiwi plumage is hair-like, and it has cat like whiskers on its face and around the base of its beak.  These whiskers are likely to have evolved to help the bird feel its way through the dark.


While no longer found on mainland New Zealand, Fiordland was the last stronghold for the Kakapo.  The species has declined drastically since the introduction of mammalian predators.  The surviving individuals were all taken to predator free offshore islands in an attempt to bring them back from the brink of extinction.  Early Maori and European explorers in the Milford area relied on this unique bird as a source of food.

Like the Kiwi, the Kakapo has evolved in a very unique way.

  • The Kakapo is the heaviest parrot in the world.
  • It is possibly the longest-lived bird species in the world; the low adult mortality rate suggests a mean life expectancy of 90 years.
  • It is flightless.
  • It is the only parrot that has a ‘lek’ breeding system.  Kākāpō don’t breed every year – that depends on whether there’s enough rimu fruit around for them to eat.  But when they do breed, they do it different to most!  In the breeding season, the male kākāpō can inflate like a balloon and emit a low ‘sonic’ boom which, in mountainous terrain, can be heard up to five kilometres away.  Breeding activity usually starts in about December, when male kākāpō take to prominent ridges, rocks or hilltops with low-growing vegetation and begin a courtship competition for female attention. This is known as ‘lek’ breeding, and is not known from any other parrot species in the world – or from any other New Zealand bird.  From its prominent bowl site, each bird inflates a thoracic air sac and emits a deep resonant non-directional ‘boom’ from its swollen body, announcing to any females in the area that he is ready to mate. After 20-30 booms they then make a high-pitched metallic call, or ‘ching’.  This pinpoints the male’s position, to direct the females to him. The booming and chinging serenade can last for eight hours without break, every night for 2-3 months in the breeding seasons when nesting occurs.  The males compete against each other, and can release thousands of ‘booms’ a night.

The kakapo is the heavyweight of the parrot world, with smaller females weighing 1.4kg and the males 2.2kg.  Fat reserves of a kilogram or more can be added prior to a breeding season.

It is thought that, many hundreds of thousands of years ago, the kakapo was probably a typical, lightweight parrot that flew through the air to travel and gather its food.  But the process of evolution without the presence and effect of mammals in New Zealand saw the bird give away its flying skills, put on weight, and become a good hiker and climber instead, with powerful claws.

Kakapo also have very strong legs, allowing them to walk several kilometres at a time.  Their wings are still large, but now have little more use than to slow it down when it leaps from the top of low trees and help kakapo maintain their balance while running or climbing.

Another peculiar habit of the kakapo is to freeze when disturbed, keeping absolutely still and hoping to blend into the background.  Most animals have evolved more useful forms of defence, such as taking flight; but the kakapo obviously did not need this behaviour in the days when New Zealand’s predators were birds.

New Zealand has more species of flightless birds – both living and extinct – than any other country.  They include kiwi, kakapo, takahe, weka, Moa, three flightless wrens and two adzebills.

One reason New Zealand has so many flightless birds is that, before humans arrived about 1000 years ago, there were no land mammals that preyed on birds.  Predators were other birds, such as laughing owl, eagle, goshawk and falcon.  With no predators sniffing them out, flightless birds could safely forage from the forest floor, living and nesting on the ground.

Flying takes a lot of energy.  With the ground being so safe, birds could save energy by walking.

Since people arrived in New Zealand, the forest floor has become a place of threat and peril for all New Zealand’s flightless birds.

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“Making New Zealand Great Again” with the Swissies

We were very lucky to have our Swiss friends, Karin & Elvis, come and visit us in NZ this summer.  They were in NZ for a month and we got to spend about three weeks of this time with them.  They last came to NZ together in February 2006 for a couple of weeks and spent all their time in the North Island.  Karin returned in November 2011 for a month and apart from a trip to Nelson also spent most of her time in the North Island.

Apart from coming to see us in the Hawke’s Bay their focus was on the South Island this time round.

After landing in Auckland they ventured down to Nelson where they spent the night with my Mum before carrying on to the Abel Tasman area.  After a few days there they made there way up to us in the Hawke’s Bay.  They had been to Napier before but there is more to the Hawke’s Bay than Napier : )

It was good to see them both and show them where we now lived.  Pinot and Riesling our little storks were also reunited – we had purchased them in a village in France called Obernai back in September 2011.  They have travelled all over the world with us.  The boys are not that impressed wth them though and are always threatening to make them fly far away!  Karin did confess that Riesling was nearly lost forever after she left her in Japan.  After a great deal of emails and a bit of money Riesling was safely returned to Switzerland : )

We went for a drive out to the Clifton Peninusla and enjoyed some scones with jam and cream at Clearview Estate.

We went to a concert at Black Barn Winery on the Friday night to listen to three NZ artists – Benny Tipene, Bic Runga and Brooke Fraser.  It was a clear night but a little chilly.  Benny Tipene, whom I had never heard of before was the stand out of the night.  Bic Runga was very disappointing with her lack of stage presence and Brooke Fraser was great.

We did some walking up Te Mata Peak and Steve spent a lot of time at the golf course coaching both Karin & Elvis – they truly have the golf bug now.

On the Monday, our friend Andrea from Australia arrived for a couple of days.  We had just done the Mountain to Sea Cycle with Andrea and she hadn’t been to the Hawke’s Bay before.  I took Karin, Elvis and Andrea over to Napier to do the Art Deco Tour which they found interesting.  Napier has one of the largest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world alongside South Beach in Miami, Florida.

On the Tuesday we hired some bikes and did the Water Loop over in Napier – this is a 40km loop that takes in the sea front, orchards, wineries, Taradale, Ahuriri – the historic fishing port and the Port.  We enjoyed a bottle of wine at Church Rd Winery with our picnic lunch.

On the Wednesday Karin and Elvis went off to the golf course and Andrea and I biked out to Haumoana and Te Awanga where we enjoyed a bite at Clearview Winery.

On the Thursday it was time to say goodbye to Andrea who was heading back to Australia via Auckland.  Karin, Elvis, Steve and I were heading to the deep south – Dunedin.  As we were going to the airport it started drizzling so we knew it was time to leave town.  Although Dunedin was chilly the sun was shining when we arrived.

We stayed in this Air BNB which had fabulous views over Saint Clair Beach.  The guy that owned the Air BNB lived upstairs and he had the most amazing collection of old artifacts including about 25 life size models of various tribal people from all over the world.  He has been sculpting the heads out of clay for the last 25 years – you had to see them to believe them.  He gave us a tour of his private museum – it was incredible.

The next day we headed south to find the place where Karin’s uncle had spent a bit of time over the years.  The place was somewhere near the Taieri river mouth.  We came across a woman walking her dog who happened to be talking to the local plumber so Karin jumped out to ask if they knew about this guy that her uncle used to come and visit.  It seems this old guy was a bit of a local identity so the plumber knew who he was and where his house was.  He has since died and someone owns his property now but the old cottage he used to live in is still there.  The woman who owns the property came home while we were there and said we were welcome to go and have a look around as long as we didn’t let the chickens escape.

Next stop was the Otago Peninsula and the Royal Albatross Centre.  Karin & Elvis did a tour while Steve and I basked in the sunshine.  We took the scenic route back to Dunedin and then visited the Dunedin railway Station which is a very impressive building.

We then took a drive to see the world’s steepest residential street – Baldwin Street.  Despite having been to Dunedin before we had never visited this icon before.

A short straight street a little under 350 metres (1,150 ft) long, Baldwin Street runs east from the valley of the Lindsay Creek up the side of Signal Hill towards Opoho, rising from 30 m (98 ft) above sea level at its junction with North Road to 100 m (330 ft) above sea level at the top, an average slope of slightly more than 1:5. Its lower reaches are only moderately steep, and the surface is asphalt, but the upper reaches of this cul-de-sac are far steeper, and surfaced in concrete (200 m or 660 ft long), for ease of maintenance (bitumen—in either chip seal or asphalt—would flow down the slope on a warm day) and for safety in Dunedin’s frosty winters.

The street’s steepness was unintentional. As with many other parts of early Dunedin, and indeed New Zealand, streets were laid out in a grid pattern with no consideration for the terrain, usually by planners in London. In the case of Baldwin Street (and much of the Dunedin street plan), the layout was surveyed by Charles Kettle in the mid-19th century. The street is named after William Baldwin, an Otago Provincial Councillor and newspaper founder, who subdivided the area.

The street is the venue for an annual event in Dunedin, the Baldwin Street Gutbuster. Every summer since 1988 this exercise in fitness and balance involves athletes running from the base of the street to the top and back down again. The event attracts several hundred competitors annually and the race record is 1:56.

Since 2002, a further charity event has been held annually in July, which involves the rolling of over 30,000 Jaffas (spherical confectionery-coated chocolate confectionery). Each Jaffa is sponsored by one person, with prizes to the winner and funds raised going to charity. This event follows a tradition started in 1998, when 2,000 tennis balls were released in a sponsored event raising money for Habitat for Humanity.

In March 2001, a 19-year-old University of Otago student was killed when she and another student attempted to travel down the street inside a wheelie bin. The bin collided with a parked trailer, killing her instantly, and causing serious head injuries for the other student.

We then ventured back to the Air BNB to enjoy a home cooked meal and some more great views of Saint Clair.

On the Saturday morning we went for a walk to Tunnel Beach.  Tunnel Beach has sea-carved sandstone cliffs, rock arches and caves.  Beyond the beauty of the rugged sandstone cliffs, its claim to fame is the tunnel down to the beach that a local politician, John Cargill, son of Captain William Cargill, had commissioned for his family in the 1870s.

Access to the beach is via a track across private farmland, and is open year round excluding lambing season from August to October. The track was opened in 1983, and is a popular walking track. It descends from 150 metres (490 ft) above sea level at its start, a short distance off Blackhead Road, winding for some 1200 metres to the top of the tunnel close to a natural sea arch. The tunnel descends 72 steps to the beach, and is dimly naturally lit.

Next stop was Fleurs Place at Moeraki.  Moeraki is located about 70km north of Dunedin and 30km south of Oamaru.  Moeraki means ‘a place to rest by day.’  Fleurs Place is a restaurant, cafe and bar right on the waterfront at the old jetty.  Their specialty is fresh fish straight from Moeraki Bay fishing boats.

The restaurant established on an early whaling station site in 2002 and is built from gathered collectables and demolition materials from all over New Zealand.  The owner Fleur Sullivan has made her reputation in Central Otago where she established Olivers restaurant and has received numerous awards for her restaurants and in recognition for her contribution to tourism.

When British television chef and restaurateur Rick Stein was told he could choose to go anywhere in the world to write a travel article for English newspaper the Daily Mail, he chose Fleurs Place in Moeraki.

The restaurant, run by the inimitable Fleur Sullivan, was ‘Just one of those places that keeps cropping up in conversations’ whenever there was a gathering of ‘foodies’, he said. Set in the sleepy little fishing village of Moeraki on the Otago coast, Fleurs Place has an unbeatable setting.

There’s water on three sides, fishing boats bobbing in the harbour, the famous Moeraki boulders across the bay and, to the north, the open sea. Fleur uses only the freshest of local ingredients – indeed, fishing boats land their catches right into her restaurant.

We too had heard of Fleurs on many occasions but had never managed to visit.  We all had the blue cod for lunch and it was delicious.

Another place we had not visited before was the Moeraki Boulders which are about 10 minutes up the road from Fleurs Place.

The Moeraki Boulders are a group of very large spherical “stones” on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki on New Zealand’s Otago coast. These boulders are actually concretions that have been exposed through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs that back the beach.

The boulders are one of the most fascinating and popular attractions on the South Island.  They originally formed in ancient sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago.  Some of the boulders weigh several tonnes and are up to 3 metres in diametre!

Maori legend tells that the boulders are remains of calabashes, kumaras and eel baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe, the Araiteuru was wrecked at nearby Shag Point (Matakaea).

We got to Oamaru late afternoon and had a quick look around the Victorian quarter.  Originally the commercial and business district of Oamaru, the buildings in the Precinct were predominantly grain and seed warehouses throughout the late 19th century. The charitable trust, Whitestone Civic Trust, was later established with the aim of preserving the Oamaru Victorian Precinct and it now owns 16 of the Victorian buildings. These beautiful limestone buildings house a mixture of galleries, shops, traditional crafts, food & drink outlets.

Oamaru used to be rich and ambitious. In its 1880s heyday, Oamaru was about the same size as Los Angeles was at the time. Refrigerated meat-shipping had its origins nearby and the town became wealthy enough to erect the imposing buildings that grace the main street today – these buildings are all beautifully crafted out of limestone or what we now call Oamaru stone. However, the town overreached itself and spent the end of the 19th century teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

Economic decline in the 20th century meant that there wasn’t the impetus to swing the wrecking ball with the same reckless abandon that wiped out much of the built heritage of NZ’s main centres so these beautifully crafted buildings remain intact today. It’s only in recent decades that canny creative types have cottoned on to the uniqueness of Oamaru’s surviving Victorian streetscapes and have started to unlock this otherwise unremarkable town’s potential for extreme kookiness.

We decided to do the evening viewing of the Blue Penguin, another of Oamaru’s icons.  The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is located only a few minutes from the town centre.  A small number of blue penguins began nesting in a rock quarry area at the edge of Oamaru Harbour in the 1970s, twenty years later the colony was formed to protect the birds.

Blue Penguins or Korora (maori name) are the worlds’ smallest penguins.  They are approximately 30cm tall, weigh around 1kg and live to about 8 – 10 years old.  Blue penguins breed around the coast of New Zealand and Southern Australia.

They leave early in the morning before sunrise, and return after dark.  During the day they will either stay hidden inside their nests or go out to sea.  The penguins will normally make their nests by digging a burrow or hiding amongst rocks.  At the colony they provide nesting boxes as they are less prone to collapsing or flooding than natural nests.

We saw 78 blue penguins come back in that night – they are very cute.  One got a bit disorientated and ended up under the grandstand we were sitting on.  When we left to go back to our accommodation that night we also saw another couple on the rocks near the carpark.  It is not uncommon for them to be seen in town.

Fast facts about Blue Penguins

  • Blue penguins are the smallest penguins in the world at just 35-43cm tall
  • They weigh between 1 and 1.5kg
  • The average life span is 6.5 years, but there are some records of penguins living up to 20 years
  • Penguins travel 15–75 km at sea each day
  • Long-term partnerships are the norm, but ‘divorce’ is not uncommon
  • Underwater, penguins can reach speeds of up to 6km/hr but  average 2–4km/hr
  • Chicks will often return to within a few metres of where they were raised and once settled in an area never move away
  • Blue penguins only come ashore under the cover of darkness
  • They commonly nest in burrows, rock crevices, caves, nesting boxes,  or under buildings
  • From June to November penguins come ashore to lay eggs (generally two) and raise young in burrows
  • By March they have moulted and returned to the sea.
  • The chicks are guarded for the first 2-3 weeks, after which both parents go to sea to keep up the supply of fish
  • Adults feed their chicks but never their mate.  They take over incubation duties so their mate can go to sea to feed
  • Chicks usually fledge 8 weeks after hatching and are independent from then on.
  • Blue penguins feed on surface schooling fish, squid and crustaceans.

The next day we headed towards Alexandra and decided to take the historic Danseys Pass.  Danseys Pass is located in the Kakanui Mountains, between Central Otago and North Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand.  It is 920 metres above sea level at it’s highest point.

It lies between the Maniototo plain (part of the Taieri River water catchment) and the northern foothills of the Kakanui Mountains (part of the Waitaki River catchment). Much of the road going over Danseys Pass is unsealed. The road was built for the owners of large sheep runs, the brothers Allan McLean and John McLean.

Though not a major arterial road, the pass is a fairly well-used link between the towns of Naseby and Ranfurly in the south and Duntroon in the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury. Also, if State Highway 1 between Hampden and Moeraki is closed, it is closest detour, despite adding over 100 km to the journey.

Along the way we discovered Danseys Pass Lavender.  Thanks to the pure mountain air, hot dry summers and long cold winters their lavender produces a fine pure oil of the highest quality.  What a hidden treasure – we explored the shop and gardens and enjoyed a lavender flavoured icecream which was delicious.  They outsource the making of the icecream to a guy in Oamaru who really knows what he is doing – the lavender flavour was present but subtle.

Next stop was the Danseys Pass Coach Inn where we decided to have lunch.  We also had a few games of ‘get the ring on the stick’ – amazing what brings out the competitive spirit.

Named after William Heywood Dansey, a North Otago run holder who used the route to move stock, Danseys Pass links Central Otago to the Waitaki District. Danseys Pass is an alpine unsealed, narrow road winding through and over the Kakanui mountain range. At its highest point the saddle is 920m above sea level and can be closed by snow in the winter months.  

The Pass Hotel (now the Danseys Pass Coach Inn) was built in 1862, with the original stonework constructed by a mason known as “Happy Bill”. Bill’s remuneration was in beer, and he received one pint for every schist boulder shaped and laid. Legend has it that after a particularly busy day the blithe craftsman fell into an open grave at the cemetery, and slept the night away.

Danseys Pass Coach Inn is located deep within the Kyeburn Diggings about 20km from Naseby and has a colourful history traced back to 1860s, when it serviced a multicultural gold prospecting community of 2000. Teamsters with their wagon train plying trade between Waitaki Basin and Central Otago gold fields used the Coach Inn as a stopover when travelling on to the more remote prospecting areas of central Otago.

During 1861 the prospector Leggatt found gold at the Upper Kyeburn, and in July 1863 a rush at Mount Buster took place about eight miles from Rayburn Diggings. There was once a thriving community at Kyeburn Diggings, the Mount Ida Chronicle of 1870 lists business places at Kyeburn Diggings as three hotels, three stores, one butchery and one bakery. The district was also accused of having six unlicensed grog shanties. Coal mining was also important at Kyeburn, and good quality ignite was worked until 1900.

One report in 1880 estimated the number of Chinese working the diggings as six hundred. There was even a Chinese store about two hundred yards above German Creek, which was not pulled down until 1920. The deep cutting on the terrace behind the hotel was worked by the Chinese, as was the adjacent cutting on the road as Chinaman’s cutting.

In September 1869 the first service was held in the new Union Church, the preacher being The Reverend James Burchette. This tiny church served the community for twelve years, and was then moved next to the school and used as a library. A new church of sun-dried brick was constructed and stood until 1923.

Today only the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, first built in 1862 and standing at 2,000ft about sea level remains to remind travellers of a colourful history, and a gold prospecting community of more than two thousand souls. Now only clumps of trees and an occasional decaying wall, mark the places where many large families were raised. The early miners planted trees in what was originally a treeless country, and one fine specimen of Redwood is still to found about four hundred years old up German Creek.

We also called in at the former gold mining town of Saint Bathans.

We got to Alexandra about 5pm and it was very warm which is not unusual.  Alexandra normally boasts some of the hottest temperatures in NZ in summer but also some of the coldest in winter.  We chilled out for a bit and then decided to find somewhere for dinner – not an easy feat on a Sunday night in Alexandra.  One of the only places open was Tabla Indian which is in a little house down the bottom of the town.  They had good reviews on TripAdvisor so we thought we would give them a go.  We were the only ones there and we sat out the back in a little courtyard.  The food was excellent as was the service – no complaints!

The plan on the Monday was to cycle the last 50km of the Central Otago Rail Trail.  We organised bike hire and transport through Phil at Altitude Adventures in Alexandra.  Phil dropped us off just past Lauder, took the team photos and left us too it.  We have done the Rail Trail three times and as always it never disappoints.  The scenery is spectacular and the trail is fun, especially the last 50km which is down hill.

We stopped in Omakau for a coffee.  When we went to get back on our bikes we discovered Elvis’s back tyre was as flat as a pancake.  It was all a bit weird as we couldn’t find what had caused it.  Anyway we replaced the tube and were back on our way.  We took a side trip to Ophir which has the oldest continually running postal service in the country, open on weekdays from 9am till noon.  We got there just before 1pm but the lady who runs the post office was still there.  She told us if we were quick she would give us a tour so in we went and she locked the door behind us.  Someone came and banged on the door but she ignored them – lucky us.  They still hand frank the mail and have quite a lot of the original equipment.  It is very cute.

We then crossed the Manuherikia River across the 1880 Daniel O’Connell suspension bridge with its stone piers.  Anchored in solid schist, the bridge is named after the 19th-century Irish nationalist – a reminder of the many Irish gold miners who came to the area.

We then had to ride on a the road for a little bit before we could re join the track and find Steve who had decided not to do the side trip to Ophir.

We stopped off at Chatto Creek for a drink and some waffle fries that the boys could not resist.  It was a busy spot with lots of cyclists re hydrating on this warm day.

We had been looking for the perfect lunch spot down by the river but it never appeared so we ended up carrying on through to Alexandra and finding a spot by the river there.  Karin & I went swimming and did a bit of floating down the river.

The next day we had more cycling planned – this time the Roxburgh Gorge Trail which is a 33km trail alongside the Clutha River. You cycle the first 11km before hoping on a jet boat for the next 12km before rejoining the trail for a further 22km of riding.  The jet boat ride is necessary as the middle section of the trail is not accessible by bike.  As part of the jet boat ride you get a commentary regarding the history from the jet boat driver who in our case was Dave.  He was a born and bred local so had an in depth knowledge of the area.  Karin & Elvis had never been in a jet boat before so Dave took special care of them and gave us a 360 degree thrill spin at the end.

After getting off the jetboat at Shingle Creek we cycled another 11km to the Roxburgh Dam.  Karin & I decided to check the water out but decided against a dip – it was rather chilly and the wind got up so it would have been a bit cold to cycle in wet clothes.  We got to Roxburgh village about 2pm, just in time to enjoy a refreshing beverage at The Store before Phil turned up to drive us back to Alexandra.  The cycling and views had been well worth it.

Wonders of the Roxburgh Gorge – source –

THE ‘Mighty Clutha’ forms the heart of one of the world’s most unique waterways. It traverses the dramatic semi-desert landscape of Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand, but the most spectacular river gorges, and much more, have been destroyed … by dams. This is the unofficial story of the Clutha Mata-Au River and its stolen treasures. It is a story steeped in bitterness, shame, destruction, and sadness.

Before the Roxburgh dam was commissioned in 1956, the 30 km Roxburgh Gorge was up to 400 metres deep, and so narrow that in places its towering walls rose vertically above the boiling waters of the Clutha Mata-Au. The river was so constricted that it flowed as swiftly as 40 kilometres an hour through narrow chutes hundreds of metres long. In other sections the current slowed – but not much, flowing over landslide obstructions that had at one time dammed the gorge, before being overtopped by massive rapids. Today’s sedate current bears no resemblance to the powerful torrent that once echoed through the gorge, drowning out the voices of men.

The first feature of the gorge, 675 metres below the Manuherikia confluence, was a constriction formed by schist bluffs on both sides that reduced the width to just 39 metres. This is now known as the “Italian Bend,” but the early gold-miners called this the “Gates of the Gorge.” Foot-tracks were etched precariously along the steep and boulder-tumbled walls of the gorge on both sides, as the miners hunted up gold and dug cave-like shelters under large slabs of fallen schist.

Just over five kilometres down the gorge from the “Gates,” and nearly two kilometres beyond Butcher’s Point, the true left wall of the gorge had long ago collapsed, blocking the river. The resulting over-topping waters had cut through the obstruction with unimaginable force, forming a torrential rapid that had over time, at its foot, scoured out a large, amphitheatre-like basin within high walls of unstable rock. This rapid, descending through a narrow chasm, was known as the “Golden Falls.” It filled the “Narrows” with a crashing din so loud that shouting men could not hear each other. In the centre of this basin below the rapid, the deeply driving waters had pushed up a shingle island. Hence, the name “Island Basin.” The Golden Falls and Island Basin were astonishing features in a remarkably dramatic location.

Beyond Island Basin at Doctor’s Point, two powerful rapids known as Doctor’s Falls No 1 & 2 dropped through a boulder strewn constriction below a maze of gold workings, stone cottages and cave shelters etched into the true-left side of the gorge. 
Nearly two kilometres below Doctor’s Point, the river again met a sudden obstruction. A huge schist slab had slid down from the true left into the river, against which river-borne shingle and boulders had jammed up, creating a rapid so tumultuous that the gold-miners called it the Molyneux Falls. Here was a ferocious whitewater descent, tumbling violently some four-metres down a twenty-metre section of boulders, at breathtaking speed. At normal or low flow, these falls were deadly. In high flow they were somewhat washed out, but still incredibly swift.

The gold-miners, dreaming of lowering the river above the falls to expose gold, tried several times to blast the huge thirty by twelve metre schist slab that lay at the head of the Molyneux Falls. But time and again the slab didn’t move. Drilling and blasting merely succeeded in cracking the slab, so that it settled into place even more.

Further down the gorge, other rapids also raced through narrow chutes, until finally, at the southern end of the gorge, after boiling through massive eddies near McKenzie’s Beach, the current eased slightly as it passed another bluff at Coal Creek – a site selected for the construction of the Roxburgh dam in 1947.

It is worth remembering that the wonderful features of the old Roxburgh Gorge were never physically destroyed prior to the filling of the Roxburgh reservoir. They were flooded, and now lie mothballed in silt. Given the limited lifespan of the ageing Roxburgh dam, and the silting, flooding and instability issues of the gorge, there is an ever-growing case for dam decommissioning and gorge restoration. 

Inevitably, some time in the future, the largest high volume rapids in New Zealand – the once thunderous Golden and Molyneux Falls, will be re-born. Gradually, decades of trapped sediment will be stripped away, and the long-hidden wonders of the Roxburgh Gorge will be revealed.

Phil dropped us back to our Jucy car in Alexandra and we set off for Wanaka – the final destination on our South Island sojourn with Karin & Elvis.  We stopped in Cromwell to get some fresh fruit and not long after leaving there the Jucy car broke down!  Luckily Steve had got it mostly off the road although a policeman stopped to see if we were OK and advised that we didn’t actually just in the car incase someone hit us.  Karin thoughfully tied Steve’s fluro jacket to a road marker which alerted the cars travelling at 100kms per hour that we were up ahead.  Steve had called Jucy and the AA and they were going to be there within the hour so we sat on the side of the road and read our books.

More than an hour passed and there was no sign of the AA.  Steve was just calling them when a young guy stopped up ahead and reversed back.  He asked if we were OK and did we want a lift to Wanaka.  Karin, Elvis and I decided to hitch a ride to Wanaka.  Steve stayed with the car.  He was a nice young guy who had only just shifted to Wanaka and was working as an apprentice builder.  He dropped us at the accomodation.  Meanwhile Steve had been towed back to Cromwell to get a new battery which they didn’t end up having in stock.  They did some work around so he could at least drive to Wanaka.  They would then bring a new vehicle over the next day.

They told him to turn the radio off as well as the air conditioning etc… – the less things draining the battery the better.  He made it to just around the corner from the accomodation when the car died again – apparently it was Karin & I’s fault as we had left the air conditioning going full blast in the back seat and he hadn’t heard that it was on!  Who was to know : 0

It actually rained until about 11am the next morning so we had a lazy morning – much needed after all our activities and excitement.  The sun came out in the afternoon so we went to Rippon winery and did a tasting.  We had been here before but had never done a proper tasting – it was really interesting and good to learn about the land and the people that make Rippon what it is today.


Light – Central Otago: the only continental climate in New Zealand viticulture with high ultra violet light, long sunshine hours and highly refractive soils.

Air – Wanaka: A more temperate climate relative to the rest of Central Otago due to its close proximity to the dividing mountains of the Southern Alps.

Water – Lake Wanaka: the temperance of this large thermal mass, coupled with the protective nature of Ruby Island further softens Rippon’s microclimate.

Earth – Schist: the metamorphic mother rock, rich in foliated mica and quartzite is deposited as glacial moraines, coarse-altered gravels, ancient lake-bed clays and wind-blown loess.


In 1975, Rolfe Mills,the third generation of his family on the farm, started to plant a series of experimental rows of Vitis vinifera.

In 1982 Rolfe and his wife Lois planted the first block of vines with the express interest of growing high quality wine and released their first commercial vintage in 1989.  The land continues to be farmed by the Mills family, together with a dedicated long term staff.

As winegrowers, the team’s principal commitment is to the soil.  Nurturing a healthy, responsive medium underfoot binds the vines and the people to their land.

Biodynamic farming and no irrigation help the vine drive energy into its seed and issue raw material that is capable of fostering wines that are true to their place.

For over 30 years, through careful observation and selection the varieties and the individual vines that were proven to be most suited to the site were planted, parcel by parcel, on the farm’s most favourable slopes.  The greater majority of Rippon’s vines today remain on their own roots.

They produce a wine called Osteiner, a variety born of Riesling and Sylvaner.  This grape is only grown at Rippon and in another small holding in Germany so is very unique.  I really liked the wine so got a bottle to put in the cellar.  When we got home we discovered we also had a bottle of the 2008 Osteiner so we must have liked it on a previous visit too : )

Next stop was the driving range for the now Golf obsessed Swissies : ). They also had an archery set up there so they also gave that a go.  Turns out Karin is a bit of a dead eyed dick with the old bow and arrow!

That evening we enjoyed a bottle of champagne down on the shoes of the beautiful Lake Wanaka.

The next morning at sunrise the lake was just as beautiful.

On the Thursday it was time for Steve and I to head back to the Hawke’s Bay for the weekend.  We drove over the Crown Range Road where a bronze plaque at the vista point claims that this historic summit, at 1076 m (3530 ft) is the highest sealed road in New Zealand, which is not correct.  The Crown Saddle is however the highest sealed pass (2m higher than the Desert Road summit on State Highway 1 in the North Island).  Karin & Elvis continued onto visit Milford Sound and Invercargill before returning to Dunedin to fly to Auckland.

Steve and I then drove to Auckland on the Monday to meet Karin & Elvis off the plane – we were Waiheke Island bound. The sun was shining and we enjoyed the ferry ride over to the island.

We had three nights on the island staying at the cute Glasen Cottage which is owned by our friends parents.  We explored Oneroa and discovered the Gelato shop – it was so good.  We all said that had to go our list of daily to-do’s 🙂

The next day we did the coastal walk from Matiatia to Oneroa – it was a little overcast and humid.  We had a swim at Onetangi Beach after lunch before heading for the Waiheke Island golf club where Karin & Elvis played their first nine holes on a proper golf course.  Steve was the swing coach and I was the ettiquite advisor.  They did well and wanted to come back for more the next day.

We got up early on the Wednesday and played another nine holes.  We then went to Casita Miro for a tapas style lunch before venturing around to Man O War Bay to lounge in the sun at the vineyard there.  Waiheke really does feel like a tropical island.

We finished the day with another visit to the Gelato shop : )

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end.  On Thursday we headed back to Auckland where we had to say goodbye to our friends.  We had a blast showcasing New Zealand to them and miss them.  Switzerland and New Zealand, although similar landscape wise, couldn’t be further apart!

Pinot also had to say goodbye to Riesling – we’re all hoping to be reunited again in 2018.

The title of this blog “Making New Zealand Great Again” came about because Elvis and Karin introduced us to the You Tube clips where various countries prepared introduction videos about their countries for the incoming US President – Donald Trump.  For President Trump, one country and one country only is first – America.  These funny videos are begging for their countries to be second.   When Karin & Elvis farewelled us at the airport they said “thanks for making New Zealand great again”.  Just as I am sure the Americans are thanking President Trump for making America great again : )

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