North Island 2: The Bay of Plenty


The flight to Tauranga from Wellington was uneventful, in a rather larger plane than that from Nelson to Wellington. Peter and Denise (Hartles) were waiting for us at the airport, and we set off to a beachside cafe for a light lunch before taking a stroll round Mount Maunganui, one of the many extinct volcanoes in New Zealand. It was very pleasant, warm and sunny, and there were views over the bay through the trees.

In the short time we were with them Peter and Denise made us very welcome, showing us round Omakaroa, where they have a lovely house with a beautiful view over the bay. Their garden is on several levels down the hill, a little like ours in Winchester, except that their fruit trees are rather more exotic, including grapefruit – very sweet and juicy – and avocado. They also have native trees, including Pohutukawa, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, as its stunning red and gold flowers start coming out in December. We walked along the coast path near the house, seeing interesting houses and gardens as we went, and chatting to friendly neighbours. We also visited Te Puna Quarry, which is now a park with walking tracks, native and specialist plants, including many beautiful orchids, outdoor sculptures and beautiful views. There were also lots of birds and butterflies: they have a hatchery for Monarch butterflies, and grow plenty of their food plants. Another visit was to a wood-carver who makes extraordinary sculptures of everyday things in wood. They are so detailed and realistic that we were completely taken in at first by the bathing togs and towel hanging on the wall outside the studio. Sadly we couldn’t take photos.

On the Sunday there was a family wedding in Auckland, so we were driven up there for the final stage of our holiday, with another Hartles family, Alan and Rachel.


On the coast path, under the spreading Pohutukawa tree


The ever-changing view from the veranda. The tree in the mid foreground with white flowers is a Pohutukawa in bud.


The multi-level garden


The view again, with a Norfolk Island pine on the left-hand skyline


The view in the opposite direction. We saw big flocks of Bar-tailed godwit, down from the Arctic, on the sandbanks.


The butterfly house at Te Puna Quarry. The little capsules are crysalids.


A monarch butterfly, just hatched


Richard and Katharine with Denise

South Island 2: Nelson and Abel Tasman



In Nelson city centre


The Saturday market, with the Cathedral tower in the background


One of the stalls


Lunch al fresco


Typical Nelson building


View over the harbour from the hilltop


The city nestled in the hills


Open countryside


Above the city


The centre of New Zealand


The old train

We were surprised on our arrival at the motel in Nelson to find that we had booked a wheelchair access room, but the advantage was that it was on the ground floor and had a little garden area where we ate out one day. It was very pleasant and comfortable with plenty of down-filled bedding, which we needed with the big drop in temperature from NSW, and the sharp wind.

The first evening we wandered round Nelson to get our bearings, including walking up the hill to the dramatically  positioned cathedral with its striking tower, and then met friends of friends for a pleasant meal in an Indian/Thai restaurant.

On the Saturday we went to the Nelson Saturday market, a lively mix of local produce and craft stalls, but with far fewer hippies in evidence than we’d seen in Bellingen. By this time the weather had perked up so we had our lunch sitting outside our motel room. Then we visited the Provincial Museum, which we found very interesting, giving a good background to life in the area from early times. It also explained the Nelsonian/naval connection and names – our motel is in Trafalgar Street, for example. Then we set off on a long walk up to the centre of New Zealand – perhaps not the geographical centre, but the centre for surveying. From the hills above the city we had good views out over the harbour and into the surrounding countryside. We then walked out along a ridge and back down to the Heritage Park, which has old buildings in a little township, but which was officially closed, though Richard sneaked in. As on our last visit to NZ we were struck by the numbers of european birds around: house sparrows, blackbirds, songthrushes, starlings, chaffinches, goldfinches … But we did see a few local birds, including the colourful tui with its range of extraordinary sounds, from grunts to melodious trills.

dscf2533The old church in the Heritage Park


The water taxi

On Sunday morning we were up in good time to drive northwards to Murahai, on the coast. It was a warm sunny day, but not too hot, just right for a good hike. We booked ourselves onto the water taxi and had a coffee. The taxi arrived on a trailer – it was a motor launch with seats for 12. We all climbed on and got seated, and then the tractor pulled the trailer to the beach and the water taxi slid into the water, was turned round, and off we roared, bouncing on the waves. We first passed a local sight, a split rock, known as Apple Rock, and then went in near the rocks to see fur seals.


The split apple


A fur seal on the rocks

Several passengers got out at Anchorage, but we went on to Torrents Bay where we enjoyed the sandy beach before setting off on our 20km hike back to our starting point. It was an excellent walk, mainly along a path above the beach – had the tide been out we could have walked across the sands back to Anchorage, but as it was we had to take the long way round. From time to time there were views of the beaches and the sea, turquoise in the sunshine. We took a little diversion to ‘Cleopatra’s Pool’, a favourite swimming hole. We had our picnic there on the rocks. Along the path we saw and heard different birds, but as usual they were never still long enough to be photographed, though on the beaches some of the gulls were less inhibited: on one beach a red-billed gull and a black-backed gull were both waiting hopefully for sandwich crumbs.


Katharine at Torrents Bay


The lagoon behind Torrents Bay


Cleopatra’s Pool


A view from the Abel Tasman coastal path


A typical bay


The path


Looking out from the coastal path


Typical vegetation


From one of the bridges

We were happy to arrive back at Murahai shortly before 6pm as a band of showers was arriving and it was still happy hour in the cafe. Then it was back to Nelson to pay the motel bill, find somewhere open for a meal, and pack ready for our early-morning flight to Wellington the next day. We enjoyed our stay in Nelson: it is a very pleasant city in a lovely setting. There are good shops and places to eat out and there seems to be quite a bit going on – it’s a place we’d happily revisit.

New Zealand: South Island 1



Our first sighting of a Weka

Our last day in Australia was a long one, as we got up at 5am so that Chris could drive us to Urunga to catch the train to Sydney. It was a good experience; comfortable, efficient train and helpful staff, travelling through lovely countryside. The changeover from Sydney Central to the airport was quick and easy, the airport was pretty empty, no queues, and by 7pm we were on the plane to Christchurch, where we arrived at around midnight, having lost 2 hours on the way.

Thursday morning was bright but much colder than NSW. We picked up our hire car, a bright red Ssong Yang, and drove into Christchurch to meet our friends Pete and Joan, with whom we had stayed three years ago. The city was really buzzing and now has a very positive feel: as Pete said, there are just as many high-viz jackets around now as there were three years ago, but now the workmen are rebuilding, whereas then they were still demolishing. Sadly we didn’t take any photos, but we both felt it will be a great city to live in.

We drove northwards from Christchurch, taking Highway 7 as Highway 1 is blocked because of the earthquake. So far we have not felt the earth move, though we are told that aftershocks are continuing, with one only a couple of days ago, measuring 6+. Hanmer Springs is a very pleasant little resort and our motel was very comfortable, just over the road from the hot springs. There was a little evidence of quake damage, with the old brick-built hospital being closed, and some of the hot pools not available. But the two of us enjoyed trying out several of the other pools, including the hot sulphur pool and some of the jet pools. We cooked our supper, indulging ourselves in steak, after our two healthy weeks with Chris and Jane.

The next day we had a pleasant drive through the mountains. In spite of warnings, there wasn’t much traffic; there was the odd landslip with the road partially closed, but we were lucky not to have been affected by the earthquake. Sadly it was quite rainy and with low cloud, so we couldn’t see all the countryside we passed through, but we did stop off at the Maruia Falls which, ironically, were created as a result of the 1929 Murchison earthquake which diverted the river. The falls are about 10 metres high, in a wide bowl. We were very pleased to see a Weka, a ground-living New Zealand bird, pottering about on the path in front of us.


On the way to the Lewis Pass


The Weka was absolutely not bothered by the tourists


Manuia Falls


Along the river from the falls

New South Wales



The mouth of the Bellinger River at Urunga

We have spent most of our time in Australia staying with Katharine’s brother and sister-in-law in rural New South Wales, enjoying the hot sun in the garden and on the beach, as well as visiting the local towns of Bellingen and Sawtell, and sometimes venturing up the coast to Coffs Harbour, where there has just been a big World championship motor rally. We have also visited friends of C & J’s and been made most welcome. We will miss our lazy time here watching the birds – a Kookaburra has just flown in to see what is going on and to use the bird bath – though we will be happy not to be woken by Possums thundering around on the roof in the middle of the night. The Jacaranda trees were in full bloom when we arrived, but the Frangipani are only just coming out.

Tomorrow we are taking the train to Sydney, and then the airport train, to fly on to Christchurch for the last part of our travels. I’m sure we’ll be back here again before too long.


Jane on her new tractor


In Coffs Harbour


Coffs Harbour shopping centre


The rally cars all lined up on the main street


There are some lovely old buildings in Bellingen


Bellingen church


An art deco building in Bellingen


Sawtell beach


The view from Sawtell beach


A creek running into the sea at Sawtell


Chris and Jane’s garden


In the Promised Land


The Never-Never River


By the river


Chris and Jane relaxing

New Zealand Wildlife


In the Abel Tasman national park

Just as in Australia we mainly focused on birds, but the whole landscape and vegetation is very special, with many unique trees and plants, including ferns and tree ferns.


Larger trees support epiphytes

Many of the trees have beautiful and extraordinary flowers.


We found lots of these on the ground during a forest walk near Waikanae


Rewarewa flowers


Small Pohutukawa in Takapuna


Pohutukawa buds and flowers

Some trees have a juvenile stage which doesn’t look much like the adult tree.

Juvenile lancewood; small tree with mature leaves; mature leaves appearing on juvenile




The cabbage tree


A flowering shrub, poroporo

The NZ flax was in flower, attracting birds such as Tui.


The Tui hid as soon as the camera appeared!


Flax can grow very tall

Many flowers were in blossom.

Green hood orchid; the yellow lupins were introduced

There were butterflies and bees everywhere. We mainly saw cabbage white and monarchs, as well as monarch caterpillars.


Monarch caterpillars


Rather tired-looking monarch


Common copper


Freshly hatched female monarch

The only native mammals we saw were fur seals, sunbathing on the rocks or swimming


Fur seal in Tasman Bay

Some birds were happy to hang around to have their photos taken, especially if they sensed there might be picnic crumbs dropped. Others were very shy, so this selection by no means covers all we saw, which included Kiwi, Saddleback, Whitehead, Silvereye, Grey warbler, Bellbird, Kaka, Brown quail, Brown teal and NZ dotterel, to mention only the NZ specials.


Takahe enjoying its lunch – grass


White-faced heron


Toutouwai or NZ robin (North Island)


Weka chick


Adult weka


Kereru or NZ pigeon


A friendly little robin




Black swan with cygnets


Karoro or black-backed gull


Parera or grey duck


Pied shag


Mallard with ducklings


Grey duck, mallard and pukeko


Red-billed gull



North Island 3: Auckland and around


Auckland from the ferry to Rangitoto

Having stayed with Alan and Rachel three years ago we felt quite at home in both the house and the area. We had only a few days with them this time, but we still managed to pack in quite a lot.

Alan had kindly arranged a special outing for us: a small-group guided nature tour with Habitat Tours, run by Tristin, a delightful and knowledgeable young man. (Highly recommended if anyone is in the area!) We went on the so-called day/night tour to Tawharanui (the wh is pronounced f) regional park, a fenced and thus pest-free headland with beautiful beaches and interesting wildlife. You have to be very careful when entering the reserve not to bring in any kind of rodent or other pest, as these are serious predators of the flightless birds. When we arrived it was a lovely sunny afternoon, and there were several groups of students on the white sandy beaches, enjoying having finished their exams and started their long holidays.


An evening view of the beach

On our first guided bird walk we saw and heard several native and endemic birds, some for the first time, including NZ dotterel, a wader, Bellbirds, which really do sound like the beginning of a peal of bells, Saddleback – and three Takahe. We learnt that there are fewer than 300 of these still in the wild! So they are far rarer than Kiwi.


Two Takahe crossing the path just in front of us

There were also many native trees, including several good-sized Kauri. We made our own way back to the car while our picnic supper was being prepared, enjoying lovely views out over the sea.


On our way back for the picnic

We also saw a small colony of Australasian gannets, and large numbers of Pukeko wandering around. Like the Weka they seem very friendly and inquisitive, but both birds have the unpleasant habit of eating other birds, nestlings, fledglings and eggs.

We had a delicious picnic supper, home-cooked by Tristin’s mother. We even tried a local speciality, Manuka tea. (Manuka is mainly known for the honey produced from its rather pretty little flowers.)


The picnic supper


Manuka blossom

After supper we wrapped up warm, took our head-torches, and set off in search of nocturnal creatures. Quite a few Eastern rosella ( a colourful and noisy parrot, though we couldn’t see the colours in the dark) were flying in to roost. We heard Morepork, the NZ owls, but didn’t see any.


Sunset – time to look for Kiwi

Of course we were all holding our breath for Kiwi.  Once we in the woodland we all moved as quietly as possible, listening for rustling in the undergrowth, and fairly soon we heard the right sort of noise. There in the bush down below the path we saw the round and furry-looking rear end of a Brown Kiwi! He turned his head slightly so that we caught sight of his beak, and then disappeared in search of food. As well as being flightless, Kiwi are also very short-sighted and rely heavily on their sense of smell. Uniquely, their nostrils are near the tips of their beaks. Feeling very pleased, we  headed for a stream where we might find eels. As we were leaning over a small bridge we once again heard rustling, and there on the bank was another Kiwi. Unbothered by our (red) torch lights, he rootled around for quite some time, at one point standing up on his toes to stretch up into a low shrub, looking like a funny little man with no arms. Once he had disappeared we made our way back to the car, and were driven back to Takapuna, all most satisfied with a really enjoyable visit to a fascinating and beautiful place.


The weather the next two days was a bit grey and damp, so we felt even more how lucky we had been in Tawharanui. One day we took the ferry across to Auckland city; the next day Alan drove us to near Hamilton, where he had business, and where he has family. He dropped us at Horotui (pronounced roughly horror two) some 12 kms from the city, and we walked along the Waikato River path for about three hours. It was a pleasant walk, but we were very glad to meet Alan and have lunch in a cafe.


Approaching Rangitoto Island

On our last full day in Auckland we were again lucky with the weather. We had decided to visit the youngest volcano in the area: Rangitoto, a mere 600 years old. Rangitoto is a classic volvano shape: it’s almost circular, rises to a cone in the centre, and is covered in pumice and dusty grey rocks and stones. Over time plants and trees have become established, sometimes just a clump in the middle of the grey waste, but in other places providing quite extensive cover.


Typical vegetation


Part of the walkway to the top

The climb to the top was quite steep, and already it was getting quite warm, but the views all around certainly made it worthwhile, and we felt we deserved our picnic lunch.


The view over Hauraki Gulf from the top of Rangitoto

We had a rather hot, dry walk back down, making sure we were back in good time for the last ferry. But the  landscape was fascinating and contrary to expectations we saw and heard many birds: lots of Tui, and the ubiquitous house sparrows, which seem to have adapted to any imaginable habitat, as well as our only sighting of a Tomtit.


Katharine on the path back to the landing stage



The ferry


It’s nearly Christmas!

The following day we packed and went out for a last New Zealand coffee, and then Alan drove us to the airport for the long journey home, via a short stopover in Hong Kong. We knew England would be cold and grey, but we had had another terrific holiday meeting old and new friends and seeing interesting places and wildlife – and there were only three weeks till Christmas.

North Island 1: Waikanae


Under the tree ferns

The flight from Nelson to Wellington was reminiscent of travel in an earlier and more innocent age. We arrived at the airport, checked in with the ground stewardess and handed over our bags. When it was time to leave we gathered round the stewardess who counted heads and then led the 8 of us across the tarmac to the ‘pencil plane’, a single prop 12-seater operated by Sounds Air. She helped us get strapped in, then the pilot introduced himself – no separate cockpit, just up at the front of the plane – and off we flew. It wasn’t nearly as scary as Katharine had expected; in fact it was a very smooth flight, and as we were flying quite low we had an excellent view over the mountains and then the sounds before we crossed the Cook Straits and flew into Wellington. Very different from the usual flying experience.

The plan had been to spend some time in Wellington and visit the WW1 diorama (Peter Jackson) but the museum didn’t open till later and the traffic was heavy, so we decided to take the scenic route round the bays and stop for breakfast in a friendly cafe overlooking the water. Then we went on to Waikanae, where our friends live in a pleasant spot with a lovely sheltered garden. After lunch they took us to visit friends of theirs who had bravely bought a rather boggy and unlovely paddock 20 or so years ago. Somehow they had seen the potential in it, and now they have a lovely house at one side against the forest, with beautiful water gardens and native plants. The ponds have grass carp and the trees and shrubs are full of native birds. All the trees were blossoming or about to, and the whole effect was just stunning.

The next day we got up early ready for our day and night on Kapiti Island, a wildlife sanctuary about 5km over the water. But then came the phone call – too windy for the crossing. Great disappointment. So instead we made ourselves a simple picnic and set off for Mangaone South Road to walk along the Mangaone Walkway, which follows an old bush tramway in low hill country east of Waikanae. It was historically known as Reikorangi Track. The southern half follows the Waikanae River through Kaitawa Scenic Reserve, which protects previously milled podocarp forest. There are streams running through the area, now crossed by means of bridges. The northern end runs through farmland, and as the route isn’t circular, we walked about half of it before stopping for our lunch and then returning to the car.

The following day it was still pretty windy and threatening rain, so Kapiti was still not on. So we set off on a rather circuitous route, caused by the roadworks for the new highway, to Nga Manu nature reserve. This has a mix of aviaries and night areas for rarer or endangered species with open and wooded areas where birds fly freely. It’s very pleasant to walk around the different paths and areas, and we saw lots of native birds as well as huge longfin eels in the ponds: feeding them is one of the features of the reserve. There were plenty of waterfowl, including a number of Pukeko, some of which were very young and friendy.In the aviaries we saw Kea and Kaka, two of the big native parrots, as well as tuatara lizards. We even saw a brown kiwi trundling around in the night enclosure.


A very friendly young pukeko


Monarch butterfly caterpillar – some of their food plants are pretty unpleasant, though not the swan plant


The largest fuchsia in the world – a tree


Christine talking to Dan, the tui who is too tame to live outside


A clump of cabbage trees


Canada goslings resting – it’s hard work eating all that grass


Black swan on the lake


The eel feeding frenzy – they were climbing right out of the water

After watching all that feeding we left the park and went to have excellent battered fish with twice cooked chips at a cafe near the beach. Our stroll along the beach afterwards probably didn’t do much to walk off the calories!

Thursday morning was fine and sunny and the wind had dropped – so we were up early, down to the bakery to buy our picnic lunch, and on the boat to Kapiti Island, along with a school party and four other tourists. Once again we took our seats in the boat and were tractor-hauled into the sea, much to the delight of the school children. The crossing took about 20 minutes, and the 6 of us got off at the north end, where the forest is less developed than further south, as this was the most recent part to have been farmed. So there was a lot of Kanuka and Manuka, with the forest trees growing up beneath the canopy. In time the forest trees will dominate and the other plants disappear. This will also have an impact on the bird life. For now there are lots of whiteheads and fantails, the latter all displaying busily, rising and falling in the air, twirling round, and fanning out their tails.

It really was a beautiful day, and Kapiti is a truly magical place. We had a guide tell us about its history and the birds we might see, and then we set off on our own, round the inland path and up to the high point: sadly for us the gulls and royal spoonbill were nesting so we couldn’t take the coastal path. We could look down on the gulls but the spoonbill were out of sight. We had our picnic in a little clear spot near the cliff, with a view down to the beach on one side and to a cove where there was a colony of fur seals, which we could see swimming, on the other. A family of weka, two adults and two largish young, came and investigated us, hoping for some crumbs for their lunch. Then we walked back down to the lodge, where we would have had lunch and stayed had the weather not been against us. We enjoyed sitting in the sun and seeing a few more birds, including a Takahe, before taking the boat back to the mainland, where Christine was waiting for us. In the evening they had friends round for a delicious BBQ leg of lamb.


The tractor returning to the beach


On our way to Kapiti at last


A kiwi burrow, sometimes borrowed by a little blue penguin


The boulder area on Kapiti island


Looking down from the northern end


The other side of the little bay


Katharine on top of the island


Back on dry land

The following morning  Murray took Richard out to see his new project, a pear orchard. Then we loaded our cases into the car, and Christine drove us to Wellington airport, to fly up to Tauranga. We had had a great time in Waikanae, and were quite sad to leave.



The pear orchard


Australian wildlife

We have mostly focused on birds here in Australia, but the native plants are beautiful and many attract different birds such as Honeyeaters, Figbirds and Wattlebirds, as well as Lorikeets. We’ve seen far more than we have been able to photograph, such as raptors, including Whistling and Brahminy kites, Ospreys, Nankeen falcon; different parrots, such as Yellow-tailed black Cockatoo and Galah; as well as Fairy-wrens, Satin Bowerbird, Dollarbird (Australia’s only Roller), Catbirds, and some of the ‘double-named’ birds such as Magpie-lark and Cuckoo-dove.Several of these swoop into Jane’s garden for bugs and flowers; several others sit at the top of a tall tree in the garden. Few have been obliging enough to pose for a portrait.

Apart from birds we have seen quite a few butterflies flitting around, a couple of snakes, including a Carpet snake just at the side of the house, and another smaller one on the little tractor. We have also seen a few kangaroos, and a possum, which woke Katharine by thundering up and down the veranda roof one night.


Little Friarbird on yellow Grevillia


Rainbow Lorikeet


Laughing Kookaburra


Laughing Kookaburra on guard by the compost heap


Like gulls, these Australian White Ibis are great opportunistic foragers.


These Spurwinged Plovers are also very common.


Australian Pelican near the mouth of the Bellinger River at Urunga


Little Wattlebird on pink Grevillia


Grevillia and other native plants


A tiny moth – about 5mm long


Kangaroos in the salt marsh near Urunga


A water dragon


A sweet-scented flowering creeper


Red Grevillia


A native tree in blossom


Coral tree in blossom


Australia – NSW to Queensland

We are spending most of our time with Katharine’s brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Jane, near Bellingen in rural New South Wales, but over the weekend we had a jaunt northwards to Brisbane, where Chris and Katharine have a second cousin, Sarah Davies (nee Barron). On the way north we stopped off for lunch at a pub on the Clarence River. We spent the night in a nice little 1980s motel in Byron Bay, Mecca for hippies and surfers, where we met a friend of Jane’s for dinner in an excellent fish restaurant.

The next day we visited the Tweed Gallery which features many paintings by Australian artist Margaret Ollie, together with a reconstruction of her studio, as well as other work by Australian artists. Our drive to Brisbane was slow, with  very heavy rain and then heavy traffic on the Goldcoast highway, but we were warmly greeted by Sarah and her husband Mark. He is both an excellent cook and a champion beer brewer. On Sunday we visited central Brisbane. In spite of the storm it was still very hot and humid, but an attractive city.

On the way back south we stopped off in Evans Head to visit friends of Chris and Jane’s. The highlights were an evening beach picnic where we drank bubbly and waited for the supermoon; then the next day we had breakfast in ‘Evans to Betsy’s’ breakfast cafe.


Wildlife in HK

Hong Kong is surprisingly green with lots of trees and flowering plants. We did a couple of good walks. Unfortunately all the truly wild birds as well as the butterflies were flying round too busily for decent photos, so we cheated a bit and got some photos in the open aviary in Hong Kong Park. The orchids were in an amazing display also in Hong Kong Park. The big grey butterfly is the size of a small bat – and was black. We’ll try to do better in Australia!


Double hibiscus in Hong Kong Park


Spot the butterfly!


There’s another butterfly hiding here.