South Island 2: Nelson and Abel Tasman

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In Nelson city centre

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The Saturday market, with the Cathedral tower in the background

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One of the stalls

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Lunch al fresco

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Typical Nelson building

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View over the harbour from the hilltop

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The city nestled in the hills

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Open countryside

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Above the city

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The centre of New Zealand

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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.

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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.

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The split apple

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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.

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Katharine at Torrents Bay

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The lagoon behind Torrents Bay

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Cleopatra’s Pool

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A view from the Abel Tasman coastal path

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A typical bay

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The path

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Looking out from the coastal path

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Typical vegetation

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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.

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New Zealand: South Island 1

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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.

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On the way to the Lewis Pass

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The Weka was absolutely not bothered by the tourists

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Manuia Falls

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Along the river from the falls

New South Wales

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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.

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Jane on her new tractor

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In Coffs Harbour

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Coffs Harbour shopping centre

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The rally cars all lined up on the main street

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There are some lovely old buildings in Bellingen

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Bellingen church

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An art deco building in Bellingen

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Sawtell beach

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The view from Sawtell beach

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A creek running into the sea at Sawtell

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Chris and Jane’s garden

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In the Promised Land

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The Never-Never River

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By the river

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Chris and Jane relaxing

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.

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Little Friarbird on yellow Grevillia

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Rainbow Lorikeet

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Laughing Kookaburra

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Laughing Kookaburra on guard by the compost heap

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

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These Spurwinged Plovers are also very common.

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Australian Pelican near the mouth of the Bellinger River at Urunga

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Little Wattlebird on pink Grevillia

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Grevillia and other native plants

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A tiny moth – about 5mm long

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Kangaroos in the salt marsh near Urunga

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A water dragon

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A sweet-scented flowering creeper

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Red Grevillia

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A native tree in blossom

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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!

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Double hibiscus in Hong Kong Park

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Spot the butterfly!

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There’s another butterfly hiding here.