Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsunami Alert

The huge 8.8 earthquake in Chile overnight set off a tsunami alert in the Pacific. Our plan to visit Kawhia was put on hold for several hours as people were advised to stay away from coastal areas. Some seaside areas had been evacuated and in others the populations were put on alert. However, by midday, the tsunami warnings had been lifted so we felt safe enough to continue with our plan.

P2280541 View of Kawhia Harbour from the hill top lookout

This large tidal area was first settled by Maori who arrived in two wakas (boats), the Tainui and Aotea. The harbour was named by Turi, the captain of the Aotea, and Hoturoa, the captain of the Tainui, is featured on the tekoteko (the figure at the top of the front gable), of the meeting house down by the beach. As it is protocol not to enter a meeting house unless you are invited, we were unable to see this interesting carving. The sign at the entrance to this small harbour town is set off with a stylised hawk. The plaque states that the kaahu (hawk) symbol on the sign is used by permission of the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, (since deceased) and is part of the Silver Jubilee logo marking the 25th Anniversary of the Maori Queen’s reign in 1991.

DSCF2844 The entrance to Kawhia

Several local fisherman were enjoying a spot of fishing from the wharf. Youngsters were having a grand time jumping into the water and swimming around, then jumping in again. Daily fishing trips were on offer, as were 2 hour sight seeing trips.

DSCF2839 Robin and Peter on the wharf

The sun was hot so we all retired to the local cafe and ordered milk shakes and iced chocolate to cool down. Pity we weren’t there for lunch as we could have ordered white bait fritters, oysters or scallops, perhaps next time. This cafe is keeping up with modern trends as it featured a huge plasma TV and had internet connections on offer. The owners obviously have very strict rules on behaviour in their cafe as we noticed this sign.

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Kawhia is a tiny place, and as yet is unspoilt by modern developments. There are however three motor camps in this town. Due to the large number of permanent caravans in two of the motor camps, we suspect that they are used by fishing enthusiasts who regularly come out from nearby areas to enjoy their sport.

The Great Spotted Kiwi

The Great Spotted Kiwi was feeling poorly yesterday so was not on show to visitors. Subsequently, we were advised to call in again and luckily we saw this species of kiwi in the morning. The Great Spotted Kiwi is much bigger than the Brown Kiwis we had seen the previous day, and inhabit the north-west of the South Island. The soft hair-like feathers are paler with dark spots, and we watched this particular kiwi busy preening herself. Weighing 2.5kg, she looked extremely strong and well able to protect herself from predators. We had never seen a this particular species of kiwi before, and thought she looked so beautiful with her spotted coat. As before, we were not able to take photographs inside the kiwi house. The best I could do was to photograph a stuffed specimen of a Little Spotted Kiwi, which is has similar colouring but is much smaller.

DSCF2836 Little Spotted Kiwi

Also in a specimen case was a family of Brown Kiwi. You can see the difference in colour between the two species. The Kiwi is our national bird but unfortunately are severely endangered in the wild. Most New Zealand citizens will only ever see a live kiwi in a facility such as the Otorohanga Kiwi House.

DSCF2834 Brown Kiwi

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Otorohanga Kiwi House

Right next door to the motor camp is the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which is one of the reasons we wanted to stay in this town. We arrived there just in time for the kiwi feeding. As kiwi are nocturnal birds, the kiwi house is lit with subdued lighting to simulate a full moon during opening hours. Found only in New Zealand, the kiwi is a unique flightless bird, with a shaggy hair-like feathers. It has no tail, tiny undeveloped wings and has nostrils at the tip of the long bill. The kiwi has powerful muscular legs, and cat like whiskers. We watched as the brown kiwi went about their business and ate their meal of ox heart and vegetables mixed into cooked rolled oats. No photos were allowed to be taken inside the kiwi house.

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Leaving the nocturnal gloom behind us, we looked in at the tuatara exhibition. Known as New Zealand’s “living fossil”, they are the sole survivor of an ancient order of Rhynchocephalia reptiles common throughout the world over 200 million years ago. The colour of tuatara can vary from grey to olive green and they have a ridge of soft rubbery “spines” along their backbone. These little creatures are also unique to New Zealand and can grow up to 600mm and sit motionless for long periods of time.

P2270487 Tuatara – note the small spines along the back

The wetland area housed a large variety of bird species, many breeds of ducks, oystercatchers and even the common pukeko which is seen everywhere. We watched as a pukeko stood with its feet in the water as it fed on mussels. It picked a mussel shell up with one foot, then pulled the flesh out of the shell with its beak.

DSCF2814 Pukeko feeding on mussels

The large walk through aviary is 18m high and 45m across, and is planted as a native rain forest. Climbing to the upper walkway we kept still and soon observed the tuis, silvereyes, and fantails fluttering in and out of the tree canopy. This little brown duck was sitting on the pathway fence and was only too pleased for us to stop and say hello. We rubbed his chest and in return got our fingers nibbled. He wasn’t the least bit worried by all the attention.

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The native kingfisher is a pretty little bird with beautiful iridescent colouring. One of them swooped down to the dish of food, sat back on the perch with a beak full, then obligingly passed some food over to another kingfisher who joined him in the branch. Perhaps it was its mate, or one of its youngsters.

P2270499Kingfisher ready to eat

After all this bird watching we wandered back through the fence to the motor camp. It was Pamela’s birthday, and we wished her Happy Birthday while Don poured the bubbly and Pamela served us with delicious Mud Cake.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Kiwi Country

We stayed overnight at Taumaranui Holiday Park then hitched up and moved on in the morning, heading up State Highway 4. Sheep and beef cattle were grazing on the undulating countryside, and we noticed plenty of maize crops growing in the paddocks. As well as mixed farming, Pinus Radiata forests covered the hills of the areas we drove through today. It is not surprising to come across road works while travelling, and today we were stopped at 4 different sections. We watched the driver of a truck and trailer drop his two loads of base course. First he tipped up the tray of the trailer and that load fell out, then manoeuvred his vehicle until the trailer had jacknifed. With the empty trailer off to one side, the driver then tipped the tray of his truck up and dropped the second load. This was achieved with a minimum of effort, then he went on his way to collect the next truck and trailer load, to repeat the process many times during the day, we imagine.

DSCF2790 Trailer at right angle to the truck to drop second load

Reaching the 8 Mile Junction, we turned on to State Highway 3 to drive through Te Kuiti and on to Otorohunga, known as New Zealand’s Kiwiana Town. We plan on spending several nights here and will be doing a day trip or two to explore other nearby places of interest.

DSCF2796The very attractive sign at the edge of town

The motor camp backs on to playing fields and we were amused to see a rather novel way of cutting the grass. A car was driving around, towing a mower behind. In the early evening a very spirited game of social soccer took place. It may have been only a social game, but there were roars of appreciation when each side managed to score a goal or two.

P2260471 Cutting the grass

While enjoying the lovely afternoon weather we had a bit of excitement when Peter spotted something moving in the grass. What could it be, it looked just like a leaf to me. Then it started moving. It was a tiny little native skink, a type of lizard. This little beauty had a slim body and long tail, tiny little eyes, and the most dainty little toes. After we had all admired it, we placed it carefully down on the ground and watched it scuttle away to safety.

P2260475 Peter with the skink

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Forgotten World Highway – Day 2

Oh dear – Don and Pamela got a rude awakening this morning. The rain had been pouring down for hours when we noticed that Don had left their driver’s car window down. Robin rushed over to bang on their door to let them know while I rather sneakily got my camera out. Sorry Don, but you did look funny in all that rain. Bet the car was soaking wet inside.

DSCF2761 Who forgot to wind the window up the night before?

We hitched the caravans up and started on Day 2 of our trip along the Forgotten World Highway. As we left the village a very sensible sign had this advice for us.

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We all negotiated the Moki tunnel without any mishap. Just had to stop the car and jump out to take our photo of our car and caravan exiting the Hobbit Hole.

DSCF2763 Coming through the Hobbit Hole

Farmers on the road asked us to stop to let a huge mob of sheep come though so we pulled our vehicles and caravans over to the side of the road. The sheep were absolutely sodden so must have been walking quite some way along the road in the rain. They were quite worried to see this strange lady with a camera standing in the road looking at them, so I quickly stepped back beside the caravan. No, they were still too scared to move. The dogs were let out and soon had them moving along. We came across two more mobs of sheep travelling further up the road so there were plenty of them on the move.

DSCF2774 Where’s that lady with the camera gone?

We drove through the lovely Tangarakau Gorge on the only unsealed portion of this road. The rain had eased to a gentle fall and wisps of mist hung at the tops of the hills. This area is pristine and has never been milled, we were told. It was just so beautiful and New Zealand would have been completely covered in trees just like this before the settlers arrived.

DSCF2771 Tangarakau Gorge

The Forgotten World Highway ended at Taumaunui, a total of 150 kms. It was a wonderful drive, one that we had long wanted to do. We had travelled up and over 4 Saddles with spectacular views, through farm land, native forests, tiny little settlements, and of course Whangamomona. It was like a trip back in time, and we thoroughly enjoyed every part of the journey.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whangamomona Hotel

A meal at the Whangamomona Hotel was a must, we decided. We booked a table and set off to soak up the ambience and history of this iconic building. The current hotel was built in 1911 and the walls are lined with a wonderful assortment of old photos and documents. Animal skins, antlers and timber saws decorate the bar. Back in 1988 the residents met here and made the decision to announce their independence and Whangamomona was declared a Republic!

P2240464 Whangamomona Hotel

Most of our group ordered the very large Whanga burgers, while Eileen and I decided to try the burger special of Pukeko, Pig and Punga. After all, where were we ever to get the chance to try pukeko again? The meals were very tasty, and we had excellent service. Our enthusiastic young waiter told us that he had grown up here, and had only recently returned to Whangamomona. He was finding it a little difficult living without his cell phone and internet connection! (No cell phone coverage in this rugged part of the country).

DSCF2754 Something different for dinner

The proprietor was very friendly and was interested in where we had come from. Don’t you get lonely way out here? one of our table asked him. No way, not when he can serve up to 100 meals a day, he replied. He made us feel very welcome, answered all our questions about local history, and we will certainly recommend his establishment.

DSCF2755 Enjoying our meals at the pub

The motor camp manager had spruced himself up, saddled his horse, and trotted up the road to the pub. He was enjoying yet another beer as we went outside. “Want a ride on my horse?”, he asked the ladies. No we didn’t. “Would you like to buy a foal?”, was the next question. No thanks again. Seems that the horse knows the way home when the hotel closes.

DSCF2758 Camp man and his horse

Camping in the Republic

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Camp grounds at Whangamomona

Formerly the local school, the campground at Whangamomona now doubles as the local Domain grounds. There is a large children's play area with slides, swings and climbing frames. A unfilled swimming pool was tucked around the side of the main building. This camp is on rain water, so a $2 charge is made for the use of showers. We had to make sure to keep the gate closed, to keep the goat and the camp manager’s horse safely inside. A couple of chickens were happily pecking around in the grass looking for insects and any crusts that came their way. We put our caravans on site and retired under a shady tree to eat our lunch. Robin and Peter set the cameras on the delayed timer and then quickly ran back to their seats so that they were included in the photos.

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As it was early afternoon we decided to go for a drive further down the Highway and check out the narrow Moki Tunnel before we towed our caravans through the following day. The tunnel was proposed by Surveyor Joshua Morgan in the 1890’s but construction did not start until 1936, under the Public Works scheme. It must have been quite a job using the two jack hammers powered by a coal fired, steam driven compressor. The coal was supplied from the local coal mine at Tangarakau Gorge. Later in the construction a diesel powered air compressor was used. Moki tunnel is known locally as Hobbits Hole, and the floor was lowered in 1989 to allow access for triple decked stock trucks. It is easy to see the tool marks on the tunnel sides, and the ceiling has a strong frame of locally milled timber.

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The drivers announced that there would be no trouble towing the caravans through this narrow tunnel the next day – just as well, I thought, or we would be in a spot of bother. If stock trucks can get through, we certainly can. We turned the cars around and drove back to camp, arriving just in time for 4zees.

The Forgotten World Highway – Day 1

Leaving Stratford in the morning we turned right onto Highway 43, the famous Forgotten World Highway. Our special adventure begins here!

DSCF2724 Follow this sign

We could see the picturesque Mount Egmont peeping out from cloud cover as Geoff and Robin went about their business at the dump station just out of Stratford. Across the road the stock yards were bustling as cattle were moved into pens for the day’s sale. Over 2000 sheep were expected shortly, one of the men told me, and the stock agents all aim to get their customer’s stock auctioned early. It was going to be a busy day at the stock yards.

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DSCF2740 Mount Egmont hiding under cloud cover and the stock yards getting ready for sale day

Dairy herds grazed in lush pasture as we drove through Toko and Douglas, with balage (wet hay wrapped up in plastic coating) stacked in the paddocks ready for winter feeding. We drove up and over the Strathmore Saddle (saddle = ridge between two summits) the first of four natural saddles along the highway. The 6500 ha Te Wera Forest was on our right, and the Stratford to Taumarunui railway line wound along on our left. Road works are everywhere, even on the Forgotten World Highway. We had to stop on one of the many hills till road worker turned his sign around to “Go” and waved us on.

DSCF2742 Road works on Hwy 43

Then it was up and over the Pohokura Saddle with a very steep grade on the downward side. The valley was used as a railway construction campsite when this line was being laid. No more farmland was in evidence as we approached The Whangamomona Saddle. The hills were covered in beautiful native bush and the sounds of cicadas filled the air. Another hard climb up and over the Whangamomana Saddle and before too long we were approaching Whangamomona, also known as the Valley of Plenty. We approached the Whangamomana Border Control office with trepidation, but as it was unmanned, we drove quickly past.

DSCF2752 The Border Control office

Whangamomana declared itself a Republic in 1988 when the locals were unhappy when the local district boundaries were shifted, without any consultation. Republic Day is held every two years in January, and up to 5000 visitors travel to the village to join in with the locals to celebrate. Country activities such as sheep racing, gumboot throwing, whip cracking and possum skinning all take place in the main street. Presidential elections are held, with the honour previously going to Billy the Goat, and Tai the Poodle.

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Whangamomona village has a Historic Places Trust precinct rating, and there are a number of buildings being restored. It is like stepping back in time, New Zealand as it was in an earlier age.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Heading into Dairy country

Our four caravans hit the road and headed into dairy country. Taranaki is the home of dairy farming and Fontera has a huge milk production facility in Hawera. We stopped for fuel at Waverley but had to wait some time as a huge truck and trailer loaded with cut logs took up most of the forecourt while the driver filled up with diesel. He was very chatty and when we told him where we were heading his advice was, “You really must call in to the pub at Whangamomana”. We certainly plan to. $376 dollars of diesel later his tank was finally full and he was on his way. There was plenty of fuel left for us as we only needed $60 of diesel to top up our vehicle.

DSCF2714Fill ‘er up

Next stop was Hawera to visit White Heather, the caravan, motor home and camping specialists. They have a well stocked parts and accessory shop and the men enjoyed poking around to see if anything took their fancy. Don and Pamela found a nice dinner set which was just right for their caravan and happily made the purchase.

DSCF2718 White Heather shop

Who doesn’t love cheese? We certainly do so we stopped at Eltham to visit the Ferndale cheese shop, part of the Fontera group. Plenty of choice and lots of specials made choosing difficult. A bit of blue, some brie, and how about that interesting looking garlic and chive gouda. Add that nice piece of vintage tasty, and we are all done. That should keep us going for a while. Then it was just a short drive to Stratford, where we were spending the night.

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Stratford Holiday Camp is tidy and well appointed with flower filled hanging baskets adding splashes of colour around the camp. We took a very pleasant walk along the river amongst the native bush. We strolled along the path and over over a foot bridge to watch the sun dappled stream babbling below.

P2230433 The river bank walk.

DSCF2728 Enjoying our river walk

It was another lovely sunny day and tomorrow we start our journey along the Forgotten World Highway.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Scoutlands, Wanganui

The rural countryside flashed by as we left Ashhurst, driving via Bunnythorpe, around the outskirts of Feilding, through tiny Halcombe, past Marton and Turakina, to arrive at Scoutlands, situated just before Wanganui. After our 88 km drive we arrived just in time to put the caravans on site, and make our lunch to enjoy in the sunshine.

P2220432 Welcome to Scoutlands

A school party was spending the day enjoying the many facilities. The pupils and teachers were no doubt surprised when 4 cars and caravans pulled in amongst them. The youngsters were from the local Intermediate School and we watched in amusement as teams of four were walking together on long planks while holding on to ropes. “Left, right, left, right” the leader called as the teams worked together to walk the planks. Later in the afternoon the children enjoyed kayaking and sailing on the lake. Also available at Scoutland is fishing for trout, perch and eels, conquering the abseiling towerand enjoying toasted marshmallows around the campfire.

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This was our first time at this camp so of course we had to explore the grounds. There is a confidence course with all sorts of interesting challenges for athletic youngsters to try. Lake Wiritoa is prettily edged with trees and reeds and is obviously a draw card to these facilities.

P2220428 Scoutlands Camp on the edge of Lake Wiritoa

Geoff decided it was time to top up his half empty water tank. I was astounded to see the water hose snaking in through the door of his caravan next door. There was nothing to get concerned about, I was assured. Seems the water tank on Geoff and Eileen’s English caravan is situated under one of the front seats.

DSCF2706 Filling up the water tank

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ashurst Domain

Picture this – camping area on one side, with a cemetery just through the trees. That’s what we found at Ashurst Domain, so make sure the caravan doors are locked at night in case the ghosties and ghoulies are wandering about. That’s certainly camping with a different outlook. Leaving Carterton after an early lunch our three caravans travelled up country to Woodville, and through the Manawatu Gorge. 111 kms later we arrived at Ashurst Domain to find Geoff and Eileen waiting for us. This is Day One of our Safari Holiday.

P2210425 Ashurst Domain camping area

The Domain is covered with large Totara trees so there is plenty of shady areas to relax in. Just across the way we could see the large local cemetery through the trees. The guys wandered around looking at headstones and came back with a new word. What does “relict” mean?, they came back and asked us. Nobody knew so we looked it up in our trusty dictionary. The word means “widow”. So that is something new we all learnt today.

DSCF2691 The cemetery though the trees

Walking around the Domain we came across a very strongly constructed viewing platform (maybe a result of the “Cave Creek” disaster), looking down over a wet land area. This area was originally a lake, which has silted up, and a restoration project is planned to restore it. The group Ducks Unlimited is also involved and they breed and release water birds to areas such as this.

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Not far away we found a cafe which has a very imaginative solution to the question – what to do with the dog when you want to enjoy a cup of coffee? The answer is to leave them here, in this dog parking area. And ask inside for a free dog biscuit to keep the dog happy!

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On nearby Whariti Peak hundreds of windmills keep turning to add electricity into the National Grid. They look almost hypnotic as they slowly spin around and around. The Manawatu area is known as the Windfarm Capital of New Zealand.

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We were unsure where to pay our camp fees as the office was shut up tight. This was solved however, when the camp commandant turned up on his tractorised mower to collect our fees. Presumably he was off to cut the grass once he had the office work out of the way.

DSCF2695Don, Peter, Robin and Geoff ready to pay our camp fees

We enjoyed a very relaxing time in this camp site. The adjoining public areas are well utilised and the whole area is a credit to the small town of Ashhurst.