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

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Ohakune to National Park

It was rather chilly parked up at Ohakune overnight – thank goodness for the gas heater and fluffy winter sheets to keep us warm.  Our elderly cat Muffy really feels the cold these days, and spent the night burrowing under the bedclothes, climbing out again and loudly complaining, before snuggling down again.  And so it was repeated, time after time - she does tend to get disturbed and wants us awake to tend to her needs!  Never mind, we made it through the night, and awoke to a bright and sunny, although a little chilly,  morning.

Parked at Ohakune Club

We drove up SH4 and under the Makatote Viaduct, pulling off at the handy parking area close by to take a few photos.  Work is being done on this amazing structure, and KiwiRail together with TBS Farnsworth are partnering together to refurbish and strengthen the historic viaduct.

Makatoke Viaduct

A plaque erected by the Institute of Professional Engineers NZ recognizes the Makatoke Viaduct as an important part of New Zealand’s engineering heritage.  One of a family of viaducts carrying the North Island Main Trunk,  Makatoke was completed in 1908.  During construction transporting steel from the manufacturer in Christchurch was highly impractical so a workshop was built on site.  Other equipment was shipped from Christchurch to Wanganui, barged up the river to Pipiriki, then transported by bullock and horse teams to the Makatoke site.  This was the last structure on the line to be completed.

Pylons of the viaduct wrapped in covering

Information Board standing behind plaque by Institute of Professional Engineers

Continuing on our way, we drove through the tiny ghost settlement of Erua, formerly the site of a busy saw milling operation many years ago.  Our stay for the next two nights is to be at National Park Village, a busy bustling place in the ski season, and for those wanting to make the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing.


It’s a bit chilly up here on the central plateau at this altitude, so we decided to spend the next couple of nights on power, and pulled into The Park Hotel, which also had caravan sites on offer.  These days, most sites are made for small tourist camper vans, not for large sturdy NZ built caravans and a big tow car.  After a lot of manoeuvring, backing up, and almost jack knifing the caravan,  we decided that it just wasn’t going to work.  Robin went to the office to explain the predicament and ask for a refund, as the sites the sites were just too small for us.

No room to get in and out with a caravan
So it was on to “Plan B” and we drove around to the Plateau Lodge.  After the management heard our tale of woe with our previous parking concerns, they advised us to make sure we would fit on site before paying the fee.  These sites, although quite narrow,  were a little easier to get on and finally we were settled and plugged into power.  No room for a car on site, or to put an awning out.  Like a lot of camps in tourist areas, they mostly only cater for tourist camper vans.  The outlook is pleasant and the ablution block looks brand new.

Plateau Lodge, National Park

After a drive around the local area we relaxed back in the van with a cuppa.  The evening should be interesting – we are meeting up with a group of Lions!  More later.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Carrot Country

One week home, and it’s time to travel again – it’s a hard life sometime, being retired.  Our destination today was  Carrot Country, Ohakune.  First stop was Sanson to top up with fuel, and also to buy a couple of “World Famous in Sanson” cream horns from Viv’s Kitchen.  The cafe was humming, the tables full of mainly grey haired persons all chomping down on those delicious cream horns.  I purchased two for us  to enjoy later.


Viv's Kitchen in Sanson

Just where we were parked on the roadside was a set of Memorial Gates, in front of what we presume was an early school building.  Must admit we had never noticed them before as we had driven past.  The inscription read:

“This fence was erected by the residents of Sanson and districts to the glory of God and in memory of the men who fought and died for their country.  The Motherland called, and they went.  1914 – 1918".

WW1 Memorial fence and gates in Sanson

Stopping for a late lunch in Taihape we enjoyed our meal – and those delicious cream horns too, trying not to make a mess with dropping pastry flakes all over everything.    It was a great day for travelling, warm autumn sunshine, and coming into Waiouru we caught our first glimpse of Mt Ruapehu.  Not quite skiing season, we noted, as the snow on the slopes was practically non existent.

First view of Mt Ruapehu

We turned left at Waiouru onto SH49 and pulled into the Tangiwai Rail Disaster Memorial.  This has been refurbished recently and the names of all those who perished in 1953 have now been inscribed.  There was a Benton family who died, we had been told, and Robin was keen to find out more details.  They were not close family members, we believe, but still related in some way.


Tangiwai Rail Disaster Memorial

From here it was only a short drive to Ohakune, the carrot capitol of New Zealand.  We drove past paddocks full of harvested carrots, all packed away in wooden crates, ready to be sent to market.  The excellent free draining soil and cool climate make ideal conditions for growing crops, and root vegetables in particular.

The Big Carrot of Ohakune

Driving through town we sadly reflected that another of our favourite shops, the Chocolate Eclair Shop, was still closed.  Sadly, we were just four weeks too early, and this very popular bakery will reopen in time for the ski season.  We are spending the night at the Ohakune Club – off power – so it could well be a cold night.  Wonder what the temperature will drop to overnight?

View of the mountain from Ohakune Club

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rally at Raumati School

Towering over our caravan at Raumati School was a lovely old macrocarpa tree.  Macrocarpa (also known as Monterey cypress) was brought to New Zealand in the 1860s, and planted for shelter around farms.  This old tree has obviously had a long life in the school grounds, and recent plans to remove it met with fierce opposition from the locals.  The wind blew fierce and strong on Saturday evening, and I must admit I did have concerns in case the tree came crashing down on top of us.  But old Father Tree was made of stronger stuff, and just shook his branches and laughed at the wind blowing through the foliage. 

Macrocarpa tree towering over us at the school

Sunday afternoon 4zees outside in the autumn sunshine.
The rally captains suggested a night off from cooking on Sunday night, and we all heartily endorsed this idea.  It was just a short five minute walk down to the local pub, the Boundary Tap and Restaurant.


Most of us chose roast pork with all the trimmings, and it was very tasty.  Our attentive waitress was doing a great job, taking orders, and had a lovely friendly personality.  Perhaps she thought that she would be able to keep our table of pensioners well in line.  But with a flick of the wrist, she knocked Charlie’s glass of wine all over the table, and all over Robin and me!  It splattered over his shirt and my blouse, and then running over our trouser legs! At least it was a glass of white wine, and not red!   The poor girl was really apologetic, and rushed out with towels to dab our clothing, and deftly cleaned up the table.  She even replaced Charlie’s now empty wine glass.

Ready for our dinner

The desserts sounded so nice that we just had to order one – it’s not that we needed it, mind you.  Robin can never go past chocolate sundae (boring), and I joined several others who chose bread and butter pudding.  The fruit crumble looked nice too.

All dabbed dry but clothing still smelling of wine!

With Anzac Day on Monday, it was a three day weekend.  Monday morning dawned nice and sunny again, and after morning tea it was time to pack up and head for home.  The road traffic is always heavy on long holiday weekend, but luckily we were going against the flow of most of the traffic, and only had a short drive home.  It was another great caravan club rally away with friends.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Who set the Alarm off?

We arrived at Raumati Beach School for the caravan club rally to find the early arrivals enjoying afternoon tea outside in the blustery sunshine.  Once the caravan was positioned just so, the legs wound down, and the TV aerial found that “dot in the sky”, we were all set to relax and join them.  It was voted that 4zees would be better in the hall, as that pesky wind was getting stronger.  A little mouse put in an appearance and scuttled around the hall, jumping up and down along the skirting board, in and out of the bottom edge of the curtains, and generally playing hide and seek.  Kath in particular was very worried about the little rodent coming too close to her, and was visibly relieved when it finally found an open door and scurried outside.  After 4zees the hall was securely locked, and we retired to our vans for our evening meals.

Parked at Raumati Beach School for the weekend

Selwyn unlocked the hall in the early evening, and set the alarm off – how on earth did that happen, he wondered, as the hall alarm had been isolated so we could safely use it.  So he quickly phoned the monitoring company, and the school care-taker.  The security guard drove up – of dear, are we in trouble now?  Or maybe responsible for the call out fee?  The mystery was soon solved, as cleaners had been working in other school buildings, and must have reset the whole alarm system when they left.  Our Friday evening get-together followed the usual pattern of catching up with everyone, and reading out some of those jokes which arrive in the in-boxes of our computers with regular monotony. 

By the time we pulled the caravan curtains back on Saturday morning we could hear a  large machine labouring away.  There was a big yellow digger working on the bank behind the caravans digging and tearing up tree roots, it seemed.  There is going to be a large art centre built in this area, we were told.

Hard at work on Saturday morning

The last of our happy band of campers arrived in time for morning tea.  Not so many attending this rally, just four caravans and two motor-homes for the weekend.  But whatever the numbers, we still have fun.

View from the hill

Just for a change, a group of keen caravanners decided to travel in to Wellington by train in the early evening to the Westpac Stadium.  The Hurricanes and the Chiefs were playing and those with an interest in the game of rugby decided it was too good an opportunity to miss.  So three ladies and four blokes set off to the station for the start of their journey.  With everyone being in possession of a Gold Card, the train ride was free, which was a bonus. They joined over 22,000 other rugby fans for an evening of noisy entertaining rugby.  The final score was Chiefs 28, and the home team Hurricanes 27.

Inside the Westpac Stadium, affectionately known as the “Cake Tin”

Meanwhile, those of us left behind enjoyed an evening of humour and laughter.  We watched a video of “The Two Ronnies” and laughed at the antics of these two wonderful comedians as they churned out one skit after another.  Piggy Malone and Charlie Farley were bumbling around as inept detectives, and we loved the musical skits which were performed at the end of each episode.  The two Ronnies were a pair of very talented comedians indeed, as were their writers who came up with such marvelous ideas week after week.  Our intrepid sports people finally arrive back at the school at 11.30pm, having had a great night out too.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Up, Up and Away

New passports – check, new roll-along luggage – check.  E-tickets, cash, credit cards – every thing was ready for a new adventure.  No, not us (just yet), but daughter Nicky and SIL Robert were all set to have an overseas trip of a lifetime in England and further afield.  And we were there to see them off from Palmy Airport, bright and early in the morning.  This is certainly not the biggest airport in New Zealand,  but big enough to carry them to the Auckland International Airport.

Palmerston North Airport

First things first, check in that luggage. 

Then with plenty of time to spare, we trooped up to the upstairs cafe for breakfast.  There was quite a cozy little group of well wishers.  Us - the grandparents, the two grand-daughters, Robert’s brother, and several of Nicky and Robert’s friends.  We ordered breakfast, and coffees, and those of us who had been overseas before offered plenty of travel advice.  But the intrepid travellers will do things their own way, I’m sure.  Nicky is very sensible and will have everything worked out.  With visits to stone circles, cathedrals and quaint little villages on the agenda, she will certainly enjoy exploring England.  And no doubt Robert will be keen to try some of the English pubs.

Time to board, and after hugs all round, away they went on the first stage of their adventure.  With Palmerston North being a tiny airport, the passengers walked across the tarmac and climbed aboard the plane.  No air bridges here!

Boarding the flight to Auckland

There will be quite some time waiting around in Auckland, with a couple of hours locked up tight in the overseas departure lounge.  Their first stop is staying for 2 nights in Dubai, which will give them a chance for a peek at this exciting city.  (I think we’d like to go there too, sometime).  Then once they land in Heathrow, they will travel by bus to meet up with friends and stay for a few days on board a narrow boat.  What a wonderful start to their holiday.  Nicky and Robert - travel safe, and have fun!


Monday, 18 April 2016

Shannon Railway Station Museum

Leaving Owlcatraz behind us, our group drove just around the corner into the Shannon township to lunch at Highway 5 Cafe, (previously The Old Plum Duff), and we were joined by Jan and John.  Great food and service, and the prices were perhaps a little lower than average – not that we are complaining, of course.  But what really impressed us was the steady stream of workers coming in to buy their lunch, one after the other.  That speaks volumes, and told us the the locals love the food on offer.  Our group lingered over our lunch,  before moving on.  Some of the ladies took the opportunity to do a “shop crawl” while the rest of us went to check out the historic railway station, now a museum and visitors centre.


Shannon Railway Station was built in 1893, replacing the original Wellington and Manawatu Railway Co shelter.  The W & M Railway began in 1885 and remained in private hands until purchased by the government in 1908.  The station has been extended three times over the years and remained a busy freight station until the 1970s.   The station is now owned by the Horowhenua District Council,  is managed by the Shannon Progressive Association, and is opened daily by a dedicated team of local volunteers.  We were warmly welcomed by the gentleman on duty, and invited to to have a good look around.

Calvin and Jenny remember travelling to work like this

Inside the station museum

Shannon originally adjoined extensive swamps and was a headquarters for flax milling but those boom days have long gone.  But a revolution headed by entrepreneur Suzie Johnson has had a huge impact on drawing visitors to the shopping area.  Revitalizing "small-town" New Zealand is at the heart of her business ethos, and she now has four shops operating in Shannon, starting with Gallery 57 in 2007 as an outlet for her own hand-painted canvas and jewellery designs. This success led her to open a second Shannon store, Oosh Giftware that also became an outlet for her own clothing line.  These  garments are designed by Ms Johnson and made in Levin and she had since opened a two more clothing stores selling her designs.   Not content with this, she has also opened three more shops in Woodville, and a sewing factory and retail outlet in Napier.  Sounds like she is a one woman dynamo!

group by station
Outside the Station Museum

Then it was back to Villa 50 for afternoon tea, and even more talking, before everyone headed off to their respective homes.  There’s something about this group, we never run out of conversation.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


New Zealand has its very own version of Owlcatraz – situated in the small town of Shannon.  Nothing like the scale of the more famous San Francisco version, but interesting to visit, just the same.  And we didn’t have to do the sea crossing to get there, just let the car take us gently down  the long winding drive.

April  was my turn to organize an outing for our SLG friends – these monthly get-togethers with our group of friends have been happening for quite some time now.  About 25 years, at a guess.  What to do and where to go, I wondered.  Over that long time span, there are not many places that we haven’t been to.  But repeat visits are OK, so that’s what I planned.

We had previously visited Owlcatraz quite some time ago, so long ago, that really I couldn’t remember when.  We gathered in the visitors centre  for morning tea before our guided walk.  “I’ll make the (complimentary) coffee and you bring some baking for your friends”, I was told when I made the booking. The table was set up for our morning tea, coffees appeared like magic, and I passed a container of Hokey Pokey biscuits (cookies) around the table.

Joey the cockatoo was very vocal and kept us entertained.  He likes to rip up cardboard boxes for fun, we were told, and he had a nice pile of his demolition work tucked away under his cage. 

Joey the cockatoo

On display in the shop is the head and hide of Big Red, who died in April 2004.   He was a South Devon steer standing over 6 feet at the shoulder and weighing over 2000 kgs.  Reputably the world’s largest cattle beast, he was bred at Rosewood Stud in Manawatu.  This huge steer was saved on a trip to the meat works, and lived a happy peaceful life at Owlcatraz.  This gentle giant was a real hit with visitors, and we can remember getting our photos taken standing beside him on an earlier visit.  Big Red's weight had given him trouble with his hips and legs, and he died during an operation on his feet.

We said hello to Big Red in the shop

We were then taken through the “owl house”, home to the New Zealand native owl, Morepork, or Ruru.  These birds are known as “Priests of the Forest” and they can glide by with soundless flight. This purpose built area has no glass or cages so there are no barriers at all between the birds and visitors.  The moreporks were all sleeping or dozing so we did not see one in flight.  With names like Owl Capone and Owlvis Presley, you can see that theme is a theme going on here.  Understandably, no photos were allowed in the darkened owl house.

Janette outside the owl house

Our group was then handed to the care of another guide, and we were taken on a farm walk, past an assortment of ducks, hens, and tiny fluffy chickens, the babies going “peep peep” and looking gorgeous.  The large kune kune pig sat patiently as it waited for the treats to arrive, and we watched in amazement as the pig delicately took a biscuit from the mouth of the guide. 

Sit, piggy – and she did!

We talked to the goat

And admired the donkeys. 

The female donkey is playing “hard to get” and has rejected 3 suitors so far.  She beats them up, we were told. Perhaps she thinks a partner and babies is just not for her, and prefers the single life.  The ostrich gobbled up her food as quick as a wink, and an ostrich egg was passed around the group.  What a whoppa, that would make a giant omelet indeed.

That’s a big egg!

And in the paddock beside the ostrich  was a posse of alpacas.  They have such pretty faces and look at you with those big brown eyes as if they understand every word you are saying.

Feeding the alpacas

Our walk continued through native bush to Lake Owlsmere.
And then we were back at the visitors centre and posed on the steps for the obligatory group photo.  Next stop,  lunch.

Our SLG friends at Owlcatraz

Thursday, 14 April 2016

There and back again

It was a long day – a 500km trip to Napier and back on the big white bus.  The happy band of 60s Up members met bright and early, climbed aboard and headed north.  Our morning started out fine and sunny, but the closer we got to the Manawatu Gorge, the worse the weather behaved.  Once safely through the gorge we carried on to the Black Stump Cafe in Dannevirke for morning tea.  Situated in the main drag, parking was at a premium, and Peter the bus driver had to park the bus around a corner or two at the railway station. Oh dear – by this stage the rain was falling in a continual down pour.  We raced around to the cafe, trying to dodge the rain drops, but that didn’t really work, and we arrived damp and dripping.  Obviously we arrived at just the right time, as out came a plate of date scones, straight out of the oven and smelling devine, Robin’s favourite.  Can you guess what we had for morning tea?

Arriving at Napier, the iconic Norfolk Pines seemed to welcome our bus full of intrepid explorers as we drove along the Marine Parade.  The first trees were planted in 1888, with more added over the years.  Noted for tolerating salt-laden winds, these hardy trees have thrived.

Norfolk Pines along Napier’s Marine Parade

Lunch was at the Napier RSA Restaurant, and after a little confusion with two large groups arriving at the same time, we we soon settled in our respective tables and got down to the serious business of eating lunch.  And very tasty it was too, with plenty of choice from the hot buffet, plus dessert and coffees.  We would certainly return here for another meal next time we are up this way.

Lunch at Napier RSA

Fully fed and watered, our next stop was to the National Aquarium of New Zealand along the Marine Parade.  Everyone disembarked and made their way inside, but as we had been there very recently, decided to explore the waterfront instead.  There was one less sea creature to view, as Inky the octopus had just made a daring escape when it broke out of its tank, slithered across the floor, squeezed down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappeared into the sea.

Parked outside the Aquarium

Is that Inky, the missing octopus?

Artist Alan Strathern's sculpture “Trawlermen”, dedicated to the commercial fishermen who toil at sea, came about because of a long term overcharge on a power account, of all things!  The story goes like this.  In 1973, the Municipal Electricity Department discovered that over many years it had overcharged for power supplied to New Zealand Cement Holdings Ltd. The financial tangle was unravelled, and the upshot was that the cement company and the power authority agreed to donate $10,000 of the overpayment to the Napier City Council to fund an artwork.  The  life-like bronze was originally in the forecourt at the Hawke's Bay Aquarium which opened in December 1976 at the southern end of the Parade. It was later relocated to its present site adjoining the aquarium in 2002.

Trawlermen, by Alan Strathern

Further along the Parade we came across a rather innovative way to teach youngsters the rules of the road.  The Junior Bike Track is designed for children to ride their bikes in a safe environment.  Inside the safety fences is a  mock road complete with speed bumps, give way and stop signs and traffic lights to teach children road safety skills.

Junior Bike Track to teach road skills

The cold wind was blowing the cobwebs away, and the rain was threatening to fall, so we made our way back to the aquarium to check out the gift shop and wait in the cafe until boarding time.  Here we spotted a Bearded Dragon looking rather ferocious with his spikes and claws as he disdainfully looked out at us looking in.  These reptiles live on insects and can live to the grand old age of 14 years.

Bearded Dragon

Our time in Napier had come to an end, and we all climbed aboard once more for the long drive home.  The return trips are always much quieter, we have noticed, and soon the bevy of grey heads was gently nodding as the motion of the bus lulled quite a few 60 Up members asleep.  It had been a long day, but a good one, as usual, and we finally arrived back in Levin at 6.30pm.