Six Books, a Bach and a Wizard’s Robe

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Getting away to “the bach” is a Great Kiwi Tradition. A bach is a holiday home, and it’s pronounced like a batch of cookies, not like the Baroque composer.

bach

Baches range from old shacks to modern mansions, although anything too “flash” isn’t really seen as being in the spirit. It’s supposed to be about getting back to basics; enjoying the beach with your family, free from technological distractions. As such, the traditional Kiwi bach is usually quite rundown. Worn-out couches, rusty kettles and board games with missing pieces are commonly found accessories.

Ruakaka Beach

Once you’ve arrived at your bach, there’s nothing to do except go to the beach. When I was younger, I despised it. I thought: I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the little things, but if you’re grateful for this, you’re an idiot. I mean this is the pinnacle of the Kiwi dream? This? But I think I get it now. “Getting it” could be to do with, you know, growing up, but I’ve also had some more positive bach experiences in the last few years.

Ruakaka Beach

I’ve had some “How’s the serenity?” moments:

Yes, that’s an Australian film, but you know… certain attitudes are similar.

Ruakaka Beach

Sometimes, having nothing to do except go to the beach is a good thing. You get there and suddenly nothing matters except the people you’re with. Earlier this year, my partner and I went to a bach with a large group of friends – a New Year getaway. The bach was in Ruakaka, in scorching Northland. When we arrived, Tim nearly passed out from the heat. Wading into the Pacific Ocean was absolute bliss.

Waipu Cove

As nice as Ruakaka Beach is, a short drive up the road lies an even nicer beach: Waipu Cove. After a couple of days lounging around in Ruakaka, Tim and I decided to visit Waipu. We returned with six books and a wizard’s robe.

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Our friends joked that only Tim and Abby could go to the beach and come back with books and a LARPing costume. (And if you’re thinking but there are only five books in the photograph – I got another book after it was taken.) There was a mobile library at the beach, you see, and they had a table full of old books they were giving away.

Waipu Cove

“If every beach was like this,” Tim said to me, “we’d get you outside more.” True as that may be, even I’ll admit that Waipu Cove is worth visiting irrespective of the presence of a mobile library. Even the toilet block has a lovely mural painted on it, chronicling the history of the Waipu settlement.

Waipu Cove Mural

As for the wizard’s robe, that came from a junk shop on Waipu’s main street. (Waipu has a few junk – one might hesitate to call them antique – shops.) The town was settled in the nineteenth century by a group of Scottish immigrants who’d had quite a time of it. They were led by a very dour-looking religious chap who fell out with the Presbyterians in Scotland because they weren’t dour enough. He took some members of his clan off to Canada, but the whole thing was a bloody disaster, so they built themselves a ship and sailed to Australia, but Australia was too full of prozzies and booze, so they got another ship and sailed to New Zealand. There they settled, and when the dour guy finally died they let their hair down and started having all the fun they’d been forbidden from having because, apparently, God hates fun. This particular brand fun included nostalgic celebrations of Celtic culture, and Waipu holds annual highland games to this day.

Waipu Museum

That’s what I gathered from Waipu’s rather excellent museum, anyway. It’s worth a visit if you’re up that way. Here’s the website. Apparently, the highland games are worth a visit too. Here’s that website.

For more of my adventures up north, read What to Do in Kerikeri.

Lake Wainamu

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POMS AWAY!

Lake Wainamu is a place not many people know about. Out at Bethells Beach, on Auckland’s west coast, it’s a peaceful spot of understated beauty, surrounded by low hills. You get to it either by trudging across sand dunes for about ten minutes, or by walking along a shallow river. The river way takes longer, but is less strenuous. Besides, it’s usually too hot to walk across the sand dunes barefoot; walking through the river is nice and soothing.

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Lake Wainamu is great for swimming in, being so calm. It gets very deep very quickly, however, so I wouldn’t recommend going in unless you actually know how to swim. Swimming isn’t the only activity on offer at the lake, though. The sand dunes slope down to the river pretty sharply, making them the perfect place to try sand surfing. Definitely take a boogie board with you and slide on…

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Not Just Cows and Chlamydia: My First Impressions of Hamilton

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I have now lived in Hamilton for two years. It must be doing something right.

POMS AWAY!

Well, I live in Hamilton now. Never thought I’d say that.

For those of you who don’t live in New Zealand, Hamilton is… well, it’s just one of those places. It’s mercilessly mocked by the rest of the country, perhaps a little unfairly.

Cows and chlamydia – that’s what you think of when someone mentions Hamilton. A boring, low-class place, full of upstart dairy farmers, criminals, druggies and teenage parents.

Of course, it’s not just that. Admittedly, I have witnessed more poverty in Hamilton than in either Auckland Central or Tauranga, and the other day I had to walk past a father bellowing, “I’m gonna f**kin’ smash you, c**t!” at his son. However, despite those two negative experiences, I have to say that, so far, I like Hamilton.

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It’s a nice-looking city. I mean, there’s a big river running through it that has some lovely walkways and parks along its…

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A Vintage Train Ride and a Satisfying Walk

Karangahake Gorge, Waikino Station

Every time I go through Karangahake Gorge, I’m mesmerised. I love the way the sunlight peeks over the towering walls of rock. I love the way the water rushes around the boulders. I love the way the trees undulate up the slopes. I also love the old train station at Waikino, as you emerge from the gorge.

Waikino Vintage Railway StationIt’s a proper old train station, is Waikino. It’s got the proper old-fashioned, colonial feel. A vintage train runs between Waikino and the gold rush town of Waihi. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never been on it. I’d been to the station café, though, which is very nice. I’m not even a train nerd, (unlike my dad,) and I enjoy the atmosphere. If you’re driving between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, it’s well worth a stop.

The railway through the Karangahake Gorge to Waihi was completed in 1905. Back then, the area was home to a thriving mining community. Now, the six kilometres of track between Waikino and Waihi are all that’s left. I went there with my family just after Christmas. We parked at the Waikino Station, got the train to Waihi, and then walked back along the river to our car.

Goldfields Historic Railway, Waikino Station

The walk was very easy, flat the whole way and on a well-maintained track. (I suppose it would be, being part of the Hauraki Rail Trail, an eighty-two kilometre bicycle track.) It was also, to my mind, the perfect length. I finished it feeling satisfied that I’d done a decent amount of exercise, exactly as my energy was running out.

It took about two hours, perhaps a little longer. I don’t really know, as my dad kept stopping to “geocache” along the way. I know we walked about ten kilometres, because I had Pokémon Go running the whole time. (There were no Pokémon on the trail, only at either end. I did, however, hatch quite a few eggs during the walk.)

Ohinemuri River, Hauraki Rail Trail

Although the walk was mostly along the river, the views were never outstanding. If you want outstanding views, go for a walk in Karangahake Gorge itself. It was pleasant enough, however. We deliberately went on an overcast day, knowing the walk would have little shade to offer. Though the wind when we got off the train at Waihi was bitterly cold, the walk soon warmed us up.

Karangahake Gorge Train Cogs

At the end of our walk – just past the bridge over the river and the tunnel under the road that would take us back to the Waikino Station – we found a few enormous, old cogs. They marked the beginning of another walk, one that, by now, we were far too tired to embark upon. We needed a good feed. Happily, we had Christmas leftovers waiting for us at home!

The Goldfields Historic Railway between Waikino and Waihi has a carriage for bikes, and you can hire bikes at the Waikino Station. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan hire tour, you can stay the night at the Waihi Station for just $10. I wouldn’t say this vintage train ride and walk is a must-do, but something that takes you through the Karangahake Gorge certainly is!

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Hello, everyone – I’m back! Firstly, thank you to all the readers who messaged me over the Christmas break. It means a lot – not only that some people enjoy my writing, but that they actually find it helpful! Yay!

I suppose I should have expected the sudden rush of views, what with people googling where to visit over Christmas. I certainly found myself googling new places to visit, which is how I found the beautiful Kaiate Falls.

My partner and I were staying with my parents in Tauranga, in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. Tauranga is a fantastic place for a holiday. My 10 Free Things to Do around Tauranga happens to be one of the articles contributing to the sudden rush of views, and now I think I should make Kaiate Falls number eleven. Just look at the pictures I got!

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

The walk around Kaiate Falls isn’t terribly long, but it does get quite steep. Despite the heat of the day, I was glad not to be visiting the falls in winter. I had the feeling that the paths would become uncomfortably muddy and slippery in wet weather. There were many people swimming in the falls, despite the sign at the top advising against it. I suppose as long as you don’t have any open wounds, and don’t swallow any of the water… It really is a pity about New Zealand’s waterways.

Kaiate Falls

But they’re lovely to look at. Check out The North Island’s 10 Best Waterfalls – although I’d probably replace Hunua Falls with Kaiate Falls now!

Kaiate Falls

After going to the falls, we went to the nearby Papamoa Beach. There’s nothing particularly special about Papamoa Beach, but the Bluebiyou Restaurant, which overlooks it, has wonderful food. Every mouthful of my mushroom risotto tasted divine, but I wanted to order everything on the menu! I’m looking forward to going back next time I’m in Tauranga.

Although I don’t think Papamoa Beach is particularly special, it’s still a very popular beach. And, I suppose, if it was the first New Zealand beach you’d ever seen, you’d be impressed. It’s not as crowded as Mount Maunganui’s main beach, being further along the coast from the Mount, and you can still bodyboard there.

Kaiate Falls

So… Kaiate Falls: if your visit to the Bay of Plenty is fleeting, don’t bother with the falls, as there are lots of other things you should see first, BUT if you’re going to be there a while, the falls are a great place to go. And here’s a bonus: if you have a self-contained campervan rental, you can stay at Kaiate Falls for up to three nights for FREE, and you don’t even have to book. For more New Zealand campervan hire holiday advice, check out my tips for travelling New Zealand in a motorhome.

Hope you’re all still having a wonderful summer. (Or winter!) See you next week.

A Trip to the Coromandel

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A ferry operator with a sense of humour, a tiny community library, and a view to renew the soul…

Last weekend, Tim and I embarked upon a road trip familiar to many Kiwis. Countless tourists – New Zealanders and foreign holidaymakers alike – have endured the narrow, winding coastal roads of the Coromandel. They’ve endured the heat and the travel sickness. They’ve endured the frustration of being stuck behind someone towing a boat. They’ve endured the children in the backseat crying out for a toilet – and they keep going back again and again.

There must be something pretty special about the Coromandel Peninsula, right? Well, for starters, it’s got what I believe to be the best beach in New Zealand – not that we went there this time. This time, we were headed for a little place called Ferry Landing. We joined the steady procession of rental campervans, pulling over every now and then to admire the view. Usually, driving up the Coromandel makes me feel sick, but I was okay this time.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The sea sparkled in the sunlight. The weather forecast for the weekend had been miserable, but you can’t rely on weather forecasts, especially in New Zealand. The place we were staying was right by the sea. There was only a thin strip of grass between us and the sand. When we got there, I looked out over the beach and, for a while, simply breathed. It was like inhaling pure peacefulness, listening to the waves rolling in.

One of the best things about the trip was being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I almost missed that when we got back to Hamilton. Other highlights came when we went to Whitianga, a short ferry crossing from Ferry Landing. On the way, we passed a tiny box-of-a-building that turned out to be the local library! The entire building was one small room full of books. I wish it had been open, but then I’d never have made it to Whitianga.

Ferry Landing Library, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The ferry from Ferry Landing to Whitianga leaves every ten minutes. When we got on the ferry, we were confronted with a lovely example of Kiwi humour:

Whitianga Ferry Landing Ferry Prices

(In case you can’t see the above picture, it’s a sign listing the ticket prices for various passengers. According to this, adults pay $4, children pay $2, sheep pay $1, and Trump supporters pay $5000!)

I noticed a few of the other passengers chuckling.

We didn’t actually do much in Whitianga. The weekend was more about spending time with family and friends than doing things. We walked along the shore and through the town, and sat for a while in a pub. It started chucking it down with rain, but it didn’t matter. There were a few interesting shops and a museum, which we didn’t go in. Some of the others went to a hot pool complex called The Lost Spring and, by all accounts, loved it.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

I’d definitely like to visit Whitianga again and explore more of it, and the surrounding area. There are plenty of free overnight parking spots for self-contained campervans around – and in truly beautiful locations too. If you hire a campervan in New Zealand, the Coromandel is a great place to take it. Just watch out on the narrow, winding roads!

I Finally Visited a Cat Café!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

Can you believe cat cafes have only been a thing in New Zealand since last year? Rather predictably, they’ve become really popular, popping up in more and more places. Not Hamilton, unfortunately, which is why I, self-confessed crazy cat lady, only got around to visiting one this last weekend.

Yes, I took pictures.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThe café I visited is called Barista Cats – awesome name, by the way. It was a little difficult to find, being tucked into a lane off Auckland Central’s Queen Street, behind a solid-looking door and up a flight of stairs. There was a sign on Queen Street, but it may as well have said…

“This is the first test: are you worthy enough to discover the portal and gaze upon the treasures within?”

It felt like going up to see a dentist, especially as there was a waiting room. Then there was the airlock-like entry, double doors to prevent cats escaping. Hands sanitized, my companions and I finally stood within the inner sanctum.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIt was $15 for an hour with the cats, and that included a drink. I had some very nice coconut cream tea. The drinks came with lids, which we thought was a very sensible idea. Then we discovered that one of the cats – a greedy, short-haired calico called Hamburglar – had worked out how to get the lids off!

Meeting all the cats with their different personalities was fun.

There was a tiny tabby with crossed eyes and a loud meow. Apparently, it and its siblings had been thrown into a river in a plastic bag, but the cross-eyed kitten’s meow had been so loud that it had alerted a passer-by and saved them.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThere were two blind cats, one of which was a Manx, and one deaf cat, and one cat with only three legs. A few of the cats had been rescued from the streets, but they were all adorable. They seemed to enjoy staring out of the window, watching the people going about their business in the lane below.

I played with the cats and stroked them and, quite frankly, never wanted to leave. There were other things to keep you occupied in the room – cat-themed reading material and board games – and, of course, there was food. The food was below average for Auckland café food, but the focus is on the cats, so who cares?

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsAs we ate, Hamburglar sat at our feet, periodically reaching up to tap our thighs. You’re not allowed to feed any of the cats, but, evidently, Hamburglar is no quitter.

We were kind of worried about staying too long and having to pay another $15, but it was a quiet afternoon, so they let us off. Maybe it’s for the best that I no longer live in Auckland. I’d keep sneaking off to the cat café like it was some sort of brothel!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIf you’re on a long New Zealand tour and you find yourself missing your feline pets, an hour in one of New Zealand’s growing number of cat cafes might be the answer.

Oh, it turned into an absolutely fabulous cat-filled weekend for me. My partner and I stayed the night at his brother’s flat, and his brother’s flatmates had just brought home a kitten. It was so lovely, climbing up me to play with my hair and, later, falling asleep over my arm with an almighty (for such a tiny guy) sigh. My own beloved Crookshanks died earlier this year, so this weekend felt like an early Christmas present. Thank you, Tim, for taking me.

🙂

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats