My Top 10 Favourite Places in New Zealand

Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve seen so many wonderful places. The country’s full of them; beauty spots beyond counting. But some of them have stayed with me more than others. Some places are just so wonderful, so beautiful…

This is a personal list. You might not agree, but I think these ten places are amongst the best places to visit in New Zealand:

10) Te Puna Quarry Park

Like a fairytale

I love this place. It makes me feel like a kid exploring Wonderland. I mean there’s a dragon and everything! The first time I went, I just knew I’d be back again and again. Te Puna Quarry Park is really close to Tauranga – click the link to see my blog about it.

9) Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove 1cropped

The name of what I think is New Zealand’s most beautiful beach certainly does it justice. Cathedral Cove is on the Coromandel Peninsula. You can only get there by bush walk or boat, but it’s totally worth it. If you’re still not convinced, check out the Cathedral Cove bit from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. (No CGI there – except the ‘ruins’, of course.)

8) The Hamilton Gardens

Indian

Hamilton is often accused of being a boring city, yet people flock from afar to the Hamilton Gardens. Completely free to enter, Hamilton’s greatest asset was named Garden of the Year at the 2014 International Garden Tourism Awards in France. What I love about the place – which grows with every visit – is it has heaps of small gardens within it, each with a different theme. It’s like having lots of little pockets of paradise to sample. And it has a lake with a waterfall.

7) The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

154 Glacier Franz Josefcropped

I have fond memories of visiting the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. They were beautiful, but more importantly they were sights out of the ordinary – they took my breath away. We didn’t walk onto them, just up to them. They’re possibly the world’s most easily accessible glaciers. You don’t have to climb halfway up a mountain or trudge through snow; you simply walk up to them from their respective car parks, enjoying the refreshing breeze coming off the ice as you go.

Be warned, however: the photo above was taken when I visited the glaciers with my family, and that was about a decade ago. The glaciers have gotten smaller since then, thanks to global warming, and I don’t think you can get as close anymore. (You can still walk on top of them if you take a commercial tour.)

6) White Island

White Island

White Island is one of the most wonderful places I’ve been in my life. It’s the top of an active volcano, rising out of the sea amidst plumes of white steam. I’ll never forget it, seeing all the vibrant colours; hearing the bubbling acid; smelling the sulphur; feeling the warm rocks and the air tingling on my skin. It was like walking on an alien planet – such a different experience. I can’t recommend it enough.

5) Hobbiton

First Hobbit Hole

Visiting Hobbiton was like going home. There was something comfortingly English about it, but it was also – quite literally – stepping into a childhood fantasy. It was amazing. For anyone as Lord of the Rings-obsessed as I am, it’s simply a must-go. More than worth the admission price – I loved every second.

4) The Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula

If you want dramatic scenery, awesome wildlife, romantic villages and a castle, spend a day or two on the Otago Peninsula. I went there with my boyfriend a couple of years ago and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Hire a budget car – that’s what we did – and explore its peaceful roads, winding over sheep-scattered hills and around beautiful bays. The peninsula is home to the world’s only colony of royal albatrosses breeding on an inhabited mainland. The fluffy, white chicks are so cute!

3) The Waitomo Caves

Glowworms elsewhere in the caves, with their silken, beaded threads

I don’t believe in magic, though I’ve spent my life writing fantasy stories. The closest I’ve ever come to experiencing real magic – magic as the raw force of nature I write about – was in one of the Waitomo Caves. It was with a tour group. We’d been led through a dark labyrinth, had many fascinating features pointed out along the way, and now we were helped into a small, inflatable boat. As we drifted silently through the pitch-black tunnel millions of tiny, electric-blue lights appeared like stars above our heads. They were the famous Waitomo glowworms – an awe-inspiring sight everyone should see.

2) The Shotover River Canyons

The Shotover Jet

The whole area around Queenstown is staggeringly beautiful – possibly the most beautiful place in the world. One part of that area in particular stands out in my memory: the Shotover River Canyons. It was one of the great treats of my family’s South Island campervan rental holiday. We all had a jet boat ride on the Shotover River with the only company that can enter the canyons. And though the ride itself was fun – the best jet boat ride in New Zealand, in fact – what makes it memorable is the scenery. Oh. My. God.

1) Glenorchy

The Wizard's Vale

North of Queenstown, Glenorchy is a self-proclaimed paradise. I won’t argue with them. The drive towards it is jaw-dropping, (but only if you like mystical lakes and snow-capped mountains.) The reason Glenorchy has stayed with me is the view of the Wizard’s Vale from The Lord of the Rings, (where Saruman lives.) My heart captured this view on the Dart Stables ‘Ride of the Rings’ tour. I had never ridden a horse before, but I felt like a fantasy character – a warrior maiden – as we emerged from a forest, crested a rise, and looked out over heaven.

(Read more about Our Campervan Tour of New Zealand’s South Island.)

So these are my favourite places in New Zealand. What do you think? What are yours? Leave a comment – I really want to know!

New Zealand’s Funniest Bird

POMS AWAY!

You’ve probably heard of the Kea. Endemic to the South Island of New Zealand, it’s the world’s only alpine parrot. It’s endearingly curious and devilishly intelligent. It gets up to all kinds of mischief, from knocking over coffee cups to breaking into tourists’ cars.

Seriously.

I heard a story about some people who had a rental car or campervan or something somewhere in the South Island, and when they got back to where they’d parked they found a group of kea happily playing inside the vehicle, having peeled the rubber from around the windscreen until it fell inwards. So, you know, if you hire a campervan in the South Island, that’s something to watch out for.

Even if they don’t break in, they can snap off windscreen wipers and radio antennae.

And don’t leave your backpack unattended around them.

???????????????????????????????When my family were on our South Island campervan holiday

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Our Campervan Tour of New Zealand’s South Island

POMS AWAY!

When I was twelve years old, my parents decided to take the family on a special holiday: a campervan tour of New Zealand’s South Island. We had been living in New Zealand for over two years, having emigrated from Britain, but in the North Island. The South Island, as we were about to discover, is completely different. It is, in a word, magical.

I must admit, though, that I was not looking forward to sleeping in a campervan for two weeks. I was at that age when one especially prefers the privacy of their own bedroom, and I was bitterly disappointed that we could not afford to stay in a hotel every night, but that disappointment melted when we first climbed into our campervan at the depot in Christchurch. The whole thing suddenly became rather exciting.

609 Lake Wanaka 008 Lake Wanaka

The campervan we had was laid out similar to this one

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New Zealand’s Funniest Bird

You’ve probably heard of the Kea. Endemic to the South Island of New Zealand, it’s the world’s only alpine parrot. It’s endearingly curious and devilishly intelligent. It gets up to all kinds of mischief, from knocking over coffee cups to breaking into tourists’ cars.

Seriously.

I heard a story about some people who had a rental car or campervan or something somewhere in the South Island, and when they got back to where they’d parked they found a group of kea happily playing inside the vehicle, having peeled the rubber from around the windscreen until it fell inwards. So, you know, if you hire a campervan in the South Island, that’s something to watch out for.

Even if they don’t break in, they can snap off windscreen wipers and radio antennae.

And don’t leave your backpack unattended around them.

???????????????????????????????When my family were on our South Island campervan holiday, we went to a café in Arthur’s Pass. We sat at a table outside and watched in amusement as the birds descended. There was a sign saying not to feed them, so we didn’t, but that didn’t stop them. My mum had an apple, and as she raised it to take a bite, one kea got onto the table and reached up to take a bite from the other side! We shooed it away – admittedly, not very emphatically – and chuckled as they investigated my dad’s empty coffee cup, knocking it over to get at the dregs.

At a neighbouring table, there was a family with a baby in a highchair. The kea were quite interested in the highchair, which freaked the baby out a bit, and they observed intently as the baby banged the tray up and down. When the family had gone, some of the birds climbed into the highchair and proceeded to bang the tray up and down for themselves!

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It was quite interested in my camera…

Also, across the road from the café, there was a pub with an open door. We saw one kea walk quite nonchalantly into the pub, right past a “No Kea” sign, only to be chivvied out a minute or so later. We noticed that all the bins in the area had lids that were weighted down.

Kea are excellent problem solvers. They may even be the most intelligent birds in the world. In some areas, they’ve been known to use sticks to set off stoat traps to get at the bait eggs inside.

They’ve been seen deliberately sliding down roofs for fun, deliberately dropping things from a height to see if they’d smash, untying bootlaces, stealing gloves and kicking a can to each other as though playing football.

Despite their fun-loving nature, kea do have a darker side: they swoop down and take bites out of live sheep.

To see these dangerously intelligent birds at work, just watch this David Attenborough video:

So make sure you watch out for kea when you’re in the South Island. They can make a delightful addition to your holiday – if they don’t trash your campervan and steal your passport, that is.

Following in the Hobbit’s Hairy Footsteps

I can’t wait to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at the cinema. I’ve already got my ticket!

Dwarf Statue

A dwarven statue at Auckland International Airport

Although it’s admittedly not as good as The Lord of the Rings, I still love The Hobbit, and to those that say it’s just more Lord of the Rings, I say GOOD. More Lord of the Rings is exactly what I want. The extended editions did little to slake my thirst.

I want more rich fantasy. I want more epic music. And most of all I want those sweeping shots of Middle-earth, each as beautiful as a painting.

I have to keep reminding myself that all of that fantastic scenery is real. It’s real and it’s on my doorstep. In fact I’ve been to a lot of it.

I remember when we were still living in England, when I was nine years old and we were about to move to New Zealand: I wasn’t very happy at all and the only silver lining I had was the knowledge that they were filming The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand.

Below, I’ve listed ten filming locations from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Even if you’re not a fantasy fan you should make an effort to visit them – they include some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Scrap that. They include some of the most beautiful places in the world.

The Wizard's Vale

The Wizard’s Vale, Glenorchy

1)      Glenorchy

Dart Stables, Glenorchy

Dart Stables, Glenorchy

My family visited Glenorchy on our South Island campervan holiday. It’s near Queenstown, one of the most amazing spots on the planet, and includes the scenery of so many Lord of the Rings locations, among them Lothlorien, Isengard, the River Anduin and Amon Hen, the site of Boromir’s departure. There are lots of tours to choose from, but the one we went on was Dart Stables’ The Ride of the Rings tour – the world’s most scenic horse trek. I’d never ridden a horse before, but this was nice and relaxed, and I was soon riding with the confidence of Eowyn – being on horseback makes it easy to pretend you’re in the story, cresting a hill to be confronted with the glory of the Wizard’s Vale, or clopping through the enchanted forest, wondering whether you’re being watched by elves with drawn bows. I had to give that tour a ten out of ten; the beauty was just overwhelming.

2)      Matamata

Matamata is perhaps the most famous of all the Middle-earth locations in New Zealand, so much so that it has practically been renamed ‘Hobbiton’. It boasts the rolling, emerald hills of the Shire, especially impressive on a sunny day, and there is something very homely and comforting about it. The tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set is fantastic: you get to see all the round front doors with their flowers and even have a drink in The Green Dragon. It’s best to book ahead, as the place is always heaving with tourists, but considering this the cost is quite reasonable. If you’re a hardcore fan, though, be prepared to spend a lot of money in the gift shop!

3)      Mount Victoria

Mount Victoria is in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, and from its top you get great views of the city. That’s not why people go to it these days, though. I have a very clear memory of me, as a child, crying, “Get off the road! Quick!” in imitation of Frodo Baggins in that famous scene, and of crouching under a certain outcrop to hide from the Black Rider. Who could resist the urge to re-enact that? Wellington is also home to several other locations, as well as Weta Workshop itself.

4)      Arrow River

‘Arrow’ seems like a strangely appropriate name for a river used as a filming location for The Lord of the Rings – the bit where Arwen confronts the Black Riders at the Ford of Bruinen. It’s in Otago and gave its name to the small town nestled upon its banks, Arrowtown. Arrowtown is an utterly charming place, a relic from the days of New Zealand’s gold rush, and it’s an attraction in its own right. I wish we’d been able to spend longer there, because the Ford of Bruinen isn’t actually the most beautiful spot in the area. It’s still pretty awesome, though – you just have to imagine a charging line of white, foam horses coming at you!

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

5)      Lake Pukaki

I first laid eyes upon Lake Pukaki long before the filming of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, when it became the manifestation of Esgaroth, or Lake-town. Even without this recommendation, it’s a magnificent place. The water is a creamy, glacial turquoise, reflecting the snowy crown of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki, or Mount Cook. The view across the lake is simply awe-inspiring – to me, it epitomises the sheer beauty of the South Island. My parents took a scenic flight over Pukaki, but there isn’t much else to do there aside from walking and mountain biking – maybe the film’s release will boost its popularity, although I don’t want its purity to be ruined. There’s a free overnight campground on the lake’s edge (and I can’t imagine a better place to spend the night,) but only if you have a self-contained campervan like this one.

6)      Tongariro

Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom

Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom

Tongariro National Park, which is located in the centre of the North Island and contains the three active volcanoes of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, has become almost synonymous with Mordor. Mount Doom itself is a digitally enhanced Ngauruhoe, although the volcano looks impressive enough as it is. The park also contains Emyn Muil, Gorgoroth, the Black Gate and the spot in Ithilien where Faramir was camped, and, of course, parts of The Hobbit were filmed there as well. A great way to see all these sights – as well as the pretty Blue and Emerald Lakes and some spectacular craters and steam vents – is to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It takes about seven hours and you have to be moderately fit, but if you don’t feel like that you can fly over the park, go on a horse trek or, in winter, go skiing.

7)      Shotover River

The Shotover Jet

The Shotover Jet

The Shotover River flows through the picturesque Skippers Canyon near Queenstown. It is a fast and often frothy river and, along with the Kawarau River, provided some of the scenery for the Anduin. Skippers Canyon is just gorgeous – my family went on a jet boat ride in it and it was the best jet boat ride I’ve ever been on. The Shotover Jet is heart-stoppingly thrilling as it skims around and even over rocks! Above the canyon wends the ridiculously frightening Skippers Road, which is so narrow and dangerous that you’re not allowed to drive any New Zealand rental cars on it.

8)      Fiordland

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

In the deep south of the South Island, Fiordland is home to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Manapouri and Te Anau. It is consistently cited as one of the most beautiful places in the world, so it’s no wonder that filming for both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies took place there. The Waiau River, between Manapouri and Te Anau, was used as parts of the Anduin, both sides of Takaro Road were used as Fangorn, Kelper Mire was used as the Dead Marshes, Manapouri was used as the area south of Rivendell… I could go on. The crowning glory of Fiordland is Milford Sound, and at the centre of that crown is Mitre Peak. Anyone who visits New Zealand should take a cruise on Milford Sound, but if you walk around you might find yourself following in certain hairy footsteps.

9)      Pelorus River

Part of the pretty Marlborough Sounds at the very top of the South Island, the Pelorus River was filmed as Forest River for the second of The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug. You know the bit where they escape the Wood-elves in barrels and float down the river to Lake-town? Well the drop was done at Pelorus Bridge. The Pelorus Bridge Camping Ground, which is an excellent place to stay, was closed for filming. The river is awesome to swim in – that area of New Zealand is especially nice and warm – and, no doubt, kayaking down it is set to become a lot more popular.

On the Canterbury Plains

On the Canterbury Plains

10)   Canterbury Plains

The Canterbury Plains are in the middle of the South Island and, along with Poolburn Reservoir in Central Otago, stand in for the Plains of Rohan, the Riddermark. Edoras itself is Mount Sunday, in the Rangitata Valley. The walk up to it and to the top is stunning with the snow capped mountains in the background. It’s easy to get to from Christchurch, and there are many activities to do in the area, including skiing and hot air balloon rides. I think the ultimate experience, however, would be horse riding through that spectacular scenery – you know why!

For more lists of great places to go in New Zealand, visit NZ Top List.

P.S. – Please support my blog by leaving a quick review –> http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/6084/poms-away – thank you!

Our Campervan Tour of New Zealand’s South Island

When I was twelve years old, my parents decided to take the family on a special holiday: a campervan tour of New Zealand’s South Island. We had been living in New Zealand for over two years, having emigrated from Britain, but in the North Island. The South Island, as we were about to discover, is completely different. It is, in a word, magical.

I must admit, though, that I was not looking forward to sleeping in a campervan for two weeks. I was at that age when one especially prefers the privacy of their own bedroom, and I was bitterly disappointed that we could not afford to stay in a hotel every night, but that disappointment melted when we first climbed into our campervan at the depot in Christchurch. The whole thing suddenly became rather exciting.

609 Lake Wanaka 008

Lake Wanaka

The campervan we had was laid out similar to this one. My little sister immediately bagsed the double bed above the cabin, which you had to climb up a little ladder to get to and had its own curtain, so you could create a secret den for yourself. I was stuck sharing the double bed at the rear with my nana, but I was consoled by the fact that the bed was brought into being by transforming the dining table and the couches around it. It’s the small things that delight, isn’t it?

So, having arrived in Christchurch, we spent a couple of days exploring the city. Bear in mind that this was long before those terrible earthquakes devastated the central business district. If you wanted to follow in my footsteps that spiralled to the top of the cathedral tower, you would no longer be able to do so. Fortunately, what my family considered the best part of Christchurch – so much so that we went back there before returning the campervan at the end of our holiday – was relatively unaffected by the earthquakes: the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura

Cradled by the Avon River, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are wonderfully tranquil. The twelve-year-old me thought that walking through them was like delving into a fantasy realm, crossing enchanted bridges and ducking under trees. They are the reason that Christchurch is nicknamed the Garden City. The best part is you can take a punt ride along the Avon River – it was one of the most relaxing things I can remember doing in my life. You can kayak along the river too, which I also did. It was a lot of fun – good for people who don’t want to kayak on rough seas – and, most importantly, I beat my dad and sister!

After Christchurch, Dad drove us in the campervan to Akaroa, a peaceful, French-influenced village on Banks Peninsula. This is one place I really want to go back to. It’s so romantic, full of old-fashioned cottages with beautiful front gardens, wine, cheese, craft shops and, best of all, dolphins. The Akaroa Harbour is only place in the world where you can swim with the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin, the incredibly cute Hector’s Dolphin.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Akaroa also had the best campervan park I can remember staying at: the Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park. It was located on top of a hill with an amazing view over the sparkling harbour, and it had a pool and awesome playground for us kids. This was when I realised that campervans are better than hotels. You don’t have to unpack and repack all the time – with the exception of making sure things are secure for when you’re on the move – and you have the freedom to go wherever you want.

From now on, I’m just going to talk about the highlights of our holiday, as to describe the entire South Island would make for far too long an article.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Little Blue Penguin

There was the Little Blue Penguin colony at Oamaru: you can take evening tours where you see the world’s smallest and most adorable penguins waddling up the beach, having spent the day at sea, crossing right in front of you to return to their nests.

There was the Otago Peninsula, officially one of the most beautiful places in the world, right next to the city of Dunedin: as well as stunning views, serene walks and a castle, there’s the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross colony. Seeing the huge, fluffy, white chicks was fantastic.

The Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula

There was Lake Wanaka, a gorgeous glacial lake with mountains in the background, which is brilliant for swimming in and not as cold as you’d think.

There was Franz Josef Glacier, which you can land on in a helicopter or climb on with ice axes or, if you don’t fancy an expensive tour, you can simply walk up to it like we did. It was truly awe-inspiring. If you want proof of that, I wrote a poem after seeing it.

The Shotover Jet

The Shotover Jet

Then there was Queenstown. Now Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. A few days there can bleed you dry, but – my goodness – I loved it. We did a jet boat ride in the Shotover River canyons. We’d been jet boating before in a few locations around New Zealand, including Lake Taupo, but this was by far the most thrilling of them all. It was the most scenic as well, as it was where they filmed the River Anduin scenes in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – you know, the bit where they canoe past those giant statues?

The River Anduin wasn’t the only Lord of the Rings location we encountered on that holiday. We did a horse trek with the Glenorchy-based Dart Stables that passed through Lothlorien and along a ridge overlooking Isengard and the Wizard’s Vale. The horse I rode had actually been ridden by one of the Rohirrim. My mum was aching when we got back to the campervan that day, but I felt so alive.

The Wizard's Vale

The Wizard’s Vale

What was nice about having the campervan was we could have quick showers wherever we were. I mean we didn’t have to wait until we got back to a hotel, as the shower was in our car, as it were. This was most useful when we at beaches. The campervan was like our own private beach hut, somewhere to get changed right next to the sand, and somewhere to cook a meal too.

The Gates of Haast

The Gates of Haast

What wasn’t so nice about the campervan was waking up in the middle of the night whenever someone rolled over in their sleep, shaking the entire thing. It wasn’t nice being cooped up with a certain someone who snores like a dying wildebeest. It wasn’t nice using having to use the toilet after someone had just showered, as the toilet and the shower are in the same cubicle. But these, at least, are the only downsides I can think of.

All in all, that campervan tour of New Zealand’s South Island was the best holiday my family ever went on and I’d recommend New Zealand campervan hire any day.

Our Day on the Otago Peninsula

If you ever find yourself in Dunedin, New Zealand, the absolute best thing you can do is hire a car and spend a day driving around the Otago Peninsula. This is what my boyfriend and I did a couple of weeks ago and we definitely want to go back, maybe stay a night in one of the many B&Bs – it would be so romantic. (As a point of interest, CNN named the Otago Peninsula as one of the ten most romantic places in the world to propose marriage.)

We picked the perfect day for it. There was barely a cloud in the sky, so the sea was a pristine, sparkling blue and the hills were a bright, luscious green. Spring was in the sunlight that removed the bite from the boisterous wind and, in Dunedin, spring means lambing season. All over the peninsula there were newborn lambs bouncing around, kicking up their tiny hooves, counterbalanced by the comical staggering of the still pregnant sheep about to burst. Everything felt fresh – revitalising – and we knew from that very first view across the Otago Harbour that not a thing could spoil it.

dunedin3 027

Our first point of call of was Sandfly Bay, named not, as I had feared, for an abundance of sandflies, but because the sand flies over the picturesque dunes. It’s a very pretty beach – we were satisfied by the view alone – but its main attraction is its wildlife: sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins. There are observation hides you can walk to from which, especially during the evening, you can see the penguins waddling up from the sea. There are a number of wildlife tours available on the Otago Peninsula, but they’re quite expensive. The wildlife viewing at Sandfly Bay is free.

yelloweyedpenguin

The Otago Peninsula’s main wildlife attraction is the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, the very tip of the peninsula. This, you most definitely have to pay for, but it is worth it. My boyfriend and I didn’t go because we couldn’t afford it – but then, being poor students, we can barely afford protein – however, I was lucky enough to have been before, with my parents, on an NZ campervan hire tour of the South Island. The best part was seeing the fluffy, white albatross chicks.

Another attraction that we didn’t want to have to pay for was Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, built towards the end of the nineteenth century by a Scot – well, actually, an Australian. I’m sure the garden is very pretty and the interior very nicely furnished. Similarly, though less spectacularly, you can take a tour of Fletcher House, a restored Edwardian villa, or Glenfalloch Woodland Garden. I suppose these would be good ways of glimpsing the life of the early European settlers, but we found our own window, somewhere not advertised, a little hidden, and free: a graveyard.

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It wasn’t just a graveyard; it was graveyard in a beautiful spot on the edge of a cliff. I spent perhaps a little too much time trying to get artsy pictures of the headstones, some modern and some from the first European families on the peninsula. In the process I found – rather funnily – a grave that had absolutely nothing written on it but ‘RAPER’. No explanation. No dates. Yes, it was obviously someone’s surname, but what an unfortunate surname! And to have a tombstone that doesn’t even bear your first name or the year you died… ‘RAPER’ isn’t even engraved in a particularly interesting font.

After our accidental discovery of the graveyard, we went to find a shop where we could get a bottle of water. We were in Portobello, a charming settlement halfway up the peninsula. To my disappointment, there weren’t any mushrooms, but there were nice-looking restaurants, craft shops, antique shops and second-hand bookshops. The campground looked good too. There was an air of innocence about the place. It was almost twee, but in a good way.

In the shop where we bought the bottle of water, there was a section of what seemed to be local produce – tea or something, I can’t remember – that was ‘organically harvested’. Whatever this ‘organically harvested’ stuff was, it was being sold in brown paper bags that had written on them the following: ‘organ harvest’. I wonder if the person who settled on that unfortunate abbreviation realises why we sniggered so greatly. I’m inclined to think not.

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So we had our water and now we needed somewhere to consume our picnic. (For anyone who remembers our picnic from the previous article, this time we had more with us than a cooking pot filled with peanuts.) It took us ages to find somewhere, simply because we were spoilt for choice, and we are both very indecisive people. We eventually settled on a point that overlooked Mt Charles. The view, naturally, was amazing, but the wind was fierce, and the sun was falling. Yes, it had taken us this long to find a picnic spot. We kept getting sidetracked by various awesome things, including a cup of tea at the Natures Wonders café, which had huge windows and a very friendly owner, proudly proclaiming they had the best view on the peninsula. Seeing as it was at the end of the peninsula, next-door to Taiaroa Head, the view was mostly sea, so I wouldn’t say it was quite the best on the peninsula, but – my goodness – it was still breathtaking.

To be honest, I was at my happiest when we were just driving. Driving over the hills in the centre of the peninsula and driving around the winding bays at the edge. View after view drifted lazily by, each one soul-renewingly stunning. We covered the same ground a few times in our quest to cover as much of the peninsula as possible, but it never got boring. This is why I recommend NZ car hire if you don’t already have your own vehicle. Driving leisurely over the Otago Peninsula was the best day out I’ve had in a long time.

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