In July my dear mum died. Feeling sad and a bit down in the dumps, the only thing for it was a change of scenery. That was the impetus behind our trip as well as having heard about stories from my guests who seem to know the rest of New Zealand better than me!
First stop was where Jo hails from; Wellington. It is always great to catch up his his sister Sooze. Having my bike was great! Straight off to the cities best viewpoint, Mt Victoria at 196 m. This ride affords a good puff and a reminder of all there is to love about this place. With many hilly walking trails, beaches, birdlife and the ferry on it's back door to the South Island, Wellington is an excellent place to be.
Heading North, but which route?
The trouble is deciding which way to go with East, West and middle of the Island all boasting good options for places to see. We hit on Napier and the East Cape so then it became clearer. First stop, Pukaha, Mt Bruce and its Wildlife Centre which is a captive-breeding sanctuary for some of our threatened birds. Located in a pocket of ancient forest, we wandered past rimu, rata, kahikatea and tawa for a couple of hours enjoying lunch with a view. We surveyed the wildly playful kaka tearing strips off the tree, takahe, monster eels and brown trout that live under the bridge; as well as saddlebacks, stitchbirds and resident kokako. The park also includes a kiwi house and a wetlands area with pāteke or brown teal. This cute dabbling duck was a highlight to see for the first time with its narrow white ring around the eye.
Napier; warm and full of character
A landmark of Napier is Bluff Hill this is where we stayed for the next few nights in what was once the family home of one of Napier's finest Art Deco architects. We overlooked the Port of Napier, one of New Zealand’s busiest ports, transporting timber, local fruit and meat products to worldwide destinations. The scenic ride on our bikes started in Napier, following the coast before heading inland and south into rural wetlands that used to form part of the inner harbour. The trail wound round the airport, through wetlands where viewing hides encourage bird spotting – around 70 species live or visit here.
Art Deco Napier
The 1931 earthquake saw Napier rebuilt in line with the times. New Zealand’s largest earthquake of the 20th century shook the centre of Napier to rubble. Fires then burned out of control. Out of the ashes, Napier’s citizens built what they hailed as “the newest city on the globe,” modelled on the latest architectural fashions: Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and, most notably, Art Deco. When I was growing up it seemed Napier’s heritage was not really appreciated but since the 1990's the town has enjoyed a tourist boom. We discovered the fascinating story of Napier’s heritage with the Art Deco trust's walking tour. Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide gave us an insight into the history of Napier and the characteristics of the Art Deco style of architecture.
Te Mata Peak
Where there's a hill we have to climb it. We admired the 360° views of Hawke’s Bay and the Heretaunga Plains from the summit. The highlight though was the walk through the majestic hundred-year-old giant redwoods.
Heading to the East Cape we found a treasure - Mōrere Hot Springs
The pools are set in 364 hectares of rainforest, run by the Department of Conservation staff who were as enthusiastic about the hot springs as we were. What makes this place unique is its water. Ancient seawater bubbles up, some 250,000 litres a day, which makes its way to the surface through a fault line. It is then cooled and pumped into the pools. A beautiful short walk through native rainforest to the Nīkau Pools, through thick strands of these favourite palms to arrive at the pools, was a delight.
A Flying Visit to East Cape
Onward to the East Cape with Gisborne the launch for the trip. This was to be a taster of the area, because as it was August, accommodation options were very slim. The coffee in the caravan en route took over half an hour to eventuate (surprisingly good!) That sort of speaks of the attitude on the Cape! It was a fantastic day as we headed north to a couple of obvious stops. The historic longest wharf in NZ at Tolaga Bay wharf. It still exists thanks to restoration efforts that began in 1999 by locals of the Tolaga Bay Save The Wharf Charitable Trust.
Our next stop was in Tikitiki to see the nicest church I have ever been to in NZ, a Maori church called St. Mary’s. It was built in 1924 to commemorate the fallen Ngāti Porou soldiers during World War I. It sits up on a little hill, surrounded by flowers and trees. We met one of the locals who was replacing pieces of paua shell and had an interesting chat with him. The Maori architecture, stained glass, and carvings in this building are beautiful and it was a privilege to be here.
Opotiki and the Dunes Trail
Lockdown at Papamoa!
We arrived at our friends who live near Tauranga. With excited chatter of how we were going to go here and there and an all too brief taste of the area, with a drive to the Mount and an op shop, shop, lockdown effective almost immediately was announced. Our mates were so good! Not feeling able to face jumping in our car to retreat home for what google maps shows to be a 1,141 km journey they agreed to let us stay. What timing, what friends aye! It is possible that anxiety and uncertainty, especially about the time when lockdown would end, might have given us the odd negative feeling but largely focusing on the simple pleasures of the present moment and trying to find interesting activities was not hard. We enjoyed taking turns at cooking up a storm at the end of each day.