An Epic Crossing!

Day 36. The roof drummer came again, practising hard into the night. Out on the road heading to our next stop Whakapapa Holiday Park things did not improve, frequent showers followed us south to Tongariro National Park.

Once there we did manage the Ridge Track a short 35 minute return in mist and rain views incredibly limited!

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Long-suffering had been keeping tabs on any bad weather systems in the park over the past week. The shuttle service – for the one way Tongariro Alpine Crossing, our planned day walk – had been cancelled for 10 days previous to our arrival. On check in we were pleased to hear the next day they were planning to run the shuttle, we booked ours for 7am to make an early start.

Day 37. Tongarriro Alpine Crossing 6-8 hours 12 miles one way. Weather – glorious sunshine but very cold.

The full shuttle bus left camp at 7am, 20 mins later we were dropped at Mangatepopo  Road End Shelter. Our driver gave us all a personal safety brief – all essentials, we should be carrying was in our rucksacks weighing us both down along with all the extra layers on our bodies. Actually joking aside this is a serious and potentially unpredictable walk across the crater of an active volcano, open to the elements and not for the feint hearted!

A gentle start along a well marked gravel track got all the muscles well oiled for the terrain to come. 

 

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Already even at a lower altitude overnight ice had formed over any wet areas as we and hundreds of others, tramped along boardwalks and track through a flat and brown tussocked landscape.

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Soon wooden steps marked the start of our steeper ascent, all the while Mount Doom from LOTR fame looked down from our right. 

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The track snaked left and right up and down over black volcanic rock, where the track was unclear marker poles showed the way forward.

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Tracking down to the first crater we were met with ice and slush covering this vast, flat, grey and barren lunar landscape like nothing we had experienced thus far. On the far side of the crater we could see the climb to come.

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In front and behind 1000s of walkers tramping single file in ant like lines all taking advantage of the fine conditions – weather systems change rapidly here.

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Mount Doom loomed over us in its snow capped entirety on this almost cloud free day.

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From the welcome flat, decision time, last chance to turn back if conditions had changed for the worse!

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Long-suffering eager to carry on…little did he know what was to come!

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Conditions the same it was onwards and upwards, a slippery steep assent up a rocky slope – many feet before us had turned any foot surface into sheet ice. Our feet slid wildly, in a split leg approach as we desperately tried to find any grip possible. Sensibly I had for the first time attached my hiking pole and here it was put to good use as Long-suffering for once was less stable than his muse!

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There were breaks some flat areas for sustenance and rest, strategically placed toilets provided for comfort breaks along the route.

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So much to see, much tripping went on from us and those around us, as our heads swivelled Dalek like above rugged terrain, too late to avoid the dip or uneven rock. 

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The muse posing still in one piece just…..

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Eventually we made it up to the top of Red Crater, as high as we could go on this walk -some 6,159ft high. From many fumaroles – vents on the side of a volcano – steam and gases billowed out. Sulphur the smell like rotten eggs – assaulted our senses.

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Here we stopped for lunch perched on the crater edge volcanic rock beneath us, overlooking Emerald Lakes.

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From here an impossibly steep scree – part of the track – had us all slipping and sliding through the loose volcanic gravel. Momentum propelled our feet ski like, many including us hit the deck. I slid, landed coccyx first onto a rock, luckily my rucksack took the brunt of the impact.

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Relieved to still be in one piece we took a slight detour around the beautiful Emerald Lakes tiptoeing nimbly across a stream….

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…..and then up and down to central crater overlooking Blue Lake, here thick snow lay in patches on the ground.

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From there it was for the most part downhill via steps and gravel paths zigzagging across the side. A bare area and hut remains, an eruption from the Te Maaori vent sent flying rocks crashing through the roof on 6th August 2012 luckily the hut was empty – cold winter conditions – it was not rebuilt just in case….a reminder on the way down how unpredictable this volcanic area can be

At times it was bitterly cold even in the sun as the biting wind cut through our layers, other times in a few more sheltered areas we were stripping off.

Parts of the track were covered in thick snow one of which was precariously close to the edge. Of course it was this one I chose to almost dislocate my hip on as my bad leg twisted underneath me at a weird angle. The hiking pole could not steady me but the flexibility from pilates definitely saved me as Long-suffering looked on aghast before  helping me to my feet. 

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On firmer ground we looked back to watch some young lads climb up from the snow covered track and body board down the side, long-suffering ready behind his lens managed to capture the reckless but thrilling – for them – moment.

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The last part of the track saw us tramping down flight after flight of steps and eventually walking stream side through forest and out to Ketetahi Road End Car Park to await the first shuttle back to Whakapapa Holiday Park and some much needed rest. 

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After Some rest and relaxation a couple of drinks at the The Chateau with a window view of Mount Doom minus the top now shrouded in cloud…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobbiton

Day 35. Waitomo Glow-worm Caves….Long-suffering practically bouncing off the walls with excitement as we joined our group for this excursion into dark caves. The muse…her normal can-do attitude had gone into hiding at the thought of confined dark spaces. 

Apart from my acute discomfort – Pilates breathing helped – it really was a magical experience. Amazing to see these tiny larvae – glow worms grow into Fungus gnats – light up the caves. Fine sticky threads hung eerily web like from the roof, catching insects flying up from the water below. Stalactites and stalagmites some had met and now formed one mass from roof to floor. A boat transported us a short distance, our guide manoeuvring by way of ropes pulling us through caves and out into the light and fresh air….Not a moment too soon for the muse. The man behind the lens was finally allowed to take a snapshot – no photography inside the caves so as not to upset the glow worms dark environment.

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Hobbiton. We were not sure what to expect of our two hour booked tour – the only way you can explore the permanent set.

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Theme park, heavily commercialised came to mind. Thankfully it was none of these and although a very busy tourist attraction, the regular, timed group tours rarely overlapped on the route through the set – we had been told it was difficult to get any photos without lots of people milling around in shot. Luckily the man behind the lens had no such trouble…

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Hobbiton sits down in a beautiful valley of rolling green fields hidden from view except from  above – how location scouts for Lord of the Rings originally found it. The original set was dismantled and taken away, but Director Peter Jackson in partnership with the Alexander family – who owned the land – retained the set of The Hobbit for all LOTR enthusiasts to enjoy including us and also many who have never even heard of the films! 

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A short bus ride to the location….We were not prepared for the beauty and size of the set that unfolded before us.

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I cannot vouch for a winter tour but my goodness late spring was an explosion of colour, a sweet shop of pretty imaginative cottage plantings in front of the famous Hobbit abodes set into the domed hills.

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We weaved our way along sandy paths, our guide Daniel gave a short informative and entertaining introduction to each stop along the route, after which there was plenty of photography opportunities giving the muse time to immerse herself in the abundant flora….

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Not quite Hobbit sized!

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Almost all the set is real and true to the writer JR Tolkien, with the exception of the apple and pear trees which should have been plum. Plum trees get too large for the small scale of Hobbiton. Fake plums were attached instead, for filming purposes.

Bilbo Baggins House…

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The enormous tree on Bilbo Baggins house is in fact a brilliantly crafted fake, made of steel – you would never know!

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The tour ended with a complimentary cider in The Green Dragon, looking out to the Mill House much to Long-sufferings delight!

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Freedom Camp at Lake Maraetai…

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Gardens of the World Amongst Other Delights!

Day 33. Scenic drive to Raglan taking backroads and gravel roads….

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Drone shots over valleys….

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Marokopa village by the sea

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Lunch stop Marokopa Falls…. 20 minute return. Short easy track through thick native bush took us out to a viewing platform. The falls dropped 30 metres cascading and separating as the torrents spewed over stepped rock face hitting and misting over the rocky base, racing on, it tumbled over huge rocks flowing away into the rushing river.

 

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Natural Bridge 20 minute loop track….Easy track took us over suspended catwalks, bridges and boardwalks to another of NZ nature phenomenons a natural limestone arch. 

Huge steep walls of the gorge bore down on us. Thoughts are they were once the sides of a cave that grew slowly over time, eventually becoming unstable and collapsing creating the gorge and remaining roof section – natural bridge – way above our heads.

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Raglan Holiday Camp….pristine camp, great facilities, but way too busy and touristy for us. We did have fantastic fish and chips on the much quieter Wharf side of Raglan a half hour walk away.

Day 34. Early walk along Raglan Beach, ‘A Surfers Paradise’ just one kite surfer was out on the waves….

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Bridal Veil Falls 40 minute return. Short walk through thick native forest, bark covered in moss and tiny ferns. Huge tree ferns radiating out above our heads filtering the sunlight. 

It was up to the muse to get behind the lens at the top lookout, Long-suffering visibly blanching at the falls 55 metre drop. Water shoots out thundering out and down to a pool 5 metres deep, where a large boulder sits just below the surface.

The second viewpoint, lower and not looking straight down, suited him much better!

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The falls really do resemble the long flowing veil of a bride as they flow from the pinch point ‘head piece’.

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Of course as always we had to earn our view of the power and beauty of natural New Zealand..261 times, twice over  – that’s how many steps down to the bridge at the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls….and that’s how many steps to get back up! 

PYO Strawberries….

Hamilton Gardens….I was very excited to visit these famous gardens, an excellent – and well received – itinerary stop from long-suffering. How lucky to have so many beautiful gardens in one place for free – donations gladly accepted – all year round!

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Chinese, modernist, kitchen, Indian and many more, we could not get around to see it all such is the scale of the gardens and still expanding as more garden rooms were in progress and planned for the future.

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This varied collection of individual gardens stand on what was the site of the city’s main rubbish dump. Strolling around these beautiful snapshots of design over the past 4,000 years, its previous use is hard to believe.

Each garden tells a story using context and meaning from small potagers to grand landscapes.

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Our favourite was the Italian Renaissance Garden, the heady scent of the citrus trees filled the flower filled space, fountains, symmetrical lines in front of a whitewashed Italianate villa.

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Rogers Rose Garden – roses planted on mass!

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Glasshouses

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Tudor Knot Garden

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English Flower garden complete with the all important rabbit!

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 Waterlily reflection 

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More flowers

House on the Hill Farm – overnight stop…Beautiful spot high on the hilltop wonderful stay, friendly hosts and entertaining farm animals, what more do you need!

After The Storm

Day 32. The storm started at 8.30pm the previous night. Rain came down in rods  hammering roof and skylights above our heads, 80mph gales were fierce, rocking and buffeting all night long with no let up. The noise was deafening, at times we couldn’t hear ourselves speak. Long-suffering did his best to reassure that we were safe, I was not convinced, not sure he was either!

And then at 7am it all slowed almost to a stop and we opened the blinds to this wondrous sight… 

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9.16am. Wilkies Pools Loop Track, plateau to Waingongoro Hut and swing bridge.

The storm had ceased, we took advice for our planned walk from the visitor centre and were advised parts of the enchanted loop track would be impassable due to the heavy rain overnight raising the river levels. Armed with a fairly safe alternative we set off.

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The first part of the track to the waterfall and pools was on a firm rigid surface, probably the first longer track we had walked being in any part wheelchair/baby buggy friendly. Sunlight filtered through the native forest, shadowed sinewy shapes across our path, lichen, moss and fern covered the edges, peeling bark glinting burnt orange.

High tree arches, nature’s natural arbours, towered above our heads, gnarled branches eerie, shrouded in their moss covered blanket.

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Rushing river and Wilkies Pools

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The fallout from the heavy rain meant at times the uphill track had become a shallow stream. Out from the dense bush, waterfalls cascaded out across the track creating rocky rivers to cross. A wrong turn sent us downwards, running water everywhere eventually uncrossable. A retreat and an  inevitable steep climb back up.

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This walk had it all magical forests, challenging climbs, waterfalls, swing-bridges – one of the parks highest.

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It was here Long-suffering faced his biggest challenge to date, the sheer drop 78ft below and swing and sway of the narrow bridge with every step, was enough to make me slightly queasy.  Two attempts later I was over…..three or four later, he was not, although the last he got almost halfway!

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Luckily, it was not part of our route – maybe if it was, a different outcome?  We made our return back up over the twisted roots, uneven rocks, surface water and steps following the marked track under cover of the dense forest.

Nearing the end just when we thought we were home and dry the constant presence of running water got a whole lot louder, as out from the bush a deep rocky river rapid appeared. At first glance it looked impossible to cross, we could see the track snaking away on the other side. Too tired now to contemplate going back we were determined to find a way over….

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Precariously we did!

Drive to Tongaporutu and a surprise walk to a hidden beach….

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We stopped here for lunch, the tide was on the turn, a young girl in impossibly short shorts walked by and headed along the black sand beach to the rocky cliffs. We watched as she waded tentatively, hand on rocks as she felt her way along and through the waist high water of the river mouth..

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And then she disappeared around a jutting out cliff face, meanwhile a group of four youngsters were following on the same way, by this time the tide had started receding slowly away from the cliff.

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Never one to miss an opportunity for adventure we were out like a shot, except as befits our age we did glance at the noticeboard warning of incoming tides cutting you off, just a two hour window either side of high tide then!

Soon we were slipping and sliding on the exposed rock shelf – we were not the only ones! Hugging the cliff face as we waded thigh high, our bare feet struggled to stay firm on slimy rocks, hampering our progress. Eventually we made it around, relieved to be back on black sandy ground.

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WOW it was so worth the effort. Monolithic rocks – three sisters – only two now, one has fallen to the elements. 

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Vertical cliff faces towered over the smooth black sands typical of this area of the North Island. 

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Caves and sculptured arches….

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Huge rocks, dark shadows and surf as the sea retreated.

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Not too long after we also started our retreat, only calf deep this time!

Awakino holiday park…our overnight stop overlooking the black sand beach and foaming Sea…

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A Dormant Volcano!

Day 30. Early Ferry from Picton to North Island, a sad goodbye to the beautiful and diverse South Island….

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Hello Wellington and the North Island….

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Long drive from ferry terminal to North Egmont Camp, Mount Taranaki. Landscape change from mountainous terrain in the south to rolling green pasture in the north.

7.45pm arrive North Egmont Camp….walk 10 minute return on boardwalk to Lookout, thick cloud covering any view or sunset!

Day 31. 5am beeping wake up call from the fridge…the gas had run out, half asleep we both stumbled around in our small space before long-suffering braced the -1 temperatures to change main gas bottle to emergency spare. Out to viewing platform – the muse in her pyjamas – for sunrise……

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And what promised to be a beautiful sunny day for our first walk in the North Island…

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From Camp The Maketawa Hut round trip 3 hour return….

This was a walk with a difference, the start took us through magical montane forest, overhead canopies of tree arches, shafts of early morning sunlight glinting through creating intricate patterns as we followed the well marked track.

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Exposed roots created natural steps as they twisted and turned crisscrossing underfoot.

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Vertical ladders to reach higher levels

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Rock clambering….

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Alpine flora…

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Eventually thick forest was replaced by steep inclines out onto the outer exposed marked track.

Snow capped Taranaki emerging in stages….

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And then the whole….

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View from the opposite direction back to our camp….

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Maketawa Hut a place to hunker down should the weather turn extreme!

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A brief snack stop on the outside viewing deck and we were ready to head uphill to join the translator road and our route back down….

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Onwards and upwards….

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Only we didn’t go down…..both deciding at the cross tracks we could make it up to the snow line and Translator Tower at 5,004ft.

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The tower, not far then!

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This would be our biggest challenge to date. Straight up on a concrete road track, my feet at 30 degree angle the whole way up meant my lower calves by the end were feeling the burn, so much so just to relieve the pressure I was at intervals walking backwards.

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Halfway up a seat to catch our breath and much to long – sufferings delight my secret stash of Whittaker’s Chocolate.

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And still further head swivelling views….

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Almost there….

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We made it to our own summit above the Translater Tower and achieved a personal best – our highest climb to date together.

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Before any lunch could be consumed, sweating man had to discard the t.shirt to drip dry over a rock while the light breeze air dried the rest, meanwhile the muse was adding layers back on!

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Conditions were still favourable for us to continue on our new route The Translator Tower Round Trip past Tahurangi Lodge.

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Almost from the start this was a new challenge across a ridge below ancient lava flows and an ignored by us divide up to the Summit Track – thick snow and vertical rock – we were not carrying the correct gear for that climb. Some tried it though!

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Poles marked the route over volcanic rock falls….

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The track twisted and turned across exposed alpine terrain leading to what looked like a recent land slip. Flat track barely visible just an unstable scree, one slip and over the edge. With trepidation – long-suffering and his fear of heights looking anywhere but down – we gingerly made our way across.

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Intricate lace patterned rock….

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Again vertical ladders aided with any extreme level change, rocky tracks needed sure footedness and mini flights of steps helped ease the route down.

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Towards the end of our descent still in one piece, we were reminded of a brave climber who died rescuing another by a memorial erected in his honour….

Back at base then, walk statistics: 6.59 miles in just under 5 hours including stops.

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Dawson Falls Road End car park Taranaki our second freedom camp for the night after a garage stop for gas refill and fuel.

Dawson Falls walk 20 minute return…short afternoon walk  – thankfully after the mornings epic walk! A short stepped track through lush rainforest….

To a lookout….

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A further track led us down more steps – my glutes and leg already tired, wobbling at the inevitable return back up!

Finally this stunning waterfall shown in all its glory….

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The muse was put to work in front of the lens….

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Just time to get a quick unfinished sketch, definitely more practice needed on capturing cascading waterfalls!

Man behind the lens shooting an evening sunset from camp lookout, freezing cold, the muse summoned by text for extra layers!

The resulting sunset……a calm before quite literally ‘a major storm’!

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Marlborough Sounds

Day 25. Again the weather was with us, warm rays through light cloud, on our early drive to Marlborough. We passed through wine territory, vineyards as far as the eye could see, regimental, row after row. Long-suffering has not the taste for wine, and although I have the taste, he has not the patience needed to tour a winery! The terrain changed again to green imposing hills with valleys between until finally the ‘scenic drive’ started….

Scenic drive….Ascending up long, steep, winding climbs we were expecting many breathtaking vistas from vantage points along the way, we were wrong. Dense, tall vegetation made even glimpses out virtually impossible, with the exception of this one……

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Elaine Bay DOC camp….we arrived in glorious sunshine and parked looking out at the flat calm waters extending out to the sounds. Rather than rushing straight out for a walk we decided to have a couple of hours down time, chairs out, enjoying our bayside view.

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Piwakawaka Track 2km 90 minute return…..The first and shortest of two walks we planned to do in Elaine Bay took us through thick beech and native bush up above the bay with intermittent glimpses of emerald/turquoise sea below.

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Unfurling ferns…

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Black Beech…

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Dropping back down, the track took us out onto a small secluded beach, with its own private hut overlooking the bay…

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Perfect opportunity for long-suffering to get aerial shots of Marlborough Sounds and for today at least, our own private beach…

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Day 26th…The roof drummers were back most of the night along with gale force roaring winds as our van was rocked and buffeted, I thought we might end up in the bay. Sleep deprived, rain still falling and thick mists, we accessed our situation and the viability of our planned day walk The Archer Track. For the first time since arriving in the South Island the rain had thwarted a planned walk….

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After a difficult winding drive out of Elaine Bay with poor visibility – pea soup.

Out from the gloom came Nelson Tasman… A city visit instead! Briefly here the sun popped out, seizing the moment a walk was sought…

Centre of New Zealand Walk… so named for being the central survey point in the 1800s. Easy 1 hour return from Branford park where we left Aramoana. Although short the track was steep as it zig-zagged upwards, first through forest edges speckled with forget me nots and then opening out as the overhead canopy became less dense.

Views from the Summit….

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And happily a garden visit to Queens Garden Nelson….

Rose and Wisteria clad pergolas, Geranium maderense, from blowsy to exotic…

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Huge Dawn Redwood, seed sent to New Zealand in 1949 from trees found growing in Central China in 1944. One of three seeds became this tree….

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Jemima Puddle-duck

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Scented Honeysuckle tree

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Bridge over the residual Maitai River to the Huangshi Chinese Garden – A sister City Garden.

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Latte, hot chocolate and mouth watering Danish Pastry at a lovely cafe in Nelson…The Bakers Coffee Shop

Drive to Cable Bay campsite. Views out to cows, Delaware Mud Flats and sea through the gap in between trees. Hopefully sheltered from the gales!

Evening stroll along the pretty stony beach, very cold…more layers were added before we checked out the uphill beginning of the next days walk. 

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Day 27. Heavy rain fell overnight and the morning promised – and provided – more of the same. Back into Nelson for Long-suffering to pick up a new watch battery, food supplies, diesel and dump station.

Cable Bay to Glendu Bay walk… 4 hour return. Back from Nelson rain was light and intermittent, the walk was on although the mist was still hanging around.

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Long steep climb up to the ridge through grasslands with grazing sheep either side of the pole marked way. By the time we made it up visibility was getting poorer, drizzle had set in.

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Halfway along the ridge we could barely see where we were going or coming from. At this point we took the sensible decision to head back to Cable Bay and warmth of our motorhome Aramoana Two.

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The white topped marker poles had all but disappeared by now and we scrabbled about trying to get our bearings without inadvertently plunging down off the sides into the abyss.

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On the last steepest slope, Long-suffering slid down like he had ‘heelys’ – wheeled trainers – on minus the flashing lights – we could have done with those to light the way!

We made it back to base, safe and sound to watch the rain and play scrabble. Score now 3-1 to the muse!

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Day 28….torrential rain, roof drummers back all night long! Queen Charlotte scenic drive in the rain through more murkiness!

Smiths Farm camp…Rain stopped briefly. 4.5 mile walk to edge of Queen Charlotte Sound….

Day 29….More heavy roof drumming overnight, drove to edge of Charlotte Sound for our planned walk. Sat in the lay-by watching Strictly Come Dancing on long-sufferings laptop hoping the heavy rain storm would ease for our last memorable great walk on the South Island….it did!

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Queen Charlotte Track… Anakiwa – Grove Arm Viewpoint. 8 miles 3 hour return. Fairly easy track, some steep ascents through native bush, often dark and enclosed, the ground was wet, muddy and flooded in places, not surprising after all the rain. 

Along the way a stop at Davies Bay….

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More ascents, descents, rocky paths and waterfalls….

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A baby goat looking for its mum…

Approaching the Viewpoint still dry, the cloud broke up and the sun made a welcome return just in time for the stunning views out over the Charlotte Sound and our last walk and memory of the South Island….

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Picton…..Wood piles and Ferries

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Top 10 Holiday Park…. powered site, washing done, hot showers ready for our ferry over to the North Island in the morning.

Kaikōura

Day 23.  Long slow drive to Kaikoura on highway 1 southbound from Christchurch, the road still being repaired/strengthened three years on from the massive 7.8 earthquake. The sheer scale of the work is nothing short of heroic. Although lots of speed restrictions, stop/start at lights – or by smiling workers, you appreciate the beauty of this coastal route more as you realise the superhuman effort it took to get the road open as soon as three months after.

The point Farm camp…our base for one night. Fresh eggs for breakfast as well as some to take away and a pitch looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Walk out to…..

Kaikoura Peninsula Track…2 hour return 3.86 miles.

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Unlike last time we were here – seals laying on boardwalks – we had to go looking on the raised sea bed, another result of the earthquake. The seals blend in well with the rock they haul themselves out on, perfectly camouflaged from all us day trippers. It was good to see everyone respecting their privacy and keeping a fair distance away.

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Moving away from the shore back to The Point Kean car park, we started our assent. 

Views out all the way, from the rugged east coast backdrop, steep mountains, and seaward the Kaikōura range. 

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Dropping down a track to Whalers Bay shoreline, more seals were to be found laying still, most fast asleep, conserving energy before they head out to sea at night to hunt. 

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Red billed gulls in their thousands, the largest colony on the South Island.

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A lone Cormorant on the move – very quickly!

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We walked back along the shore and the raised sea bed.

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Back to our farm base and some runaway sheep!

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Another beautiful sunset…

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Day 24 The whale watching we had booked for 9.30am and subsequent slots were cancelled due to rough seas although looking from the shoreline it looked calm, peaceful and twinkled in the sun.  Having experienced the excursion last time, a refund was accepted leaving us free to start early our next drive on the reopened – was still shut three years ago – State Highway 1northbound, stopping off along the route to….

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Ohau Point Lookout…more fur seals, but this time in the shelter of the mini pools surrounded by rocks, baby fur seals practising their swimming skills in the safety of these natural ‘play pens’.

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Marfells Beach DOC campground. We arrived early even with the ongoing road works on Highway One to warm sun and another sea view pitch. 

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A walk along the shell strewn beach, as well as the now familiar bleached white tree debris. 

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Long-suffering found the perfect shell, beautiful markings and not a chip on it….

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Seascape practice in watercolour!

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Sunset rays resemble search lights….. 

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