Saturday, March 28, 2009

We are sailing!

Sat 28 March Warm and sunny 22C Drove nowhere

Time for another day on the water and this time hopefully with sail power. Being in the Bay of Islands, the main things to do are all associated with the sea. It is possible to practice almost any water associated sports that you can think of here, and several you might never have considered. Since para-sailing, jet-boating and banana boats didn't appeal to us, going out for a day on a sailing yacht sounded good to us.

We met Mike and his boat Gungha II at the pier on Paihai just before 10, we also met Will, a Bristol backpacker who was also coming out on the boat. We then set off across the bay to Russell to pick up two German passengers, Martin and Johanna. In addition to our captain Mike, we had Jean-Luc on board as crew.

As the brief was very light, we set out using the motor to head out in the bay. We did manage to get the sails up briefly as we headed further out, but we had to use the motor a fair bit. We anchored in a small bay on one of the islands and climbed into the tender to land on the island. Martin and Johanna, took the two kayaks we had with us onto the island too. Jean-Luc then took us for a walk on the island explaining that there was a programme of planting going on to provide more native plants so that the wildlife can return. The view from the hill at the top was spectacular, and all of the bay was laid out in front of us..

After scrambling back down to the bay, we explored the pretty beach for a while. Eventually, everyone swam back to the yacht except Martin, me and Jean-Luc. I paddled back to the yacht on one of the kayaks, catching up with swimmers en route. Back on the yacht, we were handed wet-suits, masks, fins and snorkels and rapidly jumped back into the water. Almost under the boat was a large Ray whiles closer to shore there were several smaller fish and a small cave to explore. After all this exercise, lunch was provided by the captain and crew whilst we dried out in the sun.

Up with the anchor, up with sails and we set out into the bay again to try and sail again, this time with more success. We then spent a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon sailing on the bay. There was plenty of bird life to see too, and for the first time we saw lots of blue penguins and shearwaters.

Finally back at Paihai, we watched as two boats came in and landed large Marlin, of weighing 107kg and the other 93kg. They were an impressive sight, but it is a bit sad to see such magnificent fish laid on the wharf.

Dinner was 'al fresco' at a pub before returning to our motel room at the Abel Tasman.

Bay of Islands, sailing and not diving

Friday 27 March Sunny and warm 22C drove 124km

We had to leave paradise today. It was very tempting to stay another night in Coopers Beach, but we needed to move on. With the car packed, we headed south again on the SH10. We weren't planning going far, just down to the Bay of Islands.

The journey down to Whangaroa was familiar, but from then it was new territory again. The road was quite busy and was quite undulating. The views, particularly to the west, were very big. We started to pass through vast orchards of citrus fruit, apples, kiwis and passionfruit and shortly afterwards we dropped down into Kerikeri. This is a busy market town that has some of the oldest buildings in New Zealand in it. Down by the creek is a Stone House, somewhat unusual in NZ and next door a wooden mission house. Both were built by the earliest settlers. It was quite quiet at the wharf and very warm.

We had briefly thought about staying in Kerikeri, but decided to carry on down to Paihai and Russell to check out accommodation there. We had read that Paihai was rather touristy, so it was with some relief that we found the place quite quiet with plenty of good motels right on the sea front. We carried on to Opua and were lucky enough to drive straight onto the ferry across to Russell. Russell is a pretty town crammed into a small bay directly across from Paihai. We drove around and couldn't find any suitable rooms, so we headed back to Paihai and rapidly moved into the Abel Tasman motel located on the sea front.

As usual, we got a good deal with a kitchen, dining and lounge area with a separate bedroom with a a balcony and view looking out into the Bay of Islands. Additionally, we got free high speed wifi internet access.

Walking into town just 250 steps away along the sea front allowed us to look at some of the vessels plying the water here. Many of the them quite large and fast promising views of dolphins and trips to the 'Hole in the Rock', a sea arch. None of this appealled to us, so we booked to go out on a yacht all day tomorrow, then I tried, unsuccessfully, to arrange a dive on the Rainbow Warrior. The only chance to dive would have been Monday and in the end, a decision had to be made, Rainbow Warrior or Poor Knights Islands another day. Disappointing, but I've dived wrecks before whereas the islands are reckoned to be one the top ten dive sites in the world! Back at the motel, I managed to book two dives to the islands from Tutukawa on Tuesday. Fingers crossed for good weather!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying our balcony and view from the motel.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wine, sand and fish

Thursday 26 Mar Warm and sunny 22C drove 100km

After an excellent nights sleep, soothed by the sound of the waves gently breaking on the sandy beach just outside our motel room, we had a leisurely start to the day. OK, I know that sounds sickenly nice, but it really was, and doubtless still is, a great place to stay.

Down at Manganui harbour, the Tourist Information office was promising wifi internet access and , "Skype here now"! We were sold a card with 40 minutes access to wifi by the very hassled person in the office. There were some comfortable chairs to sit in and we got logged on quickly. What the person in the office hadn't said was that we couldn't log off once we'd logged on, so we wasted quite a lot of our 40 minutes. We had been hoping to hear that we could get some upgrades to premium economy class on our flight from Auckland to Hong Kong or from Hong Kong to London, it wasn't to be though.

The Karikari peninsular just to the west of Manganui, is a pretty rural place, but has lots of nice beaches and a winery on it. We first drove out to Matai bay at the northern end of the peninsular where sand dunes protected a pretty beach and then headed to the Karikari Estate winery. This winery is the most northerly in New Zealand and looks like it is still being planted. The winery covers more than 100 acres is planted with 8 different varieties of grape. Situated in a large 'mock' spanish hacienda style building on a hillside, it is surrounded by fields of vines on the northern facing slopes. It is all part of Carrington Farms, a leisure, golf and wine drinking venture.

A wine tasting tray of 5 wines set us back $NZ12, but there was enough wine for both of to try. We tried a '08 Cabinet Sauvignon first, after a while we could taste passionfruit in the wine, but struggled with the advertised taste of 'green peas'. Second was a '07 Chardonnay, made with grapes from Nelson in the South Island. This was quite smooth, but with a slightly peppery finish. Third up was a '06 Syrah which we initially thought smelled of bonfires, but later changed to caramel. It tasted of berries too. We next tried a '05 Merlot/Cabinet/Malbec which had a sort of creosote smell, but was plummy with a dry finish and finally a '05 Cabinet/Merlot/Franc which was smooth, but didn't really taste of anything. My favourite was the Syrah, whilst Lynn whent for the Sauvignon. Later we will try a bottle of '08 Chardonnay/Viognier that we have lurking in our fridge.

We headed into what was described as the commercial heart of Whatuwhiwhi. You can attempt to pronounce that 'what a wee wee', but it is apparently Fatoo-fee-fee. The commercial heart was fairly compact and the only food outlet sold us some sandwiches to take down to the beach at Puwheke. The drive there took us on a dirt road that meandered around in the scrubby bush, round two lagoons, and finally dumped us on a near deserted beach. In fact, shortly after we arrived, it was deserted apart from us. We had lunch on the beach and had a swim before anyone else arrived. The sandy beach stretched for miles, a very beautiful and peaceful place.

We returned to our wonderful beachfront motel (have you got the idea that I really like this place yet?) for a spot more sunbathing and relaxing.

Dinner in Manganui seemed like a good option again, but this time the Manganui 'Fish Shop' was fairly empty, so it would be fish and chips for dinner again. The fish shop serves fresh and smoked fish straight from the boats that come into the quay at Manganui, but also also serves fish and chips in a restaurant on decking over the water. Nothing flash here though, order your fish or whatever seafood they have, grab a beer from the bar and sit down at a bench until your freshly cooked meal arrives wrapped in paper at your table. This is slightly upmarket from the Fresh and Tasty of last night; it gives you plastic knives and forks to eat with rather than fingers. Delicious!

Cows, Cape Reinga and the motorcycles

Wednesday 25 March. Sunny all day 24C Drove 336km

I hadn't appreciated that I was travelling with a 'Cow Spotter'. I had no idea that there were so many different varieties of cow on the planet. Now I know, because someone in the car can spot a Herefordshire or a Holstein at a 100 paces. I admit that there are lots of different coloured cows here, I just thought they had interbred, but no, they are all different. Jersey and Guernsey cows are next to Friesians, Aberdeen Angus and Belgian Blues, there are probably Limousins and Charlois cattle too. I'm starting to bone up on sheep and pig varieties now in order to keep ahead of the game.

Up early and out of the motel by 0830. After refuelling, we set of up to the northern end of North Island. The main road, now named the SH1F, for reasons I cannot explain (luckily they found no reason to use the suffix T), heads north from Kaitaia for 110km where it finally stops at Cape Reinga. Most of the road has a good surface, but last 18 is marked as gravel on the map. Most of the road up to Waitiki Landing is undulating, passing through miles of farmland, mainly with cows and sheep on with a few fruit farms as well. We did see a herd of deer on one farm and a 'flock' of emu on another. There are odd glimpses of the huge dunes to the west, and Houhora harbour, then Parengarenga harbour to the east, as we head north. One spit at Parengarenga is entirely silica and looks blindingly white from a distance.

Just beyond Waitiki Landing, the road ran out and we headed up the gravel. I had read that the tour buses drive up to the Cape along 90 mile beach and then join this gravel road for the last 18 km, but we saw no-one as we headed north. Suddenly, we came to roadworks, they are trying to surface the road all the way up. Apart from one short stretch, where the grading machine had just ripped up the gravel, the surface was smooth for mud and gravel. After 11 km of gravel, the road was surfaced again, what bliss!

As we arrived at the carpark at Cape Reinga, a small tour bus was just heading off, this left only 4 or 5 cars and a motorbike! The area is sacred to the Maori as this is where the spirits of the dead climb down the roots of an old pohutukawa tree and leave the island to return to their spritual homeland of Hawaiiki. In respect of this, no food or drink are to be consumed here. The path down to the lighthouse at the cape, has boards explaining the significance of the area to the Maori. There were very few people down at the lighthouse and the views out to the Three Kings Islands 60km north. Although Cape Reinga is not the most northerly point of mainland New Zealand, it is the most northerly accessible point. Below the lighthouse, the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet and the crashing of waves and chaotic swirling waters clearly show the two coming together.

Back up in the carpark, things were hotting up. Quite a few more cars had arrived along with about 30 motorbikes, we guessed it was a club out for a day trip. If we were correct, then it was a very big club. As we headed back down the road we passed loads more bikes heading north, maybe even hundred of bikes. The coaches had started to put in an appearance too, we congratulated ourselves on our excellent timing before driving as quickly as possible back 100km down the road.

At the foot of the peninsular at Awahui, we turned east along the north coast. A stop was made at Taipa for lunch at a motel, it looked quite nice but one of the staff serving lunch was particularly scary! Cable Bay, Coopers Beach and Manganui were only a few kilometres beyond Taipa and we started the hunt for accommodation. We found a nice spot, but the sign on the door said, "Back in an hour". It was difficult to know exactly when the might be, could be 5 minutes, could be 55! We headed 30km down the coast to Whangaroa, a small harbour nestled in amongst headlands and mangrove swamps. A very pretty little place, but no-where we fancied staying or eating, so back to Manganui again.

This time the owner of the San Marina was in. His reason for his earlier absence was easily explained, he had seen a fish jumping out in the bay, and suddenly got the urge to go fishing. He had popped out in his kayak with a rod and come back with a 12lb Snapper. The motel was right on the beach, the expression here is, "Absolute Beachfront", and a delightfully peaceful spot. It is really in Coopers Beach, but is hidden down behind a headland, in amongst some beautiful houses. The only sound here is the sea.

The beach beckoned, and after wandering just a few yards from our bedroom, we were on the beach. The sea was a little cool, but swimming was good anyway. Back to the patio ourside our room to sunbathe, dry off and look at a fabulous view.

Later, we drove back into Manganui, all of 2 minutes for dinner. Manganui is a very pretty fishing village lined with historic buildings. It is most famous these days for its Fish Shop and restaurant, people come from miles to eat there. It was busy, so we headed a couple hundred metres up the road to the Fresh and Tasty fish and chip take-away. The food here is equally good, very lightly battered harbour fresh fish and chips served in paper. Our cheapest dinner so far, $NZ 11. Just around the corner was the historic Manganui Hotel, where we downed a couple of beers.

Kauri forests and the West Coast

Tuesday 24 Mar Fine, sun and cloud 21C Drove 297km

Today, we spotted the German 1st Mechanised Tourist Brigade. The convoy was proceeding down the road in near identical motorcaravan emblazoned with their names on a sticker on rear of each van. 'Marlene und Helmut' and then 'Gisela and Eric' followed by a further 4 more. We have met a lot of tourists whilst we have been driving around, we are a mixed bunch. Apparently, Australians make up 40% of the tourists in NZ and we have met quite a few, they are very chatty as are the New Zealanders we've spoken to. The British, and there are lots of them, are sometime chatty too. We've seen a few Americans, lots of Dutch and now the Germans too.

After being woken by a lorry, we got up and left Warkworth quite early. The temperature in the morning was only about 9C.

Back on the SH1 we headed north into, appropriately, Northlands. Stopping briefly at Waiwhui to take a photo of an exotic cafe we continued to Wellsford and then Brynderwyn, which sounds rather Welsh to me. Here, we turned off onto the SH12 toward Dargaville. The road passed through miles of farmland, with sheep, cattle and maize in abundance. Once through Ruawai, the road follows the large Wairoa River up to Dargaville. From this small town, we headed north with the Tutamoe Range to our right.

After Kaihu, we turned off to visit the Trounson Kauri Park. The park is well laid out and has its own campsite attached. The walkway through the Kauri grove is well signed and informative. The grove, saved by a man called Trounson in the 1920s, is full of mature and young Kauri. After the excitement of seeing a Siamese tree the other day, we say lots more today, indeed we saw at least one quadruplet. The sheer scale of these trees has to be seen to be believed, they are very difficult to photograph.

After leaving Trounson and following another gravel road for 10km, we rejoined the main road and entered the Waipoua Forest. This forest is regenerating and covers thousands of hecares of hilly and mountainous countryside. Well inside the forest on a winding road, we came to the Tane Mahuta giant kauri tree. This tree named 'God of the Forest is 1200 years old and rises 18 metres before its first branches. The branches are covered in epiphygtes. After walking back to the car, we stopped for a 'toastie' at the mobile cafe parked in the carpark.

From here the road carried on to the coast at Omapere and Opononi on the southern side of Hokianga estuary and harbour. On the northern shore are giant sand dunes. We followed the coast along to the small ferry port of Rawene, a delightful little place. Having parked the car in the ferry queue, we wandered down the street to cafe overlooking the water to have a drink. Sitting on their overwater verandah, we could watch out for the ferry coming back across the harbour.

The ferry only takes 15 minutes and coasts NZ$ 14 per car and took us to the northern terminal at Kohukohu. We had considered stopping here, but the road was being ripped up and it didn't look too good!. After skirting the Herekino forest, we reached the coast again near Ahipara at the southern end of 90 mile beach. Not far from there we came to Kaitaia, quite a large town. We tried two motels before we found one with internet access. Not only did it have wifi access it was free too.

Later, we drove into town and found the choice of eating places to be very sparce indeed. Luckily, we saw a placard pointing us down a side street to the 'Bushman's Hut' an excellent steak house. It is highly recommended.

Thames to Warkworth and a beer tasting

Monday 23 Mar Sunny and warm 21C Drove 270km

After loading the car, we headed south out of Whitianga to Coroglen where we turned off onto the road to Tapu. Tapu is on the western coast of the Coromandel peninsular, so this was yet another crossing of the Coromandel range, and of course, it was on gravel. The road is 28km long and the gravel in very good condition and we made rapid progress up into the mountains. Shortly after crossing the saddle, we found a footpath to the 'Square Kauri'. The path, consisting of 187 steps (the Rough Guide says 178), is very steep and takes about 10 minutes of puffing and panting. The tree at the top is stunning. It is reckoned to be 1200 years old and is 41 metres tall and the girth is 9 metres. It is reckoned that the Kauri cutters left the tree because of its unusual shape.

On down to Tapu and surfaced roads again. The SH25, still part of the Pacific Highway, follows the coast of the Firth of Thames and is very scenic. Thames is a the largest town on the Coromandel and marked our exit from the peninsular. Just after Thames we crossed the Waihou river on the Orongo single-lane bridge some 470 metres long. Much of the road from here was through flat farmland and wetlands. At Waitakaruru, we turned north along the coast along the western side of the Firth of Thames. After stopping briefly at the Miranda bird-watching centre, we continued on with the sea one side and the Hunua range to the other.

The road continued on to Clevedon, where we stopped for lunch at the local deli. Once through Maraetai, we started to get into the suburbs of Auckland. After going though Howick, we were finally at the northern end of the Pacific Coast Highway, a road that we had followed all the way from Napier.

Once in Auckland, we joined the SH1 again, a motorway at this stage, right into the middle of the city before crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge to the north. We stayed on the motorway until it turned into a toll road and left to drive into Orewa. Here, at the Tourist Information Office, we managed to book a tour to Tiritiri Matanga Island for the following week. With that job done, we continued on north to the small town of Warkworth.

Warkworth is a pretty town on the banks of the creek leading out to Mahurangi Harbour. The choices of accommodation weren't great and we were still trying to find the elusive internet access we wanted. The Central Motel was a little dated but was clean and well priced. They did claim to have wifi access, but we never managed to connect to it. Although our room was next to the main road, it was quiet all night, but in the morning, one of the other guests was a road-working lorry driver and he started his lorry at 7 in the morning!

We ate pizza in a small Italian take-away almost next door to the hotel and then walked on into town. Down a small alleyway, we found a Tapas Bar called Tahi. I can't report on the quality of the food here, but I can say that the owner is a beer expert! We were the only customers and got talking to the owner, a Kiwi, who was married to a German. He had lived and worked in UK for several years in pubs and bars, and his knowledge of English beers was huge. Unsuprisingly, he was also an expert on New Zealand beers, especially real-ale and micro-breweries. His other speciality was German beers, his wife was from Bavaria!

We tried several beers, no spitting here! I tried a malty Harrington Razor back first, very toasty. Lynn had a Mata Manuka beer, brewed with honey. The owner then gave us a glass each of Croucher Bohemian Pilsner which had delicious light fruity flavours. Next up for Lynn was a Mata Artesian beer, quite light, but still 5%abv. I had an Emmerson's Bookbinder, a new world beer that smelt of peaches and even slightly tasted of them, it was delicious. If you are ever in Warkworth, hunt this place out. I'm pretty certain that the food will be good too.

The 'Scuba Doo'

Sunday 22 Mar Mainly sunny and warm 21C Drove nowhere

After collecting some vital supplies from the bakery, mainly sandwiches, I headed into town to the Dive HQ, a sports shop in town. I quickly got sorted out with some diving gear and then strolled down to the Marina to help load the boat, the 'Scuba Doo'. I met the other divers as we walked down, Janice and Ash and their 5 month old son Amani from the USA, Ellie and Shane from Thames and Phil from Auckland.

We headed out of the the harbour and followed the coast round to Cathedral Cove before heading out to Mahurangi Island. We had a brief, but abortive effort to dive on the eastern side of the island, but the swell was too great, especially as all the other divers were novices. We motored around to the sheltered western side and Ellie and Shane jumped in first with me and Alex, from the dive shop, in shortly afterwards. As we were outside the marine reserve, Alex ws determine to find some decent crayfish and rapidly disappeared into the kelp hunting. I went fish watching with forays deep into the kelp to look for crayfish too. We found none that were large enough to catch, so after 35 minutes headed back to the boat. I enjoyed the dive as I hadn't dived for nearly 30 months and needed to remind myself of the basics.

We sat on the boat and ate lunch and drank coffee before we headed across to the mainland and Gemstone Bay. Here, we were back in the marine reserve, so no crayfish hunting this time. I dived with Ash this time, he was somewhat nervous as he hadn't dived for nearly a year. His bouyancy control wasn't good and consequently was hoovering air whilst he tried to sort himself out. Meanwhile, immediately we entered the water we were surrounded by Snapper and Blue Cod, some of the Snapper were huge. They were totally unafraid of the divers and followed us around all the time. I had heard that they do what their names says, and snap at fingers sometime. I kept my fingers well clear, but did come face-to-face with several large fish! We also saw Gurnards and Red Moki. Best of all, I found several crayfish, one male was enormous and quite agressive. Fortunately, crayfish don't have pincers, so are largely harmless. With Ash on reserve and me with still 120 Bar left we returned to the boat after 38 minutes.

At the end of the dive, we headed back to Whitianga where we arrived at around 4. The day served to remind me that I love diving and messing around on boats.

Trains, hunger and squids

Saturday 21 Mar A mixture of sun and clouds, generally warm. 21C. Drove 150km

The Coromandel peninsular deserves exploring. The scenery is fantastic and swathes of it are deserted. Mining and lumber have taken their toll on the mountains, but slowly the jungle is taking over again. Gold was discovered in the 1890s and evidence of the efforts of miners is still to be seen. Several places have old mining machinery on show, some still working. Most of the mine workings have been surrendered to the vegetation, and several tracks in the area warn not to leave the pathway as open shafts still litter the area. The Kauri logging also decimated the area, but once again, nature has taken over and most signs have disappeared. Fortunately, the Government protects those Kauri that still exist and encourages the planting of new trees. As the trees are known to have a lifespan of well over 1000 years, this is a very slow regeneration.

Over in Coromandel, we take the road north on the western side of the peninsular. Just outside down we come to Driving Creek Road. Not far up the road is the DCR, or Driving Creek Railway. This railway was the brainchild of Barry Brickell, a potter and rail enthusiast, who wanted to access the clay further up the mountain. Built over a period of 27 years, mainly by hand, the line climbs up the mountainside 120 metres in just under 3 kilometres. The gauge of the line is very small, only 381mm wide and winds its way up the mountain by means of spirals, zigzags, tunnels and bridges. The line is balanced on a narrow ledge all the way with the jungle only centimetres from the open carriages. The 'piece-de-resistance' of the route is a double-level viaduct with the train passing over the lower level first and then, after a few climbing twists and turns, over the upper level. Not long after this, the train, a diesel powered three coach affair, pulls onto a wooden deck projecting out over the jungle where is stops and then, after changing points, reverses further up the track. At the end of the track lies the 'Eyefull' tower, a lockout point with great views over the Firth of Thames.

Back at the pottery at the bottom, we head out and choose to drive further up Driving Creek Road which rapidly turns to gravel. Not the best descision really, as it is lunchtime and we have no food, just water. The road took us over the Coromandel range again and down into Kennedy Bay before we realised how far we were from civilization. Already some 15km into a gravel road, we press on through wonderful scenery and pretty bays before reaching a more 'major' gravel road near Waikawau. By now we had been 'doing' gravel roads for 30 or more kilometres, so turned back towards Colville where we finally regained surfaced roads again.

Colville is a very small community, but still manages a country store and, fortunately for us, a small cafe. It also has a community centre, and judging by the programme, it is pretty lively; there was an 'all-day jam' going on the day we were there. The road back to Coromandel followed the coast some of the way and is very pretty.

Back in Coromandel, we explored the town and ate an icecream because it was quite warm.

Heading back over the torturous SH25 towards Whitianga, we turn off at Matarangi looking for the beach. It had turned into a housing development that we got entirely lost in. Finallhy, we managed to escape and carried on east. On the road at Kuaotunu, we turned off and follow Black Jack road towards Otama and Opito beaches. The road was gravel, but soon deteriorated in roadworks to a rubble road and for a couple of kilometres the surface was appalling. Both bays were very pretty and had safe sandy beaches, but the sun had deserted us, so no swim\ming.

Back in town, we decide to eat out and find 'Squids', a very pleasant restaurant next to the Marina. Whilst we ate dinner, we were entertained by a wedding party having a sit down meal in the restaurant across the road.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hot Springs, Beaches and Birds

Friday 20 March Cloudy at first, later mainly sunny 22C Drove 130km

After a nautical day yesterday, it was back to the car today. Once again we headed south out of Whitianga, which seems to be pronounced Fitianga, to find some beaches. There is a road just across the estuary from Whitianga, at Ferry Landing, but it is an 80km drive to get there. Twenty-six kilometres from Whitianga is a turn off to Cooks Bay and Hot Water Beach which effectively doubles back on the other side of the estuary.

Hot Water Beach is well known as somewhere you can dig a hole in the sand near the sea and it will fill with hot spring water. To modify the temperature, you just let seawater in to cool it down. The only time that this phenomena occurs is 2 hours either side of low tide. Arriving not long after low water, the car park was full and there were lots of people armed with spades on the beach already. We strolled across the beach to the small headland where the springs are and found one or two holes still being used by other people and the tide starting to fill them in. Digging your toes into the sand between theses holes and the sea was an unusual experience as the water under the sand was warm. One of the two springs on the beach reaches the surface from 2000 metres down at 64C!

Hahei was the next stop, situated on a huge sandy bay. At the northern end is a promentary with a carpark on it which marks the begining of the path to Cathedral Cove. After a brief photo-stop, amazed at the hordes of people climbing off buses to hike along the cliffs, we descended back onto the beach at Hahei.

After several hours of lazing on the beach here, we headed on north up the road to Cooks Bay. This is another long sandy bay with virtually no-one on it especially at the northern end where we saw huge shoals of fish splashing around just off the beach. An equally large flock of gulls was in attendence, diving into the water in a mainly futile attempt to catch the fish. Braving the water up to the waist, we stood in amongst the fish for a while. As we watched, a few gannets turned up to join in diving gracefully into the water, some catching fish.

The road continued north and we stopped at Ferry Landing for a coffee and a cake before driving up Shakespear Cliff to the lookout point.

Mercury Bay, where all these beaches and Whitianga lies, was named by James Cook on his arrival in NZ for the first time. The cliff was also named by him as he apparently thought the cliff looked like the bard. A commemerative stone has been placed on top of the cliff recording the occaision.

Finally, we headed back back to Whitianga and the apartment

Wot no Internet?

Thursday 19 March Mainly warm and sunny 23C Drove 80km

One piece of news that we did have last night was that the 'free internet' at 'Eleanor's Place' wasn't going to happen. We had asked the lady of the house, but she told us to ask her husband on his return from work. He didn't really seem to know a whole lot about it, but did say that if we plugged into the phone socket, we could use 'dial-up', but to let them know before we did. Not a good answer. Out notepad has no modem, and dial-up wouldn't support any of the things we wished to access anyway.

So this morning back to the Tourist Information office, to see if they could sort things out. Luckily, they refunded the rest of our money and got us moved into an apartment in the Marina Park Appartments. More expensive than we planned, but a great apartment and wifi internet access (albeit costing $NZ10 per hour). Not only that, but it also had free laundry facilities in the apartment, after we had just paid elsewhere!

We rapidly moved in to the new apartment and headed into town and booked a trip with Sea Cave Adventures for the afternoon. An enquiry was also made about doing some diving on Sunday at Dive HQ a local dive shop.

Following lunch in town, we met Dan down at the quay and climbed on board his boat, We crossed the harbour and picked up three more people before we headed up the coast. The trip took us out past Front and Lonely beaches and the imposing Shakespear Cliffs; the cliffs named by Lt James Cook on his visit to the area in the 1760's. A marine reserve has been set up here on the coast and has improved fish stocks hugely. The next bay was Cook's Bay followed by the wonderful Cathedral Cove, Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay. Once at Hahei Bay we headed out to the islands and explored several fascinating sea caves where the roof had collapsed leaving a hole open to the sky.

Once back in Whitianga, we set out in the car to explore the gravelled road to Coromandel, the SH 309. This road is 22km long and gravel almost all the way, but it goes through beautiful mountains. Once over the Waia pass, there is a walk to a Kauri grove. The ten minute walk is well worth the effort as the sight of the huge trees is fantastic, they dwarf everything around them. It is a miracle that this grove of trees survived the log-cutters of the 19th century. Unusally, just a short distance from the grove, there is a 'Siamese' Kauri. Two trees that grew close together and as they got bigger, effectively combined at the base whilst producing two trunks.

Coromandel town is quite scenic, but we didn't stop. We took the other 'main' road back to Whitianga which is 44km long as opposed to the 22km gravel road. It is probably even more winding than the gravel road, but has good view from the summit.

Plan B - Escape from the drizzle

Wednesday 19 March - Rain at Rotorua, but sunny and warm on the coast 24C Drove 170km

Rotorua had not got out of bed the right side this morning and it was tipping down with rain when we woke up. Our plan had been to leave this morning and head south, further inland, to Lake Taupo. By the time we got on the road, we could see that this wasn't to be, so we opted for Plan B.

Taupo got booted out the window and we set course for the Coromandel Peninsula instead. A drive around the south and then west side of Lake Rotorua confirmed our change of plan as we couldn't even see the late for low cloud and rain.

Heading up the SH33 north toward, Te Puke (Pookay) if you hadn't guessed, the clouds began to break up and it had got warmer. Te Puke yielded a bakery for a mid morning snack before the large town and port of Tauranga. The outskirts of Tauranga are not much to look at, but the centre of town down by the waterside had been improved with lots of cafes and bars.

Heading north out of Tauranga on the SH2 was a bit like travelling on the A46, very busy! The road to Waihi Beach was a welcome break from the traffic and the beach looked pleasant but we didn't stop. Rejoining the SH2, we continued up to Waihi town. Here the Pacific Highway, now the SH25, turned off toward the coast. Once out of Waihi, the road was very switchbacky and provided the odd glimpse of the sea, but at least there was little traffic on it.

Continuing on north, passing through Whangamata and Taira, we finally made it to Whitianga. The town is on a large inlet and surrounded by lots of islands and bays. After a brief look around town, we went to the Tourist Information office to find some accommodation. They suggested 'Eleanor's Place', a beautiful house directly on the estuary with a pretty garden. We also found a laundrette and got our clothes washed and hung out in Eleanor's garden. The supermarket was the next stop so we could eat at the house, and then after dinner, we walked into town and had an ice cream followed by a beer

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Today I have mostly been lying in the bath

Tuesday 17 March Overcast, drizzly but fairly warm 16C Drove nowhere.

The rain, which had hammered on the roof much of the night, had almost stopped by the morning, but it was dizzly and overcast. Wandering into town, we came to 'Fat Dog', a cafe which served breakfast, lunch and dinner. The wine they serve comes from Hatton Estates near Napier; we had seen it in cases there. Toast and jam seemed like a good idea, but when it arrived it the slices gave a new meaning to doorsteps! Nonetheless, it was eagerly devoured on the basis that lunch would have to be missed!

The Polynesian Spa, right on the edge of Rotorua Lake, is large with a number of options for 'taking the waters'. We opted for the luxury version at NZ$ 40and had the choice of 4 open air 'natural' pools set in a jungly setting. The pools, all naturally heated by thermal springs, ranged from 36-42C and were shallow enough to be able to sit on the bottom of the pools. We also got towels, lockers and an exclusive (!) lounge to relax in.

Relax we did. Swapping from one pool to the other lazed around and 'people watched'. We did hear one member of staff, who was showing someone around, say, "People typically stay here for about an hour". We stayed for nearly 5 and really got our money's worth! Although it rained and drizzled on and off all day, it didn't affect us much as we up to our necks in hot water anyway. In the heavier showers, there was one pool with a partial cover over it.

We ventured out into the pouring rain again for dinner at a nearby restaurant before falling asleep at the end of an exhausting day!

Paddling, Volcanoes and Sulphurous Springs

Monday 16 March Rain first then sunshine and a few clouds 24C drove 278km

Despite their night-time activities, our next door neighbours were up early and put their TV on. As previously noted, the walls were very thin, so this distraction woke us up. Bread and ginger marmarlade provided breakfast in the room and shortly after that, we were packed up and ready to go.

Rejoining the Pacific Highway, which we had been following since Napier, the route took us west and soon we entered the Bay of Plenty region, Once again, the road roughly follows the coast through mainly farming communities. At Whangaparaoa, we stopped on a pretty beach and dabbled our toes in the sea, a first since arriving in NZ. Continuing on, we stopped again at Te Kaha for a cup of coffee, again on a pretty bay. For most of the drive, it is possible to see White Island 50km off the coast. This is a very active volcano and whilst we looked, a large puff of smoke rose from the tip of the volcano.

At Opotiki, civilisation finally returns, the first major town since Gisburne a day and half and some 350km back. It is possible to drive by a more direct route of 143km, but the scenic route is much better. We had lunch in a bakery in the main street here in brilliant sunshine. After lunch we wandered around town and looked at the war memorial and a large Maori carving.

We hadn't set off with any real plan in mind earlier, but at this stage Rotoroa seemed like the obvious place to head to, but not too quickly! Just outside Opotiki, we found a long deserted beach and had an after dinner relax in the sunshine. Whilst I went paddling Lynn sat and read her book.

Realising we were getting a little burned we headed back up the road to Whakatane, a larger town on the coast. We took a small diversion that took us through mangrove swamps with lots of herons to be seen before heading generally southwest on the SH30. The road is dominated by a large obvious volcano, Mount Edgecumbe or Putauaki.

As the road enters the Rotorua area, it passes Lake Rotoiti, a very large body of water. Shortly after this a strong smell of sulpher barged into the car; the great smell of volcanic activity! The source of the strong smell is an area called Hells Gates, very appropriate.

Rotorua is a huge town and on the outskirts somehow looks very American. Finally in the town, we head for a campsite to find some rooms, but the site is full. Plan B involves visiting the Tourist Information centre in town. Here, a very helpful lady finds us a motel almost in the middle of town with the unlikely name of the Havana. Name aside, the room on the first floor is fine and outside is a large hot spring fed mineral swimming pool. Dumping the bags, we headed straight for the pool.

Later, a visit was made to the Polynesian Spa to find out details for the next day, before retiring to the Pig and Whistle for some food and beer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The East Cape

Sunday 15 March Partly cloudy, some showers and light winds 19C Drove 413km

A new roadsign crept into our vocabulary today, 'Pavement Rehabilitation'. Now, to me, that should conjure up a vision of a sad piece of roadside, wrapped in blankets in a peaceful environment, tended by white coated doctors. Roadworks are roadworks where-ever you go, here, they are preceded by a roadsign, perhaps with 'Pavement Rehabilitation' or even 'New Seal'; what does that bring to mind? Maybe something you might see at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire in December? Roadworks, NZ Style, frequently means that the road surface is missing entirely, or the road has been swept down the mountain-side. All roadworks are accompanied by speed restrictions of 30kph, which is widely ignored. As a result, it is not unusual to get a shower of grit or stones from oncoming 4x4's; our hire car has only two stone chips on the windscreen!

After a quick refuelling, Napier soon fell behind us as we headed north up the SH2 on the Pacific Highway. Despite warnings that this could be a very busy road with lots of lorries even on a Sunday, we had empty roads in front of us. On the map this road looks pretty straight; it is not! There are lots of hills and in between them deep river gulleys and gorges, all of which have windy roads going up and down them. After 228km and only one town of any size, Wairoa, we arrived in Gisborne. Gisborne claims to be the first 'city' in the world to see sunrise each day. Some other island nations in the Pacific may dispute this, city as a description is relative. We stopped on the High Street for some lunch and a very busy town, or city, it was too.

North of Gisborne, the Pacific Highway becomes the SH35 and the traffic dwindled to almost nothing the further we continued up the coast. The road roughly follows the coast, but only tantalising glimpses of it can be seen from the road. Shortly after passing through Tolaga, we turned off to Anaura Bay, a short 7km detour. A delighfully peacefully community, Anaura Bay consists of a few houses and a campsite right on the beach. The peace and quiet here is wonderful, the huge beach just had one other person on it, he was fishing surrounded by gulls, oystercatchers and herons.

Back on the 'main' road we stopped in Tokomaru Bay where the choices for an overnight stay were discussed. After consulting the various guides and maps, Te Aroroa and Hicks Bay seemed the obvious places to head to. Both are on the northern end of the East Cape road and after them the road heads west into the Bay of Plenty. En route there, we passed through Ruatoria and Tikitiki, the latter no more than a ghost town.

After a brief stop at a scenic overlook, high above the coast, we wound our way down to Te Aroroa and then shortly afterwards to Hicks Bay. The Hicks Bay Motel is perched on the cliffs overlooking the Bay and has a great view. The motel is a little dated and the walls between rooms very thin, but view from the window compensated for that. The other odd boast for the motel is that they have their own 'Glow-worm Grotto', we found it to be almost a cave, hanging on the side of the cliffs. We had a brief exploration of the bay before dinner and the sun kindly shone for us whilst we were on the beach.

Dinner was eaten in the Motel, a set meal of fish and vegetables washed down with draft beer, adequate but not special. The major entertainment at dinner was the rain which produced a fabulous double rainbow.

Due to the extremely rural location and lack of light pollution, the stars were fantastic, but only one of slept well, the other was entertained (!) by our next door neighbours who 'entertained' each others until the early hours

Wine, more wine and Art Decor

Saturday 14 March warmer and partly clouldy 21C - no mileage at all

Hawkes Bay can probably claim to be the most important wine growing region of NZ, with new wineries opening each year. The choice of wine producers to visit is huge and in the space of a couple of days it would be impossible to visit them all, but more of that later

The superb Art Decor architecture of Napier is well known and is visible almost everywhere you look as you wander around the town, Many buildings have changed their business since they were built in the 1930s but the often the original business name is still emblazoned on the front of ornate facades. Some buildings, notably the Banks, the Newspaper office, Insurance offices and the Government buildings are mainly as they were 80 years ago, but even when other businesses have established themselves at ground floor level, the upper floors are still there in all their glory.

As well wandering around town staring upwards, we also replenished our dwindling reading materials, being careful to avoid the many tour groups being led around the town.

When booking the wine tour yesterday, they had suggested that we should have a substantial lunch before our trip, otherwise we might find ourselves falling asleep! Having eaten a couple of sandwiches and crisps we hoped we were well prepared as we waited for 'Vince's Wine Tours' to show up at the motel. Right on time, Robert turned up in a mini-bus with three other people on board, another couple at our motel also joined the tour. We were greeted by "Bon jour! Je m'appel Robert"! Robert is Canadian, who worked for years in UK, moved to NZ, and a bit of a character; his chosen headwear consisted of a eye-shade cap topped with its own spiky hair. Having introduced everyone to each other, the seven of us set off for our first vineyard.

Askerne is a small producer in the Hastings area and our cellar-door master of ceremonies was Jerome an english guy from Esher. In the tasting room was a bar with glasses for the tasters and no less that 13 wines to try ranging from a Sauvignon Blanc, through a Merlot/Malbec/Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon, to three desert, or sticky in the local parliance, wines. The wines were all good, but the Gewurtztraminer, the Bordeaux-style Red and the rather unusual Dessert Cabernet were excellent. The dessert cabernet was tasted, then after eating a piece of dark plain chocolate, tasted again. This changed the tasted to something even more complex, very much cherry flavoured! After trying manfully to spit rather than swallow 13 different wines, it was time to move. This vineyard is well worth the visit and Jerome is very knowledgable and entertaining!

We drove on from here through Havelock North and out toi the Salvare Estate, this is a new boutique producer, number 66 Robert informed us! The tasting room was set in amongst the vines with picnic tables set up out the back. Here we tried another 7 wines ranging from Viognier, through oaked and unoaked Chardonnay to a 2008 Merlot Rose, a 2007 Merlot, a 2007 Syrah to a 2006 Syrah. Most of these had one medals, but the 06 Syrah was probably the best. After tasting these wines, Robert produced a snack lunch of bread, cheeses, olive oil and meats all sources locally. Delicious!

Next stop was Hatton Estates, firmly on the Gimblett Gravels, so well drained and warm rooted vines are produced. None of the Hatton Estates wines are sold at retail, but the list of restaurants stocking these wines is impressive. The likes of Gordan Ramsays and Petrus in London are selling these wines and I can see why. Here we tried a further 8 wines, The EC2 Chardonnay 2007 was quite crisp, but the Turtle Bay Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, both of 07 were better. The the '07 Rose didn't do if for me, but the '06 Miro Merlot was very fruity. An interesting '03 Carson's Cabernet was next, but although it was on special offer, it wasn't as good as the' 05 Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc), very Bordeaux like effort. Finally, the Waiau Estates Syrah, a very oaky complex wine, but top marks still went to the '05 Reserve. Some wines we didn't taste, such as 'The Doctor' sounded fantastic, and also Tahi One (Gordon Ramsay) at under $NZ50 per bottle were a snip.

Our final stop was at Moana Park, the only winery in the Southern Hemisphere specialising in vegan wines. They may well be the only winery on planet only producing vegan wines. The owner, Dan Barker, met us and did the tasting with us, a man with a very dry sense of humour whose education in political correctness was delightfully missing! Dan grows 7 varieties of grape and hand crafts, and hand picks, all his wines. We tried another 8 wines here including the pick of the quaffing wines a '08 Viognier. After these, we tried a 10 year Tawny, they can't by law call it Port, and an incredible '07 Ice Wine. Finally, we cracked and bought a bottle of the Ice Wine to sip in a few years time to remember Hawkes Bay.

Back at Pebble Beach, largely sober due to the considerable spitting, we tidied ourselves up and decided to continue the Gastro splurge by eating an Indonesian Reistaffel or banquet at a small restaurant, a mere staggering distance from the Pebble Beach. Reistaffel is a Dutch name for the meal and indeed the restaurant was owned by a Dutch guy. To wash down this delighful meal, we chose a bottle of Moana Park '08 Viognier.

Back at the Motel, after all the food and wine of the day, the spa bath seemed a good idea. Sleep came very quickly afterwards!

Trundlers, coffee and earthquakes

Friday 13 March a bit of sunshine, some showers then overcast and cool 16C drove 273km

Open the curtains and it is pouring down, big puddles in the car park. Not too much that you can do to change the weather, but the logic says that we are heading north therefore it is going to be warmer. As luck would have it, the rain stopped as we left the hotel.

Adjusting to life in the southern hemisphere is interesting. The bath water really does go clockwise down the drain! Southwesterly winds are cold here, northeasterlies warmer. All weather systems are cyclonic (the opposite to UK) and the moon phases are back to front.

We also used a trundler for the first time the other day. I can see how a shopping trolley changes into a shopping cart in the USA, but a trundler, where did that come from? Another puzzle when being served coffee, what exactly is the difference between a 'flat white' and a 'latte'? Both have a shot of expresso topped up with steamed milk. The first is served in a standard cup and saucer whilst the latte is served in a glass. Latte costs on average 50 cents more than a flat white. I have developed a taste for flat white!

Masterton is a sprawling place and we drove through all of it to head out north up the SH2 toward Napier. The road passes through mainly farming countryside with a range of tall hills to the west and lower hills to the east. Most of the way, the railway line is close by. Many of the towns, Eketahuna, Pahiatua and Woodville seem lost in a time warp set about 40 years ago. The main street is lined with small businesses in buildings reminiscent of small town America, some even still have the boardwalks. I suppose it is not so odd considering the both places were settled widely at roughly the same period of time. One of the towns even had the railway running, unfenced, through the middle of the town.

Dannevirke, as its name perhaps suggests, was originally settled by Danes. Not far away there is a Norsewood. Dannevirke is a busy town and we stopped for coffee at the Hungry Belly bakery. In addition to bread and cakes, they sell home-made pies. Pies are big in NZ, everywhere serves them. Not wishing to eat a huge snack mid morning, we ate a sort of Chelsea or Belgium bun with raspberry icing on top. It tasted a lot better than that sounds.

After morning coffee, and back on the road, we pass through Waipukurau and Waipawa and all of a sudden we are in the Hawkes Bay area. After the rural areas we had been passing through Hastings seemed very large and busy. On the far side of town, suddenly we are right down by the sea following the road into Napier just a few miles away. Napier was a busy town in the 19th century but it all went wrong on the morning of February 3rd 1931 when the town was destroyed by an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale. More than 600 aftershocks followed in the next 2 weeks and 258 people lost their lives in the Hawkes Bay area. Whilst Hastings chose to rebuild itself in the Spanish Hacienda style, quite why I don't know, Napier rose from the ashes as one of the finest examples of Art Decor architecture in the world.

We drove into town along Marine Parade, passing several beautiful buildings, before driving past the modern container port and entering the Marina area. We look briefly at a hotel there before realising that it would be better to stay in town, preferably beach-front. The Pebble Beach motel fit the bill precisely and even had a spa bath in the bedroom - decadence! Our first task, to book a wine tour for the next day, we had a great recommendation from the hotel that matched the one in the 'Rough Guide'. That task complete, a stroll into town seemed to be a good idea. It was only 10 from the hotel along Marine Parade.

After lunch and briefly considering using the Ocean Spa on the sea-front, we headed back to the hotel, collected the car and drove out to look at the wetlands reserve where we saw Stilts and Black Swans. On the way back, we stopped to walk around the memorial gardens built in an old quarry. The quarry used to belong to the Prison across the road and had been worked by convicts. Past the gardens, the road climbs steeply to the lookout which gives sweeping view across the bay to Cape Kidnappers, named by James Cook after one of his crew was briefly kidnapped, which is inhabited by a huge number of gannets. The lookout is directly above the container port and watching massive fork-lift type trucks moving huge shipping containers around was strangely interesting. It reminded me of insects rushing around building a nest.

We ate dinner at 'The Hogs Breath' a restaurant that was themed as either outback Australia or perhaps West Texas. It was a bit like a sports bar and the menu reflected that, steaks and ribs mainly. The food was excellent and beer cold and wet!

The in-room spa bath seemed to be a good place to start training for tomorrows Wine Tour, a small glass of Chardonnay and a mountain of bubbles later, sleep beckoned!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Onwards and upwards and meeting with Wekas

Thursday 12 March Dry and warmer 19C drove 120km

The alarm clock made some noise just before seven and reminded me that I had to phone Ross to see if he was going to take his boat from Paraparaumu Beach across to Kapiti, seemingly pronounced 'carpety', Island today. After confirming he was willing and we should meet at 0845 at the boat club, we got ready to leave.

First stop was the convenient bakery just around the corner. Armed with a supply of filled sandwiches from there, we headed for 'Jan's' cafe for breakfast. (The Lynn and Jan concidence was doing well, the owner of 'Wrights by the sea' was called Lynn and her manager was called Jan). After a breakfast of bacon and poached eggs, we headed to the boat club to meet Ross. He had explained on the phone that he would be with his boat and a green tractor in the carpark of the boat club.

At the carpark there was a boat on a trailer and a red tractor, but no green tractor. Eventually, rolling down the main road, towing a large boat came Ross in the promised green tractor. Having parked in the car park, we paid our money and then had our bags searched to make sure we had no mice or rats stowed away. Then we climbed on board the boat, still on its trailer in the car park. With all on board, the tractor towed us down the beach to the water and reversed the boat until it floated off its trailer. Fifteen minutes later, after quite a bumpy ride, we arrived at the island and disembarked via a gangplank onto the pebble beach.

A female ranger met us and directed us to a shelter where she read us the rules of the island and pointed out some of the bird life we might encounter. She also said that it was about a 3 hour round trip to the top of the island. There are two choices of route on the nature reserve drop-off, both go up to the summit at 520M. One is the Wilkinson, the easy way, the other is the Trig track which takes a more direct route. "Why not go up the Trig Track and back down the Wilkson so we see everything"? said someone not a million miles away from here. At first the Trig track seemed quite easy and not very steep and thoughts that the other track must therefore be a doddle were being entertained. Needless to say, the Trig got its revenge as it got steeper and muddier with many series of earth and timber staircases. Even more challenging were the bits to be climbed by clambering on tree routes. It was ponted out that it was lots easier for those with long legs. To add insult to injury, every now and then there are markers on trees reading "Trig 1" or "Trig 2" which we decided were markers to say how many metres above sea level we were at. When we got to signs saying "Trig 6", it dawned on us how wrong we were. According to the ranger, half-way up both track were feeder stations for the Stitch Birds. When we got to the feeder station we had been going uphill for over 2 hours and had just passed a sign "Trig 7"; just how high was this island?

Finally, we met the other track to be greeted with a sign saying "Summit 20 minutes"; for some a very discouraging signpost! At the top, there was a small tower to climb to be greeted with stunning views. Wandering around the base of the tower were two inquisitive Wekas, a flightless native bird. They are known to steal tourists lunch so everyone was being very careful.

Back down at the point where the two paths met, our party joined forces again and headed down the Wilkinson track, except that it was labeled Mackenzie track, it remains a mystery why this should be so. This, supposedly easier, path was also winding slippery and steep and it took well over an hour to descent to sea-level again where we had about 25 minutes to wait for our boat trip back to the mainland.

Overall, the island is a challenging hike, or tramp as it is known in NZ and has lots of endangered, not to mention virtually extinct, birdlife to see. All mammals have been erradicated which sounds cruel until you remember that all mammals were introduced by Europeans in the first place. Over 22,000 possums were removed as an example. Rare birds we saw included the Stitch bird, Saddlebacks, Bell birds and the Weka. The island is also home to many noctural Kiwi and Moreporks as well as Takahes of which there only about 200 left in the world.

Back at the mainland, the boat 'drove' directly onto its trailer which was then hauled up the beach back to the carpark where disembarkation took place.

Our car was parked nearby and we climbed in and headed south down the main road with the aim of getting to Masterton. We made a conscious decison to miss out Wellington as we didn't travel to NZ to walk round cities! Not far down the main road, we able to cut across on a minor road to Lower Hutt. For those who watched lord of the rings, Helmsdeep was created and filmed in a quarry close by the road.

Back on the main roads we headed through Carterton and Greymouth to Mastertonwhere we checked into the BK Chardonnay motel. What inspired the name of this small chain of motels can only be guessed at! Dinner was eaten at a revamped old 30s pub in the middle of town.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Kapiti Coast, Ice-cream and laundry

Wednesday 11 March Cold, windy and showery. Drove 167km

After another good night's sleep, this time in a different room that wasn't en-suite, and a quick breakfast we left Anndion's Motel. The Motel is highly recommended and has accommodation to suit all pockets. The plan today is to drive south to Paraparaumu to book a boat to get to Kapiti Island.

Heading south from Wangenui on the coast road, the countryside is fairly flat and clearly a dairy and sheep farming area. Most of the towns looked fairly uninspiring, but a nature reserve at Levin took our fancy. The Papaitonga scenic reserve is a few kilometres south of the town and is centred on a small lake and wetlands. We followed the trail through the undergrowth seeing several birds as we went. The Tui being the loudest and largest! At the first overlook, we could see Paradise ducks and black swans in the distance along with a few other unidentified blobs. After a further 20 minute walk to the second lookout we were no closer to the wildlife, it was a good walk though.

Back on the road we headed down to Paraparaumu Beach, a couple of kilometres from Paraparamui. A kindly community policeman sent us to the Boat Club where trips to Kapiti Island leave from, but the area was deserted. Further enquires at the YHA revealed that we needed to phone and book. The YHA kiindly let us use the phone and a booking was duly made. With that done, lunch was the next priority and we had read that the Lindale Centre was famous for its cheese and ice-cream, so that seemed like a good place for food. The Centre had a cafe and we had a reasonable lunch and then wandered around the shops. The cheese shop very handily also sold ice-cream, so whilst ice-cream was ordered, free samples of cheese were being consumed! Some of the ice-cream flavours were unique, orange and cardomom or honey and kiwi fruit.

Back at Paraparaumu beach, we found accommodation at Wrights by the seaside, a pleasant motel. Clearly it had seen better days, but extensive work was ongoing and it will look really good after renovation. The room was enormous and was excellent value for money. In addition, we managed to catch up with laundry.

Fish and Chips is hugely popular in New Zealand, so to get a full cultural experience we went to an Oriental Fish and Chip shop and cafe for food. The fish was fresh from the sea and very tasty and best of all very cheap.

The River Road, Possum Pie and wall-to-wall Sheep

Tuesday 10 March - Cool, breezy and showery 16C - drove 167km

Up early and hot-cross buns for breakfast! The SH4 heads north out of Wanganui along side the Whanganui river. We followed the road for 14km before turning off onto the River Road.

The River Road follows the Whanganui to the small settlement of Piririki and is an excellent drive, most of it is surfaced. The first obvious stop is the Anamoana view point which provides fantastic views up the river valley towards the mountains. The road then dives down to river level and follows it for the next 50km. Some of the time, the road and river are side-by-side, but then the road has to wind up over hills before rushing back down to join it again. A reminder that much of this land was once deep under the sea is to be seen at the Oyster Cliffs, for 30-40 feet above the road oyster shells can be seen sticking out of the muddy rock.

There is plenty of evidence that early settlers were spreading the Christian word as they filtered upstream. Several of the settlements have been named after towns and cities in Europe. The town names were translitterated into Maori and we passed through Atene (Athens), Koriniti, (Korinth), Ranana (London) and Hiruharama (Jerusalem) as we headed up river. The Flying Fox is a small lodge on the opposite side of the river only accessible by aerial cableway! Not long after Hiruharama, the road surface disappeared and we were back to gravel.

Another odd feature was a suspension bridge that was rotting away and lead to nowhere! The planks on the bridge were rotting away and the handrails long gone, a bit sad really.

Finally, we reached Piririki and stop at a small cabin for a coffee and chat with the owner. He explained as he lived on Maori land he was unable to sell his property, not that he really seemed to want to! He also filled us in on the local pests, mainly possums that eat all the fruit on this trees unless he puts pipes around the trunks to stop them climbing! He also said that in his youth, they used to trap possums and his grandmother would skin them and make an excellent possum casserole. Sadly, the possums have been found to be carrying TB, so now are just a pest. The Department of Conservation has a huge eradication programme in place to get rid of possums.

Back on the gravel road, but now heading away from the river, we climbed up through the forests and finally came out on sheep grazing country. Rounding a corner, we came across a shepherd on an ATV accommpanied by 4 dogs herding sheep up the road. With the shepherds approval and the help of one of his dogs, we then attempted to get through the flock. The road was awash with thousands of sheep and every time we went around a bend we expected to see the front of the flock - but no, there were more sheep. After several miles, we finally broke free of the sheep block and headed back up to SH4 which we had left several hours earlier.

Heading back down to Wanganui, we briefly stopped at some falls by the roadside and saw several silver eye birds.

Following a well worn route, we headed straight to the hot tub when we got back to the motel.

There seem to be no shortage of Oriental food outlets in New Zealand towns, and we managed to find a Thai restaurant to eat at this evening.

The invisible Mount Egmount and the Surf Highway.

Monday 09 March - mainly sunny, but breezy and cool - 16C Drove 189km

After a good nights sleep, we left New Plymouth and briefly tried to find Chaddy's tours to go and visit Sugar Loaf island. Having failed comprehensively, we refuelled and headed south on the SH45, known as the Surf Highway. We ignored the many turn-offs down to the beaches where apparently excellent surf is to be found. We did divert down to the lighthouse at Cape Egmount, the most westerly point of the Taranaki, but didn't linger long.

The Surf Highway follows a route around Mount Egmount some 2518 metres high, we could see the bottom of the mountain, but the top was sheathed in cloud and we never got to see it.

For reasons that we never fathomed, it was a public holiday in Taranaki and nothing was open until we left the area. Finally, in the small town of Panea, we found a cafe that served a simple but excellent lunch.

Not long after lunch, we arrived in the town of Wanganui on the banks of the river Whanganui. For reasons that I can't explain, the town failed to correctly name itself after the river, hence the two spellings. The town is very old and was one of the first settled by Europeans. The river was very important as it is the longest navigable river in New Zealand and allowed settlers to travel up river. An old paddle-wheel, steam-driven steamer, the Wairmarie, is still providing trips for tourists. The boat was built by Yarrow of London in 1899 to a shallow draft design and shipped out in kit form to New Zealand. The boat was in service until 1949 when it sunk at its moorings. The boat was salvaged in the 1990s and restored and went back into service in 1999.

When we stopped for lunch we had read some advertising about a Motel in Wanganui, so we went to investigate Anndion's Motel. The Motel was excellent and we immediately checked in. In addition to comfortable rooms, there was a small swimming pool, and hot tub, free Wifi access and very friendly owners.

As it as was still early, an exploration of the town was in order. On the south side of the river is Durie hill with a look-out on it. Access to the look-out is by a tunnel and a lift built in 1919, very odd. We chose to drive up and next to the look-out is the Memorial tower which can be climbed. One hundred and seventy-six steps later, the top was reached and very blustery it was too! The views over the town and down to the coast are spectacular and well worth the climb. The town is full of small shops many of which were clearly built in the early 1900s. It reminded us of a small town in UK about 30-40 years ago!

Back at the hotel, a sunny corner in the garden proved to be a great place to sit and read, followed by a long wallow in the hot tub. Suitably refreshed, we headed into town and had a pub meal with a couple of beers to wash it down.

Monday, March 9, 2009

South to the Forgotten Highway

Sunday 08 March -Mainly sunny with a few showers 20C. Drove 350km

Once again, we had a early start and eggs and bacon, I could get used to this! The car packed, we found some major roads to take us south, quickly heading generally towards Taumarunui.

We had to cover 'old ground' as we left Raglan as the idea of gravel roads didn't appeal so much today. We did take a slight diversion to go through Hamilton before joining the SH3 south. We had read a bit about a 'Kiwi House' in Otorohanga, so decided to go and visit. It was more than just Kiwis and was more like a bird park. In a darkened enclosure, we got to see two sorts of Kiwi rooting around in the undergrowth with a Morepork, a type of owl named for its call, flying around as well. Kiwis and Moreporks are nocturnal, so this is probably the only way we would be able to see these iconic birds.

The remainder of the park was full of birds, a vast majority introduced into the country in the last couple of hundred years. It is strange to think that until Europeans arrived, there were no mammals in New Zealand (with the exception of bats) and most of the birds were flightless ground living birds. Once settlers had introduced dogs, cats, stoats, ferrets and rats, the flightless birds were decimated and in some cases, such as the Moa, hunted to extinction.

One bird that we seem to see everywhere is the Pukeko, a strange looking blue and red bird the size of a chicken. Sadly, they are often by the side of busy roads with the obvious consequences.

Back on the road we passed the town of Te Kuiti and shortly turned off onto the SH4 to Taumarunui. We had contemplated staying here, but a walk around the town convinced us otherwise and we only stopped for lunch at an excellent cafe called Flax.

Our route south on the SH43 is also known as the Forgotten Highway, or is some books the Lost World Highway. Either way it is easy to see why it was named. The road goes into the some very remote areas, some of the last to be settled by incomers. The part of the journey down through the Tangarakau gorge is spectacular and beautiful, and is an unsurfaced road! In the middle of nowhere, we came across Joshua Morgans grave. He was a surveyor who fell sick with peritonitis and by the time help arrived, he was dead and buried where he died. He was responsible for the driving a route through the gorge and mountains for settler to use. Not long after this, the road passes through a single lane, unlit, rough stone tunnel, known at the Moki tunnel. Some way has put a sign up over the entrance saying 'Hobbit Hole'.

Once out of the gorge the road climbs over several saddles, or passes in amongst the wild hills. One odd place on the road is the 'Republic' of Whangamomona, a small town that declared independance after being moved from one district of NZ to another. It is possible to buy a local passport to assure safe passage through the area! The road is truly amazing and the the terrain that the road builders had to contend with is difficult to say the least. There are many signboards along the roadside describing their efforts and the lives of the settlers who moved there.

Finally, the small town of Stratford appeared graced by its mock Elizabethan clock tower in the middle of town. From here it was just a short journey down to the coast at New Plymouth where we discovered the Amber Court Motel.

Motel rooms in NZ are amazing, very comfortable, clean and very well equipped, usually with kitchens. They are highly recommended.

The call of Texas took us to dinner in town at a restaurant called the 'Lone Star', one of a chain in NZ. Should I ever visit one again, I need to be reminded not to eat for a few days prior to the visit as portions are gargantuan. The place was absolutely heaving, but the atmosphere was one of people out to enjoy themselves, and get absolutely stuffed!

Who needs a road to drive on?

Saturday 07 March - showery at first, sunny later 23C. Drove 200km

Having bought supplies yesterday, we treated ourselves to bacon and eggs for breakfast, but still managed to leave the motel early to go and explore the coast to the south of Raglan.

A very odd thing about driving in New Zealand is that I feel like I am on the wrong side of the road! This is despite the fact that vehicles drive on the left the same as UK. I have decided that it must be because I expect to be driving on the right when I leave UK, very strange.

A minor road follows the coast south from Ragland passing Ngarunui, Manu and Whaaga (or Whale) surfing beachs. We spent some time watching the dozens of surfers riding the waves, some more successfully than others. By dint of good fortune, we found the road leaving Whaaga going south, which started well, but very quickly deteriorated into a gravel track. Well, the sign said it was gravel, but it looked more like mud to me, some of it quick thick and slippery. The track continued winding its way up and down hills and headlands for 22km, some of it very remote. The track takes a course between the sea and Mount Karioi and is very scenic.

Finally, we found ourselves back on a surfaced 'main' road at Te Mata and followed the signs for Bridal Veil falls. After a short walk down a very jungly track, the falls are spectacular with a vertical drop of 51 metres into a pool surrounded by jungle. Back in the car, we continued on the 'main' road which turned back into gravel again and stayed like that for a further 28km! Once again, a very beautiful and scenic road. Eventually, we came to a junction with a real main road, the SH23, that took us directly into Kawhia.

On the map there was a tantilising label that said Te Puia Springs which was on a beach just to the west of Kawhia. Having found the right beach we got changed, scaled the huge black volcanic sand dunes to discover that the tide was wrong and we would be unable to dig our own hot springs spa pool on the beach. Back to the car and after this disappointment we needed some refreshment. We'd hoped to visit the Blue Chook Inn at Kawhia but settled for the cafe next door and had a drink and ginger crunch. The sun came out as we left and we had close contact with a red-billed gull!

Our return to Ragland via the SH31, SH39 and the SH23 was swift. The journey in the morning by dirt track to Kawhai was 70km and took 4 hours, return by road, 130km and 90 minutes!

Leaving on 4 wheels

Friday 06 March. Breezy and heavy showers, still warm 23C. Drove 172km.

Oh boy can it rain here, I know because it decided to throw it down just as we crossed the road to get to our breakfast. Within minutes there was a small river flowing down Parnell Road as we ate toast and jam. Several other drowned rats joined us watching the staff pull down the blinds to stop everyone getting wet. Almost immediately the staff had finished closing the blinds, the rain stopped, of course, so we almost stayed dry on our return to the hotel.

Bags packed and stored at reception, we left the hotel by bus for central Auckland. It was a slow journey as traffic lights in NZ seem to stay red for an incredibly long period of time. Just to make the journey perfect, as we got off the bus the heavens opened again as we squelched and paddled our way into the car hire office. The car was ready for us and apart from making several bits of important paper very wet as we dripped on them whilst signing, we were quickly on our way back to the hotel.

Of all the impressions I had of what Auckland would be like, a city of traffic jams wasn't one that came to mind, but leaving the city and joining the motorway south, it was jammed solid. Eventually, we wriggled out of the traffic and quickly headed down to Drury and escaping the motorway.

Reading placenames in NZ can be challenging as you drive, pronouncing them correctly at the same time is near impossible. The only saving grace, so I am told, is that all letters have to be pronounced. Good start, but then where do you put the stress, beginning, end or middle? Good luck with reading them here.

From Drury we followed the SH (state highway) 23 to Pukekohe and Tuakau. At the former, we visited a branch of the local supermarket and got some basics to last us the next few days. South of Pukekohe traffic really thinned out to point that at our lunchtime stop, only two cars passed us in 20 minutes. Shortly before Raglan, we joined the SH23 which quickly took us into Raglan.

The centre of Raglan really only consists of one road, Bow Street which has all the commerce a small town needs including at least three estate agents. After a short tour around to view the available accommodation options, or what we believed at the time were all the options, we plumped for the Raglan Palm Beach Motel. A waterside location and neat, clean and well equipped rooms persuaded us that it was a good deal (NZ$ 105 pn). For our money we got a kitchen, dining area, settee, TV, bathroom and separate bedroom, all very cosy.

After eating in our room, we walked into town via the campsite and estuary, a pleasant stroll, but as we subsequently discovered, unlit.

Blowing a gale - lashing it down

Thursday 05 March - very windy, but warm. Rain later in the day.

Wooden blinds and open windows in high winds don't make for a good nights sleep. Add in someone having a loud argument outside at two in the morning and it can really spoil your night!

Nonetheless, breakfast the restaurant at the hotel was worth investigating, especially poached eggs and bacon and all this whilst our laundry was doing its thing in the washing machine. Armed with clean clothes and well fed, we headed out to walk to the nearby rose gardens. We were well buffeted by the wind as we walked down St Stephens Road, but the gardens were well worth a visit. Many of the roses were still in full bloom and on a good day, the view of Auckland and the harbour would have been spectacular. There are several war memorials in the gardens, a very peaceful place for them amongst the magnificent trees looking out over the city. Amazingly, the rain held off as we walked back to the hotel.

With rain threatening, a visit to Kelly Tarlton's aquarium seemed appropriate. After catching the Link bus to the Britomart, the transport hub of Auckland built inside the old 1920s post office, we stopped for a very American Subway lunch. A second bus ride later saw us at the entrance of Kelly Tarlton's. The gentleman in question was a well known diver and naturalist who wanted to build a really special aquarium to share his love of the sea. Eventually, after many disappointments, he came across some disused sewage tanks buried in the cliffs in Auckland Harbour. After cleaning them out and installing a undersea, perspex tunnel, the tanks were flooded with seawater and thousands of fish released into them. The result is astounding. A tank with a collection of very large Short-tailed Manta Rays is a spectacular sight, one of the rays weighs over 400lbs. The underwater walkways have a moving belt for visitors to stand on as they are transported through the tank containing sharks, rays and many other fish species. In addition to the fish, there is also a colony of penguins to visit by snowcat!

Rain was threatening again as we left and with no bus in sight, we walked toward the centre of the city. Finally, the wind and rain beat us and we waited in a bus-shelter rather than end up drowned rats.

Oh Calcutta! is an excellent Indian restaurant on Parnell Road and fed us well in the evening.

Across the Equator down Antarctica way

Wednesday 04 March - warm and mainly sunny - 75F

Arriving at Auckland airport in the dark after loosing the previous day somewhere over the Pacific felt good. Some of the good feeling came from getting of the aircraft after 13 hours, but most of the good feeling came from arriving at our main destination and a country unvisited by either of us. Passport control was almost as strict as that in the USA, but the most fearsome proceedure was passing through the customs and bio-protection controls. I have never arrived anywhere where it is a requirement to declare your swimming trunks! This is no joke. I was also a little concerned that my Merrill's might be viewed by some as hiking boots and I failed to declare them! This is a country determined not to let outside influences, not to mention bugs, enter the eco-system. All swimwear has to arrive clean and dry, the same for a mask and snorkel for diving. The importation of most foodstuffs, seeds, and plants, deliverately or inadvertantly, is forbidden and punishable by large fines, prison, deportation or all three. The arriving traveller is assailed by notices and announcements every few yards so that by the time you get to speak to an agent prior to having all your baggage x-rayed, you are beginning to wonder if there is anything you have forgotten to mention.

The ride from the airport to the hotel in a shared shuttle bus took place at breakneck speed. We were one of the last passengers to be dropped off, by which time we had a free tour of Auckland city centre. Some might have been a little upset by the delay in arriving at their hotel, but we were quite pleased as the hotel reception didn't open until 0700. We arrived shortly after 7 at the Parnell Inn in the delightful district of Parnell. The friendly owner kindly found us a room straight away, and we immediately had a couple of hours sleep.

Later, in a moment of enthusiasm, we set of to walk into the city centre. This proved easy as it was downhill and only 20 minutes walk away. The harbour area was very busy, helped along by the Boat Show that was due to open the following day. After a wander around drooling at the boats, lunch seemed to be a good idea. A girl outside a restaurant on a quayside opposite the Maritime Museum, was touting for trade. We looked at the menu and said we were just walking around. Five minutes later we were back and seated, the first customers of the day. During our very pleasant and tasty lunch, we saw the girl badger enough people to fill the seating outside the restaurant. What a salesperson!

Public transport in Auckland is excellent and we were lucky to be staying on the route of the Link bus route. This circular route takes in most of the key areas of the city including the hospital, university, city centre, Newmarket and Parnell. The flat fare of NZ$1.60 is excellent value for money with the exchange rate around was $2.7 to the pound. We chose to go the 'wrong-way' round the circular route and got a city tour thrown in for free!

Back at the hotel, after a further 'rest', we headed out into Parnell for dinner. After checking out the choices, we rather oddly chose an Irish Bar where we ate steak and chips and sausage and mash washed down by NZ local beer. A little of what you fancy does you good! Whilst eating, we were entertained by a bunch of guys and one girl at an adjacent table. After a good meal and a couple of beers we headed back to the hotel.

The day that wasn't there

Tuesday 03 March - no weather

Today didn't exist! There was no morning, afternoon or evening to occupy or descibe. I could make a case that by altering my watch on take-off to New Zealand time, some 21 hours ahead of Pacific Time in the USA, the 3rd of March lasted from 1630 to midnight. On the other hand, by not attempting to time-travel, if I had left my watch set on LA time, I could have experienced the 3rd of March from midnight to about 0530 at which stage it would have suddenly become 0230 on 04 March. It all makes perfect sense, really!

Crossing the International Date Line from East to West is one way of moving your life on quickly by about 24 hours. Strictly speaking, as we crossed the line, it was 0130 03 March on the eastern side of the line and 0230 04 March on the western side. Weird! Remind me to travel West to East one day and get the day back and don't ask me to explain that.

Beaches, taxis and planes

Monday 02 March - Overcast, bit of drizzle but warm, mid 60s

This was a day for wasting time and preparing to make the big flight to New Zealand. After breakfast, it was pack cases time, a task that you think will take ages but is done in just a few minutes. Usually, just when you are sitting back thinking that everything fitted in really easily, you find a drawer with a jersey in it or a pair of trousers hanging in the wardrobe, today was no exception.

Checking out from the hotel was easy as it had already been paid for and the receptionist kindly arranged to keep our bags until after lunch. With several hours to 'kill' the beach Venice beach beckoned once more. Although it was still warm, it was overcast and breezy, but there were still plenty of people out on the beach and pier. The surfers were congregating by the pier and a small film crew seemed to be making some kind of commercial down by the water. The 'actress' was dancing about flicking her hair around just in front of a cameraman. She was barefoot and he was wearing trainers. Somehow, despite her antics, he managed to stay out of reach of the water whilst she splashed around in it.

An early lunch in a beachside eatery provided another chance to watch life go on around us. A beer delivery driver got some grief from a parking warden about his choice of parking outside a bar, she told him to move, he ignored her entirely. This proved to be a mistake because she reappeared unexpectedly about 10 minutes later and the driver had to hurriedly abandon his barrel trolley and move his truck.

Back at the hotel, the free internet access provided some distraction until it was time to call a taxi to get to Los Angeles International airport. The hotel called a taxi and a fairly scruffy vehicle arrived which had been loosely modified to become a taxi by removing the front passenger seat. The driver, probably Persian by origin, talked on this 'hands-free' mobile phone for the duration of the journey, only interrupting the call long enough to ask which airline we were travelling with. He still managed to miss the Air New Zealand drop-off point, but on the good side, the fare was only just over $20.

Checking in was painless, the New Zealand girl was on her fourth day of employment in LA and clearly on a high. Security was chaotic. I'd say unusually, but US airports always seem to be overstaffed by TSA with very little direction to passengers. Should we keep our shoes on? Should belts be removed? Eventually, we escaped into the terminal which was very crowded, possibly because of delayed flights caused by bad weather on the East coast.

Once on the aircraft, a 747-400 we had a seat almost at the back, just two seats, aisle and window rather than the standard rows of three. Once good thing about these seats is the extra stowage space on the window side and room to stretch legs out up the side of the seat in front. The flight left at 1930 and was scheduled to take 12 hours and 15 minutes to cover approximately 10500km. Hoorah!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Heat waves and snow storms

Sunday 01 March - Weather very hot and sunny

As we watch the Weather Channel on TV and see the Tornado warnings in Tennessee and winter storm warnings as far south as Kentucky, Georgia and the Carolinas, we are basking in a heat wave in LA

A very lazy morning is in order as we do our domestic chore of laundry. Eventually, close to midday, we walk up to Lincoln Blvd and catch the 'Big Blue Bus' into Santa Monica. We were joined on the bus by one of those people that you pray won't sit next to you. This particular gentleman assailed other passengers with a long rambling diatribe followed by what can only be described as a wailing song sung in a croaking voice. Never a dull moment in LA.

Third Street Santa Monica is the centre of Santa Monica was alive with people. The shops were all open, the streetside cafes and restaurants full and the centre of the pedestrian precinct full of street performers. After buying an essential piece of fashion accessory, sun-glasses, we strolled up the street. Eventually we realised lunch was needed and we found a seat in an open-air French-style restaurant. We had a front-row view of the street and everything going on as we ate Nicoise and Caeser salads washed down with 1664 beer from France.

New shoes for me were next on the agenda as my sandals were split and falling to pieces. Just to fly the British flag, we headed for Clarks shoe shop. One assistant very keen to make the UK connection wanted to tell us about the Clarks MD visiting each year!

Loaded with shopping we headed down to the sea again and explored Pallisades Park along the bluffs above Santa Monica Beach. Beautifully laid out and very green, there was a very pleasant sea breeze which helped moderate the temperature which was in the 80s! Rather strangely, in the midst of the park, we came across people setting up a 'Soup Kitchen' for homeless people. Longing around in the middle of the well-dressed sunday strollers were lots of homeless people waiting patiently for a free hand-out. Finally, we wandered back up opulent Wilshire Blvd back to 4th street to catch the bus again.

Back at the hotel, the hot tub beckoned again prior to an expedition to the near-by Thai restaurant for dinner. The TV is forecasting up 12 inches of snow in Boston and much of the east coast overnight as we wander back the hotel with the temperature still in the 60s.

Lazy morning, laundry, bus to Santa Monica. Shops, sunglasses, lunch, shoes. Pallisades park, bus back, hot tub and Thai food for dinner