A good day for penguins

Long before it was time to get up I heard the rain beating down on to our cabin.  It did not sound good.  When, eventually, it was time to get up the rain still poured out of leaden skies.  It did not take a genius to work out that it was not going to be a good day, weatherwise, but just to make sure I logged on to a Kiwi weather site to find out that it was going to rain all day and that the strong winds would increase to gale force during the afternoon.  Oh joy!  To add insult to injury, the top temperature would be 12°C.  Oh double joy!

Undeterred, we wrapped up warm, bundled camera, waterproofs and ourselves into the car and headed west along the road we had travelled the night before.  We were headed towards Curio Bay where there is a fossilised forest, which shows at low tide, low tide being at about 10.00am.  We had heard that there are some Yellow Eyed Penguins nesting in the soft cliffs above the petrified forest.  Penguins in a zoo are one thing but in their natural habitat they are particularly exciting.  The cliffs above the beach were exposed to the full force of the weather and, as we were taking lenses and tripod down, as well as the camera, I was a little concerned that water could get anywhere into the camera and do damage.  However, I was not going to miss this opportunity.

A Yellow Eyed Penguin

As soon as we dropped down on to the petrified forest with patches of large, orange and slippery seaweed, we saw our first penguin, standing in the open with his back to the elements.  He was close to the shrubbery adorning the sandy cliffs, standing guard over his partner tending the nest under a bush.  He looked beautiful and pathetic at the same time as the rain and wind lashed at him.  He did not seem to mind our presence as we stood just a few feet away, taking photos and getting very wet ourselves.  All along the edge of the cliff are traps set with chicken eggs to entice predators, like the stoat and rat, rather than them predate the endangered penguin population.

Further along the beach were two more, both standing in the open, with flippers out-stretched.  Again they were not perturbed by our presence.  However, not wishing to outlive our welcome with them, and also because we were getting wet, we moved away.  Angela retreated to the car for shelter while I found another penguin, this time standing out in the open on the shelf that is the fossilised forest.  This time it would appear that I did get a little too close and the penguin waddled off, walking as if he had something nasty in his pants.

On the headland between Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay we found a shack selling hot pies.  Hot pies for breakfast?  Why not?   From this vantage point we could look down at the sea battering away at the fossilised forest of Curio Bay and the long sweep that makes up Porpoise Bay, where in better conditions we might see Hector’s Dolphins cavorting in the blue water along with surfers.  However, not today for either, I am afraid.

The petrified forest exposed at low tide

From here we headed further west to Slope Point, the most southerly point on New Zealand’s South Island.  Here, the weather was so bad we decided not to get out of the car but to head back east to call in at the Niagara Falls café at Niagara Falls.  Yes, I mean what I say, although no matter how hard I looked I could not see any waterfalls.  Lunch was in the old school room, converted to a café and craft shop.  It was a pleasant respite from the weather outside.

We had intended to stay out until about 4.00pm but warmth and dryness soon tempted us back to the cabin shortly after lunch.  A good opportunity to catch up with the blog and bring it up to date.  Enjoy.

Angela Again (Not)

Angela is snoozing with the electric blanket on but wants you to know that she loved the penguins!

Mt. John to Twizel via Mt. Cook

Ate a stone grill meal last night.  Basically, a square of granite is brought to your table with three pieces of raw meat sizzling away.  To either side there were chips and salad.  We both had a piece of chicken, pork and beef.  Cutting it into slices we ensured that it was cooked through and just how we liked it.  Then it was back to camp for a good night under canvas.  Sadly we woke to a rather cloudy morning.

It seemed appropriate this morning to climb Mt. John before we left Lake Tekapo.  Mt. John is only a climb of about 300m from the lakeshore and stands 1031m above sea level.  In New Zealand it is a very important mountain as, on the summit, sit New Zealand’s largest observatory with five telescopes searching the skies.

On top of Mt. John

Leaving the lakeshore, the climb zig-zags through a mixture of larch and spruce trees before opening out on to a summit dome.  There are two summits, the North Peak, which is clear of scientific equipment and the slightly higher South Peak, which is surrounded by the telescopes and has a café on the summit.  Sitting in the hazy sunshine, drinking coffee and eating a slice of ‘naughty’ each we had views all along Lake Tekapo and beyond to the still shrouded mountains.

The weather had much improved while we were on the summit and the sun began to break through the clouds.  Refreshed, we chose to take the long route back, which took us further away from the village, along a gradually descending ridge to the lakeshore, where the path followed the shore back to the village, where we picked up the car.

Lake Pukaki

Our next scheduled stay was the village of Mt. Cook.  We drove to the eastern end of Lake Pukaki, another turquoise blue lake significantly longer and wider than Lake Tekapo.  High peaks, including Mt. Cook, surround the western end but they were all shrouded in cloud.  Turning off the main highway we drove the 40 or so km along the shore and beyond to the village of Mt. Cook.  I instantly took a dislike to it.  It looked so much like a manufactured French ski resort like Tignes.  I wasn’t really looking forward to spending two nights there, paying inflated prices.  Having picked up the phone numbers for the various establishments available from the Tourist Information Office, I was quite relieved when the response from all that we tried turned us away.  We also looked at the weather forecast for the next day and it did not make promising reading, suggesting that our planned walk up the Hooker Valley would not be a pleasurable experience.  A phone call to a farm cottage at Twizel, back on the main highway, secured us a cabin for a night, or two, depending on how we feel and what the weather does.

Tasman Glacier

Before we left Mt. Cook. I took a couple of pictures of the mountain itself, despite parts of it still hiding behind its cloudy mask.  We had a quick look up the Hooker Valley, but there wasn’t much we could see beyond the car park, and then drove up to have a look at the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest.  From the viewpoint on the moraine, you looked up valley to the glacier snout where chunks of ice fall into the ablution lake.  The surface of the glacier is just a jumble of rock and does not look pretty at all.  You have to travel several kilometres up the glacier to see good, clean ice.  Snowy peaks surround the glacier, which I am sure would look very impressive in better conditions.  Soon after leaving the Tasman Glacier, the petrol warning light came on in the car and by the time we had driven the 50 or so km to Twizel we were on fumes!

Angela’s Bit

 First night of the trip under canvas and I was chilly!  What’s new eh!  Having put on a track suit and snuggled up to my human hot water bottle all was well.  YHA shower was good & our DIY breakfast sufficed.

Our summit of Mt. John was memorable for the people we met as well as the views.  An English family with 3 children were taking 48 days to travel the southern hemisphere.  Youngest daughter, Hattie took a shine to us and showed us her camera and assorted photos.  As she was about 5 she’d done well!  Quad bikes and legs excepted!!  As they left she gave us hugs….oh! charming.  We then had a conversation with a couple from S. Devon and they were equally delightful.

We have ended the day on a beef farm staying in a cabin, which has all mod cons.


Before humans came to New Zealand it was a perfect environment for birds and animals; they lived in harmony and because there was very little predation the way in which they evolved differed from other parts of the world.  Birds became flightless and nested on the ground.  The first settlers inadvertently brought in rats and other rodents, which preyed on the endemic and innocent creatures.  Later, when Europeans began to settle in New Zealand, they brought all sorts of creatures with them, most by design rather than by mistake.  Cats, dogs, squirrels, goats, possums and a lot more caused some species to become extinct and others to live in danger of doing so.  Massive deforestation occurred for agriculture and the goats ate everything in their path.  Birds, like the sparrow and starling were brought over from Europe to keep pests at bay from eating crops but have now become pests in themselves.  Alien plants were introduced, which are so prolific in the environment New Zealand provides they have strangled some local species.


Zealandia, or Karori Wildlife Sanctuary as it was formerly known, aims to establish an environment as close to that that existed before humans entered the fray.  To achieve this they have built an 8.6km fence all the way round the sanctuary, which is rodent proof.  To make sure they have everything covered there are poison traps for any rodents surviving within the sanctuary, or who manage to get through the strict security. It provides a natural safe haven for over 30 species of native birds and reptiles The result is that birds and reptiles, which were on the brink, are increasing in numbers because eggs are not under threat on the nest, are hatching and the young being allowed to grow to adulthood.  Judging by what we saw today, it is working.  The remarkable thing is that this is all happening within the city of Wellington and not in some remote rural area.  It is the world’s first urban sanctuary and has a 500 year plan to restore the valley to its pre-human state.


On entry to Zealandia we visited the exhibition, which, like Te Papa, was really well presented and interesting.  I would have liked more time there but we needed to walk to the Kaka feeders where one of the wardens would give a talk about the Kaka.  The Kaka is a large, less than colourful, parrot, but has an endearing personality, like most parrots.  In order to get there we had to walk along a lake shore surrounded by steeply wooded hillsides.  Predictably, when we got there, there were not too many kakas visibly evident but they could be heard in the surrounding trees.  There were too many small, noisy children for the kakas to feel comfortable.  All the birds we did see were juveniles.  The talk was interesting and showed just how successful the programme is with 33 chicks hatching this year.

A Tuatara

From there we walked further into the sanctuary before taking a different route to listen to a short talk on the tuatara, a lizard that lives in burrows and has been a victim of rodent attacks in the past.  The adult grows up to about 18 inches and is quite solidly built.

Away from the crowds the kaka came to their feeding stations and performed for the camera.  Very satisfying.

I was keen to go and do some bird photography so I left Angela and Ben to do their own thing while I delved further into the sanctuary.  The further in you went the quieter it became, largely because the paths became less accessible.  There were some hides, which I thought would provide me with the photos I wanted but it was soon clear that I they were not near the path I was walking on.  However, I did come across a feeding station for the hihi and the bellbird, both about the size of a sparrow.  There were several of them and the hihi was particularly beautiful with yellow flashes on each side and on the wings.  As much as I tried I could not get a picture of them; they were far too quick.  They were not particularly afraid of me but would not sit still long enough for me to focus the camera.  Frustrated, I moved on.  Next I came across a small group of about half a dozen saddlebacks, blackbird sized and predominantly black with a red saddle across the back, a red rump and red flanges on either side of the beak.  They darted about among the branches and while I did get a couple of shots, I was again disappointed with the results.  A black robin then teased me by sitting on a low branch at the side of the path, posing, until the camera was set and then off he flew!

I eventually did find some hides so set up ready.  Absolutely nothing came into view and I had to give up.  I decided bird photography spoiled a good walk.

I was already late for meeting up with Angela and Ben, so I headed off back towards the centre where I knew they would be.  The journey was not without it distractions with more kaka in the trees close to the path, more tuatara sitting in amongst the bushes and pied shags on logs in the lake.

By the time I met up with Angela and Ben it was 3.00pm and I was starving.  My lunch was waiting for me.  Thank you.

We then drove out to Makara Bay, a stony beach with a very pleasant path leading up to the cliff tops where we had extensive views of the north coast of South Island.  Afterwards we met Kelly coming out of work and bought fish and chips to take to share with Kay, our host, who had returned from a few days with her family.

Angela’s bit

Started the day with a visit to a walk-in hairdresser.  A young shaven-headed Greek Cypriot guy did the business.  I am happier to have a more manageable head in the Welly wind!

Zealandia was enjoyable in the sunshine and Ben was an enthusiastic and informative guide.  He says he has already started to write a documentary about birds.

We ended the day eating take-away fish and chips New Zealand style ……..sitting on the floor around a coffee table eating with our fingers.  Even 1 yr old Sara tucked in too!

Family Matters

Slept really well in a massive bed belonging to our absent hosts Shane and Kay.  Head much improved.

Today, February 6th, is a bank holiday – Waitangi, celebrating the occasion of the signing of the treaty between the English and the Maoris.  There is usually some form of demonstration on this bank holiday because, the treaty, when translated had a different, less favourable, version for the Maoris than for the English.  Resentment is still harboured by some for the way in which the Maoris were duped into signing the treaty.

Ben and Kelly picked us up at 10.00 and took us to the café at the Botanical Gardens where we met Jim, Kelly’s father, for the first time.  Jim is a lean six-footer who, despite having lived in New Zealand since 1960, has not lost his Irish accent, or the Irish twinkle in his eye.  Chatting over coffee, with sparrows begging for crumbs, it soon became clear that he is the sort of bloke you relish at dinner parties for the tales he can tell.  It was wonderful, just listening to him recount events during his past with a richness of language and character.

After an hour or so we separated.  Ben and Kelly took us to the viewpoint at the top of Mt. Victoria, which overlooks the city and the extensive waters of the safe harbour.  Unbelievably, there was hardly a breath of wind, but there was a Wellington version of the Beaufort Scale on a sign board involving a woman holding an umbrella, or not, depending on the force of the wind.

We then drove around the coastline to the area where Kelly was brought up on small beaches and rocky outcrops, with neat wooden houses hugging the coastline with a steep verdant backdrop behind.

Angela, Ben & Kelly on Mt. Victoria


I was, perhaps, a little rash in my comments yesterday regarding natural garden landscaping in preference to neatly manicured gardens.  We saw quite a few extremely well presented gardens on our travels today.  However, it goes without saying that if the terrain does not make garden landscaping a sensible option, the natural approach is preferred.

Following our morning explorations we drove a little way out of town to Kelly’s aunt Kay and Uncle Jim’s house at Tawa.  Cousin Fiona also lives there.  Ben was providing the ingredients for a Kiwi barbeque, steak, chicken skewers and sausages along with salads.  Jim, Kelly’s father was also there for the feast.

Introductions over, we sat and chatted in the lounge.  Uncle Jim has lived in New Zealand for fifty years, yet has still retained his strong Peebles accent.  The conversation flowed well and we were made to feel most welcome.  Ben and Kelly went to prepare the food and we joined them in them a few minutes later when the smells started to drift up to the lounge.

As the lunch progressed the conversation centred on aunt Kay and she came out with story after story while the rest of the family got quieter and quieter. It wasn’t a case of drink loosening the tongue, as neither Kay nor Jim drink.  Uncle Jim is a very fit looking seventy-two year old who keeps fit by going for a two hour walk each morning, usually with a stop for coffee along the way.  He does not walk into the surrounding hills but just along the streets of the village.  I was amused, later, to discover that he used to be a postman.  Old habits die hard.

By four o’clock the party began to wind down so we said our goodbyes and went out to a lookout at the top of the ridge just to the north of the town.  The woodland was varied and some of the trees were huge.  Some trees were in full flower and there, usually, could be heard were Tuis, a large(ish) black bird with a white, second voice box on its neck.  It makes a variety of unusual sounds and lives off the nectar of the flowers.



Angela and I decided to walk down the North Walk Way, through the trees, back to the flat.  Below the ridgeline the trees had been cleared, leaving a lush hillside of bushes.  The benefit to us, walking down, is that we had clear views over the city and the harbour all the way back to the flat.


After so many years of hearing Ben and Kelly talk about Kelly’s family, we had actually begun to meet them today.

The Girlie Perspective

A busy and sociable day enjoyed by all.  There was lots of sunshine and laughter.  Ben manned the barbecue, which gives an indication of how readily the Maguire/Kilner family have welcomed and accepted him.

Wherever we went we were treated to magnificent views of the bay and surrounding hills.  The birdsong and abundant flowers convince us that it is Summer and we are on the other side of the world.

Arrival in Wellington

A Mixed Reception and First Impressions

Helen came to the hotel at 6.30am to collect us and take us to the airport for our flight to Wellington.  Check-in was very friendly despite having to pay 40$ for the privilege of having a third piece of hold luggage.

The flight was really good and the fact that we were unexpectedly fed made up for the excess payment.  The airhostesses were some of the friendliest I have come across, finding time to chat to us and show interest in us.  The airport took a while to maneuver through with passport queues, baggage collection and finally to have our bags checked for anything, which might be illegal or harm the environment.  The chap placing the bags on to the x-ray machine conveyor yawned hugely as he lifted one of mine.  His excuse, ‘…tired from celebrating winning all the time…’ New Zealand had won the IRB 7’s again this weekend.  All you can do in such circumstances is congratulate and shake hands.  The woman at the other end of the x-ray machine was rather less friendly and hit us with, ‘You can be fined 400$ for not declaring everything!’  She asked about walking boots.  I don’t have any.  ‘What about the walking poles?’  In the end you just hold your hands up and say ‘Sorry’.

The real welcome came a few moments later with Ben and Kelly’s beaming smiles greeting us as we came through the doors.  Lots of hugs and kisses!  It was so good to see them.

Despite Wellington being the capital, the airport is very much a provincial one with limited flights because of the length of the runway.  Most international flights will arrive in New Zealand at Auckland and then connect with other places through a domestic service.

The drive from the airport into town was fascinating and nothing like I expected.  With the exception of the city centre, which is like nearly all other city centres, concrete, tarmac, shops and offices, the suburbs seem to lack permanence.  All the houses are wooden, perched on hillsides or hugging the shoreline.  There are very few manicured gardens so that the houses jut out of the natural vegetation, which, if allowed, would consume the buildings.  The gardens are out there, on the hillsides, on the shore, a blaze of flower and just about every variant of green imaginable. Beautiful!

Our first stop was to the house Angela and I are borrowing from some friends Ben and Kelly’s.  It is a wooden house as they all seem to be, in a narrow, lush, green valley with a road running through the bottom of it a few houses dotted through it.  Inside it is a treasure trove of Maori culture.  Shane works for the Maori Museum and is a collector of all sorts of Maori, art, musical instruments and paraphernalia.  You could spend hours looking and touching.  We are very lucky they are away and that we can use their house.  We will eventually meet them at the wedding next month.

Ben and Kelly’s flat is superbly positioned with a huge picture window giving them an elevated view of the whole of the harbour.  (In the space of three days we had been to Helen’s, Rijan’s and now Ben and Kelly’s flats and the one thing they all had in common was a superb view.)

After a catch-up over a couple of beers and some bucks fizz, we ventured out to find a restaurant for a meal.  Ben took us through the Botanical Gardens so we could take the funicular down into town.  The driver was not very friendly and slammed his newspaper down when I suggested he read out the clues to the crossword!  Oops!

The restaurant chosen was a pizza one on the harbour.  It was not busy but had a reasonable number of customers. It was Sunday evening after all.  Having ordered we waited, and we waited, and we waited.  In the end Ben asked where was our starter, a plate of antipasta to share.  It eventually came after we had waited nearly an hour.  That polished off we thought it would be quickly followed by our three pizzas to share.  Again we waited, and we waited, and we waited.  Again Ben went to check and nobody seemed to be working hard and our three pizzas hadn’t even gone into the oven.  We left.

At least the taxi driver was friendly and chatted away all the way back to our house.

The Girlie Perspective

Wow!  Here in NZ at last!  Here for hugs and kisses and I have to confess to a few tears too!  Unbelievable views, there are clouds in the sky, but not the predicted wind.  It is warm and welcoming.  Our flights have been comfortable & we have been able to catch up on sleep so not feeling too jet-lagged.  The Botanic Gardens are opposite B & K’s flat so we walked there on our way out in the evening and enjoyed the aroma from the roses.  We have a lovely big bed to flop into at Shane & Kay’s.  Phew!