My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “March, 2019”

Washpen Falls

About an hour outside of Christchurch, on the back road that leads to Rakaia Gorge, there is an unassuming turnoff that leads to a farm where you can join the crowds that park up at the unassuming Woolshed. The track to Washpen Falls that leads from here is on private property and as such there is a $10 fee per adult to walk it. This had put me off exploring this for many years but finally, last May, I decided to see what the fuss was about. I’ve seen photos and heard that this waterfall was pretty and worth visiting, so I duly turned up to find the parking area packed, and it took a bit of maneuvering to find a spot to pull in out the way. The day I visited, the Woolshed was manned, and it is important to pop in here first to pay your fee. I have to admit I was surprised at the number of people there considering the charge.

Following the marked track past the Woolshed, the track was quite muddy as it headed into the forest and started climbing. The track effectively follows an anti-clockwise route round the valley formed by Washpen Creek. Breaks in the treeline allowed a view across to the thick bush on the opposite side, and being well into autumn, the lower sun meant the side I was walking on was in shadow. Cutting back into the trees again, a natural shallow cave is passed before a flight of stairs passes by the side of a small waterfall trickling down the rock face.


From there the path climbs up and into the sunshine as it reaches the top of the hillside that surrounds the creek. The path effectively arcs round in a horse-shoe shape and as it does so, the expanse of the Canterbury Plains becomes evident. It was a gorgeous day and the many visitors were littered all over the track, several of them stopping here to admire the view and have a snack. As it was though, the wind started to whip across the hillside as the track continued over it, and at the main viewpoint up here, several of us were buffeted whilst a couple of children had to work hard to walk against it.


To reach the waterfall, the track cuts down from the hillside to reach another branch of the valley, most of which was in shade. This was another busy stretch of track but I paused here in a couple of places to listen to the bird sounds. The track starts off winding down the valley side before reaching a steep staircase that leads down to Washpen Falls. The downside of hiking the track at this time of the year was that the waterfall was completely in shadow making it difficult to photograph. There is a good viewpoint of it from the staircase as well as at the base of the falls itself. There isn’t a lot of space to accommodate the amount of people that were on the trail that day, so once I’d taken some photographs, I moved on to allow others the chance to get some shots too.


The track continued down the far side of the creek below a tall rock face. At one point, drips of water fell from the cliff above and a small side-track led to the bank of the stream. Beyond this, the track climbed a little again into the forest where a side-track led to a small cave, then beyond here it cut down through the forest, until eventually it reached a green pond with a shelter nearby. Several families had stopped here for a picnic and it was a pretty little spot. I left them to it, following the far side of the pond and rejoining the main track at the far end.


Aside from a small ruined waterwheel, the rest of the walk was just a meander through the forest. I was surprised to come across a sign in the middle of nowhere reminding passers by to enjoy the sounds of nature. I had a bit more solitude here as I made my way back to the car by the Woolshed. There were still plenty of cars parked here, and I returned glad to have finally done this walk. The whole loop track took me 1hr and 45mins, and although a muddy and rough track (which may put off those with very young children), it was a very easy to follow hillside walk that would suit families.


Hororata Night Glow

Sometimes, it is hard to find the words to write. For various reasons I have found it increasingly difficult to keep up with this blog this past year, and then a few days ago life here in Christchurch took an unexpected turn and I find myself once more bereft and unable to link my thoughts. So instead of words, having found myself perusing photos of the country I love, I decided to share some visuals of a fun event I attended with my partner in rural Canterbury last April. The Hororata Night Glow was at the time a unique event where hot air balloons lit up the sky in time to music and although a little cold, we were glad we made the drive away from the city to attend. I was amused to see a Tennents Lager balloon, a reminder of my former life in Scotland. The event is taking place again this year in May.

Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf

Feeling sick has to have its perks. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself after wasting the whole weekend lying on the couch at home with a virus. Due to a mix of life, travel and mental health lows, keeping up with my blog has been very hit and miss this past year, and as such, I’m a whole year behind in recounting my travels. So I might as well take the opportunity that the virus has provided me, to try and catch up.

I had the luxury of having my birthday off work for several years in a row, so when last March I worked on my birthday for the first time in a while, I decided to try and get a weekend away to make up for it, booking flights to Auckland and a trip to do something I’d wanted to do for some time. My partner had been up to Auckland two months prior for a family event so I was supposed to be heading up on my own, but after he decided later on that he’d join me, we found ourselves at Christchurch airport booked on two separate flights with two different airlines. We effectively raced each other up the country. My flight was scheduled first but was delayed causing a bit of jovial banter between the two of us. In the end though, it didn’t matter. We made it to Auckland well enough and were met at the airport by my partner’s friend who drove us into the city.

It was a scorching sunny day in the City of Sails, and New Zealand’s largest city was living up to its name that weekend as the Volvo Ocean Race, the World’s biggest ocean race was currently taking place in the city. It brought back memories of my time in Cape Town in 2005 when the race had stopped by there, and the vibe around the harbour front was incredible. The race itself was on a break the day we arrived, but there was plenty of action on shore with the teams milling with the sponsors, drinks flowing and exhibits for city goers to have a look at. This event oozes money, and it was very clear to see this walking around, but it was still really interesting, and even without the event running, I just love the views of the Auckland skyline with the sails in front of it.


We spent the morning walking around the Viaduct and Wynyard Quarter where we grabbed some food at one of the pop-up venues that had been erected. I had been living with anxiety by this point for nearly 2 years and a message from work put an end to my buzz. For all that social media can do to suggest that people are constantly on a travelling high, I’ve had several trips away tarnished by having to fight through some rather low bouts of mental health. My partner and his friend did their best to buoy me up, and thankfully there was plenty going on to distract me and pull my mind away from my thoughts. Before heading into the city to check into our hotel we managed to squeeze in amongst the crowds to see some boats take off on a race around the harbour. Beyond that we had an evening planned out at Western Springs for the Speedway, an event which I’ve been to a few times with my partner and his friend. It’s a fun night out with a variety of race styles and good family entertainment. Sadly, at the time of writing, Auckland City Council has very recently made the Speedway homeless, and its future in the city is unknown.

I had an early rise the next morning to head off for the trip that was my whole reason for coming up. My partner was to spend the day hanging out with his friend, but I headed down to the ferry terminal to catch the Fullers ferry out into the Hauraki Gulf. One of my favourite things about the region is the myriad of offshore islands that can be visited, offering anything from wineries and swimming to camping and volcanoes. In the first few weeks of my time in New Zealand, I explored the wilderness of Great Barrier Island (to this day, still one of my favourite parts of the country), cycled around the popular Waiheke Island, and explored the volcanic landscape of Rangitoto Island. This time I was headed to Tiritiri Matangi Island, one of the country’s pest-free islands that is open to visitors. Like Ulva Island in Southland that I’d visited the month before, Tiritiri Matangi is promoted as a bird-lovers’ paradise, and being a bit of a closet birder, I was keen to get out there and see what was on offer.

As always, getting out on the water in Auckland is a delight, seeing the city skyline from an alternate viewpoint as well as getting amongst the myriad of boat traffic that plies the busy waterway. Leaving the city behind, we passed Devonport then Rangitoto and headed up to Gulf Harbour where we collected more passengers. From there, it was just a short hop across to the island itself. I’d left the city in sunshine and unfortunately arrived in a bit of a haze. Being a Sunday, the boat was also very full and as we all disembarked, I was keen to get moving and leave the crowds behind, but the rangers stopped us at the wharf to give us a briefing on how to conduct ourselves on the island, taking up a bit too much of the precious time that we had before the sailing home.


From the wharf, there were several routes to choose from: a direct road to the lighthouse to the south, a meandering route along the headland to the same destination, or a beach walk to the north. This meant that there was at least a bit of immediate dispersal of the large amount of people that had arrived on the boat, and it was possible to start seeing some wildlife quite early on. I took the Wattle Track, the non-direct route to the lighthouse, and straight away saw some Hihi, or Stitchbirds, and some large Weta, a rather incredible insect that is endemic to New Zealand. Although we’d sailed a good bit away from Downtown Auckland, it was still possible to see the distinctive Sky Tower in the hazy distance, and the volcanic dome of Rangitoto Island stood off to my right.


I detoured just before the lighthouse to follow the Ridge Track to the nearest high point to survey my surroundings. I spotted a Sacred Kingfisher on a flax bush, a shy bird that I’ve found difficult to photograph in the past, and I could see across to the dramatic cliff face of Gulf Harbour. The island’s visitor centre is next to the lighthouse, and here was the busiest place I came across on the whole island. I didn’t hang around long, passing it by to skirt behind it to the lighthouse itself. Although it’s not open to the public, it has a commanding presence on the headland and the lawn around it was filled with a mix of people and birds.


Round the corner was a house used by staff that had a glorious viewpoint out over the ocean, and from here the east coast track took a northerly route. This track was glorious. Leaving the lighthouse behind, it stuck to the cliff top and skirted round the various coves as it went, losing and gaining altitude as it needed to, and providing a fantastic and near constant view of the rocky coastline and the pounding waves below. There were various viewpoints on route and I caught glimpses of pied shags in the trees and got close ups of the melodic birds that live in the New Zealand bush, such as the tui, one of my favourite birds to hear whilst out hiking. Tui are present in pockets of the South Island, but aren’t common around Christchurch where I live, so it’s always a novelty to see and hear them when I’m somewhere away from home. I’m yet to capture a photograph of them that truly displays their shining feather colour, but I did finally manage to get one that showed off their pretty ‘bow-tie’ feathers.


On the headland before Pohutakawa Cove I spotted another Sacred Kingfisher, and beyond here, I took the option to skirt round a couple of lakes that created a small wetland. It was peaceful here with surprisingly little visible life compared to other parts of the island, but it did provide a bit of shade. There may have been some wispy high cloud and haze but it was hot and there hadn’t been much in the way of shelter from the strong sun overhead. Just beyond here the path came to its end at the most northern end of the island, and then it was time to work my way back to the pier via the west coast.


As I followed the Ngati Paoa track to the Ridge road, I was in a little bit of a reverie when I was startled by the movement of two grey birds in the bush to my left. It was a fleeting glance that was over before I knew it, but I was excited to realise that what I’d just seen was the North Island Kokako. This bird is really rare to see in the wild, and its South Island variant is thought to be extinct. That being said, suspected sightings in the not-too-distant past have resulted in a $10,000 reward being issued to anyway who can provide verifiable proof of the South Island bird’s existence.


I was only on the Ridge road for a brief while before I cut down to the Tiritiri Matangi Pa where I once again had a view across to Gulf Harbour. I took a bush walk round the Totara track where I found a quail with her chicks, and then followed the Kawarau Track through thick bush past the loud North Island Saddleback, and down a steep decline to reach Hobbs beach. The clouds had moved in by now turning the water a cold shade of grey, and here I found a lot of the people that I’d come over with, who were lounging on the beach with their picnics whilst their kids played around the rock pools and the shallows.


As I meandered along the Hobbs Beach Track towards the wharf, the other visitors began to gather up their gear and join me on the meander back. I could watch the Fullers ferry draw in from afar as we plodded our way to meet it. There wasn’t an immediate need to board, so as the crowds gradually materialised from the various paths to congregate at the pier, I cut back up the road a little and found myself face to face with pukekos, dust-bathing sparrows, a lone kakariki and more quail. When I returned to the pier, the ferry was well through the process of boarding, and I frog-marched down the pier to head on board. I left the island very satisfied with the chilled-out day that I’d been much in need of, and a multitude of endemic birds spotted.


It was just a quick jump across the gap to Gulf Harbour where I disembarked. A large marina here seems to scream about the riches that live around here, but it was a more convenient location than downtown to meet up with a friend that lives away from the city. When we eventually reached her place I was quite jealous of the bird song that serenaded her back garden, and after tea and a catch up, she ran me to Albany where I met up with my partner and his friend for a belated birthday dinner at a much loved Mexican-themed restaurant. By the time we were heading back into the city, the light was dulling and we crossed the Auckland Harbour bridge as the city lights came on.


As I like to make the most of my weekends away and as I had been originally coming solo, my return flight wasn’t until late in the evening on the Monday. My partner would have preferred to return earlier, and when we woke to torrential rain that continued for the entire day, I was a little deflated to see that on this occasion, he would have been right. As it was, we hid out in shops and then at the cinema, trying to kill time before grabbing our stuff and heading out to the airport. It was a shame to lose the benefit of the third day, but I returned home satisfied. I always try to do something new whenever I return to Auckland, and bagging Tiritiri Matangi had been just the ticket.

Completing the Southern Scenic Route

The Southern Scenic Route on the South Island of New Zealand is full of absolute gems, many of which I’d already explored over the previous couple of days. The weather had gotten a bit wet as I’d been exploring some of the region’s waterfalls, but as I backtracked to visit some caves that are only accessible at low tide, the rain thinned a little. I took a brief walk at the deserted Tautuku Bay where the coast and the weather felt wild. It was just me and a sleeping cormorant and a sky full of grey clouds above.


The road to the car park for Waipati beach is only open according to the tide timetable. The road, the car park and the beach access track cross private land, so a trust is responsible for opening the road for access and as such there is a cash-only parking/access fee. I arrived at the road expecting the place to be quiet, but instead there was a steady stream of traffic to join and the car park at the end of the access drive was filling up fast. The bush walk was a little slippery from the rain, and a steep decline, taking about 20-30mins to get down onto the beach and then across the beach to reach the caves. The Cathedral Caves are giants: tall entrances leading into dual caves that eventually meet up deep underground. They are perfectly explorable at low tide, but the stinking seaweed where the two caves meet illustrated how high the tide can come. It is worth noting that the trust does not allow access in darkness or in winter months, and it pays to check the access times ahead if you are wanting to include these incredible caves on your itinerary.


I made a point of wandering through several times, starting first in the larger entrance, admiring the rock formations as I entered, and coming out via the narrower cave. This was the busiest of all the places I’d stopped so far on the Southern Scenic Route, and as the tide continued to recede, more and more people continued to arrive. I spent quite a bit of time there myself: despite the crowds, it was an awesome place, and one of the largest caves I’ve visited in a long time. With the sea disappearing gradually to reveal wet sand, there was an incredible reflection of the rocks also as I gradually made my way back along the beach and back to my car.


Thankfully the clouds were now lifting, so as I drove over the hill and reached Florence Hill lookout for the third time that day, there was actually a pretty decent view to look down on with Tautuku Bay, where I’d taken the stroll earlier, laid out below me. Little patches of blue sky threatened to break through as the wind whipped around me as I stood there. I pushed on heading east, with still some distance to travel and the evening setting in. I passed a lot of beautiful scenery that I would have loved to have stopped and admired but I needed to reach my night’s accommodation on the east coast. Leaving the Southern Scenic Route behind, I traversed the winding road that cut away from Ahuriri Flat to reach the southern end of Molyneux Bay just outside of Kaka Point. I’d rented a little cabin at the camping grounds and was quick to check in and head out again, taking the road south towards Nugget Point. This road winds round the beautiful coastline before eventually starting its steep ascent up the height of the peninsula.


As the sun was reaching the horizon, I pulled in at the Roaring Bay car park and headed a little down the hill to a bird watching hut. From here, I was able to watch below as a few hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin were coming ashore. It was a much better viewing spot than I’d had at Curio Bay the night before but as dusk came in, a cold sea fog creeped over the headland. Despite the impending darkness and the encroaching fog, I figured I was practically at Nugget Point anyway, so I might as well just drive the last bit and take a wander down to the lighthouse. There was a red glow on the horizon and the swirling fog chilled me as it opened up and then closed in my view of the coastline. I meandered back to my car in darkness, and headed back to Kaka Point to grab dinner in the local pub.


The fog was all gone the next morning and I was quick to head out and get going. Backtracking again, I drove back to the Southern Scenic Route and cut down to the south coast again, taking the turnoff for Surat Bay. It was a staggeringly beautiful morning as I took the coastal walk along the edge of the estuary and down to the expansive beach. With more time, I would have loved to have done the full walk along the length of the beach and over the headland to the secluded Cannibal Bay, but there just wasn’t the time. I had to get home to Christchurch that night and there was a ridiculous amount of things to see on the way. I made it about half way along the length of the beach at Surat Bay where I found a family of New Zealand sea lions. This species is one of the World’s rarest sea lions, and it was only the second time I was seeing them myself, having seen them a couple of days prior further west on the south coast. They are quite different from the more prevalent New Zealand Fur Seal that I’m used to seeing everywhere, and I was sure to give them a wide berth. There was only one other person on the beach and I took a wide arcing circle around the family to view them from every angle before heading back. Taking the same route back to my car as I’d come along, I got a fright as I followed the estuary back, only to suddenly come across a sea lion in the long grass right by the track. She jumped up and startled me, and I was quick to jump off the track onto the sand below to give her some space.


Back on the east coast once more, I headed back to Nugget Point. This time in the daylight, there was a steady procession of people on the track but with the lack of fog, I could actually appreciate the coastal views and the crashing waves below me. On the final approach to Nugget Point, as the lighthouse comes into view, there are various picture postcard views to take in. The first looked down on a rocky beach below and along the jagged coastline, and then finally the track finishes at a multi-level lookout just under the lighthouse where the nuggets of rock disappear off the coast. For a coastal view, this was one of my highlights on the South Coast, and below the view point there were New Zealand fur seals on the rocks, and pups practicing their swimming techniques in the rock pools created by the tidal movements. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day, and I stayed here for some time, reluctant to leave.


Spotting more fur seals on the walk back to the car, I stopped briefly again at the Roaring Bay lookout to appreciate it in the sunshine before taking the road back to Kaka Point, stopping at the various pull-ins to watch the waves crash ashore. At Kaka Point itself, I got an ice cream to enjoy on the beach before I made my way back to the Southern Scenic Route where it joins State Highway 1 (SH1) in Balclutha. After a couple of failed turn-offs for side attractions (one which turned out to be too far away, and the other which I couldn’t find due to a lack of signage), I eventually turned off SH1 at Waihola to take a very steep road up and over to the east coast again at Taieri Mouth. The water here was a sparkling shade of blue, but aside from the gorgeous colour, there was little to keep me here.


The coastal road headed north some distance before I eventually pulled in just outside of Brighton, to walk down to a stunning stretch of white sandy beach. The part of the beach that I had entered on was empty but I could see in the far distance groups of people nearer the settlement. I took a short walk past some driftwood, enjoying the sand beneath my feet. From here, Dunedin felt ever closer as the settlements started to join together as I continued to follow the coast. It felt like so long ago since I’d stopped in Mosgiel on route south but I still had one main stop to make on the return north. When I eventually found the car park after missing the turn-off, I was dismayed to find it packed and overflowing and strict parking restrictions around it meaning I couldn’t park. I headed up the main road for a bit, finding nowhere nearby or suitable to park, so after a bit I turned round and headed back. Still there was nowhere to park so again I returned to the main road and took another direction, still finding nowhere nearby to leave my car. Thankfully on the third attempt, I managed to catch someone as they were leaving and quickly nipped into the vacant spot.


The trek down the cliffside was steep and rough underfoot and this was the busiest place I’d visited on my whole trip aside from the Cathedral Caves. Not far out of Dunedin and a stop on the Southern Scenic Route, it is yet another beautiful part of coastline so it is easy to see why the crowds were there. It was almost stiflingly hot with no shelter whatsoever, but at least a sea breeze gave a little relief when I eventually got to the end of the track at tunnel beach. I’d heard about tunnel beach some time ago and had been keen to get here for some time, but at first I couldn’t even find the tunnel that the place is so famous for. I wandered around the worn pathways, admiring the coast in each direction until I finally found the entrance. The man-made tunnel through the sandstone leads down to a secluded beach which used to be the private access for a powerful local family. When I reached the bottom, the tide was in, and I was met by gigantic boulders and no visible beach in sight. Still, it was pretty neat, and it seemed that the vast majority of the people that were walking around the cliffs weren’t going down the tunnel. It wasn’t overly obvious and I wondered if some of them didn’t know of its existence.


There’s no set path once you’re on the cliffs but the top soil is well worn where people have trodden and it is possible to walk out over a sea bridge to a cliff that juts out from the headland. Each rise or point gives a slightly differing view of the coastline that spreads away in both directions, and below me the crashing waves added a coastal soundtrack to the scene. I stayed here until the wind started to whip up, threatening to buffet me off the headland as I stood there. It was a tiring trudge back up the steep hill in the heat, and I was hungry. For some reason my GPS didn’t quite match the road layout on the route down the hill to Dunedin but my generally good sense of direction did me proud, and I stopped in the city only to get some food and fuel before heading home. I have some favourite places to stop on the drive north to Christchurch, but it was late in the day already, and there just wasn’t the time. In the peak months of January and February, New Zealand’s tourist hot spots can often feel overcrowded and oppressive, so it was nice to have experienced the peak season in southern Southland and Otago and found them relatively quiet in comparison, with the odd exception. The wild coastline reminded me of the wild coastline from my native Scotland in the sense that it seems desolate, remote and barren compared to other parts of the country. As a result, it felt like I’d found a hidden gem, that thus far, has not fallen foul to the Instagram crowd.

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