My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Pacific Ocean”

The Eastern Frontier

As I sat in the regional departure lounge at Christchurch airport, I was equally nervous and excited. Many years ago I’d attended the annual A&P Show that brings the countryside to the city every spring. I’d passed through one of the giant sheds, looking at stalls, and I’d chatted with one of the stall owners that was advertising these distant islands off the east coast of New Zealand. I’d wanted to go there for a long time, and at last, there I was waiting to board the plane, in February 2020. I felt like the only tourist in a plane full of locals, and as I boarded the archaic-looking plane I was shocked to discover there were barely any windows, and there wasn’t much in the way of panelling on the inside of the fuselage. It felt more like a freight plane, and as it rattled to the motion of the propellers turning on, it felt like I was heading off on a real adventure.

We’d been instructed that all phones had to be completely off. Flight mode wasn’t an option. This added to the feeling that the plane could fall apart at any moment, and it was slow to take off, slow to fly and we kept low in the sky. As we banked and turned over the Port Hills, it was a clear enough day that I was gutted my phone was off. I’d bagged one of the few window seats, and we were so low over the hills on a clear day that the view was incredible, and not one I’ll get again. The slow speed of the plane drew the harbour view out for a long time, until we were finally over the Pacific Ocean, setting a course almost exactly east.

We flew for over 2hrs across the bleak expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and yet I didn’t need a passport. Because despite the distance, I was still going to be in New Zealand. They’re not widely known about outside of the country, but the Chatham Islands are on the frontier of New Zealand’s eastern reach, a small archipelago over 1000km to the east of the South Island. Only Chatham Island and nearby Pitt Island are inhabited, and like any remote island, it takes a hardy person to make a living and a life in a place like that. But I come from Scotland, where the Outer Hebrides, a chain of wild, frontier islands, is one of my favourite parts of the country, so I flew there fully expecting something similar. And that was exactly what I got.

It was grey, blustery and overcast with low clouds as we descended. The view of a grey churning sea seemed bleak until finally surf became visible, and the flattest, lowest landscape I’d seen in a long time. On a map, a large chunk of Chatham Island is a central lagoon, and after flying over a long stretch of beach and its backing dunes, we crossed small lakes and a lone road that transected the visible landscape. Circling round and banking by the lagoon, we were soon landing in what essentially was the middle of nowhere. The small airport had been built away from any settlement, at the end of a single road, and after disembarking into the shack of a terminal, we watched the vital supplies for the island that had come with us, and the luggage of returning residents. There was no rush and no fanfare. The locals simply got on with their lives whilst those few of us that were there for a holiday waited for our bags to appear.


When it comes to visiting as a tourist, everything needs to be organised ahead of time. Turning up without a bed booked would be foolhardy. There’s only a handful of options, and only one proper settlement, so I’d chosen a motel room that formed part of the main accommodation on the island, located at the back of the main settlement of Waitangi. I’d decided to hire a car for only a few days of the week that I was there for, so paid for a pick up from the airport which was a 20km drive away. Unknowingly, my life was to revolve around the Hotel Chatham for the week of my stay, which was certainly not a bad thing, but the motel accommodation was out the very back of Waitangi. I had paid for a private ensuite room which suited me perfectly and I was sharing the building with a great bunch of blokes who were over for a mates holiday, essentially a prolonged fishing trip, and I loved the chats we had on passing each day.

Walking down the hill to the coast at the southern end of Petre Bay, the wind nearly blew me in two. Here, I was looking out at a landscape that might as well have been in Scotland. It was empty, low-lying and wild. The weather reminded me of home, and I was ecstatic to be there. I had planned to grab food to make lunches with from the Waitangi store but was shocked to discover that it mostly sold snacks and tinned food. I got what I could and trudged it back up the hill before making the return trip down to go for an evening walk. I had the beach to myself and duly began walking the long stretch of sand that lay before me. In a short period of time, I’d seen a bird of prey, a shag, and a myriad of gulls, all within a short stretch of coastline.


The longitude had found me 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand, but it was summer and the days were long enough. After I’d filled my lungs with enough fresh air to make me tired, I headed to the hotel for dinner. Stepping inside it was packed. To the left was the pub, mainly full of locals, and to the right was the restaurant which had a mix of tourists, visiting contractors and locals enjoying an evening meal. I managed to squeeze into a spot for dinner, and silently watched and listened to the island life playing out around me. Everyone knew everybody, and if they didn’t know you yet, they soon would do. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to the proprietor, and general organiser of almost everything that appeared to be happening. I have Toni and her office manager Francesca to thank for everything that I experienced that week.

I’m not a big drinker at the best of times, but if I’m out for a meal on holiday, I’ll often enjoy a wee drink or two. What I was to discover though, was that re-stocking a bar on a frontier island was not that simple. I’d enjoyed the wine I got on my first night, but was quietly amused to be told a night or two later that they’d run out of an entire type of wine. That was just life, and everybody rolled with it, so so did I. And thus began the immersion into life in the Chatham Islands.


Circumnavigating Savai’i

About an hour of driving through a multitude of settlements eventually brought me to the turnoff for my next stop for the day. Down a rough drive with little space to pass another car, I reached a spot by the coast where I was stopped to pay the entrance tax before being allowed to continue. From here, the road quickly downgraded to a track that hugged the coastline, and it quickly became uneven and rough, with few places to accommodate anyone coming the other way. It was a sunny day, with the waves crashing on the rocks immediately to my left, but it took all my concentration to negotiate my rental car in a manner that kept the momentum going, with minimal risk of damage to the bodywork. It was manageable for a 2-wheel drive, but it was not pleasant, and I was glad to reach the car park at the far end. As I got out of the car I was immediately descended upon to pay another tax. I’d read about this in the guidebook, and had been resolute not to pay twice. When insisting I’d already paid at the far end of the drive, the locals were just as insistent that I had to pay again. The first tax was for crossing the private land on the upper road, they said. This tax was for the privilege of parking my car and having it ‘watched’. In the end, it was easier just to pay, but what I found was that it was not my car that got watched, but myself that was watched. I felt like my every move was under scrutiny, and I wondered whether walking too far one way would incur yet another tax.

But it was just a short walk to reach the Alofaaga Blowholes on Cape Asuisui, and the sea had enough chop on it from the prevailing wind to create some impressive waves and the intermittent burst of water through the holes in the rocks. As I stood minding my own business, I was approached by three local girls who asked if I minded taking a photograph. Not a problem, only as I went to take their camera to photograph the three friends, I was caught off guard by the realisation that they wanted a photo with me in it. They posed with me, making gestures towards me, and I couldn’t have felt more like a white foreign girl if I tried. Many many years ago, on my first solo adventure to Canada when I was 19, I was exploring Vancouver’s Botanic Gardens when I was approached by a Japanese man who was with his wife. In broken English he had asked for a photograph and I had once again been surprised to realise that he wanted to photograph me with his wife, rather than my assumption of me taking their picture together. I presume they thought I was a local Canadian, but once again I found myself bemused about someone wanting to pose with a complete stranger for a photograph. As a shy person who hates being in my own photos, it was a little degrading.


Having negotiated the drive back to the main road, and continued east, I eventually pulled in down a side street to an unassuming car park. Once more it wasn’t long before somebody made a beeline for me to get my entrance tax. A little further along the road I parked up and started a pleasant walk following the river upstream past a series of waterfalls. When I reached Afu Aau waterfalls at the trail end, there was just a mother and daughter there, and the three of us could enjoy some peace and tranquility as we swam in the dark pool at its base. It was impossible to see how deep the pool was but it was possible to stand up in bits of it. The sun’s position meant most of it was in shadow but it was a pleasant temperature. After a while, the mother and daughter left and there was a brief spell when I had the place to myself before others arrived. Approaching mid-afternoon and quite hungry, I felt the incentive to move on.


The interior of Savai’i is effectively inaccessible for the most part, so unlike on Upolu where a series of roads crisscross the uplands, Savai’i effectively just has a ringroad with a few short roads leading off from it. From the waterfall, I simply continued to circle the island in an anticlockwise direction, passing Salelologa where the ferry terminal is, and finding myself back on the same route I’d taken the day before. Although the water was a stunning blue to my right, there wasn’t really anywhere to pull over and enjoy it. With another full day on the island still to come, I opted to return to my own resort, gratefully finding a pizza parlour on route, and taking another swim in the harbour, this time following the sea wall where I found a bit more life than I’d noticed the day before. Still, I was again disappointed that I hadn’t made the time to get in the lagoon at the Aga Reef Resort on Upolu, but on such a gloriously hot and sunny day, any time spent in the water was just what I needed. After a walk in the nearby streets, I retreated to my over-water balcony to watch the sunset. After darkness fell it was once more cocktail o’clock and I found myself subjected to the bizarre Disney soundtrack at the resort’s restaurant once more.


It was my last full day in Samoa and I was in no particular rush. After breakfast I took a meander around the resort, enjoying the early morning sun before the temperature got too oppressive. The water past the breakwater was still and calm and there was barely a soul about as I took my time ogling the tropical landscape. The day’s plan was to circumnavigate the island in a clockwise direction, and almost immediately after leaving Asau where the resort was, the coast road cut inland slightly to cross a rather featureless landscape. Suddenly my first stop appeared out of nowhere and I found myself among some chickens as I pulled up in someone’s front garden. A lovely lady greeted me, and led me down some steps to the hidden secret on her property: a lava tunnel that headed deep under the road. There is no escaping Savai’is volcanic origins – the solidified lava streams are visible across the entire island – and as she led me in, she told me about the birds that nested inside, pointing out some of the nests with her torch. It was lovely and cool in there, and the lady seemed to enjoy showing me around.


One of my favourite things about driving around both Upolu and Savai’i was spotting all the gorgeous churches that graced nearly every settlement. Sometimes there was a spot that I could pull over and admire them, and other times there was no such luck. At the most northern point of Savai’i there was a pleasant beach that I could park up by and enjoy. I went for a paddle in the shallow water, watching as others snorkelled just a little off shore. Nearby it was relatively busy given the proximity of two decent-sized resorts, but I didn’t have to wander far to get back to some solitude. Back on the road, the settlements came in quick succession until Sale’aula presented me with my next stop.


One of the island’s most popular sights, the lava field here is a remnant of the island’s volcanic eruption in the early 20th century. Several villages were buried under the molten lava that advanced from the interior’s slopes, and here the remnants of a church remains encased in its lava grave. It is only a short walk from the car park to the church which now has a giant tree growing inside its shell. A side track leads to an area known as the Virgin’s grave where a nun’s grave was encircled by, but never covered by, the advancing lava. A lot of vegetation is now springing up from the lava, and thankfully there were bursts of mature trees to offer some shade from the relentlessly hot sun. The church though was the most interesting feature, the doorways half buried but with enough room to climb inside where the lava bears the hardened imprints of the collapsed roof and various tree roots. Beyond here, the trail led down to a large lagoon. My attention was grabbed by a colourful pigeon that watched me from a nearby tree, and I sweated there, enjoying the shade and the vista of the water until some other people arrived.


The road continued to mostly follow the coast, through yet more settlements, and past yet more resorts. There was plenty of lagoons and reef visible to my left but few places to pull over. I had become a little wary of stopping in popular spots lest I get hounded for a tax. Samoans were incredibly friendly, but the way of charging tourists every time they stepped on a piece of land or parked a car was a tad off-putting. I stopped for lunch at the Amoa Resort, enjoying a lovely pasta dish and ice-cold coffee in a surprisingly empty restaurant. Crossing the road here afterwards, I realised there was no beach, and the coast from here round to Saleologa seemed less than inviting. As I completed my circumnavigation of the island, a haze had moved in, creating a fantastical sunbow as I followed the southern coast. I’d never seen a sunbow before, and it travelled with me for a large chunk of the drive back to the resort. Following a dip in the ocean, and a brief walk near the resort, I sat for my last Samoan sunset before heading to the bar for my last Samoan cocktail. Both islands had offered very different experiences but both had been very much worth visiting.


I had a mid-morning sailing to catch back to Upolu ahead of a mid-afternoon flight home to New Zealand. I set off early, following the south coast and once more being enamoured by the sight of pigs and cattle just wandering about in the villages. It was overcast on the western half of the island, but by the time I eventually reached the eastern half, the sun was blazing and it was a gorgeous blue sky that greeted me at the ferry terminal. Checked in and parked ready to load, I stood by the water’s edge watching the boat arrive. It was visible from some distance, and I stood among an increasing crowd as its hulk grew ever bigger. When I boarded, I was a little concerned to be guided into a position that looked like my car was jammed in a corner. I spent the whole sailing unsure how I was going to disembark without scratching the car’s bumper. It was a more pleasant sailing to Upolu than it had been on the way over, and I was shocked to spot a turtle as we sailed. There was only myself and a couple of others nearby that saw it, which made the moment feel special, and later on I spotted two exceedingly large and long fish that I suspect may have been marlins.


We made good time on the sailing, but after somebody failed to return to their car, there was a bit of a kerfuffle disembarking. The crew could only get a few cars shifted through the gap, and suddenly they wanted me to go next. I had little space to get out of my jammed spot and felt all eyes on me as I inched round the bollard that was in my way. Negotiating that blockage, I had just as little space to angle past the car that was blocking everybody in. Disembarking, I saw the exit gate and headed straight for it, only to be yelled at by the wharf crew for going the wrong way. Embarrassed, I had to reverse back to the ferry in front of everybody, and sheepishly made a quick exit. In the end I had some time to kill, and headed back to the Sheraton Resort to enjoy a snack and a cooling drink before heading to the airport. For the first time in a week, I connected my phone to the Internet and briefly connected with the outside World, sad that my Pacific escape was over. With rental car returned, and time passed in the departure lounge, eventually it was time to say goodbye to one of my favourite Pacific nations. There was some epic turbulence on the flight home, something which I actually enjoy (unlike many of the other passengers on the flight), and I landed in New Zealand, quietly dreaming about a return trip.

Upolu to Savai’i

I rose with good intentions. I had a bit of a drive ahead of me that morning to catch the mid-day ferry but I was still to secure the ferry tickets into my possession, a series of cock-ups resulting in me feeling a bit stressed as the need to have them grew closer. But I’d spent so long exploring Upolu and ignoring the resort’s lagoon, that I was determined to squeeze in a quick snorkel before leaving. I took my usual wander to the bridge that led to the breakwater, and as I idly watched the crabs below, waiting for the breakfast buffet to open, I was shocked to see a reef shark swim by. In all the previous days I hadn’t seen much fish from the surface, so I couldn’t believe there was a shark in the lagoon. This was of immense excitement as I’d swam with reef sharks a few years prior in the Galapagos Islands and the prospect of doing it again spurred me on to gobble my last breakfast down quite quickly. I stopped at the bridge again to gauge the tide before kitting up and saw a reef shark again swim underneath, but as I wrestled with my head about how much time I actually had to take a snorkel, my rushed intake of food and the background level of stress kicked in to a sudden onset of gurgling and an unwanted sensation in my tummy that had me rushing to the toilet instead of the lagoon. Clearly it was not meant to be.

I had the entire width of Upolu to drive to reach both the ferry terminal and the pick-up point of my tickets. It had been arranged to have them waiting for me at the Sheraton Beach Resort just a few minutes drive along the coast from the port, and I pulled up with plenty of time to spare and under a gorgeous blue sky. My stress was finally appeased as within minutes I had the much-awaited tickets and I was invited to use the resort until it was time to check-in for the ferry. The resort was simply stunning, being one of the island’s upmarket hotels. Walking through the complex and out the other side, I was confronted with a gorgeous blue swimming pool, complete with in-pool bar, and framed behind it was a beautiful blue ocean, greenery fringing the coast and a small palm-fringed beach. I could just about make out Savai’i, Samoa’s other main island, on the horizon and despite the glorious sunshine where I was standing, I noted the large gloomy cloud that shrouded my destination. Finding a nice spot in the shade, I passed the time on a sun lounger before it was time to head to the port.


Having kept away from Apia for most of my trip so far, I’d really felt like there weren’t many tourists on Samoa, and parked up waiting to board the inter-island ferry, I noted the same. The vast majority of vehicle and foot traffic appeared to be locals, and even though they were acclimated to the heat, we all shared the same desire to get out of the burning sun as we waited to get on the ferry. Eventually I was on board and as we waited to sail, a light drizzle started. For just over an hour we ploughed the waters of the Apolima Strait until we berthed at Salelologa under a grey sky. My accommodation was at the almost direct opposite end of the island so it was a simple matter of picking a coast to drive along to get there. There wasn’t much difference in time, but I picked the north coast and set off for the not-quite 2hr drive. Having missed out on the opportunity to snorkel at the Aga Reef Resort on Upolu, I’d decided to make snorkelling at the Va-I-Moana resort my main priority for that afternoon, so I just enjoyed the scenery on route but didn’t stop anywhere until eventually I pulled in at the resort after what seemed like forever.

This resort was so different to the one I’d been staying at the last few nights. It was much more spread out with a mix of fales and cottages, and an expansive lawn lay through the other side of the resort building, along side which was a beautiful small beach, and a volleyball court. It was a totally different vibe but I loved it all the same. I’d decided to splash out on a sunset cabin, which was effectively a fully walled version of a fale, and as I walked through the door to the giant bed with mosquito net, it was only a few steps onto the balcony which sat over the lapping waves. I was like a kid in a candy shop, and I couldn’t wait to chill out in the evening to watch the sunset. Once geared up I headed straight to the beach and into the water. There was a floating pontoon some way out near where a couple of boats were buoyed, but I started off having a bit of a snorkel around the bay, expecting to see a whole load of tropical fish and being left rather disappointed. The fish were few and far between and not particularly colourful. Eventually I ditched my snorkel gear and just enjoyed the swim. In hindsight, and had I known how things would have panned out, I should have gotten the later ferry and spent the morning snorkelling at the Aga Reef Resort.


As the afternoon headed towards evening, I took a walk towards Auala, the small settlement that bordered the resort. Just like on Upolu, I was entertained by chickens and pigs scurrying around the undergrowth and I continued the waves and smiles that had been a highlight of my time in Samoa. The vast majority of people were polite and happy and as the sun lowered, the locals were enjoying the water themselves at the end of the working day. As sunset approached, I hurried back to my fale to sit out on the balcony with the sea below me, as the light changed and the sun set on my first day in Savai’i. Dinner was quite a different experience at this resort as the constant soundtrack that played at the bar was the most unusual choice with a mixture of classics and randomly, quite a few Disney songs interspersed. The menu was a little more regimented but the cocktails were just as enjoyed here as they’d been each night prior. When I retreated in the darkness to my fale, and climbed into my gigantic bed, I came to realise that having the sea right underneath me was not conducive to a good night’s sleep. I’d always assumed the sound of the lapping ocean would have been a perfect remedy to a day in the sun, but instead I found myself shoving ear plugs into my ears and sleeping with a pillow over my head in an effort to drown out the noise of the waves whacking against the wooden posts.


It was a beautiful morning that greeted me and I sat out on the balcony for a bit before heading to breakfast. There was no rush, and it was an easy place to wander slowly among the palm trees to aid my digestion. Unlike Upolu, there are no interior roads, so there was simply the case of driving either clockwise or anti-clockwise to go sightseeing. I decided to do the south coast sights that day, and the north coast sights the following day, so I turned right out the resort and drove the short distance to the turn-off for Falealupo.


My first stop was the canopy walk that was nestled among the thick vegetation that was typical of this part of the island. After paying the entry tax, I was pointed in the direction of a track leading into the forest, and after a short distance I came across a man sitting at the base of the tree that led me up the stairs to the swing bridge among the trees. I’m a total introvert and not the best at conversing with strangers, so I was relieved when he left me to it after initially climbing up with me. After the bridge, a wooden staircase wrapped around a giant tree leading up to a platform several storeys up. A couple were already there despite how early it was, but they left soon after, leaving me on my own. The landscape was so different to Upolu and appeared much more obviously volcanic, the last volcanic eruption being just over 100 years prior. A lot of the view was restricted by the foliage, but where I could see through, it was like a jungle. I was distracted briefly by a green lizard that joined me, and after it scurried off, I too headed off back down the tree.


Down the hill was one of the most underwhelming tourist sites on Samoa, Moso’s footprint. Effectively a sunken patch of hardened lava that was supposed to look like a giant’s footprint, it not only didn’t look like anything exciting, but my guide was a rather bored child who tried in vain to sound enthused as she relayed the fable on autopilot, whilst I pretended to be interested. She was more interested in knowing about me, which I politely obliged her with before moving on. The sandy track cut close to the shoreline and I found a spot to pull in and get out onto the beach to stretch my legs. Both the road and the beach were made up of a gorgeous white sand, but the sea did not look inviting at this most western point of the island. A couple of bends later was the tiny settlement of Old Falealupo and its shell of a church that had been destroyed. I contemplated getting out to have a nosy, but there wasn’t an obvious place to park and a lady was watching me from one of the houses in a manner that made it unclear whether I was unwelcome, or whether she was just waiting to grab me to charge me a viewing tax, so I decided not to stay.

The entry tax for Moso’s footprint had included the House of Rock which was only a few minutes further along the road. So used to being grabbed the minute I parked anywhere, it was strange to have nobody approach me for money and I felt like I was sneaking around as I followed the track into the trees that brought me past a couple of ponds and on to a small lava tube. There was no denying Savai’i’s volcanic origins – the evidence was everywhere – but compared to the giant lava tubes I’d walked through on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands, this one was compact and full of spider’s webs, and had collapsed in places, leaving only the middle section still intact as a tube.


Beyond New Falealupo, the sandy road became a little rougher with some tree roots undermining it in places. My research had suggested this was a very passable route but being in a rental car, I had a brief moment where I contemplated turning back, before deciding to push on. Thankfully, the rough section didn’t last long, and although it remained a sandy track rather than a true road all the way to Cape Mulinuu and beyond, it was a gorgeous drive, nestled among tall palm trees, with the blue sky above and a gentle ocean close by. It felt like a total tropical island getaway and I barely saw another soul the whole time I was on the detour off the main coast road. It took over an hour to reach the next stop, but little did I know that my worry with taking the rental car down the sandy road was to pale into insignificance with what was to come.

Tropical Paradise

It was only a short drive to the east of my resort, negotiating an area where a landslip had buried the road, to one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen. I had read that the line between public and private land was blurred here, and that locals often charged visitors to park anywhere, or to access beaches that otherwise looked like they were open to anyone. I was intent on not upsetting anyone, and was after all a visitor to their country, but aside from what I’d read in the guidebook before arrival, the reality was not always so clear cut to understand the etiquette. Lalomanu beach is a long stretch of blissful white sand backed by beach fales. Many beaches in Samoa have these huts available for day rent or night rent and I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to park or access the beach here. Instead, I parked at the far end of the village, looked around for anyone that wanted to charge me for the privilege, and when no-one approached, I walked to the beach from there.


The white sand was heavenly as I strolled the length of it in one direction then back again. A couple of families swum in the water, and although there was a light breeze, it was lovely and warm. Off shore, the water was a glorious blue and the offshore island of Nu’utele looked close. After getting my fill of the beach, I walked along the road to the turn-off for Cape Tapaga. Being a Sunday, many people were at church, meaning the streets felt deserted. I walked down the road towards the cape, but found myself in a cul-de-sac of private dwellings and I felt like I was at risk of trespassing. I didn’t want to be disrespectful and it was really difficult to know at times whether I was at risk of walking somewhere I shouldn’t.


I had read about a hike up the slope here, but couldn’t find the trail so continued along the road, passing a pig on the verge, and enjoying the changing view of Nu’utele as I wandered up the coast. After a while, I decided I’d wandered far enough, and returned on foot towards my car. The pretty church on the main road had emptied and families were returning for their Sunday feast. I found what I thought was the trail I was looking for, only to discover it led to someone’s house. I figured it wasn’t meant to be, and returned to the gorgeous Lalomanu beach.


For me, having a rental car was the best way to explore the island. I’d chosen a resort to stay at that was very out of the way, but Upolu is big enough to need wheels to do it justice, and I was very glad for the freedom to explore under my own terms. It was a big expense to add to the trip, but outside of Apia, I only occasionally saw a public bus. Being limited by their routes and timetables would have been very restrictive. I loved the myriad of villages that the main roads passed through. Some were small and understated, others had the prettiest of churches, and many were colourful and full of bunting ahead of the Pacific Games. I’m not religious myself, but I appreciate the architecture of many religious buildings and love a pretty church. There were so many of them on Samoa that caught my eye.


The road eventually cut inland and leaving the coast behind, I was surrounded by thick vegetation. This interior also tended to have its own micro-climate and on my various explorations, I regularly left sunshine on the coast to drive through mist and rain on these hill roads. After some time the road turned north, arriving back at the coast at Falefa. I discovered the pool I was planning on visiting was shut on a Sunday, so I decided to take a drive along the north coast to the west. Wherever I could, I would stop to watch the waves crashing on the rocky shore or admire a local beach. Parking and pull-ins were limited – this really isn’t a country that’s used to tourism and that’s frankly why it is so charming. It did mean that there were times I wished I’d had a dash cam to record the drive because it was simply so stunning.


After a while, my stomach began talking to me, and I turned round and went in search of food. Many of the villages are quite understated and it wasn’t always obvious where the eateries were. Every village had its own small store which varied from a window in a wall with an attendant to a walk-in store. But I wanted more than just snacks, and after not really finding anywhere that looked open, I decided to pull into a resort in Faleapuna. As a non-resident, I was only allowed access to the bar and restaurant, and I had it almost to myself. It was a very late lunch, but they were more than happy to serve me, and as I had the choice of tables, I sat down overlooking the ocean. Almost immediately a cat appeared and looked longingly in my direction. Soon after a second one appeared and I found myself with a hopeful audience as I tucked into my fish sandwich.

Samoa’s steep interior results in a plethora of waterfalls. Satiated from lunch, it was only a matter of minutes to reach Falefa falls. Access was down the back of the local store, and once I’d paid the entrance tax, I headed down through a beautiful tropical garden to reach the river edge just in time for rain to start. Thankfully there was a shelter at the bottom and I was able to ride the worst of it out under cover. A concrete path by the water offered a couple of vantage points of the falls which were actually quite a bit upstream from here. I could just about make out the ocean in the other direction and with the mixing of fresh and salt water in the river, there were plenty of crabs hanging out at the side of the path. These ones were much smaller and flatter than the ones I’d seen at the resort that morning and they were very flighty, scurrying away with every movement that I made.


Just a little up the road I realised there was a lookout right at the falls so got out to explore. I’d only been there a matter of minutes when one of the villagers came over to get payment. I had assumed it was part of the entry tax I’d already paid but as it turned out repetitively over my time there, the locals appeared to take ownership of a patch, and even if those patches were to look at the same thing, it would be expected that you paid per patch. It was a mild nuisance and at times confusing, but at the end of the day, as a tourist, I was comparatively rich to many of them and in the end it also offered a bit of interaction with the villagers that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. This spot was right where the water tipped over the rocks, and although a little hidden by the vegetation, it was nice to get the different aspect.

Heading back inland, instead of following the road back to the east coast, I took the turn-off to Le Mafa Pass where it climbed up into the hills and once more became surrounded by mist and rain. But it was deliciously green and thick with vegetation and there was a viewing area at one point where I could see back towards the coast as some cows watched me watching them. I had planned on stopping at another waterfall on the way back, but being on private property, I had missed the opening hours and so pushed on back to the south coast and returned to the Aga Reef Resort where I was staying.


To stretch my legs after the day of driving, I walked from the resort along the road to the west and cut down onto Saleapaga Beach which was almost deserted. I had hoped to see a sunset but discovered that just like the sunrise, it was just out of view over the steep hillside. I walked till the beach ran out, then cut up to the road to head back. As the light faded away, it was the perfect time to sit by the pool with a gorgeous cocktail. The wind began to whip up as I sat there and I was eventually forced inside. It was another delicious dinner before returning to my cabin to plan for the next day. I was supposed to have picked up my ferry tickets to Savai’i at the airport on arrival but couldn’t find the office. My guidebook showed they had an office in Apia, my destination for the following morning, so I was content that all would be fine. Instead, Apia had other plans for me in store.

Taylors Mistake to Godley Head

Being able to look out over the sea and hear the sounds of the ocean makes me happy, so it probably comes as no surprise that one of my favourite local walks to do is a coastal gem. Heading east from Christchurch’s city centre, the road soon joins the coast of Pegasus Bay and follows the coastline to Sumner, a popular outer suburb. Cutting through to the far side, the road cuts steeply and hairpins its way up and over the headland to reach the end of the road at Taylors Mistake, a beach nestled deep within a bay. There is little here aside from the beach itself and an amenities block, but with a walking trail, mountain bike tracks and surf breaks, people are drawn here in droves and the car park can often be overflowing.

The coastal walk to Godley Head takes about 3hrs return to follow the same track in both directions. It can be made shorter by taking a short-cut back across the shared-use bike tracks but I always like to maintain that closeness to the sea. The start of the track can either be reached by cutting across the large green field and behind the row of beach shacks, or by going down to the beach and walking to the far end where a set of stairs cut into the hill lead you up to the same place. Once on the track, it quickly leads away from the beach, providing a multitude of views back over the beach itself.


The headland varies from green to brown depending on how dry the season has been, and it is regularly cut into by the sea creating a weaving track as it hugs the coastline above the dazzling blue water. There have been a few upgrades since I moved to Christchurch in 2012 and as it is so popular, it is a very well maintained track and usually busy with people, especially on sunny weekend days. Eventually it passes a cut-down to a bach that is down the hillside and nestled among the trees, and beyond this side-trail, the main track starts to zig-zag up the hillside to reach the eastern end of the Port Hills. Suddenly, the entire Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you and the track begins to cut south.


With the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to your left, the mouth of Lyttelton harbour becomes increasingly visible and beyond that, the disappearing coastline of Banks Peninsula. Again the track ziz-zags up the hillside where it reaches the remains of a World War II gunnery. The port within the harbour was protected by this coastal armament in case of attack from the ocean or the air. More often than not the main part of the World War II remains is locked up behind a chained gate, but sometimes it is open to the public. The last time I walked the track, it was closed for an undefined period for the purposes of preservation.


Once past that, the track cuts briefly inland past some buildings and through a small copse of trees before snaking its way towards the mouth of Lyttelton harbour, and from here, it passes yet more World War II remnants as it hugs the harbour coastline towards the car park at Godley Head. Godley Head marks the end of Summit Road, the road that traverses the summit of the Port Hills, and as such, this track can be approached from either direction. Near the Godley Head car park, a small bench provides a glorious view, and if you time it right, there may be some ships going in or out of the harbour to offer an added bit of interest. Then, it is simply a matter of either reversing the route back round the coast, or crossing the road from the car park to join one of the shared-use mountain bike tracks to take the short-cut back.

Coastal Canterbury

At the end of a 90 minute scenic drive from Christchurch, nestled in the remnants of an old volcanic crater, lies Akaroa within the harbour of the same name. Banks Peninsula is the result of historical volcanic activity resulting in the creation of Lyttelton harbour and Akaroa harbour on opposing sides of the peninsula. It is a beautiful drive to reach Akaroa and my brother had plenty of opportunity to take in the Canterbury countryside as we wound our way first round then up and over the hillsides, past the many bays to reach the town. Originally settled by the French before the English claimed New Zealand, it does its best to retain a bit of French flair, with French street names and French flags. It is a great day or overnight trip from the Garden City and always a great place to take visitors.


Despite a cruise ship being in the harbour, it wasn’t as oppressively busy as it can be on cruise ship days and we’d arrived early enough to have little problem finding a park. We headed first away from the main pier and down to the little pier and round past the domain and recreation ground where a track led round a few bays to a picnic table. Returning back to town we passed remnants of the whaling days, and the town’s war memorial before following the sweeping bay round to where the main eateries are. Coming from Scotland, where fish suppers are notoriously good, it’s been hard to find a worthy contender in New Zealand. Thankfully, I’ve found a pretty good one near where I live, but Akaroa Fish & Chips is a reasonable place to go to, and I insisted to my brother that we ate there. The place is always busy and table space is at a premium, so even although it wasn’t quite the lunchtime rush yet, we still had to sit on the wall to enjoy it.


Loaded up with food, we cut down to the main pier to wander along past the cruise passengers who were busy loading on and off the transfer vessels that were ploughing back and forth across the harbour. The end of the pier is a good spot to look back onto the town from and admire the towering hillside that juts up behind the town. Further round the headland is a lighthouse and we hugged the roadside round the coast to reach it. It was a busy little place, and I’ve never really gone anywhere further round, but my brother wanted to keep wandering so we continued along the road until eventually a path took us up the hillside a little to the Britomart monument. From there, we headed back to town via a bush walk up past the cemetery.


Akaroa is one of the few places in New Zealand to see the rare Hector’s dolphin, the smallest dolphin in the world alongside its even rarer cousin the Maui dolphin. Averaging 1.4m in length, they are distinctive in having a round dorsal fin instead of the usual pointed one, and although occasionally seen close to the town, the best way to see them is on a harbour nature cruise. I’ve done this several times here, and usually take people that visit us out on this trip, but my brother wasn’t really fussed so we meandered back to the car and instead I drove him up Lighthouse Road which has a steep incline but also has a great viewpoint from an S-bend where there is a crude pull-in. There were sheep grazing just across the fence, the grass was green, the sky was blue, and a good expanse of Akaroa and the harbour lay below us.


Seeing as it was November, we still had many hours of daylight ahead of us, and with blue skies overhead, I drove us out of Akaroa and cut up to Summit Road to take the high road back home. The gorse was in full bloom creating a vast yellow wave across the hillside. Although it is introduced and classed as a pest species here, it certainly reminds me of my homeland and it added a dramatic edge to the landscape. Driving Summit Road, we got sneak peaks of the Pacific Ocean at times, but mainly the view was down over the harbour as we followed the curvature of the mountain. There were so many viewpoints to stop at, and whether my brother wanted to or not, I stopped at many of them before we eventually found ourselves back at the junction with the road to Little River.


Through the other side of Little River, when the turn-off came, I took the road to Gebbies Pass to cut across and join the Summit Road that overlooks Lyttelton harbour and the city of Christchurch. Again there are plenty of places to stop and admire the view, including the place where my best friend got married, near the Sign of the Bellbird. There was still plenty of scars from the bush fire that had swept across this area 9 months prior. The regeneration was very evident but it will take a long time for the bush to reach the level it was before. Eventually we snaked down Dyers Pass Road and back home.


The next day was more hazy than the previous ones, and giving him the options of walks in the area, my brother decided to go to Spencer Park where a walk leads up past wetlands to the mouth of the Waimakariri river. Although it was decidedly grey, it was a pleasant enough walk, and we managed to spot a spoonbill and a kingfisher amongst the usual ducks, herons and gulls that were frequenting the area. My partner joined us to begin with, but had to leave early to go to work, whereas my brother and I kept walking north for some time until we couldn’t be bothered going any further, at which point we turned around and headed back.


It was an easy drive from there to New Brighton beach where we had lunch at the Salt on the Pier cafe. Unfortunately, the pier was under repair at the time so we couldn’t walk far along it. Nearby though, a dune walk heads off across the dune tops towards the southern end of New Brighton beach. There were plenty of flowers in bloom offering a distraction from the sea view, but eventually we cut down to the beach itself and continued to walk down till it ends at the mouth of the estuary that receives the run out from the Avon and Heathcote rivers. The rock structure at the end of Sumner beach looked tantalisingly close being as it was around low tide, but the current of the estuary mouth was clearly very strong and any attempt to swim the gap would be foolish. As we cut back up we came across a dead fish that a black-backed gull very eagerly tucked into after we had passed by. It was the very definition of sushi.


In the time it had taken us to walk down the beach and then back again, there were a few windsurfers in the waves that hadn’t been there before. A couple of them were particularly acrobatic, leaping surprisingly high in the air as they zipped over and around the waves that rolled onto the beach. We watched them as we walked. New Brighton unfortunately suffered a lot in the 2011 earthquake and is in need of a good dose of investment, but the waterfront area around the pier was at least undergoing some much needed repair when we were there. Heading home, we had our road trip ahead of us the next day: a 10 day drive round the South Island’s highlights. I’m always eager for a road trip and always eager to explore my adopted homeland, so I was excited to get going.

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