Eliza’s is one of Christchurch’s grand ladies

Apparently named ‘Eliza’s’ after Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, this boutique B&B Hotel is a very grand lady – and like Audrey – elegant

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Like many buildings in the new settlement of 1800s Christchurch, it just grew.  The land was bought in 1856 and the building started in 1861, predating the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral by some twenty years. This ‘growing’ means it can’t be easily classified as Victorian or any other architectural style: Eliza’s personal style includes gables, bay windows, projecting dormers and door and window hoods.

On the morning of the September (2010) quake, while photographically documenting the quake damage, I had walked past this beautiful building, just a couple of streets away from my apartment. I was relieved to see it too had apparently survived the 7.1 shake. Of course inside it was a different story.

Pleased they had no guests to evacuate at 4:30am, they quickly got to work demolishing the damaged chimneys and multiple fireplaces – involving some 60 tonnes of bricks – then repairing the destruction they had produced.  On the day of the quake they had Russian guests arrive and a week later they were hosting a wedding. Just like the movie, the show must go on!

Nearly six months later it was a different story and during the February 6.3 quake, with all the rooms occupied, nature ripped walls apart, cracked skirting boards, buckled window frames and toppled wardrobes. Luckily the chimneys had gone; there were no injuries to staff or guests; and the foundations and structure were sound. Add another eight months, 1.5 million dollars, heaps of hard work and Eliza’s doors were open once again.

Making jewellery for Christmas
Making jewellery for Christmas

When I arrived Harold and Ann were hosting their staff Christmas party and everyone was busy making jewellery under the guidance of Beadz Unlimited. (Christchurch’s first bead shop and now in historic New Regent Street after being quake-shaken out of the wonderful Gothic Art’s Centre)

When the front door opens, I’m immediately impressed with the ornate staircase that’s in front of me –it was built in Scotland with New Zealand’s native kauri. Over the years many distinct groups of people have climbed these stairs.  As well as guests from around the world Eliza’s previous inhabitants have included mothers and nurses during its maternity home persona; it’s also been a private home, accommodation for ‘genteel ladies’ and a boarding house for St. Margaret’s Girls High.

Ann and Harold bought the building in 2004, and all the rooms have local heritage names – I’m in The Masters which has wonderful leadlight and stained glass windows. (With a hotel of this standing of course the bed, bathroom, fittings, and linen, were all wonderful and spotless – so take that as read!)

Along with the history of the building in each room, they also have a guest-book: I like this as it gives us guests’ time to write a considered response to our stay. From Spain to Switzerland, UK to the USA, France to Australia (and of course us Kiwi), it seems the world has not only stayed here but loved to too! I read many comments on the great hospitality, the friendly hosts, the homemade ANZAC biscuits, and the fabulous breakfasts. Seems Ann is a great believer in the old adage of eating breakfast like a king: it certainly provides enough tasty fuel for the day.

I notice, alongside other framed accolades, a certificate showing they won a 2013 community garden award; the garden is very colourful with wisteria and white daphne providing fragrance alongside the 130 plus roses.

The World Travel Guide says this of Eliza’s – ‘With beautiful period features, Eliza’s history spans three centuries. This grade II historic, wooden house was built during 1861 by one of the city’s founding fathers, was restored in 1981 and has been turned into wonderful accommodation ever since. It’s within easy walking distance of the gardens, museum, and New Regent Street while just around the corner is Victoria Street which has many tasty restaurants and bars. The hotel’s delicious cooked breakfast sets you up for your day of exploring the city.’

I have a vehicle from my favourite rental car company to explore the region, and my first task when I arrived was to feed the lions at Orana Wildlife Park – and, with all the walking I did there I should have had an Eliza’s breakfast first!

I can well recommend Eliza’s Boutique Hotel for a wonderful few nights in Christchurch; New Zealand’s 2nd largest city. With so few buildings of this age, Eliza’s is a real asset in the city – tell them I sent you 🙂

 

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A night and whisky with the Borneo Headhunters

A frisson of fear runs through me as I step into the canoe on the man-made lake as I leave for a night with the Borneo Headhunters – the Iban tribe in their Nanga Mengka longhouse.

Ironically, it’s a man-made lake, Batang Ai, created for power generation, that I’m travelling on to stay with a displaced tribe whose region was drowned and who now have generator power for about 3 hours each evening.  Dry season means the lake is low with dead trees poking above the water and the banks showing the usual level. Our boat has very little freeway and it feels as if it could easily tip over and I have fears for my camera!

my boat arrives
my boat arrives
drowned trees and farms
drowned trees and farms

The boat is full with supplies and we too have bought many vegetables and meat for our hosts. I also have bought my gifts for the 37 families.  Using a recommendation from my guide I have 37 kilo bags of salt, one of the essential commodities they need to buy, and 80 lollipops, along with some colourful kiwi-pens, from New Zealand, for the children of the 37 homes within this longhouse.

Our boatman nearly slips as he climbs the steep bank to get up to the homes on stilts.  We pass a carved wooden figure that guards the complex and I’m soon introduced to the family I’m staying with. They have turns as being the host family and I’m staying with the 73-year old chief – a role he’s held for 30 years.  Although it’s a hereditary role, if his son does not want it, an election will be held among the men.

we arrive at the longhouse
we arrive at the longhouse
We approach the longhouse
We approach the longhouse

 

 

 

The human heads that this tribe had acquired over many generations of head-hunting were buried within their old longhouse when their valley was flooded: there are none in this new home.  Interestingly they still build canoes for the lake in the same way as they used on the river and I watched as they were adzing a new one that had been ordered, one of their ways of earning cash. It usually takes about 4 weeks working full-time but this time many men and women are occupied with it to get cash for the longhouse.

 

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With our language differences, it’s not easy to communicate with this extended family and I had dreaded the welcome and the accompanying drink. They make a wine and then distil it to make a 20% proof ‘whisky’. As I am allergic to all alcohol I had learnt the word pantang which means forbidden, a term they will respect without me seeming rude in refusing it. I had also told my guide and think he had forewarned them and it was not a problem.

home-made whisky
home-made whisky

The only problem was me trying to emulate the dance they welcomed me with. I felt, and no doubt looked like, a clumsy elephant among the graceful hornbills they were dancing as. Only about half of the families joined in the welcome which finished when the whisky’ bottle was empty.

a celebration meal is prepared with the food we bought
a celebration meal is prepared with the food we bought

 

My bed, in the long communal corridor room that the ‘doors’ lead off, is a blow-up mattress and I cut my liquids in the hopes I don’t have to go to the toilet in the night – it didn’t work and I hear the roosters at 3, 4, 5, and 6am. I know the time as they have three chiming clocks: one is stuck at 6.29 but the pendulum is still rotating left them right.  The other two are about 30 seconds out of sync with each other so 2am produces 4 chimes and 6am, 12!

My bed in the communal area .. opposite the Chiefs dood
My bed in the communal area .. opposite the Chiefs door

Another noise I heard from 9pm until 5am is a very regular noise, rather like a cicada. It chirped every 60 seconds or so, and in the morning I ask Wayne, my guide, who is also Iban so can translate for me.  The longhouse is in a fuss about it. Seems the same noise had been  heard a few nights earlier and some of the men had gone outside to find and find it. Nothing was found and they were left wondering, was it a ‘bird, a frog, cicada’ or the top choice, ‘a spirit-bird’?

IMG_4296Morning saw me successfully having a lesson with the blow pipe and manage to hit the target each time and then we went for a BBQ picnic lunch of traditional foods  at one of their local farms.

I do hope they get enough money hosting people as it seems some of the families don’t really want to engage with visitors and being the only one made it hard for me too.  On the noticeboard I see this is their peak month for visitors, I’m the only overnight guest, with 38 day-trippers during this July.

Leaving the longhouse, on a Sunday, I’m asked if we can take three children back for their schooling where they stay Sunday to Friday. Of course I willingly agree to that – it means the transport for them and a few mothers is free, the fuel being paid for by my trip and I suspect this may be of most value to them all. Earlier in the morning others had left, leaving behind crying younger siblings and a couple crying themselves.

As I’m dropped off at the Hilton as they go on to main jetty, my guide tells me ‘Heather your trip has helped a lot of people today.’  Maybe, but it feels obscene to be going from poverty to luxury. From the locals tiny global footprint to the guests here, like me, with a huge print on the earth.

This experience reminded me of  the hard work behind survival in remote places and how it depends on a strong sense of community and self-sufficiency  but it’s now a community  quite dependent on tourism – and children who send money back from their city jobs.  As with all traditions worldwide many of these will die out too despite the help to try to keep them alive. We also cannot expect people to stay living in poor conditions while all around them, and the tourists, have hot water, power and a far easier life

Another day juggling in the life of the kiwitravelwriter

Some-ones best friend
Some-ones best friend

What does a planning day in the life of the kiwitravelwriter look like?

Often it feelings like juggling eggs and despite once attending a  3 day clown workshop, physical juggling is not something I’m good at despite having taught many friends the skills. (Beware the pupil who outstrips the teacher!)

However with ideas for travel, blogs, and bookings I seem to be able to keep them many in the air. A recent day saw me planning 3 trips (November, December & January) at the same time – two in the South Island of New Zealand and one an island off the coast just north of Wellington, here on the North Island: all very different.

This means some great blogs are coming up over the next few months (and in-between times I still have some amazing tales to tell, and an article, and an e-book to write, about Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) AND re-writing a webpage about Christchurch for a UK travel company,  while at the back of my mind is an October trip to Poland that will need sorting once I’m back from my January trip to Dunedin. I really love my life – doing what I love to do, writing and travel, a great combo.

So, if you could see this mental juggling it would be mini-globes spinning through the air while staying on their axis.

The result of the days planing means I have:

Check out the links and let me know if you have any questions about the different places so I can cover them in my blogs … or maybe you have suggestions of places or things for my to-do list.

Earthquake Photos Chch NZ Sat 4th Sept 2010

Re-posting these photos on the 3rd anniversary of the 7.1 quake in my city …  I’m happy to report that although much of our city centre (80%) was consequently demolished because of damage it is well on its way to recovery with inner city shops and hotels open and more on the way.  See more about Christchurch on this blog.

Note, these photos were first published in under 3 hours of the quake.

Earthquake Photos Chch NZ Sat 4th Sept 2010.

A unique & award-winning Kauri Museum for your bucket-list

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After breakfast at the delightful and historic Commercial Hotel I head out of Dargaville on SH12 to Matakohe – it’s 45ks to the award-winning Kauri Museum.

It was many years ago that I first visited this area and in the fifty years since the community started the museum it has grown in status and size. I suspect it’s unprecedented that a museum with no government funding, is run by a small rural community trust, and whose governance structure are all volunteers, becomes an acclaimed museum with international university studies centred there. The Kauri Museum ticks all those features.

Its latest award, in “The New Zealand Museum Awards” was last month (April 2013) where they won the award for ‘an outstanding innovative project that contributes to the best practice in the Museum Sector in New Zealand’.  The project was for Achieving CarboNZero Certification – Now there is no doubt – it’s a world-leading, sustainable, museum operation.

kauri museum 13The goal of becoming the world’s first carboNZero certified museum was driven by a desire for integrity and their chief executive Bet Nelley said,

“It’s our answer to long distance travellers who find the story of the demise of the kauri tree sad. And, as environmental responsibility is one of our core values, it made sense for us to get a recognised measure of our carbon emissions that we could work to reduce and offset.”
The museum also provides a base for a scientific research project into dendrochronology – a huge word that means tree-ring dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings!

Dendrochronologist Dr Jonathan Palmer (supported by Exeter University (UK) and University of Auckland) is developing an archive of ancient kauri samples to help unlock secrets from the past, and museum displays to chronicle scientific research into kauri.

Over a coffee with the three scientists (Jonathon Palmer, Gerd Helle, Alan Hogg) they tell me their research with the rings, pollen and carbon dating is proving really useful as the age of the trees give a longer time period to look at the effects of climate change especially in the southern hemisphere and which has implications for the northern hemisphere research too.

L to R. Alan, Gerd, Jonoathan
L to R. Alan, Gerd, Jonathon

They were at The Kauri Museum to discuss how best to glean the most informative climate data from buried kauri tree-rings. Dr Alan Hogg from Waikato University was helping to give a date of when the trees were growing by radiocarbon dating. The museum’s resident scientist, Dr Jonathan Palmer is looking at the ring-widths to consider past climate patterns (such as El Nino / La Nina frequency) while Dr Gerd Helle (Potsdam, Germany) is specialised at “using isotopes of oxygen and carbon to determine past temperature and moisture levels.”

The three are intending to work together on a particular time period of abrupt climate change so that the most climate information can be obtained from these amazing native New Zealand trees.

This social history museum tells the fascinating story of the kauri and local pioneering days via the use of kauri timber and kauri gum, starting when the settlers came to the area in 1862 – this museum was born 100 years later in 1962.

With exceptional displays and dedicated galleries this is a must do for your Northland bucket-list. These including a magnificent collection of antique kauri furniture, restored machinery (including NZ’s earliest tractor) a turning Steam Sawmill and fabulously, the world’s largest collection of kauri gum.

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an example of some of the old kauri furniture
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Beautiful artwork : a native kauri snail in kauri
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kauri goods for sale 🙂

I wasn’t sure what the difference between amber and kauri gum was – but can now describe it for you: amber is older, so harder, than kauri gum with amber 25 – 200+ million years old, while the gum is a baby at only 43 million years old! I also learnt that kauri timber ranges from gold and golden brown through to green, yellow, browns and blacks. Kauri is one of New Zealand’s treasures – the other is pounamu – greenstone (jade).

Most Kauri were felled in the 1800 – 1900’s for timber for houses and today owners of those old homes treasure their polished kauri floors while tourists buy souvenirs or art works made from swamp kauri or recycled wood from old buildings. Unfortunately there are only about 4% of kauri forest left and they are at risk of kauri dieback disease. The Kauri Coast is the only place to see New Zealand’s ancient trees and is a must-do while traveling the Twin Coast Highway.

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This beautiful piece recently came from ‘The Duke’ in Russell – see an earlier pieces from this Twin Coast Discovery series of blogs

My souvenir from this exceptional museum is a beautiful gift – a piece of kauri gum which lives in on top of my very old walnut writing desk. Very special and, thank you Betty.

I recommend you allow at least 1 ½ hours to browse around this fascinating place – see what Trip Advisor members say about the museum. (A hint – it’s ‘excellent’)

My Northland road-trip was in a NZ Rent A Car vehicle and I can endorse both, and this unique museum – I shall return!

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The Commercial Hotel and Blah Blah Blah!

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Before checking into The Commercial Hotel in Dargaville I grab lunch after spending time in The Woodturners Studio with NZ’s master woodturner Rick Taylor. Seems people here have a good sense of humour and I can’t resist eating at Blah Blah Blah in Victoria Street – the name alone called me in!

Dargaville sits on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River and is the largest town on the Kauri Coast and is the gateway to the Kauri Coast in Northland, New Zealand

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Ernie starts the show!

The Kumara Box and Ernie are about 10 minutes’ drive (from Dargaville) heading south on Pouto Rd and once there, for about an hour I watch the live Kumara show!  Ernie, the kumara, shares his stories and interesting facts about the history and people of the Kaipara area and this much-loved, tasty, sweet potato. (Seems there are ten varieties grown but supermarkets only want 3 of them!)

According to ‘Ernie’ the vegetable came to NZ via an American ship in 1850 where one of the crew gave three to a Māori – luckily he planted them and now they are a kiwi staple.

Kumara growing in NZ's 'kumara capital.'
Kumara growing in NZ’s ‘kumara capital.’

I enjoy a cuppa, (along with scones made with kumara) with this couple who almost fell into tourism and now thrive on their new job. They now leave it to others (family)to plant the 1½ million plants each year. The ‘train’ that takes guests around the farm was wisely not started up for just one person but I get a tour to see the farm and what I suspect is the smallest church in New Zealand on a quad bike. Note: bookings are essential to visit the Kumara Box and the vegetable has taken on a new life in my mind making shopping for them enjoyable.

Continuing south on Pouto Road I next visit Zizania Paper Products on Turkey Flat Rd where a weed (pest?) is being given a new life.

It seems the Manchurian ricegrass came into the area in either ballast water, or bricks from China which were then used to build stables – the rest as they say is history. Manchurian wild rice (Zizania latifolia) is a giant semi-aquatic grass that has smothered riverbanks, invaded pastures, and run rampant through drainage channels in parts of the North Island from Northland to the Kapiti Coast – now it’s being used for beautiful paper. “It’s the only good thing about it’ I’m told, and Zizania Paper now creates acid-free papers for artists and other lovers of fine products – using also material from red-hot pokers; flax, cabbage tree, and of course in keeping with this area, kumara. See more on their Facebook page.

paper making from an unwanted weed
paper making from an unwanted weed
View from The Pavilion
View from The Pavilion

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Alongside Zizania is The Pavilion – a one-Queen-sized bedroom, kitchen, and lounge is a  self-contained cottage that’s ideally placed for a relaxing stay in the area. A historic cricket club-house that was relocated here in 2006 and  sits nicely in the gardens with its lake – home to frogs, black swans and herons and other birds. However, my accommodation is already booked so I head back to town to the  John Logan Campbell kauri-built  Commercial Hotel, on River Road.

This is completely refurbished heritage-listed waterfront pub was built during  the 1880s, overlooking the mighty Northern Wairoa River. Peter & Pam Kelly spent some 35 years farming sheep and beef farming in the northwest of Dargaville before they took on the task of restoring this fabulous building. They’re people-people and with a love of travel they are the ideal hosts for this charming building – and the care with which it’s been restored is clear. I’m not surprised it’s being used for weddings and other gatherings!

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My room was comfortable and with the room overlooking the river it was great watching the river traffic from there and on the veranda where I had a ‘cuppa’ with my hosts as the sun went down. This is an ideal starting point a road trip on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway – the 800km circular route from Auckland that takes you around Northland, and the big sky here makes for fabulous photos too!

The (5-hour) Historic River Walk has the 1867-built Commercial as #14 on the map and says “perhaps a notorious watering hole but a historical part of the pioneer days – gory stories and a fascinating past.

detail - Commercial Hotel
detail – Commercial Hotel
Detail - Commercial Hotel
Detail – Commercial Hotel

This is my last night on my 2 week trip ‘up north’, so if you are planning to visit this fabulous part of New Zealand, I suggest you a search on ‘Northland’ in the categories to the right on this blog and find out about places that could be added to your must-see, must-do bucket-list.

The bombed - by the French - Rainbow Warrior masts are at the Dargaville Museum
The masts from the bombed – by the French – Rainbow Warrior  are at the Dargaville Museum

Many thanks to Destination Northland  for sorting out much of my trip and NZ Rent A Car  for the car. I took my TomTom GPS and was often told, when I took a side turning “Mate! Turn around wherever possible and let’s find a mean steak and cheese pie.” Perhaps you can tell I have a kiwi voice guiding me wherever I go!

My last blog (of this Northland series) will be about the award-winning Kauri Museum so come back in a day or 2!

Sunset - see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.
Sunset – see in the slideshow for an early morning shot I took the next day.

Hokianga – take a twilight trip to see largest kauri tree

Perched right on the edge of the Hokianga Harbour, The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga is a beautiful old style kauri villa has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay. After checking in it’s not long before I’m in the warm water – I rarely get into cool or cold  sea but this road trip in Northland has reintroduced me to salt water bathing. This  4-star hotel also has a fresh-water swimming pool.

web copthorne hokianga

Back in my room, in the newer building, I watch as a fishing group returns and excitedly weighs, and photographs, a large fish. Before long I’m back in the hotels foyer as I’m meeting my guide there for a trip called Footprints Waipoua – a guided evening walk into the Waipoua Forest. (Twitter @hokimustdos)

We meet in the Copthorne Hokianga foyer
We meet in the Copthorne Hokianga foyer
Koro explains our route
Koro explains our route

My guide, Koro, from the local Maori tribe, picks me up and I meet the other couples, from Canada and Australia, who are on the walk too. He tells us he will introduce us to the locals’ relationship with nature, spiritually and culturally as we meet the trees many of whom have names.

One of them, Tane Mahutu, Lord of the Forest, belongs to the ‘family of ancient trees’ along with a Japanese tree, Jōmon Sugi – a similar forest chief on Yakushima Island off the coast of Japan. Both are celebrities in their own country and have twin tales of cultural significance.

The natural environment of Waipoua Forest provides a natural stage for our walk to see some of the largest kauri trees in the world. Koro also gives us a mythological interpretation of life in the forest and it feels really spiritual and a privilege to be in the forest in the dark.  It’s quite different during the day when I revisit the next afternoon with buses of tourists also there – no sounds of silence then!

An impressive trunk!
An impressive trunk!

We  meet the Four Sisters, ‘working together in competition’ and  the mighty Te Matua Ngahere, Father of the Forest, estimated to be 4,000 years old, “older than Jesus” Koro tells us,  and Tane Mahutu who is, impressively, 51 metres tall. Unfortunately, kauri have a disease, kauri dieback that’s proving a relentless killer and scientists are desperately seeking a way to stop the spread so please, please, stay on the walkways and clean your footwear to help stop the spread.

???????????????????????????????I recommend that while in the Hokianga, make sure you take the Footprints guided tour and learn about these special trees through song, history, and the Maori creation story. As Koro reminds us, “we are only alive when we are conscious of our treasures.”

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clean your footwear .. PLEASE
Breakfast at the Copthorne before I head off on a water taxi (see the next blog)
Next morning I breakfast at the Copthorne before I head off on a water taxi (see the next blog)

My 2-week  trip around Northland was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car!

 

Gum diggers, fish, and great accommodation in Northland, NZ

Doubtless Bay Villas
Doubtless Bay Villas

Northland has it all – you are spoilt for choice and today it’s gum diggers history, fish, swimming, and great accommodation.  I check out the fabulous, add-to-your-list Kahoe Farms Hostel and head off to the historic seaside village of Mangonui – home of the famous Mangonui Fish Shop. Browse the little craft shops and walk the Heritage Trail around the village. ( for a map see here, or buy one at the little visitors centre.)

Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui
Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui

The walkway is dedicated to the men and women, Maori and European, who sailed vast oceans to make a new life. The Polynesian navigator Kupe visited the area about 900 AD and later, another canoe, the Ruakaramea, was guided into a harbour by a shark. The canoes chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui, which means ‘large shark’.

This was known as a safe harbour for whaling vessels by the late 1700s and in 1831 the first European settlers arrived. By the mid-1800s, Mangonui was a centre for whalers and traders with sawmilling, flax and gum industries flourishing.

the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop
the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop

Now, it’s better known as the home of the ‘world-famous’ fish and chip shop’ but I’m sad to say, for me, the tagline did not live up to its food on the day I was there – but as it gets many rave reviews perhaps I was just there at the wrong time!

Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay
Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay

After the disappointing lunch I continue in my rental car  onto the lovely Doubtless Bay Villas in Cable Bay  and where I immediately head for the golden sands and blue water.

Travelling alone it’s not always easy to go swimming: where do you put your car and accommodation keys? Mostly, in NZ, I just leave them with my towel, but when the keys belong to someone else I find it easier to pin them inside my swimming gear, or on a chain around my neck – what do you do when alone and wanting to swim at the beach?

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I spend the evening, night and morning relaxing, reading, just soaking up the view and great accommodation before heading off for Kaitaia and the Mainstreet Lodge, taking a side road and stopping for lunch at the fantastic Karikari Estate. For wine buffs make sure you have a sober driver when you tackle the samples of tasting wines.

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My very yummy sundae

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I continue along SH10 on to Awanui then turn right and head north for Gumdiggers Park , an authentic Kauri Gum digging site that’s over 100 years old.

Amazingly, 40,000 to 150,000 year old Buried Kauri Forests have been exposed by the gum diggers and the Gumdiggers’ village, equipment & recreated shelters brings the stories to life.

Newly formed tracks show extensive ancient kauri deposits and the  bus tour tourists who  were also visiting told me they too enjoyed the walk around the very natural park.

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With the scenery around Northland, as I said in a earlier blog  with other photos  –  no wonder TV shows like The Bachelor and Top Model have used this area for some of their programmes.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with a view like this. Not!
 Doubtless bay Villas

Christchurch celebrates an upturn in visitor numbers


Christchurch and the Canterbury region are celebrating a year of tourism wins, along with an upturn in visitor numbers.

In recent months the region has been singled out by influential travel book publisher Lonely Planet as a top destination and several of the region’s tourism attractions and tourist operators have won industry accolades: in Christchurch earlier this month I can see why.

Every time I return to my home city I have a combination of sadness and hope: sad to see my history being erased from the streets along with hope as I see the new city rise phoenix  like.

Staying at the five star Classic Villa in the city centre  it was easy to walk around and see both – I also took the Red Bus tour of the red-z0ne area which is very small now – which got a me a little closer to places I could not always reach on foot.

“It’s been another challenging year for our tourism industry but despite that we’ve had some big successes,” says Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter.

“The proof of recovery is that all the major Asian markets, plus the United States are back in growth compared with 2011, and the Australian holiday market looks like it has turned the corner too,” Mr Hunter says.

As well as Lonely Planet’s inclusion of Christchurch in its list of Top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2013, Canterbury also has nine spots in the AA (Automobile Assn,) Travel’s 101 Must-Do list. with the popular alpine thermal resort of Hanmer Springs, (90 minutes from Christchurch) ranked No 1 on the list while a cruise around picturesque Akaroa Harbour with Black Cat Cruises was ranked at number 3. The popular TranzAlpine scenic rail trip from Christchurch to the West Coast came in at number 6.

Other notable achievements:
Otahuna Lodge has again been named by Tatler Magazine as one of its 101 Best Hotels in the World.
The George hotel in Christchurch was voted New Zealand’s Leading Boutique Hotel in the World Travel Awards.
Melton Estate, boutique winery in West Melton was judged Best Wine Tourism Restaurant in Christchurch / South Island for the Great Wine Capitals of the World 2012 Wine Tourism Awards.
Mark Gilbert, who together with wife Nikki runs Hassle-free Tours, won the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Young Tourism Entrepreneur Award.
 Pegasus Bay received the Cuisine Award for Best Winery Restaurant for the fifth year in a row.
Earth & Sky, star gazing tours in Tekapo won a South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa won Best Natural Bathing Spa in the Australasian Spa Association’s (ASPA) annual awards

“These awards are testimony to the talent of the people who work in our tourism industry and to the quality of the products we offer in Canterbury,’’ Mr Hunter says.

“The delivery of outstanding service to visitors has been a key influencer in driving our tourism recovery.

“The visitor decline that was triggered by the earthquakes of 2011 has now been arrested with stronger arrivals from most of our key markets already evident this summer.

Wharepuke. Eco-cottages I stayed at in Kerikeri, Northland

In Kerikeri, Northland earlier this year, for the first time in many years, I stayed in some delightful eco-cottages.

These stylish self-catering, eco cottages at Wharepuke are nestled in 2 hectares of gardens which were first planted by Robin Booth – starting 18 years ago  on bare land – and have been awarded the ‘garden of significance’ status . The cottages feature original fine art prints and paintings by resident artist, print-maker and tutor, Mark Graver who has his studio on the grounds too.

Wharepuke has solid green credentials and actions – they include:

  • the cottages are purposefully designed for energy conservation
  • they use available local goods and services
  • they use organic cleaners and products
  • they encourage the reuse of sheets and towels by guests to save water and products
  • they recycle any rubbish
  • they have their own sewerage system which bio-treats water and which ends up back on the garden
  • And, they offer local and organic food and drinks where possible

These cottages are peaceful to stay in, and as this a great wedding venue, I imagine both guests and brides love staying here – I know I did!  I also valued the little torch on the key-ring to lead me home through the subtropical bush late in the evening.

Another asset about this place is the restaurant set within the gardens. Food at Wharepuke is a fully licensed cafe and restaurant specialising in Thai-inspired and modern European food.

Judged the “Northland Cafe of the Year” I can vouch for the fabulous dishes produced by the Welsh chef Colin Ashton , and his staff. An advantage they have is their herbs are mostly all grown on site.  Interestingly, the restaurant was once army barracks and was trucked to the site. Even if you can’t stay at the cottages make sure you eat at the restaurant.

One of my food recommendations is the Thai Tasting Plate. Dishes I especially loved were the very tender squid, the raw fish, spring rolls and the lavash bread!

Mark Graver- the resident artist – is the author of the book Non-Toxic Printmaking. (A&C Black, London 2011) and tells me he had to self learn how to create non-toxic printmaking. He was awarded First Prize at the 2010 Lessedra World Art Print competition in Sofia, Bulgaria and has work in public and private collections worldwide.  See his website for details about his work and the workshops he gives.

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Singer Frankie Stevens signed the chair .. that I sat in for lunch. Only days earlier he had been MC at the concert in the Treaty Grounds I’d attended. (see an earlier blog post)
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Lush subtropical gardens
cottage bedroom
a peaceful retreat
food at wharepuke
YUM!
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Fabulous gardens
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Food at Wharepuke can be served indoors, on the deck, or here in the garden
Food at Wharepuke
Food at Wharepuke
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Mark Grover at work on his etching … water based inks on copper
thai tasting plate
Thai tasting plate
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A saying to live by
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View from my cottage
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another view from my cottage

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