Money, Olympics, cable cars & a museum in the world’s top 50!

top 50 museums

 Wellington, the best little capital in the world, has some great and eclectic  museums  

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Visitors to Wellington (and locals) have a variety of museums to choose from – so if you are visiting briefly or on a cruise ship passing through, check out these very different places you could visit – but of course you absolutely must see Te Papa too. 

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.

Been to Ashburton? Have a quick look here.

In late June I was in Ashburton for a couple of nights – by putting my business card in a draw at a travel expo, I won 2 nights at the Bella Vista motel and a flight on Lady Jane – the historic DC3. While I went flying with their patron Richie McCaw almost immediately, travel and a shift to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, meant I didn’t have a free weekend to get to Ashburton.

Nevertheless, the wait was worth it and my hosts, the hospitable Evan and Heather Glass, made my trip  and stay enjoyable. (And, thanks for sending my PJs back to me!)

Travelling in my usual NZ Rent A Car I drove from Christchurch to Ashburton and back to Christchurch via highway 77 during a crisp winter weekend.

As well as talking with the editor of Latitude Magazine  about future contributions, (topics embargoed!) two things I saw in the area sort of link together in age!

Both are about ten years old but while one is housed in a hundred year old cottage, the other is newish and is surrounded by new homes with more being planned!

See some of my photos from the area:

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Annie’s Country Quilt Store is on State Highway One at 167 Archibald Street just south of the Ashburton River Bridge.  For those who love stitch-craft this little cottage is the place for you: it’s full of quilting, patterns and kits, patchwork fabrics and gifts. So even if you don’t have needle skills (like me) you can buy something for friends and family who are talented in this practice.

Turning off Archibald St into Graham Street and heading east, a few kilometres drive will take you to Lake Hood, an artificial lake that was formed 10 years ago as a water sports destination and housing estate (Huntingdon Park).  So if you are into rowing, wind surfing, sailing or jet skiing this is for you: I think you need all your own gear so check their webpage for more info. 

Of course if you want some exercise a 7 km cycle and walkway (Braided River)leads to the lake from Ashburton (on the south side of the Ashburton river) while the north bank has a the Hakatere Trail – a 19 km-cycle-way to the Pacific Ocean.

Ashburton also has a mountain bike trail too. See the local visitor I-site for more.