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Kapiti Island is a rugged lifeboat for endangered birds

Heading for Kapiti

Heading for Kapiti

Kāpiti Island’s 1965 hectares has been a rugged lifeboat for New Zealand’s endangered birds for over 100 years.

The local tangata whenua (Māori for ‘people of the land’) kept 13 hectares around Waiorua Bay and I spent a night at the lodge that is on the top, north-eastern, of the island.

The owner-operators of Kapiti Nature Tours are the whanau (family) – John and Susan Barrett, and John’s sister Amo Clark – who live there. John and Amo’s iwi (tribe) and whanau (family) have lived on Kapiti Island since the 1820s.

Kapiti Nature Lodge is the only accommodation on Kapiti Island and was inspired by the homestead of John and Amo’s grandmother who opened her farm homestead to visitors. It was a family member, and nature guide, Maanaki, who met us when we landed at Rangatira, about 2 kilometres south of our final destination, Waiorua Bay, for the nocturnal kiwi walk and our bed for the night.

web Maanaki IMG_5614

One of the first birds he introduces to us was the beautiful Tieke (north island saddleback). Its glossy black, has a tan saddle and long red wattles at the base of its black bill. Its birds such as this, he tells us, that they work closely with the Department on Conservation to nurture and protect.

The very vocal tieke

The very vocal tieke

Other species that need the safety this predator free environment provides include the Little Spotted KiwiTakaheKākāWekaKereru, Kokako, Hihi, and  Toutouwai (Robin).

Amo tells me living and working on one of New Zealand’s most precious Taonga (treasures) is wonderful. “Nature belongs to everyone, and sharing our knowledge is all part of our hospitality.”

Kapiti Island is home to over 1,200 Little Spotted Kiwi, making it one of the densest populations of Kiwi to be found and, “one of the easiest places to see them in the wild” we are told.

My next blog will be about our kiwi spotting tour and accommodation on this unique island.

See an earlier blog which sets the scene for this trip to Kāpiti.

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Kapiti Island Nature tours and abundant bird song

They say good things come to those who wait: my trip to Kāpiti Island with Kāpiti Island Nature Tours proved the adage. This blog sets the scene for a series of posts (and photos) about my time as a guest of my Māori hosts.

Shaped by ocean currents, wind and quakes or, as legend says, sliced from the mainland with blows from Kupe’s paddle, this island has become a lifeboat for New Zealand’s flora and fauna.

Interestingly such of the vegetation there has more in common with the South Island than the North suggesting a land bridge to the south and not the close-by Kāpiti Coast.

We check our bags for unwanted predators before boarding the water taxi

We check our bags for unwanted predators before boarding the water taxi

After two aborted trips to the island, because of bad weather stopping the boat, in late 2014 I finally got to visit one of NZ’s longest restoration stories.  In 1897 the island became a nature reserve after being acquired, or taken, by governmental legislation, for use as a bird sanctuary

New Zealand history says  “At the end of the 1880s scientists were concerned about the loss of native plants and animals and the impact of introduced predators and pests. Taking their lead from Potts, who in 1878 suggested the creation of ‘national domains’ as refuges for native birds, scientific societies helped create offshore islands as flora and fauna reserves. These included Resolution Island (1891), Secretary Island (1893), Little Barrier Island (1895) and Kapiti Island (1897). The societies were led by notable figures such as botanist Leonard Cockayne and politician Harry Ell”.

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Large scale colonisation didn’t begin until Ngāti Toa, under Te Rauparaha who was at the height of his powers, captured the island from Ngāti Apa and Muaupoko and began farming to supply the whaling and coastal trading ships

The first whaling station had started in 1829 and by early 1830 there were seven on the island with some 4000 Māori and 600 whalers living on the island.

Now one of New Zealand’s most valuable nature reserves, these 1965 hectares, our 2nd largest offshore natures reserve, is free from introduced animals (and predators). As a sanctuary for wildlife, its vegetation is of equal importance and restoring and preserving vegetation that was once common in coastal and lowland parts of central NZ.

Bookmark this blog to read more about my hiking there and to see more photos of the wonderful bird life – the abundant birdsong was clear as soon as we stepped off the water taxi.

the rare Tieke (North Island Saddleback) greets us with it's noisy calls

The rare Tieke (North Island Saddleback) greets us with its noisy calls

Cruise ships in Wellington … a walk along the waterfront

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Wellington Writers Walkway . . . spread along the Wellington waterfront, a stroll along it is a great artistic, historical, and literary way to spend an enjoyable couple of hours in New Zealand’s capital city.

Brochures that lead you around them are available at the local iSite in Civic Square – the link above has a map and here’s link to the Writers Walkway FaceBook Page

With ‘quotations from 23 authors, past and contemporary, including poets, novelists, and playwrights the walk celebrates the place of Wellington in these writers’ lives’.  and their place in the life of Wellington. It also introduces New Zealand literature to a wider public, and in particular, tourists and visitors. I heard cruise ship passengers discussing buying a NZ book and I’m sure without this great addition to our public art they would not have known about the author whose quote they were  photographing.

See an earlier blog I wrote about the opening of some new quotes.  (All in a different  form, ie not concrete)

DSCF46513 Digit Serial Number web

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Confucius Festival on the Wellington waterfront.

The web page of the  Confucius Institute at Victoria University  says it “is dedicated to promoting artistic, cultural and intellectual exchange between China and New Zealand. Through exhibitions, concerts, festivals, lectures, workshops and courses, we bring you closer to the heart and mind of one of the most important and enduring civilisations in the world.”

Recently I went to Confucius Festival on the Wellington waterfront. I love attending events like these: it’s sort of travelling when you’re not travelling! (I’ve never been to China so these are a bonus)

The KiwiTravelWriter falls in love .. again!

“When the wind blows in your face, something different is about to happen,” we’re told. It’s true and when the wind blows on our faces we change direction during the best morning I’ve had for ages. It’s so good I fall in love – in love with hot air ballooning. It is such fun even clichés fail me.

At 4 30am I was woken with a phone call.

hot air balloning in Canterbury New Zealand

hot air ballooning in Canterbury New Zealand

“It’s on, the weather is perfect, and your transport will be at your door in 20 minutes. It takes an hour to reach Methven, (1025 ft above sea level) home of Aoraki Balloon Safaris and close to Mt Hutt ski fields. Meeting with others who have driven from Christchurch or stayed overnight, we’re given overshoes, have our names and weights recorded and divided into two groups. A short bus ride takes us to the Methven Show grounds where we’re to be launched upwards.hot air balloon over village

Already the excitement is building and our group of eight or nine strangers are talking freely with each other. We’re all virgin balloonists and are anticipating a great time. Unlike many tourist ventures, on this we get to assist with the preparations. Some drag the traditional wicker basket (willow cane and rattan) from the trailer while I help unfurl the colourful giant balloon from an impossibly tiny bag: even the basket seems too small for us all. The balloon is now stretched out on the ground, a Kiwi and Swiss traveller hold open its mouth and two huge fans begin blowing.

Slowly the multi-coloured nylon takes shape and our excitement continues to grow. We are all taking photos – recording the time for future memories – and finally it’s full – so full in fact that there is around eight tons of air in it. Now to heat it – apparently this is what makes it rise – and guess it’s why they call them hot-air balloons. Our pilot directs the roaring jets of flames into the mouth without burning it and shortly the balloon is moving. It rolls slightly to the right, back to the left, centres itself, then as we let go it leaves the safety of the ground to do what a balloon does best – it flies.

As it hovers above the creaking basket we climb aboard, are given safety instructions for landing (facing forward holding the rope handles and bent knees,) and, are given the last chance to bail out.  No one wants to disembark, the heat is turned up and off we go.

hot air balloon over village

Rather it’s up we go. Magic. Cool cool cool. What else can I say? It is at this moment, as the ground falls away below us, that I fall in love. I’m having a natural high and I know I’m addicted with this first rush. Although I watch the other balloon, I am too preoccupied with my own experiences.

The world looks very different from up here; it’s quite different to a plane because of the lower altitude and speed. A local is taking a photo of us from her terrace but it seems most of the other 1000 villagers are still asleep on this crisp clear spring day. A dog is barking, magpies are chortling, hares and sheep flee, cattle stare, and the Swiss traveller breaks out some genuine Swiss chocolate to share. Perfect. He, like many of the others flying today, was given the flight as a birthday gift: one couple were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

The South Islands’ snowy-backbone, the Southern Alps, provide a perfect pristine backdrop for our 360°views. New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki-Mt Cook can be seen in the distance along with beautiful braided rivers. Across the productive, but dry Canterbury Plains, the port town of Timaru and the Pacific Ocean are clearly visible. I click my camera frequently: the rest of the time I’m awe-struck. No wonder parts of this scenery was used in the Lord of the Rings ( And, am I the only person in the world not to have seen the movies?)
All too soon the gas is getting low and it’s time to land. We have been watching the chase vehicle following us and our pilot points out the landing spot, and reminds us of the landing position. The lower we get to ground the faster it seems we’re going. Then, cattle staring and even following us, we skim over the final fence, more air is vented and we land in an empty field. One little bump, back up into the air briefly then we land.

As if in slow motion the basket gracefully falls on its side and the journey is over. We burst into laughter as we gaze, from our backs, up into the sky that only a moment ago we were floating in. Although we have landed, the adventure is not quite over. The farmer and our chase vehicle are driving towards us and we have a balloon to pack. With more laughter we roll our bodies along it to expel the air, and then squeeze it back into the very small bag. It fits. The traditional ballooning breakfast: a glass of good kiwi bubbly or orange juice, coffee, croissants, jam, cheese and fruit.

The farmer gets a bottle of bubbly to take home. As a child lying on my back, and watching clouds drift by, had whetted my appetite for flying like a bird. This, surely, is as close as one gets.

Facts and figures

The balloon is 81 feet in diameter – 93 feet high;

Holds 245, 000 cubic feet of air;

The air is heated with LPG

Balloons always fly east to west, the circular direction of the world’s major weather patterns.

The balloon and basket were made in South Dakota, USA

Brief history of ballooning.

Paper-makers Joseph and Etiene Montgolfier, who were looking for new applications for their product, made the first hot air balloon, in France. The brothers made a balloon from paper and fabric and it rose when put over a flame. They first tested it with a rooster, a duck and a sheep – under the orders of Louis XV1. The brothers never flew. The first flight with people was in Paris in front of Louis and Marie Antoinette while outside France the first was ten months later (Sept. 1784), by an Italian in London.

Marie Antoinette is on record as having said, “It is the sport of Gods”. The traditional bottle of champagne was given to the farmer on whose fields the balloon lands was not so much for the joie de vivre of today, but to stop the farmer attacking these strange and uninvited creatures with pitchforks.

NOTE: this article first appeared in the Christchurch Press some time ago

Riding one of the world’s great train trips

web dunedin stn IMG_0633The historic Taieri Gorge Railway is considered one of the world’s great train trips. On an overcast day, during a 10 day trip to the southern New Zealand city of Dunedin, I checked it out.

Leaving the well-photographed 1906 Dunedin Railway Station, Graeme Smart and John Chapman drive us through tunnels and over viaducts … what I didn’t know was that I would get an invitation to ride in the cab for a while!  It’s tough being a travel writer at times. Not!

Judy, the guard, tells me she started as a volunteer about ten years ago and about 5 years ago qualified as a guard – which includes helping with shunting I believe.

“It’s an amazing job! I have fantastic moving scenery from my office and it changes daily, and with the seasons.”

However, she has also been up to her knees in snow while digging down to find the switch controls.  Fearfully, she was only 3 months into her job when the train and car collided:  a tough, and scary memory that’s still vivid.

“It seems my training just kicked in and I went into another mode and did what I had to do.” What a woman!

The scenery includes; pine forests, sheep, cattle, llama, horses. Add hills and rivers and bush to the tunnels, viaducts, bridges and tannin coloured streams and this trip is fantastic. There’s also a dog statue to commemorate all working dogs and I’m not surprised my fellow passengers were enthralled.

Those around me were from the UK and the USA, from Taranaki and Singapore.

But enough talk:  sit back and enjoy just some (40) of the many photos I took in this, the biggest slide show I have put into a blog.

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My ten days in Dunedin – was spent traveling in a NZ RentaCar  and if you too are in a car, parking is available at the north end of the station.

I have a copy of the booklet Taieri Gorge Railway. A photo guide by Antony Hamel … its last page is named ‘Train Enthusiasts’ Page.

It talks about trainspotting ‘can become obsessive;  he also warns ‘Foaming at the mouth when in the presence of a train requires medical attention.’

So, you have been warned!

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