From the plains to mountains: Arthur’s Pass National Park. New Zealand

This is great place to spend some time. Either drive or catch the scenic train.

Arthur’s Pass has always been special for me. As a child our family would have day trips to the area for tobogganing. We also would do an annual steam train trip, and then at high school, (Linwood High, Christchurch) had a holiday house where we would have week-long trips for skiing. (unsuccessful lessons in my case )


And now I travel there again. It takes less than three hours to travel from plains to mountains; ocean to snow-fed rivers; city to village; from the current time to the ancient forests of Gondwanaland. (The Jurassic period super-continent from which New Zealand separated some 85 million years ago.)

Unlike the pre-European Māori who walked, or the settlers in Cobb and Co. coaches, I travelled by the TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass. (Leaves Christchurch daily for Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.)

Sharing the carriage were tourists from many parts of the world. It seems some were ready to test their stamina and muscles in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, while a family group was day-tripping, with five hours to explore the village, and me? I was just looking for some rest and recreation including revisiting the popular walks near the village – The Devil’s Punchbowl and the Bridal Veil Falls.

The Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall with its impressive 131-metre drop is an easy one-hour return journey through stands of majestic white-limbed mountain beech trees. As you approach the waterfall, clouds of spray rise like mist, just as one might imagine the devil’s steaming cauldron does.

The other easy, yet even more beautiful walk, takes you to the Bridal Veil Falls. Although the falls are viewed from a distance, the walk itself is wonderful. Colours abound; crisp greys to soft emerald, or lime greens nestle alongside bright reds and orange. Numerous native ferns, lichens, trees, and shrubs seem to invite one to stop, admire, and record their beauty, while the piwakawaka (fantail) that go with me are an absolute joy.


All through the village, population 55, and surrounding areas, are the sounds of birds. Bellbirds with their dulcet tones are so different to the cheeky, intelligent kea with its loud calls as it glides loftily above all, displaying its orange under-wing plumage to us. The occasional gull calls from overhead too, reminding me what a narrow land New Zealand is.

Walking beside beech trees it is easy to believe that the forests of Gondwanaland looked just like these South Island beech forests. Fossils of beech found in Antarctica and descendants that survive in Chile, Australia and Papua New Guinea support this theory.

I love our beech trees!

Brothers Arthur and Edward Dobson rediscovered the pass in 1864. Māori had used it as an east-west route to collect or trade Pounamu, the greenstone from which the south island is named, Te Wai Pounamu. The brothers named it Bealey Flat and finding the route made it easier to travel from coast to coast.

Some sixty years later travel became even easier with the railway and Otira tunnel, signalling the end of the coach era. Tunnellers huts, from early 1900’s, remain in the village linking past to the present. Originally unlined, austere dwellings, they were sold on the tunnel’s completion in 1923.

Some of the pioneering characters of Arthur’s Pass who bought these cottages includes the family of Guy and Grace Butler. One of New Zealand’s foremost landscape artists, Grace has works hanging in many places including the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch. Along with Guy who, according to his granddaughter Jennifer Barrer “gave up his legal practice to carry his wife’s easel,” Grace ran what was the first hostel in the village. Now called the Outdoor Education Centre, its front lawn was the site of the first skiing in the area!

Arthur’s Pass National Park, created 1901, has 114,357 hectares within its boundaries and both tourists and locals appreciate its variety of tramps and some 28 public huts. If you plan to stay in some of the remote huts, tickets, or an annual hut pass, must be purchased from the Department of Conservation before your trip.


NOTE: on any walk in New Zealand mountains or bush: fill out an Intentions Card. Leave it at the local DOC office; don’t travel alone, take extra food and everything you need to make sure you’re safe . . . our NZ weather has dramatic changes extremely quickly. This is because we are a little country in the middle of a huge ocean and most travellers are not used to such conditions and this results in deaths . . . don’t let the next one be you!

Other activities in Arthur’s Pass include skiing at Temple Basin, while the village itself is a good base for exploring Cave Stream Scenic Reserve with its 362-metre cave and interesting limestone outcrops.

Accommodation ranges from backpacker hostels to motels, holiday homes, or bed and breakfast. Food covers the same budget to moderate price range. (See your local visitors’ information centre for details)

the endangered red mistletoes bloom whenever the possums have been culled
the endangered red mistletoe blooms when the possums have been culled

If you want ski-fields and terrific tramps (the kiwi word for hiking!) or just a place to chill with your holiday reading, Arthur’s Pass needs to be added to your holiday destination list – make sure you post a letter form here!


Kerikeri, Northland. History & beauty side by side

History and beauty sit side by side in Kerikeri – in New Zealand’s ‘winterless north’.

New Zealand's oldest building
New Zealand’s oldest building

The Stone Store, under the care of the Historic Places Trust, is part of the Kerikeri Mission Station, (1819) and is one of  New Zealand’s oldest buildings. In the group that I was being shown through it,  and the oldest building, Kemp House, (built 1822) one of the English tourists said to her travelling companion: ‘It’s not that old is it?’ ‘They really struggle’ her friend replied, ‘it’s not that long ago.’

As a kiwi of five generations I wanted to retort – “you stupid woman, where do you think you are? This is the newest country to be found and inhabited by you Brits! This newness is just one of our many points of difference to all we  willingly left behind. If you want ‘old’ stay at home you stupid woman.’

Luckily, for my peace of mind,  I kept my mouth shut – no doubt I too have said, or thought, stupid things in other people’s countries too!

Side by side with this European history sits Maori history – the mission was under the protection of one of Northland’s  great Ngapuhi chiefs, Hongi Hika.

All this sits in the beauty of the area: the orchards, wineries and thriving arts community that it is well-known for, and along the Kerikeri River.

On the other side of the river and tidal inlet, is Rewa’s village, a replica Maori fishing village. It’s well worth visiting  this volunteer-run, not-for-profit organisation this  to see the native plant garden and learn the use of  the various plants.

See many other stories about the area on the Northland category – see these photos for other ideas of things to do while staying in the area – from buying fudge or chocolate, check out the kauri products or some ceramics – don’t forget Wharepuke for food and ec0-accommodation and Living Nature for your natural beauty products.

old bridge IMG_8864 livingnature kerikeri kerikeri IMG_8839 kauri workshop IMG_8717 kauri wkshIMG_8718 ceramics kerikeri choc factory fudge IMG_8701 guided tour IMG_8804 info tunaIMG_8843 bird IMG_8849 tuna IMG_8842

New Zealand's oldest building
New Zealand’s oldest building

rewas village IMG_8852 rewa IMG_8853 oldest floors IMG_8819 organ piano IMG_8816 public art kerikeri pukeko IMG_8705

Keri Keri : a different natural beauty spot!

While in Northland, at Keri Keri, (Feb 2012) I went on a factory touring of Living Nature with Brett Alexander, their Research and Development Engineer.

From what I heard and saw, it seems Living Nature is one of the world’s most truly natural skin care ranges with over 200 products made from

living soap web IMG_8688

the unique and potent properties of New Zealand plants, honey, and clays. As they say, their beauty secrets and products have been 80 million years in the making!

Isolated for all those years, over 80% of New Zealand’s native plants are indigenous and it seems many have remarkable bioactive properties and it’s from those active ingredients that Living Nature make their skin care products.

They claim they create some of the safest, purest and most effective certified natural skin care in the world: all without the side effects of harsh, dangerous or damaging chemicals.

As Brett tells me “Our products reflect the country in which they were developed – pure and potent.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Green in all areas, they use carbon-neutral hydro and wind energy and filtered rainwater, the packaging is fully recyclable and their paper and cartons are sourced from renewable, managed forests and, like their inks, are free from dioxin and chlorine.  He continues, “We use no animal products, other than humanely obtained beeswax, honey and lactose. We will never test our products on animals.”

living nature web IMG_8683

They even use heat to gloss their lipsticks, and all equipment is cleaned not only at the end of the day, but also at the start!

Once my tour is over (you can see more about their products, processes, and quality tests on their website ) I had a wonderful facial with a rose quartz stone and the world-famous manuka honey.  After days on holiday, with sunburn, wind and sea air damage I needed it. Superb.

“It feels like my skin is just sucking it up” I say – “yes, it is” replies the therapist. I was also given a product to try – Radiance Night Oil. Evidently, the scent of Rose Oil de-stresses and increases elastin levels too, so my skin will feel firmer and look younger overnight. With 65,000 perfect rosebuds distilled into just 1 ml, they have bottled one of the world’s ancient beauty secrets.


My skin absolutely felt better, but younger overnight?  I’m not sure – I think my skin is long past being able to respond so dramatically, so quickly! However, I am absolute convert to their Ultra Rich Body Cream: luscious!

My face needed this treatment!
My face needed this treatment!

living nature web IMG_8696

Birthplace of a nation: New Zealand

One of the motivators for my 2012 road trip around Northland was to revisit the birthplace of New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – and in particular be there for our annual public holiday (Waitangi Day, 6th Feb.) that commemorates the 1840 event: but more of the celebrations in a later bog.

The house is not only historic and beautiful, but is set in lush native bush and has guided tours and cultural performances night and day. It’s been some years since I visited and my memory of walking up a grassy slope to a white house alone on the top of the small rise, and with the flagpole, is now presenting a different picture: the house and flag pole are still there but the (mostly) native trees have grown, and it was through this bush and forest, with its birdsong, I now walked.

There are many guided tours and activities including “Introducing the Birthplace of our Nation” through to a fun workshop with our native flax, and “Living with Nature’ which explores New Zealand’s native plants and trees and their relationship to Maori legend.

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Naturally, there are Maori cultural performances during the day, and in the evening,  a twilight show which can include a buffet dinner.

New Zealand residents have free access to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, while visitors’ tickets last 2 consecutive days.  Open all year (closed Christmas Day) from 9am to 5pm, the off-peak season is from April to October so check the website for actual dates each year.

NOTE: For more information about Northland check the official tourism website and to hire a rental car in Auckland I can recommend the company I use:  Rental Cars NZ.

For more about New Zealand and our ‘treaty’ and national day, see our history encyclopedia website Te Ara

Hokianga Harbour: blue skies, sand dunes & ancient trees

The Hokianga is not just blue skies, massive sand dunes and ancient trees – it’s also the cradle of not only Ngapuhi, but also of the European settlers in the early 1800s.

I have done too much in the last 24, or so, hours for a little blog, but there are plenty of stories to come out of this area from my pen and camera.  Lonely Planet raved about Footprints Waipoua  (@hokimustdos) and so will I! I took the evening guided walk – with 6 others from Canada, USA, and the Bahamas’ – and we all voted it fabulous. Our local Maori guide, Koro, really did guide us through the forest and introduced us to the biggest, and oldest of the kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest, and more. I don’t want to spoil the story now – book mark this blog and come back for more. (Or watch the airline magazines for this one!)

Another one that’s worthy of a bigger audience than this blog  – although my numbers of readers have gone up while I’ve been travelling Northland, so welcome to you who are just discovering  NZ and my travels – next overseas trip will be Turkey hopefully and, absolutely, Borneo later this year. But back to the story that deserves a post and printed article is Sandtrails Hokianga which i went on this am.

See the photo of the sun just hitting the sand dunes (taken from my room at the Copthorne Hotel &Resort Hokianga) well that was just the start of an adventure, great scenery, and an introduction to Andrew Kendall’s tribal history – including the arrival of Kupe. Like our guide last night, he is a really nice guy: what even better, this tour is an exclusive, limited to three people! I suggest you book in advance if you can.

Some photos as a taste of what’s to come  . . .


and more. . .


Te Wao Nui, Auckland Zoos’ latest development

Te Wao Nui,  Auckland Zoos’ latest development opens in one month (Sunday, 11 Sept. 2011) and, one of the benefits of being a travel writer is you can get off the beaten track – or in this case, behind the fenced off area! With my ‘high-vis’ jacket on, I’m taken on a mini tour of the area by Jane Healy who is enthusiastic about the project.   

“Much of the work the zoo has done with native species has taken place behind the scenes. The Archey’s frog, for instance was housed off-display. Now, with Te Wao Nui, people will be able to see them and many more New Zealand native species” she tells me.

Covering one fifth of the Zoo, the area gives locals and tourists a unique experience of New Zealand with over 100 New Zealand native plant species and around 60 different animal species through six habitats’

I cross over the Old Stone Bridge and can see most of the area which is very close to completion and have the birds move in and settle before the public come to see them.   Here is a little of what is saw … in no particular order!

Jane tries to duck from the camera as we enter one of the areas of Te Wao Nui

The Islands area has a large Kauri Dam (originally a working one that has been moved here) and a large aviary where Tuatara, the Campbell Island Teal and Antipodes Island Parakeet, skink and geckos will live.

Wetlands has a large walk-through aviary, backed by a high mock-rock wall,  will hold: native eels, Kotuku, Pied Stilt, Kingfisher, Ducks  such as Shovellers,  Scaup, Grey Teal, and one of my favourites, the Paradise Shelducks.

The Night Forest is a large shed and will house the North Island Brown Kiwi, Ruru, and Short-tailed Bats. Its great people will be able to see these natives up-close, in the middle of our largest city.

On an island like New Zealand, the Coast is highly important. In this area of the zoo, Sea Lion and Fur Seals will be on show, while in the refurbished shore-bird aviary, Little Blue Penguins, White-faced Heron and Spotted Shags will be resident.

The Forest is the old walk through aviary (upgraded and re-fenced) which I well remember as that is where I first saw the beautiful black and tan saddleback (tieke). Evidently, Kokako, Kakariki, Brown Teal and kereru will be just some of our wonderful birds that will live in there.

Waiting for the whio!

As a Cantabrian, I was of course interested in The High Country. This will house the cheeky, and intelligent Kea, and the Blue Duck (Whio) – in its fast flowing ‘mountain stream’. The Whio is a unique and threatened species of waterfowl endemic to New Zealand. It is the only member of its genus and has no close relative anywhere in the world. Curious weka will also be here: a children’s playground is sited here too – a great place for parents to sit and chat while kids burn off some energy and natural surroundings.

I look forward to returning to the zoo to see the birds (and others) in their new, reproduced ‘normal’ native habitat. Te Wao Nui will be an asset to Auckland Zoo with its current and future conservation efforts on behalf of New Zealand’s native species.

the good news and bad news about Canterbury NZ

This article by Heather Hapeta was originaly published in the Ecan magazine 2008

Canterbury plains are one of the worst examples of the loss of native plants in New Zealand’ Professor Ian Spellerberg tells me. ‘Less than 0.5% of native vegetation remains on our plains.’

When colleagues from Europe ask, as he drives them from the airport to Lincoln University, ‘where are your native plants’ he understands their surprise. Returning to Canterbury, he too was disappointed. Spellerberg had become used to UK landscapes with their hedgerows making great use of native plants and which are now some of the last bastions of habitat for wildlife.

However, there is good news about our plains: the Te Ara Kakariki Greenway Canterbury Trust has been formed and is encouraging us to increase native plant communities for all reasons – not just restoration, or beautification as some critics suggest, but for boundaries, shelter belts, crops, tourism, and ideas that we haven’t yet thought of. Its long-term vision, maybe taking hundreds of years, is to make connections between the mountains and sea by using corridors and stepping stones of native plant communities – and connecting existing patches. Another goal is a one-stop-shop for information: cost, availability, economic benefits, where to get natives, after-planting care and research – perhaps leading onto field days. Encouragingly, Motukarara Conservation Nursery says they can’t keep up with the demand for native plants.

The land between the Waimakariri and Rakaia Rivers gives the project an identity and all Cantabrians can be involved: country or city; on public and private land; for economic and ecological reasons, alongside roadsides, railway lines and rivers.

This year, (2008) in conjunction with Southern Woods Nursery, has seen 25 Selwyn schools being invited to design and plant a native plant community for their school.  Judging (November 08) will be around the knowledge pupils gained, not just the design. (Good luck to Southbridge, Templeton and Ladbrooks schools, and others, who Robyne Hyndman tells me have signed-up).

Spellerberg’s enthusiastic. ‘I have this dream of tourists coming to see Te Ara Kakariki, a Canterbury icon! Imagine native plant hedgerows on those long stretches of road. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It’s the loss of associated native wildlife too: maybe we could re-introduce the Kakariki back to Canterbury.’

‘We underestimate the value of natives in an uncertain future. What’s the environment going to be in ten years? What about land use? Changes in weather? We have to think about what roles native plants will play then. It might be crops, better shelter belts – after all, these plants evolved to live in dry windy conditions.’

‘Why aren’t we proud of our native heritage of plants?’ he continues. ‘We owe an apology to nature for the devastation of our native plant communities. We should be celebrating them, they are our wealth.’

‘I’m putting my money on Te Ara Kakariki becoming an icon for Canterbury.’ I see tourists coming to see this landscape project which communities, schools, and other groups have created. A wonderful greenway of native plants and native plant communities.’

Books about natives for Canterbury

Native plant communities of the Canterbury plains (Dept of conservation)

Living with natives (2008) Canterbury University Press. Edited by Ian Spellerberg & Michele Frey. Available July-August.

Going native (2004) Canterbury University Press Edited by Ian Spellerberg & the late David Given.

Living with natives (2008) Canterbury University Press. Edited by Ian Spellerberg & Michele Frey. Available July-August.

Establishing shelter in Canterbury with nature conservation in mind. Available from ECan or the Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation.

Plant Nurseries for natives

Motukarara Conservation Nursery

Trees for Canterbury

Southern Woods

(& others)

Do you want to be involved?

Want advice for your property?

Have you got a case study or project idea?

Do you want to help with planting?

Would you like to make a donation?

Would you like to be involved in our Management Group?

Would you like to help with fundraising?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, or have other suggestions or questions, please contact the trust.

Professor Ian Spellerberg: re info or talks. Email: Spelleri AT

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