An autumn escape – Arrowtown to the Catlins

Last year I won a camper van trip in a photo competition organised by Bluebridge. We planned an Autumn escape down south and seeing as we were given a 6 berth campervan we invited Keryn’s parents along as well. We flew to Queenstown and picked up our vehicle then headed to a supermarket to get supplies. Finally we drove to Arrowtown to spend the night at the Arrowtown Holiday Park.

Our first evening and night was all about getting to know our new mobile accommodation and figuring out thing like who would sleep where and where to put all our stuff. One thing decided fairly early was that we wouldn’t be moving Alayna’s car seat from where we had installed it and it was a right pain to get in securely. The car seat was fitted to a seat that was in an area that converted to a bed. Thankfully Alayna still fitted in the bed with the seat in place. The beds were not the most comfortable given the mattresses were mostly seat cushions but it was good enough. We also discovered that we wouldn’t be easily getting Alayna asleep during the day (she normally has a midday siesta) and that meant she slept longer at night. The knock-on effect was we all ended up sleeping in each day, not the worst thing to happen on holiday.

The morning was largely overcast and the visible hillsides were to the east so there was no chance of a dazzling sunrise and then sunlight lighting up the autumnal colours of the trees. Still, the foliage and hills were still worth a photo or two.

Morning light on the hills

Morning light on the hills

Colour in shadow

Colour in shadow

Leaving the camp site we found a place to park nearer the town centre and went for a walk in the Arrowtown Recreational Reserve alongside the Arrow River. There were plenty of trees showing nice colours and the walk was very pleasant but Alayna wasn’t overly pleased to be walking and probably hadn’t had the best nights sleep either (everything being new and different). We didn’t get very far before the weather started turning and we walked back in a light rain. I ended up walking Alayna around town in her pram to give her some quiet time and we had some fun wandering through a few shops while dodging heavier bouts of rain.

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

Remains of a tree hut

Remains of a tree hut seen on the walk

Eventually it was back to the campervan and we left Arrowtown and started our journey south to the Catlins. Unfortunately we had a little mix-up with some over-reliance on the satnav that came as part of our hire package and we took a rather roundabout and longer than necessary route to our next destination. We had dinner in Gore and drove though the wet night to get to the Catlins Kiwi Holiday Park.

Part of the prize had been vouchers for Kiwi Holiday Parks but I’d accidentally left them at home. A quick conversation with my sister Catherine had the vouchers picked up and sent by courier down to the Catlins but they were going to take a few days to arrive. The staff at the Catlins Kiwi Holiday Park were very understanding and trusting in allowing us to sort out the costs of the stay once the vouchers arrived.

Our home for the next week

Our home for the next week

Te Araroa: Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki

The new Paekakariki Escarpment track, a recent addition to the Te Araroa NZ trail, has been open for a few weeks now and we’d been thinking about giving it a go. The fabulous weather continues and we decided that Saturday morning would be our time. The only concern was my football in the afternoon so we had to leave early, as it turned out earlier than we normally leave for work. We decided to walk north and this found us driving and parking up at Paekakariki Station to then catch a train back to Pukerua Bay to start walking. It also helped get Alayna excited, she likes public transport a lot.

Travel by train

Travel by train

Train station playing

Train station playing

Here is my ticket

Here is my ticket

Everything went to plan and we started our trek at the right time of 8:30am. The walk is meant to take 3-4 hours and we thought we’d probably be a little slow but would get back to Paekakariki around lunchtime. From Pukerua Station the path took us through some streets and then a small park before joining the new trail at the now closed Muri station. We had a couple of trains pass by as we walked along beside the train tracks and Alayna got a few waves and a small toot from train drivers, they must be a friendly bunch.

Escarpment Track

Escarpment Track

Lets begin

Lets begin

We were soon rising up the hillside and getting grand views both of the Tasman Sea to the west and the farmland and coastal scrub to the east. The stands of trees all bore evidence of the often harsh climate with windblown branches leaning away. It was a calm day with only a slight southerly and out to sea there were a number of kayakers out fishing. The South Island was hidden behind a bank of cloud but Kapiti Island was a strong, familiar presence. Every kilometre of the track was marked with an iron signpost, we seemingly quickly covered the first 2 kilometres but then the steps started.

Landscape

Landscape

2 kms done

2kms done

Looking down to the shore

Looking down to the shore

Views north

Views north

When we didn’t have steep stairs to walk up the trail was often quite narrow, winding around the hillside. I’m normally not too bad on this kind of track but with Alayna in the backpack on my back I was very concious of the drop to our left and I concentrated on just one foot in front of the other at times rather than looking out at the view. It was also good that we didn’t meet many other people for most of the first half as the steps and track didn’t have a lot of rooms for passing. There were a few small bridges but the highlights were two swing bridges that spanned valleys that rose steeply above the train tracks below. It was disconcerting approaching the first swing bridge with a dark tunnel entrance seemingly filling the view ahead just above the stairs.

Sihlouette

Sihlouette

Steps and the first bridge

Steps and the first bridge

Over we go

Over we go

Brendon and Alayna

Brendon and Alayna on the second swing bridge

There were a few steps

There were a few steps

After the second swing bridge there was a series of steps leading up a steep slope. We slowed right down, taking one flight at a time and resting before moving on up. At the top of this section we had a break and talked to some other people coming the other way who let us know that this was only a taster for what was to come. Thankfully the next step climb was a while away and first we got to walk through some nice stands of trees, the forest a quiet and easy stage to recharge and ready ourselves.

Some were very keen

Some were very keen

A gap in the canopy

A gap in the canopy

The longest stretch of stairs is called the stairway to heaven and it was quite tough to ascend. We were passed by a very fit older man who was counting steps as he walked, reaching 200 when he passed me. He got to the top of the steps and then turned around to come back. We kept going.

The stairway to heaven

The stairway to heaven

More steps

More steps

At the top and just past the halfway mark was a lookout with some good seating and a glorious view out to sea. We had some snacks and got Alayna out of the pack to stretch her legs. There were more and more people reaching the top, almost all coming from the north, and there was plenty of friendly banter and laughs at the top. I got a few comments on how keen I was to have carried Alayna all the way so far on my back, further on we would come across a few others also carrying children in similar fashion.

Feet at the top

Feet at the top

The lookout

The lookout

Brendon and Alayna at the top

Brendon and Alayna at the top

Watered, fed and a little rested we got our gear together, helped Alayna into the pack again and walked on. The way down seemed easier, though tougher on the knees. There were plenty more stairs but a lot of the downward path was sloped across switchbacks. Time passed more quickly it seemed and by the time we neared the end of the track we were in good spirits while still ready for a proper meal. Alayna slept for the final 20 minutes or so, waking up as we approached Paekakariki.

Starting to head down

Starting to head down

More downward steps

More downward steps

8kms completed

8kms completed

It took us around 3 1/2 hours in the end which we thought was pretty good considering we had stopped a few times. We had lunch as planned in Paekakariki and didn’t have to hurry which was nice. Then it was back to the car via the train station and Alayna was full of beans, revelling in walking herself. She was exploring, running around, playing with her shadow and the writing on the ground. So all in all we enjoyed ourselves, completed a challenging walk with no issues and in very good time. We’ll have to return once Alayna is a little older and ready for a longer walk under her own steam.

Ready for lunch

Ready for lunch

Happy times

Happy times

There's my shadow

There’s my shadow

A for Alayna

A for Alayna

Crossing the tracks

Crossing the tracks

For the Birds

The last NZ Festival in 2014 included an event called Power Plant which was a trail of light and sound installations set up in the Wellington Botanical Gardens. It was a well recieved and popular event so there was a follow-up organised for this years festival called For the Birds. As the name suggests this new event had its influence in our feathered friends and overall it was a more thoughtful and relaxed experience while still encouraging interaction and cultivating a sense of wonder.

Books, birds and bird houses

Books, birds and bird houses (Cuckoo Ensemble – Artist: Jony Easterby)

 

Talking, glowing eggs

Talking, glowing Huia eggs (Nests – Artist: Marcus McShane)

 

Now extinct

Now extinct, the eggs of the Haast’s Eagle (Nests – Artist: Marcus McShane)

Initially the installations were mostly static with small moving parts and subdued lighting. The bird houses above had small bellows that sounded in cycles, mimicking somewhat mournful two note “cuck-oo” calls. The glowing eggs I found very engaging and very relevant. There were a number of nests containing eggs, each set representative of a species of New Zealand bird now extinct. The eggs glowed in time to an audio track of conversation between the birds inside the eggs and their hunters, for instance the unhatched Huia bemoaning that people would want their feathers when they look much better on the bird as intended. There was a lot of humour in the conversations as well which I found helped with the engagement.

Mysterious birds

Mysterious birds (Owls & Kingfishers – Artist: Mark Anderson)

Movement began to be introduced with installations traversing large areas. The mysterious calls of the Owls and Kingfishers piece came from small devices attached to long wires that were strung between trees and above the stream bed. We’d turn as we heard one approach and then watch as they came towards us and then disappear as the lights dimmed at the end of their path, only to spark up and pass back again a short time later. Alayna found it a little disconcerting but that was understandable for a 2 and half year old up well past her bedtime. I just wanted to find a space where I could try and get some photos without interrupting the constant flow of fellow visitors.

The glowing tunnel

The glowing tunnel (Feather Arch – Artist: Ulf Pedersen)

A glowing tunnel gradually formed as we walked up a slope, first appearing as lights in the distance and then becoming ephemeral walls and ceiling around us as the light source was approached, light becoming stronger and then fading as the smoke was pushed across the path. It was a beautifully still night so the smoke moved and dissipated slowly keeping the structure of the tunnel very well defined as passers by waved their fingers through the projection.

Birds through the wires

Birds through the wires (Piano Migrations – Artist: Kathy Hinde)

A crowd had formed in from of the Piano Migrations installation watching as shadow birds fluttered through the upended piano strings, their movement apparently touching on strings to make a strange music. Is was quite mesmerising, attested by the amount of time people stood by and took it all in.

Bird house silhouettes

Bird house silhouettes (Shadow Birdcages – Artist: Jony Easterby)

 

The bird arch

The bird arch (Lapwing Display – Artist: Jony Easterby)

 

How it works

How it works (Shadow Birdcages – Artist: Jony Easterby)

We came out of the forest into the dell that is the Troupe Picnic Lawn with a number of works scattered around. The Shadow Birdcages attracted a number of people who often posed to have their own shadow portrait captured with the bird cage silhouettes. Keryn and Alayna were immortalised in kind as evidenced at the top of this page. Stepping around the screen the birdcages could be seen and provided a separate interesting sight, hanging suspended while bathed in light.

Off to one side the silent outlines of lapwing flew up and then down into the still surface of the stream that defined the lower edge of the dell. The reflections completed the loop, an endless mirrored flight.

Looking at the spinning feathers

Looking at the spinning feathers (Feather Dervishes – Artist: Mark Anderson)

 

Cello and nightingale

Cello and nightingale (Nightingales with Cello – Artists: Kathy Hinde & Jony Easterby, Cellist: Elena Morgan

The path then headed upwards and opened out as we neared the Cockayne Lawn and rock gardens. Alayna enjoyed watching the Feather Dervishes and was quite keen to touch them as well, something we had to quietly dissuade. A number of large white feathers were spinning while lit by bright white lights and made an intriguing spectacle. All around the trees and vegetation was lit in an array of dusky autumnal colours providing a warm and inviting atmosphere. There was a variety of installations and near the end we stood and listened as cellist Elena Morgan played counterpoint to a recording of nightingales.

All up it was a wonderful walk full of interesting and thought provoking sights and sounds. We can’t wait to see what amazing event may came along during the next NZ Festival.

Arquitectura de Feria

It’s been another NZ Festival year and included as part of the events this year was a travelling playground named Arquitectura de Feria (the Architecture Fair). Originally from the Catalonia region of Spain and created by performance group Antigua i Barbuda the fair consists of traditional fairground rides and entertainment but created out of scraps and spare parts. So there is a small ferris wheel with seats made out of toilets, a roundabout with seats made out of children sized vehicles like a small tractor, a plane and a rocket and a swing set where the seats are re-purposed sleds. And all of the rides are people powered and in most cases the people come from the audience. Alayna loved it.

We’ve visited a couple of times and Alayna never wants to leave. If it wasn’t for the popularity and the queues to ride she’d stay on each one going around and around (or up and down or forwards and back) indefinitely I’m sure. Everything is simply but fantastically made with wonderful detailing. For the ferris wheel a simple crank is hooked up to a tyre and a rubber belt connects to another tyre that pushes the wheel around through friction. There is a person sitting behind the seats at the bottom of the wheel and they provide instructions to the volunteer cranker via a tube and traffic cone. It’s also their job to add weights to each seat to balance out the wheel. Each child is weighted and gets a chalkboard hung around their neck with their name and weight so there is a bit of maths to help decide who sits where. Generally it was larger children on the toilets and smaller on the alternate metal seats.

Ready to ride

Ready to ride

Brendon powered

Brendon powered

Alayna also had a run around the existing playground at Frank Kitts Park and enjoyed climbing to the top of the lighthouse to then take the slide. This was fine until one particularly fast decent which got a little out of control at the bend in the slide and Alayna bumped her head. An ice cream was offered as a distraction from the head bump so we wandered along the waterfront for Kaffee Eis.

Ice cream time!

Ice cream time!

We wandered around a bit and checked out the flags that made up the Fly Me Up to Where You Are New Zealand project by Tiffany Singh. We also spent time on the city to sea bridge where Alayna got to climb over the various wooden seats and booths before heading back to the playground for more rides.

Under the flags

Under the flags

On the bridge

On the bridge

Back for more

Back for more

Arquitectura de Feria has now ended in Wellington and will continue to travel the world. If it pops up near where you are I thoroughly recommend a visit.

The roundabout

The roundabout

Lets go to Newtown!

The Newtown Festival came around again so we had an afternoon walking around the stalls and checking out the sights and sounds. We parked up near Catherine and Paul’s (amazingly finding a park quite quickly) and went for a quick visit to say hi and because Alayna likes visiting her Aunty and Uncle.

Checking out the cats tail

Checking out the cats tail

Later on at the fair Alayna was interested in many different things including every dog that walked by, any stalls with toys, all the other children and babies and balloons. She also wanted to take a ride on the first thing we saw at the fair, the giant inflatable slide (or the big! big! slide! as Alayna described it).

The Newtown Fair

The Newtown Fair

We returned to the slide as our last fair activity and Alayna eagerly took off her shoes and with a quick boost up was heading up the stairs. Turns out the stairs were a little bit long for Alayna to comfortably reached so it was nice that another girl on her way up slowed down to help. Once at the top Alayna got a big grin on her face and launched herself down the slide…only to find it was a lot steeper and faster than she was expecting and she tumbled down to end up in heap at the bottom. She was a little unhappy but shook it off quickly and after a bit of a snuggle was almost ready for another go. Deciding that it possibly wasn’t the best idea we instead headed back to New World for an ice cream treat to help cool down.

Balcony party

Balcony party

Back to the quiet of Catherine and Paul’s and we were treated to pikelets and a relaxing sit down. It was nice to have a quiet break before the drive home.

New Years wandering

I had been planning a quiet New Years Eve as I had a concrete pad to construct the next day but then it started looking like the aurora could show so plans changed. For months I’ve been meaning to walk the Rimutaka Trig track (now named Te Ara Tirohanga: “The view that improves as you climb the ascending pathway”) in the evening to see if the views would be good for star gazing but I’ve never quite been organised enough. I made a snap decision and got ready to finally give it a go. The stunning weather also helped with it being warm and calm with clear skies, hopefully this would be the case at the trig as well.

The road was mostly clear, everyone either on holiday, out partying or at home. I reached the carpark at the base of the track just after 9pm and was soon walking uphill. Its a short but relentless slope to the trig and I was taking frequent stops to rest and check out the view (improving as suggested). After about 20 minutes I reached the top to good if not great views, the Wairarapa side was very hazy.

Taking in the view at dusk

Taking in the view at dusk

Looking towards Lake Wairarapa

Looking towards Lake Wairarapa

As dusk settled into night the weather also changed and misty cloud started forming. I persisted for a while but the view was quickly disappearing and photographic opportunities were becoming few and far between. I entertained myself with shots of cars travelling SH2 and lighting up the road leaving trails through the mist but it was getting colder and there was no longer any chance of aurora being captured so I was soon enough packing up and walking downhill to the car. I stopped a couple of times for photos and got a few nice shots of stars through the low canopy of trees near the bottom of the track, first having to wipe away the condensation building on the lens.

Traffic along SH2 as the mist rolls in

Traffic along SH2 as the mist rolls in

Misty trig

Misty trig

Stars through the trees

Stars through the trees

Looking at the time when I was back in the car I realised I might be able to make it to Petone in time to see the New Years fireworks over Wellington. I managed to get to the beach in time but the fireworks in Wellington were far to far away to be photographed so I took a few photos of fireworks on the beach before returning to the car.

Rocket launch!

Rocket launch!

Messy fireworks

Messy fireworks

Looking at my phone I could see on Facebook that the aurora was showing for some down south so I took a chance and drove to Red Rocks on the south coast. I was lucky enough to capture a faint aurora but the rising moon (big and yellow above the horizon) was wiping out the colour. Thankfully there were plenty of meteors (likely part of the Quadrantids Meteor Shower) to also spot and I was lucky enough to catch a large one in camera. To the eye it flashed across the sky leaving a brief smoking trail waving behind it.

Contemplating the milky way

Contemplating the milky way

Meteor, milky way and aurora australis

Meteor, milky way and aurora australis

All up it was a good end to 2015 and a great start to 2016. Happy New Year everyone!

Boxing Day at Queen Elizabeth Park

The extended Christmas weekend has been a period of stunning weather in Wellington. I’ve been forgetting what wind is like, no doubt I’ll be reminded soon enough. We took advantage on Boxing Day and took a walk up the coast at the Mackays Crossing end of Queen Elizabeth Park, specifically the Wetland Walk and the Bush Loop (not the most imaginative names). I can’t find a decent website link for the walk but you can view a PDF map here.

We parked at the park rangers office and got ourselves ready. I took Alayna to have a look at some horses across the road and we stood and watched as one of the park trams passed by. As we started our walk two horses were led by by their riders and Alayna had a good look without getting too close. Horse inspection complete we were off into the meadows.

Walking the meadow

Walking the meadow

Pukeko signage

Pukeko signage

Blowing dandelions

Blowing dandelions

The track circumnavigated a large paddock populated with cattle and a couple of wetland areas. Being quite dry recently there wasn’t a lot of water to be seen near the southern end of the track but we still saw a few pukeko and a heron. Alayna got to check out various wildflowers and blow dandelions with Keryn and also inspected a couple of rabbit holes. The track interseccted with an equestrian course and there were lots of different jumps dotted around. Outside of the Bush Loop there were a few stands of manuka and young cabbage trees popping out of the grass.

Horse course

Horse course

The lollipop cabbage tree

The lollipop cabbage tree

Vibrant ponds

Vibrant pond

The wetland area at the northern end had a decent sized pond and as we approached we could hear a chorus of frogs which quietened by the time we were at the waters edge. We did see a couple of frogs resting in the water along with the ducks and a couple of dabchick. The walk ended back at the park road and passed by a US Marines Memorial. Information on the history of the US Marine camps on the Kapiti Coast can be found at the Kapiti US Marine Trust website.

US Marines Memorial

US Marines Memorial

Reading the boards at the US Marines Memorial

Reading the boards at the US Marines Memorial

We drove down to the end of the road and had a brief look. There were plenty of people around enjoying the good weather.

Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island

Mum’s birthday and driving north

Our final day in Timaru and the main reason we’d come down, Mum’s birthday. The morning was spent preparing food and getting everything ready for brunch as a bevy of family arrived. There were copious pancakes and croissants, fruit and Christmas mince pies. And then it was time for a birthday cake to be presented.

Time for cake

Time for cake

Blow out the candles

Blow out the candles

As is traditional there were a number of family photos taken. Frances and Helen were excellent photographers standing in my Richard and myself.

Uncle Richard

Uncle Richard

Siblings

Siblings (Alayna standing in for Patricia )

Family photo

Family photo

Alayna and the birthday girl

Alayna and the birthday girl

Early afternoon saw as saying our goodbyes and taking to the road once more. We were splitting up our journey with our Ferry not sailing until the following evening and we would be spending the night in Cheviot. Getting there we somehow managed to avoid most of the thunderstorms and hail that was threatening, only getting hailed on just north of Christchurch for a few minutes though it was loud enough to wake Alayna and concern her a little.

Stormy skies

Stormy skies south of Christchurch

We arrived in Cheviot and our accommodation at the Cheviot Motels and Holiday Park in good time. There was a trampoline, guinea fowl, rabbits, chickens, geese, horses, a donkey and a friendly cat so Alayna was set. I could see the heavy weather coming our way so dashed up to the next door Church as the front same in and got some photos of moody clouds before the wind kicked in, shortly followed by heavy rain. It blew through quickly thankfully, much to the relief of the cyclist who had just set up his little pup-tent.

The storm comes over

The storm comes over St. Johns at Cheviot

Here comes the rain

Here comes the rain

Morning rainbow

Morning rainbow

Strawberry Fare

Our trip down south coincided with the Waimate Strawberry Fare, a celebration of the local crop that has become a well known event. We parked at the home of Waimate legendary teacher Mary Firth (also fantastic Aunty) and headed inside for a chat. Mary produced a suitcase full of interesting things for Alayna to play with including a small tea set that got some good use in the time before we headed out. Bridget was also there having stayed overnight after a drip down to Dunedin to wow the audiences with talks on the importance of transport and design in keeping people connected (amongst other things).

Ready to walk to Strawberry Fare

Ready to walk to Strawberry Fare (Bridget explaining to Alayna the importance of transport and design in keeping people & teddy bears connected)

House from the garden

Looking to Mary’s house from the lovely garden

Rose in bloom

Rose in bloom

It was a pleasant walk to the Fare and we took a path through the nearby Victoria Park and checked out the birds. We were all impressed by a peacock in full display mode as it tried to get the attention of a frankly disinterested female. We caught up with Mary and Bridget just past the old Empress Flour Mill and then crossed the road to enter the Fare which was spread over Boland Park and Seddon Square.

Old silo

Old silo

There were many many stalls selling everything from handmade crafts to radio controlled helicopters, a variety of food and drink including plenty of strawberries and live entertainment. The raffle reminded me of those that took place (and probably still take place) at the Rangitata Huts every new years, the board rattling around as tickets were sold. Alayna wanted to look at and touch everything and loved some of the toys on display. She climbed into a comfy seat (also for sale) and would have been quite content to stay put if we’d given her food and a hand-knitted doll to play with. We watched a pipe band walk by and I considered talking to some extravagantly dressed steampunk aficionados about a photo but in the end didn’t manage to make up my mind in time.

Raffle

Raffle

Comfy

Comfy

Playing a tune

Playing a tune

We bought lunch and some more shoes for Alayna and then it was time to head back to Timaru and for Alayna to have a sleep. In the afternoon Keryn made a cake for the following days birthday celebration and Alayna got to have more cousin time. As well as Mum’s birthday the next day we’d also be driving north on the first part of our journey home so some preparation for that was also required.

Time for a story

Time for a story

Steampunk Oamaru

Oamaru was on the list of places to visit while we were down south so one morning we drove south to check out the steampunk capital of New Zealand. Our first stop, naturally enough, was at Steampunk HQ. It was simple enough to recognise where we were going, there aren’t many buildings with a strange smoke and flame emitting steam engine seeming to launch into the air sitting out front. The bearded and tattooed proprietor was friendly and a good salesperson. For $2 inserted the train would come to life with a huff and puff and screech of its steam powered engine and Alayna got to see it a couple of times due to the proprietor dipping into his pocket for a coin. Inside there was a array of displays and outlandish items to be seen. Flashing lights, angular sculptures constructed out of spare parts, a magical pipe organ that played unexpected and odd noises and various other strange and wonderful pieces.

All aboard!

All aboard!

Steampunk crab

Steampunk crab

All the stars

All the stars

In the yard out the back were more sights, here mostly of the mechanical and slowly rusting variety. I don’t think Alayna knew quite what to make of it all, everything outside her experience or normality. That said there was still time for some playful portraits.

Rusty train portrait

Rusty train portrait

Riding the tractor

Riding the tractor

Huia

Huia

We wanted to head to playground so Alayna could have some play time and through some random zen navigation managed to drive straight to the steampunk themed playground. Sliding, swinging, climbing and running around were the order of the day for a while.

Steampunk playground

Steampunk playground

Sliding

Sliding

Going for a walk

Going for a walk

Moody Oamaru beach

Moody Oamaru beach

For lunch we took a recommendation and drove a short way out of Oamaru to the Riverstone Kitchen, home of good food and a wonderful sprawling playground (not to mention the bonkers castle being built in the middle of a moat next to the kitchen grounds). After some initial issues with service we were soon very impressed by the speed of our food arriving, the quality of the food and general atmosphere. Once we’d eaten there was plenty of time to wander the grounds checking out the shops, gardens and peacocks and also following Alayna as she spent time in the playground and running around the large wooden fort. I don’t think we’d be able to visit Oamaru again without stopping here again.

Lunch

Lunch

Hanging around

Hanging around

Fort time

Fort time

Peacock

Peacock

Timaru for a few days

From Hanmer Springs we continued on towards Timaru with a couple of stops in Christchurch, one to pick up some duplo we’d bid for on TradeMe and a second stop at Riccarton Mall to stretch the legs. We were looking for some new shoes for Alayna and found a pair on big discount at Rebel Sport that did the trick, even if they were a bit more bling than we’d normally buy. Alayna loved for sparkle shoes so that’s the main thing I guess (and they were a good fit and were made well of course).

We arrived in Timaru in the evening and it was good to see Mum and Dad. Not so good was Dad being hospitalised later that evening with what turned out to be food poisoning. This meant in the end that Dad missed being at home fro Mum’s birthday but there was a silver lining of sorts with some planned tests for other complaints being brought forward because of being in hospital already but it was a long week for Dad to be in an isolation room. Thankfully there was plenty of family around so we were all visiting every day, dutifully putting on out gloves and plastic aprons each time before sitting down for a chat. Dad’s much better now which is good.

Alayna loves new places and toys which are different to those we have at home so she was kept interested by the things available at my parents place. Exploring was also on the agenda and Alayna liked looking around and finding things to look at, touch and feel.

Alayna at play

Alayna at play

Checking out cobwebs

Checking out cobwebs

We had a look around the Timaru shops and spend a morning down at the Caroline Bay playground and then playing around at the Timaru aquatic centre where we managed to get the childrens areas mostly to ourselves.

Around and around

Around and around

Horse riding

Horse riding

Drive time

Drive time

My brother’s family is down the road from my parents place and we had a few afternoons there as well and Alayna loved to play with her cousins. Again there was an array of new-to-Alayna toys to check out and play with. There was also a trampoline so it was perfect really.

Keira and Alayna

Keira and Alayna

One night there was a chance of Aurora activity so I ended up picking up my brother and he showed me a good local spot for photography out on Adair Road. While we didn’t get to see or photograph an Aurora it was a beautiful night with plenty of stars which reflected nicely in the hood of the car. We did attract the attention of one curious local who drove past us at least three times, turning around and coming back slower each time while presumably trying to figure out what we were doing.

Star reflections

Star reflections

The kiwifruit incident

We left St Arnaud in the morning with a plan to do a morning walk before lunch. This worked out quite well other than a couple of incidents, one during the walk and one afterwards. Lake Rotoroa was the first stop and we had lovely views from the pier and got to watch a swan family on the grassy area next to the carpark. The fluffy grey signets were very cute. We also came across Fergus again with his pax. Alayna obliged with some cuddles for her doll while I took a few photos and then it was a short drive to the start of the Braeburn Walk, followed closely by Fergus and his passengers. We parked off the road and I thought it odd that the ground was hissing underneath one of the rear tyres but I figured it was just air from the wet ground, I made a mental note to check it on our return.

Cuddles at Lake Rotoroa

Cuddles at Lake Rotoroa

The Braeburn Walk started with a wide path, once an access road, that wended its way through groves of tree fuscia before heading uphill through more beech forest. It was again very attractive in the dappled light, moss and ferns covering the ground between decaying fallen trucks and tall trees. The ground was covered in leaves which came in useful later on.

There was an optional branch in the track which took us up to a tall waterfall and we stopped for a snack while I clambered down the steep slope to try and get a decent photograph. Fergus and his two passengers turned up as well and Fergus adroitly navigated his way to the stream bed, something I didn’t manage with my tripod in hand and camera gear weighing me down. Keryn and Alayna were eating while seated on a convenient tree root and when Keryn got up she knocked over the lunchbox tipping out a couple of kiwifruit. One did a cartoon bounce and tumble done the slope, narrowly avoiding being caught by Fergus before landing in the stream and floating away. All thoughts of the previous days alarm were temporarily forgotten as Alayna contemplated the new disaster and as we walked out of the forest there were constant queries about the missing kiwifruit; would it be coming back? where was it now? could we find it? Sad to say we never say that kiwifruit again.

Playing with leaves

Playing with leaves

We stopped for a while and played with the fallen leaves on the track, piling them up and then throwing them into the air over Alayna. This was great fun and I’m sure Alayna would have happily played the game all day.

Walking the forest

Walking the forest

Glen and grove

Glen and grove

Once back at the car I had a look at the tyre again and it looked a little soft but the wet ground made it look OK. Once we were driving I quickly realised it wasn’t OK and we had an unscheduled stop for lunch back at the lake carpark while I changed the tyre. Other than the attendant sandflies taking a few bites this happened without fuss.

Fixing the flat

Fixing the flat

With a good tyre in place we were back on the road and heading towards Hanmer Springs through the Lewis Pass. We stopped a few times, once so I could photograph an interesting sign and another at Maruia Falls.

No Shooting

No Shooting

Maruia Falls

Maruia Falls

As we climbed Lewis Pass the temperature dropped and snow was visible on the taller peaks, rain falling and threatening to become sleet. Perfect timing for a walk. We stopped at the St James Carpark and had a look at the small tarn and walked a short way along the Alpine Nature Walk. The rain stopped and we got some sunshine but it was still very cold with a stiff breeze ripping along.

Top of the pass

Top of the pass

Family photo time

Family photo time

Cute as a button

Cute as a button

From the top of the pass it was plain sailing down the other side and on to Hanmer. We were staying at the Alpine Adventure Holiday Park and Alayna was once again entertained by a set of bunk beds. They also had a good playground and Alayna got to enjoy a trampoline all to herself. In the future travel accommodation may be booked on the availability of a trampoline I think (if Alayna was deciding).

Out the other side

Out the other side