South Island, AKA Te Waipounamu

My goodness, it’s a couple of weeks since our last entry. We blame it on the less-than-stellar WiFi in New Zealand. We’re already rounding the southern tip. Here’s a brief entry as we begin to catch up.

We make it safely across the Cook Strait and head for Marlborough. Marlborough, is of course, wine country. We replenish our supplies.

Sheep May Safely Graze, part II

Among the wineries we visit is Spy Valley. The winery gets its name from the Waihopai Station satellite tracking base down the road. Like its much larger cousin in Alice Springs, Pine Gap, it is the object of many protests. Sad that so many people don’t realize that we are the good guys. (To be fair, the protestors’ statement that the existence of the base means NZ is ‘working for Trump’ would give anyone the heebie jeebies.)

We rent bikes and cycle the Golden Mile.

Getting a bit wobbly

It’s hot. We love it. Finally, we head down the coast to the Kaikoura Peninsula.

Kaikoura coast

Kaikoura is the site of the first human settlement in NZ (as far as is known) about seven hundred years ago.


Very rugged, with lots of seals. You can get surprisingly close. According to the NZ Department of Conservation:

‘Before the arrival of humans, a population of about 2 million fur seals inhabited New Zealand. They were taken as food by Māori, and the onset of European sealing for meat and pelts in the 1700s and 1800s pushed them to the brink of extinction.’

We’re never gonna survive – unless we get a little crazy

Interesting wrinkly limestone rock formations all along this coast.


After a drive through more beautiful countryside, we arrive in Christchurch.

Facade of cathedral destroyed in 2011 earthquake

We visit the Canterbury Museum. Te Waipounamu – the Maori name for the South Island – means ‘place of greenstone’. There is an exhibit of greenstone carvings, including this hei-tiki.

Hei-tiki, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hei-tiki!

I get a little one to hang around my neck.

We’ll be catching up to our present whereabouts soon. Stay tuned!

Sight or Insight of the Day – Te Waipounamu

We visit Ernest Rutherford‘s old workplace at the University of Canterbury.

A bored Ernest probably carved his initials in this lecture hall.

Physics joke: A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage. He says, “No, I’m traveling light.”

Wellington and across the Cook Strait

We cut across country and spend a night in Palmerston North before going to Wellington.

We stay in a caravan park in Upper Hutt and take the train into town every day. It’s sunny and hot. And windy, which Wellington is famous for.

View of Wellington

The water is delightfully clean in the harbour. Young folks cool off by jumping off the quay.

Betcha wouldn’t find people doing this in Halifax or Victoria.

We visit the Beehive. This is New Zealand’s Parliament. (Or more accurately, the ‘Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings’.)

The Beehive from afar…

…and from up close

We hope to run into Jacinda Ardern, NZ’s youthful PM. We’re fans. (She’s refreshingly different from the bloated trough-snufflers and pathological liars that run most governments.) But no luck – she’s off visiting the victims of bushfires in the South Island.

We get some walking-around money from a Kiwi Bank ATM.

That’s what I call a big beak

It’s fun being in a place where everyone sounds like Bret and Jemain on Flight of the Conchords.

One thing that is a definite bargain in New Zealand is fish & chips.

Crumbed tarakihi and battered elephant fish

We enjoy an ample meal at The Chippery for relative peanuts.

Wellington is very liveable. Like most capital cities. We get the lowdown on local history at the very cool Wellington Museum.

I visit the childhood home of Katherine Mansfield.

A rare attempt at a selfie

We prepare for our three-and-a-half-hour trans-Cook Strait ferry ride.

Lucky for Maria the forecast is for a smooth crossing.

The Cook Strait can have unbelievably rough weather. There have been numerous shipwrecks, including the relatively recent Wahine disaster.

Sight or Insight of the Day

New Zealand is known in Maori as ‘Aotearoa‘. The common translation is ‘the land of the long white cloud’. You can see why in this photo taken during the crossing.

Almost like a tablecloth…

Kiwi are the Champions, My Friend

From the Coromandel Peninsula, we arrive in Rotorua.

Prow of a Maori waka

Rotorua is an infernal kind of place. Lots of sulphur-smelling hot springs.

We rent bicycles and tour along the lake.

‘Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.’ – H.G. Wells

We come across bubbling witches-brews of hot springs and mud.

Wake up and smell the hydrogen sulfide…
hot water

Many years ago, I went out with a girl from Rotorua for quite some time. I believe she eventually settled down in this area. A casual Google search turns up nothing of her whereabouts.

From Rotorua, we drive to Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake. Of course, Maria has to test out the waters.

Lake Taupo

Our caravan park contains soothing mineral hot pools.

Almost parboiled

Apparently this DC3 makes the local McDonald’s one of the coolest in the world.

Just a plane burger, please…

Next stop is Napier, a pleasant seaside town.

Near Napier – Cape Kidnappers in the background

A severe earthquake strikes here in the 1930s.

Napier quays

Napier is known for its many Art Deco buildings. (Art Deco was popular around the time of the earthquake – hence the binge.)

For us, however, it’s all about the wine. The Hawke’s Bay region is one of New Zealand’s best. A Google search whittles down the number of wineries we can reasonably visit.

Mission Estate is the oldest winery in NZ. As we arrive for lunch at their wonderful restaurant, preparations are underway for an outdoor concert with Phil Collins. (Currently on his ‘Not Dead Yet‘ tour – I kid you not.)

This is an annual thing: last year, it was Neil Diamond. Next year, Elton John.

‘In the deserts of the heart, Let the healing fountain start.’ – W.H. Auden

On our way to Sileni Estate. The Hawke’s Bay region is famous for its syrahs and sauvignon blancs.

Kiwi sniffs a good syrah

See the duct tape on the rear windows? That’s because our discount campervan rental has no screens. So we make our own.

Maria frolics in the fields of Alpha Domus.

Hail, Bacchus!

The entrance to Craggy Range.

Once voted the new world’s best winery

This is the actual craggy range, across the road.

Te Mata Peak

Sight or Insight of the Day

In Rotorua, we visit the nearby National Kiwi Hatchery.

This is a stuffed kiwi – real kiwis suffer extreme stress when a flash goes off by accident, so photography is not allowed around the live birds.

Do these feathers make my ass look fat?

Note the size of the egg compared to the size of the kiwi. Ouch!

It so happens as we arrive, a pair of rangers are transporting a three-month-old kiwi to a new home in a national park.

This particular kiwi hatched during the visit of Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle (AKA the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.) They select the name ‘Tihei’, from the Māori Tihei mauriora, which means ‘sneeze of life’. (Every kiwi hatched here has a name. Over a thousand so far.)

So Sneeze is belted in and whisked away in comfort, as befits a bird of royal patronage.

So long, and thanks for all the worms

Let’s face it – New Zealand avian fauna is not very exciting after the technicolour riot that is Australian birdlife. But we love kiwis.

We set out on the road…

After arriving in Auckland, we spend a few days seeing the sights, including the architecturally impressive Auckland Art Gallery.

Bark cloth from some Pacific island

We pick up our campervan, home for the next few months. We name her ‘Kiwi’. I suggest ‘Kate’, after Kate Sheppard, the woman responsible for New Zealand being the first country to give women the vote in 1893. (For comparison, women in Switzerland got the vote in 1971.) I am overruled.

Kiwi and me

Note the homemade awning constructed from a cheap tarp, a couple of tent poles, and numerous bungee cords.

We head out of somewhat over-Sinified Auckland for the Coromandel Peninsula.

Back in the saddle again

New Zealand is very scenic.

Van with a view

The east coast experiences a gold rush in the 19th century. This leaves towns with many Wild West-style buildings.

Storefront in Thames

We take a shortcut known as ‘The 309‘ across the peninsula. Among the sights we see are herd of free-range pigs. Good old NZ pork on the hoof.

Slouching towards Gadara

The twisty gravel road passes through some nifty rainforest.

A photo of the Waiau Waterfall…


…made better by adding Maria

 We drive down the coast, then inland to Matamata and camp by some hot springs.

It’s pasta night

Campgrounds are expensive in New Zealand. Almost double the price of Australian campgrounds. No wonder so many people stick to ‘freedom camping’. (Not our thing at all. If you can afford a motor vehicle, surely you can afford to pay for amenities like hot water and electricity.)

Sight or Insight of the Day

Because we are in the area, we visit the set of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. It is extremely touristic, that is, wildly popular.

Welcome to The Shire

It’s actually quite a sight. The story of the site’s discovery by Peter Jackson on this lucky family’s farmland is a tale in itself.

I test out a Hobbit-sized bench

Maria, with little cultural reference to JRR Tolkien and his work, is dubious at first. But eventually succumbs to Hobbiton’s charms.

Maria in front of Frodo’s door