Van in Northland – Cape Reinga, 90 Mile Beach and Giant Trees

We headed north to Whatuwhiwhi on Friday 26 October, which was our quietest stop so far. The idea was to get a bit closer to the far north and to give us the chance to visit 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga. We decided against the organised trips which tend to include the coach driving on the beach and boogie boarding on the Te Paki sand dunes and chose instead to drive the van up the peninsula. On Saturday we began with a walk on 90 Mile Beach at Waipapakauri and our first encounter with the Tasman sea, which seemed very different in character to the Pacific. The beach itself was amazing, long, flat and shrouded in sea spray. It seemed to go on for as far as the eye could see and beyond. I have no clue why anyone would want to drive on something so beautiful.

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We continued up the peninsula to Houhora Heads and stopped for lunch, marking the place as a spot to spend the night if necessary as we weren’t completely sure how long we would need to get to the cape and back. We drive on past the Te Paki dunes, which are absolutely enormous and reached the Cape Reinga car park. The walk tot he lighthouse was beautiful and we did it in bright sunshine. The beaches and scenery are spectacular, but the most impressive bit for me was the meeting point, where the Tasman and Pacific seas meet. It’s like a giant whirlpool and it changes and swirls and churns in a way that I could have watched for hours.

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We headed back down the peninsula and ended up at the kiwi holiday park at Ahipara which meant that we were back on 90 mile beach at sunset.

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On Sunday we headed off to look for some giant Kauri trees. We found Tene Mahuta easily as he is just off the highway and very well signposted. Unfortunately we missed the next turning for the kauri walks and ended up at the Kauri forest information centre from which we did a damp and muddy 2 hour tramp up to the lookout, which was shrouded in low cloud when we got there. The top10 kauri forest site has eels in the river and glow worms under the bridge, but it rained too much for us to be able to see either of them!

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Van in Northland – Orewa and Russell

On Tuesday we picked up our home for the next 2 months, a campervan from Britz. The pick up seemed to take ages, but once we finally got on the road we could start heading North. We had booked the Orewa beach top10 holiday site for our first night as it wasn’t too far to drive and it would give us a good base to get to grips with the van. As it turned out there wasn’t any need to book, we are early enough in the season that all of the sites have enough room to just turn up and book in on the day and I can’t really see this changing until nearer Christmas.

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Orewa beach itself was beautiful, our pitch looked right out to sea and we walked along the beach to the town to get some supplies and cooked the first meal in the van. Since then we have got wise to using the kitchen and barbecue facilities at the sites (no need to use up your own gas or make the van smell!). We also paid up for Top10 site membership which was only $48 and which has given us 10% off all of the Top10 sites and also local discounts on trips and food at some places, so we had made our money back by day 3!

On Wednesday we headed north to the bay of Islands Top10 at Russell. The staff at Orewa had given us a handy guide to Northland which they had written which suggested routes to the Top10 sites in the north. We stopped for lunch at a place on the map with a nice name and some coast, Waipu Cove, and were really glad that we did. the beach was beautiful (by now we’re realising that they ALL are!) and the beautiful mural painted on the toilet block told the history of the town and the arrival of the first Scottish migrants, driven away from their homes by the clearances.

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Back on the road, we made our way to the car ferry to Russell and a lovely campsite. We still had time to drink some local Rosé at the Duke of Marlborough hotel, by the water and to eat the poshest bar snack ever of yummy calamari.

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We had booked two nights at Russell with the intention of going on a boat trip around the Bay of Islands and the following day we booked onto the cream trip, which follows the route of the boats which used to go around the bay picking up the cream produced on the various islands and delivering post and supplies to the islanders. The trip also promises dolphin watching and swimming if the conditions are right. The weather was pretty grey to begin with so we decided against taking our swimming gear and in the end there wasn’t any dolphin swimming so I didn’t feel that I had missed out! We did, however, see absolutely loads of both Common and Bottle nosed Dolphins. They played around the boat, fed and jumped and surfed in the wake of the boat. When they feed, they stir up all of the fish under the water which makes it easier for the seabirds to catch them, so we were also treated to seeing gannets diving into the water like torpedoes to catch the fish that the dolphins we hunting. It was quite a sight.

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Apparently there was a penguin swimming with the dolphins, but unfortunately I missed him. Penguins are still on my list of things I’d like to see… We did see some seals later on and the boat also went though the hole in the rock and did an island stopover at for lunch. We had enough time there to have some food and go for a walk up the hill to see some stunning views of the bay.
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We ended the day back at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell for some fish and chips. It was the first time that I’d had Gurnard and it was lovely.

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Auckland

Arriving in New Zealand takes a bit of time, the country is very concerned about visitors bringing in natural products which might contaminate their environment. You have to throw out any food that you are carrying and declare any items such as walking shoes that have been used outdoors so that they can be checked. After we had got through this process though, everything was really straightforward. We got the airport link bus to the city and got off at a stop just opposite our hotel. We were pretty lucky with this, because shortly afterwards the street was closed to traffic for the triathlon event that was going on that weekend.

Once we’d settled in, we walked into the city centre and met up with our friends Dan and Emma who have been living in Auckland for a while and who were fantastic tour guides for us while we were there. They took us for pizza and New Zealand Sav (easier to say the Sauvignon Blanc!) at Tyler Street Garage.

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On Saturday we all went to the Sky tower and watched Dan do the jump from the top. From the observation deck you can see the whole of Auckland, the harbour and the nearby islands. After that, we took the bus to Mission Bay beach and had a lovely walk, followed by some mini lamb burgers and bruschetta at the Attic. Our final stop for the day was a restaurant called Moo Chow Chow where we had some amazing Thai-inspired food to share: crispy duck rolls, salmon salad, and two different curries, one beef and one lamb.

Sunday was very wet, so we took the opportunity to do some laundry and also to watch some of the triathletes as they came past. Dan and Emma chose the Botswana Butchery for dinner, which was absolutely brilliant food! I had Crispy Squid, Lamb Rump with Lambs Fry (liver), and Dark Chocolate Fondant – yummy!

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Monday was a much brighter day and Emma had booked us all onto a wine tour on Waiheke island. We took the Ferry from Auckland and were picked up when we got to Waiheke by Wayne, who was our guide for the day. We started out at Jurassic Ridge winery where we had a great tasting, starting with whites, moving to rosé and ending up with some beautiful reds. Slightly worse for wear, we were ferried over to Kennedy Point where we got to taste some more wine and were taken out to see the vines and the fermentation tanks. Our final winery was Peacock Sky, which was my favourite tasting as they paired each of the wines that you taste with a little nibble of food. You taste the wine on its own, then have the food, then taste the wine again to see how the food has affected it. It was a brilliant idea!

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We bought a bottle of bubbles which is labelled ‘method traditionelle’ as its made in the traditional champagne style but not from Champagne, hopefully we’ll be able to save this for Christmas. We also had lunch here, the food was beautiful and included in our tour price which was a nice surprise. The menu options were all named after dogs and Andrew and I shared a chihuahua and a bulldog (burrito and burger). The final part of our visit was a muddy little trek up through the bush to the vineyards, after which we were taken back to the Ferry to return to Auckland.

All in all we ate and drank like kings while we were in Auckland and thoroughly enjoyed our time in the city. It really helped having local guides and we loved seeing all of the parts of the place that they enjoy.

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Kuala Lumpur

My favourite bit of KL by far were the Petronas towers… Wow!

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Malacca

The trip to Malacca gave Andrew and I a chance to play at being backpackers. We loaded ourselves up with our luggage, caught a bus from Singapore and negotiated the public buses and the Jonker Walk night market at the other end. Not only did this make us quite pleased with ourselves, but it also meant that we befriended a backpacker from New Zealand.

We were lucky, or rather we had planned well, so we were in Malacca on Friday and Saturday nights when Jonker Walk in Chinatown is shut to traffic and becomes a massive night market. The place is full of food stalls, which were amazing and incredibly cheap and there was a stage set up at the end of the road too. This seemed to be holding OAP karaoke on night one and a much more serious singing competition, complete with some huge trophies, on night two. It made for some brilliant entertainment while we were drinking beer at the hotel bar.

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Curried fish balls

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These were sweet ‘buns’ made out of waffle type batter on the outside with fillings of red bean paste and sweetcorn. The sweetcorn reminded me of the custard style filling that you get in doughnuts but it was still very odd to be eating something that we think of as a vegetable as a pudding,

Of course it wasn’t all eating a drinking In Malacca, there is also a lot of history in the town, with evidence of Portuguese, Dutch and English occupation as well as the beautiful Chinese temples. It was also one of friendliest places I’ve ever visited.

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The Portuguese city walls, or what’s left of them. This is the gate that remains thanks to Stamford Raffles stopping the English from blowing them all up with gunpowder!

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A beautiful Chinese temple.

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Buildings!

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The dragon at the start of Jonker Walk.

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Singapore at night

Once darkness falls you see Singapore in a whole new light and it’s spectacular. I particularly loved the giant trees in the gardens by the bay. They look like some sort of science-fiction film set.

These are my photos for a change.

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Botanical gardens

Chilling out at the Botanical gardens.

(Mostly) Andrew’s photos

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Singapore – day 1

I’m not 100 percent sure what to make of Singapore. The city’s business centre and the marina area are incredibly glitzy, but somehow lacking a bit of character. I felt much more excited by the hustle and bustle of Little India and Chinatown where we ate brilliant food and watched the world go by. The shops and stalls are much more fascinating than anything you find in any of the air-conditioned malls, which again don’t massively appeal to me.

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We spent our first day exploring the civic district and the quays, which was a hot business so when we came to Raffles hotel we felt it would be a shame not to reward ourselves with a touristy Singapore Sling. I can completely see why Raffles is on the tourist trail, the building is beautiful and you can wander around quite a bit of it and look into the areas reserved for guests with envy!

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We didn’t go into the long bar for our drink, instead we stayed in the courtyard, which was a lovely relaxing place to drink. We were really pleased with ourselves for doing this, as we poked our heads into the long bar later on and it felt more like a busy pub than a beautiful hotel.

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We had fabulous street food on Smith street in Chinatown for dinner. The lanterns were all up for the mid-autumn festival and looked amazing! The food is all very cheap and the stands are brilliantly clean and have health ratings displayed so that you can pretty much eat anywhere without any worries. I had Singapore noodles which were amazing!

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Our final stop was the marina bay area which is completely different at night and much more spectacular. All of our whizzing around was done on the MRT which is quick, cheap and air conditioned. We bought an ezlink pass at the start of our stay and I’d recommend that to anyone. What I wouldn’t recommend so much is the hideous jet lag that we both had on the second night of the stay…even after all of our sightseeing we couldn’t sleep. I suppose you can’t have everything!

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Monthly reading roundup – September

Finished

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle – Now that I’ve read this, I’m not at all sure what all the fuss is about Sherlock Holmes. I felt that the stories and the writing were a bit thin.

Bed, David Whitehouse – This was an amazon kindle cheapy so I wasn’t really expecting very much, but I actually quite enjoyed it.

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In Progress

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster

Lonely Planet Singapore City Guide (yay!)

Lonely Planet New Zealand Travel Guide (double yay!)

Downloaded and ready to go

The Siege, Ismail Kadare

A History of Modern Britain, Andrew Marr

And a whole lot more…

What are you reading now?

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(Back) Packing reality check

Look at any travel blog and you’ll see a packing list and, being me, I started working on mine ages ago. It was a lovely list, full of suitable clothing and equipment for the trip of a lifetime. Fabulous! I was feeling pretty pleased with myself so, flushed with my success, I decided to do a practice pack. That was when my problem began…

It’s all very well having a great list, but no use at all if you can’t actually carry the things that are on it! Now, I will say that I didn’t have a huge list by any means and that part of the problem is the bag that I was hoping to take, but it has caused me a little bit of a packing dilemma. ‘Stuff’ is really heavy, my bag is very cumbersome and the combination of the two is not going to make for happy travelling.

Step 1 – List reduction
So, step one of my plan to be a happy camper starts with reducing my list. Obvious, isn’t it? I need to take less – but which items should I keep and which should I leave? Well, I took a scientific approach and got out the kitchen scales. Yes, I ended up weighing all of my clothes and discarding the things that weighed more. Although there are some heavy things (denim shorts) that I’ve kept because I like them! In the end I’ve managed to reduce my weight by 2.8kg. Pretty good, huh?

Step 2 – The bag
I bought my bag ages ago. I decided that a duffel bag would be the best option because it will pack down flat when not in use and that will probably be really important in the camper van where space is going to be in short supply. The bag I bought looked great: big, light and tough! The only problem (aside from weight) was the bulk. I couldn’t manage the bag using the cross-body strap – it just stuck out too much. Anyway, I’ve got a solution to that too. The lovely people at Cotswold Outdoor have said that I can return the bag, which thankfully still has all its labels attached, even though it is out of the normal returns period. They have let me swap it for a North Face one which has added backpack straps. Top marks for customer service. The new one arrived this week and it’s fabulous, so I think the luggage issue is solved too. As an added bonus the new bag is also 70g lighter than the original.

I’m feeling much happier already…

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