North to South, NZ



19th March to 2nd April 2012

We said a fond farewell to house sit no.3 after a wine filled evening hearing the tales of their 6 day horse trek. We have been so lucky with these house sits, we’ve chosen them mainly because the time and place fits, what we didn’t realise was that we’d meet such interesting and generous people into the bargain.

We were given a lift to Tauranga and waited in the rain for our bus to Auckland, we were running late and worried we’d run out of time to pick up our hire car. We charged to the car hire place to check there just as they were about to close the office. Somewhat travel worn we drove, munching trail mix, further North to an eco-village called Otamatea. I was chatting to someone back in Waiheke, mentioning our interest in natural building and he pointed us in this direction.

The bush

The bush

We arrived in the dark, with the rain falling and got lost. We had assumed our B&B would be easy to find, it being only a small village… but we were wrong! Eventually we got to our destination and had a warm welcome from our German and Chinese hosts.

The next day we had a wonderful brekky of eggs, fresh from her hens, borrowed some wellies and squelched off for a walk. There was a plot of land for sale and we looked around it, given a lot of interesting info about how the community was run. That night the community dinner had been re-arranged in our honour and we met some very interesting folk and ate some seriously fresh food, Matt had a jam sesh with the resident muso.

It was a short sweet visit, we were running out of time to see the South island, which we had been informed by pretty much everyone, was incredibly beautiful. On our way out we had to stop at an amazing sculpture/cafe, wonderfully bizarre and inspiring, we bought a book on how it was constructed (ferroconcrete) and I started hatching creative ideas….

We stayed a grey, rainy night in Auckland and then got up early to catch the train which ran all the way to Wellington. It was a great journey with ever changing landscapes and viewing windows provided. We were right at the back of the train where there was a 360 degree window to take in the wonders, it was only supposed to be occupied for 20mins at a time but some folk wouldn’t budge, using it as a pick up zone, which got a bit annoying. A nicer neighbour was a sweet little Indian boy who played peek-a-boo all the way down.



Staying the night in Wellington at a cheapo backpackers, the next day we got the 8am ferry across the Marlborough Sounds to Picton and South Island at last. The Sounds were beautiful and a great introduction to the wonders of South island.  From Picton we caught another bus to Kaikoura where we were to stay for a couple of nights at the YHA. A beautiful spot well known for its dolphins and whales, we decided to take a sea kayak tour down to the local fur seal colony.  It was great fun paddling in a 2 person kayak and we saw some seals and penguin too!  The owner of the YHA was ultra friendly and made us very welcome, the place had great views over the ocean and we sat in the sunny kitchen playing battleships. (For the first time since our honeymoon when to Matt’s eternal shame he cheated and looked while Fran was in the bathroom – boo!!)  After a walk around the peninsula it was time to get on the bus again and travel further south.

We arrived in poor brave Christchurch, with it’s boarded up shops and the centre of the city a no-go area, it was like a war zone. We stayed in a really nasty little hostel with a minging shared kitchen, our room was a health hazard but with a chirpy sign stuck on the window, our neighbour saw us blinching at it and said in a sexy Italian accent: ’It is a beeeoooteeeful room”(!) I managed to talk to my Sister in the morning to say happy birthday, then we got a cab and got the hell out. The taxi driver told us tales of sadness and bravery about the people and buildings that are still trying to survive the quakes. She said poignantly “There will be nothing left of this city soon”, as we watched a shiny office block being torn to the ground.

Hippie camper

Hippie camper

We arrived at the camper van rental place and hung around watching various folk pick up their vans, all of which were about 4 times the size of our Hippie van which came complete with purple flowers, yeah man! These flowers were a source of confusion for the bees who kept trying to land on them. We hit the road and drove through the remarkable Arthur’s Pass, with huge mountains and sparkling lakes all around. We camped up at Jacksons Retreat and scrambled up a bush path to see a waterfall. Next day into Greymouth to do some necessaries like post stuff home and buy warm pajamas, we also invested in some cheap rain macs, which of course meant it stopped raining!

We drove on to Franz Joseph glacier, it’s original name Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere meaning Tears of the Avalanche girl, so much more beautiful and poetic, and somewhat more appropriate than being named after some fat  Austrian, still you know these white folk have a habit of ‘claiming’ occupied places as their own. The glacier and approach to it was just stunning, the air fresh and clear, the rocks strange and magical. We found a waterfall which had a rainbow, small and complete which we crossed the stream to sit under. We walked to the lip of the glacier, as far as you can go if you’re skint and can’t afford the tour, still we were poor but we were happy to get close to this wonder.

Big kiwi

Big kiwi

We felt we couldn’t be in New Zealand without meeting a Kiwi, but being nocturnal and very shy, the chances of seeing them wild were pretty much nil. We paid a silly amount to creep into an nocturnal room to watch two birds grubbing around in their artificial forest. They are truly bizarre birds that look more like hedgehogs on legs that could belong to a rugby playing chicken.  We did have a rather more interactive meeting with another local bird, the Weka, who invited himself to our picnic!  Being the map reader in South Island was a really cushy job as there was pretty much only one way around. The roads were clear at this time of year and driving was a delight, with one gasp making view after another. We stopped, walked and picnic-ed at various stages en route, hampered only by some evil little sandflies. The sun had thoughtfully decided to shine on us, we hadn’t been relishing living in a tiny van in a soggy pile.

Matt contemplates a change of direction

Matt contemplates a change of direction

We got as far as Dunedin, which was an interesting arty place where we stopped for a gallery/music shop break and it was time to start heading back. We had a chilly excursion to gather and watch a penguin colony come back after a hard days fishing. The ‘colony’ turned out to be only two little black and white blobs in the far distance, but we chatted to some nice folk and had fun. There was a great junk treasure shop on the road and we spent some time foraging and came away with some good reading material.  There was a Gypsy Fair on the road and we stopped and enjoyed the travelers and their amazing vans that they traveled in, contemplating the life as there were some for sale.  A romantic time journeying the length and breadth of NZ selling your wares on the weekends…

Back to Christchurch and ta-ta to the Hippie, and farewell to New Zealand, for tonight… we fly!

Gallery pics below…


Dog Blog

Baskerville Hounds

We have done a series of house sitting jobs here in New Zealand, it’s been great for us preserving our meagre $$ at the same time as meeting some lovely folk and their furry friends. All three have been really hospitable and have even included a car for us to use during our stay, thanks to you all!

The first one we approached with a little trepidation, we were asked to look after the hounds of a couple called…the Baskervilles. But as you can see from the pic, they are far from being terrifying slavering beasts!  We had a pleasant week here in Cambridge administering to their aging cat, meeting the neighbours and playing with the adorable doggies. Poor Zeta and Matt had a bit of a trauma when we disturbed a wasps nest, one buried in her fur and another got Matt on the hooter, ouch! We visited a very inspiring sculpture park and arboretum, the owner being understandably very proud of transforming a defunct quarry into a place of real beauty.

The Bear and the Lion

Next for something completely different, multiply our last canine charges by ten and you get some idea of the size of Daisy and Fraggle, the bear (newfoundland) and the lion (leonberger).  These too were very sweet and we had some great walks along the river enjoying watching them splashing about. There were two cats who were very individual as only cats can be, Savvy thinks she’s a dog, and Fergus would love you until he chomped you. Clive, near Hastings, is wine country, and we were obliged to sample the delights, sometimes in the hot tub under the stars, it’s a tough job, but someones gotta do it!

Me 'n' Webster

Next to Te Puke (pronounced ti pookie), a reassuringly New Zealand name after Cambridge and Hastings! This was kiwifruit country (“The Kiwifruit capital of the World!”) and the house we stayed in was completely surrounded by orchards. The owners are really keen fishers and they told us of the monster catch Shirl had made the week before.  It was a 300(plus)kg blue marlin that took her an hour and a half to land. They had two chest freezers in the garage full of steaks and we got to sample its delights on the barbie. They are also horse people and we were looking after their lovely aging gent dog Webster and their two cats HT and Meg because they had gone on a 6 day horse trek. They took me out on a ride before they left, but my horse took a boot at Shirl and she had to stay and watch her leg change colour!  Whilst staying here we also walked up Mount Manganui, a wonderful rock promontory rising out of the beautiful blue sea at the top of the Bay of Plenty and visited a weird and wonderful garden called The Looking Glass Gardens – another converted quarry.  This place included an amazing straight path up the side of a hill called the Stairway to Heaven!

Gallery pics below

Arrival in Auckland


4th – 7th February 2012

We arrived in Auckland after a thirteen hour flight having lost a day and a few hours in the process. Speaking to folks back home in the UK was a bit bizarre, our Sunday morning being their Saturday evening. It’s not the only odd thing… the stars are upside down, Orion looks most confused!

We booked into a cheap and cheerful (lime green and purple) hostel called Jucy Lucy’s where we squeezed ourselves and luggage into a tiny bunk room. We did a little stumbling around the city still pretty dazed from the flight and then bought some stuff to eat for the next few days. We were a bit dismayed to find it all gone in the morning, cleared out of the communal fridge by the over zealous staff, I was slightly suspicious about all the beer that was cleared, party time in the staff room me thinks.

Working conditions

Matt landed a job when we arrived, this was a real relief as we have been doing some rather anxious dollar stretching, but it was a bit of a pain in the dong in terms of timing. There was no real space to work so he had to perch on the bottom bunk squished up facing the wall working out fiendishly complicated Cuban rhythms. I either worked on the top bunk or went out to art galleries, paying my respects to a suffragette monument (New Zealand women were the first in the world to get the vote) or wrote my blog post from the end of the wharf.

Year of the Dragon

There was a lantern festival at our local park, celebrating the Chinese year of the dragon.  It all felt very auspicious for me (being a wood dragon!) and we enjoyed wandering around admiring the elaborate lantern sculptures by day. We went again at night to see them lit, but we could hardly see anything it was so crazy busy, so we just grabbed some fish cakes and money bags (they are snacks… we haven’t taken to crime!) and got out.

On our last day in Auckland Matt un-manacled himself from the computer to come with me  to viaduct wharf where we enjoyed the fresh breeze, the impressive boats, the elevating bridge, and a huge pile of fish and chips.

Gallery pics below…