A weekend in Nelson

I spent a delightful weekend in Nelson in May. As my plane landed at the small local airport, and I climbed down the stairs onto the runway, I looked around at the early morning light, the open skies, and the distant mountains, and felt that I had arrived somewhere special. After picking up my car from Hardy Rental Cars (very good friendly service) I headed into Nelson township, to visit the Nelson Market, which is held on Saturday mornings. It was a beautiful crisp sunny autumn day, and I had a very enjoyable stroll through the various market stalls – admiring everything from regional goods, fresh, seasonal and organic produce as well as handcrafted items from local artisans, and stalls selling mouth-watering freshly prepared food and coffee.

In the afternoon, I visited the World of Wearable Art Museum. I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed. The skill and talent involved in creating these stunning costumes is incredible. Many of the costumes on display won awards in the World of Wearable Art Awards Show, a two hour performance held annually in Wellington in September. The Museum also has a vast collection of classic cars in wonderful condition too. You can easily while away an hour or three here!

The next morning I visited some of the lovely vineyards in the Nelson area. Nelson is one of the sunniest region in New Zealand, and has a mild climate that combines to create some wonderful wines. Grape vines have been cultivated in this area from the time of the mid-1800s by German settlers to New Zealand. Many wineries in the area also offer lovely cafes at the vineyard, so as well as tasting wines, you can indulge in a platter of something delicious to go with the wine as well. As it is quite a small region, you can visit several vineyards within a few hours.

Afterwards, I ended up at the Jellyfish Cafe at Mapua Wharf for a late lunch. What a beautiful place. I had a delicious meal of grilled calamari, salad and kumara chips, with a glass of a Nelson Sauvignon Blanc, while admiring the beautiful Waimea Estuary flowing past the cafe. I could easily have spent most of the afternoon there, soaking in the sea air and the sound of gulls flying past, but decided I needed a bit of activity to round off the day.

So, after my late lunch I went for a bike tour on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail with Nicky McBride, from Wheelie Fantastic. They have a great arrangement there – Nicky and her team are based directly at Mapua Wharf, and will drop you (and your bikes) anywhere in the area on the Taste Trail (depending on how far and how long you want to bike, and how challenging you want your ride to be). I decided that after my wine tastings and lunch I didn’t feel up to tackling hilly areas, and rather wanted some downhill and flat biking. You can choose whether you want to bike on your own or whether you would like one of their guides to bike with you and show you around. Nicky loaded our bikes up on the back of their van, and we were dropped off on the Trail. Nicky showed me some lovely parts of the country on the way back to Mapua, and some good spots to stop for a break or two (Jester House looked lovely!) There’s something for everyone there, whether you’re a really keen biker or just someone who feels like a leisurely bike ride to work off lunch and a glass or two of wine!!

Moana the Albatross

Albatrosses are the world’s largest seabirds, spending at least 85% of their lives at sea. Fourteen varieties of albatrosses breed in the New Zealand region – more than anywhere else in the world. Several are extremely rare, like the Chatham Islands mollymawk which breeds only on one tiny island in the Chathams. (See the DOC website: DOC:Albatrosses)

New Zealand’s albatrosses include two species of royal albatross, the largest of all the albatrosses. Given that these huge birds often live in very remote areas, it can be hard for most of us to see them.  If you make it to Dunedin, you should definitely visit the Royal Albatross Centre, located on the Otago Peninsula. Pukekura/Taiaroa Head is home to the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding colony. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these magnificent birds in real life, and a unique opportunity to view royal albatross parents and chicks. At the Royal Albatross Centre, visitors can watch the seasonal behaviour of breeding albatross including courting, egg incubation, chicks and adolescent hijinks.

If you’re too far away to pop into the Royal Albatross Centre, you can watch the development of little Moana, an albatross chick hatched on the 21st of January 2016, via a live stream web camera, placed directly in front of Moana’s nest: Moana: Royal Cam

This is an amazing opportunity to watch a baby albatross grow and explore its surroundings. Initially, Moana’s parents took turns guarding and feeding her. She is now left alone for extended periods while both parents head to sea to search for food. As she gets older and bigger, the parents spend more time out at sea. You may tune in and see an empty nest, but usually Moana’s not too far away. She needs to stay near the nest in case her parents come back to feed her.


James Cameron in New Zealand

Tourism New Zealand has a newly launched campaign which features filmmaker James Cameron (the famous director of Aliens, The Terminator, Titanic and Avatar, among other films). Cameron and his wife Suzy picked New Zealand as their second home 4 years ago.  James Cameron comments: “If you enjoy the outdoors and you enjoy a sense of adventure, you’re not going to be able to beat this place anywhere in the world.”

The campaign features a clip entitled “James Cameron’s New Zealand”, and a range of short films on the following themes: People and Culture; Local Wine; Journeys and Landscapes; Walking and Hiking; Cities and Arts, and Alpine Vistas.

You can see the campaign here: http://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/james-cameron-new-zealand/

Abel Tasman Webcams

For those of us who can’t get to the south island of New Zealand as often as we would like, we can now go online to see how each beautiful day in the Abel Tasman National Park unfolds. By looking at the web cameras posted on the Project Janszoon website, you can see a changing ten minute shot of Awaroa, Torrent Bay, Astrolabe and Anchorage throughout the day – and almost imagine you’re there yourself! Check it out: http://www.janszoon.org/the-park/webcams/  (The cameras take a still photo every 10 minutes, and you can scroll through a days worth of images!)




(Project Janszoon is a privately funded initiative working in partnership with the Department of Conservation to help restore the ecology of the Abel Tasman National Park.)


New Banknotes in New Zealand

In May this year, New Zealand’s new $20, $50 and $100 notes were introduced into circulation by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. These beautiful new notes highlight some of the New Zealand native birds at risk from predators like possums, stoats and rats. Fortunately the New Zealand Department of Conservation and various community groups and trusts are working to help protect these special birds. Hopefully featuring them on the new banknotes will also highlight the risk facing these vulnerable birds, and contribute to the protective efforts already in place.



The New $20 Banknote. Image: Reserve Bank of New Zealand

One of New Zealand’s fastest birds can be found on the new $20 banknote: the kārearea or New Zealand falcon. The bird can reach speeds of over 100 km/h and catch prey larger than itself. This species is at-risk and it is estimated only 5,000 to 8,000 birds remain. Community groups including the Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust and Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust are working to ensure the survival of this special bird. Also to be seen on the new $20 note is the Marlborough rock daisy which appears in front of Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest peak in the northeast of New Zealand’s South Island. (You can find this daisy on the Kaikoura coast, where it can be seen growing off many of the steep rocky bluffs.)



The new $50 Banknote. Image: Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

The new New Zealand $50 banknote is the only note in the world to feature fungi (the blue mushroom, known as werewere-kōkako in māori.)

The kōkako (the native bird also featured on this banknote) are another bird species at-risk, specially known for the clarity and volume of their song which carries far across the forest. (In the mid 1990s the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Auckland Regional Council started a joint project to protect the remaining 21 North Island kōkako in the Hunua Ranges. The population has grown slowly with the protection of nests from predators, close monitoring of nesting birds and trans-locations. A census in 2015 found 55 kōkako pairs!)



The new $100 Banknote. Image: Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

The new $100 banknote features the South Island lichen moth, mohua and Eglinton Valley in Fiordland National Park.

The South Island lichen moth (also known as the zebra moth) is known for its unique colouration and camouflage techniques within Fiordland beech forests. The mohua (also known as the yellowed) is a small bird found only in the southern half of New Zealand. It nests in tree holes, which make it highly vulnerable to predators like possums, stoats and rats.  A predator plague in 2000 drove the last mohua out of the Marlborough Sounds and caused population crashes in many areas of the South Island. DOC’s battle for our birds programme this year aims to give birds such as the mohua another chance at survival through pest control operations.


For more detailed information on all of the new New Zealand banknotes, as well as the new $5 and $10 notes issued in October 2015, check out the following site: http://www.brightermoney.co.nz

Go the All Blacks!!!

Many clients have told me that they have been following the All Black games during the Rugby World Cup in England over the past month. And I can totally understand how even non-kiwis get drawn in by this incredible team! They were AMAZING! After each spine tingling Haka at the start of the games, the All Blacks convinced fans and opponents alike with their grit and determination and out-standing skill. There is a great video on the Rugby World Cup website: “Unrivalled Brilliance: New Zealand’s Golden RWC Moments”, which shows many of these magical moments – Unrivalled Brilliance: New Zealand’s Golden RWC Moments

It’s just awesome rugby! The All Blacks made history by being the only team in the world to have ever successfully defended the Rugby World Cup title, by winning two Rugby World Cups in a row (2011 and 2015). For a little country of four and a half million people, that is an amazing achievement. Go New Zealand! Go the All Blacks!!!

Stewart Island – J. Houtwipper

We had 3 nights and 4 days on Stewart Island in January 2014.  Many New Zealanders have never even visited there, but we knew we wanted to experience it – we had heard so many wonderful things about the clear waters and stunning native bush and birdlife.  It is different again from both the North Island and South Island. And like stepping back in time and “pace” – untouched, prehistoric, beautiful.  A very simple, nature lover’s paradise and I highly recommend it as a special lifetime experience.

A day trip to Ulva Island (10 minutes by water taxi) is a must.  We had a wonderful guide (Matt from Ulva’s Guided Tours – Ulva is a lovely lady who was named after the island and also takes the tours).   We can confirm that having a guide is totally worth it – you have a much richer experience learning all about the history of the island and the native birds and plants/trees, and being able to ask questions and tailor the trip to what you want to do and see.   We had a gorgeous little family of robins all around us for about 10 minutes or more  – totally unafraid.  The mother was feeding the baby right beside us and even flying close to sit on my husband’s foot while we stood watching. Continue reading

Coatesville and beyond – J. Rutter

Coatesville made a name for itself in 2011 when resident Kim Dotcom hit the headlines after a high profile Police raid on his rented property, the ‘ Dotcom Mansion’. Visitors still seek out Coatesville looking for photo opportunities on the driveway outside the Mansion, or a glimpse of the life size African animal sculptures grouped eerily on the hillside.

But there is far more to Coatesville than its most notorious resident. The village is only 10 minutes north of Albany, Auckland’s fastest growing suburb and a mecca for shopping (think large malls rather than small boutiques). A day trip to Coatesville has plenty to offer visitors.

Start with breakfast or a leisurely brunch at either Fernielea Café or Black Cottage Café, located side by side on the Coatesville Riverhead Highway. Both are recent award winners and are known for their friendly service as well as excellent café food. Fernielea is particularly popular with local families for its child friendly outside garden area complete with playground, trampoline and sandpit.

If you time your visit to Coatesville to coincide with the monthly Sunday market, you will be in for an extra treat. Although not a Farmer’s Market as such, there are delicious food stalls, craft offerings and second hand treasures to be found. The market is open on the first Sunday of every month (except January), from 10am to 2pm. Buy a coffee and enjoy wandering, exploring and experiencing the warm local culture of this rural community. Continue reading

New Zealand in the winter

I have been living in Germany now for nearly 13 years.  And until last summer, we have managed to avoid going home to New Zealand in the winter.  But now that two of my children are in school, it has become a lot harder to take advantage of the New Zealand summer.  Travelling at Christmas time is more expensive than travelling at other times of the year, and yet the other school holidays (Easter and Autumn) are only two weeks.  By the time you fly over to New Zealand (and we always like to have a stopover in Asia on the way!) and adjust to the time change, it’s nice to have more than a week or so before you have to fly back!

So last year we decided to “bite the bullet” and fly home during our German summer holidays – winter in New Zealand. My husband was very dubious.  He pictured us giving up the hot German summer (which is actually not that reliable anyway!) and sitting in New Zealand, getting cold and wet and being miserable.  And yet on the up-side, the children had 6 weeks holiday from July to August, the flights were a lot cheaper than flying at other times of the year, and it would mean we could have more time in New Zealand with family and friends, instead of having to rush back for school after only ten days holiday.

When we arrived in Auckland at the beginning of July, it was actually only 2 degrees cooler than it had been when we left Germany. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and all seemed right with the world.  We were in New Zealand for approximately 5 weeks, and during this time we had an amazing amount of blue sky and sunshine.  As far as I can recall, we only had two or three damp mornings, and the waterproof trousers and gumboots that I had taken with us for the kids didn’t end up being used at all.  We spent a lot of time on the beach (and the kids went swimming in the sea several times, although I have to admit it was too cold for me to contemplate taking my clothes off!) and as a family, found numerous fun things to see and do that we had one of our most relaxing family holidays yet.  Despite the fact that it was winter!