Discovering Mou Waho Island and Lake Wanaka with Eco Wanaka

 

Last month I was in Wanaka, enjoying a fabulous four day autumn retreat in this beautiful town. The leaves of the trees along the lakeshore had already turned a brilliant gold by the time we arrived, and the bright blue skies and sparkling sunshine were an incredible backdrop. Every time I put my camera away, I’d have to pull it out again in a vain attempt to capture this special corner of New Zealand.

One of the best trips we did during our stay in Wanaka was an excursion with Eco Wanaka Adventures out to Mou Waho Island nature reserve. Chris Reilly was our Guide for the day, and he regaled us with fascinating insights into the history of this nature reserve. Mou Waho is about 20 minutes by boat from Wanaka. It was a beautiful ride, and we were surprised to see how long Lake Wanaka is. From the town itself, you don’t get an appreciation for how far north it runs, and for all the bays and cliffs that edge the lake. We drove past Mou Tapu, a striking and sacred island where the Maori buried their dead, and then pulled up to a little jetty on Mou Waho.

 

The first thing we noticed was the beautiful bird calls drifting down through the bush: we could pick out bell birds, fantails and wood pigeons. Chris showed us examples of native plants on the way up to the top of the island – mistletoe with little yellow berries (a favourite with the wood pigeons) and fuchsia, whose purple flowers are adored by bell birds (the little green birds end up with purple faces from the pollen of these flowers). Chris also showed us some wineberries, and explained how the wood pigeons love to over-indulge in these small red berries. On a hot day, the wine berries ferment in the pigeons stomach, the pigeons get drunk on the berries, and you can see them swooping crazily up and down the island. Chris told us about how he nearly got hit in the head by one drunken pigeon a few years ago.

Another lovely aspect of this trip is that every group of visitors gets to plant a tree on the island, to give something back to the island, and to New Zealand’s environment. We planted a totara tree, and have already planned to go back and visit in a few years time, to see how it has grown. Another memorable part of our visit to Mou Waho was our interaction with two of the delightfully curious Buff Weka, a flightless bird that has been extinct on the mainland since the 1920’s. Sally (one of the Weka’s whose territory extended to the lake on the top of the island, where we stopped for morning tea) wandered around our legs while we sipped our tea, and was very calm and accepting of our presence. We got some fabulous photos and videos from very close up.

The view from the top of Mou Waho looking back over Lake Wanaka and up to the surrounding mountains was absolutely stunning. The light breaking through the clouds and the imposing mountains all around was a dream for any photographer. Every corner we turned looked out onto new breathtaking vistas which I kept trying to capture. A highly recommended trip for anyone wanting to experience New Zealand’s birdlife and native flora with a fabulous guide, and for anyone wanting to see this beautiful part of the country from a different perspective.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds provides a fascinating glimpse into New Zealand’s history. It was here on 6 February 1840 that the first 43 Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown, whereby (the British Crown claimed) British sovereignty was established. The Treaty House was built in 1832 and was originally a home of British resident James Busby. It is now preserved as a museum. The iconic carved meeting house – Te Whare Rūnanga – is stunning. The fine carvings on the meeting house represent the main Maori tribes.

We can also highly recommend the cultural performances at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which take place during the summer. You can experience the thrill of a challenge from a Māori warrior as you make your way through the grounds. If you pass, you’ll continue on to Te Whare Rūnanga where you’ll encounter a traditional Māori welcome, and an energetic cultural performance by the resident performing arts group – Te Pitowhenua. After the show you can return to the café for a delicious hāngi dinner – cooked in a traditional Māori earth oven – in which your food is steamed to perfection.  Expert hāngi chefs will educate you on the cooking process as they tantalisingly reveal your feast.

You can get a glimpse into what awaits through this video clip filmed at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Waitangi Treaty Grounds

 

Stargazing from a hot pool!

The small township of Tekapo sits on the shores of the remarkable turquoise-coloured Lake Tekapo, within the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve. It is a popular destination with stargazers from all around the world and is home to the Mount John Observatory. From early next year (2017) there will be a new way to enjoy the spectacular night sky in one of the world’s best stargazing locations.

At the Tekapo Springs hot pool complex, guests will be able to navigate the Southern night sky’s bright stars and constellations from the warmth and comfort of hot pools. They can enjoy an after-hours soak (from 9.30pm onwards) whilst listening to relaxing background “astro music”, as qualified “Star Guides” point out the brightest features in the night sky.

Once guests have enjoyed the pools, they will be invited to get closer to the stars and planets by looking through two new 9.25 aperture Celestron telescopes sitting on the patio outside the complex’s Tahr Bar & Café.

Tours are scheduled to start early 2017. They will be 1.25 to 1.5 hours long and will run throughout the year.

This night sky video gives you a taste of stargazing at the complex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaDZkxnF7bM&feature=youtu.be

 

It’s all happening in Auckland

If you are visiting Auckland in the next few months, there are some exciting events coming up. Here’s a run-down:

17-22 November 2016: Royal New Zealand Navy celebrates its 75th Anniversary

In 2016, the Royal New Zealand Navy celebrates its 75th Anniversary. There will be an International Naval Review as part of these celebrations in Auckland from the 17th to 22nd of November. A number of foreign navies, including the US Navy, are participating. The ships will enter the Waitemata Harbour in formation on Thursday 17 November. There will also be a march by 1000 sailors down Queen Street, public open days on New Zealand and international naval vessels, and an exhibition at The Cloud on Queens Wharf.  For more details see the Navy’s website here:http://nznavy75.co.nz

14-21 December 2016: Youth Sailing World Championships

From the 14th to 21st of December, Auckland will host the 2016 Youth Sailing World Championships. This is expected to attract about 400 young sailors to New Zealand. Torbay Sailing Club (on the North Shore) is hosting the tournament, in conjunction with World Sailing and Yachting New Zealand.

2 – 14 January 2017: ASB Tennis Classic

The ASB Classic takes place from the 2nd to the 14th of January 2017. In a major coup for Auckland’s annual international tennis tournament, Serena Williams will be playing. Other internationals confirmed for the 2017 tournament include Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Jack Sock, John Isner, Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer. The Auckland tournament continues to be a hit with top international players, winning the players’ choice WTA Best Asia-Pacific International Tournament 2 years in a row. To buy tickets, see the ASB Classic Tennis website: http://www.asbclassic.co.nz

28-30 January 2017: Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival

The Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival takes place in the Viaduct Events Centre and Viaduct Basin over Auckland Anniversary Weekend (28 – 30 January 2017). Enjoy three days of traditional and contemporary Maori culture, from emerging and established Māori musicians including Sammy J, Maisey Rika and Ria Hall, as well as traditional and modern kapa haka performances. Wander the village marketplace and discover delicious kai from Māori chefs and a variety of authentic arts and crafts. Experience traditional Māori games, storytelling, and workshops, plus exciting waka experiences on the Waitematā. There will also be a ‘Koro Lounge’ where pakeke (older visitors) can sit down, relax and have a complimentary cup of tea or coffee. Here is a link to the full programme: Tamaki Herenga Programme

9-12 February 2017: Auckland Lantern Festival

The Auckland Lantern Festival takes place between the 9th and 12th of February, and is Auckland’s largest cultural festival. Hundreds of handmade Chinese lanterns are set amongst the heritage trees and gardens of the Auckland Domain, while food stalls showcase delicious, authentic Chinese cuisine. There are performances, martial arts displays, arts and craft stalls, and a fireworks show at the end of the Festival.

 

 

 

Devon On The Wharf

Devonport has always been one of my favourite places in Auckland. When I was studying at Auckland university, and later working in downtown Auckland, there was always something liberating about boarding the ferry to Devonport. The feeling that all of the hustle and bustle and stress of study and work was blown away by the sea breeze as the ferry chugged its away across the water. I loved wandering through the art galleries, and visiting the Stone Oven Café for one of their delicious muffins. When my husband and I decided to get married in New Zealand, we got married in Devonport. We still have stunning wedding photos on our wall, from the top of North Head looking out over the water to Rangitoto. And later we took our kids to Devonport, to eat freshly cooked fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, while sitting in the park on the waterfront. Afterward the kids would play on the slides and swings, while eating Hokey Pokey ice cream, and we would watch the boats sail past, and sip on a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc. Bliss.

But the wharf itself was always a bit of let-down. It was somewhere you hurried through on your way to the village, or to the boat. There was never really any reason to linger there. Finally, someone has seen the potential of this wonderful spot, and all this has changed. Introducing … Devon on the Wharf, opened 2 weeks ago, on the 25th of August this year.

A wonderful restaurant that seems to do it all. There is a kiosk providing freshly roasted coffee and fresh-pressed juices for commuters passing through the ferry building, as well as packed lunches for people wanting to take a picnic on the go. The main restaurant has delicious offerings including a full breakfast menu (with dishes like blueberry pancakes and truffled scrambled eggs on a crusty Turkish bagel) as well as lunch and dinner menus. The menus have a Mediterranean feel, with platters, souvlakis and Turkish pides, amongst other delicious meals on offer. There is also a bar where you can grab a beer after a hard day out and about, while admiring the Auckland city skyline through the window.

Devon on the Wharf is definitely worth putting on your list of things to experience while in Auckland. If you are staying in downtown Auckland, you could easily take the ferry over to Devonport for dinner one evening, and get the ferry back to your hotel afterwards. What a delightful way to leave the stresses of the day behind, and enjoy delicious food and a beautiful space right on the water.

You can find out more about this great new restaurant on their website: http://devononthewharf.nz

Here are some recent local reviews as well, which give you a good feel for this wonderful new place: The Denizen and Urban List.