New Caledonia

In May we went to New Caledonia for 7 nights. Staying in Noumea at Casa del Sole located on the point of Anse Vata and Baie des Citron, opposite the aquarium. The self serviced apartment was excellently located for stunning views across the water and a 2 minute walk to either beach. This area however is well known for its great nightlife so expect it to be incredibly noisy from Thursday through to early Sunday morning.

We had been struggling for months about where we were going to holiday in the pacific. Vanuatu was our first choice but trying to find any information on the activities we enjoy doing was getting frustrating. If you enjoy a fairly normal holiday of beach lazing and typical tourist things then the information is prevalent. But when you want to do out of the ordinary things like track down a particular coffee bean variation, find out where to do SUP or camp overnight on a volcano the tourist books don’t really work so well for you.

Finally, having seen a great Air NZ price for New Caledonia that was the decision making factor. Now to find a suitable apartment and away we went. Why an apartment? To sample and cook locally sourced food of course.

Arriving into New Caledonian waters we came across the stunning turquoise blue water that we expected to see. The reef edge is kilometers from shore meaning NC is surrounded by calm waters protected by the reef. As a side bar, this also means a smaller chance of being shark bait while swimming. Hooray!

Being mid May the height of the tourist season has passed, as have the rain storms. The beaches were generally quiet so yet again we managed to get around without bumping into thousands of others. The weather was still warm (on average 23 degrees each day) and the water still warm enough to enjoy. In fact we snorkeled for 1.5 hours one day without realising it before getting cold.

Pricing of course can be expensive as such a high proportion of food stuffs are imported. However, as with any country if you look to buy in the supermarkets or markets and select locally sourced products then this should decrease the load on your wallet. Even at home this applies, buy seasonal and local and save. Surprisingly though imported french wines were quite well priced. My idea of eating local tropical fruits didn’t work so well. I found the quality of vegetables and fruit at the market not too great and given my terrible cooking skills when it comes to fish I passed this by as well. Next time I shall come armed with some better cooking skills. Most often we shopped at the local boulangerie for fresh bread each day or went to the supermarche.

Having hired a car for 4 days this was an incredible tool to get out of Noumea and explore more of New Caledonia. If I came away with anything further in regards to travel this time it was, your first stop is not the sum of a country. So many people told us that we would hate Noumea. Fair enough, parts of Noumea are quite disturbing, the disparity between the halves and halve nots is visible in many areas and this is not “pretty” for tourists. But this is also reality. While there we encountered 2 protests, both peaceful. These interactions provide a deeper story of the country. Being invited in for drinks with a local shop keeper provided an even better insight to this seemingly perfect paradise. We heard stories of cultural divides, racial tensions, people struggling and people surviving. This talk was able to provide further insight into things we had observed but couldn’t put it into context. For example, a stunning and seemingly fertile landscape yet no dairy cattle? Stunning tropical location but importing many fruit and vegetables? The story given to us was that people don’t want to do the “menial” labour to produce such products. I will leave judgement on this as it is one persons story and there is surely other politics and intrigue that underlie this issue.

Anyway, where I was going with the “you will hate Noumea” advice that we got was that Noumea is not New Caledonia, just as Auckland is not New Zealand. Just because you visited Queen Street and its wharves for the day does not mean you visited New Zealand. There are parts of Noumea we enjoyed, parts we didn’t but more importantly New Caledonia has a stunning landscape of red desert like locations, mountainous coffee regions, sandy beaches, mangrove swamps, rainforests and open plains. The country goes beyond white sandy beaches and snorkeling. And these wonders were just within 3 hours driving time from Noumea central.

On the language – speaking french. I have been taking french private lessons for nearly 2 years now and was very excited to try out some new skills. I was disappointed with my skill set at the time but in hindsight I think I handled it reasonably well. Where my skills let me down is listening. Great at asking what I want but understanding the reply requires a lot more work. This will only come from more practice, increasing the vocabulary and listening more to native speakers. Rapidly spoken french is different from a relaxed teacher/student environment. Be prepared to use french. Unless you are hanging out in Port Moselle or key tourists areas where English is spoken (brokenly) in order to sell their wares then you will get stuck getting further out to the more interesting locations. Remember, English is not a first language here so do the right thing and learn some key words and phrases.

Top things we enjoyed about New Caledonia? Warm sea breezes, warm weather, pastries and bread, cherry beer from Les trois brasseurs, finding a fruiting coffee tree, finding a rare type of coffee bean Steve had been looking for and being able to buy some, excellent apartment, driving through stunning countryside, great company with our friend Jolanda joining us for a few days. Gosh and so much more. Are we going back? Absolutely.

The outer reef
The outer reef
Our apartment block -high rise Casa del Sole
Our apartment block -high rise Casa del Sole
Day trip via Mont Dore
Day trip via Mont Dore
Narly roads
Narly roads
Water crossings
Water crossings
View from our rooms
View from our rooms
Anse Vata beach
Anse Vata beach
Always time for pastries
Always time for pastries
Stunning views
Stunning views

Aratiatia Dam bike/ride

Yesterday we had galeforce winds and town crowded for the 2011 Cycle Challenge. What a great day with some people buzzing around town, supporting the riders. This morning we have a stunning blue sky and a lake that is dead still. There you go visitors, the lake and mountains have turned on a fine spectacle for you today.

A couple of weeks ago we went for a ride/run after work (love these longer days in Summer). Here are some pictures from that day. Stunning afternoon until going down a particularly steep hill I hit something that punctured my tyre. I continued to ride for as long as I could (yes, not the best idea) but we were AGES from our end point. I need more practice and of course more confidence on the bike. Not so keen on going too fast so need to do some research into some decent handling skills. The picture files are huge so I would not recommend clicking on them to open them up further unless you really want a long wait time!

Napier art deco goes off

Our days off coincided this week so we took off to Napier to have a look at the art deco week. Each year Napier goes off with all things art deco. From the cars, motorbikes, clothes, music, you name it, its art deco styling.

It wasn’t until I had seen how gorgeous the art noveau and art deco style can be via the streets of Paris that I realised what a treasure we have in Napier. A week of celebrating these treasures is truly unique and inspiring.

It takes around 2 hours from Taupo to Napier. It truly is a rather boring drive with very few places to stop however once you get into the hills that is where the scenery starts to liven up. Believe me an hour or more of the forestry lands or in this case what was left of the forestry land after milling has been done, it truly is rather a bore.

Although the art deco week really started on the Friday night kick off we did get a glimpse of the events and the time that would be had by many that have traveled there this weekend. Where ever you looked people were walking about in 30’s clothing with amazing vehicles tootling by. Next year I would love to be able to join in with a wee dress up and get myself into a big band party for a bit of the jitterbug.

We stayed the night at The Tennyson (located on Tennyson Street). Cheapish and cheerful but more importantly has free parking and a short walk from the city centre.

The art deco buildings are abundant on Tennyson Street leading into town then into Hastings and Emerson Street. Along Marine Parade you have the Napier Sound Shell, lovely gardens and nice dining at many of the restaurants in the area.

Next year this celebration is definitely on my list to visit for a great week away living the 30’s dream.

2010 in summary

As I did this last year I thought I might continue the tradition. Here is a mosiac giving 2010 in one page.

2010 consisted of trips to France, Ireland and Finland with friends. Visiting Germany to see friends and see Lena take out the EuroVision in Germany! Hooray. Our return to NZ, farewell parties before our return, NZ family get togethers and our time exploring NZ again on our way to our new home in Taupo. Enjoy xox we did.

Te Anau – Kepler Challenge 2010

Yet another adventure ticked off for this year, the Kepler Challenge. Not that I was running it of course, I was playing support for Steve.

We headed up to Auckland on Thursday night after work staying overnight at K & R’s place. Thanks yet again guys. We love catching up with you both.

Our Jetstar flight was actually on time and I was surprisingly impressed with the plane and seating on board. The weekend nearly started out badly with Steve having misplaced his sunglasses (needed for the run) at some point in the waiting lounge. Thankfully the person who found them did the right thing and handed them in to the air crew. Needless to say Steve was incredibly thankful. There ARE still good people around. We hand stuff in and are thankful to see that others do as well. Cheers mate!

We landed in Christchurch just after 1pm and picked up our rental car. A wee FunCargo it was called. Amazing on economy (because it has no grunt on the open roads) but all in all a very suitable, yet ugly car.

The drive from Christchurch to Te Anau is only 2 hours and the roads have no set passing lanes so you really do need to be patient especially with the tourists. Things could end very badly on these roads for impatient drivers.

When we arrived into Te Anau we headed for the Te Anau Holiday Park located on the edge of the lake to the left before you get onto the main lake drive into town. I enjoyed my stay here. We got a tourist cabin for $80 a night which had cooking facilities but shared toilet/shower facilities. The shower block was close by so not really an issue. I think during winter using the shower block might be rather painful to do so in the cold but in summer it is not an issue. The staff here were excellent, the facilities clean, warm and well taken care of. The location also was excellent with about a 15 minute walk into town. I would definitely stay here again.

We took a reccy into town to check out where we were supposed to go for Steve’s registration check for the Kepler. If you are not familiar with the Kepler Challenge it is a regular highlight on the trail running calender for New Zealand. Into it’s 23rd year now and it is a 60km mountain run over the Kepler Track which climbs up through a stunning beech forest, up to the plateau (1300 metres of elevation), across the tussock highlands then back down the other side, through more stunning lowland terrain and back to the control gates for the finish. In order to compete there are only 400 places and you have to be ready to rock and roll at the stroke of opening time on line in June for the spots. They are gone in literally minutes. You don’t just get to enter without having put in the work. They want to know your past running history and your intended training plan to get you into top condition for the run.

The registration the night before the race is to check all your gear for the race – thermal top, leggings, water proof jacket with sealed seams, water proof pants, hat, gloves and safety blanket. Everything to keep yourself out of trouble should foul weather set in. Basically you need to take care of yourself should something unforeseen happen until assistance comes, if possible. Don’t forget you also need to carry nutrition and hydration as well!

Race day was spectacular. We were up at 4am to prep with porridge, coffee and get to the start line ready for the 6am start. The type of people that do trail running differ horrendously from road runners I feel. It is more about the location and the personal goal than anything else. There are people here that come back year after year to put themselves through the torture of this trail. That has to lend itself to recommendation if that is the case. There must be something spectacular about it that they forget the previous pain and sign up again.

After they took off I followed behind for about 7 km into the forest and started the climb up to the plateau. I didn’t make it out of the tree line before my turn around time mark. I didn’t want to miss Steve at the 50km mark of Rainbows Reach and also wanted to get some photo action of the first runners coming in if I could.

As it was I just missed the first runners coming in at just over 5 hours and still looking strong. I headed out to Rainbows Reach and crossed the swing bridge to find a spot to wait for Steve. Eventually he came through but was hobbling along. He had turned his knee and it was excruciatingly painful. We had a brief discussion about whether he should pull out but with only 10km to go it would be a shame to stop so close to the end. He decided to continue on and make a decision at the 5km to go mark.

I left him at that point expecting that he would be quite some time in that case, walking back with 10km to go so I went and got some groceries, took some lake photos and generally potted about. By the time I headed back to the finish line thinking I had plenty of time, who was sitting there under a tree already with his medal in hand? Bummer, I had missed the finish line shot. I did however have an ice cold can of V ready for him though. Bliss on a hot day.

Te Anau is a spectacular town with incredible views. It is well worth more than the passing visit on the way to Milford Sounds that most tourists do through here. For example we had a lovely pizza at a Italian place, great burgers at The Moose and awesome sunsets off the mountains each night. And the race, well I obviously didn’t see the whole track but from Steve’s photos it is amazing. Not sure I would be keen to run the track as walking it is tough work on its own. Kudos to all those that did though. What an awesome adventure they undertake year after year and they still come in smiling each time as they cross the line.

Labour weekend in Taupo

Three days off. Glorious! Say it again, GLLLOORRRIOUSSSS

The weather has been perfect and with three days off but only a little left in the weekly budget it was time to get creative. This weekend we managed a day of bouldering at Kinloch, climbing Mount Tauhara and a bit of a relax on the “beach”. I say “beach” as I normally associate this with salt water however as you may not yet know Lake Taupo is fresh water.

I find it slightly strange lying next to Lake Taupo looking like I’m on a beach, sounding like its a beach, complete with umbrellas, boats, jet skis, skiers, snorkelers etc but no salty smell, sea gulls or that crusty feeling your skin has after being in or near salt water. Am I complaining? No, it just feels very odd. I’m definitely a Ngapuhi girl who loves the sea and enjoys the bountiful kai moana (seafood) that comes from it. I love the lake but the sea is where my heart lies.

Anyway, I digress. Kinloch for bouldering or rock climbing = awesome. Only 4 others there this weekend which was surprising and the bouldering had many easy to advanced problems. Really enjoyed being in the bush with the lake just a mere 15 metres or so away. It’s well worth a look for a day out that costs next to nothing (besides petrol to get there). We took the burner and food to cook up on the spot so that saved the budget a bit.

Mount Tauhara was our Sunday afternoon adventure. Phew! 1.5 hours of uphill slog followed by 1 hour of downhill slog. Coming down was definitely hard on the knees and if you are tired you really need to ensure there is enough juice left to concentrate on the downhill. To get to the start of the walk head out of Taupo on State Highway 5 towards Napier, go through the new roundabout and turn in about 3 k’s off at Mountain Road on your left hand side. The views are spectacular and well worth the hard slog. Doing the first part over the farmland is not so exciting but once up into the bush there are some great sections including what I call the “thigh trimmer”. Basically it is a tiny gully cut through the earth which towers over your head. The gully is so tight that your thighs make contact with the wall (OK so its just my thighs, whatever!) When you hit a cascading stream (great for a quick splash on the face) you are about halfway to the top.

Then Sunday night some old friends were passing through on their way home to Palmerston North and Wellington. So awesome to see them! This is why Taupo is such a great spot. It’s the gateway to the North and South. I will channel the character of Gandalf and declare, “You shall not pass” until you stop for coffee with Carleen and Steve. Thankfully they did!

Today being the last day of the Labour Weekend holiday we just spent it lounging on the beach, having an ice cream and generally relaxing before the working week begins. I hope you all had a great weekend as well.

Tongiriro yet again

While there is still snow on it, you have to go! The weather was stunning and it was not a hard decision to make to get moving out to the mountain for the day.

We were set with the coffee, noodles to cook up for lunch on the mountain, plenty of water but alas no sunscreen. Oops. Very silly oversight. I had forgotten how unforgiving the sun is here. You burn in minutes which, after 3 years in the UK and never getting burnt, I wasn’t ready for it. Ouch!

There were plenty of cars in the Maungatepopo Hut carpark but not a soul in sight. The council are doing work out here at the moment, probably getting ready for the summer crowds, so the toilets were not in action. Not to worry, time to use my SheWee. It’s the first time I have used it properly in the bush without the cover of a portaloo. I can tell its been a long time since I practiced with it as I promptly managed to get most of it in the device but a portion of it running down my leg. I clearly need more practice peeing standing up!

We just walked up to Soda Springs, not the whole crossing. We left it too late in the day really to do the crossing or to climb Ngauruhoe. I did notice on Ngauruhoe ash deposits on the snow. Rather cool but also a bit daunting considering the valley you walk through is prime for lava flows and lahars should an eruption occur.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the day.

Whakamoenga Point, Taupo

Today’s latest Taupo tour took as out along Acacia Bay Road until you get right to the end where it turns into a private road.
We took the point walk which has gorgeous and secluded views of Lake Taupo. It only takes about an hour (if that). There is plenty of birdlife including the wonderful Tui as they feed on the nectar of the Kowhai flowers. The Tui song is wonderful to hear.
We even found a rock carving although I believe this may be a recent art commission? We then drove around to Kinloch to have a quick lunch and coffee. First time since returning and we finally dug the burner out!

Taupo road trip

Steve recently took part in another half marathon in Taupo. We were very fortunate to get amazing weather over the weekend and a fabulous family to stay with in Kinloch just out of Taupo. Incredible views from their home, in the countryside, good conversation and great kids to boot.

I love Taupo. I mean what doesn’t it have going for it? A lake, mountain views, ski fields within an hour or so of travel, geothermal Rotorua only an hour away, should I go on?

Besides getting hit by another driver (while I was parked in a paddock I might add) it was a great weekend away with a good run result for Steve as well.

On the way home we went via the National Park as we just love this area. It was the first time I have also been able to see Mt Taranaki in full from this area as well. That’s how clear the day was!