Lawn Roombas

It has been quite a long time since my last post. As you know, we left Akaroa and headed to Motueka to settle in and look for a place to live permanently. That was almost 2 months ago and in that period of time we have been deep in house hunting mode.

We have been renting a place in Motueka which is on the very far northwest part of the South Island. It’s a very nice house and the same one our friends Jon and Becky rented when they were looking for a place back in the winter of 2022.

It’s a nice area with a lot of good bike riding nearby and you can do a nice beach-side walk from the house. It is close to town as well, which makes running errands and other adulting much more tolerable.

Our future home area

It has been surprisingly stressful buying a house in a new country with a very different process. We looked at a lot of houses to just try to get a sense for what was out there, what spoke to us, and what we might be able to afford.

In the States, you find a buyers agent, tell them you want to look at houses and they set up a bunch of appointments and take you around. Here, you have to do that yourself. You have to call each agent to set up a time to look at each house. Or you can go to open houses, most of which seem to take place on Sundays, and for only half an hour each, making it tough to get to all the ones you want to see. It is slow and painful. In the States, Susanne and I could pound out 12 to 14 houses a day. Here you are lucky to get to see 3. So it takes a while.

One other thing that I can say about the house hunting here is that you end up looking at a lot of really, really crappy houses that need a lot of work. Plus, they aren’t cheap! There is a thing called “the leaky home era” in New Zealand. It ran from 1988 to 2004. During that period, they had lowered the construction standards and they ended up building a lot of houses that ended up with very serious problems. One of the worst things was that they didn’t require treated lumber.

And, for those of you not in the know, what this means is that any moisture in the house will cause the lumber to rot. There were even some houses that fell down because of this. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the mold issues. Anyway, after having looked at few from this era and doing some research we decided that it either had to be old or new….nothing in between.

Big bummer man

We found one house we liked quite a lot, but we could not come to agreement on price so we walked away. In the end I think we were both knew it wasn’t quite right for us. That said, it was super disappointing and we both were starting to think that we might not find something anytime soon and would have to rent.

Our lives have not been completely devoid of fun, though. I have been doing a lot of bike riding around the area and I can safely say the bike riding is great!

The ride out to Kaiteriteri is always good, even though going up and over the big steep hill is a bit humbling….if I could only speed up 2.5x, I would break George Bennett’s record! The ride around the Mapua area is also lovely, with a great mix of road and gravel. And my new favorite is what I call the 3Ms loop which goes from Motueka, to Mapua, back through Moutere and around and down the Motueka Valley to home. All in all, it is about 80 km and the riding is world class.

The 3Ms loop

The other key thing that we do when we are not stressing about buying a house is to go for walks on the various beaches around the area. Our absolute favorite is Rabbit Island, which is a barrier island just east of Mapua and has a long (8 miles) very flat beach that is great for walking. It is walkable at almost anytime except at the very highest of tides. One day we were walking there and all of a sudden a seal just decided to come on shore and have a little rest. It caused quite a stir amongst us humans and we all pulled out our devices and took pictures. Super cool.

Pinehill Reserve: We also checked out the beach at Pinehill Reserve. Also nice, but really only good at low tide. You can walk the beach all the way down to Mapua Leisure Park. According to their website:

A relaxed, island-like feeling characterises this unique promontory at a place where tidal waters follow from the Waimea Estuary into the Tasman Bay. Sited on 25 acres of native and exotic woodland, Mapua Leisure Park has excellent recreational, accommodation and camping facilities catering for all age groups. Leisure Park hosts Gary and Erica have created a warm community atmosphere where peace and tranquility are legend, ensuring the return of many “regular” holiday makers to their favourite piece of paradise year after year!

We have heard from the locals that every Thursday is nude day at the holiday park. Don’t know if this true or not, but come Thursday, we head to Rabbit Island.

Cape Farewell: One other cool trip we took was out to Cape Farewell which is on the very northwest tip of the South Island. I wanted to do the drive out through Takaka and Golden Bay to check the place out. We had seen some amazing houses out there, but it is pretty isolated and requires driving over Takaka Hill which is not a road for the faint of heart. It was about a 2-hr drive to get to the trailhead, but the scenery was pretty spectacular. We got to see where the Heaphy Trail starts which is a hut-to-hut trip on our must do list.

There were a number of cars at the car park along with several campervan people eating lunch. We didn’t have a good map, but first headed out to the vista point for Cape Farewell. It was pretty cool. The rest of the trail was just through a sheep paddock along the coast. It was blowing hard, but overall it was a great hike. It would be fun to come back and spend more time in the area.

There is also Farewell Spit. Farewell Spit is a 34 km long sand spit that shelters Golden Bay and has some amazing bird life. From our high point on the hike we could see it. I was curious whether you can hike out there—turns out you can only go on an organized tour. They have a gannet colony and bunch of other nesting birds you can go check out. We will do that next time.

Wine Tasting: There are a number of wineries in the Nelson area and, sadly, we have not visited many. We did go to Gravity Wines one day, which has a lovely facility that makes wines under a number of labels. We tasted some wines and then sat at one of the tables to have some nibbles, a glass of wine, enjoy the view, and take a breath to relax from the stress of the house hunting. The wine was pretty good and so was the food! We will definitely have to start exploring more wineries.

Waimarama Sanctuary: Another cool thing we did was to go check out a native habitat sanctuary, The Brook, in Nelson. It’s a large area that has lots of birds and native plants. We drove the 45 minutes there and headed out on the trails. The bird sounds are incredible. I think that is one of the most striking things for me when I am out in the native bush here. I can only imagine what it must have been like when the Maori discovered the place.

It is cool to see how dense the bush is when it has been preserved. We did about 6 km of walking through the reserve and both agreed it was well worth and another visit. There are probably 15 kms of trail in the reserve and I am sure in the more remote areas you might even get to see a kiwi!

Friendly Fantail (Piwakawaka)

Mapua Wharf: Mapua has a wharf area that has a bunch of restaurants and shops. It’s a lovely little place. Our friends Jon and Becky invited us down to listen to some music and have drinks at the Golden Bear. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon, so we said yes! The band was pretty good and started their set off by coming in as a marching band. That was fun! The Golden Bear is across from the Mapua ferry, which is how you can get over to Rabbit Island without driving. Sadly, the cost of the Mapua ferry ($12 one way!) makes the Whitianga ferry look like a bargain. How do I get a piece of that business? Besides stewing about the ferry cost, we had a lovely time and will definitely go back often.

Cooking: We have also been able to do some cooking again, since Heather’s house was pretty well equiped. Jon and Becky gave us bounty from their garden, so it was fun using the fresh figs, hazelnuts, and serrano peppers in the meals. I am really looking forward to having our own garden!

The End of Era: One of the agents, Marion, called us up and said there was a house about to go on the market that she thought we would really like and would we want to go see it right away. We said yes.

That is another odd thing about how real estate works here: many agents seem to have a portfolio of properties in their pocket that they hold back in some way and ping you look at them if they think you might be interested. It seems much more frequent than in the US.

We drove over and met Marion at the property. It was in the hills just outside of Mapua, on 11 acres, and had a pretty nice view. The house itself was single story, nearly new, with had a very large kitchen and an open floor plan. We loved it. It was by far the best house we had seen since coming to New Zealand. We drove back home, talked about it and decided that both of us were ready to end the nomading chapter of our lives and that we would just make a full price offer.

The next day we worked through the offer and got it into the buyers’ hands. I think they panicked a bit because the market is slowing and I don’t think they thought they would sell it so fast. Marion called me at 8:30 pm (very unkiwi) and said the sellers had asked us to pay more. We told her in a very abrupt tone that we absolutely would not—take it or leave it. They took it and everyone was happy.

The house checked out well in the inspection, we got the financing in place, gnashed our teeth over all the taxes we were going to have to pay, got approval from the OIO (Overseas Investment Office), they fixed a few things that needed fixing, and on April 5th we were able to close on our new house.

We now have a bunch of new lawn mowers (sheep) we call Lawn Roombas. Actually, they are not ours, they are our neighbor’s, who runs them on our new property.

So, it’s official. It is the end of an era and the beginning of something new. The Grand Adventure has come to a close. It started way back on August 10th of 2021 when we closed on our house in Flagstaff and started a long and winding nomadic journey.

Let me just say a few words about the experience we have had over the last 2 years. It has been life-changing in so many ways.

We have essentially been traveling around with our entire life in a car. What that has taught me is how little stuff you really need to be happy. It highlighted how, as humans, we can start to assign value to things that really have very little, and if we are not careful, those things can start to rule our lives, convincing us they are important. I still like my bikes, though 😉

It has taught me adaptability. We have “lived” in more places than I can remember now. Every place was different and required us to adapt to it. The bed was different, the kitchen was different, the layout was different, the town was different. We can now come into an Airbnb and make it our own very quickly. It may not be perfect, but we find a way to develop a routine within that new confine. As I think about getting older, this refresher in adaptability is going to be an amazing lesson. I feel like I am more prepared for the challenges of aging than I have ever been. Although, I wish I could have some new knees.

It has taught me to be more humble. This lesson has often eluded me, but I feel like I have a greater appreciation for those around me, their struggles and joys, and just how nice it is to not be on this planet alone. It has been hard being so far away from the people and country I know, but it does force you to listen more when you are in a new place with a different culture. It becomes very clear that you need other’s help and that they are often more than willing to give it to you.

It has taught me to be more in the moment. Nothing has highlighted that to me more than having to leave Sadie behind with my sister. Sadie has adapted and made a great new life for herself. The last time we visited, it was a lesson in zen. She wasn’t upset we had been gone, she was just happy we were there. She didn’t harbor bad feelings, but rather she embraced us with great joy … along with her new life. There was room in heart for both. We have so much to learn from dogs.

It has taught me that what people perceive as risky really isn’t … as long as you are adaptable. So many people have commented about what a great risk we took doing this, but the reality was that we really didn’t. It may have been scary because we had to learn to cope with great uncertainty in the future. For a long time we had no idea whether we would make it to New Zealand or not. We just plowed forward one day at a time trying to enjoy the things that were there for us.

And finally, I am grateful. I am grateful for all the people that have helped us along the way. I am grateful that life has given me some good luck and opportunities. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful most of all to my partner of over 30 years who has come along on this Grand Adventure with me. I couldn’t have made it without all of you.

So, come to New Zealand! We’ll show you around. We can tell you about some great things to do and some things that maybe you can skip. But at least stop by and have a taste of the wonderful Martinborough Pinot Noirs!

Not sure what is next for the blog, but I will go and finally try to fix the errors and fill out the other sections. I hope to put together a guide for some cool rides, hikes, and attractions in New Zealand from my perspective. And of course, once things settle down, we will get the travel bug and start a whole new travel journal.

Happy to be home


The drive from Lake Tekapo to Akaroa was relatively uneventful other than the truck that had tipped over on the super windy road and caused a minor traffic jam. Thankfully the driver looked unscathed. These roads in New Zealand … they are something else. Akaroa is on the Banks Peninsula which are some old volcanoes that first emerged as an island thrust out of the sea by volcanic eruptions estimated to have started between 10 and 15 million years ago.

It also has a unique French flair with many French street names and lots of French flags. Why you ask? Well, Susanne and I were both wondering about this as we were driving the very windy road. According NZHistory:

“Canterbury’s oldest town, Akaroa was founded in August 1840 by French settlers. It has been suggested that French interest in New Zealand speeded up Britain’s decision to annex New Zealand. By the time French settlers arrived, the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Māori chiefs had been signed.”

So there you have it. Now you know. We got to be in little Kiwi France. J’ai le cul bordé de nouilles!


We had rented a nice little 2-1 bach within walking distance of downtown … not there is much that isn’t within walking distance of downtown in Akaroa. We got to the Airbnb and there was no key in the lock box. Just then, the cleaning lady showed up and said it hadn’t been cleaned yet. Ugh.

We told her about the key and we rooted about for a while and then realized the door was open and the key was on the table. It was raining, so we couldn’t really go for a hike. Bummer. We headed downtown and decided to get some lunch and have a glass of wine at the HarBar. Cute name and great view. Susanne had some tacos and I had some fish and chips.

A little wine with the fish and chips
Our entire life in a discombobulated mess

After a nice lunch, we headed back to the place to unload our mountains of stuff. It had become quite discombobulated from the hut-to-hut trip and our waning desire to deal with it any more. While muttering under our breath, we unloaded the car and just threw it into a big pile on the floor and declared that our work was done. I think we both have hit the wall on nomading. It has been fun, but the constant packing up and unpacking gets a wee bit wearing.

Children’s Bay: After concluding that we were both feeling lazy, we had coffee and lounged and stared at our stuff for a while before heading out for a hike. Susanne had scoped out a pretty easy one called Children’s Bay which was about an 8 km loop without too much climbing. As we were walking toward the trailhead, we saw a couple of people out on their SUPs with their dog. I just think that is the coolest thing.

Wha Sup dawg?

So do you hear me Rogue?? (our friends’ puppy) Time to start practicing!!!!!

The first part of the hike climbed up through some bush and then into some cow paddocks. Common theme on a lot of hikes here. The views of the bay were amazing as you could look around at all the coves and inlets surrounded by the green/blue water. Someone has put up a bunch of metal sculptures around the hike as well that are really cool.

Susanne had read that the trail was a bit overgrown and there was a bunch of stinging nettles along it. For most of it, we kept our eyes out but didn’t see any. After looping around to the moa sculpture, the trail hit the overgrown part and the nettle was everywhere. Thankfully we did not touch it. Although there are not many nasty bugs and beasts here, many of the plants seem to have a bad attitude—thorns and nettles abound. After navigating the nettles, we dropped down to the beach and made our way back. All in all, it was a very nice hike with great views, but I would skip the loop-through-the-nettles section next time.

Don’t touch!
A lovely cow paddock

Sufferfest: That afternoon, I was feeling like I need to burn off some energy and wanted to see what the bike riding was like, so I headed out on the bike. I thought I would ride up the road toward Flea Bay to get a good view along the way. It only went one way … up. The beginning was about an 8% grade and then it just kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper. I rounded a switchback and the ensuing grade was over 30%. I was having a hard time not inadvertently doing a wheelie and flipping over backward, much less keeping any forward momentum. I will confess I had to stop a number of times. I did make it up the worst of the climb and got some amazing views. In 2 miles it climbed over 1600′ and about 1/4 of a mile was flat. Do the math. Ouch. Descending was even a bit nerve racking, but it was fun nonetheless … in a suffering kind of way.

Kayaking Flea Bay: We signed up for a half-day kayaking trip in Flea Bay which is an amazing inlet full of various sea and bird critters. It is privately owned, but like so many other places, they work pretty closely with Department of Conservation to keep access available and do some conservation work. They have a pretty good sized blue penguin colony there as well.

We walked down to the kayak shop where they would drive up and over to the bay on the same road I had ridden the other day. Viola checked us in. She was from the Czech Republic, had lived in New Zealand for quite a while and was truly hard core. White water rafting, kayaking, hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain climbing. She looked tough as nails. And she liked to talk.

We piled into the van and headed out. There were just 4 of us on the ride over—two other women from Wellington. As we were driving up the insanely steep road, I mentioned to Viola that I had ridden up the day before. She said “Why would someone subject themselves to something like that?” This coming from a seriously hardcore outdoor person. Maybe I do have a screw or two loose.

Flea Bay

Viola blabbed the entire way while driving along at a good clip on this very narrow windy road with a substantial drop off. Clearly she had done this before. We got to the kayaking place and there were a lot of people on the tour. Bummer. It took quite a while to get the gear all sorted with so many people. Viola said they may split the group. It was clear that most had never been in a kayak before.

We got the briefing and finally pushed off the beach. They didn’t end up splitting us up because I think Susanne and I were the only ones that had the ability to go outside the bay and they didn’t want to leave such a big group with one guide. Oh well. We paddled along the east shore … well, it was more floating with the occasional paddle. The pace was leisurely, to say the least.

We saw some molting blue penguins and fur seals. Neato! The whole bay is gorgeous. We got out near the mouth of the bay where you have a chance to see Hector’s dolphins and sure enough about 5 of them swam right by us. I guess they are the smallest dolphins in the world and they are endemic to New Zealand. The fur seals had just had their pups so there we a bunch of very tiny, very cute babies hanging out on the rocks. We circled the bay and headed back to the beach. It wasn’t much of a work out, but the scenery was definitely worth the effort.

After being bitten by a few sand flies and checking out the baby penguins in their boxes, we piled in the van and listened to Viola tell crazy stories all the way back to Akaroa. It would have been nice to be with a bit more capable and smaller group, but we had a good time. Definitely worth the money and effort.

The next day we were both feeling, as my mom would say, “very logy.” Plus the weather was starting to turn to poo. There was a big cyclone hitting the North Island and it was projected to make it’s way down to us with a lot of rain. We decided to go back to the Children’s Bay area and do another walk in the same area and then spend the day packing up and being lazy. We got about halfway out and it started to rain and look pretty threatening, so we turned around and headed back. We decided to go out to dinner so we didn’t have to grocery shop and then lug a bunch of leftover food up to Motueka. We made a booking at Aihe which was just a short walk from the place.

Super yummy mousse

The food was pretty good, although Susanne’s shrimp were just ok. I ordered a mousse for desert that was truly awesome. That was the highlight for me. To top off the dinner we splurged and each ordered an Oban whiskey. Not only was it Valentine’s day, but it was kind of the end of a big phase of our journey. Next up was looking for a permanent place to live in the Nelson Bays area.

That night the rain started. And the wind. The reports out of Auckland and Hawkes Bay were really bad. Bridges were being washed out and houses swept down hillsides. Both of us did not sleep well thinking about the drive out of Akaroa on the narrow windy road in a cyclone.

We are bad weather magnets

Finally at about 4:30 am we just got up. We checked the weather, which wasn’t good, but wasn’t as bad as I had feared. After some coffee we just decided to hit the road before it got worse. The drive out of Banks Peninsula was a bit hairy, but not too bad. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic and I crept along at a very slow pace. Once we cleared the gnarly part, we both breathed a sigh of relief. Although rainy, it was going to be pretty smooth sailing all the way to Motueka.

As we drove over Lewis Pass and to the other side of the mountains, the weather started to clear and the sun even came out. We were both glad we got an early start and now we could enjoy the beauty of the area. Hopefully this was a good sign of things to come in Motueka.

Blue skies smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies do I see.
Blue birds singing a song,
Nothing but blue birds all day long.

Four Peaks

After leaving our rubbish in the Lake Ohau place, we drove the hour and forty-five minutes to Fairlie where we were going to do a 3-day/2-night hut-to-hut trip on a gigantic private station in the Four Peaks range. We, as usual, were way early so we tried to come up with some stuff to do along the way.

We stopped at the vista point looking out at Lake Pukaki. Always an amazing view….despite the 4000 camper vans there. It is a bit jarring when you find yourself in the middle of touristville after so much time in fairly isolated places. Still worth a selfie.

Next we tried to go to the observatory in Tekapo. Closed. Bummer. So I got a coffee instead.

We have taken this picture at least 3 times now on 3 different occasions
“hey man, got anything good in there?”

We arrived at the station house not too early and the other people that we were doing the hike with were already there. This hike was organized such that Cathy, the station owner, would shuttle your packs from hut to hut and you could just go with a day pack. Easy hut-to-hut hiking.

There was a super friendly and curious donkey there as well that kept coming over to see what I was doing. We gathered up our stuff and loaded it in the trailer for transport to the start of the hike. At the last minute I decided to strap on our folding chairs to take with us. I figured if we weren’t carrying it, then why not. And the chilly bin.

We drove the 17kms on dirt roads to the start of the hike. Cathy is clearly comfortable driving the gravel roads as she was bombing along at 100 kph hauling a trailer chatting the whole time.

Ready for an adventure

The start of the hike was in a little valley that was all paddocks. Not super interesting. It was a bit warm, but we only had to walk 4 kms into the first hut. We got our instructions and a UHF radio from Cathy and headed to the hut.

We got to the hut around 4:30 pm or so, sorted ourselves out (yes, our packs and chilly bin were already there) and then relaxed in our comfy chairs. We chatted with the other folks on the trip. Richard who is a nurse from Rotterdam, had decided it was time for a life change, had sold his house and had been traveling around New Zealand for the last 3 months. Hanna and Simon were from Australia. Hanna lives in Melbourne and runs an academic research institute and Simon lives in Tasmania and is a computer scientist working on climate models…and makes a lot of honey. They all were very nice.

Our hut
Susanne, Simon, Hanna, and Richard

The hut was built for the ranch hands and probably dated back to the 1800’s. There were also two more modern tiny houses which each slept two. We slept in the bigger hut. It was a typical bunk set up and was generally pretty comfortable…as far as bunks and huts go.

why? just why? How we hate thee

The biggest bummer was that there were sand flies. Ugh. I hate sand flies. Everyone hates sand flies. New Zealand would be perfect if it weren’t for sand flies.

We had pre-made our food so we had a lovely Chicken Korma with our nice Pinot for dinner. Easy and yummy!

Susanne and I got going early the next day to make sure we got to enjoy the cool weather. The brochure claimed the day to be 11 kms if you did the side hike up to Devil’s Peak. It was a 1500′ climb up to the saddle and then another 1500′ up to the peak. That seemed short based on my review of Gaia.

We got some nice views of the Four Peaks range as the clouds slowly burned off and revealed them. It was pretty easy going for most of the way, although there are a lot of scratchy spiny bushes to be avoided in this part of New Zealand. The sheer size of the station is pretty impressive. We made the saddle at about 10:45 am and assessed the climb up to Devil’s Peak. Susanne decided it was not for her as it was a steep class 2 scramble that she wasn’t in the mood for.

Susanne headed out toward the second hut and I headed up the peak on my own. It was a pretty steep grade and climbed 1500′ in about 2 km. There was a cloud lingering around that would come and go and created a very eerie feeling to the views. You definitely need to be careful as it can get quite foggy and the exposure is enough that you wouldn’t want to get lost.

It took me about 45 minutes to reach the top. The views were pretty good, but looking out toward Geraldine was looking into a wall of clouds. There was a solar-powered UHF repeater at the top the ranch used to get radio reception across the immense expanse of their land. There was also a funny wood statue of a dude. I guess there was candy in the box under his arm, but I didn’t notice it. The lichen on the rocks was really cool—definitely worth a few photos.

It was a bit chilly so I took some pics and headed back down. I passed Richard, Hanna, and Simon on my way down. They all told me there was a present waiting for me at the saddle. It turned out to be a muffin (which sadly, I can’t really eat as it’s too much gluten for me). Yes, most of the hike is also accessible by 4WD roads, and Cathy drove up to the saddle with muffins and tea!

My knees were not happy with the long descent again. Up, no worries. Down…ugh. The road down from the saddle was a big series of switchbacks they called “the staircase.” Now and again they had put a sign up by a plant telling you what it was. They are clearly trying to develop the trail to be a tourist draw.

The trail was a lot longer than quoted in the brochure and I was ready to quit descending (it was about 1000 meters of descent). I started to think I had missed the hut at one point. I saw a big animal bound across the trail in front of me…it turned out to be a wallaby. I guess they are a huge problem in New Zealand now. They were brought over in 1870 and have been a problem ever since. We humans just can’t seem to figure it out.

I made it to the hut and was glad to sit down and relax for a bit. Susanne informed me that there were heaps of sand flies. Bummer. This camp consisted of a hut and an old caravan. It was not nearly as nice as the first camp and the caravan was pretty musty-smelling. The bathroom required a short climb up a very steep trail (though both camps had hot water showers, which is a luxury); no way anyone was doing that toilet trek in the middle of the night. Sigh. Thankfully, the wind picked up and knocked down the sand flies, so the 5 of us sat around enjoying the evening with some beer, wine, and dinner (though we did bring some wine, both camps had little “shops” stocked with beer, wine, and snacks). Sleeping in the musty trailer was, at best, ok.

Hanna and Simon wanted to get going early in the morning so they could drive up to Mt. Cook National Park and do the Hooker Valley trail. We were the last out of camp, so we radioed the station headquarters that we were all on our way. The last day was some up and down and mostly through the cow paddocks with lots of thistle. In places the cow pooie was a bit annoying. The views were pretty good, but both us agreed that there was no way this hike was up to the caliber of a “Great Walk.” Nice, but in the grand scheme of New Zealand, it was not special.

We got to the station headquarters, said hi to Cathy, paid for our beers and headed out to our hotel in Lake Tekapo. Overall, we had fun, but would not do it again. Having Simon, Hanna, and Richard along improved the experience, but I was hoping for something more than cow fields. There you have it.

Lake Ohau

After leaving our good buddy, Emmitt, we headed up to Oamaru for a night before heading to Lake Ohau. We stopped by our favorite brewery, Craftworks, to have a beer and some of the super yummy cheese. The bar tender remembered us and how much we liked the cheese and helped up choose again. It was scrumptious. Afterward we headed to Cucina for dinner as it was the only decent restaurant in Oamaru open on Tuesdays. I would say it was just ok. A bit of a let down after the cheese. We both concluded that we did indeed really like Oamaru. It was such a cool funky little town.

Having a nice ale
oh the cheese!

The next day we drove the 3.5 hrs to Lake Ohau. The property management company was annoying as usual and was acting like we couldn’t check in early even though nobody was there. Whatever. We opted to go get a few supplies in Twizel to kill some time. I am still not sure if it is pronounced “Twhy – zel” or “Twiz – ul,” but it’s a functional little town that services a lot of tourist destinations and is along the Alps-2-Ocean bike route. It’s got a few hotels, a restaurant, a few outdoorsy stores and two 4 Squares….does that make it an 8 Square?

Lake Ohau

We got to the house before our allotted time and of course it was empty and clean. It was mostly unlocked too. Such a diligent management company. Doh. The place was a nice 3-2 and had some wonderful views. The weather was good, so we decided to head out for a wee stroll along part of the Alps-2-Ocean trail that ran along the side of Lake Ohau. The views were pretty amazing and it was nice to stretch the legs.

The next morning I headed out for a bit of a ride on the Alps-2-Ocean trail before our Zoom call with some friends in the States. It was a nice section and was “the big hard climb” on the trail. Compared to some of the sufferfests that I have been doing in Otago, this was easy peasy. The views were awesome. I turned around before the summit as I was running out of time and the back tire which I had been too lazy to fix was getting very gooey. I really want to come back and do the whole Alps-2-Ocean as a dedicated adventure. Really great riding.

Alps-2-Ocean: The Alps part.
Not a bad start to the day

Hopkins Valley Hike: After our Zoom call, we headed up the road toward the mountains to a trail the went up the Hopkins valley. It was really a 4×4 road….although not one for Otis. The weather was a bit blustery with a chance of being soaked to a squishy. We decided to just walk until the weather looked too iffy or we got tired. The glacial valley and braided river bed were classic. You could just visualize the glaciers moving through the valley scouring away the sides of the mountains.

You hike this valley back about 30 miles and get into the high mountains where Mt. Aoraki is located. There are a bunch of huts along the way and numerous valleys you could do hikes into. I guess a lot of people ride their mountain bikes up the road and stay at the huts; that seemed like fun!

The hike itself wasn’t overly interesting, but the views were worth it. The wind was howling down the valley and you could see the rain building. We carried on for an hour or so and then decided to turn around and head back to the car before we got soaked. All in all, it was a pleasant hike and fit the bill for what we were looking for.

Map of where we were

Greta Hike: We had heard from the Facebook group “Tramping in New Zealand” that the Greta track was one of the best in the Lake Ohau area. We picked a day when we knew the weather would be good and targeted the hike for that day. It’s a pretty big hike (10 miles and 3000′ of climbing) so we wanted to get started early since it was supposed to be pretty hot.

Sadly, we didn’t get going as fast as we wanted to and then had to stop off in Twizel to get rid of the rubbish since there were annoying signs around the Airbnb that we were supposed to deal with our own rubbish. This made Susanne very irritated and I would have to say it rubbed me the wrong way too.

After the rubbish drop-off and the hour drive to the trailhead, we got on the trail at about 9 am. There was one other group there getting started about the same time. It was already feeling pretty hot. Bummer.

The trail started climbing pretty quickly and was tucked into a tight little valley which made it even hotter.

Blazing hot sun from the get go

The first part of the trail was a bit annoying as the grass was quite tall and the views weren’t anything to write home about. We were both sweating buckets, too. As we climbed though, the views started to get quite good. I was a bit worried about Susanne in the heat, especially since we still had a lot of climbing to go. She kept moving along, though, so I figured we would go as far as we could go.

Out of the annoying grass and into the views

We finally broke out of the grass and the valley and picked up at least a little bit of breeze. Both us let out a big sigh of relief when ever it would blow. It was way hotter than what they had forcasted and there was no shade along the trail at all. You could look up and see where we were needed to get to and it was still quite a ways to go.

Back and forth, up and up

At about 2400′ of climbing and with about 300′ of steep climbing left, Susanne decided to pull the plug. It was just too hot and there was no need to suffer. I always appreciate that she is very smart about that. Heat exhaustion can come on quickly and you can go from “fine” to “in trouble” in no time. I decided to continue on and do the climb to the top of Ben Ohau.

Time to pull the plug, but hey, why not? The views don’t get much better.

I boogied up to the top of the peak and took in the view. I decided that I would try to shoot a video with my good camera. I clicked it into video mode, hit the button and I heard a weird sound. It then informed me that I had “Error 20.” Hmmm. I tried in regular mode. No go. “Error 20.” Bummer. After a quick bite to eat, I warned my poor, old, beat-up knees that they were about to endure 3000′ of steep downhill. They protested, but I ignored them and headed down. They were not amused.

Part way down I came upon a couple with a cute border collie. I asked them if they had seen Susanne and they said that she had told them to tell me she was good. Whew. I always get nervous splitting up the party. As I was coming down it got unbelievably hot. In the grassy valley it was well over 100. Ugh. We did not sign up for this!

I finally made it down to where Susanne was relaxing in the shade of a big tree. We both lamented that we should have started earlier. We got to Otis, blasted the AC and headed to Twizel for a quick stop at the store. The temperature gauge registered 35 degrees C. WTF.

The next day the weather had completely changed and it was rainy and cold. I feigned disappointment that I couldn’t get out for a bike ride, but my knees were pretty sore from the long descent down so they were happy. It was also Waitangi day which marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. In that year, representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs signed what is often considered to be New Zealand’s founding document.

A down day seemed good to both of us. I researched, as one dude put it, “The dreaded error 20.” A small rod which controls the mirror had broken. I watched one video that showed “how to easily replace your control rod.” It went on for 40 minutes and involved completely disassembling the camera and a million tiny screws. Negatory. Nothing easy about that. Bottom line, good camera is out of commission until I can get it fixed in Nelson. Bummer. I guess it can happen from “heavy use, especially videos and long exposures.” I guess those thousands of aurora pictures took their toll.

Post-hike emergency first aid recovery kit

For all intents and purposes, that was the end of the real fun in Lake Ohau. After the rain cleared, the wind blew and blew and blew and blew. We tried to get out, but hiking in 40 knot winds just wasn’t much fun.

Outside of the annoying “take your rubbish with you” signs, the house was nice and we just enjoyed hanging out watching the world go by. It is a gorgeous spot, but it would be tough to live there full time. Next up on fun parade is our hut-to-hut hike in Four Peaks.

In the end we left the last bits of our rubbish, as the town dump in Twizel did not open until noon and we would be long gone by then. Sorry. Very non-Kiwi of us.

“Goodbye yellow brick road”

Dunedin — The Final Chapter

Well, our time in Dunedin has officially come to an end. We have enjoyed ourselves and taking care of Mr. Velcro. Emmitt, as mentioned before, has been an absolute joy to hang out with and we are definitely going to miss him. I think he will miss us too, but dogs just have a different zen-like way of viewing those things. Well, to be honest, I think what he will actually miss is our morning walks on St. Kildas beach access road. He knows most of the dogs there now and greets them every day with great relish. I feel sorry for Brandon and Amy that first morning after they get back home and it hits 8:30 and Emmitt starts to protest at the lack of movement toward the beach. But, he’ll get over it. He’ll have his family back.

A light breeze on the Dunedin scale of wind

The general conclusion we have about Dunedin is that it is a lovely town and quite beautiful. There is a wide area of services and goods that make it an easy place to live.

The Otago Peninsula is amazing both for the beaches, hiking and the bike riding. When it is sunny and not too windy, it is glorious.

However, even in the summer we had some days that were pretty cold and the thought of how cold it must be in the winter is a bit daunting. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the wind, but the wind pretty much howls here 348 days a year. One friend of ours said that “if anybody feels like it resembles Scotland, then it is too cold and miserable to live in.” Probably sage advice.

So, based on that, the Nelson Bays area is definitely the going favorite for where we will live.

Driving and parking in downtown Dunedin is a bit of PITA too. Always takes longer than you think. This might be a function of us having spent time in a lot of small towns in the last year. But, if you had a job here, it would be a wonderful place to live and work. Generally pretty affordable and a fair amount to do. It’s a pretty good biking city too…which is always a big bonus in my book.

The molar sculptures at the mouth of Otago Harbor. Somebody had a sense of humor. I think they should call the surrounding park “gingivitis park.” I might have to petition the Dunedin council for a name change.

A few of the other fun things we did in last week here:

Allan’s Beach: This is a beach that you look down on from the overlook at Sandymount. One day we drove out there to check it out and look for some more sea critters.

It’s a short hike down to the beach and right out of the gate we had to side step around a gigantic male sea lion. Even though we have seen a bunch since being here, they are still amazing and a bit scary every time you happen upon on … even when they are just lying there in sand doing nothing. I brought the big 600 mm lens this time, so it was easier to keep from getting chomped by one.

Keeping my distance from the big dude taking a nap

The whole place was pretty cool, but the wind was howling (that video above was looking down on the beach the day we went there), so it made walking on the beach a little less than pleasant. There were only a few other people around. However, when we headed back out to the car park, there was a big group coming in on a wildlife tour. A huge cruise ship had docked in Port Chalmers, so the wildlife tours were having a banner couple days and this was one of the most easily accessible places to see the sea lions up close and personal.

Tunnel Beach: Tunnel beach is just on the outskirts of Dunedin and is quite famous. We had somehow managed to not go there for the first 5 weeks of our stay, but decided that we better do it. So we did. It did not disappoint. It was a lovely, if not hot day and as we got to the car park we both commented on how much further up from the ocean it was than we had thought. It is a short hike, just 1.7 km down and back. But it is steep. Almost 600′ of elevation loss and then gain.

Let’s just say, if you go, you will not have it to yourself. The car park was packed and there were a lot of people heading down and up the trail. That said, it didn’t take away from the beauty of the place. At the bottom, you can access the beach through a tunnel that has been carved out from the rocks. It’s pretty cool. We wandered around taking pictures, amazed at the grandeur of the place and that it is right there in Dunedin. A definite must visit.

Just love the water color

St. Kildas: I know I have talked about this already, but it just became the thing we did every day. The closed off roadway was clearly the place to come and do a morning walk and was a social hub for Dunedin. Emmitt loved it—we loved it. By the end of our time, we probably recognized 70% of the people and dogs out there. The guy with a springer spaniel that drove a white subaru legacy wagon and always wore a teal jacket. Don’t know his name, but we smiled and said hi every day. I guess we should have stopped and chatted more. I think it gave us a bit of a sense of permanence and belonging. That has probably been the hardest part of being nomads for 2 years, you do start to lose connection with people. So this was nice and we got a lot of “weak ties” in the bargin. Emmitt got to be Mr. Congeniality and greet everyone, and after 6 weeks of this consistent walking, he is looking quite fit and trim. It was the doggy boot camp for him.

Keeping my peeps company while they work

One of the funniest/coolest things was that on the golf course adjacent to the walk, the greens keeper had a border collie that followed him around the golf course while he trimmed up the grass. Every morning we would see him out with the tractor and his dog just dutifully tagged along. Amazing.

I really enjoyed the bike riding here. It is funny when I look back at the blog, a huge proportion of it is taken up by bicycling. I do spend a lot time either doing it, planning it or dreaming about it. I am not sure why it connects with me so much, but it does free my mind and make me feel like a kid again … which brings me to my last story about Dunedin. On one of my rides on the Otago peninsula, I did my usual up Highcliff Rd and then around through the various gravel roads and back along the bike path. It was a glorious day and I was having a wonderful time looking at the views and feeling in the moment. As I was cruising along Otago harbor on the bike path heading back to Otis, I saw a young kid on a bike that looked way too big for him; he was maybe 10 or 11 years old. As I passed him, he smiled and then pedaled like crazy to get in my slipstream.

I was humming along at between 20 to 24 mph and he was keeping up. At one point he attacked me and tried to get ahead. I caught up to him, drafted him for a while (not that he provided much slipstream since he was so small!) and then passed him. As I went by, I smiled at him and said “What?! you trying to beat up on an old man!” He laughed. I told him he was a great rider.

Young kid in an old dude’s body

I took over the pace-making and really put the hammer down all the way to the end and he hung in there. We stopped and he had a huge smile on his face. He said “that was fun! Quite the pace!” I asked him if he raced bikes and he said “not yet.” I told him he should. I waved goodbye and loaded the stuff in the car. As I drove back to the house it made me smile to think about him. Almost 50 years difference in age and we both had a blast together. Now I wish I had taken a picture of us. Anyway, that’s one of these random little moments in life that sticks with you and makes you smile.

It has been nice to learn about the area, but time to move on to the next adventure. Next up is Lake Ohau up in MacKenzie country and big mountains of the Southern Alps. I had hoped to do a day of fishing there, but all the guides were booked up. I did find one guy but he turned out to be a jerk, so that fell through. So we will hike and bike around and explore a new area.

Movin’ on down the road

Around Dunedin (part 2)

Well, our stay in Dunedin is coming to a close and it has been a truly lovely 6 weeks here. After the initial “oh crap, it’s colder than Scotland” weather in the beginning, we ended up with a very pleasant summer. At times it was even hot! Mr. Velcro has been totally awesome to hang out with it. It wasn’t that he was just easy to take care of, it was that he was a joy to be with … even if he snored a lot.

Here are a few of the other things we did while we were here:

Sandfly Bay: Out on the Otago Peninsula was a place called Sandfly Bay. All of the guide books and various websites said it was a wonderful place and you would almost for sure see lots of sea critters. Sounded good.

We drove down the road to the car park, which in itself had a lovely view of the ocean, gathered our stuff, and headed down the trail toward the beach. The trail down was pretty steep and sandy once you got past the lookout. You could see sea lions on the beach.

A bit of slog back up

I noticed the waves breaking in the cove and thought “wow, that’s a nice surf break and nobody is there!” Just then a dude with a surf board came into view slogging back up the loose sand trail. There you have it.

There were signs telling you were to go and not go as I guess there are some yellow-eyed penguins in the area and since it was nesting season they didn’t want us dumb humans over bothering the poor dudes. We head left and onto the beach as directed.

Right away there were a number of sea lions sleeping on the beach. Super cool! I pulled out the 70-200 mm lens and started to take some pics. A guy headed back up to the car park pointed and said “here comes a big male.” Sure enough, from behind us was a huge sea lion heading, or what appeared to be, straight toward us. It was very impressive to watch.

Yep, those are sea lions on the beach
Big guy on the move

As I was photographing the two smaller ones, I took my eye off the big guy. Then I heard Susanne say “heads up!” He was closer than expected and I had to quickly scamper out of the way. Luckily, he didn’t so much care about me, but rather the hot babes that were on his beach. There are warning signs all over the place telling you that you will be surprised at how fast they can move and to keep your distance.

“When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, that’s amore”

In your mind you think “yea, sure,” but then you see them move and suddenly your tune changes to “keep clear, man!” Plus they are huge and when you see their teeth, the thought of one clamping onto your leg becomes distinctly unappealing. Or mistaking you for a hot chick of a sea lion and lying on you. Nope. That’s bad.

It was super cool seeing the sea lions so close. One of the sea lions was tagged and my photo was crisp enough to read the number, so I found the website where you report such things and uploaded the sighting info. I am citizen scientist! Overall, I think there must have been 15 of them on the beach. We cruised up the beach to the far end, watching and photographing them as we went. I was now very glad I had hauled all my photo gear back from the States in December.

As a side note, you might not know the difference between a seal and a sea lion. Seals have small flippers that cannot rotate, hence why they seem to be slow and wallow around on land. Sea Lions have hips and can rotate their flippers to act as almost legs. Hence why you get all the warning signs to keep your distance. Plus ears.

At the far end of the beach where the headlands dropped steeply into the ocean and created a rocky shore was where all the fur seals were hanging out. They are much mellower and quieter as compared to the sea lions. I think they are equivalently cool and far less scary. Although, keep your distance as well!

It was a great place to go and I would definitely go back anytime. Highly recommended outing.

Moana Pool: After getting frustrated by having to dodge all manner of annoying people in the St. Clair Saltwater pool, I looked around for another pool and found the Moana Pool. It is a more traditional pool facility and reminded me of EPIC in Ft. Collins. It was huge. It had an 8-lane 50-meter pool (usually split into two 25 m sections), a 6-lane 25-meter pool, a diving pool with a 10-meter platform, a kiddie pool, a huge play pool complete with water slides and other devices of joy for young kids.

Both times I swam there, I had the 8-lane pool mostly to myself. No big dudes doing water kickboxing to avoid. So when in Dunedin and overcome by the need for a swim, go to the Moana Pool. Not as pretty, but much better swimming experience.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary: We drove out north to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary which was supposed to be a pretty cool little private reserve where they were trying to help the native birds and bush. If you go, it will set you back $22 per person, but at least it goes for a good cause. There were some hiking paths and some places were they had feeders so you were likely to see birds. It was a afternoon, so not the best time for bird watching, but we ambled around the trails enjoying the native forest. We did see some Kakas, Tuis, and few other birds. The Kakas are cool and surprisingly big. The photography was really tough as it was quite dark in the forest and I don’t have a $25,000 super fast telephoto lens. If only I had won the Powerball. In general, it was nice and probably worth the money, but didn’t completely blow me away.

Kaka eating grubs

Sandymount: We decided to drive out and see the light house at the end of the peninsula where the albatross colony is located (Harington Point). We didn’t feel like paying for the tour of the colony, but we thought, based on some of the maps, that there was a trail you could hike up to the lighthouse. Nugget Point had been so cool, so we thought why not?

It was about an hour to get out there and it was clear it was a major tourist attraction to go see the albatross. There is also a blue penguin colony out there as well. There were cars and buses and camper vans filling the lot. We got out and walked through the bird poo over to a lookout point. You could see the light house perched above the big cliff. We headed back toward the albatross place to find the trail up to the lighthouse. Negatory. You are only allowed to go with the paid tours. So this phase of the day was a bust.

Long drive for some bird poo and this
Spoonbill Yoga

I suggested we go do the loop hike at Sandymount which was out near Sandyfly Bay and had some good reviews on Alltrails. Plus, I had seen some spoonbills along Hooper’s Inlet when I had ridden that way a few days before. We headed back to Portobello and up over the hill toward the inlet.

The spoonbills were still were I had seen them the day before and I had even hauled my 600mm lens along just in case. They are super cool looking birds. This had been my first chance to get a photo so I was pretty happy I had thought to bring the gear.

We drove up the dirt road to the parking lot for Sandymount Reserve. There was one other car there. I suggested we climb to the top of Sandymount first and then do the loop trail after that. I thought it was just a couple of kilometers.