While housesitting in NZ’s Northern Island town of Cambridge, we begun to feel truly at home. Not because Joella has found us a relaxing three week house sit, nor because Lollie the miniature toy poodle was very welcoming; but because of the weather. It felt generally quite a bit cooler than Australia, was often overcast, and seemed susceptible to sporadic periods of heavy rain in between sunny spells. In other words, New Zealand’s weather seemed as changeable as the UK’s 🙂
However, as we gazed out of the living room window one afternoon, waiting for the latest downpour to stop, our reminiscing of home was abruptly halted by something not at all familiar: an air-raid siren! We both looked at each other horrified not knowing what to do – I was certain that New Zealand is often referred to as the safest place on earth if there were to be a nuclear war. After frantically Googling our situation: ‘Air raid siren New Zealand’ we breathed a sigh of relief: These sirens are used to call the local volunteer fire brigade together – phew (although I hope the blaze in question wasn’t too serious)!
Potholing down Kani whani wha caves
Something else that made New Zealand feel more exotic despite the weather, was its place names; many of which have been either influenced or directly named by its indigenous, Maori people. This made it wonderfully entertaining (and often difficult) when attempting to plan out and remember ideas for day trips. Our first excursion, to the wonderfully sounding ‘Kaniwhaniwha caves’ is a great example.
The initial 45 minute Nikau walk was a nice introduction to New Zealand’s tramping scene, despite the odd bit of rain. It even included stereotypical views that briefly transported us to Middle Earth; featuring lush, rolling hillsides just waiting for hobbits to come bounding down. Other parts took us back to prehistoric times, due to the never ending ferns that surrounded us.
As we neared the two cavernous limestone caves before us, my anticipation jumped up a notch while reading the various safety notices advising of dark, wet, dangerous spaces that lay ahead. Having come prepared with head torches, we wasted no time in venturing forth into the darkness, like excited bats returning home after feeding. It wasn’t long until the last of the daylight had disappeared, and I made mostly feeble attempts to capture the eerie atmosphere using my camera, trying not to drop it in the murky stream that now covered all of the ground.
As the ominous space tightened further, thoughts of meeting Gollum came to mind; so we decided to call it a day and crept backward out into the light.
Risky river crossings while tackling the Kaimai Heritage Trail
Despite the weather deteriorating in recent days, this didn’t stop us from hurriedly dolling on our outdoor gear, and enthusiastically jumping aboard Archie. This time we headed for the Kaimai Heritage Trail, to follow in the footsteps of early New Zealand mining and logging pioneers from over a century ago.
After thoroughly cleaning our footwear, to help prevent Kauri Dieback – a disease that’s tragically killing swathes of New Zealand’s native Kauri trees, we set off into the the ominous looking forest. If our previous hike could be described as relatively easy, it’s fair to say this was at the advanced level! Not only was the ground well and truly sodden making it extremely slippery under foot; the terrain was also far more hilly and hard work.
But this didn’t stop us from having fun! At one point I had to re-lay a series of stepping stones that we assume had been washed away in a wild torrent; before carefully hopping across what was still a menacing looking stream. While scrambling up and sliding down steep hillsides, we got well and truly into the adventurous spirit of things; not caring about becoming ever more drenched and caked in mud. At least we had some tasty New Zealand apples to keep us going!
On the latter stages, while carefully traipsing down Butlers Incline, the path became startlingly steep, and we needed to watch our step so as not to trip on the many rungs of the tramway sleepers that still paved the way down. These tracks, and the various pieces of old, rusting machinery helped take us back to the 1800s – a time when horses were used to pull bogeys (carts) laden with earth (and some gold ore too hopefully). Thinking of how the workers had to spend almost their entire time outdoors no matter what the weather, made us feel especially lucky to make it back to our car, just before the heavens opened!
The best fish and chips in the Southern Hemisphere?
It had now been well over a year since we’d had decent fish and chips – Australia’s fish just doesn’t taste the same, and soggy chip-shop chips don’t seem to exist. So with that in mind, our tastebuds took us in the direction of Raglan – a small coastal town – in search of some battered delights.
Unlike the previous few days of treacherous tramping, today was a more relaxed affair that allowed us to take Lollie along 🙂 With no real agenda, we first took a wander past the hippie boutique shops, followed by a photo shoot with Lollie on a surf board protruding from a wall painted up as a barrel wave – gnarly! Raglan is in fact famous for it’s surf, and has even hosted the World Championships.
We were now ready for the main event: Raglan Fish! Brilliantly, it was perched upon the quay side offering fantastic sea views, along with fishing boats parked up right outside – I doubt we’ll ever get fresher fish and chips than this. While Joella nabbed us a picnic table outside and began defensive duties against the circling seagulls, I was left with the responsibility of ordering our lunch. Initially daunted by the extensive menu of mostly alien fish names, I was saved by the friendly server who recommended Blue Cod and Gurnard, based on my daft sounding brief of ‘not too fishy fish’.
As hoped, these morsels of gold along with their baton side kicks brought a smile to our faces, and gave us a tasty glimmer of home. Keeping cultural, we washed it down with a bottle of L&P – New Zealand’s famous sparkling soft drink, offering a refreshingly lemon hit.
Next on the days itinerary was a visit to Ngarunui beach, featuring black volcanic sand that twinkled in the sunlight, as we walked off our lunch, or run in the case of Lollie! After a good stretch of our legs, taking in the glistening seascape, accompanied by the soothing soundtrack of the relentless waves in the distance, we were ready to hit the road.
On our way home was one of New Zealands largest water features: Bridal Veil Falls, so we couldn’t resist stopping off for a quick peek. The initial walk following the Pakoka river, through native forest helped build our anticipation, all while the thunderous roar of the falls grew louder. After finally arriving at the top viewing platform we nervously peered over the edge at the plunging torrent crashing below us – what a site, what a sound! The midway and bottom viewpoints allowed to appreciate the scale of the falls further from different angles.
Australia had been amazing, but New Zealand was definitely winning us over!