Day 6 Picton to Christchurch

Still drizzling so we abandoned the walking idea and drove a short distance to Waikawa Bay.  Snapped a few lack lustre photos, Christine sighted our first kiwis; the car and its inhabitants were refuelled, and Picton became a distant memory.  State Highway 1 to Blenheim; it sounded the perfect place for antiques, and a coffee filled in the minutes before opening time.  Ron and Christine could have stayed there for hours; Christine found a stroller.

Marlborough country was rich with vineyards, lush green paddocks and was relatively flat.  The highway follows the coast mostly so there were views of headlands and water too.  We stopped briefly at Seddon – not quite the Melbourne suburb of Seddon – and arrived in Kaikoura at lunchtime.

Our progress had been slowed by extensive road repairing following the 2016 quake which dismantled road and rail, and destroyed much of the town. The extent of the restoration of the roadway and the rail line – the tunnels, the building of barriers using shipping containers, gabions, and cement walls – was colossal.  At one enforced stop we were able to watch the fur seals snoozing on the rocky coast.  It was dramatically scenic and the mixture of sea mist and cloud added a film of uncertainty. But on our Monday the sun was beaming happily and the earth was firm.

Over lunch we read about the magnitude 4 earthquake in Christchurch the day before, which reignited my much vocalised thoughts about not going to Christchurch (ever). No one else seemed concerned.  (The major earthquake was in February 2011.)

We drove to the most easterly point along the peninsula to Point Kean car park.  We passed Fyffe House, the oldest surviving building in Kaikoura and a reminder of  whaling of the 1840’s; its foundations are constructed out of whale bones.

Once forested by native trees and plants the peninsula has been reduced to outcrops of hardy shrubs through human development.  There were seals blissfully sleeping on the boardwalk.  We took to the hills and viewed the sea and the mountains from a platform designed in the shape of a waka, a Maori canoe.  We continued walking along the clifftop which gave us superb views of the cliff formations and also the tidal platforms and the Kaikoura Range. The track led off into the distance and prompted plans for future walks, but we needed to retreat and push on to Christchurch, 180kms south.

So much sun.

It was the very late afternoon as we drove into Christchurch.  House walls boarded, shored up facades of historic buildings, and many empty blocks the closer we got to the CBD.  Our accommodation was clean and compact (our bed was surrounded by walls on three sides), and a ‘before dark’ stroll led us to the familiar “Countdown’ supermarket with its Woolworths logo, and then in the wrong direction to a Thai restaurant, that when found, was closed.  Hungry and tired we settled in at the Lone Star.  A Mistake, starting with “sit in the bar while I prepare a table for you”.  That took 20 minutes at least and amounted to putting four menus on the table.  It was a long night and we didn’t pay their wages through drink sales!  Nor did Gary pay for the unwanted chicken breast.

 

 

 

Day 8 Franz Joseph Glacier to Wanaka

Departed our white room.

Arrived at the Helicopter Line office on the highway in good time (8.15am for 8.45am flight) only to find we were meant to fly from Fox Glacier, 26 minutes down the road.  Oops.  Always read the fine print!  We’d been so thrilled to get the confirmation of our booking that we didn’t notice the changed departure point, but we were not the first to make this mistake and she was well rehearsed in what to say next; reassuring and optimistic words, mixed with lowering one’s expectations lest the weather prevent the longer flight we had booked for –  anyway the pilot had slept in and hadn’t yet tested the helicopter.  We were sent away to return at 10am.  As we drank our coffees (no one ate breakfast just in case…) the clouds started rolling in.

We sat in their waiting area watching videos of what might be possible, weather obliging, read the safety billboards, coughed, sneezed and spluttered, and were weighed!  Well that was an horrendous revelation (of course it was all our warm gear that added the weight) only to be outdone by a big “F” being printed on my wristband.  “F” for what?  “Front” of course!

Kate or Katie escorted us down to the helipad; we watched our copter fly in and were then loaded on, buckled in, introduced to our jolly pilot, Hamish, adjusted our headsets, and with no apparent extra thrust, extra noise, extra motion, we were in the air.  The next 40 minutes were exhilarating, flying over the Franz Joseph Glacier, the Fox Glacier, around Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, before landing on the fresh powder snow at the top of Fox.  Hamish unload us and all the expected photographs were taken, although no one threw a snowball or angel-jumped into the snow.  Gary – for whom snow is alien – didn’t even touch it!  (somewhat like Christine and I not trying tapas while walking the Camino…)  Returning to base, Hamish continued to explain what we were seeing:  Ron will have the stats.  Easy safe landing, an exuberant shaking of hands, and our seats were quickly filled by the next foursome.  Lucky people.

The snow landing had affected Christine and the combination of congestion and migraine reduced her to a sorry state and we limped to Wanaka, stopping at Fox, then Haast, then Wanaka.  The day had turned grey and miserable in all ways and the trip was memorable because it finished.  Gary drove the Haast Pass that comes with a reputation as a ‘must drive’ but it didn’t rate against the mountainous road into Masterton: Day 4.  The Information Centre at Haast showed us that we hadn’t seen a Kea in the Wellington Botanic Gardens: Day 5.  The Haast Cafe was good for 5 toasted sandwiches.  In case there was a rush we were given a table number – 62 –  but Ron, Gary and I were the sole lunchtime guests.

As we neared Wanaka we had Lake Wanaka on our right (huge), then after crossing ‘the neck’ we had Lake Hawea on our left, also huge; two glacial lakes that are long and narrow, and very beautiful, and made better because Christine’s health had improved.

It was a day of single-laned bridges appearing without much warning, and road kill:  3 possums and one unidentified.

We checked in and were blown away by the view from both of our rooms. I thought it best to phone ahead to check whether any restaurants were open (as our selected Christchurch restaurant was closed making the despondent choice of Lone Star a never-to-be-repeated experience) only to find that the first available tables were way past our bedtimes!  Wanaka has a population of 70% Aussies in snow season.  It’s a buzz all year  round except for May & June and everyone eats out.  A huge choice of restaurants and we went Indian and sat at an empty table for far too long.  The food was really good though when we got it and the walk home up the hill had a significant nip to it.

PS Had I written this on Day 8 and not after Day 9, it would possibly have been written with more enthusiasm for the amazing helicopter flight; it was truly fantastic…but paragliding is something else.

Day 9 Wanaka to Queenstown

DCIM100GOPROG0014747.JPGDCIM103GOPRODCIM114GOPRODCIM103GOPRO7am and it was pitch black with no features discernible at all outside. Gradually dawn appeared from behind the mountains opposite the lake – yes, accommodation called “Lakeview” with both a lake and a view! -and Gary and I prepared for an early start.

Ron ran passed the picture window, we packed the car, and then set off on foot through contemporary residential architecture of mixed appeal in a northerly direction until joining the path that edges Lake Wanaka, and then we turned towards the township.  New units being built with a price tag of 1.7million+

Very crisp morning and as the sun lit up the snow it became a spectacle.

We chose Alchemy for coffee and texted Christine and Ron who arrived with the car.  The view from the curve of the lake with the snow covered mountains on two sides was unsurpassed.  Together we continued the stroll along the lake before parting to entertain ourselves.  All roads led back to the shops we’d seen the night before – a mix of ski shops, restaurants, and classy “Made in NZ’ shops.  A bit of retail therapy…

In the car by midday and Ron chose a route that took us to Queenstown via Cromwell.  How good was that!  The drive had straight sections, moderate ups and downs, and bendy bits with the now familiar sections under repair:  no road kill.  Cromwell is the furthest inland point in NZ (119kms from the sea) and sits alongside the man-made lake Dunstan and is nicknamed ‘the fruit bowl of the South’.  Fruit trees and vines of all sorts lined the highway; the lake was a mirror; mentally, Ron re-settled.  We stopped to view the historic centre – one street of buildings that looked like they could be a film set for a Western – housing Arty shops, rusted farm and gold mining relics, crafts and refreshments.  Ron and Christine made a beautiful purchase.

The final push to Queenstown and a decision was made to ride the gondoloa first as the perfect day might never be repeated.  Deidre took us straight there, Ron jagged a car spot immediately, and we’d bought tickets to ride the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere.  Yes, it was steep, very steep and a moment of slowing down mid trip was of concern, but ultimately uneventful, and we rose the 450 metres without incident to Bob’s Peak and were rewarded with amazing views over Queenstown and the surrounding peaks – Coronet, Walter & Cecil, and The Remarkables, and the waters of Lake Wakatipu.

Paragliders glided past.

Lunch.

Ron, Gary and I made a life changing decision – to paraglide…  Christine sadly was heavily congested and recovering from Wednesday’s migraine so couldn’t fly, but offered us cautious best wishes.

To fly, one must have a launching pad high above natural and man-made features, and it was a climb.  Our flying partners – a French woman, Clem (?), Dan and Dom, walked with us laden with the equipment weighing 20kgs or so and at a half way point were able to load a motor bike with the three backpacks. Ron almost ran up the slopes, with Gary struggling the most and mumbling about the extra weight he now carries, but with stops we made it to the snow line and it was all action from that point.

They unpacked their gliders and untangled the lines.  Gary was harnessed first; the ‘seat’ hangs down like a nappy falling off, but it looks secure and safe.  Clem was getting her gear organised and I was waiting for Dom to return from driving the bike down the mountain and then running up it…  Gary and Dan flew.  Wow.

I expressed my nervousness to Ron who probably didn’t hear as we were some distance apart so when Dom reappeared I shared my feelings with him.  Ron and Clem flew.  Wow #2.

Instructions – walk a few steps (let’s be clear, the edge of the mountain was just a few steps beyond those steps), Dom would check the paraglider, then commit (or not), run a few steps then it was bye bye mountain.  I pictured myself in a cartoon (after the event) as I contributed nothing to the walk and run instructions as my feet didn’t touch the ground at all once the wind filled the glider.

We three have our own telling of this adventure, but in summary, the euphoria and reliving of the experience kept me awake all night.  It was sensational.  All three of us would do it again without hesitation.  Did I hear Ron mumbling about learning how to do it solo…?

Christine rode the gondola solo, and almost ‘back to earth’ we reconnected and found our accommodation (in Melbourne street, off Sydney street).  Hung the coats, opened the suitcase, cup of tea, and out the door to get our bearings.

The town was alive; great vibe.  3 paragliding discount vouchers reduced the fish and chips dinner bill at Finz, where we sat in a courtyard, warmed by overhead gas burners and blankets.  All smiles.  Into this shop and the other – outdoor clothing gear and souvenirs – and a trek up the hill to home for two nights.

 

 

Day 5 Wellington to Picton

Not much time to explore Wellington, so our ‘must do’ list was minimal – the cable car. We aimed to catch the first one on Sunday and Ron’s morning run established our most direct walking route. When you walk, you see, and so we did observe a few of Wellington’s streets and iconic buildings before arriving at Lambton Quay with only seconds to spare. Of course Gary was anticipating extolling the virtues of this mode of transport to support his desire for Mt Wellington to be accessed this way, but I haven’t heard a peep from him since.  This wasn’t what any of us expected; a climb of 120 metres in 5 minutes. Finished.

We were now at the top entrance to the Botanic Gardens having passed the terraced gardens of the houses in the suburb of Kelburn.  The friendly cable car attendant (everyone in NZ is friendly we’ve decided) showed us a route down to the city through the gardens and this was super.  Can’t remember specifically what we saw although today (Day 7) I learned that 99% of NZ trees are Evergreen and that now influences my memory.  The deciduous trees are from elsewhere (like the 70 million possums!!!).  We did see a bird.  Ron’s research had identified it as a Kea – an unusual parrot endemic to NZ – and crowned Bird of the Year in 2017 (hmm?): unusual in that it is an alpine parrot, and curious about humans.  It has dark olive green feathers – didn’t see its underwings which apparently are scarlet.  We also found Picnic Cafe.

The walk took us through the Bolton Street Cemetery and as with all old cemeteries – this one established in 1840 with the settlement of Wellington – there was much to see. Curiously the cemetery was dissected by a motorway with a connecting footbridge high above the city traffic; subsequent research revealed the controversy and concern this had created in the 1960’s with the necessary exhumation of 3700 bodies. New season jonquils coloured a forlorn corner of headstones in the lower section.

We sussed out the ferry terminal, took in the grand railway station with its Doric columns, marble terrazzo floor, vaulted ceiling and intricate iron work, tried to snap the green lady pedestrian light, and found ourselves almost captives of the Catholics having stumbled onto their patch of valuable real estate.  Ron leapt a wire fence, Christine scaled it, I clambered over it, and Gary coerced one leg at a time, with urgency, to complete our escape.

Wishing to see more, the car took us to Wright’s Hill Fortress, built in WW2 to protect NZ, but now offering 360 degree views of the city and plenty of walking tracks for next time.

Queuing for the ferry at 12.30 and the excitement was mounting:  Christine’s first ‘big ferry’ adventure and our individual expectations for the South Island, and memories of the North.  After trucks, lorries and cars with trailers were loaded, it was our turn – all well organised and fluid.  We found seats next to a man with extensive knowledge of both islands, which was useful and exhausting, but took our leave to go up on deck to witness the event.

Wellington to Picton is a three hour + ferry trip and it takes a surprisingly long time to sail through Wellington Harbour and leave the North Island.  Looking back we could appreciate the hilliness of the city and steep cliffs and rugged rocks flanked this part of our voyage.  Once we were in open waters – Cook Strait – we went downstairs for a light ale – an IPA, which we’ve since discovered is an Indian Pale Ale (not the International Phonetic Alphabet).

Land ahoy!  and very close!!!  We sailed through the Heads and the Tory Channel with spectacular rugged scenery on either side and into Queen Charlotte Sound:  so many Bays Blackwood, Bay of Many Coves, Lochmara, Erie, Oyster to name a few; remote houses surrounded by New Zealand bush right down to the edge of the water; isolation, beauty.  The light was fading and up on deck it was bitterly cold, but we stuck it out until called to retrieve our car.

In the lightest of rain we found our Air B&B which overlooked moored bobbing yachts, settled in to watch the news report about the destructive weather around Auckland and Coromandel, and drove the short distance into town to eat at Oxley’s.  The pub piano was painted blue overall with flowers and I managed a rendition of Happy Birthday in G major to add to another table’s celebration.

Washing night.

 

Day 4 Taupo to Wellington Part 2

Napier

What we didn’t know… In 1931 a catastrophic earthquake destroyed Napier but in the following two years the recovery created what is now, the most complete Art Deco city in the world. We also didn’t know when we drove in that the annual Winter Deco Weekend was in full swing; a boutique festival where you were invited to get out your coats, hats and fur wraps, and savour a program of events that included balls, vintage cocktail evenings, jazz performances, and classic films in and around Napier’s incredible Art Deco heritage.

The town was a buzz with vintage cars complete with appropriately clad drivers and passengers, and the buildings were the back drop for an abundance of frocks and feathers, pleated pants, spats and hats.  It was tops!

We walked to the water as independent couples and Gary and I took interest in the plaques on the  ‘Veronica Sunbay’ – a curved arcade with columns on the town side and a a wall of unglazed windows facing the sea. We found a plaque commemorating Harold Holt and Ron would later suggest that perhaps he swam back to NZ…

What we didn’t know was that this structure was built in 1934, and so named because the HMS Veronica’s ships officers and crew assisted in the rescue work in the aftermath of the 1931 earthquake.

A late lunch and then continuing south to Masterton and the much anticipated collection of four axes.  Those who know Ron understand; those who don’t can wonder.  It was dark as Deidre guided us to an unfamiliar address; Gary weeed in the bushes while Ron, like a little child on Christmas morning, braved the darkness and returned with a securely tied plain, but heavy, cardboard box.  We changed drivers so that he could get to know his new friends.  He fashioned a knife out of Gary’s used Coke can to reveal the  treasures, and they glistened in the light of my phone.  What joy.

From there to Wellington was a drive and a half climbing the Rimutaku Range – narrow, hairpin curves, NZ drivers, headlights, blind corners… but over the mountains a fairly flat drive through uninteresting towns with the exception of lively Greytown, with its quaint streetscape full of busy restaurants, and examples of Victorian architecture visible in the dark.

Again Deidre got us to our accommodation without drama even though the google map looked liked upturned bowls of spaghetti.  Well done Deidre.  Well done Gary.  Well done Ron.

 

NZ Day 4 Taupo to Wellington

What a day!

No view of any Twin Peaks from our lakeside rooms, but Lake Taupo beckoned for us walkers and Ron, the runner. Like so much of what we’ve seen so far, the lake is the result of a volcanic eruption, so massive that it devastated much of the then uninhabited North Island. The Maoris arrived somewhere around the 13th century according to our guide yesterday.  46 km long and 33 km wide it is an impressive sight with civilisation creeping up its slopes on all sides.  A well designed viewing platform along the lakeside path answered all our questions including its depth of 186 metres and elevation just a few metres lower than St Peter’s Pass. It is classified as ‘dormant’ not extinct and on our walk we passed warning signs for scalding water where steam was rising out of the lake; steam was also rising from the coffee van doing a steady business.

A black cat visited Christine as we prepared to depart.

Huka Falls was next on our itinerary; a narrow chasm where the Waikato river, NZ’s longest, is forced through before dropping dramatically.  Ice blue. Brilliant white. Surging. Roaring. Uncontrollable.  Mighty.

One of the walking tracks along the river can take you back to Taupo; we walked part way and commented on the absence of wild life, insect, animal or bird.  Across the river we caught glimpses of Huka Lodge, an exclusive hotel hideaway (with a summer price tag of $8000 p/p per night), where Christine’s Uncle Fred was the Fishing Guide for many years.

After spending more than a penny we returned to Taupo and the Saturday Market.  Although still early, Christine succumbed to a cream and lemon curd filled doughnut dusted with icing sugar, and Gary & I devoured a savoury brioche.  Both fantastic!

But Ron needed to satisfy his hunger for Antique and Collectable shops and across the road (no small feat – plenty of ramps in the footpaths but no zebra crossings, pedestrian lights et al and four lanes of traffic to dodge) he found a Honing Stone.  Much euphoria.

The morning coffee and mobile phone ritual followed, resulting in an unplanned return to the hotel where we’d left our passports amongst other things…  It was now midday.

To Napier on the Eastern coast, a 2 hour drive with Gary at the wheel. Initially the landscape was all pine tree forest plantations or raped hills in preparation.  Ron decided to snooze.  The scenery changed.  Lush and dense native vegetation up and down deep valleys.  Awesome.  The road was challenging with hairpin curves, few overtaking lanes or shoulders, and NZ drivers.  Christine, in the back seat, had just about had enough, but after Gary had courageously overtaken a truck, she thought better of insisting he pulled over and we made it to Napier intact, with Ron now awake in time to see endless pine plantations.

We weren’t expecting what we found in Napier…

to be continued

 

 

NZ Day 3 Auckland to Taupo

Ron’s Driving Day, and Deidre led us out of Auckland without any fuss in the direction of Hamilton (still musing over calfing, the spelling of which was hotly debated in the car, with ‘calving’ winning; the phone conversation with a defined NZ accent had me trying to work out why ‘carving’ or chewing ‘kava’ would stop our ballooning plans – not the spelling of the act of cow giving birth to a calf!)

A lot of motorway, a fair share of road works, a mostly flat landscape and then into a very disappointing Hamilton: definitely not on the ‘must do next time’ list. A walk along the Waikato river was pleasant enough.

90 minutes later we were in Rotorua as planned and went straight to the Whakarewarewa Village where Maori locals live among the the bubbling thermal pools as they have for centuries.  A guided tour told us lots; how they live, cook, bathe in this area of amazing eruptions – where steam was rising all over the place, where man had made channels to cool the water from its 120+degrees to a non-scalding temperature, where the stench of sulphur was unavoidable, and where steam cleansed the nostrils and fogged the glasses.  We didn’t see Pohutu erupt, the geyser that reportedly shoots water 30 metres skywards, but its neighbour put on a show.  As light was fading and the guide’s enjoyment of a family from Belgium was interrupting the flow of information, we departed, confident that we could now pronounce Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao – the full name of the village, if we were really pushed.

To Taupo an hour away.  Dark.  Twin Peaks Motel.  Two rooms. Walked to SMK restaurant (Southern Meat Kitchen) ( I hear the vegans smiling) and being a boutique brewery, sampled their beers and cider alongside smoked meat dishes.

Gary’s determination to prove the “To Shopping Centre” sign meant a Coles/Woollies complex resulted in an after-dinner stroll and a simple dairy with no ‘pot-set yoghurt’ – a Ron necessity for happy holidaying, or any decent yoghurt at all – a June desire for moistening dry oats.  With much indecision we booked accommodation in Picton and Day 3 ended with ample coughing and sneezing.

Haere mai!

or in Tasmanian…Here am I!

Day 2 in New Zealand has dawned pale with the promise of sun, unlike the forecast of fog and showers.

Yesterday, on our first full day (Day 1 – Thursday 12th), we were blessed with warmth, both from the locals and the climate.  Ron ran, sussing out the immediate area, and after a neat shower and breakfast schedule for four, we were off on foot to explore.

Parnell seemed refined and expensive; weatherboard houses well maintained and mostly painted in greys and whites, manicured shrubbery, designer dogs and joggers with make-up.

Parnell Road held a mixture of shops, cafes and restaurants, and strolling down it gave us our first glimpse of the topography of the city – a hilly city; a city of ex-volcanoes. What goes down must go up, and a set of steps led us up through the University Grounds, which prompted Gary to unexpectedly turn horticulturist.  At The Speakers Corner in Albert Park I welcomed us all to New Zealand, we posed by the fountain with the Sky Tower in the background, found some more steps and then the focus turned to coffee.

182 metres above the ground and with 360 degrees of viewing, we marveled at our new city from the Sky Cafe; the seemingly impromptu droppings of humans past the windows were too swift for us to appreciate.

From the clouds to sea level.  We caught the ferry to Devonport (reminiscent of the Manly Ferry but only 12 minutes) and curiously headed straight for the hill, the highest volcanic cone on Auckland’s North Shore, Mt Victoria, but not before Ron fell in love with idea of the four of us hiring segways…

Spectacular views of Auckland and Devonport, and water and islands in all directions – and brilliant sun shine.

The direction of the descent was influenced by a roof advertising Antiques, but the shop loosely held a  collection of contemporary children on holiday.  We did find the Royal New Zealand Naval Base, a welcome vegan lunch for Christine and I, with meaty things for Ron and Gary from the establishment next door, and made a phone call to find that ballooning was off due to calfing and wet paddocks.  Even the computer won’t accept ‘calfing’…

More walking and a brief stop-over at our accommodation, before driving to One Tree Hill as the light of day faded.  This is another volcanic cone arrived at through avenues of mature trees, and with a memorial to the Maori people on the summit.  A staggering walk UP; Christine with heavy cold, Gary and June with heavy bodies, and Ron with great patience.

Deidre, our trusted phone GPS lady, led us in and around peak hour traffic to Cotto, in Karangahape Rd, a restaurant recommended by Christine’s eldest daughter.  WOW.  Can I suggest you start with the Foccaccia, followed by the Dumplings with spinach, goats cheese & sage, and share the Risotto roasted cauliflower taleggio, the Rotolo beef cheek silver beet porcini bechamel, Saffron maltaggliati lamb shanks gremolata, and the Gnocchi kumara gorgonzola walnut watercress.  Surely that was enough, but no, three of us just had to have the Burnt orange panna cotta roasted rhubarb, and Gary survived an Affogato with Frangelica.  Gary and I added a couple of expensive glasses of a Merlot that had Paddocks and Haystacks in its title.

Lights Out.

Surrounding Stanley – Going home

Saturday, and although it was tinged with going home emotions, there were no regrets, and we were excited ahead of our walk in the Rocky Cape National Park.  Egg and bacon wraps prepared, the car packed, and off we drove to the East, passing the first turn off to Rocky Cape where we could have walked to Cathedral Rocks, and turning towards the coast at the Boat Harbour junction, and then driving about 10 kms west to Sisters Beach: Sisters Beach and Boat Harbour, both relics of the Tyzack-family outings memory album.

The settlement of Sisters Beach was unrecognisable, with streets of architecturally designed homes outnumbering the fibro shacks of our childhood.  As instructed by our ‘100 Walks in Tasmania’ book, we followed the signs to the Boat Ramp and parked the car.  Blogs had warned us that the start of the track was not obvious and this was confirmed by the sight of two potential walkers making little progress beyond the car park. A quartet of questions were answered when a mother and son in walking regalia appeared.

The threat of endless uphill walking became a reality and we mused over our lack of fitness despite daily walks, rowing machines and recumbent cycling.  Surely the repetitive climbing of the Grange stairs would instruct the appropriate muscles to accept a foreign incline…but, no, and we frequently paused to take in the view behind us along the coast. The treeless Sisters Hills offered wildflowers and more pausing opportunities; the track was well defined and well-trodden, and the degradation of the vegetation on the sides was further progressed by us dodging boggy flooded patches.  As we had read, the track did eventually flatten out, at about the point where the first of several inaccurate signs told us it was a mere 15 minute walk to the beach, the way we had laboured.

We were now walking in the hills and their valleys and at a sign-posted junction, took the track towards Anniversary Point.  A little less than a kilometre later we came to another junction and the Doone Falls track.  The sign indicated 15 minutes return but someone had etched a ‘4’ next to the 5 which proved more accurate, considering the terrain.  We were led through a welcome forest of eucalypts, paperbarks, wattles and banksias and got the steep, zigzag descent to the Falls that our guide book had promised.  The reveal of a thin strip of tannin-stained gushing water and the accompanying noise were a fine reward.  We snacked, conscious of our good fortune to trek here after rain.  Bloggers had commented on finding an unimpressive trickle depending on the season. The Falls are notable for the accumulation of froth at the base, yet the Doone river runs clear (albeit a strong tea colour) out to Bass Strait.

Retracing our steps and emerging from this mini-forest we re-joined the main track and soon had views of Anniversary Bay.  It was an easy downhill walk to the beach, only spoilt by the wind.  We noticed the Parks and Wildlife sign fallen in the vegetation and a tattered laminated A4 page was the only indication of the track for walkers coming from the other direction.  Our chance reunion with ‘mother and son’ walkers, no longer as lively as they’d been in the car park, verified the track’s obscurity, as they had walked for hours along the beach looking for it, without finding it.

We plodded through the soft sand for over a kilometre in the direction of Sisters Beach, visually assessing the inhospitable jagged, tilted siltstone coastline up ahead.  We chose to walk in the footsteps of others imagining they would lead us to a track, and they did. The rocky outcrops offered some protection from the wind and we perched on washed up logs and ate our lunch with visiting bull ants.

An advanced middle-aged American-accented  male emerged through the foliage and encouraged us to wait for him, as he would need a tow up the hill.  Yes, it was UP, but at the top of the bluff there were spectacular views, and the Blackboys (Xanthorrhoea ) were flowering; a common sight in WA but an unexpected memory of home for  Gary.

We had a choice of deviating to Lee Archer Cave, to Wet Cave, or continuing directly to Sisters Beach.  Now sheltered from the wind and beautifully warm and relaxed, we headed for Wet Cave.  It was an impressive opening quite a height above sea level.  We could just distinguish a pool of water at the rear of the cave, and the walls away from the light, glistened.  We were unaware of the Aboriginal significance and any future visit to the area will be more enlightened.

With the sun playing on the water’s surface, the walk to the beach through the Banksias was very beautiful, and after 100 metres of little rock hopping we were back at the car.  Not exhausted, mentally or physically, we opted to walk further along the beach to view the designer shacks, but the combination of unpleasant wind and restricted viewing because of the sand dunes and grasses, quickly altered our decision and we took a path back to the road.  Happy as.

Back in the car and being tourists, we left Sisters Beach and headed for Boat Harbour Beach, stopping to buy roadside flowers.

Memories of news footage of the road down to Boat Harbour slipping were confirmed, but of comfort was a new stone wall holding up the hill, and to our right, the bluest water frolicking on the whitest sand was a distraction to take your breath away.  Like at Sisters there were many new dwellings, but as access here is restricted due to its hilliness, there was still the atmosphere of bygone visits.  Once upon a time we would have stopped for icecream, but now with low carbs, reduced sugar…

From Boat Harbour to Wynyard via Table Cape was the next chapter in the un-planned journey home.  The Alexanders, Pop’s family, lived at the Cape.  Nan’s family, the Whittles, lived at the Cape too and went to the War from here.  I’ve always loved the rich red volcanic soils and from the air, flying in to Wynyard, the patchwork of pastures and ploughed fields and more recently, the vibrant colours of the tulips is unbeatable.  We marvelled at one paddock of tulips beyond the tourist tulip paddocks, and the ocean on the other, and drove down through the lively township,  continuing our travels east.

Driving with just the railway line separating us from Bass Strait and Victoria on our left, (previously known as the Emu Bay Railway Line and currently almost as extinct) and passing through Somerset and then crossing the Cam River, we left the highway taking the Cam Road to get to Burnie’s cemetery.  Mum and Dad have a position on the hill with unimpeded views to the Cape.  Simply beautiful. By contrast, the lawn is decorated with whirlygigs, objects that glisten, and flowers with a life of fading.  My camellias and lillies, bought by the roadside and softened by an afternoon in the car, added natural colour and gentleness to the brass plate.

From Burnie to Penguin and Ulverstone always hugging the Coast and foregoing the multi-laned highways that speak of pork-barrelling, we took it all in, enjoying every moment, and even when the car recognised the road, we saw the familiar with fresh eyes and cleared heads.

Monday at The Grange was people free and also glorious.

Surrounding Stanley – Day 3

20171006_192007A full and brilliant moon illuminated our room in a spectacular fashion, silhouetting the tea trees outside against a deep electric blue dawn sky. There was quiet single syllable conversation until electric blue paled and was enhanced by warm pinks and orange, and we were up and eager.  Moby Dick’s beckoned.

A hundred metres along the highway was the track leading to East Inlet and assorted shacks and a ‘gated’ section named Gullivers Rest, and then miles of beach – kilometres of crabless sand, and with enough firm sand to make beach walking a pleasure.  The Nut rose in shadow in the distance and the sea’s oscillations sparkled.  Were there any other humans on Earth that morning?

We watched the sun sneak up on the houses at the foot of the Nut and eventually the sand ran out and we climbed up the cement stairs in the rocky wall close to the caravan park. Bloggers had praised Moby Dick, an establishment opening daily at 7.30am and closing at lunchtime.  Having peered through the windows the previous day, we knew they did eggs all ways: our food, unlike the restaurants advertising meat and fish on beds of inedibles.

What a difference a day makes!  We sat in the window and were baked by sun; yesterday with rain jackets and hoods, we’d shivered outside.  Bloggers had also commented on the long wait for food.  We were in no hurry.  Can you imagine that? ‘No hurry’ – an unknown sensation in Sydney and equally alien in our Campbell Town lives.  However, service was brisk and friendly, and food arrived before we had time to settle into slow.  The toast, placed close to my eggs, was delicious.  I recall white bread having a taste, and here it was on my plate, and a green leaf garnish was fresh and simple.  Gary had ample bacon with his eggs.  Two clean plates, two coffees, and we were unstoppable.

Highfield House, way up on the top of the hill which yesterday had prompted a decision to visit by car, was now in our sights, and after walking parallel to Godfrey’s Beach we gambolled up Green Hills Road, an incline over a little less than 3 kms rising to 50 metres above sea level: views in all directions.  Excluding the wind, the day was brilliant.  We experimented with panorama shots and videos and successfully got a thumb and truthful recording of the wind.

Highfield House was of interest because Peter, who had done some restoration work on The Grange in our time, had also worked here.  The house is fifteen years older than ours and was resurrected from a derelict state; many rooms, although ‘cleaned up’, bear witness to neglect and weathering.  The layout was interesting and unconventional, and indicated a sparsity of early visitors, with no sizeable reception rooms and perhaps only one room to accommodate guests.

The walled garden was a blaze of colour.  Juliana’s Grave, centred in an intimate hedged circle of flowers, was a sad memorial to a child dying before her third birthday without the experience of Boarding School in England with her siblings. One of the outbuildings with an adjoining commercial kitchen, spoke to Gary and I as a potential concert venue.  A Yoga retreat and Flower Show were in Highfield’s immediate calendar.

We retraced our steps and headed for the beach.  It was under water!  The tide was in, our access was submerged, and the jolly 4.62kms walk in was replaced with battling a full frontal gale, soft sinking sand, and a lengthy route variation of almost a kilometre.  The highlight was a bright orange brain-like blob in the sand.

There was half an unused day left and with minimal discussion we set out for Dip Falls – compensation for Wes Beckett being closed.  I have since read that the access road is littered with fallen trees as a result of the devastating 2016 bushfires.

From the A2 we travelled East and turned South into Mawbanna Road, just after Black River.  It was a picturesque 24kms, with a mix of pasture, forests, plantations and vibrant green rolling hills.  The final 2 kms to Dip Falls Reserve were on an unsealed road and at the car park there were rooved shelters, BBQ facilities and toilets, and people with little dogs.  The backdrop drone of water falling hastened our exodus and although the Falls would become a huge talking point, the recently constructed stairway to the bottom of the Falls, and viewing platform, was mighty impressive: a beautiful work of art; an engineering masterwork; a safe, anti -slip surface; a stairway with twists and turns to physically and mentally break the lengthy climb down, and up, all bolted onto the adjoining rock face which had its own little water fall.

The (major) Falls were two tiered with lots of water spilling over both levels.  Like hair with a coloured streak, one strand of the Falls was tannin-stained, and also remarkable was a tree  rooted between the hexagonal basalt columns where the top level pooled before cascading down to the river.  Looking up, the bluest of skies was a complement to the curtain of white on black.

The “Big Tree” was signposted and we set off on foot, first crossing the bridge, and like children, tossing a twig from one side and then rushing to the other to see it appear.  The apparent calmness of the water here gave no hint of the imminent 34 metre drop.  What a surprise that would be in your little canoe…

Although easy walking this was an incredibly long one kilometre.  There was much to look at that was pleasurable – the tall timbers, and the man ferns’ fresh fronds radiating out from their crowns contrasting with their skirts of old fronds, but the kilometre seemed endless.  Another incline, another bend, another tall tree, another tree fern, another dip in the road and of course, another incline, but the Big Tree and its companions (I’m thinking ‘her’ companions) were impressive eucalypts indeed.  With a girth of 17 metres the walk around the biggest tree revealed columns and deep crevices, boils and horizontal striations, green lichens and innumerable shades of brown on both fibrous and smooth and shiny textures.

We returned to the car for snacks – a pear for me and a muesli type bar for Gary – and then in the late afternoon sun made our return to Stanley and the IGA.  We stocked up for dinner (having decided our own restaurant was best), gathered ingredients for Saturday’s lunch, and bought a newspaper for the Sudoku.  The Bottle Shop was in the Pub (up a hill) and we exchanged our dislike of buying wine in a pub’s bottle shop based on relatively few prior experiences, however we were pleasantly surprised, as we were left unattended in the cellar.  We emerged with familiar wine and cans of unfamiliar beer.  It seemed the right sort of occasion.

A couple of kms and we were home in our cabin with designs of drinking beers on the verandah while we watched the tide do its thing, but it was unpleasantly windy and sitting inside was good; so good that Gary sat comfortably warm in his undies.  Everything revolved around knowing that the tide would be totally out at 7.22pm: a must see.

We headed out along the West Inlet beach in the opposite direction to our first day’s walk and here the crabs and sand were replaced by smooth rounded charcoal grey rocks.  We took the track that led back to the highway, crossed it, and instead of walking to the East Inlet track, selected an overgrown driveway that soon became untraversed bracken and coastal scrub over waist high.  The beach seemed far less close than it should be, but the further we stumbled the less inclined we were to turn around, and eventually we emerged through the dunes with only a few battle wounds.  I hope we didn’t destroy any birds’ nests as the signage on all the beaches we visited asked us not to walk in the dunes for that reason.

The water was on the horizon.  The sun had retreated leaving a band of salmon colour above this dark line.  This is the flattest expanse of tidally exposed sand I know.

No humans.  No clouds. 7.22pm