Mention the South Island and I conjure up images of mountains, reflective lakes, and snow. From an early age my family spent winter holidays touring the South Island – unlike my friends who went for skiing, my family went for my artist Mother to paint. Our holidays were spent patiently waiting down country roads whilst Mum set up easel and paints. If lucky and Dad thought it safe to leave Mum, he would drive us kids to locations where we could enjoy what winter down South offered over our hometown Wellington – jumping in ice puddles, breaking icicles and snowball fights.
Not having ventured South for sometime and hearing friends express their love for Wanaka with its natural beauty and great eating establishments, my husband and I chose Wanaka to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Landscape photography and good food are my passions so I was curious to see if it lived up to its recommendations. The last time I was in Wanaka was 12 years ago with my own children, I have fond memories of Wanaka's Puzzle World but apart from that, don't have distinct memories - at that time Queenstown was my favoured destination. These days Queenstown has grown beyond belief into a bustling, overcrowded tourist mecca whilst Wanaka seems to have remained in control and people enjoy this developing resort town with ease.
On arrival at Queenstown Airport we picked up our rental car and drove over the scenic Crown Range to Wanaka, stopping for lunch at the iconic Cardrona Hotel and a photo stop at the quirky tourist attraction, the Cardrona Bra Fence, Bradrona, then continuing to our destination - Wanaka.
Wanaka is the gateway to the Southern Alps Mount Aspiring National Park, a haven of glaciers, forests and lakes and with Treble Cone and Cardrona ski resorts nearby you can understand its popularity. Driving into Wanaka we were greeted with misty views of the lake and mountains and Wanaka's sophisticated lakefront township - I was excited.
Wanaka offers spectacular scenery as well as great food scene. Our visit was on the cusp of the ski season and although little snow on the mountains it was evident that the season was about to begin. Young people of all nationalities mingled around the popular Kai Whakapai Cafe and Bar - many reuniting after spending a season elsewhere. We chose to stay in walking distance to bars and restaurants and were delighted by our delicious eating experiences - our favourites being Kika, Francesca's, Big Fig and breakfasts at Soul Food. There are numerous drinking establishments but my favourite bar was called Gin and Raspberry. True to its name you can sip Gin and Raspberries and in an elegant setting overlooking the Lake.
With only a few days to enjoy this scenic wonderland we had to be organised with our choices. Waking to cloud and limited views of the mountains was not what I anticipated but I soon realized how quickly the weather changes throughout the day and how the cloud breaks often, revealing mesmerizing images.
We started our 4.5km loop walk up Mt Iron in cloud, by the time we reached the top we were rewarded with clear views of the Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka.
We enjoyed the 15-minute drive to Lake Hawea - another beautiful lake, but for those who enjoy a quieter setting. From Lake Hawea we continued 30 minutes up road to the Blue Pools Track - a 20 minute bush walk takes you to the swing bridge and some incredible clear blue/green pools. We returned to Wanaka just in time for Thursday Farmers Markets where vendors sell crafts and more delicious food.
My favourite day was walking along the lakefront to the famous Wanaka Tree. This solitary tree is a magnet to photographers, with changing weather and lake conditions you can snap stunning images.
Continuing the walk along the lakefront we treated ourselves to coffee and scones at the Edgewater Resort, and then wine-tasting at Rippon Winery. The lakefront track up to the winery has mind-blowing views over vines and a reflective Lake Wanaka - if every there was a paradise it has to be here.
As a child I don't think I appreciated the beauty of nature - maybe those hours spent down country roads waiting for Mum paid off, I now get overwhelmed with excitement when I see scenic beauty or much to my husband's frustration another photo opportunity. It's my husband who now waits patiently!!
My day generally starts with a morning walk along the beach or the hillsides looking down at the coast not far from where I live. Up until a few months ago my beautiful cavoodle dog Cleo was my companion on these walks but sadly she has now passed away. Weekend walks were often a little more adventurous - having the time to explore new places and have my husband come along. One walk we had planned to do for sometime was the Paekakariki Escarpment track walk - a new 10km track which opened last year. Dogs are not permitted on this track so as we no longer had our lovely Cleo there were no excuses for us not to do it. So two weekends ago on a cloudy Sunday morning we drove to Paekakariki, parked our car not far from the train station and started this highly recommended walk.
You can begin the walk at either Paekakariki train station or Pukerua train station. We decided to start at Paekakariki which meant we would finish up at Pukerua Bay Station, catch the train back to our car at Paekakariki and possibly reward ourselves with coffee and a treat at one of their cafes.
The walk starts of gently before you wind your way up 220m above sea level on fairly narrow tracks and steep stairways with awesome views across to Kapiti Island, down to State Highway 1 and the railway tracks. The estimated time given to do this 10km walk is 3 1/2 hours but for most it only takes 2 1/2 hours. We did the walk in exactly 2 1/2 hours from station to station.
I had been warned during the summer months the track was often congested and with it's narrow tracks and steep steps overhanging the road and ocean below it can feel quite intimidating passing other walkers. Fortunately the track wasn't too busy the day we chose but there were still occasions where we had to tuck ourselves into the cliff sides to let people pass or manoeuvre ourselves carefully past other walkers on stairways.
As well as the amazing views, one of my highlights were the 2 swing bridges - but like some of the steep stairways these are not for the faint hearted. Fortunately I enjoyed them and the wicked side in me even enjoyed rocking the bridges to intimidate my poor husband who wasn't too excited about heights.
As the views of Pukerua Bay come into sight you can be forgiven for thinking you are near the end but don't get too excited you probably still have several more km's to walk.
As you reach your end destination you have a real feeling of achievement - you conquered those heights, you witnessed amazing rugged coastal views and you can now, without guilt catch a train back to your car and if like me love a good coffee and cafe, indulge in some tasty food.
Get Wonderfully Lost in the Historic Centre of Guanajuato City, Mexico
I had such high expectations for this thoughtfully chosen destination. I searched reviews, looked at photos and had trustworthy recommendations. Why then the doubts? My pre arrival journey to a destination is often filled with fears and disappointment. I anxiously look for the visuals I ingrain before departure, and demand to be delighted on first sight. The taxi journey from Leon Airport to the historic centre of Guanajuato City was no exception. I was seeking out hillsides with colourful facades, cobbled streets and plazas - to no avail. On entering the first tunnel with it’s decorative entrance I had hope, and as we continued down the winding streets and through another tunnel, and then another, I knew my doubts were unfounded. On arrival outside our hotel I felt sure I would love this city, on entering our hotel room and opening the balcony shutters, I was in love.
Founded in 1559, Guanajuato is the Capital of Guanajuato state in Central Mexico. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, once a wealthy silver mining town and referred to as the most beautiful city in Mexico. Standing on that balcony with its breathtaking view, I could truly see why. Our hotel room faced directly onto the cobblestoned Plaza de Paz, with outdoor restaurants, food vendors, a picturesque fountain, and the most incredible view of San Miguel Hill with it’s statue and those brightly coloured dwellings I had been searching for. The 17th century Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato completed the view and left me feeling overwhelmed with excitement and ready to explore.
“Put down your map and get wonderfully lost”. One of my favourite sayings - partly because of my total incompetence at reading maps and secondly, I believe the best places are often found by accident. Guanajuato with it’s unique network of underground tunnels, narrow streets and alleyways that wind up and down the hillside is the perfect city to explore on foot and indulge in just that - getting wonderfully lost.
Guanajuato has a relaxed feeling. Wandering around you’ll experience locals chatting on roadsides in their native Spanish, sitting aimlessly on park benches, or couples young and old unashamedly showing affection. I couldn’t help feeling envious that in this busy and stressful world we live, these people have it sussed. Every corner you turn there are delights – a man walking his donkey, Mariachi bands, men pushing trolleys piled high with local beers, street vendors selling chargrilled corncobs, Frida Kahlo printed on
t-shirts and bags, churches, markets, cantinas, plazas with outdoor restaurants, and the best bakery ever.
I will forever remember our walks up San Miguel Hill. At the top of this hill is a 28-meter tall statue of independence hero El Pipila, and the most mesmerizing jigsaw puzzle like view over the historical centre. If you find walking difficult there is a funicular to take you up, but we enjoyed making it our daily or twice daily exercise - at sunrise and sunset - enjoying the many fine examples of neo classical and baroque style colonial architecture on the way. The Teatro Juarez with its beautiful entrance straight from ancient Rome, the Universidad de Guanajuato dating back to 1732. The universities students bring a young vibe to this historic centre and a reminder that you have in fact, not stepped back in time. Guanajuato also has an impressive range of museums – Museo Casa Diego Rivera, Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato and probably the most famous - Museo de las Momias.
You could believe you are in Italy, Greece or Spain - Guanajuato resembles all those places to me, but as we sat in Plaza de Paz, watching the full moon rise over the hill, drinking a margarita with a bowl of guacamole, followed by the most delicious authentic tacos, we knew it was Mexico - 1/2 the distance, 1/2 the price & 1/4 the tourists!! – and we loved it.
Enjoying the Gastro, Arty & Scenic Delights of New Plymouth
Having the option to fly to any destination in New Zealand for a birthday weekend away with my husband, the indecisive Libran woman I am could not have been happier with her final choice - New Plymouth.
New Plymouth is the major city of the Taranaki Region, on the West Coast of the North Island. It is named after Plymouth, in Devon, England and where the first English settlers migrated to in New Zealand. My own ancestors sailed the long voyage on the William Bryan, leaving Plymouth on the 19th November 1840 and finally arriving in New Plymouth on March 30 1841. Having visited New Plymouth as a child, to see where my great, great grandparents originated from, and then 10 years ago with my own children - I was delighted to see changes and how far this city has come.
The three most important things to me besides my family are coastal scenery, food & art - I certainly hit the jackpot with this visit to New Plymouth. The most noticeable change has to be the food & art scene. New Plymouth has become a gastro & artists delight - watch out Wellington!!!
Arriving too early to check in to our lovely airbnb accommodation - Autere St Cottage, meant we had time to find a cafe for breakfast. We were not disappointed with our first cafe of choice - The Federal Store - great food & coffee and in a very cool environment.
Much to my pleasure the rest of our time away followed suit as we indulged in a gastronomic weekend - discovering New Plymouth's abundance of great cafes, bars and restaurants. Our weekend took us to dinner at the quirky and amazing Social Kitchen, brunches - at Monica's and Chaos, a casual dinner at a Southern Indian Restaurant called Kathakali, and great coffees at Ozone Coffee Roasters, pre dinner drinks at Frederics Bar - I recommend them all.
One thing that will never change and another reason I chose New Plymouth is it's spectacular coastal & mountain scenery. Mt Taranaki/Egmont on a clear day delights you by appearing majestically above the sky and can be viewed from various vantage points in and outside of the city. Being disappointed on my birthday visit that the mountain was covered in cloud, I was delighted to be presented with the perfect quintessential view of the mountain just before our departure. New Plymouth is a surfers paradise and has long stretches of stoney, rugged but never the less beautiful beaches and the 10 km Coastal Walkway has to be the most enjoyable way of exploring them.
The new Len Lye Centre was another drawcard for choosing New Plymouth so on our second morning after enjoying brunch next door at Monica's, we took in the amazing visuals of the Govett-Brewster/Len Lye Centre's architectural structure from the outside and then inside to enjoy Len Lye's kinetic art and film. One of my highlights was seeing Len Lye's Eiki projector which he would have purchased from my late grandfather who was the importer of these reputable machines.
New Plymouth is home to many talented artists of different mediums but the art that stood out for me and was the amazing street art - not surprising as New Plymouth was originally home to the infamous BMD duo. Their bright and quirky works can be found down alleyways and more noticeable parts of the city.
Another recent addition is the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. This amazing white bridge built in 2010 is reminiscent to a breaking wave or a whales skeleton and is 83m long, giving walking or cycling access across the Waiwhakaiho River. On a clear day you can get one of the best views of Mt Taranaki/Egmont through the structure of the bridge - unfortunately this wasn't to be on the day we visited but still a very impressive structure to view.
No visit to New Plymouth is complete without a visit to Pukekura Park with it's array of native and exotic plants, pretty lakes, red bridge and home of WOMAD. Other places of interest we enjoyed on our weekend away were the Puke Ariki Museum, Oakura Beach, popular with the surfies, Waitara Beach where we watched people fishing for whitebait and looked in disbelief at how much driftwood had been washed up on this wild beach. Further down the coast we sat on a beach straight from a Michael Smither painting - New Plymouth you've done my ancestors proud.
Having been spoilt with two brief overseas trips this year - a weekend in Sydney to visit and celebrate my brothers 60th birthday and 5 nights in Brisbane tagging along on my husbands work trip, I wasn't anticipating another trip for quite some time. However when my husband said he had leave owing and suggested a wee trip down South I jumped at the chance. Travelling within New Zealand has it's advantages – short flights or driving distances, it’s adventurous, it’s a gastro and scenic delight and most importantly it’s a reminder of just how fortunate I am to be living in this diverse and glorious paradise - New Zealand. Our choice of destination – Coastal Otago and the Catlins. The month was end of June so we were told to be prepared for cold weather and that it always rains in the Catlins – not so for this lucky travelling duo!! Not sure if it’s our positive attitude to weather conditions, but I can honestly say we never strike bad weather on holiday and we’ve done a fair bit of travel at unseasonal times of the year. However, we did arrive in Dunedin to a very cold start to the day – I just had to snapchat my daughter who had spent a year in Canada to say, it’s like arriving in Winnipeg (Winterpeg as commonly known). After picking up our rental car we had a brief coffee stop and drive through Dunedin. Being a true Wellingtonian it has become a mission to find cafés that make coffee as good as Wellington – generally when we do find a great café it is with great joy to discover they use a local Wellington brew - a cafe called The Good Oil on George St in Dunedin did not disappoint us!! We had a brief detour up Baldwin Street (the world’s steepest residential street) before heading North to our first overnight destination – Oamaru.
Downtown Dunedin with it's contrast of new & old architecture and the Infamous Baldwin Street in Dunedin.
Having the luxury of being on a real holiday and no urgent time restraints, we decided to drive the scenic coastal route. This proved a great decision - spectacular coastal scenery and hardly another car to be seen. By this time the winter sun had come out and we were treated with beautiful blue skies, endless sandy beaches and stunning coastal views.
Stunning Coastal Views
Karitane Beach, Otago
We arrived in Oamaru mid afternoon, stopping at various beaches and a quick pre viewing of Moeraki Boulders, which was to be our second overnight destination. My initial impression, driving down the main street of Oamaru, was it had some nice old buildings, but was nothing special. First impressions are often wrong, and after an afternoon, evening and morning in this historical town, I was sold. It’s a town itching to become a very special tourist haven and for this reason
I left excited and with very high hopes for this town. Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is like nothing else I have seen in towns around New Zealand – it’s full of charming 19th Century Architecture that takes you back to another place and time, and yet pockets of 21st century eating establishments & shops are popping up, turning it into a very desirable and trendy destination, set amongst spectacular scenery and penguin and seal viewing. Whether we just lucked it with our eating choices – eating fresh bluecod at the Criterion Hotel, delicious woodfired pizzas amongst the beer tanks at Scotts Brewing Co and a fabulous breakfast and coffee at Tees Street Café, we left very impressed with what Oamaru had on offer.
We found some great eating establishments in Oamaru and enjoyed a trip to Whitestone Cheese Factory Shop.
Surreal views of historical Oamaru from the lookout.
A visit to the Steampunk Headquarters is a must when visiting Oamaru
After leaving Oamaru we travelled 37km south to Moeraki. The Moeraki boulders have been on my wish list for many years now. As an artist whose subject matter predominately consists of rocks or stones. it was with great excitement we arrived at Koekohe Beach to view these amazing boulders. Again, on first viewing I was a little underwhelmed, but as I walked closer to these amazing spherical stones I was in photographic heaven and the mind boggled at how they possibly got there and just how many angles and aspects these mystical stones had been photographed and would be by me.
The many faces of Moeraki Boulders
After what seemed like a few hundred photos & poses we headed to our accommodation at Moeraki - Moeraki Beach Motels. Moeraki is a small but very pretty fishing village and home to the renowned restaurant, Fleur’s Place. Not wanting to miss out on this famous restaurant, we prebooked before leaving home. The plan was to have dinner at Fleur’s Place and lunch at the local tavern. Unfortunately the tavern was closed on a Wednesday so we just had to make two visits to Fleur’s Place instead!! Fortunately we were not disappointed and opted for a delicious platter at lunch time and beautiful fresh blue cod for dinner.
Charm, Character & Delicious Food at Fleur's Place
You could be forgiven if you miss the signpost to the lighthouse and penguin viewing at Moeraki. The sign post is not the most obvious but fortunately I asked the waitress at Fleur's Place and we found our way. Penguin viewing is best just before sunset - this is when the penguins start to come out of the sea to seek shelter for the night. We arrived at the lighthouse at around 4.40pm and found a path that took us down to a viewing shelter where you can watch the penguins. We managed to see two penguins already in from the sea sitting high up on a distant hill and then we were surprised by two more penguins tucked away in the bush just behind the viewing shelter (unfortunately too tucked in to manage a photo). We also got to see some lazy seals lying on the rocks below the shelter and a lovely sunset. Apart from one other couple we were the only ones there, making it seem like a very isolated and special place to be.
The lighthouse at Moeraki is worth a visit and also where you can view seals and penguins.
After two glorious winter days, we woke up on day 3 to a fairly grey & cloudy day. As this was our biggest travelling day (approx 180km to our destination) we weren't that worried and it definitely didn't spoil our views whilst travelling through the lovely countryside to Kaka Point. A bit of backtracking on this journey as we had to go through Dunedin again - where we originally started our journey. Again we only passed through the city but made one stop. The couple we had met at the lighthouse the evening before had told us if there is one place you must go in Dunedin then it is Tunnel beach. Having never heard of this beach we were eager to see what was so spectacular about it - we were not disappointed!! We also made a few stops on the way for provisions - New World in Balclutha and an honesty box selling fruit, vegetables and preserves somewhere in the middle of nowhere!! - so pleased this system still operates in rural New Zealand. We arrived late afternoon at Kaka Point. Kaka Point is at the beginning of the Catlins and where we based ourselves for 3 lovely nights.
Spectacular & rugged scenery of Tunnel Beach, Dunedin
Bookabach or airbnb has always been our preference for finding accommodation when travelling and more often than not we have been delighted with our choice. Sea Greene Beach Cottage our choice in Kaka Point was just lovely. A beautiful old cottage lovingly decorated with old family memorabilia and owned by - like myself an artist.
Our lovely, homely accommodation - Sea Greene Beach Cottage
After unpacking and a quick look around the cottage, we ventured out on a walk to see how close we were to the amenities. In Kaka Point there is an endless stretch of beach, one dairy and a tavern - what else do you need!! So at 5 o'clock we ventured out again to christen the local tavern - The Point Cafe & Bar. We read that it had recently changed hands and been done up so things were looking promising. We were thrilled to walk in and find a large roaring open fire - unfortunately the locals were too and always seemed to hog the spot by the fire. The clientele, as I expected of a rural pub - mainly men and looked like they'd come straight off the farm - therefore us city slickers stood out like a sore thumb!! The Point Cafe & Bar didn't disappoint us and became our local for the next 3 nights - a great place for a few drinks, dinner, pool challenges and an All Black rugby test!!
The Local Tavern at Kaka Point - The Point Cafe and Bar
The next morning - day 4, we woke to a crisp but lovely blue sky day. With only 3 days in the Catlins region and so much to see we decided to do as much sightseeing and driving as possible as there was no guarantee of getting another day like this.
So after cooking ourselves a hearty breakfast (incase there was nowhere to stop for food during our day outing) we headed of in the car with our map of the Catlins region. First stop was 23km away at Owaka - pronounced O- wha - ka by the locals. Owaka was actually bigger than I envisaged and quite a few eating establishments for a small town and is home to the infamous Teapot Land - a garden with more than 1000 teapots!! Eyeing up a cafe we decided to stop and test the coffee - unfortunately like most small town cafes they just don't know how to make coffee - way too hot and milky!!! Not to worry it was the sights we were really after so we then drove South to Purakaunui Falls. A 10 minute walk from the entrance gets you right up close to these cascading, multi tired falls and well worth the visit. Next stop was the Florence Hill Lookout with awesome views over the long stretches of beach and hills. The next planned stop was Cathedral Caves but unfortunately this was closed - never mind we still had many more locations to visit. McLean Falls was our next choice of call and again extremely picturesque falls - the tallest in the Catlins region.
The picturesque Purakaunui Falls
Florence Hil Lookout
McLean Falls - Tallest falls in the Catlins region.
What really struck us about travelling in the Catlins was the diversity of the scenery - beautiful bushwalks, a lake and then these amazing stretches of the most beautiful beaches. If you just stuck to the main road through the Catlin's you may be forgiven for thinking it is nothing special so I really advise you to pick up a map and look carefully for the turn offs to all the amazing places the Catlins has to offer.
The dramatic & beautiful coastline of the Catlins
We also enjoyed stops at Curio Bay, which is best known for its fossil forest, one of the best preserved Jurassic fossil forests in the world and the small but reflective Lake Wilkie before heading back to Kaka Point just in time for sunset and a drive to Nugget Point Lighthouse. It is 9.2km from Kaka Point to the Nugget Point lighthouse, one of New Zealand's most spectacular old lighthouses, built in 1869. From the carpark is a short walk up to the lighthouse and the most spectacular and dramatic views. This lighthouse would have to be my favourite - looks like something out of a fairytale perched on a pointy shaped hill.
Nugget Point & Lighthouse
Having left it too late in the day to stop at Roaring Bay for penguin viewing, which is a short distance before the lighthouse, we promised to make a return visit the following evening and headed back to our lovely cottage. Although hard to leave the cottages cosy fire we ventured out again to The Point Tavern for a night of dinner and rugby.
Day 5, we woke to another lovely morning and so after breakfast we ventured out for a walk along Kaka Point beach. Kaka Point is a lovely long, golden sandy beach - not unlike many of the other beaches in the Catlins but the beauty of Kaka Point is that it is more established and set up with places to stay and the bonus of a great nearby tavern. It feels like a seaside holiday destination - opposed to some of the remoter beaches in the Catlins. Having explored the Catlins we felt confident we had made the best choice of location to stay and use as our base.
We enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the long stretch of beach and my biggest joy was discovering natural artworks in the sand where the tide went out. I am always amazed by nature but these amazing artworks really have me baffled.
Natural patterns in the sand found along Kaka Point beach - natures artworks.
A walk along Kaka Point beach
After our walk along Kaka Point beach we decided to go driving and exploring some more of the sights. Heading South again and past Owaka we found the turning to Cannibal Bay - fortunately no cannibals but the long drive down to this beach and the remoteness of it left me a little uneasy, but once I ignored the airy feeling the name had conjured up we explored and thoroughly enjoyed. Next planned stop was Jack's blowhole - unfortunately they were doing maintenance on the bridge that took you to Jack's Bay and although we tried to find an alternative route - we never managed. So instead we took another turning along that same road and discovered the picturesque Surat Bay.
The remote but beautiful Cannibal Bay
Surat Bay - named after the sailing vessel Surat, wrecked in 1874.
Having spent the morning exploring we decided to drive back to our cottage and enjoy some relaxing downtime - after all we were on holiday. I really don't do relaxing that well - but after 5 enjoyable days of being active, lots of walking and sightseeing it seemed ok to spend an afternoon reading a book by the fire. Just before sunset though we ventured out again for our promised visit to Roaring Bay to view the penguins. We were rewarded with sightings of nine yellow eyed penguins and got to see these very cute flightless birds swimming in the sea, waddling from the sea and up the rocky beach to the bushy hillside for shelter. This made a very exciting ending to our five night holiday and a feeling of satisfaction that you can see and do so much during a short breakaway and what I would describe as an idyllic holiday.
Roaring Bay & Penguin Viewing
Sadly, the next morning we packed our bags, jumped in the car and made our way to Invercargill to catch our flight back to Wellington.