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Posts from the ‘New Year Roadie ’12’ Category

New Year Trip: 11~From White to Welly

Back on the boat after the tour Mike and I grabbed the same seats outside as there was still plenty to see. Loads of seabirds for a start.

Gannet? Gull?

The boat puttered away from its anchorage, the skipper giving us a closer look at and some commentary about the island’s coastline and habitat.

On the far hill are trees burned by the volcanic climate; the near hill has a colony of gannets

More gannets. Can anyone else see the face-like thing going on in this photo or is it just me?

Then we headed west back toward Whakatane. No dolphins this time.

Settling in for another 80 minute boat ride

Seabirds behind the boat

One last look back to Whale Island.

Near the Whakatane River mouth you can't help but notice that part of the cliff has slipped in a big way. One of the crew I think commented that it happened about 18 months before in another big rain. Most interesting though: the ex-mayor lives in the house directly beneath and he refuses to leave.

Back on land we checked into our new room, the result of a bit of a muck-up earlier in the day. We did very well out of it as the half-villa was much nicer than our bog standard (though still perfectly adequate) motel room. I eyed up the bath – it and I would be getting better acquainted later on…

First though it was tea time. We walked across the road to order fish and chips from a very popular place on the wharf and then drove down to the end of the road, near the river mouth. Fish ‘n’ chips is best consumed at the beach, or at least with view of the water. It was a bit windy and cool out so we stayed in the car. To the dismay of the locals.

Lurking seagulls but they scored no tidbits from us

Unfortunately the next day was the last of our holiday :(. Car packed and TomTom programmed, we headed for home. The first part of the route included roads I’m not sure I’d ever been on and where other traffic was seldom encountered. Galatea Road extended some distance and revealed a couple of interesting highlights.

Shot past this old garage (<something> Motors on the sign) and did a u-turn so that I could take a couple of quick snaps

Another finding on Galatea Road, the Matahina Dam in the process of spilling water down river. Not massive by hydro power station standards, it is the second largest earth dam in NZ. It was damaged in the 1987 Edgecumbe earthquake and subsequently strengthened.

As if I wasn’t already aware that the holiday was screaming to a halt, with my workplace also being in the electricity industry this stop was another reminder that I’d be back in the office the next day.

Later we diverted to Taupo for lunch – along with half the North Island it seemed. Ugh. And then it was State Highway 1 all the way home.

Home! Work. Sigh.

But what a great week away. Time now to start getting sorted for the big trip in May!

New Year Trip: 10~Walking in a volcano

Here is a great aerial photo of White Island thanks to the Civil Defence website.

Landing at White Island with a boat load of people isn’t straight forward. There are two possible places, one is more preferable than the other, but it’s still a bit dodgy. There used to be a jetty but that has long gone.

Before we left the boat we were all issued with hard hats and gas masks. Hats to be worn straight away, masks around our necks to be used when required. Looking like an assortment of Bob the Builders we were ready!

The boat stopped about 50m off shore. A zodiac, which was detached from the back of the boat, transferred us in several group lots to a place near the jetty remains. It was a bit of a step and scramble off but then we were free to start walking and gawking at this strange place.

We had been split into two groups so we went to our respective meeting points.

Each group had two guides. We were given a short speech on the main risks to our safety and what to do should say an eruption or lahar occur. They also said we would not be told when to wear our masks – it was down to the individual when they started to become affected by the acidic fumes.

Then we were off! The circuit was roughly an hour and we’d be making about 10 stops along the way.

Off we go. Troup Head is the high point behind and the anchored PeeJay boat just sneaks into the frame.

After a time we started to feel the fumes – a tickle in the throat which made you cough – and suddenly everyone was fiddling with elastic bands to secure the breathing mask in place.

Hayley and Mike, wearing the latest in hard hat and gas mask fashion. They made a world of difference - it would have been very hard to complete the tour without one.

Sulphur deposits. The yellow was an amazing burst of colour in landscape of grey, white and brown.

Sulphur mining in a volcano sounds like a risky endeavour but there were four operations over the years trying to do this. The first brief attempt was in the 1880s, followed by another ultimately unsuccessful endeavour two decades later, before the third mining operation starting in 1914. Unfortunately this was to be a tragic year. Two workers died in separate incidents and a few months later, part of the crater rim collapsed. This caused a lahar which swept pretty much everything out to see and all 10 men perished. There was one survivor: the island’s cat Peter. (He was renamed Peter the Great.)

In 1925 a new factory was built but profitability eluded this operation as well, not helped by the Depression, and it closed in 1933. The tour was to include a stop at the factory remains which I couldn’t wait to see.

We were able to approach the rim of the main internal crater (not the main big crater rim, the tour did not take us up there) – sometimes conditions are such that you can’t. There was so much steam though, which kept swirling around, so we didn’t get a clear view inside it.

For a few minutes at one point it rained lightly but I didn’t pay it much heed and the guides didn’t draw attention to it. Later they explained how they used to wear cotton (I think) staff t-shirts which they would start to get holes and generally fall apart because of the acid rain. But now they used a more robust material that lasted much longer.

But but but… huh?… Acid rain?!!…

I guess it’s no wonder really… acidic fumes, steam… but I did wonder why they didn’t mention this earlier. Perhaps because as a one-off, it’s no big deal for your clothes or footwear. And perhaps because it’s not ‘bad acid’. In any case, our clothes from that day are still intact so all is well.

The guide encouraged the keen ones to sample water from these two streams. Not exactly delicious by all accounts.

Being a volcano it is actively monitored by GNS Science. The guides pointed out the places where the various monitoring doodads are located. This includes a couple of webcams. This link has the latest images looking up the crater floor past the old factory toward the main internal crater which constantly steams away. I like this angle best because the scientists placed a teeny model dinosaur next to the lens which appears in every frame :).

Walking toward Shark Bay and Crater Bay. The 1914 lahar swept through here.

An alternative means of seeing the island if you couldn’t be bothered with the boat journey is by helicopter. Popular too, judging by the three or four that came and went during our visit. Perhaps a tad more expensive though!

Last stop of the tour was the factory. Cool!

The sulphur factory, abandoned in 1933 and left to the elements.

The cladding has all but gone leaving the concrete exposed

Wooden beams that may have been used in the roof - hence they're a little redundant now

In such a harsh climate and environment some of the wooden beams and frames still prevail

Mike behind a rusted iron thingy

Wish we'd had more time to fossick through and photograph the factory - I love a good ruin

All too soon we had to reboard the zodiac and transfer back to the boat. I loved the tour, it was a fantastic opportunity to venture through an active volcanic environment which I found really interesting, especially with the island’s history. It’s something I’ll do again one day.

On the return journey, while munching through the provided lunch packs, we had a closer look at some of the island’s coastline but I’ll pick that up in the next and final post of this series.

New Year Trip: 9~Dolphin delight on the way to White

(Surely a contender for cheesiest title!)

A new day dawned and we were relieved to hear that the tours were running. During peak season they run three per day and we were on the last tour, leaving around midday. The peak season for White Island Tours is only a couple of weeks long, coinciding with the main holiday period, and they must have been gutted to lose several days because of the storm. We went down to check on the river at the time the day’s middle tour was heading out.

The largest of the PeeJay boats negotiating the standard reverse turn before heading down the river and out to sea

Now to kill some time before our turn...

What’s the big deal with visiting White Island? It’s a volcano! More precisely, it’s the summit of a submarine volcano, maybe 2,000 centuries old and with over half its height submerged. New Zealand’s most active volcano, it normally ‘rests’ at alert level one. Things got a bit more exciting in 2000 when it rose to level two and did in fact erupt.

But mid-morning plans were suddenly thrown into disarray. Back at the motel I was contacted by reception, asking if we were still checking out. Huh??? No I said, we organised yesterday to rebook on a tour today and to keep our room for another night. She hung up to investigate. It wasn’t sounding good so I went along in person. Amazingly we were neither booked onto a tour, nor booked into the motel that night. Argh!

Luckily there was still room on the midday tour. Phew. Our room wasn’t available but there was one room left – a villa next door – and they agreed we could have that at the same rate. Disaster averted! After what was a bit of a cock up they really made amends.

Having to pack up made the rest of the time fly and it was soon time to check in and board. We were joined by about 30 other tour-goers, mostly foreign I think, and half a dozen staff. The boat manoeuvred away and headed down the river. It was great getting a perspective from the water.

Boats moored along Whakatane River

On a rock at the mouth of the Whakatane River is a statue of Wairaka

The story of Wairaka is from the 12th century. She saw a waka drifting out to sea shortly after her family landed from Polynesia during the Great Migration. Although women were not supposed to handle waka, she shouted “Kia whakatane au I ahau” (“I will be bold and act as a man") and paddled it back to shore. And that is how Whakatane got its name.

White Island is 49km away which takes about 80 minutes to reach by water. We settled in for the ride.

The very clear separation between deep sea water and the mud-tainted water caused by the floods

My er windswept look

This is probably about as windswept as Mike gets

While overcast, it wasn't raining or particularly cold so we enjoyed the fresh air and views from the back of PeeJay IV

At one point Whale Island was neatly positioned in front of Mt Edgecumbe back on the mainland

Whale Island, named partly for its silhouette likeness to you-can-guess-what, is a wildlife sanctuary. Tours there offer sightings of dolphins, whales, penguins, seals, seabirds, as well as diving and snorkelling. May have to come back for a closer look one day.

Back to the tour at hand, the captain had mentioned that it might be possible to come across either whales or dolphins. I forgot about this until there was a flurry of excitement and it was announced that we’d come across a pod of dolphins (or, they’d come across us). Already being outside gave us an advantage to those inside, and we scurried to the front of the boat. From there we had a fantastic view of these amazing creatures.

After a few minutes we parted company. It was an unexpected bonus, and a privilege, to have seen them.

White Island wasn’t far away.

Some wee island rock things just to the left (north I guess) of White Island

Not too far away now

New Year Trip: 8~Killing time in Wakkatain

There was a tv ad on a while ago which featured an ‘Australian’ pronouncing Whakatane as ‘Wakkatain’. (For non-Kiwis reading this, it is in fact closer to Fha ka tah nay.) Mike and I often now refer to it by this nickname, just coz it’s a bit funny.

We woke earlyish with the expectation of readying for the tour. The forecast was OK, the only question was around the state of the river.

Which wasn’t good as it turned out – they called us to say that tours had been cancelled. Rats.

But, would we like to rebook for the following day?

We hummed and hawed for a few minutes. The plan had been to drive home then in time for me to be back at work. But, work wasn’t hellish busy and I could probably wangle another day of leave. It was more important to stay for the opportunity of the tour. I called back to book us in and extend the motel stay by another night.

So what to do with our spare day? It was going to be hot and sunny and there were parts of the Whakatane area we hadn’t seen much of. We decided to do a bit of good old sightseeing.

First, on foot, in an upwardly direction…

Steps along the trail up to the lookout. The artwork on the edges is a vertical progression and at the right angle appears as one scene. Pretty clever

A green-filled gully

View from the lookout across part of Whakatane to Whale Island

Looking north - a good vantage spot for the flooded bits

South toward the river mouth

…and back at sea level…

The Commercial Hotel in art deco style

One of the hillsides above town was strikingly covered in agapanthas

We found a couple of murals tucked down alley ways

A building across from the motel

For the rest we jumped into the car.

Popular Ohope Beach, just south of Whakatane

The beach, normally quite pristine, was awash with drift wood and other flood debris

Ohiwa Harbour from the domain at the end of the peninsula, past Port Ohope

Whale Island as seen from Coastlands beach, just north of the Whakatane River

In the distance, White Island vents away. Hopefully we would get there tomorrow!

From Coastlands looking south

Heavy and prolonged rain resulted in the brown tinted water off-shore

Near the Whakatane River mouth

During the day we checked on the river a couple of times. Each time the water level had lowered quite a bit, and the flow rate seemed to reduce. It was looking promising for tomorrow. Hopefully we would finally be going to White Island!

New Year Trip: 7~A 50-year flood

New Years Day started tentatively – but blessedly there was no headache to greet me. A fortunate thing, as it was time to move on again. We packed up and farewelled our hosts. As usual it had been a great visit and I’d be seeing them again in February thanks to a plan hatched the night before.

First order of business was coffee and food. We went back to where we found coffee yesterday and joy of joys, it was open.

That taken care of, the TomTom was set for Whakatane.

The drive started off well. It was a fine day with not too much traffic. Heading over the Bombay Hills I got stuck behind a car in the fast lane going a few k’s slower than ideal. Eventually they pulled into the left hand lane and, with my turn off coming up, I decided to put my foot down a little to jump ahead of the queue rather than follow and continue behind my slow friend. Then rounding a bend I saw with mild horror a police car off to the side. Uttering a stream of curses, I instantly backed off and braked feeling sure my time was up after a number of close calls in recent years. With frequent glances in the rear view mirror I was surprised there was no immediate pursuit. Could I be so lucky???


By the time I got to the turn off the police car was underway, lights a-twinkling. Resigned to my fate, I soon came upon a side road which I pulled into and waited, license in hand. The officer was reasonable and I inwardly gave thanks to the wee time delay before his radar locked on, which resulted in a lower reading and ultimately lessened my fine.

We continued on, perhaps a touch more conservatively than before. Travelling through patches of the heavy rain that had been causing havoc in a few areas, we reached the Bay of Plenty from where we’d continue down the east coast. A random stop was made at a beach access spot along the stretch of road where it hugs the coastline.

Nice stretch of east coast beach, apart from the blue bottles

Whakatane wasn’t far off by this stage. It had stopped raining and had the appearance of a not-too-bad sort of day. But in previous days the area had been dumped on by massive amounts of rain and in some places, flooding and other issues had cut people off and caused roads to be closed.

As we entered the town we came upon huge queues of cars trying to head the opposite way. Thousands of people who had attended the annual New Year music festival over in Gisborne had unfortunately timed their journey home with road closures and it was chaos. But not for us, and we zipped past them as per TomTom’s instructions and found our motel.

The main township is located beside the Whakatane River, near where it opens out into the sea. We noticed the river looked high, really high, and along the riverbank could see where some walkways had been submerged. Near our motel a couple of roads had been blocked off. We checked in then headed out on foot to see what the situation was.

The flood had peaked by this stage and was starting to drop back. It was clear the river had risen above its banks in places and flooded some of the town. Later on when the measurements were in, it rated as a little larger than a one-in-50-year flood. The problem being that this kind of flood happens more frequently than that label suggests.

Mike in a big puddle

My main concern was for the following day. Our reason for stopping off in Whakatane was to do a tour to the volcanic White Island. Although the rain had stopped, water was still flowing into and inundating the river, and bringing with it it huge amounts of debris. The tour boats leave from the river and the trees and logs were a real hazard and so no tours had run for the previous couple of days.

The tour boats went nowhere today - would they tomorrow?

Half a day or so before, doubt we would've been standing here

The saying 'weather for ducks' springs to mind

Just along from our motel the road was flooded

While it was really interesting to see the flood, our tour the next day, which I’d been looking forward to for months, was in doubt. We would find out in the morning.

New Year Trip: 6~Happy new year!

(Alternative heading: Will we make it to midnight?)

The last day of the year began very lazily. Eventually we kicked into gear and decided we better get a wriggle on ahead of more friends coming around later on. Mike 2 took Mike 1 (hereafter known as M2 and M1) and I on a bit of a tour. First, some unfinished business from a couple of years ago.

A very well known TV series called Outrageous Fortune was based nearby and some time back we had tried to find the iconic ‘westie’ house but couldn’t. Our hosts had since become better informed and turns out the house is ridiculously easy to find when you know how.

World famous in New Zealand, this house

M2 then took us for a tiki tour around the neighbourhood, mainly for the benefit of M1 who hadn’t seen much of it. The swanky waterside mansions are offset to some extent by pockets of low incoming housing and there are plenty of recreational reserve areas so that the waterfront can be enjoyed by all. This perhaps wasn’t such a priority today off the back of some dreary weather. How it would stack up for the rest of the day was anyone’s guess.

The weather was hardly stellar but at least the rain had stopped. View from the end of the peninsula over to Auckland city and the harbour bridge

Before we could go back to the house we had to find coffee. Had to. It took about five attempts but we eventually found somewhere that was open. The caffeine addicts among us breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Early afternoon we were joined by Debbie, Barclay and Deb’s children Yasmin and Vincent. Mitch was pretty happy about this.

Mitch loved having the big kids around

Debbie is a friend from high school days. This meant that over the years, a few of us had our milestone birthdays in close proximity to each other. This year it means that the three of us are now approaching our scariest milestone yet. (OK, 40, there I said it.) We talked about our plans, which for Kirsten and I are a bit sketchy. But Deb is doing it in style: a holiday in New York. Jealous!

Me, Kirsten, Debbie... soon to be Over The Hill (sigh)

Soon enough it was time to balance the New Years Eve beverages with some food.

Sitting down for some afternoon munchies


The weather had settled and cleared up a bit so we moved outside – while sparing a fleeting thought for those getting drenched at music festivals elsewhere in the North Island.

Well she might kill me for this but I think it's a nice photo

All of us

Meanwhile, Twitchy the Hunter rests

A couple of other visitors dropped by, including this prickly fella who didn’t seem too bothered by the multitude of people and cats.

With children to get to bed, Debbie took her family home leaving me, Kirsten and the Mikes with a couple of hours to kill before midnight. Yawns had started to creep in and our staying power was in doubt! But between conversation, drinks, music, and a bag of Natural Confectionary Company snakes that I remembered was in the car (god I love those), we got there!

M1 and I walked with M2 down the road a bit to get views across the harbour. There was to be a fireworks display from the Sky Tower at midnight which we thought we’d watch. But it was a fizzer – the low cloud had hung around and we couldn’t see a thing. We did see an array of fireworks across the water set off by residents in Waterview and Point Chev which was pretty cool.

But anyway – 2012 had arrived!

A ukulele duel rounded out the night.

Rock on, Mikes... in their defence, it was very late...

New Year Trip: 5~Bye family, hello friends

Later on back in Parakai we walked around to see friends who live not far from mum and dad. I went to primary school with Krissy and she stayed in the area, now married with two children. On the way is this eye-catching place. Pretty sure if I was a pre-schooler I’d want to go here.

The wonderfully colourful local kindergarten

We had tea with mum, dad and gran, though the Indian takeaway in Helensville did the cooking. Mum went through with dad some plans for their upcoming trip to the UK. They’re off in April and I’m joining them early May. More about that later!

Mum explains some details for their trip while dad gives me a suspicious eye and gran goes about her business

The next morning it was time to move on to the next phase of our holiday. We called in to say bye to the family.

Gran lives with mum & dad now so I get to see her more often

Didn’t see much of my brother during our brief stay in Parakai. I left this likeness of him on the kitchen message board.

My brother isn't a crustacean though he may have resembled one because of his sunburn

We travelled to nearby Kaukapakapa, another rural district on the other side of Helensville. My friend Trish lives there and I hadn’t seen her for a few years.

Big Hayley, little Trish

I met her at my first job and back in our single days we used to go out a bit. Fond memories of Georgie Pie pies and ice cream sundaes in the wee small hours! Anyway, fast forward some 20 years and today Trish has two teenage daughters and various animals. I took a shine to one pet in particular…

I could have popped Trish's pet chihuahua in my bag and taken it home

Then it was time to head into Auckland, stopping off in Albany where it seemed that much of the North Shore population was in the Westfield mall. We were destined for an area of West Auckland and in the olden days the north and west parts of the city were not conveniently located so I was expecting a bit of phfaffing around. Well blow me if a new motorway hadn’t gone and popped up and it took next to no time.

And so we briskly arrived at our hosts for the next couple of nights: Kirsten, Mike and one year old Mitchell. I’ve known Kirsten since we were toddlers, growing up in the wop wops of South Head.

Mitch and his mum

And now she has a toddler. Mitch is adorable – Aunty Hayley is a big fan!

Mitch playing with silly Aunty Hayley

New Year Trip: 4~Old schools & a shelly beach

Our walking adventures the day before stopped short of the long detour needed to see my old high school so we did a quick drive by. It’s a much more imposing place these days with a steel fence around the perimeter, a bit of a sign of the times I guess. Mind you, 1985-89 is a very long time ago.

Ahhh, good old Kaipara College

Next we sailed on through Parakai and out to South Head. About half way up the ~35km peninsula is my old primary school. Its 75th jubilee was held there in 2005 and it was good to have a proper look around the place again. Either those playing fields got a lot smaller, or I got a lot bigger. Hmmm.

I can still manage the cross-legged thing, just

I grew up at the end of the peninsula though we didn’t go right out there again this time. We zoomed back toward town, noting the flash vehicles in the golf club carpark, and stopped briefly on the corner of the road where we last lived before I moved into Auckland to go to polytech.

They still have Calf Club day!

Our old bus stop, which dad co-built

The plan for lunch was to stop at the macadamia nut farm café but it was closed. Mike had been looking forward to visiting the shop and especially its bags of chocolate-coated nuts (which you’d think the local town might sell, but apparently not). After that crushing blow we decided to detour down to Shelly Beach.

Shelly Beach is a small community within the general South Head community, being a little seaside settlement about 5km off the main road. It has continued to develop over the years, with new subdivisions and a pretty decent little cafe now. A new concrete wharf helps cater for the boating traffic it gets and also I imagine those who like to chuck out a fishing line. The beach was as I remembered, fairly small and narrow, lots of shells, and flanked one end with mangroves.

The wharf, just across from the cafe. We walked out there and boy, Wellington wind had nothing on the coastal breeze that day

Now that's a classic community noticeboard

The Maori name for Shelly Beach is Te Aukahanga o Aotea (shortened to Aotea) meaning where the Aotea canoe lashings were overhauled. You could almost imagine the area's, er, European settlers... "So, what shall we call this place?".... "Hmmmmm" ..... "Say, aren't there a lot of shells on this beach?" ....

The mighty Kaipara is one of the largest harbours in the world

Taking a wide berth around a couple of, um, interesting local male specimens, we returned to the car and back to Parakai.

New Year Trip: 3~Perfect place to clear cobwebs

The rain had still not arrived the next morning so we went out to ‘the coast’. Locally this is generally taken to mean the top part of Muriwai Beach which extends for about 50kms beyond the Muriwai settlement further south. I love and probably prefer coastal areas when the weather gods are in a bit of a grump, so today was ideal. It looked nice and moody.

We got there via Rimmer Road, just west of Helensville on the way to Auckland, with the last few k’s on forestry roads. There’s often a bit of traffic because of the dedicated 4WD and motocross parks now operating. The beach itself is a road too and you need to keep an eye out for the 4WDs that travel up and down to go fishing.

Even so, it’s usually a quiet place with rarely anyone else in sight. It was great to go out there again, though my car’s wellbeing back in the carpark was gnawing on my conscience so we didn’t stay too long.

Spot the subtle modification 🙂

Probably the most fun way to get down to the beach. Coming back, not so much

Coastal highway. In the background is a couple fishing

Straight ahead: Australia

New Year Trip: 2~Hometowns are funny places

A bad sleep made for a sluggish start. But lucky for Mike (or perhaps lucky for me) I got to the airport before his flight landed. Rain was somewhere in the forecast but not imminent so we detoured to have lunch in Cornwall Park.

There are worse places to have lunch

We scurried back to Parakai as my friend Hannah and her children were visiting for a couple of hours.

And since the rain had still not arrived I took Mike on a walk. Helensville is my hometown, though we lived quite a ways out in the country. It is always ‘interesting’ (a versatile word I find) to be confronted with things and places from my childhood and teens. Anyway, we wandered into Helensville via a couple of walkways along the river.

The Kaipara River, brown as always, with its collection of moored boats

Flowers, or maybe weeds, I am not to know such things

The old Kaipara Dairy Co-Op Factory, possibly the most interesting feature of Helensville. It was to be sold in December

Remains of a wharf

The old railway, rarely used now

The old bank and post office buildings - of course, in this day and age, they are no longer used for their original purpose

The old picture theatre. So many memories! Including: sitting in the aisle to see Star Wars; crying children at Watership Down; a drunk fellow high school pupil power-spewing during the screening of something; walking out of a movie with the family to find someone had crashed into our parked car.

Such walking endeavours deserved a soak in the spa before dinner with mum, dad and gran. Mum passed on a couple of gifts for me from my aunt. As well as a copy of her recently published first fabulous children’s book, there was also a small trinket that laughed in the face of my spider phobia.

The famdamily, minus brother. Dad was happy to be there honest

My finger is there for scale, rather than to demonstrate how brave I am

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