Day 6 – Eastland to the Cormandel

I woke up this morning, and enjoyed the sights from my lodging – I mean, it might be basic, and have the “slippery stairs of death” but – check out these views:

It was a great way to start my morning.

I began my journey to the Cormandel with a little backtracking, because it was dark last night, I missed this church, which is apparently the most photographed church in New Zealand, and I think you can see why – such a gorgeous ocean front location. Also, Penguins nest under the church for protection – there is a pretty fantastic sermon illustration there for someone – Lisa? Elizabeth?

After touring the church, I hit the road – and stopped because these signs caught my eyes.

As you can see – the drive is scenic at every turn – just a beautiful landscape.

I stumbled upon an unexpected stop in the Nukuhou Salt Marsh. Prior to New Zealand I never would have considered myself a birder – but the bird life here is just amazing – and they fascinate me – It was a lovely walk – and peaceful respite from driving.

My next stop was a little bush tramp – and apparently I did not take many pictures – but I took a few at the gate.

It was a peaceful little spot – and you could just wander in the bush and get lose track of time.

After this, I drove through Mount Monganui –  and did get a glimpse of the mountain before carrying on.


The rest of the drive was quite a bit more eventful than I would like, with an incident involving a semi, which caused a bit of a delay while things got situated – but I am quite thankful – no one was hurt, and the other driver was very apologetic – and everything was handled quickly and efficiently so that I could be on my way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit shaken, but I took a few minutes to regroup and then headed on my way to Cooke’s Beach – where I was greeted by some spectacular Air BnB hosts – and their dogs – who thought I was pretty cool, I must say. The highlight was the lovely clawfoot soaker tub – which was a stunning way to unwind after my tense drive and experience.




Day 5 – Rounding the bend around the East Cape

My Air BnB hosts gave me a lovely breakfast, then I set off on my day’s journey – around the scenic and remote East Cape. I had been warned that these roads would be like none I had ever encountered, and man, was that true. There were times that I was literally on the edge of a cliff driving, wondering whose bright idea this trip was – especially when I met logging trucks that seemed too big for the road – or camper vans driven by less than skilled drivers – however, as is always the case, the destination was indeed worth the journey.

I left Gisborne, and then headed out to Tolaga Bay Wharf, which is the home of the longest pier in New Zealand. The 600 meter pier is completely accessible to the public, and I enjoyed my scenic view walking down the pier. It is not barriered at the end – so you really are standing on the edge above the ocean. The pier also has a fascinating story about how they saved it.

After Tolaga Bay, I headed to Anaura Bay – and I encountered my first closed road, due to a slip.

I parked the car, then walked around to get a glimpse of the beautiful, secluded bay, before turning back around to continue my adventure.

My next stop was a little pull off the road to enjoy the rolling Pacific at Tokomaru Bay.

I then ventured to Waipiro and had a little picnic in Ruatoria, both of which were very sleepy towns.

Leaving Ruatoria, I had my first of several livestock encounters for the day, as a flock of sheep escaped – and decided that they wanted to hang out in the street. I had visions of trying to explain why I had a sheep imprints on my rental car as I tried to make it through the mob.

Once safely on my way, I headed the distance to the TikiTiki Church. It is actually St. Mary’s Anglican Church, and is the best example of the meeting of the Maori and European Cultures, in a beautiful space. It is one of the most unique places of worship I have ever been in.

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I ventured down the road a bit to see another church (outside only), and encountered one of the many unique New Zealand road signs.

My next stop was the East Cape – home of the East Cape lighthouse, and the furthest east point on the North Island. Due to rains, the road was more treacherous than usual, and was quite slow going. I passed through cow fields – where cows literally were grazing on the beach, and I finally reached my destination – the walkway to the lighthouse, where they certainly want you to know the access isn’t easy.

As I started the journey, I realized that I was going to be racing the sun – but I didn’t come all this way to just spy the lighthouse from the bottom, so I continued my journey – folks coming down warned me that some of the steps were slippery – and man were they right – also, someone had a sense of humor, and engraved odd numbers on the steps to trick you, so a couple of ladies and I had a laugh about that!

What was interesting is that some of the “steps” you actually had to climb – well if you are short like me, that is – because the steps were higher than my knee!

But, I kept keeping on the journey – enjoying the views, and minding the setting sun.

Once I was at the top, I was rewarded with some stunning views – it was worth every step, slip and climb.

I stayed up there as long as I could, but realized that back in the bush it was going to be awful dark, so I headed back down, and it was quite treacherous going down, as I hadn’t thought to grab my head lamp from the car, and was navigating using the light on my phone, but I made it down, and to my car before I lost all light.

I then journeyed back out the East Cape road, very slowly after dark – and continued my livestock encounters.

Those cows that had been on the beach? All decided to be on the road – and they were stubborn. . .but eventually they cleared the road as did the seals, random pests (possums and rabbits) and birds, and I made it to my lodging for the night without hitting anything. The “resort” I was booked in was the closest lodging to the sea I have ever seen – and continuing the slippery wood theme of today, the stairs to check-in were steep – and I have a nice skinned knee to prove it, but when you see my view in the morning, I think you will agree it is worth a little skinned knee and a bruise or two (and the quirky owner – who wanted to charge me for a blanket – thankfully I had a sleeping bag in the car!).

Day 4 – Napier to Gisborne

I started my morning at the hotel with the fun task of laundry. I should have checked out the dryer before I began – because my one load took FOREVER, but that was my own fault – because I really should have done it last night after the wine tour – oh well – you do have to have some clean clothes – right?

Once my laundry was dry enough that I felt comfortable laying the not dry pieces across the back seat of my car (although I did have some suggest that I should rig up a clothes line to dry them outside the car as I drove), I set off on my road trip – today’s journey was only supposed to be about 3 hours, but as usual I had a few side trips planned.

Once I left the beauty of the black sand beaches of Napier, Waipatiki called my name, well off the beaten path, but it was worth the beautiful beach and birds I encountered on my way.

I loved that I had the beach to myself – well minus the pesky sand flies, who just seem to love me (that feeling is not mutual, mind you).

My next stop was Lake Tutira, where I had a nice little walk and some great views – and more birds.

Mohaka was an overlook with beautiful vistas.

The town of Wairoa has a lighthouse in town center, and seeing as this road trip is getting quite the light house theme, I made a quick stop to check out the lighthouse at the riverfront park, and stopped at the overlook over Wairoa just to see the views.

From here, I had two options, the straight shot up to Gisborne, or the long detour to what I heard was a beautiful peninsula, Mahia. Of course, I took the detour. Nuhaka was my first sign that I made the right choice, as there was this stunning view at a couple of roadside overlooks, and at the second stop I could see the Mahia Peninsula across the bay.

Mahia was beautiful, and I made two stops on the peninsula, one stop on the far end (on the Pacific side), where I loved the contrast of the tidal areas.

Mahia Beach, which looks back over Hawke Bay, gave me a show of sunset colors, a beautiful way to end my day.

These rugged coast lines are always going to be a favorite of mine, I think.

I then made my way to my hosts for the night, a lovely Ex-Pat couple who live outside of Gisborne.

Road Trip – Days 2 and 3 – Hawkes Bay

I woke up early in Dannevirke, and hit the road to head towards Napier.

My first, rather long detour (quite appropriately, actually) was to the longest place name in the world, a hill called Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu. The locals call it Taumata, as you can imagine that spitting out that whole name would take quite a while.

It is roughly translated as the The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his  puterino (flute) to his loved one, a brother who passed away. If you zoom in on the picture you can read the story there.

After this, I continued on my journey through the lovely and scenic Hawkes Bay – passing through lots of farm land and wine country.

I made a few stops to admire the landscape, then checked into my hotel in Napier – which was quite lovely.

One stop was just to capture this crazy hedge:


Once I was settled in at my hotel and ready to explore, I headed to the Bluff Hill Lookout, which promised views and a lookout over the port. The wind was fierce, and there was a bit of rain, but I did manage to get a few pictures and not blow away. On a prettier day,  I could have watched the works at the port for hours, I think.

I left the lookout, and descended down into the town of Napier, an Art Deco style town, due to an earthquake that decimated the town in the 30’s.

I decided that I would stroll along the boardwalk, and just see what I could discover, as there were gardens and other features along the way.

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Once I had had enough of the cold, wind and rain, I grabbed dinner and headed back to the hotel.

The next day was my Hawkes Bay wine tour. I was picked up early in the morning, and had the tour guide to myself for the entire morning.

We started by heading up to Te Mata peak – which gave lovely views of the Hawkes Bay region – in between the foggy cloud cover – unfortunately, most of my pictures are after the fog rolled back in. The hang glider launch points made me laugh, and terrified me at the same time. I will do lots of things – but I am pretty certain I AM NOT that brave!

After that we headed to our first winery, Black Barn – which had a phenomenal Riesling – I am trying to save it to bring home. . . We will see. . .

I love the scenery of wineries!

The next stop was my favorite winery of the day I think – but that maybe because the lady running the tasting thought I was “charming” – it is totally the southern accent y’all – and gave me extra to taste – which panned out, because I made sure to find out howto buy their wine back in the states, and got a little bit of wine to take with me as well.

After this, I got to go to the Arataki Honey company store, which had tasters of different types of honey, as well as cool displays on the process for getting honey in New Zealand – the science teacher in me enjoyed it very much! Also, I had no idea there were so many unique honey flavors! Wow!


After the honey store, it was time for lunch, at a winery – y’all – they know how to do a yummy spread at the NZ wineries.

After lunch we picked up some others to join the tour, all Brits here for the Lions Rugby tour. They were a fun bunch, and it was nice to chat, compare travel notes and laugh along with them as we tasted wines the rest of the afternoon.

Around 5:00 I was dropped off at my hotel, and obviously wasn’t driving anywhere, so I ordered a pizza and relaxed for the rest of the evening in my hotel room (and watched Survivor NZ).

North Island Road Trip Day 1 – Wellington – Dannevirke

Friday morning I started with a farewell morning tea with the staff at Fulbright New Zealand, then went to pick up my rental car for my adventure. After navigating through some fun Wellington traffic (people were arriving in town for the Lions/All Blacks Rugby match tomorrow), I found a parking spot RELATIVELY close to my flat, and made several trips to get all my stuff loaded in the car, then I set off on my trip.

Leg one was a short journey – but I had planned a side trip to Castlepoint, which did add some time to the trip.

Here is the map of the journey:

Once out of Wellington, I wound my way through the Rimutakas, stopping for a few scenic points.


I had debated about whether or not I really had time to make it to Castlepoint before dark, but decided to go on, and I am SO very thankful I did – it was worth every minute.

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I left Castlepoint as the sun was setting, and made the rest of my journey in the dark to my stop for the night, Dannevirke. Today was a short post for a long day – but it is definitely the beginning of a fantastic adventure – my last hurrah in New Zealand before heading back to the US.


Matiu / Somes Island

Taking advantage of a sunny day, I finally made it out to Matui/Somes Island – which is the island that sits in the middle of Wellington Harbor. It was one of my Wellington must dos, and I had not made it out, and with my time winding down, knew this might be the last nice day for it, so I paused my writing flow, packed a picnic and set out to catch the ferry to the island.

You can learn more about the island here:

The island has a fascinating history, as it has served as a quarantine station, military outpost, interment camp and now wildlife refuge. The island gives the opportunity to discover nature by traveling along various tracks, and I ended up walking on each track on the island and extending my stay there because it was such a lovely day, and I was enjoying my tramp so much.

When you arrive on the island your first stop is the quarantine station, where you check your bag and shoes for bio-security risks. Once cleared, you are able to start exploring.

As I walked, I was immediatly greeting with stunning views of the harbor, Eastborne and Petone.

My first stop was the cemetery monument.

Between 1918 and 1920, Somes Island was used as a human quarantine station during the influenza pandemic, and many died on the island.

I trekked along from the Monument along Cable Bay to the lookout over Shag Rock. Birds, flowers, skinks and Tuataras were plentiful. I felt like I had the island to myself, as everyone else had headed to the visitors center first.

From the overlook I headed to the lighthouse, stopping to check out the Weta Hotel.

Those are some gargantuan insects!

Then I enjoyed the lighthouse, before beginning my trek to the Southern Lookout – I am pretty certain I took a million pictures – it was so pretty!

Here at the southern lookout, I realized that I was not going to have time to see everything I wanted unless I booked the later ferry back, so I called the company to secure my seat on the later boat, giving me more time to enjoy this peaceful oasis.

My next stop was the old WW2 gun emplacements, so I went up the “steep track”. Along the way I got the opportunity to observe the amazing fantail, which may be one of my favorite NZ birds.

Then, at the gate, I made an interesting observation about the weathering of the gate.

I wonder how many times those pieces of wood have been slammed together?

At the top, I explored the gun casings, and just genuinely enjoyed the views, pulling out my lunch for a stop at the picnic table.

I headed back down to the visitor area, where I explored the animal quarantine station, which felt an awful lot like animal prison – which, I guess, it was, in a way.

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After that it was down to the visitor center, where I learned about the other uses of the island, particularly its use as an internment camp during WW2 and the attempted escapes.

Next, I wandered back to the wharf, and with time to spare, checked out the old degaussing station, and listened to the stories of Meg Pilcher, (a fascinating lady!)then to the North Wharf before leaving the island and heading home.

I am so glad I had this beautiful weather to enjoy this amazing sanctuary!

My Last Few Weeks in Wellington

So, my last few weeks in Wellington were quite exciting, but I was also super busy wrapping up my official Fulbright work. I spent so much time writing I just couldn’t bring myself to blog – so I am behind – but I have lots of fun stuff to share with you all – so this post will be pretty long. (and has lots of “different” stuff in it!)

Matariki Celebrations: 

I know I mentioned Matariki in my last post, as I was making the stars as a part of that celebration, and the festivities continued.

I went to a lovely event hosted by Te Papa focused on Matariki. It was the first time they had done this event, but they were laying down the tradition for years to come. You can see more here:

I really encourage you to watch the video – such a cool celebration of a new year and renewal.

Another really interesting cultural event I attended was Te Oro o ngā Whetū: The Echo of the Stars – a performance sponsored by the Chamber Orchestra of New Zealand, and featuring New Zealand String Quartet, ngātaonga puoro artist Alistair Fraser, Te Reo Māori performer and composer Ariana Tikao, and students from Virtuoso Strings Orchestra.

The music was hauntingly beautiful, and thanks to the use of taonga puoro (Traditional Maori Musical practices) was just a fascinating experience.

Here is a small snippet of what I was able to experience:

They also had some really neat Maori culture as TePapa played host to the Kaumātua Kapa Haka – an event featuring over 500 Maori Elders. It was beautiful – and if you want to really be moved, check it out – the diversity of the performers and the passion they have for this beautiful art is a experience to be had!


Fulbright Work and Celebrations

As I mentioned, I have done lots of writing the past few weeks, and my Fulbright work is complete, with just a few logistics before I can share it on a broader scale, which is super exciting.

I did my final presentation on June 16th at Victoria University, and we had a Fulbright NZ Awards ceremony at Parliament on June 19th. It was a great celebration!

You can see more pictures here: 

General Wellington Fun

I did lots of exploring Wellington as well – nice breaks to clear my head and walk around were much needed! Some of these are quite random pictures, but they all tell the story of my Wellington experience, so check out the captions for more info!

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Gallipoli Exhibit

I have made several trips to TePapa, and love the museum, but had not been in the right place to do the Gallipoli exhibit justice on previous visits, so on a rainy afternoon I went across the street to experience this powerful exhibition, which was done by the team at Weta, and is called the “Scale of our War”. The exhibit features larger than life images of the war – made with stunning accuracy and detail. My pictures do not do the exhibit justice, fortunately they do have great images on their website. You can also learn more about the creation of the exhibit and the stories behind those rendered.

Images are below, but please be warned they are a bit graphic.

I also visited the “Quake Breaker” exhibit – which was fascinating to see how they stabilize a huge building like TePapa in an earthquake prone area.

There will be another blog post dedicated to Matui/Somes Island – I just couldn’t bring myself to crowd this one anymore.