Sunday, 16 September 2018

Back 'Out There' & Heading North


Finally we are back on the road; we left Napier feeling a little sad having to say goodbye to Mum & Dad after spending two months on their backdoor step. We'll miss Mum's lovely home cooked meals and our happy hours with them both, along with long hot showers and the washing machine! But it was time to move on, and I'm sure I heard Dad say "Thank God they've gone" as we pulled out (getting his own back with a family saying that's said as we wave visitors off from camp).

After four days of heavy rain, the weather had cleared and the sun shone; real Hawkes Bay sunshine although there was a nip in the air. And once we were on the Napier-Taupo Road we could see why, the Kaweka Range had a lovely coating of spring snow on it.

The road had been closed several times during the rain storm but other than a little bit of flooding here and there and the odd bare cliff face where a slip had come down this was the only Stop/Go  section on the road.

We'd decided to do short trips each day as we eased our way back into travelling (actually we had an appointment in Tauranga two days later so there was no hurry). The Central Plateau mountains looked spectacular at the bottom of the lake... we headed to the NZMCA Taupo Park near the airport for the night. We parked in the exact same spot as we'd parked just two months prior when we had smoked trout for lunch with friends Amanda & Paul who happen to be touring the States in their motorhome at the moment. I messaged her that we had the billy boiled and where the heck were they.

Next morning it was onto the Ngongotaha NZMCA Park in Rotorua for the night. We like to stay hitched when we're stopping overnight so it's quick and easy to pull out the next morning. But it does depend on how level the sites are, it's no good if the nose has to be lowered because it can't go any lower than the fifth-wheel hitch in the back of the ute.

Tauranga was out next port of call, we had an appointment in the city but, hmm....where to leave 'Out There' for a couple of hours in a busy city. We had a quick look along the side streets near where our appointment was but we should have known better, they were all full (and the roads very narrow). So it was off to a very familiar carpark at the Bridge Marina and not too far from our old boat berth which set me off reminiscing.  

On the way over we also checked out the carpark in front of our old office building at Sulphur Poinr but with such a perfect day the carparks there were full of boaties' cars and trailers and the six or so free camping spaces there were all taken (not that we were intending to stay overnight, just for a few hours). 

We had lunch overlooking the marina and I also managed to take a few photos of the calm waters; by the time we arrived back to collect the van, the afternoon breeze had kicked in and the beautiful reflections were gone.

We made it out of the city before the afternoon traffic peaked although that Tauranga-Katikati road is never not busy. It was a relief when we pulled out of the traffic and headed down a quite country lane to our next overnight stop at Tuapiro Reserve just north of Katikati.

This is one of the many freedom camping sites located throughout the city and around the district that the Western Bay of Plenty & Tauranga City Councils oversee. This is a win/win situation for all concerned (and one many other councils should take note of); we get to camp in places that overlook some spectacular scenery...

Overlooking Bowentown, Matakana Island and straight out the the entrance from the inner harbour.
...and the councils get to have honorary security guards over-nighting in quiet, end of the road reserves. I'm sure this arrangement has curtailed much of the unsavory activities that sometimes happen in these out of the way places. Tuapiro Reserve is one of the larger areas and camping is allowed in three areas of the carpark, there is also a maximum 3 night stay here. Our neighbours for the night were a convoy of three small car and caravan units and three campervans who arrived later on in the evening.

The Tauranga Inner Harbour has extensive tidal mudflats at low ride and at this end you can hardly see the channel from the reserve. And in fact up near Omokoroa it's possible to walk (and sometimes drive) across to Matakana Island. In our early days of sailing the harbour we were once caught out by the quickly departing tide and had to sit it out for quite a few hours until the tide turned and we were released from the seabed's muddy grip. 

The mudflats are a great place for a variety of shore and sea birds to fish for their dinner, here a wary Kingfisher/Kotare keeps an eye on me as he waits for a crab or small fish to poke it's head out from it's mud home.

I'm pleased to report that sunrises are still on the menu! The new blinds, while darker than their predecessors, didn't filter out all the early morning glow which was a surprise given that this sunrise had an eerie haze over it.

From Katikati we continued north, our next stop was another familiar site although it's been a few years since our last visit to Rays Rest on the Seabird Coast near Miranda. Miranda is on the lower western side of the Firth of Thames, it's a very important place for migratory wading birds and in particular the Bar Tailed Godwit & Red Knot. They are attracted to the food found on the 8500 hectares of tidal mudflats. 

Being not too far from Auckland, Rays Rest is a very popular site with many people using it as a stop-over on their way out of or into Auckland. Others also come here for a short break away (2 night maximum stay), fishing and bird watching are popular pastimes.

I recall our first visit to Rays Rest was not long after we purchased the rig (nearly 6 years ago) and had made the decision to hit the road full-time. I remember thinking how surreal it was to be sitting watching TV right next door to this view out the door. It doesn't quite feel so surreal now, more the norm but no less amazing to think we have a different view out our front door every week and often every night.

And it's not only the different views that we get to enjoy; it's also the varied sights and slices of New Zealand life you come across too. It's not often that a herd of cattle munch their way past your kitchen window as you're preparing lunch.

The next day dawned cold and overcast and I couldn't blame the sunrise glow for waking me this morning. The sun rose on the other side of the Coromandel and didn't look like it was going to make its way over to us at all so once we were up and about we made the decision to continue onwards and upwards... the NZMCA Park at Ardmore Airport which is on the outskirts of the big smoke, Auckland City. The sun was shining and the park was busier than we thought it would be, given that there has been a recent ban on dogs being allowed here which has stopped many from visiting. 

The last time we stayed here was again, way back at the beginning of our journey and in fact if I recall rightly the Park had only just opened. We were the only ones in for a couple of nights and we parked horizontal along the front fenceline overlooking the runway, now a big no-no because the Parks are so busy! We had a little smile to ourselves as we recalled our newbie exuberance.

And here's a sunset to finish the blog; taken from Ardmore on Friday night. The sun still has that weird haze cover two days later, although I suspect it might be a bit of big city smog.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Spit & Polish


While we've been parked up in Napier David has spent quite some time polishing the 5th-wheeler.... again. You may remember he gave it a good going over by hand, when we were here back in January, but unfortunately all his elbow grease and hard work didn't last and it was with great disappointment that the dull 'bloom' returned to the surface within a few weeks.

Since then he has been doing quite a bit of research- on line, through friends and talking to paint and auto shops resulting in the purchase of a quality car polisher (not orbital) with variable speed. For those that would like to know, it's a Rockwell Car Polisher 1200W/180mm #135285 from Supercheap Auto.

And as you can see below it's been doing a great job. Though David soon learnt to put the cutting paste (he used Finixa polish compound) on the van surface by hand otherwise it splattered everything else within reach (including himself!).

After the cutter had done it's job of removing the dull bloom, the pad was changed and he applied Mothers© Carnauba wax for the perfect shine! You can just about do your hair in the reflection off the side now.

The final touch was to replace our NZMCA wings and number, they had faded quite considerably, and also our self containment sticker which some bugger had tried to peel off! 

We were ready to roll...

....but Mother Nature had other ideas. We were due to leave last Wednesday but with the weather forecast predicting heavy rain and high winds there was no way, after all his hard work, that David was pulling out and getting the van dirty. He wanted at least a few sunny days on the road to admire his handiwork.

Which is why we are still parked up in Napier looking at bedraggled freesias out the window.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Back from a wee break- Party Time; Part 2


Continued on from Part 1

After arriving home from Melbourne we had a couple of days to adjust to NZ time and get ship-shape before family started arriving from out of town to help Mum & Dad celebrate their Diamond wedding anniversary (60 years). We held a function at the local RSA for everyone on the Saturday night. We all had a ball, there was lots of laughs as old family stories and tall tales were told. It was lovely to see so many happy, smiling people enjoying themselves.

A lot of the credit for the fun and laughter has to go to my two cousins (twin sisters) who acted as MCs for the night. They added to the high-jinks and really helped make the night one to remember.

Mum & Dad were married in 1958 and one of the twins' daughters owns this 1958 Morrie so the twins arrived in the carpark making one hell of a noise with the rattling cans dragging behind and signs on the windows. My uncle, who'd caught a ride with his daughters, had slunk down low in the backseat, highly embarrassed- he collects classic Chevs!

Here's one photo I wanted to share with you; females reign supreme on Mum's side of the family, she is the oldest of eight; 2 boys & 6 girls. Most of the siblings had girls and their daughters have also had plenty of girls. Johnstone girls are high-spirited, fun, loud, energetic and some (most) of them can talk the bottom off a tin can. Here's a photo of the Johnstone cousins that attended, my brother was the only male there. That's my sister on the left, me, then three groups of sisters- you work out who belongs to who.  

We hosted a BBQ lunch at home for everyone the next day as Mum was also celebrating a significant birthday. It was a good chance to catch up with the extended family that had arrived from out-of town and some of the younger family members that weren't at the party the night before. 

Across the generations- Mum's reading the Queens 60th anniversary message to her great-nieces, Eva, Rosa & Lucy. Mum & Dad also received congratulatory cards from the Governor General, Prime Minister, Minister for Seniors and the local MP. 

Once we'd wound down from the festivities and seen the last of the family back to their home town, David & I set about arranging to have some of  the fifth-wheeler's interior refurbished. After six years, the upholstery and carpet were getting a little worn (in fact I'd worn a patch of carpet away below the dining table- it's where I sit at my computer). 

I'd found Douglas Auto & Marine Upholstery in Hastings on the internet, we had a chat with them, were happy with the quote so booked the van in for the 5 days they needed it for. We emptied our gear into Mum & Dads' garage which was very convenient, we wouldn't have managed without it. David then removed the bed bases and dinning bench seats so the carpet could be laid under them. Mum & Dad had a spare bed for us but we had to go to Tauranga for a few days so it worked out well, we drove up there and stayed at a friend's B&B while 'Out There' was getting a makeover.

We also decided, while we were at it, that we'd replace the concertinaed blinds and heavy material pelmets which I've had a tolerate/hate relationship with since the beginning! We were hoping that by removing the pelmets it would open the room up and make it more airy & spacious. With so much wood and the beige walls (American's love their dark wood and upholstery) we decided not to move too far away from the original colour scheme, just freshen it up a little. 

David located a great place in Onekawa, Blinds 2000 Ltd, they measured and ordered the blinds after we decided on the type and colour. The only fly in the ointment was the three week delivery time frame. Originally we were going to be heading off at the beginning of August and we thought they'd have to send them on to us for David to fit but in the end we decided to stay put (winter colds helped make that decision) and the blinds did arrive a week earlier than expected anyway.

You'll probably not notice too much difference but it really has given the interior a pick-me-up. The upholstery looks quite pinkish in some of the 'after' photos but it's not, that's the camera playing tricks. It is a lot lighter than the old material though. Here are the before (2013) & after photos, I now think it's time to change my cushions and floor rug!

And with the blinds closed-

These are Thermacell blinds, the honeycomb effect traps air and provides a barrier against the cold but the best part is that they have 'black-out' colour inside the concertinaed pleats, it's now lovely and dark which may mean I might miss a few sunrises!

We also replaced the two venetians in the kitchen, they now drop from under the cupboards making it look like we have a large back window.

We are both thrilled with the changes and very pleased with the service received from both companies. I'd have no hesitation in recommending them if you're looking to do some interior work. Douglas' also do awnings.

Back 'Out There' .....

.... just as the itchy feet started to return we headed to one of our favourite camps with our motorhoming family for a few days. 

Glenfalls DOC Camp is on the banks of the Mohaka River, 50kms north of Napier and 8kms off the Napier-Taupo road. Over summer it can sometimes be a very busy place but in the middle of winter there was just one other motorhome and us three. 

Mind you, the site wasn't looking it's best due to a winter storm that has flooded down the nearby stream from the range behind and spread silt, rocks and mud out over the track at the southern end of the camp. Someone in a digger has 'helpfully' tried to clear the track but has instead dug it deeper and got bogged down dumping the silt. And it was also a boggy mess at the northern end too! The middle though, where we usually go, was just right- high, dry and flat! 

And then there was one! We stayed on for another day just as the sky cleared and the trout started biting. 

It'll be another week or so before we're back on the road, so until the next blog here's a photo to keep you going- freesias and bees, a sure sign that spring has arrived!

Monday, 27 August 2018

Back from a wee break- Melbourne; Part 1


Yes, it really is me. I have returned. TWO whole months without a blog, I can't believe it! That certainly wasn't in my plans when I said I'd be gone for a few weeks. But to be honest, I have enjoyed the extended break with no pressure to write or take photos...if you don't count Dad (#1 fan) asking every second day when there'll be a blog. He gave up after 3 or 4 weeks.

And I've actually needed the extra time this past couple of weeks as I've had not one but two heavy winter colds, the second one a real doozy. We tend to usually miss the winter ills when we're on the road because we don't mix with the masses too often. But after three winters my luck finally ran out.

I left you in the last blog with a photo of us parked up beside Mum & Dads' in suburban Napier. And that is still where we are, although us and the rig- separately & together- have vacated the concrete pad several times during the last two months.

It started with a two week trip to Melbourne to meet our latest grandchild, a very sweet & chilled out little man called Otis.

Can you believe it, I took my camera but it hardly saw the light of day. I mostly used my phone camera (until someone spotted a cracked lens), and then David's phone. It was lovely to just relax with the family and enjoy some quality time with Lizzie, Jake & Otis. David celebrated his birthday while we were there, here's Otis with Poppa, don't you just love the look he's giving David..... "Poo, was that you Poppa?"

We stayed in a hotel just 500mtrs from the family's townhouse which suited us all fine; we had our own space, they weren't tripping over us 24/7 and it was just a short walk there and back each day, or several times a day. This was the view of Melbourne city from our hotel window, it reminded me a little of the opening shot of the TV programme 'Coronation Street'.

We took the tram & train (both just a couple of streets away) into the city on several occasions; more for a wander around and to have lunch overlooking the Yarra River than to shop though. 

Most days were overcast until early afternoon when the clouds parted and the sun shone down although it was bitterly cold every day, you couldn't go outside without a jacket. It is much colder than winter in the North Island and the top of the South.

The Preston Market was just a short walk from Lizzie & Jakes' home and we often pushed Otis in his stroller down there, had a coffee and a pastry and then bought fresh veges, fruit, meat or seafood for dinner. David & I thought the Seafood Market was amazing, so much fresh fish and variety available.

Jake is an excellent cook and we were extremely lucky that he wanted to cook dinner for us most nights, and this was after his long day of work and fighting traffic.

Pork Belly
Crispy Skin Salmon
On the weekend we squashed ourselves into the car (the baby seat took up so much room!) and drove out of the city, up and over the hills and into the Yarra Valley an hour away, stopping for a wine tasting at the kid's favourite winery, TarraWarra Estate...

...and then we had a long lunch just down the road at Healesville, a very popular country town and gateway to the Yarra Valley wine region. Then it was onto Four Pillars, a gin distillery, for a gin tasting! 

After smelling the aromatics, we tasted the gins. Who knew there were so many flavours of gin available, from right to left; Dry, Navy Strength (58.8% ALC!!), Spiced Negroni, Chardonnay Barrel, Sherry Cask & Bloody Shiraz. Can you guess which one I liked? No not the Chardonnay one surprisingly, it was the Navy Strength that got my vote.

We hadn't seen any wildlife except for a few kangaroos in a paddock as we drove home from the Yarra Valley so I talked Lizzie & David into heading to the zoo for a visit. I'm not a fan of zoos (although I know many have their place in conservation) but I recall enjoying a visit to the Melbourne Zoo some 20 years ago so off we headed. Wrong move. Not only was the zoo quite tired looking, it was school holidays and the place was packed solid with laughing, screaming, yelling, crying, running kids. The queues were long and we bypassed several exhibits.

I did enjoy watching three young male lions; one reminded me so much of my cat Lily when she ambushed her brother Clay. This one spotted his brother on the other side of the enclosure, ambling along the fence line...

...and then as the brother headed towards him he prepared to pounce, wriggling his backside likes cats do, as he shot over the log and onto his brother's back right below my window (hence no photo!).

I was also fascinated by this beautiful snow leopard, there are three at the zoo but just this one was visible. She looks like the cat that got the cream with her fat cheeks here. I think she might have been calling just as I took the shot. Their tails are very long and fat, it helps with balance and as she climbed down a very steep rock face from her perch I could see how she used it.

It started raining as I was watching her and something else caught my eye and hers, a big fat rat scampering along the edge of a small stream that ran through the enclosure. It disappeared under a rock and out of sight before she moved.

Before we knew it, it was time to say a sad goodbye and head home. We had an awesome time and absolutely loved spending time with the family and especially getting know our happy little bub Otis. 

To be continued.... Part 2