Wednesday 29 June 2016

Quick Departure From Weedons


We made a quick exit out of the NZMCA Park at Weedons, Christchurch late Monday afternoon due to an inconsiderate neighbour who decided to light a large pile of green hedge trimmings while there was a reasonably strong wind blowing in the park's direction. 

The smoke, at first, was blowing down the other side of the camp but then the wind turned and sent it across to our side, the acrid smelling smoke forcing it's way inside the van through the vents and making it impossible to do anything outside. I don't usually react to irritants but this had my eyes smarting, nose running and it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

David was away doing last minute errands as we were due to leave Christchurch Tuesday morning anyway, but as soon as he arrived back we made the decision to hitch up and get out of there as fast as possible, I'm sure the green pile would have smoldered on for the next few days. It was approaching 4pm and we had to dump first and then make our way through the busy city heading north.  

We didn't want to be on the road after dark which is just after 5pm at the moment, so we headed to the Amberley Beach Campground in North Canterbury which is about an hour's drive away. It's run by the Hurunui District Council and is an informal campground with minimal facilities. This suits many campers as it's cheap and cheerful, and a safe place place to stay. The cost is $5 per person, per night on a non-powered site and $15 per van for a powered site.  

We haven't had power for a number of weeks so we decided to give the batteries a boost and park at the end of the camp where there are a few powered poles. We slotted ourselves into a suitable spot, making sure there was a connection available first, and that our lead reached the pole.

It looks like it's hedge trimming time right around the district; there are piles of green cuttings, tractors and trimmers parked around the edge of the camp. Let's hope they don't light any fires here!

There are three parts to the camp; the powered area at the far end, the non-powered sites (bottom left) by the entrance gate and across the road an area for campers with dogs(top right) which is great for those with pets as there are not too many camps that cater for them. 

It's just a short walk across the road and through a pine plantation reserve to Amberley Beach. The beach reminds me of Marine Parade in Napier and Rarangi in Blenheim, and in fact many others along the east coast of New Zealand. Stony, wild and windswept and not very inviting on a cold overcast day. This 'bach' on the corner with a commanding view of the ocean has seen better days. I'm sure it was someone's pride and joy in the past but I'm not so sure I'd be giving the designer a job any day soon. 

We left  Amberley Beach the next morning heading for Hanmer Springs. We had unfinished business in Hanmer and decided a short detour from our intended route was in order. You'll remember we came to Hanmer two years ago to a celebrate a significant birthday for David; hot thermal pool soak, massage treatment and a nice meal out. Unfortunately we forgot to check school holiday dates and the place was overrun with families, kids, bikes and cars. We took one look inside the hot pool complex and backed out of there quick, we did manage to have a meal out though and David had his massage treatment.

With school holidays still 2 weeks away we're back to have that soak and David is keen to have a massage again as he's been having major problems with his back. We'll only be here for a couple of nights so instead of parking at the NZMCA Park which is 8kms out of town, we decided to stop at a CAP (costs apply parking) which is just a short walk from the village. This way we can stay hitched as we don't need the ute. 

Hot Springs Motor Lodge has a large grassed area beside their motel complex on the main road into Hanmer Springs. It's been raining in Hanmer a fair bit lately and the ground is soft and muddy in places. We were offered the option of parking in the large hotel restaurant carpark but decided it was firm enough around the edge of the grass to park up, although the only issue might be the traffic noise early in the morning as the delivery trucks from Christchurch start arriving.

Payment is in the form of purchasing a $30 voucher for the Lodge's restaurant, which was fine by us as we were going to go out for a meal anyway. Of course I would prefer to choose my own restaurant, but as we'd already tried a couple in town on our last visit and '5 Stags' looked fine (and was), it worked out well. 

We walked into the village yesterday afternoon and as you can see it was deserted. Well not quite, any visitor's vehicles were gathered around the Hot Pools. 

There were nowhere near the number of people we saw on our last visit, when the pool queue reached out the door. Nor the amount of people in the various pools...

...which didn't matter anyway, as we booked ourselves a private thermal pool! 

Which didn't quite have the same view as we had from our deck overlooking Tauranga harbour, but was lovely to relax in all the same.

And in case you are wondering, yes, I still have a few posts from the West Coast to do....I'm working on them but life keeps getting in the way!

Sunday 26 June 2016

Into The Future with Netspeed

We've joined a revolution. The Netspeed revolution; fast broadband on the road, for minimal cost and no fixed plan. This has to be the best thing since sliced bread, a change to life on the road as we know it.

One major issue we have had with living on the road is the very expensive data we require to access the internet, no matter the supplier or the package, whatever way you look at it, mobile data is expensive. We've lived with it and put the expense into the 'must have, use prudently' box.

We're both heavy internet users although I use more data than most because of my blog and Flickr photo uploads. My average monthly data usage was a carefully managed (measly) 8GB (David's slightly less), and at $20 a GB this soon adds up. Of course we had phone plans that are a little cheaper and include other services but still, those home dwellers with a landline and huge or unlimited gigabytes have no idea how much you were envied- if only we could have access to a tiny portion of your surplus data, we'd have been in seventh heaven.

Then along came Netspeed, first a trickle of information with a very good recommendation and then an avalanche of delighted customers. It was time to join the revolution.

We now have access to 130gb of data a month at a cost of  $100- 80gb peak period and 50gb off peak (10pm-6am) (ETA Jan2017- this has now been increased to 120gb peak & 50gb off-peak at no extra charge). This is after the one-off expense of purchasing a 3/4G Wifi router which comes with a 240/12v power adapter (rr$350). Because we spend a lot of our time in the back country, we have gone for a more powerful antenna which was around $150, this should give us better reception in low coverage areas (if your time is spent in mostly urban areas then an antenna is not necessary). We're under no allusion that there will still be some places we have no reception, Netspeed uses Vodafone's network of towers so the coverage will be similar. But hey, we can live with that, we still need some of that no-gadget time.

And, it was so easy to install; out of the box, plug it in, set up the account and away it went, with a row of flashing lights welcoming us to the other side. David will be wiring it into the 12v power supply and it'll sit behind our satellite TV box sharing the shelf and out of the way.

So, no more data watching, no more mad scrambles to click out of automatic playing newspaper clips that chew through valuable data, no more missing out on a funny YouTube clip that's had everyone laughing, no more sitting outside pink boxes in the dead of the night or the cold of a winter's day with people looking sideways at you as they pass, no more cafe stops to get free wifi (I'm not so sure that's a good thing), no more backload of app updates waiting for free wifi to update, no more parking on family's lawns and plugging into their network for free (well, ok, that'll still happen) and no more clicking in and out of our phone hotspots to access the internet.

Instant, continuous, fast and cheap mobile broadband! Oh the joy, we are finally free from the shackles of expensive mobile data. Netflix here we come!

Obviously, we'll still have a Spark plan on our mobile phones but it'll be nowhere near the cost we're paying now. Just enough data to cover a little surfing when we're away from the mother ship.

Netspeed can be contacted on 0800 Netspeed or 0800 638773 and if you are in the Canterbury/Marlborough area you'll have the pleasure of dealing with David Gabites, who we highly recommend.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Quirky Kwitchatown - South Westland

This is Kwitchatown and as the sign says it was established in 1966. 

This tiny settlement of no more than a fifteen or so baches (also known as cribs in the south of the South Island) looks much like any other fishing village found near the mouth of the many rivers along the West Coast. Classic kiwi baches in various states of luxury...

...and stages of ramshackle. 

Baches that have been owned by families for generations, the place they come to during the whitebait season or to fish over summer. A place to get away from it all where generators, solar power, tank water, long drops and pot belly stoves provide the basics and satellite dishes are the only nod towards luxury.

There is one thing that makes this village stand out from the crowd though...

All the holiday homes are named in keeping with the town's name, Kwitchatown. Go on, say them out loud, they'll make you smile. 

The sense of humour extends to the surroundings too. A gravel track separates two clusters of baches...

...with a couple of  cottages tucked into the bush along the way. 

We drove through to the end of the road which finished on the bank of the river...  

...and then backed the ute up into an open area to have a cup of tea- there's no one about, even though it's the long weekend. While David pours the tea...

...I wander around taking photos...

...making sure I capture as many names as I can. There's some good ones in this lot too.

I know some RV owners who would like to have this name on there vans...

My favourite (click to enlarge)-

Everyone's favourite-

I wonder if you can guess the name on this bach? The answer is at the end of the post. Think about it.

Our peace and quiet is interrupted when we hear a bike roaring down the track. It's a local checking out who is visiting, and taking their time in leaving. His bach is set back in the scrub at the beginning of the track. I left David having a yarn and continued on taking photos. 

Actually I can hear them shouting to each other above the rumble of the bike; he tells us he can't turn it off otherwise he won't get it started again. It's a bit like many things in Kwitchatown, they've kwitchamaintenance too.

 At the end of the road a rickety 'boardwalk' disappears into the overgrown bush, we carefully follow the slippery and odd angled boardwalk up the side of the river testing the various planks and construction as we go. There's a new section with a handrail over a narrow, dark tannin stained tidal creek. All I'm thinking about are the water rats running about, I call to David to wait up for me.

After a hundred metres or so we find one last kwitchabach in a clearing right on the river bank. A little closer to the river than I'm sure they would like be too. There's been a major washout sometime during recent storms and the river has claimed a good few meters of the bank. A letterbox proclaiming this is No.1 Kwitchatown Road stands near the bach waiting for the non-existent postie to cycle by.

There's a horse float, an old tractor, a trailer and other junk nearby but there's no road access, not even a beaten track through the bush, just the boardwalk we've walked up. So either the track has been washed away or the gear has been carted and driven in when the river was low. Whatever, some of it has been sitting here for years. It's a shame to see stuff dumped like this- it would seem the owner has taken his bach name literally.

We head back to the ute, a number of friendly Fantail/Piwakawaka flitting along beside us, darting in and out nabbing the pesky sandflies we're disturbing along the way.

And that name? A deer hunter of course, the antlers above the shed were the clue. There's also a long row of antlers lined up on a beam in the shed.

We head off, back to the highway, past the sand dunes and a small dune swamp, along the non-descript dirt track, back to the main road. Along a track that many would pass and not give a second glance to. Little do they know that there's a little slice of paradise at the end of that track. 

If we had a bach here at Kwitchatown, I know what we'd name it... Kwitcharoamin!

Then again, maybe it could KwitchaClickin. Actually, maybe it should be KwitchaRain'n.  Enough!

And a footnote- I know many of you will be wondering where Kwitchatown is on the Coast. There's very little about it on the 'net. I actually heard about it a number of years ago and had marked it on my travel map to follow up when we got to the area- a map that I actually don't refer to anymore, I just happened to come across it at the right time. Anyway, in keeping with the uniqueness of Kwitchatown I'm not going to advertise its location either. Nothing would spoil this little patch of kiwiana more than a whole hoard of cars and RVs trundling down the track. But if you would like to know where it is, send me a note on the blog contact form (bottom of the right hand column) and I'll let you know, it'll be our little secret! 

Monday 20 June 2016

Whitebaiting on the West Coast

(You might have noticed the header to my blog is missing, I have no idea why but I'm onto it!- I've now managed to resurrect at least something resembling the header I usually have but unfortunately I'm now unable edit the blog description which appears in one long line under the heading, so I apologize for the amateur look. Blogger have changed and updated the template I use, I'm now waiting for some answers)

Whitebaiting isn't a hobby or a sport on the West Coast, it's a religion. When the tiny translucent fish begin their run, people come from far and wide to stake their claim and set up camp on riverbanks up and down the Coast. Their prize is the iconic little fish (actually made up of 5 native species) that runs in shoals upstream each spring to spawn and can sell from $70-90 a kilo. Hence it's also known as 'white gold'. And while many do sell their catch, just as many fish for themselves, family and friends. Whitebaiting is a true Kiwi institution, a tradition carried down through many generations. 

On the deep still waters of South Westland rivers, whitebait stands aren't pulled apart after the season, they are pulled up, clear of the water. The West Coast whitebait season runs for ten weeks from September 1st until mid November unlike elsewhere in the country where it starts 2 weeks earlier and ends two weeks later. 

Under whitebait fishing regulations, owners are allowed to do maintenance and set their stand up two weeks prior to the beginning of the new season. In the case of these stands on the Waiatoto River they'd also have to bushwhack through the undergrowth to get to the edge of the river. The length of the stands vary from 5 metres to 30 metres depending on the width of the river. Here on the Waiatoto, the maximum length is 30 metres, it's a very wide river. 

The Turnbull River runs beside the Haast Beach Holiday Park at Okuru where we were staying. It's a very large camping ground and our lovely camp host Lorraine told us that come whitebait season, they are fully booked from one year to the next, with every available space taken by caravans, motorhomes, tents, fishing paraphernalia and people, with very little room to move. This reminds us of our delightful stay at the Collingwood camping ground two years ago, when unknown to us, the season was just about to start.

Each stand must be 40 metres from the next one and on the West Coast, the rivers have back markers after which no fishing is allowed. This is unlike the rest of New Zealand where stands and whitebaiters can stretch up the rivers for many kilometres. The Mataura River in Southland has 700 registered stands, here on the Turnbull there are just 24 permitted stands...

...and 47 on the Okuru. We drove into the Okuru River settlement to check out the stands we could see from the main road bridge. 

This particular stand was very well constructed and looked to have been re-worked last season. The top wire ropes were attached to two large concrete blocks anchoring and holding the stand up in the air. But we couldn't see the pulleys that would have pulled the stand out of the water.

The stand is lowered into the water for the entirety of the season, although it may be pulled up if there is bad weather forecast and possible floods. West Coast beaches are littered with driftwood and large trees, imagine the mess that would make as it came floating down the rivers. A bit like a pinball machine crashing and bouncing off stands along the way.

Once the stands are in the water, screens are placed along the front edge and the net, a large box net, at the end. As the shoals of whitebait make their way upstream they reach the screen barrier and, with their way blocked, they swim to the end and into the net where a trap prevents them from swimming back out. Although lifting the net is heavy work, whitebaiters with stands have a pretty relaxing day ahead of them. They can sit and read a book, have a yarn (shout) with their neighbour or take a snooze in the sunshine but they must not move more than 10 metres from their set net. 

We obviously took too long walking around and looking over the stand, because just as we were climbing back into the ute, a quad bike pulled out from a bach up the road and came down the track towards us. There's not much you can do in these small settlements without eyes watching your every move, especially when it's a quiet winter's weekend. This guy was the owner of this particular stand and although he told us he was just checking out the river, I think he wanted to know what two nosy people were doing around his stand. But at least we found out where the pulleys were- he'd taken them off.

He was only too happy to tell us all about the stand and fishing in general. From Hokitika, his family own a bach and the stand here at Okuru. They used to fish from his wife's parents' stand on a nearby river but once they passed on, the stand was sold (he said he'd wished they had held onto it). Stands for sale are like hen's teeth and when they do come on the market they command very high prices- one further south had a $70,000 price tag on it a few years ago . 

They then shared fishing from this stand with an elderly friend for many years. Once he passed on, they purchased it and, being an engineer, he set about rebuilding it. His wife is the whitebaiter and shifts down to the bach for the season. 

This is the map of the permitted stands on the Okuru River, number 1166 is the one we were looking at. It's a wonder any whitebait make it upstream to spawn with so many obstacles along the way. And this doesn't include all the 'baiters with scoop nets, pole nets and/or drag nets at the mouths of the many rivers. 

Although I saw a headline for a whitebaiter newsletter-

'Twenty five million whitebait are coming up West Coast rivers soon - are you ready?' 

- so I guess there's still plenty to go round, and get around the nets.