Monday 25 May 2020

Queen of the Castle- Riverstone Castle


I'd like to say give me Lockdown back but of course I won't, although I did love catching up on my blogs & photos during the down time. We've had a busy 10 days unloading two shipping containers and sorting furniture out at our new property in Twizel. 

It was by chance and not design that we left Glenavy on the last day of Level 3. Our property settlement had been deferred a month from mid April and we had a pre-property inspection arranged on the day after we left Glenavy. Travel was allowed for home relocations during Level 3 but we still felt like naughty children as we drove up the Waitaki Valley towards our new home base. And I'm sure we were the recipients of a few scowls from passing traffic. It's very hard to blend in when you're big and brown and 14 metres long with a massive photo on your rear.

We've had three days of thick fog and two heavy frosts since we've been in Twizel- what a welcome to Mackenzie Country! We're loving it so far, we'll be here for the next 4-6 months (in between short trips away) and then it'll be back on the road fulltime. ( If you follow my photography Facebook page- if you don't already- you'll find some real frosty photos there. It's where I post current photos). 

Now, back to catching up- mid Nov 2019

Riverstone Castle
From Moeraki Boulders it was just a short 60kms to our next destination which just happened to be the Glenavys Waitaki River Motor Camp. Does it look familiar?

This was our lovely Lockdown Camp with super hosts Anne & Joe. Who could have imagined we'd be back just four months later and spend seven weeks lockdowned here, and on exactly the same site too. The camp is lovely, with spacious grounds, grass sites and mature trees. There's an outdoor fire,  tables and BBQ for group or happy hour gatherings along with a well appointed kitchen and laundry.

Glenavys Waitaki River Motor Camp
Just down the road from the camp, in the rest area beside the Waitaki River, this beautiful but broken laburnum tree was flowering. I wondered how it came to be in the rest area, it's not the usual type of tree to be planted on the roadside. Laburnum are often planted to grow over large pergolas so that the cascading yellow flower hang down underneath and form a beautiful tunnel over a walkway. Many famous gardens such as Kew & Bodnant Castle in Wales (which we've seen), have a laburnum arch.

During Lockdown we walked through this rest area regularly to access a walking track through a pine plantation alongside the river. The laburnum tree was bare and unremarkable, a tree you wouldn't give a second glance to.

Five kilometres from the camp in the other direction is South Canterbury's east coast and the mouth of the Waitaki River. The Waitaki River is a well known salmon fishery and there are three fishing villages, two on the south side of the river (which is North Otago) and this one on the north side (actually I think it's four if I include the small village behind the camp). Many of the baches/fishing huts have permanent residents, others are used during the different fishing seasons.

There's a great lookout at the end of the road just past the fishing camp. The river has a lagoon behind a long and shingle bank. Residents from the camp and other visitors launch their boats into the lagoon below the lookout, and then head down towards the mouth of the river.

They pull in just before the fast flowing waters of the river and walk over the shingle bank to the mouth of the river with their large scoop nets slung over their shoulders. It's whitebaiting season and they'll take their turns at the river mouth scooping for the tiny little delicacy that heads upstream each spring. 

I zoom in on the area where the mouth of the river is and can see that quad bikes are the vehicle of choice if you live in the fishing villages on the south side of the river. 

But fishing isn't the reason why we have stopped at Glenavy. Just five kilometres down the main highway from our camp is the award winning Riverstone Kitchen and the magnificent Riverstone Castle.

Riverstone Kitchen
We've been here before, back in 2014. We wanted to have a special meal at Riverstone Kitchen but unfortunately our timing was out and it was closed for a week for staff holidays. I added it back onto our 'must do another time' list and here we were- albeit five years later- to tick it off the list again.

Riverstone's gift, homeware & garden shops and extensive gardens
But funnily enough it wasn't the restaurant that brought us back this time. It was a date with Dot and her castle.

Three months earlier I had managed to secure tickets for a tour through Riverstone Castle. We hadn't seen it since our visit back in 2014, and back then I thought if it's ever open for visiting I'd love to have a look. Check out my blog post from the last visit for more details on Dot & the castle. 

Dot rarely opens the castle to visitors and when she does it is usually for charity events and the tickets are snatched up very quickly  I don't usually buy tickets for events so far in advance but I decided this time we'd just have to arrange to be in the area at the right time. Living on the road you never really know where you'll be from one week to the next. (NZMCA members had the opportunity to tour the castle back in early March when the National Rally & AGM was held in Oamaru).

With our precious tickets in hand we waited near the gate at the back of the restaurant's large vegetable garden for our allotted time. 

We then made our way around the edge of the lake to the entrance courtyard (the castle has actually been built on a manmade island in the middle of a manmade lake, in the middle of what once was a cow paddock).

We pass the side entrance...

...and continue around to the front of the castle where we are to wait for the next tour to start.

It was a very warm day and with no breeze nor shade at the front we took a walk along the lake edge and through the gardens at the back of the house....I mean castle, while we waited.

There's certainly a lot of work gone into the gardens, some are well on their way to be established, while others are just getting underway.

Our group of around 20 people waited patiently at the impressive front entrance for the doors to open and it was a great relief to see that our tour leader was in fact the Queen of the Castle, Dot herself, famous pink hair and all. Dot doesn't always take the tours although she tries to do a good portion of them as people are keen to meet the lady behind the dream. Unfortunately for us (but not for Dot I guess) no photography is allowed inside the castle. 

What can I say, the inside is as spectacular as the outside. So, so many beautiful things to look at and absorb; antique furniture, chandeliers, paintings and ceiling artworks, china, crockery and stunning flower arrangements at every turn along with many items you'd expect to find in a castle; suits of armour, helmets, medieval weapons, swords and banners. The large conservatory dining room was set out for a family dinner and was a visual feast with Christmas decorations on the table, around the outside and overhead.

Once we completed the tour we were directed down into the dungeon to wait for the stragglers to catch up. And from there into.....well that would be telling, but lets just say we exited out that opening in the bank of ivy on the left (above).

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and Dot was a very gracious host. And contrary to his initial protests about not needing to tour the castle, David also enjoyed the visit. So much so that he gave Dot a little thank you speech as we were all gathered upstairs around the grand staircase. She was a little taken back that someone had thought to thank her for opening her amazing home to all and sundry. 

Afterwards I walked to the far side of the lake to take a few photos looking across the water...

...just as the fountain began to play. I am so pleased we made the effort to check out Riverstone Castle. 

After our tour, we made our way to Riverstone Kitchen where we had a booking for lunch and we finally ticked that off our bucket list......not just the once either.

During Lockdown Level 3, Riverstone Kitchen opened for takeaways so of course keen to have someone else cook dinner for a change and wanting to support a local business, we called up and ordered Butter Chicken & Slow-cooked Lamb for dinner. The meals were excellent although I had to do a little preparation beforehand.

The next time it was for my birthday dinner and I decided that there wouldn't be any preparation on this occasion so we ordered freshly cooked fish & chips (sole) with no preparation needed! And it was delicious.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Koekohe Beach Boulders- Otago

Catch-up; November 2019

Our next stop is at the Koekohe Beach boulders, more well known as the Moeraki Boulders. Did I get you? Thought that might grab your interest more than the regular name. Moeraki Boulders is another one of those 'famous in New Zealand' attractions that are a must visit if you are passing. 

It's been six years since we last visited the Boulders and I wanted to see if they have changed. Haha, no of course not...they haven't changed in over 60 million years! No, I wanted to capture some sunrise shots of the Boulders. The tides were right and to make it even easier to access them at that time of the morning, the Red-Barn-By-The-Sea CAP (costs apply parking for NZMCA members) was right beside the Boulder carpark. We couldn't get closer if we tried!

But first things first. We visited another Kiwi icon, Fleurs Place in Moeraki village, a world famous seafood restaurant located right beside the harbour and where fresh fish is delivered daily.

We've also visited Fleurs before, in fact twice. On our last visit the dinner was so lovely we went back again the next day for lunch! We resisted doing that this time and only went for dinner and it was just as lovely as we remembered.

There's a new cafe/restaurant on the wharf since our last visit, The FishWife; with, of course, seafood as the main event including freshly caught crayfish. Sadly, it was closed otherwise we'd have visited there too.

From the village we headed over to Katiki Point, hoping to check out the local wildlife.

The historic 1878 Katiki Lighthouse sits at the entrance to a large reserve where... 

...if you're lucky, you'll see Hoiho/Yellow Eyed Penguins, Kekeno/NZ Fur Seals and several colonies of Black Backed & Red-billed gulls, many of them nesting if you're there at the right time of the year. 

We had an amazing experience with the penguins when we first visited here. One waddled right past David's nose as he was laying hidden off the track (although obviously it wasn't off the penguin's track!) Two penguins made an appearance on this day but they were quite a distance away although David saw a couple up close as they moved from 'Penguin Beach' up to their nests. He was frantically trying to locate me but I was out of sight at the end of the headland checking out a seal pup who was crying for his mum. 

That's Mum lounging on the rocks middle left (not the fat 'slugs' sleeping in the seaweed at the bottom of a cliff), and the pup hiding under a rock in the water. Mum got up and slid into the water to check on the pup and then hauled back out. He stayed in the water crying and kept peeping out to see if I was still there (bottom right). I backed off and left them to it. 

I walked to the Boulders in the middle of the afternoon and was immediately pleased that we were staying overnight; there were people everywhere. I did know this though because of the amount of cars and campervans that were parked in the carpark beside our camp. A lot of people were also accessing the beach from the cafe above the boulders, where you can pay $2 to use their stairway.

With so many people climbing on, lounging over and posing in front of the boulders I took single boulder photos as they became free of people. 

At least I would be able to come back later in the evening and the next morning. I did manage to capture one photo without anyone photobombing the shot.

Unlike this boulder which I was photographing when these people walked right into the shot, totally oblivious to me (I was a lot closer but stepped back to take this photo).

I gave up and headed home. I guess the boulders will be having a well earned break at the moment.

One morning a bus load of students arrived in the carpark and disappeared up the beach. An hour or so later a few came back to the bus and sat about on the grass waiting. It was quite some time before the rest of the students arrived and they all left. Later when I went for a walk along the beach, I found their sand, shell and driftwood artworks in the sand just through the track from the carpark.

Once it was high tide, the people disappeared & so did the rocks!

Although they still proved to be great subjects.

Luckily we stayed two nights 'just in case' it was cloudy at sunrise. The first morning was grey and miserable and I happily went back to bed. The second morning looked more promising when I lifted the blind at 4:45am to check the eastern horizon. I hurriedly dressed and was striding up the beach in the darkness shortly afterwards. 'Oh darn, was that head torches I could see ahead of me near the boulders?'. I wasn't going to have them to myself after all.

The tide was on it's way in and as I reached the boulders I had to weave in and out of a dozen photographers and their tripods lined up along the wave line; Americans on a New Zealand wide photography tour. Oh well if you can't beat 'em join 'em...

Although a few of them weren't too considerate, hogging prime spots to catch the sunrise ahead of me and their fellow tour members. This lady eventually got asked to move aside by one of the tour leaders so others could get in there. The boulder with the opening is a very popular rock.

I did have the last laugh though, I was wearing gumboots (Wellington boots) and able to wade into the waves ahead of them, while many of them danced and jumped about trying not to get wet. Most gave up in the end though and walked into the thigh deep water. My gumboots also filled up as the waves got larger. I felt a little sorry (a teeny wee bit) for them having to wear wet shoes and soaked pants for the rest of the day as they sped about the country looking for the next scenic photo stop.

And for the photographers out there, here are my settings for the photo below- f/10, 3 sec, ISO 50
You also need a heavy duty tripod and be prepared for the legs to be dunked in sea water and also have sand stuck in the telescopic parts (unless of course you have a lovely husband who cleans it all out for you).

Wednesday 6 May 2020

From Bluff to Dunedin

Catch-up; November 2019- We were still in Southland but about to depart for Otago.

On a beautiful Southland spring day I packed up a lunch and we headed from our base in Winton to Bluff for the day. We've visited Bluff several times in the past, usually with the family and once to Bluff Oyster Festival (now that was an experience and a half, a weather bomb hit us) but there were a couple of places I wanted to check out that we hadn't visited before. But first things first; the mandatory drive up to Lookout Point where as expected, the 360 degree views were spectacular.

Looking west over the old Ocean Beach Freezing Works, Flat Hill Wind Farm and on to Hump Ridge & the Cameron Mountains in Fiordland National Park.

Looking south to Rakiura/Stewart Island which is just 37km away across Foveaux Strait and from there on it's just open ocean until you hit Antarctica.

North-east across Bluff Harbour is the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point...

and directly below the lookout is Bluff township.

And after a visit to the lookout, our next stop is Stirling Point of course. And even though I already have photos, I took some more of the sign post, the anchor chain sculpture and the sign for the Start/Finish of the Te Araroa Trail, the trail that we have criss-crossed many, many times during our travels from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. 

One of the places I wanted to visit was Omaui, a tiny seaside settlement at the entrance to the New River Estuary, the estuary that has Invercargill city at it's head. Omaui is also opposite Sandy Point Domain and is 'infamous' because they once wanted to ban cats from the settlement which is surrounded by a reserve. 

Omaui is at the top centre, in the photo above, just below the white sand of Oreti Beach. David backed the ute up to the edge of the beach and we sat on the tail gate having lunch overlooking the ocean and watching families enjoying the sun near the entrance to the estuary.

From Omaui we headed back towards Invercargill before turning right and heading off across the Awarua Plains on a dead straight piece of road that went on and on until finally crossing the Awarua Estuary. Where are we going? Have the power lines given it away?

We were heading to the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter. Sadly not to visit though, just to the gates to say we've been there, done the photo! The smelter is rarely opened to the public, the last time was back in 2011 to celebrate it's 40th birthday. Our Winton family were lucky enough to attend, taking one of the buses that toured the plant, including driving through the monster sized warehouse, the size of five rugby fields (from memory). 

And here's one last photo from Southland. They don't mince words down there, they tell it like it is (free chicken manure). Seen on the main road into Invercargill.

We said goodbye to Winton and the family in mid-November and headed east towards the coast; we had a very important event to attend in a few days. We made a pit-stop in Clinton on the way through, and across the road from where we stopped, I spied these scruffy little dogs in a window, jumping about & barking loudly. They were looking out for their owner who was seeing someone off in a nearby car. For the rest of the day the songs 'How much is that doggy in the window' did laps inside my head.

We stopped at Balclutha for the night, at the South Otago A&P Showgrounds CAP; it's $10 a night for NZMCA Members. The weather was cold and miserable.

The next day we moved onto the NZMCA park at Woodhaugh in Dunedin for the night. It was lovely to get to Dunedin early enough to be able to head out on the Otago Peninsula for a tiki-tour during the afternoon. 

Hoopers Inlet
Once again we're covering familiar ground, we headed to Portobello along the bottom road (taking double the time due to major road works) and then up and over to the south side of the peninsula, around Hoopers Inlet...

A new boat shed replaces one of the two iconic sheds that were
 destroyed in a storm a couple of years ago the end of the road and Allans Beach.  A short track crosses farmland, passing through dunes...

...lined with yellow lupins filling the air with a divine perfume. 

The track ends on a beautiful ocean beach. But we're not here for the beach today.

Allans Beach is also a well known home to a number of sea lions and if you're lucky Hoiho/Yellow Eyed Penguins. Sea lions haul themselves out onto the beach to rest and relax, they laze about on the warm sand in between feeding expeditions back at sea or, if you're a male, chasing females or other males away. Females also arrive to give birth, they usually hide well up into the dunes and away from the beach and the marauding males.

Sure enough there's a male resting right where the track exits onto the beach. On one of my previous visits to Allans Beach there was a very large agitated female blocking the track to the beach and I had to fight my way over the dunes and through the marram grass to avoid her. This guy doesn't even open his eyes as we pass. 

Further down the beach I find a female (females are usually cream in colour) resting in the warm sand.

She opens an eye, closes it and continues on snoozing. In case you're wondering, I have my telephoto lens on and I'm at least 15 metres from her.

We carry on down the beach and we think we see another sea lion at the far end but decide to leave that one alone. We turn and head back to the track. A lot of tourists visit the local beaches to check for sea lions and often leave thinking there are none about. 

Can you see the female in the photo on the left below? She looks just like a piece of driftwood, same colour too (that tiny speck centre left, up near the dunes). You can sometimes locate where they are if you see the distinctive tracks they leave in the sand as they've waddled up the beach (and not always in a straight line from water to the dunes either).

From the beach we head home along the top road to avoid the roadworks, stopping to take in the view out over Hoopers Inlet to Allans Beach in the distance.

Then there's another stop further along when the east side of the peninsula and Otago Harbour comes into view before we head back to Woodhaugh and home.