Takaka adventure

I imagined that the start of our 3 week South Island camping trip was going to be a relatively relaxing 5 night stay at Kaiteriteri lying on the gorgeous beach before the summer hoards arrived – how wrong could I be?

After a day of regrouping and another day in Abel Tasman National Park we headed over the Takaka Hills to explore further afield, and what a lot of exploring there was to do. This region has a lot of caves, rock sculptures and holes which occur as the area has a lot of marble and the soft rock between the marble is eroded easily.

Takaka itself is an adorably quaint little village that I expect had lots of interesting shops but we didn’t have time for that. After a quick stop for coffee we were off to the Grove Scenic Reserve.

This walk wasn’t like anything I has seen before in New Zealand and could have been off the set of an Indiana Jones movie with vines hanging down through rock crevices. The atmosphere was further enhanced by misty rain. It was an easy 30 —40 minute walk, luckily as from here we were off to a 2 hour hike up a goat track.

On to Rawhiti Caves,  the most un-signed posted Department of Conservation walk* we have ever seen, that involved driving up a farmers drive-way. In fact there were cows in the carpark.

The walk started along beside a dry river bed for about half an hour and then quickly turned to a steep uphill climb for the next half hour. I am not too good with heights and parts of the trail did feel like they had quite a steep drop off to the side. Not sure about doing this trail in the wet. But what awaited at the top was worth the effort as we rounded a corner to the entrance of a massive cave. The cave can only be described as spectacular and as with many things I don’t think photos do it justice. Suffice to say it was one of the highlights of the South Island trip for me.

You can’t venture very far into the cave but there is a great platform for viewing. While we were on the platform we saw some people who just couldn’t help themselves and had gone further into the cave. I was talking to my children about how it’s not good to break the rules when the guy also with us on the viewing platform said he could put them under citizen’s arrest. Umm…what…he was a member of the NZSS…umm…what…the New Zealand Speleology Society. Boy did he have some stories to tell.

So I can’t guarantee you will get your own tales from a Speleologist but I am pretty sure you will find the hike up the hill well worth the effort.

*The Department of Conservation ( DoC ) rate this walk easy. Having done quite a few DoC walks I am not sure this walk had an overall rating of easy. The last 30 minutes are like a goat track, very steep and narrow, clambering over rocks at some points. We walked the track with a 7 and 11 year old but they had recently walked the Tongariro Crossing.

More on our South Island adventures.

Top tips

Don’t expect to find any sign posts to the Rawhiti Caves walk until you are nearly there.

The river at the start of the walk can’t be crossed after heavy rain.

Allow time in the caves as they are quite mesmerising.

 

 

South Island itinerary

Planning a trip can be exciting and daunting. When we planned our South Island trip we first had to decide what we wanted to do in each place and then how long to stay…or did we plan the other way round? Either way we loved our South Island trip and felt like we made the most of every minute.

Day 1 – 5. Starting in Kaiteriteri- 5 nights

  1. First day was recoup and recover time after 2 days driving from Auckland so you may not need this day ( depending on where you drove from ) but it was nice to spend some time relaxing on the stunning beach in Kaiteriteri.
  2. We spent one day walking in Abel Tasman National Park. We wanted to kayak but the kids were too young for the kayak rental company so we caught the water taxi to Anchorage and explored the tracks and beaches in the area including Cleopatra’s Pool.
  3. We also were delighted to find an awesome mountain bike park that we could easily ride to from the campground where we were staying. Plenty of tracks for adults and kids to ride together. Walked around beach and cliff track.
  4. Drove over to Takaka the next day to walk the Grove Scenic Reserve and up to Rawhiti Caves.  In the afternoon more mountain bike riding (we found a lovely local childminder so we could ride without the kids this time ) The “Jaws” track is amazing, hard up but awesome down.

In between our adventures we made the most of the long evenings and sat on the beach relaxing.

Day 5 – 7. Westport ( 2 nights, 1 full day )

  1. We arrived in Westport about 5pm after a day of chores in Motueka and a stunning drive through the Buller Gorge. Quickly set up the camper and headed out to Cape Foulwind to see the seal colony. It didn’t disappoint – it was a foul wind and there were lots of seals.
  2. The next day we spent doing some of the most amazing walks I think I did in the South Island but then I do say that about a lot of the walks. Headed north of Westport to Mokihinui to soak up some West Coast beach vibes and check out a 100 year old shipwreck. Then on to the Chasm Creek and Charming Creek Walkways. Both stunning and the scenery is so rugged. Then up to the Denniston Plateau for a peek into what a coal mining town would have been like….tough people, hard work.

Day 7. Westport to Franz Josef

  1. Stopped in at Punakaiki and Shantytown on the way to Franz Josef. Try to visit Punakaiki at high tide to see the full effect of the waves and blowholes but its still spectacular anytime.

Day 7 -9. Franz Josef ( 2 nights, 1 full day )

  1. Rode our mountain bikes from the campground in Franz Josef to the start of the Franz Josef Glacier walk. The walk up the glacier valley to the snout is amazing and gives a great sense of nature’s power. Considered doing another tourist activity but they are pretty expensive here so we relaxed for the afternoon.

Day 9. Franz Josef to Queenstown.

  1. One of our longest drives. Crossed the Southern Alps at Haast pass then stopped at Puzzling World in Wanaka which was lots of fun.

Day 9 – 13. Queenstown (4 nights)

  1. Spent the morning doing chores and got out for an adult mountain bike ride at Wilsons Bay. Wasn’t the best riding but I think we had high expectations after Kaiteriteri.
  2. Did a 24km bike ride with the kids alongside the Kawerau river and down to the Bungy bridge. Crossing the Shotover and Arrow river bridges along the way was very spectacular. Arranged a shuttle bus pick up to get us back to Queenstown.
  3. Boat trip across the lake to Mt Nichol sheep station. The farm tour was great for the kids to see all the farm animals but the promised barbeque lunch was a bit average.

Day 13. Queenstown to Glen Tanner, Mount Cook

13.Nice drive north through the mountains crossing Lindis pass and stopped at Omarama for lunch on a riverbank. We arrived at Glen Tanner about 4pm. Its about a 20min drive up to Mt Cook Village and we walked the Hooker Valley Track that evening, lucky it stays light late down here.

Day 14. Glen Tanner to Geraldine

14. Another long drive but the scenery is amazing all the time so the time passes easily. Stopped at Tekapo for lunch, went up Mt John for an even bigger view of the stunning high country scenery.

Day 16. Geraldine to Hanmer Springs ( 4 nights )

  1. Decided to take the inland Highway 77 through to Rangiora rather than traverse the endless Canterbury plains. Culverden for an icecream (the biggest we have had) then arrived Hanmer about 4pm and explored the Hanmer Springs area. Went for a swim in the river to cool down.
  2. Mountain biked with the kids in the morning and then hot springs/pools in the afternoon. Bought a 2 day family pass.
  3. Walked up Dog Stream forest track to a cool waterfall, then back to the hot springs/pools again.
  4. Found a childminder in the campground for the kids and got out for an adult mountain bike ride. Relaxed for the afternoon

Day 19. Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura ( Unfortunately this area has been hit by an earthquake so you would need to check roads before you travel )

19. Took the inland highway to Kaikoura. Whale watching in the afternoon. The whales were amazing and the massive pod of dolphins was an added bonus.

Head for home ; (

Top tips

We camped in our camper trailer and I didn’t estimate how long it would take to move on each day and prepare food as nothing happens quickly when you are camping. I loved the experience of camping but some days I did wish we could just unplug and move on like the camper vans did. So if you aren’t camping like us you may find you can move faster.

You really don’t need to spend a lot of money on activities in the South Island. What we didn’t budget for was flat tyres, one on our car and two on the camper!

We mountain biked a lot and went for many walks to enjoy the natural surroundings. If that’s not your thing then you will of course have more time than us.

We were very lucky with the weather but it can be wet. If you are camping it might pay to slap some waterproofing on your tent like we did with the camper trailer.

Mountain Biking the Timber trail

I have mountain biked for years but mostly round in circles in mountain bike parks and only recently started doing trails. Possibly because as part of a government initiative a few years ago a lot of money was pumped into cycle trails so New Zealanders and visitors to NZ are spoilt for choice.

It all started when a good friend of ours who is an avid cyclist  organised a trip to the Timber Trail, 70km in the back of beyond in the King Country must have sounded achievable as our first cycle trail experience with the added bonus of someone else organising it. So I ended up going round in lots more circles in mountain bike parks to get in some training or time on the saddle. Lucky for me I have the comfiest bike seat combined with the comfiest bike shorts so my butt never has any complaints.

Of course with my husband and I both mountain biking this meant more organising of babysitters but that’s why we call going mountain biking our ‘dates’.

And so with a little trepidation at my first trail ride, we set off to the middle of nowhere. I might be prone to exaggeration but I didn’t really know parts of New Zealand like this existed. Let me put if for you this way – there was no cellphone coverage for 2 days. Yep that’s how far bush we were.

We stayed at the Forge at Black Fern Lodge which is near the halfway point of the trail. You can of course stay anywhere in the area but staying at Black Fern Lodge does mean you are able to cycle out to the trail (a drop off and pick up is still required) and soak up some amazing rural New Zealand scenery. The accommodation we stayed in deserves a mention as it’s a converted sheep shearing shed with four bunk rooms, a communal lounge and a couple of decks. Each room has its own bathroom facilities. The only downside is the kitchen is across one of the decks so it makes for a few trips backyards and forward to the dining area #firstworldproblems. It was very rustic and very cool.

It pays to make an early start, unfortunately I didn’t have the best sleep the night before we set off but luckily I am used to functioning on little sleep. And I don’t usually have breakfast till about 9am but I felt that a true trail rider would have a hearty breakfast so that’s what I did. A production line formed for making the sandwiches and we were off.

Twelve of us piled into a mini van with our bikes on a trailer and set off for the start of the trail. After a half hour drive through the bush by 8.30am we were on the trail in a light rain…hmm not what I signed up for. By 9am I was hyperventilating and nearly vomiting my breakfast up….hmm not quite the action girl I make myself out to be.

I have since discovered that (a) I should never break my breakfast routine and (b) no matter how much I have trained I always find it hard to pace myself at the beginning of a ride.

The only way is forward and after a couple of deep breathes I was off for another 35 kms.

The first day of riding had a few uphills, one decent mountain climb, but nothing that wasn’t achievable with a bit of training. And the scenery and suspension bridges were well worth the uphills. Speaking of bridges, if you like bridges like my husband you will love this trail!! Even I thought the bridges were amazing but I just can’t bring myself to ride over them.

At the halfway point we turn off for the ride back to Black Fern Lodge. The side trail is about 5km, annoyingly it has a nasty uphill right near the end. Yes there was some swearing and bike pushing but gee that gin and tonic tasted good once back. We got to the Forge at about 3pm so lots of time to sit on one of the many decks and relax and swap stories and compare bruises.

It was an early night and up early the next morning. Having learned my lesson on a big breakfast the day before I had cake for breakfast ( I always have room for cake ) and took a breakfast sandwich to have on the trail.

None of us were keen to ride up the ridge back to the Timber trail so for a very reasonable price the owner of the Lodge will drop you at the top of the hill in his ‘bush’ jeep. Definitely do this, no need to start the day on a killer climb.

The second day ride is awesome. A few uphills and then a massive downhill, one of those ones where your legs start cramping up because you are standing up so long but you don’t care because you are loving the downhill so much.

The trail generally follows old timber logging trails and there are railway line relics along the way along with good information boards. Bit hard to stop and read some of them as you are zooming past. Another highlight is the Ongarue spiral where the trail is descending fast and it winds back around under itself and you ride through a tunnel. Its very dark and you get disorientated when you first enter but focus on the light at the end. The tunnel floor was also a stream and you need a bit of faith as you ride through.

We finished the ride about 2pm and then got the shuttle back to the Lodge.

We washed our bikes in the stream and I rediscovered my inner child by jumping in and whizzing down in the current even though it was freezing.

We loved this ride so much we have now done it twice and would consider going back again and riding it in one day for a real challenge.

It can also be hiked but as a true mountain biker I have to say I think it would be pretty boring.

Everything you need to know about planning to ride the Timber Trail is on their website.

Top tips:

If you are thinking of doing this ride, pick up the phone now and book your accommodation. Of course as I  said you could stay in outer lying areas but we love the atmosphere of Black Fern and so does everyone else so it can be a wait for accommodation. You could also check out the Timber Trail website for other options for accommodation.

If it’s been raining when you ride the trail be careful of the puddles as they can be deeper than you think and people have broken their collar bones as their bikes bottom out in puddles.

This is a remote spot and you won’t have cell phone coverage while you are there. I don’t mind that but my kids and the babysitter were wondering what had happened to us.

You can be waiting for the shuttle pick up at the end of Day 2 and it’s sandfly central so might pay to pack some insect repellant as there is nothing worse than wanting to chill after a hard day’s riding and be eaten alive by sand flies.

Tarawera Trail

After walking the Tongariro Crossing with our 7 and 12 year old, we were on the look out for our next adventure and were delighted to find it in the Tarawera Trail.

The first thing to organise is the water taxi to drop you off or pick you up, unless you wanted to walk both ways. I booked the water taxi online about a month before and didn’t find the website that easy to use. In fact our friends had a toddler that we didn’t have to pay for but there was nowhere on the booking system to note that we were bringing a toddler and I thought they might like to know. So I rung the next morning and was told that they didn’t have our booking. Upon further investigation it turns out that when the booking was transferred to a spreadsheet the booking was put down for the wrong day. So I am certainly pleased I rung.

The weather forecast for our walk wasn’t too good but the day dawned with a beautiful sunrise over Mount Tarawera and turned out pretty good. There aren’t a lot of carparks at The Landing where the water taxi leaves from, so I am not sure what you would do if you turned up and the car park was full but we didn’t have to worry about that.

The water taxi ride was awesome, the views stunning and the skipper was very informative and jovial.

I spent a lot of my childhood kayaking in the Tarawera River so was quite excited to go to Hot Water Beach but like many things high expectations can lead to disappointment. I wasn’t prepared for so many people camping there. There isn’t a lot of flat land beside the beach so all the people that were there made the spot seem quite cramped. Still very interesting to visit though and the kids had a great time playing in the warm water. Strangely the hot water entering the lake “floats” on the surface of the cold water lake so the temperature can fluctuate dramatically and burn rings around your ankles.

So after a little foot soak we were off on our hike. I should mention we got dropped off at Hot Water beach and walked back to the landing so we didn’t have to rush with the kids to meet the water taxi. That did mean we couldn’t soak in a hot pool for long but having rushed for a pick up before I enjoyed being able to walk at our own pace.

Its an awesome walk with a little hidden gem that we haven’t seen mentioned anywhere and it was very kind of the seasoned campers at Hot Water Beach to share the fact  that there is hot water running in a stream that has been dammed to create a pool. Its about 1 hours walk from the campground to the amenity / rest spot.  Then take a short side track towards the lake its about 15mins walk. The kids loved that pool and so did we. Enjoy this treasure.

I like a scenic spot for lunch ( whether road tripping, mountain biking or hiking ) and the amenities area had picnic tables but in the direction we walked this was more of a morning tea stop. So we were on the look out for a lunch spot and as we came over a hill we spotted a gorgeous white sandy beach not far off the track so we bush crashed a little to get to the lakes edge. Beautiful. It was only small but it was nice to be by the water for lunch, although our friend who got two mossie bites probably didn’t think so.

The rest of the walk has stunning scenery and was very achievable as it’s mostly undulating terrain ( bearing in mind our kids had walked the 20km Tongariro Crossing the year before and we have maintained their fitness with walks and mountain biking ).

We are back at The Landing at 4pm after setting out from Hot Water Beach about 10am. This included stopping at the hot spring stream pool and a lunch break. The Trail is not too steep and you can keep up a steady pace. We passed quite a lot of trail runners along the way too. Also our friend walked all the way with a 2 year old in a baby backpack.

We would love to do this walk again.

Top tips:

Check your booking with the water taxi.

If you are concerned about making a pick up time like we have been in the past ( and I think this particularly applies when you are walking with kids)  get dropped off at Hot Water Beach and walk back. This did mean we couldn’t enjoy a long dip at Hot Water Beach, but it was so much more relaxing than other adventures when we have been rushing for a pick up.

Check out the dam in the hot stream near the amenities block ( directions above ).

Although the full walk is 15km, if you park at the Landing, water taxi out and return there, it is a shorter walk because you don’ walk back to the tracks main car park start/finish point. Not sure exactly how much shorter, maybe 2km, but you do avoid the final hill.

All the packing tips you will ever need

Do your attempts at packing look like this? Is the thought of packing enough to put you off going away? Determined not to let the thought of packing get in the away of our family going away ( a lot! ) I have put together the ultimate list of packing tips.

Buy some plastic crates to pack food – Ok so I was very slow on the uptake here. Some of my friends have been using them for years and when we got some I could see why. No more squashed food on arrival, husband likes the way they fit in the car, if the place you are staying doesn’t have enough cupboard space the crates can be stacked in the kitchen. Get different coloured ones so you can pack different things in different ones ( if we are making lunch out and about on a travel day I put the things I want into a specific colour so we can find it easily ). If you don’t want to buy crates, you could always get some empty boxes from the supermarket.

Chilly bin – buy the best quality chilly bin that you can. We spent years using the old-style chilly bin and they do an OK job but recently we invested in a ‘fishermans chilly bin’ and we reckon we have made the money back on what it cost us, with savings in food going off. The ice lasts so much longer and also less ice-melt means everything in the bottom doesn’t get soggy.

Buy sleeping bags for the kids – again I was very slow on the uptake here. Hate to think of the time we have spent making beds when we have gone away and it was only when we were going away in our camper for 3 weeks and faced making up beds every few days that I thought to get sleeping bags. Added bonus…kids don’t get cold with blankets falling off. Unless you are planning to go camping in winter they don’t have to be expensive ones.

Packing list – so this might be an obvious one but I have a list, especially useful when the kids were young and there was a lot more to remember and I had a lot less ability to think. I have a different list depending on where we are going; camping, bach, mountain biking etc.

Leave toilet bag packed – OK so I have quite a lot of sh*t in my toilet bag but there is nothing worse than being away and not having the medication you need or forgetting your sunscreen. I have almost everything I need in my toilet bag and just use things out of there when I am at home or buy two lots of things ( e.g. eye drops, deodorant ) and leave one lot packed.

Leave medication packed ( pamol, kids cough mixture, vicks, sunscreen, insect repellent etc ) – my kids don’t get sick very much but there is nothing worse than being away and having an unwell child and no access to a pharmacy.

Leave some kids activities packed – depending on where you are going the kids might not have the same things to play with at home (i.e. no internet connection ) so we leave activity books, cards, small games, white boards and markers packed in a bag ready to go. Its in the lounge if they want to play with things at home too.

Get the kids to pack for themselves – give them a list if necessary. Just tell them to pack for number of days away. Then they do most of it and you can add a few bits and pieces.

Grocery shopping – I like to do the grocery shopping the night before we go ( or maybe two nights before we go ).  Then I just pack it into crates in the garage and it’s good to go. Saves double handling unpacking half the food into the house.

Food – Have a ‘set menu’ that you cook every time you go away. e.g. If we are going to Rotorua mountain biking ( we go about once a month ) we have homemade hamburgers on the first night, shared dinner with our friends the second night etc.

Buy a single story house – we go downstairs to our garage and it sure does keep us fit when packing the car.

Pack in stages – just like with the groceries I start getting things out the day before and then as I go down the stairs during the day take a load of stuff with me.

If you have a small car consider buying a roof box – my husband loves trademe and got a good deal for a roof box and the roof racks you need to fit it. A great gain in space and makes the car more comfortable if its not crammed.

Find a husband that can fit a lot of stuff in to the car – OK so this might not be possible but I am so lucky that my husband is so good at packing the car. In fact its an art form! Lucky he is so good coz you know that saying about everything but the kitchen sink, well they were talking about me!

Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors