Tag Archives: featured

Adventuring in the South Waikato

The Waikato River Trails are such a hidden gem and we had such a great time riding ( and walking some of them ) and exploring the Waikato River by kayak at dusk and seeing the most glow worms I have ever seen.

KAYAK GLOW WORM TOUR

Kayak Glow Worm Tours from Charmaine Vaughan on Vimeo.

The Glow-worm kayaking tour was fun for young and old. The team at Lake District Adventures had everything you need to keep you warm and dry. After a full briefing including paddling instruction we set off.

The Waikato River was calm and the kayaks were very stable ( even with excitable children in them) so it was a relatively easy paddle upstream and then up a side stream through a gorge. We then got to stretch our legs and learn some fun facts about native flora and fauna as we waited for the sun to set.

Once it was completely dark we drifted back down through the gorge to view the glow-worms. At first I thought I was seeing stars in the sky but it was actually the most spectacular glow-worm display I have ever seen. The moon light filtering through the trees added to the magical experience as we drifted through the gorge as the glow-worms tinkled above us.

EXPLORING ARAPUNI

Waikato River Trail – Arapuni to Little Waipa from Charmaine Vaughan on Vimeo.

While it wasn’t quite the day we planned due to persistent rain, we still had a great time walking from Arapuni Power Station and swing bridge to the Arapuni Dam. An easy 4km return walk ( mostly in the bush so we didn’t get too wet ).

Then we cycled from Arapuni to Little Waipa. A relatively easy 12km return ride beside the river on a gravel path and through the Huihuitaha Wetland on a boardwalk. While there were a few steep hills and the trail does have some steep banks towards the river, this section is a great trail for beginners and children. All in all a great day exploring Arapuni in the rain.

Sally from Lake District Adventures can help you out with all the details on cycling in the area and has bikes, baby bike seats, tag-a-longs and bike trailers for hire along with shuttles and you can even hire a support vehicle for the day.

WAIKATO RIVER TRAILS – ATIAMURI TO MANGAKINO

Waikato River Trails – Atiamuri to Mangakino from Charmaine Vaughan on Vimeo.

We hadn’t heard much about the Waikato River Trails so we weren’t sure what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised and impressed by the trails ever-changing scenery & terrain; stunning river views, vibrant native bush, iconic farmland, boardwalks through wetland, rugged cliffs, impressive dams and more lakes than I knew existed on the Waikato River, not to mention a great lunch at the pub in Whakamaru.

We rode the two southern sections, approx. 36km from Atiamuri to Mangakino. Even though there had recently been heavy rain and its been a wet winter, the trail was in great condition. The trail was a relatively easy grade and we rode with our two kids and my Uncle who is only new to mountain biking.

The one thing that sets this trail apart from other cycle trails we have done is the easy accessibility from the road. This means you can do the stages that suit your ability and stop and start in many places. The team at Lake District Adventures can work with you to tailor a ride to suit you and even provide a support vehicle should members of your group decide not to ride one section or want to get to the pub faster.

P.S. and if like me you are wondering about the name ‘Lake District’ based around the Waikato River – the river has lots of lakes created by the dams, hence the name Lake Districts.

 

Hauraki Rail Trail

We’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Karangahake Gorge area but never on our bikes which is somewhat surprising. When the kids were younger we spent a lot of time at Waihi Beach – I think I found it easier going to the same holiday home so you know what to expect when the kids were younger and its an easy 2 hour drive from Auckland.

The kids got older, we got more adventurous, discovered mountain biking and haven’t spent quite so much time in the area. In the school holidays I thought it would be nice to revisit the area and do some of the Hauraki Rail Trail. As an icy blast swept the country we headed South to Waihi Beach, at least we were there for 4 days so hopefully we could get one fine, not too chilly day. As luck would have it the second day we were there dawned bright and sunny…if a little chilly. After we had fueled up and layered up we drove to the Waikino carpark.

Hauraki Rail Trail mapI didn’t realise until I was looking up the website for this ride that the trail goes from Waihi township to Paeroa and then South to Te Aroha and North to Thames where it also heads round the Firth of Thames towards Kaiaua on the Seabird Coast. More information on each section of the trail is available here.

We decided to ride through the Gorge as we have always enjoyed the history of the area and have read that it’s the most picturesque part of the trail. There is a tunnel under State Highway 2 that connects the Waikino carpark to the trail. Then across the Ohinemuri River on the first bridge of many on the trail. Within a couple of hundred metres you encounter your first historic site at the Victoria Battery. The Battery had 200 stampers and was the largest quartz ore processing plant in Australasia and the country’s largest producer of gold. There are extensive ruins and points of interest. The Tramway Society of Waikino has open days on Wednesdays Sundays and public holidays.

Not far from here is the historic Waikino pub, accessed via a new swing bridge, and then there there is the stunning Owharoa waterfall only a couple of minutes from the trail but we decided to visit them on the way back seeing as we hadn’t spent much time on our bikes just yet. The trail was lovely and flat so a great gradient for kids or those not looking to expend too much energy.

It was about a half hour ride at a leisurely pace to the narrow part of the gorge where another bridge crosses the river and connects to the tunnel. This end of the tunnel is quite an interesting view as you study the engineering feat of a 1 km tunnel built over 100 years ago with the rush of the rapids in your ears and cars whizzing by on State Highway 2.

We have walked through the 1 km tunnel many times so it was fun to whizz through it on our bikes. The lighting has been upgraded a lot since we first walked through so its very easy to ride. It can be busy with pedestrians and cyclists but when we rode even though there were lots of people on the trails we didn’t encounter too many in the tunnel.

At the other end of the tunnel its straight on to another bridge across the Ohinemuri river again. At this point you can ride North towards Paeroa and Thames or loop back to the main Karangahake Gorge carpark. We rode a couple of kilometers along the river towards Paeroa before turning around and saving that section for another day. I have heard that its not the most interesting ride but if you were looking for a less busy part of the trail to do then this would be worth checking out.

We headed back towards the Karangahake Gorge carpark as we have always loved this area and there is a café there. There are some awesome walks here and if you wanted to explore the area more you might want to bring your bike locks and more food than we did. After a coffee and a snack we retraced our steps ( or wheels as the case might be) back to the tunnel. There is another trail along beside the river that connects to where we first went into the tunnel but the signage was slightly ambiguous as to whether it can be ridden or not and from experience we know its very narrow and there were lots of walkers on the trail so we didn’t want to get in anyone’s way or be getting on and off our bikes all the time – it is a stunning walk beside the river so again if you wanted to do it, bring your bike lock and explore by foot .

Normally I don’t like riding back on the same trail but the views on this trail are so stunning that I didn’t mind at all. There was less stopping for photos on the way back although the kids wanted to throw stones in the river, something we do every time we come and who can resist getting splashed by icy water on a chilly day.

It was nice to have saved the Owharoa Waterfall side trip for our return trip. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t discovered the waterfall before and its always nice to find something new.  It isn’t very well signposted so take the first road into the hills after the battery. Less than 5 minutes from the trail ( and the main road ) there is a stunning waterfall with what would be a great swimming hole in summer.

At this point I realised that only one of the adults needed to drive the car back to Waihi, so lucky me got to ride the 8 km back to Waihi all by myself. While it didn’t have the stunning scenery of Karangahake Gorge section, it was a lovely ride following the river and at times the historic train tracks. This section of the trail was much less popular on the day we rode.

All in all a great way for us to revisit a part of New Zealand’s history and if you haven’t enjoyed the wonders of the Karangahake Gorge before, it’s a must do.

You may also like to read about walking in the Karanghake Gorge or check out other rides we have done with children; Old Coach Rd and the Timber Trail.

Tips for riding with kids

This would be such a great trail to get younger kids out on their bikes and could also easily be ridden with younger children on your bike, bike trailers or tag-alongs.

It’s a mostly grade 1, a great gradient and has nice wide paths. There are enough points of interest along the way to keep everyone motivated although this can make for a stop/start ride to fully appreciate the beauty and history of the area.

Pick the distance you want to ride, what most interests you ( or you kids ) on the trail and get out there.

You may also like to read Mud, sweat and tears – a blog I wrote about mountain with kids.

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.

Climbing a volcano

I have lived in Auckland all my life and travelled around the country climbing up hill and down dale, and all the while one of the coolest adventures sat right there in the middle of our stunning harbour. Rangitoto Island is New Zealand’s youngest volcano and only emerged from the sea 600 years ago – thankfully it’s now dormant.

Looking out at Rangitoto Island from the many beaches around central Auckland is one of my favourite views of all time but it wasn’t till my 4 year old decided he wanted to climb it for his 5th birthday that I considered changing the perspective of the view.

We normally do the ‘standard’ kids birthday party with family and friends but since this was celebrating my son’s 5th birthday we decided to invite the family along with us. My in-laws thought we were mad ( not the first time ), ‘won’t it be dangerous taking a 5 year old to Rangitoto’… ( only if it starts erupting! ) Anyhow they eventually came round and eight of us set out on our Rangitoto Island adventure on a sunny May day.

We caught the train into town so we didn’t have to worry about parking, and who doesn’t love an adventure that starts off with a train trip. There are no cafes on the island so we had a quick coffee stop before we jumped on the ferry.

I always love being on the water and it’s a great view back to the city from the ferry, with the added bonus of the skipper giving a commentary on points of interest. Of course we couldn’t hear a lot of it over my son’s excitement.

From the minute you step on to the island you realise it’s quite different to anywhere else you have been. The exposed volcanic rock made it feel like we were on the moon – not that I have ever been on the moon – but what I imagine the moon would look like.

There are many different walks on Rangitoto. We did the Summit Walk which was a relatively easy ( bearing in mind we had a just-turned-5 year old and 70 year olds walking with us ) one hour climb to the top where the views of the Hauraki Gulf are stunning. As no birthday celebration is complete without a toast to the birthday boy we had beer and bubbles with our picnic lunch while we enjoyed the view.

On the way back to the ferry we did the side track to the lava caves and my Aunt introduced us to the torch apps on our phones. It was nice to get off the main track and scramble a little bit. This side trip takes about 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour though so allow for this in your walking times if you can. It’s well worth it and the kids loved it.

Then we get a nice rest on the ferry back to the city after a great day of adventuring right on our back door step. Also a great way to celebrate a birthday and share an adventure with family young and old.

Top tips

There is no shop or café on Rangitoto Island so be sure to take enough food and water for the day.

Wear footwear that can cope with rugged lava/scoria terrain.

Don’t miss your ferry, as there is no accommodation on the island and I hear chartered boat trips can be expensive.

Xmas slice

When I discovered these super cute Xmas holly baking decorations20161123_101317 a couple of years ago I thought they would look adorable on the cream cheese icing of my Citrus Slice. I also changed the recipe a bit to make it more Xmasy. It’s great to have on hand to take to Xmas functions and looks cute in a Xmas box with some fudge as a gift.

INGREDIENTS

Base

200g butter

395g sweetened condensed milk

2 packets of 250g round wine biscuits, finely crushed

1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut

1 packet mixed peel

1 lemon, finely grated zest

1 orange, finely grated zest

( I don’t always use the lemon and/or orange as I think the mixed peel gives enough flavour )

1/2 cup chopped cranberries

1/2 cup toasted chopped pistachios

Icing

50g cream cheese ( not light )

50g butter

1 lemon, finely grated. Optional: to make it a little more Xmasy I leave out the lemon and add Wilton brandy flavour.

1½ cups icing sugar

METHOD

Grease and line the base of a 30cm x 25cm slice tin

Melt butter and add the sweetened condensed milk stirring to combine.

Add the remaining ingredients for the base and mix to combine.

Press the base into the slice tin.

To make the icing, soften the cream cheese a little and then add butter and continue to soften. Beat together. Add the lemon zest ( or brandy flavour ) and icing sugar to get the desired consistency. Spread over the base and refrigerate.

I cut into 3cm x 3cm pieces (and yes I use a ruler to measure it! ) and then put the holly on.

 

Top tip

In NZ, I got my Wilton Xmas Holly from Milly’s Kitchen. They do online sales but I can’t see these listed so if you can’t make it to Milly’s you could try ringing and see if they can do phone sales.

Look Sharp also stock Wilton cake decorating goods so you could have a look there.