All posts by Charmaine Vaughan

Family friendly activities in the Bay of Islands

Day trip to Urupukapuka Island

Stunning views, great bird watching (even from a purpose built hide) and gorgeous beaches on Urupukapuka Island.

There is a great variety of trails on the island – some of them are quite steep.

Otehi Bay was quite crowded on the day we went ( peak summer period and it’s where the ferries come in) but there are lots of other gorgeous beaches.

Two ferry companies run services to the island.

Paihia to Opua coastal walk

The Paihia to Opua coastal track cuts through the Pahia Top 10 campground where we were staying and that’s where we started the trail to Opua.

If you don’t want to walk the whole track from Paihia you can park at Te Haumi ( the bay before Paihia as you head North ) or at Smith Camp Rd.

The trail is quite narrow and steep in places on the Te Haumi to the campground section which we did later in the day.

All in all a lovely walk with stunning views, lovely little bays to enjoy at high tide and cafes at Opua.

On a subsequent trip we walked the track from the campground to Opua and my son and his friend kayaked.

Ferry to Russell

A fun day out from Paihia catching the ferry across to Russell and then a short walk over to Oneroa Bay ( Long Beach ) – a stunning beach with gorgeous views out to the islands of the Bay.

There isn’t much shade at the beach so its pays to take your own umbrella. No shops either so pack your snacks or pick them up in Russell township as you pass through.

Biking from Opua to Kawakawa

Twin Coast Trail, Opua to Kawakawa

Waitangi mountain bike park

Waitangi Mountain Bike Park new trails

Getting you on your bike and loving it

One of the things I have loved about lockdown is seeing everyone out on their bikes, including some bikes that probably haven’t seen the light of day for a while.
I thought I would ask Cycle Coach and Educator,  Janet Stark a few questions about how to make sure your bike is ready for the mean streets, and how to make sure you get the most out of your biking experience.
How do you make sure your bike is ready to ride?
There are many sites with bike check information and video. This one on how to check your bike is a good place to start.
I see lots of people with their seats very low which actually makes it harder to ride and get the most power out of each revolution of the pedals. How do you set up a bike to ride?
This is harder to do when not there in person to help, but most important is seat height and the seat being straight.
  • Learn to ride – feet flat on ground to get started and feel secure. Slowly raising seat as you gain more confidence so the knees aren’t so bent.
  • Beginner – raise seat up higher ie ball of foot is secure on the ground.
  • Novice  – raise seat up higher again. Toes secure on the ground (not tip toe). The key is to not be too bent in the knees or have them too straight.Your comfort is also extremely important. 
Whats a good place to start for beginner riders?
Again there are a large number of resources on line. I would think focusing on stopping, starting and riding your bike in a control manner ie ride it where you want to go.
Starting in a location that has space and flat. Getting used to riding on a shared pathway, or in an empty car park for real beginners, and build on those experiences.
This video from Auckland Transport also has some great tips for kid learning to ride.
I see lots of ill-fitting helmets. How do you check they fit properly?
Sarah Walker, a NZ BMX rider talks about making sure your helmet fits in this video.
Some great suggestions from Janet.  She is passionate about getting you on your bike and loving it, so if you are looking for cycle coaching once lockdown ends then have a look at what she has to offer.
And once we can travel around more you might want to hit the mountain biking trails with your kids so check out my top tips for mountain  biking with kids, my tips for beginner mountain biking in Rotorua and a review of most of the North Island NZ cycle trails. 

everything you need to know about Paparoa logistics

I haven’t even ridden the Paparoa yet, so full disclosure this photo is from the Old Ghost Rd. In fact the trail hasn’t even opened ( planned to open December 2019 and a slip has just delayed the opening ) but I thought I would share how we plan to do logistics of getting to the West Coast of the South Island from Auckland with our bikes and a few of our mates ( 6 plus me and my husband makes a group of 8 because when you are organising a mountain bike adventure everyone wants in ).

We are flying into Christchurch – we generally try and not all fly on the same flight after we were told once when we were flying in a group that all of our bike boxes couldn’t fit on one flight. That time our group ended up diverted and our bike boxes actually made it back to Auckland before us but it could have made for some annoying logistics if they didn’t. 

Once we arrive in Christchurch ( hopefully with all of our bikes arriving at the same time as us ) we spent a bit of time figuring out the best way to get to the South Island. Here is what we investigated;

  • Being shuttled over.
  • Flying over.
  • Catching trans alpine express ( yes we have a train enthusiast in the house )
  • Hiring a vehicle and driving over.

We went with option 4, hiring a vehicle and driving over. We found two companies that hire vans and bike trailers.

Having our own vehicle gives us flexibility to tiki tour between Christchurch and the West Coast ( not that there will be much time for that but you never know what adventures we might be able to squeeze in ), leave gear in the vehicle that we don’t want to ride with and its saving us money on shuttles to the start of rides and pick ups at the end as we are just getting a vehicle transfer instead of individual shuttle pickups which when divided by 8 is a massive saving.

We are also adding part of the West Coast trail to our mountain biking tour of the West Coast.

Our itinerary looks a bit like this:

  • Fly Auckland Christchurch
  • Hire van and trailer
  • Visit supermarket
  • Drive Christchurch to Blackball
  • One night stay in Blackball
  • Drive to start of Paparoa
  • Ride 20km from Smoko carpark to Moonlight tops hut
  • Ride 36km Moonlight tops hut to Punakiki
  • One stay in Punakiki
  • Drive to Hokitika/Tree tops ( 1 hr 15mins)
  • Do tree tops walk
  • Ride to Cowboy Paradise 52km
  • Stay Cowboy Paradise
  • Ride Cowboy Paradise to Kumera 34km
  • Drive to Christchurch
  • Fly to Auckland

Phew…logistics sorted!!! Now we just need to wait for the ride to open.

Side note: this trail is popular. At the time of our planning in October 2019, bookings in the weekends were already full till June 2020 for a group of our size. As we are doing the West Coast trail we ended up doing Paparoa mid-week which gave us more flexibility on bookings.

Jed from Punakiki Beach Camp has been most helpful with vehicle transfers and will also do shuttles, vehicle storage and of course accommodation including some great looking holiday homes that we are staying in for a night at Punakiki.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Conservation. I hope to take my own when I ride the trail.

Mountain biking in the ‘burbs

Yes that’s right – there are mountain biking trails in the suburbs of Auckland.

After watching our friend ride Totara Park on strava a lot we decided we had better stop watching and get out there and see what the Totara Park mountain bike club had been up to.

We had ridden at Totara Park quite a few years ago when our kids had just got into mountain biking…turns out a lot can change in a few years and change for the better. The team have been hard at work adding many kilometres of new fun, flowy trails.

If you haven’t ridden Totara Park before or even heard of it then lets start at the beginning. Totara Park is one of Manukau’s largest parks stretching over 216 hectares. It’s approximately 20 mins drive from Auckland’s CBD ( in good traffic ). Travel south along SH1, take the Manukau Exit onto Redoubt Road, head east for about 1.5km and you’ll see the park entrance to the right.

There are great views from the carpark across Auckland city and out to the Manukau harbour. Of course great views generally mean you are at the top of a hill, or more of a ridge in this case but it means the ride starts with a downhill and ends with an uphill. Nothing too fun limiting…just make sure you save something in the tank if you are riding with kids.

Speaking of kids Totara Park has a great little beginners circuit, near the bottom of that hill. It’s a 1 km loop that has a picnic area and little skills park in the middle.

If it’s a blast with your friends that you are after then Totara Park has that covered too with about 18km of fun flowy trails of mostly intermediate level.

So with trails so easily accessible there really is no excuse for not getting out for a spin.

Four weeks of fun in the South Island

Left Auckland and drove to Wellington in one day ( not highly recommended but we didn’t want to waste time getting to the South Island. Stayed in a cabin at the Top Ten in Lower Hutt.

Day 1 – 3

Crossed over to the South Island on the 9am ferry. Arrived at midday and were riding our bikes in the Malbourough Sounds that afternoon – woohoo, the adventure has begun! Stayed the next two nights at Tahuna Beach Kiwi Holiday Park.

The next day my husband and I had planned to ride Dunn Mountain but then decided it would take too long and we would rather spend time with the kids so we rode a section of the Great Taste Trail and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then the kids and my husband went to XXX.

Day 4 – 6

The next day we were driving to Arthurs Pass and stopped to ride through the Spooner Tunnel ( another part of the Great Taste Trail – park at XXX and ride a gentle incline to experience the longest rideable tunnel in NZ )

We hadn’t booked anywhere to stay in Arthurs Pass but as we drove through heavy rain to get there we decided to stay at Jacksons Retreat Alpine Holiday Park where you can camp under a barn-style roof and we were glad we did as each afternoon it poured with rain. There is a great little walk to a waterfall at the back of the campground.

The next day we walked the Scotts track which is straight up the side of a mountain on a rocky trail at times scrambling up the hill. This trail intersects with Avalanche track

After staying another night at Jacksons we headed for Hampden by the Moeraki Boulders. Along the way we did a short walk to the Devils Punchbowl in Arthurs Pass Village. The drive through the Arthurs Pass to Canterbury is through stunning. We also stopped at Castle Hill where limestone rocks have eroded into more dramatic

We chose to stay at Hampden scenery. A great spot to explore along the way.

Day 7

because it was a Kiwi campgrounds but there was a campground in Moeraki.

After a quick set up we headed to Katiki Point for some hoihoi ( yellow eyed penguins ) and had the best experience in all of our hoihoi spotting attempts. We arrived just as the hoihoi came up the hill and were super close. There was also great seal spotting here. We then drove around Moeraki village and visited the Moeraki boulders. We certainly make the most of the extra daylight hours in the South Island.

Day 8 – 12

Next morning we headed to Dunedin stopping along the way at Shag Point XXXX, and scrambled down a hill to see more Moeraki style boulders that were slightly more eroded but very interesting none-the-less. This is also where the fossil XXX. Further down this road is more great seal spotting.

We also stopped in to Karitane for a picnic on a stunning beach.

We stayed at XXXX in Dunedin which is by St Clairs beach for 4 nights.

Activities we did in Dunedin;

  • Mountain biked at Signal Hill
  • Visited Orokonui Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Spent a day on the XXX Peninsula visiting the Albatross Centre and Sandy Mount walk
  • Visited Tunnel Beach
  • Went to the Dunedin Museum which has a cool kids science area which does vost to get in
  • Explored the centre of Dunedin

From Dunedin we headed for the Caitlins and stayed at Pounawea. On the way we stopped at Nugget Point where there is a short walk to a very picturesque lighthouse with great seal and bird spotting.

There lots to do in the Caitlins but its quite spread out. We intended to stay at Pounawea for 4 nights but then realised we should have stayed two and then two further into the Catilins.

From Pounewa we;

  • Went to the Lost Gypsy. An inventors paradise with amazing creative inventions. At the time we visited the Lost Gyspy is closed on a Wednesday.
  • Walked to McLean Falls.
  • Walked to Cathedral Caves ( dependent on low tide )
  • The Okawa visitor centre and small museum has lots of interesting information.
  • Visited Jacks Bay which has a blowhole at high tide. Some great sea lion spotting on the beach.
  • Walked along the beach at Surat beach.
  • Explored the estuary around the campground which has some great bird spotting.

We then realised that everything else we wanted to do was further into the Caitlins so we forfeited one night at the Pounewa campground ( a learning there was in the off season don’t pay all nights up front. Just pay as you go ) and moved to Curio Bay.


At Curio Bay we;

  • Walked along the beach and saw Hectors Dophins frolicking in the waves.
  • Went hoihoi spotting . A lot of people go to this spot and we never did see them come in.
  • The petrified forest is also by the hoihoi landing spot.

From here we head to Bluff visiting the Waipapa Point lighthouse and Fortrose along the way . In Bluff we mountain biked up Bluff Mountain for some awesome views of our destination tomorrow, Stewart Island.

Up bright and early to head to Stewart Island on the ferry. We stayed at the Stewart Island backpackers.  Once we arrived on Stewart Island we headed for Ulva Island, an amazing wildlife sanctuary. Later that night we sat on the rugby fields ( apparently the best place to spot kiwi but while we heard them we never saw them) Really enjoyed talking to the locals. The next day we did a walk and visited the museum.

And then back to the mainland where we headed for Te Anau. Stayed here two nights.

The next day we headed to Milford Sound and walked the Key Summit track which is one end of the Routeburn track. An awesome walk with stunning views. Quite a rugged track. Drove through the Spooner tunnel ( NZs longest tunnel ) to Milford Sound for a look. On the way back to Te Anau we walked to Marian Falls. Great kea interactions at Spooner tunnel.

From here we headed to Wanaka driving over the Crown range. Stay at the campground by the outlet from Lake Wanaka for 4 nights. Great location for biking and very spacious campsite.

In Wanaka we did lots of riding; Deans bank, Sticky forest and  . We also hung out in town and soaked up the Wanaka atmosphere.

We also walked the Rob Roy glacier track. Getting there was quite an adventure, about one hour one a very bouncy gravel road crossing 10 fords. Stunning walk.

From here we headed back to Hampden via Dunedin where we went on the Taieri Gorge railway. An awesome rail trip through some stunning landscapes.

Then Christchurch where we went to the pools ( because so flippin hot ) , went to the Margaret Mahy playground at 8pm night when it cooled and then went mountain biking at the Christchurch Adventure Park the next day.

Then we pretty much headed for home with another one night stop just out of Kaikoura. Then crossed back to the North Island and headed via for home via Napier where we have friends.

We have a Kiwi campground discount card so this is the first place we look for a campground. Lots of the campgrounds have discount cards so if you go away a lot its worth looking in to them.