All posts by Charmaine Vaughan

How to save $200

Of course we all know that the license plates on our car have to be visible at all times and if you have your bikes on the back of the car the license plate might not be so easy to see, but did you know in New Zealand its a $200 fine for obscuring your license plate…eekkkk.

We have driven round for years with bikes on the car without even thinking about the license plate. Thankfully a mountain bike park did a windscreen flyer drop highlighting the issue and we jumped online immediately and bought the supplementary plates.

I have since heard that police are cracking down on obscured plates and handing out the $200 fine. I know I would rather keep the cash in my pocket so jump online and order supplementary plates in NZ

To read more about supplementary plates requirements in NZ.


Westport – so much more than just seals

You know when you go on a road trip there are some places you are excited about and some places that you just figure you will stop at seeing as you are passing through? Well Westport was the latter, we were passing through on our way down to Franz Joseph from Kaiteriteri and figured it was as good a place as any to stop to see some seals if nothing else. But we soon discovered that the area around Westport has lots to explore – once again we discovered lots of the off the beaten track adventures in the NZ Frenzy Off the Beaten track guide ( available to buy on line, not sponsored in any way just love the guide )


Anyhow back to Westport….Just getting there from Kaiteriteri is a breath-taking drive through the Buller Gorge. After setting up camp our first afternoon there we drove out to see the seal at Cape Foulwind which was indeed foul but very scenic with great views of the seals and lots of information boards about the wildlife in the area.

The next day we were up bright and early as it turns out there is lots more to do in Westport than just look at seals so we headed North to Mokihinu where there is a 100 year old ship wreck on the beach.  West Coast beaches are pretty rugged, add to that a ship wreck and you have a great photo shoot.

From here we drove to Chasm Creek walkway which we couldn’t go far on as it was closed. Turns out it was probably lucky we couldn’t go too far on that track as we still had lots to explore. So on to the Charming Creek walkway, near Ngakawau, which was on an old tramline up a gorge. We walked for about 1 hour through tunnels and across a swing bridge before we reached a clearing where there had been a sawmill and found a spot close to the river to have lunch. There was lots of train relics, stunning native bush and even a waterfall along the way so lots to keep everyone entertained on this walk.

From here we drove up the Denniston Plateau, a very steep climb in the car up 600m to a spot where coal miners lived over 100 years ago. Some people never even came down from the Plateau and when they did it was in the coal wagons. On a clear day you would get great views from the Plateau – although am just not sure its ever a clear day on the West Coast of the South Island. There are a lot of relics and information on what life would have been like on the Plateau. We would have liked to have spent longer but the temperature was dropping which made us realise what a hard life the coal miners would have had up there.

Westport – so much more than seals!!!


Links to more information:

Cape Foulwind

Charming Creek Walkway

Denniston Plateau


How I took my mountain biking to the next level

Initially I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the time to get back in to mountain biking after having kids but I was so pleased that I did as its become a big part of our family’s life. My husband and I call it a date if we are out riding by ourselves but quite often we are riding with friends. I am not the fastest, in fact I call myself the turtle – slow and steady, just not winning any races. In fact the only time I might be faster than someone is when we are riding with our kids but I have the greatest time when we are mountain biking and really to me that’s all that matters.

So I wasn’t really looking to take my mountain biking up a notch – it all began when my husband upgraded his bike and it had a dropper seat. I had always looked at dropper seats as something for extreme downhillers but turns out that it was a game changer for this middle aged mountain biking mamma.


It took a lot of convincing from my husband that I should get one. I’d never been one of those mountain bikers who put there seats up and down depending on where they are riding so I just didn’t see the point in being able to adjust your seat at the push of a button. But husband persisted, in fact my husband bought a dropper seat and installed it on my bike himself ( clever husband ) and then I discovered the joy of the dropper seat. It isn’t just for extreme downhillers.

Turns out its not just about putting it down as you ride downhills, although the dropper seat does change the way you ride downhill because you aren’t so high and you don’t feel like you are going to go over the handlebars, giving you more confidence in your ability. I have found I can ride over bigger drop offs now as I can put my seat down quickly at the push of a button. OK now I am sounding like an extreme downhiller – trust me I am not but I can definitely ride downhill better now I have the dropper seat.

Its not all about the downhills though and the dropper seat is also great for switch backs, riding narrow ledges on the side of cliffs, riding across narrow bridges and getting back on your saddle when starting on an uphill – anywhere you want your seat down and feet closer to the ground for more stability and safety but don’t want to get off and manually adjust it.


The dropper seat is also great for riding uphills too because you set your seat as high as possible to get the best leg extension and cranking power without worrying about the seat being too high for downhills coming up later in the ride.

And I recently discovered on a slightly muddy NZ cycle trail ( the Great Lake trail near Taupo ) that the dropper seat is great for getting through muddy puddles and round slippery corners.

So even if you don’t think you are looking to take your mountain biking to the next level you should consider a dropper seat, I totally love mine and how its changed my mountain biking.

Old Ghost Rd – everything you need to know to plan your own adventure

Old Ghost Road
Old Ghost Road

You know a ride is going to be epic when the organisation involves 3 shuttles, 3 night’s accommodation in 3 different places, a helicopter flight and 120km of riding ( the trail is 85km but we extended it ) and the planning starts 6 months out.

Old Ghost Rd is not for the faint hearted, its rugged & wild, in the middle of nowhere and possibly one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

To start the adventure off we enjoyed a week in Kaiteriteri and Nelson with our kids, then after sending them home as unaccompanied minors on the plane we were joined by a group of our friends and friends of friends because when people find out you are organising an Old Ghost Road ride they want in!!

Old Ghost Rd, South Island
Old Ghost Rd, South Island

So for this blog instead of talking about the ins and outs of the trail I thought I would share what we learned about the logistics of doing the Old Ghost Rd ( along with key contact details at the bottom of the post ) with maybe just a few highlights of the ride.

  1. When we booked ( in April 2017 for riding in October 2017 ) it was so popular we found it already hard to book a suitable date in the huts on the trial. We were booking in a group of 7, that then grew to 10 so obviously, a smaller group would be easier to book. We ended up starting the ride on a Sunday to make it work as obviously Saturday starts are more popular. Since then the price/night for the huts has changed; it used to be $45 per night and now its $145 for 1-4 nights on the trail. So if you are thinking of doing this ride look at booking the huts now.
  2. Of course to book the huts you need to know where you want to stay on the trail. What I have realised after riding the trail is that there are many options for how you can ride it and over how many days; from once through, to there and back ( yes we met people doing that!!! ). We rode once through, Lyell to Seddonville,  staying one night on the trail in Old Ghost Lake Hut and then got a helicopter back to Ghost Lake Hut ( high point ) and rode an awesome 30km downhill back to the start at Lyell.
  3. While 85km may not sound that long, it is rugged country and at times a very rocky trail ( see photo ) so it can be slow going.
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island

    The first 30km from the Lyell end is a solid up hill and then there is the couple of kilometres across a rocky ledge that you may choose to walk. Ghost Lake Hut probably has the potential for the biggest views. I say potential because this is the West Coast of the South Island so its quite often raining or cloudy.  We arrived in sleety rain with limited visibility and woke the next morning to no visibility. So we rode 30km the first day to get to Ghost Lake Hut and then 55km the second day to the finish at Seddonville. While this meant we got to enjoy a hot shower, it was a very long day and I thought the hut at Specimen Point ( see photo of view from Specimen hut ) looked lovely after 35km of rugged riding.

    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island

    If you wanted to ride it over 3 days this hut would be a great spot with its North West facing aspect overlooking the river and then you would have a leisurely 20km ride out on the last day.

  4. The huts are very well appointed with cutlery, crockery, pots, pans, a coffee plunger and a cheese grater. I had heard the huts were warm but wasn’t completely convinced until I woke sweating. They also have great drying racks and all the huts we stopped at had bike tools.
  5. We have ridden in large groups before and probably been lucky ( as I don’t recall good management coming into it ) that everyone could ride at a similar pace but this is a tough ride and peoples different abilities will affect the average speed a lot more. We found that we ended up riding in two groups which was fine except that in the second slower group we had one person who really hadn’t trained for the ride at all and it did end up impacting on our enjoyment as we had to ride slower and stop more often. This isn’t a ride where you can wing it, so make sure everyone in your group knows what they are getting themselves in for.
  6. You also need to practice riding with a backpack and/or carrier loaded with gear. The extra weight makes a considerable difference to your balance and endurance and be prepared to carry your bike loaded with gear down ( or up depending on what direction you are riding in ) stairs like this:

    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
    Old Ghost Rd, South Island
  7. As this is such remote rugged country we rode with an EPIRB. Thankfully we didn’t need it but better to be safe than sorry.
  8. Not that you need to include a helicopter flight into your Old Ghost Road experience ( but just quietly it was pretty bloody awesome ) but if you do rest assured that your bikes will be well looked after, dangling at the end of a long rope on a frame specifically designed for transporting bikes. Lots of people in our group were concerned about how the helicopter transported the bikes so I have included a video of how they do it below.


Helicopter flights are most economical booked in multiples of 5      people.

Oh and the trail highlights; 120km of mountain biking over 3 days in rugged terrain, breath taking scenery & stunning views, sheer exhaustion, snow, sleet and sunshine, a night in a hut perched on the top of a cliff, a helicopter flight landing on a narrow ridge, an exciting 30km downhill, one of the most challenging things I have ever done and such a massive sense of satisfaction from doing it.

Should you want more information on the trail itself have a look at;

And to help you organise the logistics for your own Old Ghost Rd adventures I have listed the service providers we used in the order we used them;

  • Trek Express to get from Nelson to Murchison
  • Lazy Cow backpackers in Murchison. Great hospitality from Ali and Phil including home baking. There is a kitchen for self-catering or there is an on-site restaurant – just check that its open. The pub across the road also does great meals. Lazy Cow do a great continental breakfast or there was a café across the road – just not sure what time it opened and we were away early.
  • Explore Murchison to get from Murchison to the start of the trail at Lyell.
  • Rough and Tumble lodge a great location right at the end of the trail. Delicious food, just confirm what time the chef is planning to serve dinner. This also might be the first time you have seen a washing machine in a few days – just confirm whether you can use it.
  • Karamea Heli-charter while of course you don’t have to helicopter, it would be a great way to ride a smaller section of the trail and it gives you an awesome perspective on the trail. Multiples of 5 people make it the most cost efficient.
  • Personal locater beacon   ( emergency position indication radio beacon that we hired from Rescue Beacon Hire at a very reasonable price 
  • Nelson Auto Rentals for when we were holidaying in Nelson and Kaiteriteri. They also hire bike racks as well. Great service.

Coromandel – Waterworks and the Driving Creek Railway

When you think of the Coromandel you usually think of stunning beaches and they are definitely worth a visit but we recently found two fun family activities not involving sand.

It’s a while since I’ve been to the Coromandel Peninsula and I had forgotten how stunning the drive of the Firth of Thames was – hair raising and stunning. The road is quite narrow and was definitely built before big trucks and big cars were ever thought of. Watching the gannets diving in to the sea took my mind off just how close we were to diving of the edge of the road ourselves.

Our first stop was Waterworks, a place built with children in mind by someone with an amazing imagination. There were lots of interactive water features and what kid doesn’t love playing with water. It wasn’t just for the kids though and there was lots of interesting facts along the way to keep the adults entertained. We spent a fun filled afternoon enjoying the many activities at Waterworks.

We stayed overnight in Coromandel and then next day explored The Driving Creek Railway. And it turns out that the Coromandel is not home to one amazing imaginative individual but two ( well probably a whole host of creative individuals ) Barry Bricknell originally developed the narrow gauge railway to get clay out of the hills for his pottery.

Today, the railway carries more passengers than materials. Its not ordinary railway though; its New Zealand’s only narrow gauge railway with examples of Barry Bricknells pottery and artistic flair dotted along the journey as you climb the mountain to enjoy stunning vistas over the Hauraki Gulf.

The beaches of the Coromandel are always worth a visit and we headed over to explore Whangapoa with the intent of walking to new Chums Beach but the tide was in and we couldn’t safely cross the stream which gives us the perfect excuse to return.