Monday, January 28, 2008

The Holiday - Part II: Golden Bay

From Quinney's Bush we drove to Golden Bay, stopping on the top of Takaka Hill to take a guided tour through Ngarua Caves, well worth stopping for.

Once in Golden Bay, Josiah could be held back no longer: the words "climbing," "Paynes Ford," and "when?" were heard repeatedly until we set off from our camp site at Pohara for Paynes Ford to discover what outdoor climbing is all about. We have been climbing indoors for the last few years but apart from bouldering had no real experience of outdoor climbing. We had hoped to learn the ropes, literally and figuratively, on a weekend away with the kids' climbing class late in 2007. But that trip was postponed, leaving us anticipating a holiday at one of the best beginners' climbing spots in New Zealand, without the experience to safely take advantage of it. So in December, Geoff and I read three climbing manuals each, practiced at HangDog, our local climbing wall, all the techniques essential to outdoor sport climbing but not part of indoor climbing (placing quickdraws; abseiling; securing ourselves at the top of a climb then untying from the rope and setting up to abseil down rather than be lowered - so as not to wear out the abseil rings or other gear in place at the top of outdoor sport climbs) and grilled our fellow climbers for advice. Everyone was very helpful and generous in giving us their time. Conveniently, Geoff used to be involved in taking groups of kids abseiling, so he has plenty of experience setting up top rope anchors.

It is more common to learn outdoor climbing techniques by climbing with an experienced climber than by reading manuals and practising indoors on a backup rope. For that reason, we were prepared to reach Paynes Ford and find that we weren't prepared, in which case we probably would have begged friends who happened to be at Paynes Ford while we were there - older teammates of Josiah and Tessa - to give Josiah and Tessa a climb each, and sadly waited until some other opportunity to be introduced properly to outdoor climbing, or splashed out and hired a guide for our first session. But, happily, once we reached the rock, we could see immediately that the set up at the top of the climbs was exactly what we had practised and prepared for.

We had three or four days fabulous climbing at Paynes Ford and we can't wait to go back. The setting is idyllic: it is a short walk from the car park up to the rocks, which are dotted along the hillside and which are protected from the sun for some of the day at least by the surrounding native trees (and a few rogue sycamores, I noticed). There are two gorgeous swimming holes in the nearby Takaka River. The only problem with the swimming holes is the temptation they put to teenagers (and a certain 12-year-old, not to mention the 12-year-old's dad) to try dangerous feats like leaping from one massive rock to another and walking across a log suspended between rocks two metres above the river.

Pohara beach is a great place to swim too - we had several beautiful days there catching up with friends. The kids played cricket and dug holes and one day they drew a soccer field in the sand and challenged the dads to a game.

I can't write about our time in Golden Bay without mentioning the food! Geoff and Josiah being vegan, eating out has become somewhat of a hassle, but not in Takaka! We ate brunch at the Wholemeal Cafe one morning - delicious salads and sweets. (The sweets weren't vegan: Geoff and Josiah had smoothies instead.) Dinner of vegetable pie with salad at the Mussel Inn was mouth-watering. But the most surprising meal of all, we discovered one evening while walking along the main street in Takaka. We passed a small park between shops and noticed, seated on the grass, someone working at a small gas cooker, with a blackboard propped up against a nearby tree with the magic words "Vegie Curry ~ Ready in 30 minutes," written on it!

Pohara Top 10 Holiday Park let the side down. As Josiah said, "Bottom 10" would be more appropriate. In the campground's defense, we stayed there from Boxing Day till 2 January, probably the busiest days of the year at every beach motor camp in New Zealand. But draining the pasta for dinner in the laundry tub because there was a queue three or four deep waiting to wash dishes in the kitchen sinks is a new low in camping for me. I think the queues for the kitchen sinks were probably also to blame for the fact that the tables were often dirty when we came to eat at them: it's hard to wipe up after yourself if all the sinks are occupied. The bathroom facilities were basic. There were queues for the showers and washing machines but that is pretty standard during peak times in my experience. The camp ground land was almost entirely taken up with campsites and buildings: there was no where to go to sit in the shade and read a book if you didn't happen to have shade at your campsite. $50 per night for a tent site for the four of us seemed steep in these conditions.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Holiday!

Part I: Quinney's Bush

At 23 nights away from home, this was the longest holiday we've taken as a family, in fact the longest holiday Geoff and I have taken together. The ferry trip from Wellington to Picton is one of my favourite ways to start a journey. As soon as we park the car in the queue, I feel like the holiday has begun: it's always a festive atmosphere, so many people together, almost all of whom are on holiday, and the situation of the Wellington ferry terminal means that everyone gets out of their cars to enjoy the harbour view until it's time to move. The kids all go clambering over the rocks or looking for star fish and crabs in the rock pools. The ferry was late this time, so we got to see it come in.

At peak times, the ferries provide special on board entertainment for children. This trip it was face painting but not your usual designs. I don't think Tessa would have washed her face for a week afterwards but fortunately she chose to go swimming the next day and after that there was no way to preserve the horse any longer.

Our South Island holiday began with four nights at Quinney's Bush, a campground on the Motupiko River about half way between Nelson and Murchison, which I have been visiting since I was a child and which my mother has been visiting since she was a child, though in my mother's case, it wasn't a campground she visited but the home of her friends the Quinneys. My mother, my sister and I all remember old Mr Quinney's tractor rides: four or five metal sleds would be tied to the back of the tractor, a child perched on each, and Mr Quinney would drive round a field with the sleds flying across the grass behind. In my day, this was the highlight of a weekend at the campground. In my mother's day, Mr Quinney's tractor rides enlivened the parish picnics.

The tractor rides have gone but outstanding entertainment for children continues to be the hallmark of this campground. Of the twenty or so flying foxes that dotted the campground during my childhood only two or three remain (or have been replaced) but there is now a sophisticated confidence course and a huge water slide, which my children and their cousins had a great time on this trip.

The swimming hole is fantastic, and includes a rope swing, and a sort of a staircase up the bank on one side of the river, which you can take the rope swing up and launch off from to get a higher drop. I was more than satisfied with the excitement offered by launching off from about the fifth step but Josiah launched at least once from every step and preferred the top step. (There were 13.)

We didn't take many photos unfortunately, so what you see here are action shots of a game we invented while at Quinney's Bush: Kick Swingball. Josiah thought Header Swingball might also catch on but Geoff and I weren't game.

The amenities at the campground were clean and sufficient for the number of campers. Except for washing line space: there was no line at all! A fellow camper told me the population of the camp was expected to more than double on Boxing Day, the day we left. If that was true, "sufficient for the number of campers" might no longer be true! We paid $36 a night for a family of four camping.

Catching up with my family was great, until tensions arose due to some of us having shared general opinions too freely in conversations, and others of us having taken many of the comments as personal criticism.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Water shortage

Last week's Hutt News, my local paper, warned that increasing demand for water may mean that in the future more will have to be taken from the Hutt River. Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, the public is being warned not to swim in the river because of toxic algal mats, which form when river flow is especially low and which can cause rashes and vomiting in swimmers. One is left wondering if these algal mats will be the rule rather than the exception if the quantity of water extracted from the river is increased. The Hutt News editor asks if Hutt residents would prefer water metering and, it is implied, charges for high water use. Here's the letter I posted to the paper in response:

Thank you for the wake-up call in the 15 January issue of the Hutt News about our increasing water use. I would much rather face water metering than lose one of my family's favourite summer activities - swimming in the Hutt River, and in the Pakuratahi River at Kaitoke. I hope water metering will be introduced soon. In the meantime, I'll be trying to cut down how often I turn the tap on and how much water I use when I do turn it on.

One easy way to cut down is to have "Navy showers" where you turn the shower off to soap up and apply shampoo then turn it back on again to rinse. Showering this way to save water was already standard practice in ordinary households in Germany when I was an exchange student there nineteen years ago. I wonder how much water would be saved if Navy showers were standard practice in the Hutt Valley.

One of those jobs I keep meaning to get around to is to install water tanks on my house's downpipes to collect roof water for use in the garden. The photo at makes it look straightforward.

It would be great if local Councils led the way in saving water (and ratepayers' money that would otherwise have to be spent on new water supplies), installing roof water collection systems on Council buildings, choosing composting toilets for all new buildings and renovations, and supporting residents to do the same.

In fact, we have swum in the river almost every day since we came home. The paper reported that a significant rainfall a few days before our return washed away the algal mats. The signs warning people not to swim are still posted at popular swimming spots as the mats are expected to reform if the hot, dry weather we've been having continues. This means that hardly anyone swims, so we've had some of our best swims ever with the swimming hole entirely to ourselves on two occasions. We swam in the rain this evening - just lovely.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Back home

We are back today from three weeks holidaying in the South Island. We've had a great time, been in lots of beautiful places - swimming, walking, climbing, catching up with friends and family. In the photo above, I am with my grandmother at the celebration of her 100th birthday in Christchurch on Saturday, which was an enormously enjoyable event.

Will write in more detail about our holiday over the next week, but to give you a brief glimpse of where we have been, what follows is a list of the items we lost on this holiday and where we lost them ...

  1. One fish slice, got mixed up with my sister's gear when we packed up after four nights camping at Quinney's Bush on the Motupiko River between Nelson and Murchison. We also lost a spoon at the same time, which got mixed up with my mum and G's gear, but we were reunited with that when we saw Mum and G in Golden Bay a few days later.

  2. One small travellers' towel - you know the really thin but absorbent kind you can get from camping shops? Lost at Pohara Top Ten Holiday Park, Golden Bay. This had been a Christmas present from Tessa to Josiah about three days before it was lost :(

  3. Geoff's shower gel, left in a shower stall at the Ascot Motor Lodge in Westport.

  4. A plastic, Hutt City Council rubbish bag, stolen from on top of a washing machine at Noah's Ark Backpackers in Greymouth, where I had left it so that if the washing machine finished its load and was wanted by someone else before I came back to check on it, the someone could put my washing in the bag rather than dump it loose in the laundry. Okay, "stolen" is maybe unlikely. "Presumed to be a valueless, unwanted plastic bag and taken by someone who wanted a rubbish bag or washing bag," or possibly "tidied away by a cleaner," might be more probable. Was a bit of a nuisance though as we didn't have any other large plastic bags with us, so after that, Geoff's swimming bag had to double as a clean washing bag.

  5. A copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien, which Tessa had been reading, left behind at Noah's Ark Backpackers, Greymouth.

  6. Two sun hats, bought for $20 each at Takaka five or six days previously, lost at Franz Josef Top Ten Holiday Park, Franz Josef. Note to self: don't buy expensive hats for children - hats are too easy to discard!

  7. Geoff's replacement shower gel, left in a shower stall at Franz Josef Top Ten Holiday Park, Franz Josef.

  8. Tessa's hairbrush. We're not sure where this was left behind; it may have been at the backpacker lodge at Flock Hill Lodge where we stopped for two nights to climb at Spittle Hill in the Castle Hill region.

  9. One tea towel, went missing from the washing line at Christchurch Top Ten Holiday Park but reappeared again on the washing line a day later!