77. Still in Paeroa – Road Racing and Karangahake Gorge.

Paeroa’s annual Battle of the Streets was set for Sunday 22 February so we decided to hang around for another week. Not that it was difficult – so much to do and see and also hopefully a little relaxation time. T5 had some important work done on its brakes and the ute went in for a service. The Blog was brought up to date and work done on the Book of the Blog Volume 3 (ultimately to be available from the Blurb website, plus volumes 1 & 2).

From the informative website http://www.battleofthestreets.co.nz/history.html  I learned that the Battle of the Streets started in 1991 and has been held every year since. Although motorcycle racing is far from my favourite sport (I certainly can’t speak for Dave though!!) I was quite looking forward to it, the smells and thunder and spectacular overtaking and jostling of the bikes.

The evening before, there was an air of expectation in the town. Barriers were already being erected down the main road, rolls of deer fencing and buffers (huge wool sacks filled with, I think, waste paper) were placed next to every lamppost and street sign ready to be tied into place, and hay bales were also being delivered and stacked up in places. Some of the shops had special displays.

From the website: “Two church congregations within the closed circuit area combine their Sunday worship with other churches elsewhere in the town. Residents who live inside the circuit and wish to leave have security for their properties provided. And for the cats, dogs and other pets within the area, accommodation is provided for them away from the noise. Businesses that provide a seven-day-a-week service make alternative arrangements, the medical centre changes surgery times and have an emergency service in place; temporary bus and taxi stands are provided and arrangements are in place for those local residents who wish to go to their local dairy or supermarket on race day. “

“Over 350 volunteers were involved, including a team of over 100 on Paeroa’s central streets from 5 am on race day….”  In other words everything was ready to run like a well-oiled machine.

The evening before, it rained.

The early morning work still went ahead. But about 9.30 am the decision was made to cancel the meeting altogether, as more rain was confidently expected (of course it never eventuated). The road would have been too slippery and rider safety was paramount.

We were unaware of this decision as we breakfasted in the sunshine, planning to make a late arrival around 11 am to catch the start of the racing. But by the time we arrived, everything was already half dismantled. Sections of deer fencing turned the streets into a maze. Bikes were being loaded onto trailers. Leather-clad people wandered around disconsolately. Hay bales were being collected and a street sweeper was vainly trying to keep up with the mess they left behind. About 5 ambulances were seen departing. Cars were still being rerouted through the back streets. It was so SAD.




I couldn’t stop thinking of the immense efforts of the organisers and volunteers, and all for nought. And the cost. And the disappointment. And the traffic disruption – normally all traffic goes right down the main street.

By that afternoon the town looked like nothing had happened. Only a few wisps of straw remained in the gutters to remind me that less than 24 hrs ago the town wore a very different face.


It never ceases to amaze me, an Australian used to long country distances, that in our 15 months’ travels we have often crossed our earlier tracks particularly in the north island. Sometimes when approaching a town or place from an entirely new direction it takes a little time for recognition to set in. So it has been with Waihi and the Karangahake Gorge, both of which have become much more familiar in recent days, given Paeroa’s prime position at the junction of several highways.

We did a day trip to Tauranga to visit Dave’s sister and other family members (and managed not to leave Penny’s lead behind, thanks for the reminder Bev!), and another up to Thames and the unremarkable mouth of the Waihou River, which latter I see with new eyes now I understand its importance in the Hauraki Plains drainage system. Captain Cook journeyed up this river, the most inland he ever travelled and charted in NZ. His “…. enthusiastic description of the Thames white pine trees (Kahikatea) brought other ships in there in droves” searching for mast timber.

Here’s an old photo of Paeroa; the map below shows its position in the river system  and many of the places we have visited previously.



We called in at what was then a brand new POP at the top of the road leading down to Waihi Beach and admired the way the liquidamber trees lining the driveway have grown since our last visit.

And we investigated the Karangahake Gorge and did one of the shorter walks, 20 minutes along a narrow but well formed track which skirted the gorge on one side, with traffic thundering along on the other side and the river tumbling below. Plus two swing bridges (wheeee!).

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We went as far as a tunnel which goes across the river and under the roadway, but as we did not have torches we decided to retrace our steps rather than take the longer route back.

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As I mentioned in an earlier blog the area is full of old gold mining batteries. Mining started in 1882 but most mines had closed by the 1920s. In 1907 the mining town of Karangahake had a population of approximately 2000.


The blog is up to date! Tomorrow we head for Hamilton for the Motorhomes & Caravans show.

76. Paeroa Highland Games

Finally Saturday 14 February rolled around – the eagerly awaited Paeroa Highland Games and Tattoo. Tartan, tartan everywhere in all sorts of guises including small girls’ frilly dresses and thankfully very few red hearts considering the date.



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After finding a parking spot with some difficulty and seeming miles away from the event, we were just in time to join Clan Johnston for the Clan March. Which wasn’t really very far, just out of the grounds and across the main street (always a thrill to hold up all the traffic!) to a small park, a few speeches, a pipe band rendition of whatever then a slow walk back. But fun!




IMG_8901Clan Johnston only had a few representatives, as did most of the 14 other Clans present. As we have now ‘done’ several Highland Games over the past 15 months we now know this to be the norm, much seems to depend on where the main Clan officials are located. Our other Clans – Cochrane and Lamont for me, Menzies and Buchanan for Dave – were not there alas, although I did take a Cochrane sash just in case. Later we discovered that the Committee President was a Buchanan. Dave wore his Bruce tartan kilt, it’s not one of his clans but some years ago he was offered an excellent deal for a full outfit right down to formal jacket, shoe buckles, silver coat buttons and lace sleeve insets, so didn’t hesitate.




IMG_8934Clan Johnston gained four new members that day. I spent part of the time sitting at the back of the tent with Penny as it was so hot, and every few minutes a new person would wander by and start asking questions and examining all the books and other things on display. Dave had a wonderful conversation with a man who in days gone by would have been a bitter enemy – a Maxwell! (He disappeared just before I took this photo).

IMG_8933Neither of us were feeling 100%, while I think our natural immunity has been boosted by all the travelling and people we have met, our French friends passed on an Aussie cold which must have been a new variation! So I gave many of the traditional Scottish events a miss, and also the Tattoo that night although Dave did go for a time. 

Some more photos:



IMG_8924Apart from all the traditional Highland Games events such as tossing the caber, hammer and wheat sheaf, piping contests, axemen, Highland Dancing etc there were several innovative events. A Junior Highland Games was held for the third time, also a fashion show “Tartan in the Park”, the latter judged by local resident and Silver Fern Maria Tutaia. There were Highland cattle, a Highland Bar which served the Paeroa Fling (Drambuie over ice, a dash of lemon and L&P!) and various Scottish shops.


There were several special guests: ’Twisty Willow’ (a Kiwi couple with a love of Celtic music), an awesome Scottish tribal music group Clan Celtica which sent shivers up my spine (such enthusiastic drumming!), and Alec Calderwood who read the poems of Robbie Burns in what I was told was a lovely Scottish accent. 

IMG_8971 IMG_8963 IMG_8958 IMG_8954 The Waikato/Bay of Plenty Scottish Country Dancing group gave an exhibition which had me longing to join them. I miss our Christchurch dancing group, which has kept going despite a drop in attendance following the earthquakes.

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The Games programme notes that “Originally highland dancing, piping, drumming and the tests of strength were performed by adult males. However all over the world in recent years have seen younger people including females dominating the Scottish Highland Dancing scene, becoming active participants in piping, drumming and taking part in the athletic events such as caber tossing, hammer hurling, tug of war and racing. In Scotland, Junior Highland Games are becoming more common with all the equipment downsized accordingly.”  We have noticed these things before but I have not put them into words. Scottish traditions will never die in countries far away from Scotland, and particularly in NZ with its huge number of early Scottish immigrants and fourth or fifth generation descendants.




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75. Hamilton to Paeroa

Heading north again for Hamilton via Wanganui, National Park and Taumarunui, we decided to stop for the night at a POP about half way up the Paraparas. This turned out to be a YMCA adventure camp with a flat camping ground, power and water and even a dump. It was also very pricey so we only stayed one night.

Incidentally the drive north from Wanganui is interesting, with ever-changing scenery. We were unable to drive this road when last in Wanganui as it was impassable in places following heavy rain. As usual because we were towing T5 all the best photographs remained in my mind’s eye … there were very few places to stop on that twisty road.


IMG_8843 The road wound through immrense chalky cliffs (photo taken through windscreen).


On again next day after a quick stop to admire the small but interesting Raukawa Falls……



….. we made good time to Taumarunui, inviting ourselves for a cuppa (and some lovely Scottish pikelets) with David and Marion who looked after Penny for 3 weeks when we were in Australia for my daughter Nic’s wedding last April. Penny knew exactly where she was as evidenced by knowing exactly how to get outside via the side door and deck to retrieve her ball when it was tossed out a window!

Thus fortified we continued on to Hamilton and a new POP on the western outskirts of town. This was a lifestyle block with only one flat space close to the gate and quite a bit of manoeuvring was needed to get T5 into position. The grass had been seeded with pennyroyal or a similar plant and delicious minty smells wafted around us whenever we moved. It reminded me strongly of my flat in Brisbane where I planted the entire little courtyard with Pennyroyal. (All went well until it started to flower and needed mowing). We were welcomed by a large friendly alsatian with marked hip dysplasia, which didn’t seem to slow him down very much!

Patrick and Sylvie arrived next day. Last seen 25 years ago in northern Queensland, they were an important part of my early life with first husband Geoff and baby Nicole in Bowen and on our boat ‘Cornelius’. (Incidentally there is a story about Cornelius on my website nancyvada.me). They sailed with us on the first stage of our circumnavigation of Australia in 1980-81 and were very supportive when Geoff died in 1983. They pitched their tent next to T5 and we had a wonderful evening and next morning reminiscencing. Before parting we all had lunch at the aptly named Three Frogs restaurant in Hamilton. We hope to meet up with them probably in the south island in early April.



The Paeroa Highland Games was beckoning so off we set again to arrive in Paeroa and discover an unusual RV Centre, not as first thought a business with a small hard standing yard behind it as in some other places, but a huge landscaped area managed by a local cooperative of RV owners, with both grassed and hard standing, power if wanted, showers, toilets and washing machines plus a well stocked exchange library. Some inhabitants have been calling this home for over 5 years. We settled into a lovely elevated  spot.


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Paeroa is not just the home of the 7m high Big Bottle of L&P, the NZ soft drink originally made from lemons and the local spa water. L&P is of course available everywhere, even in the form of ice-cream! But Paeroa is also known as the Antique Capital of NZ, possibly because of its situation at the junction of 3 highways and surrounded by farmland. Certainly there are a huge number of Antique, Retro and plain Junk shops. One shop in particular was packed to the brim. No matter what you wanted – dolls’ prams, china, crystal, telephones, retro clothing, furs, hats … it was there. Another had a collection of Disney dwarves. The owner of one shop told me she spent hours scraping the paint off the beautiful leadlight windows.

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Paeroa was originally a thriving port and has “always had a boating heart”, hence a little maritime museum on the banks of what is now only a little stream although it can still be traversed by small launch. The little launch still takes day trippers.






Anyone know what this is?


On the way to Paeroa I spotted a blueberry farm so one day we drove off to find it again. We didn’t pick our own but did purchase a huge pottle plus some absolutely delicious blueberry icecream, far far better than the over-sweet commercial variety. Even Penny liked it…..IMG_9022 IMG_9025 IMG_9030

Also spotted on the highway, this sign which someone with a shotgun obviously didn’t agree with.


Returning via the little town of Ngatea we stopped to look at a signboard and were rewarded with an interesting history of the Piako River Scheme, a major flood control project designed to protect the low-lying mostly peat swamp Hauraki Plains and upper Piako. Water is controlled by stopbanks along the river and across the sea foreshore, and ponding areas upstream. There are many floodgate outlets and pump stations including at Ngatea (photo below). The Scheme was built between 1962 and 1979 at a cost of about $76 million in today’s terms.





The Piako River scheme was not the first huge undertaking on the Hauraki Plains..…


Ngatea was originally known as “Orchard” due to many cherry, peach and apple trees, and was a very busy waterway as it was the only highway for the settlers – everything had to be transported by river even the drinking water.  This little town celebrated the start of the new Millenium in a unique way …




Next blog: the Games!

74. Vans & Vines, Martinborough.

The weather or rather just the wind became progressively worse each day. Caravans and motorhomes rocked and rolled. People started leaving earlier than planned. Some went to Lake Ferry – just as bad there! – others continued all the way back to Lake Reserve at South Featherston so they could visit the Fell museum, which we saw early in our ramblings. A few went directly to Martinborough and the site of the Vans & Vines festivities which were to mark the end of the safari.

W braved one more night at Ngawi with only a few other vans for company …


IMG_8802We too left Ngawi a day early and drove along the shore of wind-whipped Palliser Bay, past eroding cliffs where signs warned us not to stop, then up through the mountains, past the wind farm, and on to the gentler Wairarapa plains. 

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We spent two nights at Lake Featherston where we wisely chose to set up away from the shore,  nearer some sheltering trees. We were looking forward to collecting our mail and getting some washing done.

While travelling we use a mail redirection service based in Wellington; it holds all Vour mail until Dave orders it sent to a convenient post office. This has worked very well. The redirection service lets us know when mail arrives at their office and if it sounds urgent we can ask them to open, scan and email. Knowing we would be in the vicinity of Greytown Dave ordered our mail sent there to arrive a day or so previous to our arrival. We rolled up to the small PO – part of a new supermarket complex actually – to be told (very rudely) “WE DON’T DO COURIER DELIVERIES SO IF WE GET SOMETHING WE SEND IT STRAIGHT BACK!”  What?!

Back at the camp Dave spoke to a couple of other NZMCA members and learned that certain POs do not handle anything except stamps and are listed on the PO website (which of course we had not thought to consult). But when Dave checked he discovered that the Greytown PO did NOT have such a restriction according to their webpage. Grrrrrr.

Faced with the option of reordering the mail to be sent to a future destination and not getting it for about 2 weeks, we decided to drive down to Wellington for the day. 42 km as the crow flies but some 72 km over the Rimutakas. This turned out to be a surprisingly good decision. Not only did we collect the mail but we were able to get some chemicals for the caravan toilet, get our internet service sorted out with Vodafone (a surprisingly good deal, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time), and get some much-needed haircuts. Regarding the latter I hate going to strange hairdressers, never knowing if they will be choppers or proper stylists (never mind what they claim) ….. this time Lady Luck was with me and I found a really great one in Upper Hutt. Dave found a barber close by and there was also a cafe where we liked the little gourmet pies so much we bought some more for our dinner. Amazing really as we were heading for ‘home’ again when we decided to turn off at Upper Hutt.

The final day of the Wairarapa Safari was marked by the Van & Vines charity rally sponsored by RV Lifestyle Magazine publishers and some local businesses. Very well organised, it was held in the Martinborough Rugby Club grounds, where dogs are not normally permitted. However with special permission all dogs (and their humans and homes) were in a special section at the end of the park. (A huge number of vans can be seen in the far distance). 


I was asked by the editor of RV Lifestyle to write a short piece about the weekend. Here it is. At this point in time I don’t know if it is actually going to be published.

We were literally blown into the Vans and Vines event at the end of a wonderful Wairarapa Safari which took us from Castlepoint to Cape Palliser and various places in between. (photos?) After rocking and rolling the previous few nights a more sheltered site was appreciated. We knew we were heading for the Dog House – just joking – and appreciated the persistence of RV Travel Lifestyle in negotiating with the Martinborough Council to allow dogs into Coronation Park. This involved a temporary amendment to the dog control bylaw and placement of a temporary fence to separate us dog lovers from all the other event participants. 

Not that we or the dogs minded. There was plenty of space for doggy walks, doggy meet-and-greets and other doggy doings. It meant we were considerably closer to the Fair if not to the Van & Vines event centre. During Happy Hour all the dogs seemed happy guarding their respective vans while in eyesight of each other while their owners were happy elsewhere. 

We were very well fed over the weekend. First the Friday night complimentary dinner sponsored by Premier Beehive, Fresh Choice Greytown and Tui; then Saturday night’s Junior Rugby Club fundraiser. Then to top it off Sunday morning’s breakfast of wonderful paua fritters, bacon and more chorizo sausages. So many sausages were given out as raffle prizes and other hand-outs, I wonder if there was a single caravan/motorhome without some.  

Not having to cook perhaps made people extra generous, the array of donated food for Cancer research was awesome. (Everyone was asked to pose behind the mountain of food for a group photo which will be in the magazine). 

Saturday morning the Fair was in full swing when we arrived, Penny the foxie in tow. We humans were impressed by the number and diversity of stalls and other humans, Penny much less so. Particularly when she was trodden on. Not really a place for small dogs but she did manage to meet a few others nonetheless. She did enjoy the wonderful smells at the dog food and bedding stall.

There was a bewildering variety of stalls – clothing, crafts, food. I bought some earrings and Dave couldn’t resist the sight of the Twisted Chips. One potato made for a great many ‘chips’ which we all enjoyed, Penny included. We did not try out the curry goat – maybe next time! 

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After Sunday’s paua fritter and chorizo breakfast we packed up and took off heading north towards Hamilton with no fixed stop in mind apart from a whistle stop with David and Marion Johnston, Penny’s “other parents”. David took a photo which is now on the Clan Johnston webpage. We planned to meet my old friends from Bowen Queensland on the Tuesday.


73. Wairarapa Safari – Ngawi

After 3 nights at windswept Tora it was back to Martinborough for supplies and then to Ngawi, a tiny fishing village at the south eastern corner of Palliser Bay right down at the southern tip of the north island.



We were all camped in an open paddock close to the beach and the wind was so strong for the whole of our stay that most caravans/motorhomes left a day early.


We did not attempt to climb the steps to Cape Palliser Lighthouse, we would’ve been blown away……



……. but we did visit the nearby large seal colony twice. It was wonderful to be able to get so close and I could have spent hours sitting there watching the young seals playing unconcernedly although the adult seals were aware of our presence.

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A mob of surfie seals were riding the waves, waiting for the big one ….  IMG_8794

At other times of the year penguins are a road hazard.


Ngawi is an extraordinary place with a large number of rusting bulldozers all lined up along one side of the main street which is also the beach front. It’s said there are more bulldozers per head of population than anywhere else.



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Apparently there is no more fishing this season, the quota for paua, crayfish and cod has been reached. Anyone want to buy a fishing boat, bulldozer and boat cradle? Elsewhere we have seen old tractors being used, but at Ngawi ithas to be bulldozers apparently, as there is no wharf and the beach can be very rough as well as steep.

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The dark grey shaley sand was very clean apart from multi-coloured seaweed. The reds and greens of the sea lettuce were such an enticing and realistic green.


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Ngawi has also had its share of shipwrecks. The best known is probably the 1116 ton iron-hulled Zuleika which foundered on Good Friday April 16 1897. Eight of the drowned crew were buried in a single grave now marked by a memorial which also notes the deaths of another 4. Of the 21 men on board 10 including the Captain survived. There is an excellent newspaper article about the wreck in the Evening Post of 21 April 1897, which can be found at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

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Another notable wreck was the Ben Avon which ran aground on 11 November 1903. She sailed straight in during the night in thick weather. The pilot died (from shock?) but the Captain and crew managed to get into a lifeboat and landed seven miles away from the wreck.  On the 13th November the Ben Avon was still upright, sails flapping idly in the wind, her holds full of water. She broke up soon after. (http://www.divenewzealand.com/index.asp?s1=diving&s2=lower%20north%20island&id=76)  The Captain was severely castigated in a court of enquiry – he should not have put all trust in the pilot – but was allowed to keep his certificate.


This is the cove where it happened.


72. Wairarapa Safari – Tora

After a few days at Pongaroa the Safari moved back to Greytown and then south east to Tora on the coast. Along the way … some more wind vanes.



We had not been there before and did not know what to expect. After what seemed a very long drive on narrow twisty roads and over a mountain range (photo above) we came to what looked like a holiday camp called Tora, but no sign of any other caravans/motorhomes (there should have been at least 50 ahead of us) and also no sign of the coast so we pressed on – and on – and finally reached the coast but still no sign of other humans for several more km, then suddenly there everyone was in a paddock beside the sea.


The coastline was very rocky with curious fine layered shale rocks with sandstone inclusions and limpid pools at low tide. The limpets were enormous.


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It was paua (abalone) country judging from the number of shells lying around plus the number of NZMCA members poking around the pools at very low tide, plus lobster country as we watched a fishing boat checking on lobster pots twice a day.




Local fishing boats are hauled out by bulldozer rather than tractor …


Not a good coastline to founder on as a nearby shipwreck attested. Entrance channels to little bays were well marked.





Yet despite its remoteness there were quite a few baches and large holiday homes scattered about. With magnificent views.





We spent several days there enjoying the ambience.





Penny had a lovely time with another foxie named Lucy with a very sweet nature. She was a standard size so a little bigger than Penny who is a so-called miniature. For some reason the breeder clipped the top of Lucy’s tail. I think Penny’s looks more aesthetically pleasing yet it used to be the custom to only leave a stump




71. Wairarapa Safari – Pongara

Arriving at Pongaroa we had no idea where the Domain was … ask at the pub? But then we espied what could only be another retired caravanning couple (they always seem to have an ummistakable air of elan), who simply waved us onwards – “Keep going!” and just out of town we foiund the Domain already half full of the usual huge collection of motorhomes and caravans. More arrived over the next few hours. Since we’d been in Pongaroa before and explored the main attractions, this time we took it pretty easy with just walks with Penny, some baking and dinner the last night at the local pub which had a reputation for awesome food.



The restaurant was fully booked for an early sitting so we settled for a late sitting at 7.30 pm. We arrived on the dot and ordered at the bar, as is the custom there. After waiting some 10 minutes while our table was vacated we were shown into the dining room, where we waited … and waited …. after 50 minutes one of the bar girls came in to check whether I had ordered the seafood chowder or seafood basket??! – our order had been sitting on the bar all that time. However, the kitchern must have worked fast as 10 minutes later our food finally arrived with many apologies and the offer of free drinks. We’d already had plenty so asked for free desserts instead, but unfortunately for us it transpired they’ d run out of vanilla icecream for the affogato I coveted and only had sickly sweet blueberry ripple icecream!

We joined about 40 members for a mini-sfari through the famed Akito station, now run by a fifth generation family member. The 5-triangled entrance sign represented the 5 generations.


Perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, with some extensive pine forest as well as hilly grazing, it was supposed to be a memorable trip. So it was but not for the usual reasons. Mist!! For most of the transverse of the station and particularly along the cliff top it was difficult to see more than a metre in front. IMG_8468

Initially it was not too difficult. The windswept Akito beach with its huge piles of driftwood and interesting rainbows in the spume bubbles made a good stop for morning tea. Hoof prints showed we had just missed a horse having some jumping practice.





Then on past the entrance to Marainanga Station with the beautiful old homestead visible from the road (visits by appointmernt only)……



…..and a little further on we all assembled on the site of an old airfield where a tattered windsock still waves forlornly in the wind.



A member of the Akito ruling family gave an interesting talk finally curtailed by increasing rain (“Don’t worry it’s only Scotch mist!”). And off we all set uphill into heavy mist which only dispersed on the lower reaches where it was possible to take photos of the extensive pastures and nearby beaches.


After leaving Akito Station the road continued for some way beside the coast.


Spotted on a nearby hill; a lovely little blue caravan.IMG_8477

We revisited the tiny little settlement of Herbertville but discovered access to Cape Turnagain (lovely name!) was not possible. Named by Captain James Cook in 1769, he sailed south to this point before deciding to turn and head north around NZ. It is a prominent headland part way betrween Hawkes Bay and Cook Strait.

A little further back towards Pongaroa a lonely memorial caught our attention; it commemorated the lives of the Herrick family who lived there at Tautane “… in splendid isolation” in the early 1900s. It noted that “Transporting wool was one of the many challenges presented by farming in such a remote location. This had to be taken by lighters from a jetty at Cape Turnagain to a waiting coaster to be shipped. “



Another day we left T5 sitting in the middle of the rugby field and drove to Dannevirke where we found a good laundrette and excellent library and did some shopping. Along the way it was interesting to see a new pine plantation on the steep banks bordering a stream, while the flatter land above was kept for grazing.