225. Heading North with the eV

We were invited to a wedding in the Bay of Islands and rather than take the caravan we decided to do the whole trip in the eV Nissan Leaf, staying with friends/relatives/motels on the way. Our Leaf is one of the earlier models and can do about 175 km without needing recharging, if driven slowly and preferably downhill(!) For normal highway driving it was more like 145km max. For those who don’t know, fast charging an eV leads to an increase in battery temperature and we wanted to avoid that as far as possible, so we planned to make fairly frequent short charging stops (meaning coffee stops for us) rather than trying to eke out maximum distances. At night we slow-charged.  Anything more eV-related I will leave to Dave.

We left home in Christchurch at dawn … 

… charged up at Amberley and then Cheviot, and continued on the coast road with a short quick recharge at Kaikoura and then a stop at Ohau to see the seals. There is now a good viewing platform and plenty of parking space. Roadworks are still progressing, it has been a massive job and I am full of admiration for the roadworkers who have persisted through all sorts of weather. 

Another stop for a brief fast recharge at Ward, then straight on to catch the Picton-Wellington ferry. The ferry fee for the eV is considerably lower than for a caravan and tow vehicle! 

Powering up at Ward

We spent the night in a motel at Levin, where we were permitted to slow-recharge overnight. 

Continuing north next morning, Mt. Ruapehu soon came into view. We skirted it to finally come to the site of the Tangiwai rail disaster memorial, which I have not seen before. Dave’s Sister and Brother in law were supposed to have been on the ill-fated train but missed it – very fortuitously as it turned out. 

From  https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/the-tangiwai-railway-disaster

At 10.21 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1953 the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, 10 km west of Waiōuru in the central North Island. Of the 285 passengers and crew on board, 151 died in New Zealand’s worst railway accident.

It was, at the time, the world’s eighth-deadliest rail disaster and made headlines around the globe. The nation was stunned. With New Zealand’s population just over two million, many people had a direct relationship with someone involved in the tragedy.

The place name Tangiwai means ‘weeping waters’ in Māori. The timing of the accident added to the sense of tragedy. Most of those on the train were heading home for Christmas, armed with presents for friends and family. Those waiting to meet their loved ones at the various stations up the line had no sense of the tragedy unfolding on the Volcanic Plateau. Over the following days, searchers found many battered, mud-soaked presents, toys and teddy bears on the banks of the Whangaehu River.

The weather on Christmas Eve was fine and with little recent rain, no one suspected flooding in the Whangaehu River. When a goods train crossed the bridge around 7 p.m. the river appeared normal. What transformed the situation was the sudden release of approximately 2 million cubic metres of water from the crater lake of nearby Mt Ruapehu. A 6-metre-high wave containing water, ice, mud and rocks surged, tsunami-like, down the Whangaehu River. Sometime between 10.10 and 10.15 p.m. this lahar struck the concrete pylons of the Tangiwai railway bridge.

We continued on to National Park with a stop at the Makatote Viaduct for photos. 

There is a fast charger at National Park township and we had a scrumptious lunch at a little cafe nearby. Then on towards Hamilton, taking photos of ridged hillocks and a cloud-monster. 

We paid a short visit to the Hamilton Museum, mainly to see the famed waka (canoe) Te Winika, a reproduction of the canoe which was used to transport War Parties on the Waikato River.  Beautifully  carved and adorned with tui throat feathers.

Dave also discovered a large scale map showing where he once lived in Hamilton …

We paid a visit to Dave’s nephew ‘Budgie’ who showed us around his workplace a large modern factory – everything very clean and tidy and dust-free, as Dave remarked a far cry from the factories of his youth. 

Another stop for fast charging and icecreams at Pokeno, where they have some innovative solar-powered rubbish bins which compact up to 600 litres of rubbish. 

Our destination for the day was Dave’s Sisters niece’s home at Ramarama south of Auckland where we were to collect his sister Alison. We were invited to stay the night and were able to slow-charge the leaf again overnight. I’d highly recommend “Harakeke Woodturning and Gifts” for mostly one-of-a-kind handcrafted goods.  

Next day, with Alison on board, we continued north, whizzing through Auckland and finally .stopping at Kaiwaka where we discovered FOUR Leafs at the charging station, with enthusiastic owners all ready to swop more stories. One of them was someone Dave has been corresponding with via the Leaf owners’ facebook page.

Our final stop before Russell was at Kawakawa with its famed Hundertwasser toilets, but we were more focussed on the charging station there – and then the railway station cafe. Here are former ‘railway children’ Dave and Alison waiting for their lunch. 

And so on to the Bay of Islands and the ferry at Opua and across to Russell. That evening we had a light meal then went for a walk along the seafront while enjoying the sunset.

Russell is a gorgeous little town, full of historical buildings, quirky shops and beautiful gardens. It was the site of the first English settlement in NZ.

We established where the wedding would be next day, in the garden at Pompellier House, with the reception at the “Duke of Marlborough’ where we were staying. 

224. Road Trip to Mt. Hutt

After gazing at the distant snow-capped mountains from our backyard all winter, we decided it was time to visit them. Hearing that our friends were going skiing for the day on Mt. Hutt , we thought we’d join them for lunch “up there” and give the powder blue EV (Nissan Leaf) a good workout. The wonderful thing about electric cars is that they can generate their own power on downhill runs. Mt. Hutt might be a good place to test this!

Technical stuff in this blog courtesy of Dave; photos by Nancy.

So we set off on a glorious early Spring day – the highway south of Christchurch lined with flowering acacia (wattle to Aussie me).

SOC was 89% and the GOM was estimating 140km. (SOC battery State Of Charge and GOM is the Guess O Meter which tries to work out how many Kilometres the battery can take us).

Drove at a steady 90kph.

At Rakaia (45 km) the SOC was 58% and the GOM said 86km so we carried on.

I love turning off at Rakaia – it’s like entering another world. The mountains start to come closer and closer…..

At the Methven charger SOC was 21 &, GOM estimates 28 km left, total distance travelled 82km. Plugged in and went for a coffee and a wander around the craft shop. 35 minutes later we were back at the car where the battery was at 98%

We then drove up to the skifield where we caught up with friends and had lunch and a drinks on the deck while watching the skiers and chatting.

Les than half way up and still climbing.

Just hitting the snow line.

Still a way to go.

Finally the Lodge, three lifts and part of the ski fields in sight

SOC on arrival at the car park 58% and the GOM said 50 km left. Travelled 27 km.

We had lunch with our friends then left them to ski some more.

The Beginners slope is in the middle of this photo. It was the FIRST TIME I (Nancy) had ever been on a working skifield! Although i have been to the top of Mt. Hutt during summer.

Before leaving we checked out the ski hire section. Everything is colour-coded.

Also had a look at the (now disused?) bungee jump area, and the views to the horizon. Note it is a wee bit curved – that’s how high up we were.

Here’s the start of the road back downhill.

We left the skifield about 2.30 and drove down to Highway 73 in B mode for hopefully maximum regeneration. Arrived at the highway 73 after travelling 17 km. SOC was 69% so regen gave us 11% back but the GOM said we could now travel 123 km.

On the way down we stopped to pay our respects to “Rocky”. I still have pages and pages of the absolutely hilarious dialogue carried on during his time on TradeMe. it was the perfect antidote to all the depression following the earthquakes. I wonder just how many people logged on to TradeMe – it must have been thousands.

Looking back where we had come from..

Still a way to go.

We elected to return home via Rakaia again putting the hammer down and travelling at 100kph and arriving there with 30% SOC and the GOM reporting 51 km which would have been a bit tight to get home so we charged again at Rakaia.

After a coffee we were happy with a SOC of 91% and the GOM saying 156km. (Methven to Rakaia is downhill so economy is good).

We arrived home with 57% SOC and the GOM saying 84km.

Total trip 225km.

223. A Rainy Sunday

I’ve been told it’s time that I wrote another blog (it’s been over one year) so here goes …

We thought we’d give our Nissan Leaf (acquired Dec 2018) another out-of-town run, just to give us some experience charging elsewhere and also evaluate a new app being developed for eV owners. The Weka Pass steam train was scheduled to run so the night before Dave charged up the Leaf to its full capacity, 100% battery power and an estimated 182 km running distance. 

(If anyone wants to know more about the dashboard displays, ask Dave! He has a Japanese translation app on his phone, which works very well with this sort of display. We took Penny the foxie with us rather than leave her at home for most of the day. She is happy waiting for us for hours in the car, snug and warm with her knitted coat.

We thought it would be a quickish run up to Glenmark, considering the weather, but road maintenance meant a loooong queue leading up to the Waimak bridge, under which the water was flowing strongly.

Actually the Leaf didn’t mind, we use up less power going slow than going fast! We headed straight for the railway station at Glenmark to check whether the train was actually running – yes – but dogs allowed? – no  – by which time we had used up 50% battery power and travelled 70.1 km.  

With just over an hour to spare we headed for the Waipara Springs Winery and Cafe, the founding winery and cafe of the Waipara Region. Established in 1981, it’s still an entirely owned and operated family estate. There have been some building alterations since we were last there, the reception area is now closer to the parking area and one does not have to walk through the entire courtyard. Also there is an enlarged inner dining area. 

Fabulous food – I had venison short ribs in a sticky juniper and cranberry sauce, Dave the pork loin roulade. We both finished with completely empty almost-licked-clean plates.  The dessert menu was too good to ignore too especially because it had Dave’s favourite squishy brownie and for me, affogatto.

Thus replete we rushed back to Glenmark and Dave bought the tickets while I gave Penny a quick run on a strip of grass. Into a nice reasonably warm train and we were off!  

The carriages have been lovingly restored since our last run several years ago. All the seats are now newly upholstered and there are little touches like old suitcases in the overhead  luggage racks.  Every second window opens, so we were able to get a couple of shots of the vineyards and countryside. 

At Waikari it was raining but nobody seemed to mind. Everyone disembarked to stretch their legs. Some people opted to walk down to the shops but others stayed behind.

The engine was uncoupled, shunted down a side track then back to the end of the train where it was hard to see what was happening amidst the steam and rain! 

The journey back was uneventful except when we stopped so a gate across the line could be closed; it was almost impossible to see anything through the windows.  

Glenmark itself is a pretty station, well equipped with all the necessary props as well as steam train station essentials.

The train was uncoupled again and sent off to its shed.

The Leaf had JUST enough power to get us home – maybe – so to be on the safe side we headed for Amberley and a charging station.

Amazingly fast – we hardly had time to drink our coffee.

Translation: It was 11 minutes since we had hooked up, walked to the cafe, ordered coffee and it had arrived. We were already 69% charged up in that time and it cost $4.61.  At 80% charge we were off again heading for home. 

222. Road Trip to Twizel

A few days ago we drove to Twizel, collected a caravan which had been brought up from Queenstown, and towed it back to the caravan workshop in Christchurch. I went along for the ride and decided to do a photographic diary. Most of the photos were shot through the tinted windscreen and telegraph poles had an annoying habit of intruding at the wrong moment!

Farm Barn cafe map

After an early breakfast and giving Oscar the cat his insulin, we left home just as it was getting light, on a cold grey drizzly morning.


It was too dark to photograph the proposed quarry site (which we and many neighbours are protesting about) as intended. The lights of the ‘inland port’ complex a little further down Jones Road loomed out of the mist.


The mist was as thick as ever as we approached the 1.8 km long Rakaia Bridge, but the salmon still leapt at our approach (!)



The Ashburton River was similarly gloomy ….


After Ashburton we turned inland, off the highway. Almost immediately the mountains came into view beyond  the green Darfield plains. It also looked as if the weather was lightening, but there was still much fog and mist around.



The Rangitata River near the Mt. Peel turnoff had plenty of colour (BOTHER those wires) …P1020158


A fog bow welcomed us to Geraldine. (Should have cleaned the windscreen…)


Geraldine to Fairlie and beyond is one of my favourite drives.




The temperature continued to drop after we left Geraldine. It was 8 deg C when we left home, increased to 12 before Geraldine, then steadily dropped again.

As we approached the Farm Barn cafe at the top of the hill before Fairlie, the weather cleared again. Time for coffee (and photos in all directions). There’s some new decor in the cafe.



Downhill again to Fairlie, where it was clear …





…. and to Burke’s Pass, where it was not. Also rather cold!





Approaching Tekapo it became very foggy again. It’s the first time in all the times I’ve been past (or on!) the Lake that the entire Lake was invisible. The new pedestrian bridge made for some nice shots; as we were not towing a caravan at that stage, and were making good time, we could stop and take proper photos for once.


Despite the weather the car park around the little Church of the Good Shepherd was obviously packed. I felt for the tourists, unable to see the Lake at all.


Hungry?  Here’s an apple tree.


On to lake Pukaki. the mist was slightly less heavy and the outlines of the shore were visible, but none of the wonderful blue colour.


Not far to Twizel now. A sudden brilliant beam of sunlight illuminated two trees ahead. could we get closer in time? Alas, no.


The caravan we were to collect was waiting for us at Twizel. There was time to inspect the  Ulysses tree – it’s doing well, lots of tight buds on the branches.P1020225


We had lunch at the Musterer’s Hut at Twizel – in the distance to the left of the red ute (ours) and caravan 2 photos back – a quirky place, designed and decorated to look like a rough and ready hut but actually cosy and warm with double glazed windows, corrugated iron ceiling hiding good insulation, two roaring  fires – and great food. Highly recommended.

The weather hadn’t improved as we set off on our return. But there was a lightening of the sky on  the horizon…


What’s that in the gap in the clouds?












A bit of blue sky over one of the canals. But we couldn’t stop with a huge caravan in tow.


By the time we got back to Lake Pukaki the weather had closed in again.


Mt. Cook – Aoraki is somewhere in the mist about where the little bush is pointing.


And then it cleared yet again, on the plateau en route back to Tekapo.


The Lake was there after all (!)

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Still lots of mist as we headed back towards Fairlie.


We stopped at the Dog Kennel Corner to let Penny out for a run. And a few good photos for a change.




Looking back towards Tekapo


The weather continued to be reasonable the rest of the afternoon.

The view from the Farm Barn Cafe on the hilltop was vastly different this time. But we didn’t stop.


Although we soon had to, and wait about 15 minutes while some repair work and/or tree lopping was done on the hillside beside the road, just out of sight around this bend.


Sun getting lower, temperature dropping ….. by the time we approached Geraldine it was all grey again and starting to drizzle so I stopped taking photos.


We reached Christchurch  in good time to deliver the caravan to the workshop, then a fast trip home to light the fire, feed the animals and give Oscar his injection, and finally feed ourselves.  Dave drove about 570 km in about 8 hrs with a lunchstop, two coffee breaks and refuelling.

221. Home via Moeraki

We weren’t planning to head home via the coast but the weather reports and local knowledge (aka a farmer from Gore, a Johnston of course) advised us against tackling the inland passes. The ute of course could do it easily on its own, snow chains and all, but towing a heavy caravan was another thing altogether. So the coast road it was. Invercargill – upper Catlins – Balclutha – Dunedin. Snowy mountains loomed around, showing us how wise that decision had been. The weather changed all the time – sunny one moment, raining the next.





Where to stop for the night? We were not in a hurry, our homesitters having advised us that everyone was happy.  We’ve been to Moeraki many times, photographed the boulders, even had dinner at the famous Fleur’s. But it’s always different. So we decided to spend the night at the Moeraki caravan park on the hill overlooking the port, where we’ve been before, and have a look at the boulders in the early morning light.

En route there was an awesome cloudscape.


I was a little too late to get some good sunset photos, distracted not only by the cold wind but by the hundreds of rabbits scampering around in the dusk. What would have happened if Penny the foxie had been with us?




Next morning it was cold and blowing strongly. High tide was at about 8 am so we decided we would make a leisurely exit from the caravan park and have morning coffee at the Moeraki Boulders cafe.

Here’s the view as we were leaving the park next morning.


After a first quick look from the cafe deck ….


…. and an invigorating coffee and ginger slice near the roaring fire, while admiring the views ….


…. it was down the private pathway to the beach. The pathway costs $2 per person but I think it is justified, it must be costly to maintain and it provided such a convenient route – and boot scrubbers on our return.

Moeraki Boulders05

The beach is very dark clingy mud/sand at the high tide mark and there  was only a narrow space between it and the surging tide. I was pleased with my new Lumix camera, it took wonderful photos even shooting straight into the sun.

The boulders were still there (!!!!!!)  Well of course they were.



New ones are being calved off regularly. Here’s one at beach level and another a bit higher off the cliff. Dave climbed up to take his photos but I preferred to stay at beach level. You can see we were well rugged up!




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Anyone who has been there knows it is impossible to stop taking photos.


Moeraki Boulders02Moeraki Boulders01Finally tearing ourselves away we set off again, heading for Geraldine.  Our GPSr took us down some back roads with mountains in the distance. A pity there were so many poles and overhead wires to spoil the photos.





There is a wonderful cafe at a winery somewhere south of Geraldine, we couldn’t remember exactly where and also wondered if it would be open at this time of year. So we decided to stop at Peski’s for the night and make enquiries at the Information Centre in town.

Peski’s is a well-known private property providing parking for caravans and motorhomes. The new owners made us welcome, helped by little Tui the  “ferocious” little poodle cross who belonged to the previous owners and has stayed on to help welcome people, as she’s been doing for years. It is very difficult to get a photo of her keeping still! A quick trip to town confirmed that the winery was closed so we consoled ourselves with a visit to the Barkers shop, coming away laden with jams, chutneys and a huge bottle of salted caramel sauce.


Next day, an easy trip home with lunch at “Nosh” in the Ashburton Mills village – highly recommended. I couldn’t resist the lure of the wool shop next door; Dave occasionally deserves a medal for patience and he earned one that time.





220. Clan Johnston/e of NZ AGM

This was the first time the AGM has been held in the deep south. The local committee did a wonderful job; preparations started long ago even before we attended the Clan Gathering there last year. Quite a few people came from the North Island but naturally there were several family groups from Invercargill and surrounds.

The Ascot Park Hotel was the venue, diagonally across the road from where we were parked. But our initial intention to stroll over was thwarted by the weather. Just inside the lobby was a magnificent Arrol-Johnston motorcar circa 1927 (note numberplate), owned by an Invercargill resident. It set the tone for the whole proceedings. Dave can be seen at the back right with a red cap.




When I googled Arrol-Johnston I discovered that Shackleton was given a car specially built for his Nimrod Antarctic expedition of 1907-1908. “These were the pioneer days of the motor car, it wasn’t terribly successful” . There’s a whole website about it at https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/History/first-car-in-antarctica-shackleton.php which makes fascinating reading. Sadly what happened to the car is unknown.


We had a whole large room to ourselves. Tables along the walls were covered with local Johnston/e family histories and memorabilia. A rather magnificent family tree stretched almost across the room. Judging from the number of local family trees, almost the entire early population must have consisted of Johnston/es!




There was, of course, a special cake …


The AGM passed without incident. As is happening elsewhere in NZ and also Australia, it is becoming difficult to attract more younger members, but hopefully the Clan will survive. Afterwards, members were invited to give a short talk about their families. With a little persuasion Dave was enticed to the rostrum and talked about his GGGrand Father James Johnstone who built the immigration barracks in Christchurch. Soon after his talk  he was approached by one of the other members who said his GGrand Mother was born in the barracks. In NZ there never seems to be more than a few degrees of separation   between people!!P1010753

After the AGM, lunch was announced. The back wall of the room suddenly folded back to reveal a long buffet table with hot and cold food, the roasts presided over by a chef and assistants. Simple but very good food.

There were various activities planned for the afternoon. Dave and I had opted to go digging – yes, really! – at a place called “Dig This” – NZ’s first heavy equipment playground. https://www.transportworld.co.nz/dig-this/  It’s always been my ambition to operate a bulldozer/excavator but unfortunately the weather once again put a stopper to this idea. Instead Dave went off to a hitherto undiscovered motorbike museum and I retired to our cosy caravan to read and knit. Others went to the main Museum, Art Gallery etc all of which I have visited more than once before.

That evening was the Clan dinner, with entertainment. We got all dressed up in our Scottish finery. It started with the ceremonial Address to the Haggis. Dave was wearing his Bruce kilt, not Johnston, but was still invited to carry the precious whisky and crystal glasses on a silver tray. What an honour. Knowing that the contents had to be knocked off in one gulp, he was careful pouring – then told to add more, not once but twice. He said afterwards it seemed a shame to waste such glorious stuff instead of sipping it quietly!  (Photos by a Clan member).


After dinner there was an interesting address given by a local man, a blueberry grower, who was once many other things and whose interests include blacksmithing. He had a special claymore (Scottish two-handed fighting sword) made specially for him according to his height, and afterwards was surrounded by curious Johnston clansmen all eager to give it a heft or two.  He talked about iron and steel and tempering the latter …. it was a very interesting talk. I know it was interesting because the dear man gave me his notes afterwards.



A Mystery Tour and Lunch was planned for the next day. It still went ahead, although  not much could be seen through the rain. We headed for Riverton via back roads, with some interesting comment along the way.




Lunch was at a cafe overlooking Riverton and was wonderful. I wonder what the cafe people though when they realised they had a table for 26 almost all with the surname Johnston!!






219. Bluff

For those who don’t know, Bluff is the southernmost mainland town in NZ. Only Stewart Island and a few smaller islands are further south before Antarctica.  it is also the oldest European settled community in NZ. We left T5 at the Camp and drove though typical south island wet and extremely windy, not to mention bone-chillingly cold weather to visit the well-known signpost at Stirling Point where I first posed in bike-riding gear 18 years ago, on that first memorable trip round NZ on the back of Dave’s Moto Guzzi. 


Stewart Island was only just visible in the distance. A submerged reef in between island and mainland showed its presence with a line of surf.


P1010726We repaired to the newish restaurant high above the point where we dined reasonably well in what was obviously a tourist-orientated rather than foodie-orientated establishment …. there was even a complimentary mussel beside my bowl of seafood chowder. It contained some large crunchy prawns, surely Australian? but the waiter didn’t know. People who know me know I detest the prawns-from-other-countries which are usually the only ones available in NZ, which has no native prawns apart from some freshwater ones up in the north island.   


Replete, we visited the Pilot Reserve which is a far more interesting part of Stirling Point in my opinion, with a darling little old lighthouse.

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P1010737Originally the site of a whaling station, the Reserve was set aside for the Pilot Station and houses for the Harbour Master and Pilots – the latter a very important and responsible position.


Another sign explained that despite the assistance from the signal station, channel beacons, harbour master and pilots, all of which helped, .”… an average of two vessels a decade were lost until 1939, most of them small to medium coastal or fishing vessels.”

it was possible to walk right up to the lighthouse along a little gangway with the surf breaking on rocks practically underneath. 

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At this point my camera ran out of battery power so the photos following are Dave’s. I did manage to get one more in, here’s Dave taking a photo for me – the remains of a stump which was probably once part of an older boardwalk.

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In the distance was Tiwai Point:



To one side of the lighthouse was a little cove, once used by the whalers. What a place to build a house – yet with one exception all seemed relatively modest homes.

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Driving back through Bluff, which is showing some signs of regeneration in terms of a few more modern shops, these old houses caught my attention. Also a mural on the side of a building. (Yes, the weather was deteriorating again).

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We also stopped at a little cemetery just outside town. It looked like most of the inhabitants were Maori, with colourfully decorated graves. There is a special section there dedicated to mariners who died at sea. Some died  on other parts of the NZ coastline but their memorial is here. 

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Back to Invercargill to get ready for the Clan Johnston/e “Meet and Greet”, preparatory for the AGM tomorrow morning, and other festivities.

This is being posted sitting in a little open courtyard near the caravan, the only place with WiFi access apart from the motel office, which is closed. We are not IN the motel, just camped in its grounds, with hot showers, toilets and a laundry available for modest fee. We are hooked up to power so can have the electric heater on all night if we wish!!

218. Invercargill bound

We are on the road again, heading for Invercargill for the Clan Johnston/e AGM and general festivities.  It’s been a while ….

First we had to find someone to look after Penny, a diabetic Oscar and Georgie. Kiwihomesitters came to the rescue, the first people to contact us turned out to be ideal. We met them for the first time a week ago and they immediately connected with the pets and vice versa. Phil was not fazed at the thought of giving Oscar his insulin injections. Thus reassured, plans for our departure forged ahead.

On the morning of our departure the last thing to be loaded into the caravan was of course the perishables,, and that’s where things came slightly unhinged. We drove off happily, thinking we had everything when in fact we had forgotten to load the bread and cheese (but we DID have wine!), a big bowl of fruit and the whisky and Canterbury Cream! All were ready and waiting. We also drove off with the caravan door open and our wonderful home sitter who waved us off immediately sent a text to warn us.

South went in the light rain until someway north of Oamaru when we turned off on the road to Kurow but stopped half way at a NZMCA camp at Aviemore. There was only one other caravan there. A herd of very curious cows welcomed us from the other side of a fence; but the time we had set up the caravan and I had grabbed my camera, more than half of them had wandered over to the fence to goggle at the strange vehicle – or was it people?



After setting up we disconnected the ute and drove to Oamaru for the missing perishables plus an extra hot water bottle. Which turned out to be very useful.

Next morning we made a late start and stopped off at Moeraki for coffee at the cafe overlooking the boulder-strewn beach. We did not have time to go right down to the boulders, a pity as it was low tide. Next time perhaps.




Past Dunedin (with a quick shot of the fabulous railway building plus the one opposite, both from the moving ute) we were getting hungry so stopped at a convenient rest stop, the first to appear for a very long time. We were munching away when a woman popped her head in the doorway and asked if we would mind talking about the caravan. It turned out she and her husband are thinking of buying one, and were seeking general information which Dave was happy to give.


The countryside in South East Otago, just north of the Catlins, is so very different from Central Otago.  Beautiful green rolling countryside. The weather was very changeable but I tried to take a few photos as we rolled along – nowhere to stop with a caravan to take photos.  The old bridge over the Clutha at Balclutha still the same, also the horses at Clinton, which barely got a glance. We arrived in Invercargill just before dusk and checked in at the Coachman Motel which offers good powered sites for caravans, also hot showers.




Tomorrow the Clan Johnston/e events start. Both Dave and I are Johnstons but not related, at least as far back as I can trace to the 1700s.

217. Riccarton House

Dave is a member of the NZ Founders Society, which represents descendants of the early NZ settlers who arrived before the end of 1865. Established in March 1939 to honour the work and achievements of NZ pioneer ancestors “… whose contribution helped shape our nation and its history”,  it now has various branches including Canterbury.

We were invited to join a group on a guided tour of Riccarton House in Christchurch.  “Riccarton House and Bush / Pūtaringamotu is a unique New Zealand heritage site consisting of two historic buildings, flanked by beautiful open parkland and ornate gardens, bordered by Ōtākaro / Avon River and set against extensive native bush forest featuring kahikatea trees up to 600 years old. This tranquil 12 hectare reserve is located just 3.5 km from Christchurch city centre.” 




The House was badly damaged in the February 2011 earthquake and $2.5 million was spent on the full restoration over 3.5 years. Past Manager Rob Daly was in his office at the time of the earthquake and is quoted as saying at no time did he fear for his safety as he had “faith in the robustness of the Old Lady”.

Our tour started in the entrance hall with its fabulous carved wooden walls and ceiling. The majestic moose heads did not dominate but enhanced the space.




The guide, despite being rather oddly dressed in tails, cravat, stout modern shoes, a machine-hemmed breast pocket handkerchief and modern lapel buttons (one featuring a silver fern?) was nevertheless very knowledgeable and entertaining. First we were shown an incompletely renovated room with some glorious old wallpaper, an exposed wall ands various other bits and pieces related to the earthquake and subsequent restoration.


A quick inspection of the library followed. This is part of the oldest part of the house, built by Dave’s GGGrandfather James Johnstone.



Then on to the kitchen with its beautiful William Morris wallpaper, a modern version close to that of the original.





A quick tour of the dining room, scullery and pantry ….



…. then up the magnificent stairway with its huge acorn-topped newel posts; a figure entirely carved from one piece of wood stood guard at the top.



Carving around lintels; and an old heater.

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Various bedrooms followed, each with its own distinctive wallpaper, matched where possible to fragments of the old. The ceiling fixtures were newly gilded.


A commodious commode! Flap up, then circular lid removed …. Much more aesthetic  and easier to use one would imagine than a bedpan kept under the bed.


Part of the main bedroom. Not shown is a trapdoor giving access to the cellar, in case of fire.


Up narrow stairs to the attic, which was used mainly as a children’s playroom. The Deans were enlightened employers who did not expect their employees to live in cramped attic accommodation but provided good-sized rooms – as shown by the Nanny’s room (shown later).






Here’s an array of old posters with luggage underneath. A surprise find for Dave and me was a trunk used on the “Merope” which brought the first Gibb family to NZ – did John Gibb know the owner of the trunk, Walter Heavem? P1010607P1010612

Back down the stairs to more beautiful bedrooms and a bathroom and toilets (not shown). Almost all wardrobes were built-in. Some bedrooms have been turned into offices, there were originally 13.




In a wardrobe:  a christening gown worn by generations of Deans and their descendants and relatives.



A gentleman’s study…..


Lace, ornate pots, gloves …..



Part of the nursery, complete with potties….  and in a nearby linen cupboard, a package of early disposable nappies.



The Nanny’s room, with narrow iron bed, sewing machine and views over the garden.


Back downstairs to the tea room with its particularly ornate ceiling rose. One member of the Founders recalled having tea there when he was eight! Another had his wedding reception in this room. Here we had restorative cups of coffee and cake.


Outside for an inspection of Deans Cottage, the oldest building on the Canterbury Plains. Built for pioneering Scottish brothers William and John Deans in 1843.  


“Built from timber cut in Riccarton Bush and pit sawn into boards, the cottage was the first home shared by the Deans as they strove to establish their farming vision at Riccarton. The brothers lived in the cottage until their early and tragic deaths. William drowned in the shipwreck of the barque “Maria” when she struck a rock near Cape Terawhiti off the Wellington Heads in July 1851. John, who travelled to Scotland in 1852 to marry Jane McIlraith, returned to Riccarton in February 1853 and died in the cottage from tuberculosis in June 1854.

“Jane Deans and her son John continued to live in the cottage until the building of the first stage of Riccarton House was completed and they were able to move to their new home in March 1856.”

Dave’s GGGrandfather James Johnstone (1807-1870) is believed to have been one of the builders.

Then a quick tour of Deans Bush with its majestic Kahikatea trees. The Bush is a remnant of the vegetation of the early Canterbury Plains. It is enclosed in a predator-proof fence.

“As Canterbury’s sole remnant of kahikatea floodplain forest, Riccarton Bush has national significance. For 300,000 years, the shifting gravels of the Waimakariri River triggered a changing mosaic of podocarp forests across the Canterbury Plains. In response to a continual cycle of flooding, forests established wherever suitable conditions were created, only to be destroyed in their turn. These 600-year-old kahikatea trees are the latest generation of a forest that established on this site 3000 years ago. They have survived through two cultural periods, Maori then European, that saw widespread fires sweep the Plains and native vegetation give way to pastoralism and cropping.”


216. Collecting “Chummy” at Kaikoura

Recently we received a surprise email from an Auckland friend – could she come and stay with us in Christchurch and hitch a ride to Kaikoura to inspect and probably buy a tiny little vintage Austin tourer circa 1927? But of course! And so it was arranged.

We were keen to see Kaikoura where there was a major earthquake last year; the coast road was blocked by landslips etc exacerbated by wild weather for almost a year and is still being repaired so it was interesting to see how it was going. That stretch of coast is a favoured seal habitat and also Kaikoura is a well-known whale watch centre; very fortunately the sea life has all returned even though the sea level is now about a metre lower than it was before and the seabed near the coast has some new topography.  (Some photos taken on the return trip).



Jacqui had recently posted a number of photos of the Napier Art Deco weekend festivities on Facebook, posing in gorgeous vintage dresses against various beautiful old cars. I took the opportunity to offer her some 20s and 30s dresses and accessories which once belonged to my Aunt Betty (why had I kept them for so long?) and peacock feathers collected at a homesit last year, while Dave contributed his mother’s crocodile skin handbag and some jewellery and long white gloves. We both produced beautiful old silky stoles with metallic embroidery and long fringes – not worn nowadays but perfect for Vintage occasions. To transport all this new finery Dave added an old leather suitcase and me a small tin trunk. Everyone was very happy – I felt sure my Aunt would be too, knowing her carefully hoarded ‘best’ was being put to good use again.

We set off for Kaikoura one rainy morning (after first feeding the cats and giving Oscar his twice-daily insulin injection – so we had to be back in time for the evening one). The weather wasn’t too bad but did not improve as we approached Kaikoura despite a hint of blue skies.  Recent wild weather had caused numerous slips on the top of the range as well as the coastal highway so it was occasionally slow going.


We had time for a warming cup of coffee at our favourite Kaikoura cafe  and for Jacqui’s Knight in Shining Armour (as will be seen) to turn up, having arrived on his motorbike by a devious route after leaving his ute and trailer at Wellington. Crossing the Straits with just the bike he was not content to ride to Kaikoura by the newly-opened coast road but elected to ride mostly in the rain (hence he arrived shiny despite a thick layer of mud!) via the Molesworth Track to Hanmer then North-East to join the main highway not far behind us. Not that we knew!

After coffee it was just a short walk in the rain (!) to inspect the Austin “Chummy”. An enchanting little red car with a fabric hood.


Jacqui immediately took it for a short run – after a push-start as the battery was flat – without the side windows of course, no rear view mirror, and a split windscreen.


P1010378Then back into the shed and, transaction concluded, the side windows were fitted (sort of) and the little car loaded up. Our old leather trunk slid into the space behind the driver perfectly. Jacqui had brought an assortment of useful tools including special rare Austin spanners, which all fitted into the small tin trunk.


A quick lunch then it was out onto the road – and another less successful push-start down the road and a section of the footpath to the nearest garage. Petrol was poured straight into the engine, or so it appeared (the tank inlet is under the bonnet), tyre pressures were checked and adjusted, then with some more huffing and puffing and pushing from various helpful males finally the engine fired and Jacqui was off!


Pete followed behind on his bike, to pick up the pieces (surely not). We followed too for a short way, then turned back for the run back to home, a diabetic cat, another cat and a foxie dog who had managed not to wreck the place in our absence, apart from a little pile of tissues (her specialty – always in a pile, not scattered) and some mysterious doggy footprints on the forbidden bed.

P1010386Meanwhile “Chummy” had decided to misbehave. First the hood literally blew off or rather backwards; Pete following on his bike helped secure hood and windows down with tape. Then at the 60 km mark, or was it 90 km, the engine decided it had had enough. In fairness it was the first real run it had had in a very long time. A helpful policeman stopped and enlightened them where they were and was most cooperative. Then the AA arrived with a trailer, they got to Picton and not only got a berth on the late ferry but a tow into the bowels of the ferry. The ferry staff enjoyed helping offload such a cute little vehicle at Wellington, where Pete AKA the KISA speedily went off to collect his ute and trailer and arrange with a friend for a bed.  Next day we were told they managed the long haul all the way to Auckland. 

We hope to see “Chummy” again one day, back in the south island in a Vintage car rally or two.