Carry on camping: 90 Mile Beach

It’s the morning after the night before and I’m playing my ‘permission to be hungover and do nothing’ card to update this much neglected blog.

Last night we bid farewell to two wonderful human beings who I’m so, so sad to see leave Auckland. New Zealand is such a transient place so we’re used to saying goodbyes, but this one was particularly poignant.

On the plus side, we did manage to squeeze in one last surfari camping trip to 90 Mile Beach over the Waitangi Weekend for some much needed hang time.

The campgrounds

It took us about four hours to drive to Ninety Mile Beach Holiday Park, with a stop off in Whangarei en route to stock up on food and beers – the half way point and last city before you turn inland towards the west coast. Once you get over to Kaitaia it’s slim pickings, so I recommend grabbing everything you need here.

We paid $17 each per day for a non-powered tent site, camping on sand and grass beneath cicada filled trees. Sadly, we didn’t have any spectacular beach front views. We mainly chose this campsite so Lola could come with us, plus it was only a five minute walk to the nearest surf beach.

Despite a few scathing reviews on TripAdvisor, I was pleasantly surprised to find the facilities were spacious and clean. The owners at reception were friendly, offering to lend us their body boards for the beach (Note: there are no surf board hire stores in Kaitaia).

90 Mile Beach

This was as far north as we have ever explored, and this stretch of coast supposedly has some of the best surf spots in New Zealand, from Shipwreck Bay to The Bluff. 90 Mile Beach is actually only 55 miles long and is also used as a highway for 4WD vehicles so we had to be careful when letting Lola run loose.

Once we had set up our tents – which is a much swifter process now that we’ve got inflatable lodgings – we headed down to the beach to catch the last of the afternoons rays. The beach was huge and mostly empty so we found a spot by the dunes away from the jeeps racing up the beach. We were greeted to golden sand, brilliant blue skies and an amazingly warm yet refreshing sea.

There was an onshore wind and mostly mushy white wash so I just took the body board out.

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We spent our evening having a feast of a BBQ before heading back to the beach to check out the famous 90 Mile Beach sunset. When we arrived the sun was dropping below the horizon and sinking into the sea, casting the perfect silhouette over us when we ran down the dunes to explore the beach at low tide.

We had a clear night sky and Venus was dazzling luminously above us, sitting just below Mars and Uranus (Star Chart is always a trusty travel companion).

Back at camp we got to know the local residents a little better over a beer, with bugs crawling up our legs in the dark (and some amusing screams from the boys) and a possum climbing the tree above our tent, very much aggravating Lola!

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Ahipara 

We set off to Ahipara in the morning, a small beach town further down the coast. We found a lodge that rented out beginner boards for $20 for the day, which worked out cheaper than NZ Surf Bros in town. 

Ahipara is a 30 minute journey from the campsite and has the only good coffee shop in the area (North Drift Cafe), with a chilled atmosphere, outside deck and very good brownie.

The beach was beautiful but the waves were few and far between, so I spent most of the morning getting a lesson from Matt on my technique. The guys that rented us the boards told us that the afternoon was supposed to be more promising.

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We headed over to Shipwreck Bay – about 5 minutes drive from Ahipara – to see if there was any swell but unfortunately the ocean was calm and collected, so we headed back into town for a spot of lunch. It wasn’t an entirely wasted journey though, as the road down to the bay offered panoramic views of the resplendent coastline out toward the Tasman Sea.

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There aren’t that many food options in the area so we just stopped in at Bidz Takeaway for some greasy fish and chips, which was at best, inexpensive. The lady serving us at the counter was a bit of a dragon and not someone you would want to get on the wrong side of. Nevertheless, we found a table outside and savoured some good ice cream and good company.

The boys, in full holiday mode, decided to push the boat out and order a deep fried Mars Bars. Which delighted them so much they followed it up with a chaser of deep fried Milky Bar.

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After lunch we found a spot on 90 Mile Beach where the conditions were much better and took to the waves for a couple of hours. Photo credits to Ben for the action shots of the boys…

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Me and Annalise obv caught loads of gnarly waves too…

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As did Lola…

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Weary and bruised we returned to camp for a feed and indulged in the best BBQ dessert ever…chocolate bars cooked inside bananas (don’t judge, we’re on holiday!). I went for a Mars Bar which is by far the winning formula, but I will gladly accept suggestions for other concoctions. Shortly after we all slipped into a dreamy sea and food induced coma.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

We packed up early and headed back to the beach for one last play in the surf. I took out our leash-less body board and got taken out by a breaking wave, only to watch my board speed back towards the shore leaving me to body surf the waves back.

After a brief moment of panic when I realised I was being sucked in the opposite direction out to sea, I swam horizontal until I was out of the rip and exhaustedly made it back to shore, glad that I had read up on ocean safety when we first arrived in New Zealand.

We hit the road at midday to set off back to Auckland. To toast our last trip together, we made a pit stop in Whangarei for some gelato at the Fudge Farm, overlooking the harbour. 

90 Mile Beach is a bit of a gem of a spot: uncrowded, long hot summers, and reliable surf somewhere along the coast. We’ll definitely be back.

As one adventure comes to an end, another one begins. A week today some of my nearest and very dearest friends will be in New Zealand for a North Island road trip and I can’t put into words how deliriously happy I am at the thought of us all being back together. This, of course, will be documented in my next blog.

Peace out!

Carry on camping: Gisborne

It was Matt’s turn to pick a camping destination for our Christmas vacay so, of course, he picked one of New Zealand’s top surf towns, Gisborne.

We booked five nights at Tatapouri Motor Camp between Christmas and New Years Eve. At just over six hours drive from Auckland, it was the furthest spot we had explored on the north island.

The journey

We set off around noon on Boxing Day with a car packed with all the essentials – Lola, a tent, the surfboards and leftover Christmas dinner.

The route took us through Matamata (home of the Hobbiton movie set), past Tauranga and along the coast through Whakatane, Ohopi and Opotiki, before turning inland through winding gold mining country and dense Kiwi bush.

We had a rest stop in Ohope to grab some milkshakes and let Lola cool off in the sea before the final leg of our journey.

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After what seemed like hours curving our way through native bush, we finally made it to the coast and arrived to find the sun setting over endless wineries with perfectly parallel rows of grape bearing vines.

First impressions

The “city” of Gisborne (or Gizzy as it’s otherwise known) is more the size of a town, containing neat, tidy houses with preened front gardens, sitting alongside more weathered and characterful homes. The streets are lined with palm trees and the clock tower overlooks the main shopping area on Gladstone Road.

We carried on past Gisborne along the East Coast, gaping at the impressive views as we rounded one corner after the other to find panoramic views of the many beautiful beaches that make up the East Cape, dotted with surfers and paddle boarders, and even some kayakers.

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We arrived at the campgrounds to a cool wind and clear skies, and quickly set up our tent just before the sun went down. We had a full view of the sea from our tent, and behind us were rolling green hills with wandering cows.

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The campgrounds

Tatapouri was $36 a night for beachfront camping and the site was conveniently located just ten minutes drive from the centre of town.

The site manager told us that the camp was very busy owing to the season but there was still heaps of space. The facilities were pretty good – hot showers, a kitchen with gas hobs, fridge/freezers, kettles, toasters and a recycling station. The fridges were a bit of a fight for a shelf but overall we didn’t have any complaints and I’d happily stay there again if we were down in Gizzy.

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Lola had to stay on a leash around the camp grounds as it was high season but she could run wild on the beach.

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As it was late and getting dark by the time we had set up, we got a fish and chip supper before passing out under a blanket of stars.

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Day 2

We woke up early to birdsong and beaming sunshine. There was a bench and table overlooking the ocean in front of our tent – the perfect spot for breakfast!

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After grabbing a coffee in town we set up the beach tent on nearby Makorori Beach, known for it’s excellent surf. The sea was pretty crowded with skilled surfers so I sat this one out, took the opportunity to take some snaps, and hung out with Lola whilst Matt ran off to catch some waves.

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Wind-related disaster 1: The wind picked up and soon we were all covered in an even coating of sand (poor Lola got quite a bit in the face!) so we decided to pack up and head off to a less gritty location.

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As we fought with the wind to fold down our beach shelter, disaster one struck us – a huge mastiff looking dog came over to chase (and intimidate) Lola but also had the urge to piss all over the tarpaulin of our tent (approx. three times – yuck). We attempted to shoo him away but he was a big brute and ignored us completely.

Finally his (irresponsible) owner called him from the other side of the beach – probably when she saw us trying to push him away from our tent. Needless to say we haven’t used the beach tent since.

Somewhat irritated, we headed over to the I-SITE to grab some maps, got some food and booze for the BBQ and spent the late afternoon unwinding back at our camp. The breeze kicked up the smells of suntan lotioned skin and salty sea air.

Camping is one of my favourite ways to achieve mindfulness. Phone data switched off, sleeping amongst nature, losing myself in a good book (currently The Goldfinch), and generally living a peaceful, simple existence.

We took an early evening hike up Makorori Headland to check out the views whilst the weather was good. A short, steep climb starts at the carpark at the bottom of the hill at the northern end of Wainui Beach. You walk through native bush before reaching the peak which offers Instagram-worthy views along the East Cape.

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After our walk we feasted on BBQ’d mushrooms, kumara, corn on the cob and marshmallows.

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Wind-related disaster 2: Matt went to take some photos of the night sky whilst I washed up our stuff in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to us, the wind had knocked over our fire and set light to one of our camping chairs. Luckily, our neighbour had spotted the fire and intervened to stop it burning down our entire camp. Lesson learnt: always guard the fire.

Day 3

I woke up to Lola nudging my sleeping bag so I quickly jumped out of bed to take her out for a wee. Still half asleep I looked at my watch to see it was 5.30am – just in time to catch the sunrise at 5.45am! I woke Matt up from his slumber and we set the camera up over the beach. The East Cape has the honour of seeing the first sunrise everyday so it was well worth waking up for this one.

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The sky was already glowing orange and pink, lighting up the campsite in a surreal light, making it look almost like a movie set with its Dr Suess trees, almost too perfect Hobbit hills and pristine blue sky. The birdsong was sending Lola into a hunting frenzy.

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It’s amazing to see how fast our planet is rotating when you watch the speed in which the sun rises up from the ocean, turning it metallic grey and glistening.

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Getting out of the city and discovering new places reminds me of our first year in New Zealand, when everything was so incredibly magical and unreal. Almost two years on and we still feel like we’re on holiday half the time.

After breakfast we set off for Rere Falls, about 30 minutes drive from the city centre and set amongst farmland. We got there early so it was quiet when we arrived and it didn’t take long for Lola to jump into the cool pebbled stream for some relief from the hot sun. There are picnic tables and toilets by the falls so you could easily spend an afternoon here, but we disappeared just as the groups of twenty somethings (here for the local NYE festival) arrived.

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Just around the corner from the falls is the Rere Rock Slide, where you can launch yourself down a slippery sloping rock on a body board/rubber ring/any other device you can sit on. We had a quick look to see what all the hype was about, but as it wasn’t dog-friendly we didn’t hang around for long. It was pretty busy (for NZ standards anyway) and there were queues of tourists waiting to ride the slide so we set off back to Gisborne for an afternoon at the beach.

The waves were small but surfable at Makorori Beach, and we had the ocean to ourselves so Matt gave me a surf lesson. One of my NY resolutions is to learn to surf and it was heaps of fun practising in smaller waves as it meant little effort was required to paddle out. Matt watched me from his board and gave me techniques on where I was going wrong.

After an hour or so we went and got Lola and carried her in the water to body surf the waves but judging by the speed in which she swam out she definitely prefers calm lake waters.

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That evening there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and with little light pollution it felt like we could see all the stars and planets in our solar system. The milky way was just overhead with its rich glow of stars and there were constellations mapping out the night sky. I followed a satellite moving above us until it disappeared from view. Nights like this are why we go camping.

Day 4

The morning was overcast and the surf forecast was predicted to be the best of the week so we got to the beach early. Everyone had the same idea and the ocean was full of surfers. Somewhat hesitant, I decided to have a go anyway and found an empty spot so I didn’t get in anyone’s way.

The ocean floor was rocky and paddling out was tiring as I kept getting sucked under and knocked off my board by breaking waves and white wash. After drinking about a gallon of sea water and not making much progress I decided the conditions were a bit too treacherous for a learner and body boarded back to shore, frustrated that I couldn’t get much practise in. The sea is a cruel mistress.

The air was warm but the cloud cover gave some much needed respite from the sun’s burning rays. I kicked back on the beach, where Lola jumped all over me licking my wet salty face, wrote my trip memoirs and lost myself in the world of Theodore Decker.

Matt got me a fisheye lens for my phone for Christmas so I tested it out on my favourite subject.

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Matt returned weary but happy after catching the biggest wave of his surfing career. We headed into town to pick up a few bits when a local dog owner spotted Lola and told us that dogs were prohibited from the main shopping stretch, and we would be slammed with a $150 fine if we got caught.

We hurried back to the car and drove a few blocks down to stop for lunch at PBC Cafe, which has a huge garden so Lola could sit with us. It was busy and took a while for our food to arrive, but it was tasty and the portions were huge. The weather was worsening so we headed to the Sunshine Brewery for a few pints. They have outside covered benches where Lola could hang with us whilst we sampled the local craft beers from their taproom.

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Feeling merry we picked up some food for dinner, and skipped out of the supermarket, armed with a bottle of Riesling to carry on the party back at our camp.

Wind-related disaster 3: We drove back to Tatapouri to be greeted by a tent apocalypse. The winds had picked up and were blowing gales throughout the campsite. Our tent had snapped and ripped so that the sleeping area had basically collapsed. Me and Lola took shelter in the porch while Matt surveyed the damage.

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The wind was relentless and another pole snapped. It was 5.20pm and we needed to make an executive decision: sleep in the porch; find dog friendly accommodation; or make the six hour drive back to Auckland before it got any later. We went with the latter and quickly threw everything into the car, downloaded some podcasts, armed ourselves with caffeine and hit the road, pretty gutted that we had to cut our holiday short.

The only silver lining was that we travelled home during the golden hour when everything looked even more enchanting than usual, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset to end the trip.

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Cape Brett, no sweat

When you’re a list obsessed, plan-everything-ahead, uber organised earthling, having someone take control of the reigns and devise an adventure in such spectacular detail is a breathe of fresh air.

This story begins back in September, when a  Facebook message popped up from two friends masterminding an overnight tramp to Cape Brett. These are the type of friends that are either running bush marathons at the weekend or trekking up mountains doing a casual bit of avalanche survival training. We were in safe hands.

14 ‘I’m keen’ responses later and we had ourselves a party.

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Cape Brett came with some surprises. This hike was not what I expected. I had visions of a moderately hilly, relaxing walk across the rugged coast, taking in the views across the peninsula. The latter part is true, but easy this was not.

Our odyssey began on Friday evening, staying overnight on The Farm, about 20 minutes drive from the start of the track in Rawhiti. The Farm is a backpackers hostel come campsite. We paid $80 for a hut with an en suite, but in retrospect we should have just camped as the huts were pretty crumby and we had to go on a mass bug killing spree on arrival (typical urbanites).

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We set off early on Saturday to the promise of two days of sunshine and blue skies and that’s exactly what we got.

The walk

Launch point: 253 Rawhiti Road (there is secure paid parking on the same road).

Distance: 16.3km each way – totalling 32.6km over the weekend. Not that far off a marathon!

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Time: It look us around 8 hours to get to the doc hut on the first day as we stopped off at Deep Water Cove for a swim, plus lots of photo ops en route. We set off fairly early and arrived at the hut in time to swoon over the sun setting and go seal spotting.

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The second day was much quicker (around 6 hours) as we had lighter packs and the team were firmly focused on the end goal.

If those distances sound like too much, you can skip a good portion of the track and get a boat to Deep Water Cove (about $45 each way) and trek three hours (6km) to the doc hut.

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Costs:  The doc hut was $15 per person for one night; the track maintenance fee was $30 per person; parking is $5 into an honesty box.

The terrain: The track is well kept, well sign posted and passes through lush coastal bush, with lots of tree roots to contend with so you have to watch your footing (just remember to look up and check out the views every now and then – it’s easy to get focused on where your next step is going).

Parts of the track are quite exposed and you get very close to some steep cliff drops. I would only do this in the summer months when you’re forecast some good weather. Rain and gail force winds could definitely ruin this hike for you/land you in some hairy situations!

There are lots of climbs and descents so find yourself a decent walking stick to keep the pressure off your knees – it makes a huge difference.

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Before you make the finishing climb over to the hut (at around 14km) there is a big section of grass which is as springy as a mattress and overlooks the cobalt ocean. This is a good spot to recharge and refuel before your last push. You’ll know you’re getting close to the hut when you feel like your legs are about to give up on you!

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The final hour of the hike on day one and the first hour of the hike on day two were the most difficult sections of the track.

Pack light: The steep climbs are challenging enough without a backpack containing five litres of water, plus everything else. Be ruthless and take only what you need. Try and get kit that is lightweight. This will make all the difference to the enjoyment of your hike.

Deep Water Cove

Cape Brett is a cruel mistress. You spend the majority of the walk very sweaty, looking out over to an inviting emerald sea. The fact that you can’t get down to it because you’re on top of a cliff is very frustrating. But fear not, towards the second half of the walk you’ll reach a cross roads to detour to Deep Water Cove. Take the detour!

The steep track leads you down to a stony beach straight out of Moonrise Kingdom where you can bathe in the cool, clear waters in a protected bay (note that there are no showers at the hut so this makes all the difference). This is also the point where the boat taxi ferries hikers to the track.

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We shared the water with some jellyfish and a sting ray so watch your step!

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The lighthouse

Quick history lesson: Cape Brett lighthouse has been signalling vessels to safety for over 1,000 years, even guiding Māori settlers who arrived in Aotearoa to set up home. The main lighthouse signal has been replaced by a smaller version which still functions today.

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It’s hard to imagine the isolated, simple life of a Lighthouse Keeper way out here. You would never get tired of the majestic views out to sea. Some lucky visitors get to observe dolphins playing around the cliffs (although we were sadly not that fortunate). But we did spot a seal chilling on a rock!

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The hut

Perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the wild ocean, with it’s little red roof peaking out from the rolling green hills, the feeling of having this in your vision after eight hours of strenuous walking was magical! The hut used to be the home of the lighthouse keeper and is approx. 120 years old.

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It was such a relief to take off our cumbersome backpacks when we arrived!

Inside the hut was a pleasant surprise. Clean and tidy, with cooking pots, pans and utensils. Unlike the warning on the doc website, there was water in the taps that we could boil and use to hydrate our noodles.

There is a table and chairs outside the hut overlooking the ocean, so you can have your dinner whilst watching the sun go down, which is pretty rad! They also have a guitar in the hut for some evenings entertainment, brought to you by Bronkapipes…

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The hut is made up of three rooms – two with lots of bunk beds and one room with just one bunk bed and a sink (a bit of a luxury suite if there are just two of you!). They supply the mattresses and you just need to bring your sleeping bag/pillow.

The toilets are long drops that you fill with sawdust to keep them clean. They’re not fresh but they’re not as bad as those festival long drops either.

The stars

There is no power in the hut, so come sundown the sky gradually lights up with a million stars and planets, which is quite astounding. Venus was shining brightly when we visited. Photo credits go to the teams star photographer, Ben.

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The sunrise

We set our alarms and got up and out the hut by 6am to watch the sunrise over the ocean which was a pretty special moment. It’s one of the first places in the world you’ll see the sunrise. Our next camping trip this month is to Gisborne, which is the first city in the world where you can see the sunrise.

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Verdict

It was amazing and challenging and I’m glad we conquered the entire trek. If I was to do it again, I would probably get the boat into Deep Water Cove and walk the full track back the following day. But I would recommend for first timers (who have a good level of fitness, mind) to do the lot as it’s such a good sense of achievement when you reach the finishing line.

This bay is also waiting for you at the end of the track in Rawhiti if you want to freshen up…

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This was our first overnight hike in New Zealand and I’m excited to tackle some more – any recommendations are welcome!

Carry on camping: Matauri Bay

We did it! We finally bought ourselves a tent and booked in our first weekend of camping in New Zealand (only took us a year and 8 months!).

After emailing one million campsites to check their dog rules, we finally chose Matauri Bay in the ‘winterless North’ for its beach front camping and charming surroundings. What mostly sold it was the response from the owner though…

“We have a dog, and my in laws that own the lease on the park also have dogs, as does my brother in law that works here,  running off leash on the beach is fine.”

If you have a dog you’ll understand how these words are music to the ears in the warmer months of New Zealand when dogs are either banned from most beaches or are forced to walk attached to you. We prefer letting Lola run wild and free, barefoot and naked along the sand like the flower child she is…

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The campgrounds

Matauri Bay Holiday Park is located in Northland, just north east of Keri Keri in the Bay of Islands and roughly  three and a half hours drive from Auckland.

It cost the three of us $63 for a two nights stay, which initially sounded a little pricey but it includes showers, a kitchen, and other razzmatazz facilities (on-site store selling ice cream, score). The fact that you get two picturesque beaches to explore and can wake up to the sound of waves lapping just a few feet away is totally worth it.

The campsite is off-leash outside of peak season, but that’s assuming you can control your dog. Lola has selective hearing and likes to investigate anything that moves so she got tethered to the long leash when we were hanging around the campgrounds.

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The first night

We left Auckland around lunchtime with our tent, the boards, some beach togs, and dreams of frolicking in the waves under the golden sun with dolphins riding alongside us (this is magical New Zealand after all), stargazing beneath the full moon while toasting marshmallows on a bonfire (like every camping Instagram photo I double tap).

However, as we approached Keri Keri, the heavens opened and those ominous grey clouds burst forth with a torrent of rain. It’ll pass, we thought, and on we went to Countdown to pick up rations for our warm summer BBQ that evening.

It didn’t pass. We took the turning for Matauri Bay Road whilst the weather raged on. Nevertheless, the descent down to the bay was beautiful – even in the drizzle – and nothing was going to dampen our camping spirits. A bit of rain? Pffft. We’re English!

(Note that these blue sky photos are not taken from that first stormy night!)

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We arrived to be greeted by two happy pooches (things were looking up) and were told we could set up anywhere. We picked a spot directly overlooking the white sand, beneath the cover of the trees.

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Fortunately, it didn’t take us long to set-up our home in a bag (the true test of any relationship) and after a run around the beach with Lola we settled down for our BBQ and beers (waving a metaphorical middle finger to the sucky weather) in the porch of our new digs.

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There was a pretty in-tents storm (cue rimshot) that evening and Lola looked a bit on edge with all the walls flapping around our heads. Thankfully everything was intact the next day (which is more than could be said for our neighbours who’s tent was lying flat on the ground).

Day 2

It was still a little overcast when we woke up at 7am but it didn’t take long for the sun to burst through the clouds and get our camping dream back on track!

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Chef Bronka fired up the BBQ for breakfast – I ordered the special of the day (some avocado/peanut butter on toast…you know it makes sense), whilst Lola tried to chase every bird and explore every other tent and camper van she could find.

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We set off early to spend the morning at Taipa Beach along the coast of Doubtless Bay, with the promise of some beach brake waves. The locals were restoring the sand dunes so Lola had to stay on leash but there was plenty to be explored.

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After grabbing lunch in Taipa, we headed back in to Keri Keri for the afternoon to unleash Lola in Roland’s Wood – an English style country garden I had read about online that was dog friendly. I couldn’t find any bluebells but there were acres of land for Lola to sprint around in and murky ponds for her to explore.

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We even picked up some logs of wood for our bonfire that night. Lola managed to get one million of these spikey little plants matted into her fur which would not come out without taking a pair of scissors to her, so we left her looking like a dirty hippy.

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The evening was spent in camping bliss, with clear skies, mushroom burgers, cherry beer and a hypnotising bonfire.

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Day 3

Our last day in Northland was filled with blue skies and photoshopped looking backdrops. There is nothing more vivid than a sunny day in New Zealand!

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In the morning we climbed the short steep trail to the top of the cliffs to check out the Rainbow Warrior Memorial, which looks out towards the spot where the the wreck was finally placed.

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The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace ship which was blown up in Auckland Harbour in 1985 by French government agents in an effort to derail the Greenpeace campaign against French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

The spot has breathtaking panoramic views overlooking Matauri Bay and out to the Cavalli Islands.

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We said our farewells to Matauri Bay and headed south towards home, stopping off en route to walk the pups…

Paihia – most  beaches (except Te Haumi and Sullivan’s) are good for dog walking, however, there are lots of Kiwis nesting in the local bush so there are not many trails where you can take the dog.

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Te Arai Point – dogs are banned from the beach which is rubbish because its got good waves, endless golden sands and crystal clear water that looks perfect for snorkelling. Instead we took the path up the cliff for amazing views over the coast to Forestry, which is apparently dog friendly so is next on our list to explore.

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Mangawhai Heads – this was our first visit here and it was beautiful! We wasn’t sure about the dog rules but every dog we saw was bombing around off leash so we followed suit. I’m guessing this will change from 1 December through to Autumn.

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What would we do differently?

Pack the snorkels! In our mad dash to get out the house and on the road we left these behind which was a massive faux pas as there were lots of cool rocky areas and calm crystal clear waters inviting you in for some aquatic action.

A bit more research and planning. Spontaneity goes out the window when you have a dog. As much as having Lola is the best thing EVER…it does have its drawbacks with New  Zealand’s strict dog rules. It makes life easier if you have a list of dog friendly beaches and parks to hand before you set off (assuming you can translate the confusing rules on council websites).

Take all the gear. We packed relatively light but we should have just gone all out on the camping gear. I don’t mean glamping – just a little bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper for BBQ prep. Probably a couple of lanterns so you can stay up and put the world to rights without sitting in the pitch black (we took head torches but you end up blinding each other). I’m now inspired to create a pre-packed camping kit that’s on hand and ready to go for the next trip (total camping nerd, I know). If there’s space in the car, why not take it?

Marshmallows! How could we forget?

If anyone can recommend any dog loving campsites in New Zealand please let me know! In fact, just any good spots to walk the dog off leash in the summer. When December hits I know it’s going to be slim pickings on places to take Lola for adventures.

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Bathing in the purple rain.

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Last month, spring arrived in Auckland and all that sweet vitamin D beaming down from the sky inspired me to attempt the ‘photo per day’ challenge on my La Sardina. Unfortunately, spring showers prevailed and grey days don’t get me reaching for the camera, so that project faded out pretty quickly.

Instead I decided to use the roll of film to explore locally and shoot in and around Auckland, experimenting with the new LomoChrome Purple 35mm colour negative film.

I’ve learnt that even on a bright sunny day, I probably still need to use the flash as some of the photos have come out surprisingly dark. I’m also learning that landscape shots don’t really work on my La Sardina – the best results come from close ups and portraits, so I’m going to leave the cityscape and coastline shots for Instagram!

A quick update on all other business…

Our usual adventures have been put on hold for the rest of the year since we decided to be grown ups and go hard on the mortgage savings (committing to Kiwi life for reals!). But next week we’re buying camping gear so we can go back to basics and explore the coasts of New Zealand on a budget. I’m expecting that this will be the year that Lola learns to surf.

I’ve been really slack in putting anything up on this blog in the past few months now that our Kiwi adventure has become real life. But with summer just around the corner, a roadie planned in Feb, and lots of visitors to show New Zealand off too, expect more travel write-ups and more analogue experiments on Everyday Explorers.

For now, sayonara friends.

The results:

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I actually went searching for the Bowie mural only to find it had been replaced with another familiar face…

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Magical Middle Earth: skiing in Queenstown

Earlier this month I spent a long weekend in Queenstown, gliding through snowcapped mountains, necking mulled wines and having my mind well and truly blown by the majesty of this Narnia-like paradise.

It’s actually the second time I’ve visited Queenstown, the first being a week last summer, and I don’t know why its taken me so long to write about it. It’s by far one of the most dazzling places I’ve ever seen, and a dusting of powder takes it to another level.

It’s also the first time I’ve felt remotely festive since I’ve been in New Zealand (Christmas last year was spent on the beach beneath the glistening sun), which is impressive given that its August!

The ride in

If you’re flying into Queenstown from the north, book a window seat on the left hand side of the plane for the most astonishing ride you’ll ever experience. The views across the Southern Alps is like something from a fantasy film.

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From the Tasman Sea to as far as the eye can witness are endless grand mountains, turquoise lakes and meandering rivers. You also get a birds eye view of the magnificent Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. If you want to be embraced by mother nature, you’ve come to the right place. And all this before you’ve even landed!

Now onto the more practical stuff…

Gearing up

I rented my skis, poles, a helmet and boots from Snow Rental in town. The staff were pretty helpful and it was cheaper to pre-pay online and then get fitted once I arrived. You’ll need to know your weight/height so they can fit you with the right skis and boots so check this before you leave home. They also gave me the option of swapping them if they were uncomfortable after the first day.

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You can pick up your ski passes from the Snow Centre in Downtown Queenstown when you arrive – this is also where the transfer bus collects you to take you up the mountains. Be prepared for slow queues in this place! You’ll need to give them a $10 deposit for your ski pass which you can cash up at the end of your trip.

Transport

There were ten of us on the trip so we hired a couple of cars between us which worked out to be the same price as paying for the transfer bus, but was heaps more convenient.

We arrived at the mountain around 8.30am and got into the first car park – get there any later and it’s likely that you’ll be in the overflow car park catching transfer buses to the slopes. Not ideal when you’re trying to walk on icy terrain in ski boots, lugging all your gear!

Day 1: Coronet Peak

Coronet Peak is about 30 minutes drive from Queenstown, making it the closest of all the mountains. It doesn’t get as much snowfall as some of the other mountains, which can mean you don’t always get a soft landing if you fall (it also goes by the nickname ‘Concrete Peak’).

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We chose to night ski on our first day so headed up the mountain at 12pm, slighty hungover after the first nights escapades in Queenstown. It gets very cold once the sun goes down (especially on those chairlifts), but the atmosphere is pretty good, with a big fire pit outside the restaurant to de-frost your fingers, and DJs blasting out music whilst you’re winding down the slopes. I didn’t do much skiing in the evening but it was just as fun warming myself up with an après-ski mulled wine and good company.

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I was nervous about getting back on the skis after only going a few times last year and mainly doing lessons. Most of the crew disappeared up to the top of the mountain on their snowboards so I headed over to the beginners area to recreate Bambi on ice. Much to my delight, I wasn’t utterly terrible, so I headed up the beginners chairlift to tackle some longer runs.

Beginner trails:  The Meadows Chair is a good place to start once you’ve had a few lessons and know the basics. The Big Easy trail isn’t daunting but has some steep inclines so you can practice controlling your speed, and get out of your wedge and into some parallel skiing (the dream for us beginners!).

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Feeling confident in my new found abilities on the snow, I attempted a blue run in the afternoon which didn’t go quite as I had imagined it… The M1 trail is a straight run that you reach by turning left off Meadows Chair. After picking up way more speed than was necessary and forgetting how to use my breaks, I face planted the snow.

Luckily for me, those Kiwi folk are pretty damn charitable and two wonderful ladies picked me up under each arm and set me back on my way, racing down the mountain. Turns out it was super icy and therefore was not the best conditions to test myself on the intermediate slopes. Oh well…onwards and upwards!

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Overall the weather was good, the views from the ski field over Queenstown’s lake and mountains was humbling, and the day ended with a late night trip to FergBurger, of course.

Day 2 & 3: The Remarkables

The Remarkables are about 45 minutes outside of Queenstown, with views en route that are simply magical and transport you straight into Middle Earth. The mountain roads were pretty icy so we had to zig zag our way up – not for the fainthearted.

Before my trip I’d spoken to a few people about where was best to ski in Queenstown and most preferred the Remarks to Coronet Peak. It certainly didn’t disappoint. It had been blessed with fresh dumps of snow in the weeks leading up to our trip, turning it into a winter playground. We arrived early to blue skies, the sun beaming down on us and that unbeatable fresh mountain air.

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Beginners trails: The Remarks is the ideal spot for beginners, with access to wide, open trails from three chairlifts. Alta Chair takes you down a green run which is a good place to work on your progression to the intermediate trails.

Once you’ve nailed that, ski down from the top of Alta Chair, stop about halfway down and hop on the Sugar Bowl Chair, which leads you up to another beginners area – Castaway.

This run sits alongside a freestyle park with jumps and obstacles for the more daring among us. There was a kids freestyle competition being held on one of the days we were there. We watched, in awe, from the chairlift as tiny kids did insane flips and tricks with absolutely no fear.

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The Castaway trail was awesome and is a much longer beginner run than the Alta Chair. After picking up a few tips on how to parallel ski, I was having a ball cruising my way down the mountain, controlling my turns. It was time to take things up a notch and tackle those intermediate runs…

I took Matt along for some moral support and rode the Curvy Basin Chair to the top of the mountain, to attempt the Curvy B run. Turns out those blue runs look much steeper once you get to the top, and I spent a lot of it on my back in the snow trying to stand up on my skis, which were determined to escape from my boots and disappear down the mountain.

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It took a couple more attempts on that run, but by some miracle I managed to get down without falling over or breaking anything. Feeling elated, I skied directly into the Ice Bar to celebrate with a hot cup of mulled wine with the gang. Speaking of which, don’t leave the Remarks without visiting this spot for THE MOST unbelievable view of any bar on earth. Not exaggerating.

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A few tips…

  • If you’re heading up with a backpack, just leave it outside along the wall with the other hundreds of bags. The lockers will fill up quickly, plus you have to pay for them. Obviously don’t leave anything valuable in it!
  • Skiing is expensive so take a packed lunch, snacks and water to keep you going throughout the day. Don’t worry, it’ll stay refrigerated out there!
  • Get a face mask – even when its hot and sunny, sitting on chairlifts with the wind blowing through the mountains will leave your cheeks frosty and lips chapped.
  • We shopped around for ski gear and found it was way cheaper to rent equipment in town than from up the mountain.
  • If you take your phone out to capture a shot of that beautiful alpine vista and realise that its dead – don’t panic – your battery is probably just frozen. Once you get inside the restaurant the heaters will bring it back to life.

I absolutely can’t wait to go back next year to try out Cardrona, which is just over an hour outside of Queenstown and is meant to be aces for beginners! From hating my ski lessons to falling in love with mountain life, I’ve totally caught the snow bunny bug.

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It’s hard to explain what standing atop a mountain range feels like, looking out over endless snow capped peaks. There is something otherworldly and ethereal about it, and its the best feeling to be completely removed from the distractions of modern day life.

It’s enough to instil wanderlust into any of us, to quit our 9-5’s, to leave behind our mundane routines and endless bills, and skip off into the wilderness to live off the land…

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How grateful I am to live in a country where charm and magic is ever present. So much forest and ocean to be explored and so many mountains to conquer.

After living here for a year and a half now I am slowing acclimatising to the backdrop of Kiwi life so it’s important to remind myself how lucky I am to be here. To have wild and rugged beaches on my doorstep. To be able to travel to work by boat across a postcard perfect harbour. To have views of volcanoes from the very street that I live on. It couldn’t be further removed from my life back in London.

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For now, my ski season is sadly over. But with the days getting longer and the sun stirring its way back into our lives, my mind is firmly focused on summer adventures and getting back to beach life…

 

 

L-O-L-A, Lola

Just over three months ago we met a scruffy little puppy from a farm in Taupo. It was love at first sight and as I sit here on my laptop with Lola’s head resting on the keyboard, I can’t imagine our lives without her.

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It’s taken me way too long to dedicate a blog to her. Although anyone that follows me on Instagram will know I’ve turned into a crazy dog lady as she’s taken over my feed.

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Lola started off her first year living on a farm with ten other working dogs. The farmer who previously had her got her for duck hunting, but being the lovable ball of fluff that she is, he felt bad that she was living outside and wanted her to have a home and family.

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The day we met her she turned up in the back of an old truck covered in mud, with long messy hair and bright amber eyes that would melt even the coldest of hearts. As soon as she jumped out the van and leaned up against our legs for a cuddle our minds were made up on the spot.

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Since that day when we picked her up and took her to the pet store to get her a new collar where she peed over the floor (first date nerves?) to this evening where she lies under my arm whilst I sing her praises to the world, she’s been the brightest ray of sunshine to ever come into our lives.

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She pulls the best faces (see above).

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She’s been a pleasure to train and is so eager to please – the delight of seeing her give me her paw for the first time and learning how to roll over on command almost brought a tear to my eye (like I said – crazy dog lady).

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She could probably win America’s Next Top Model with that face.

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She’s the ultimate adventure sea pups and we can’t wait to take her on road trips around New Zealand.

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As soon as we buy our first home we’re going to get her a canine friend to play with (and maybe some chickens and a goat).

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Those eyes though…

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Photo credit: Matthew Bronka

La Sardina adventures.

A little bit of the Cook Islands.

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A little bit of the Bay of Plenty.

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Thank you to my humble La Sardina for your continued surprises. I’m pretty sure the roll I used was the Lomo Colour Negative 100 35mm film, but often I just grab a tube of film and wind it up without paying too much attention to what conditions it best suits.

Reefs, rainforests and rainbow fish

I’m sitting in my chilly house, wearing my Icelandic cardigan, with Lola keeping my legs warm whilst the rain hits the window behind me. This couldn’t be further removed from my tropical birthday getaway to Rarotonga just last week.

For those that don’t know, Rarotonga is the most populous of the 15 Cook Islands located in the South Pacific. It’s a lush green volcanic island surrounded by a lagoon, which is teeming with inquisitive and colourful sea life.

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We considered several Pacific islands for our trip (Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, etc.) but after some Google imaging and several recommendations we booked a secluded apartment on Air BnB and hopped on a four hour plane ride to paradise.

Five days in Raro

The first thing to know about Raro is that its small. Even though it’s the most developed of the islands, it only took us about 25 minutes to drive round the entire place. There is a bus system that circles the main road but it isn’t that regular so its worth renting a car. Most people ride scooters but as we were taking beach bags and snorkelling equipment out with us everyday, it would have been impractical.

There are lots of dogs (not necessarily homeless) that roam and hang out on the island. All the ones we met in the tourist areas were super cute and friendly – particularly the one that patrolled Muri Beach in the evening wearing a life jacket (Baywatch pups). We went for a run inland around the local farms and got chased off by a few guard dogs so I’d recommend giving those a wide berth.

The dogs tend to run out in the road a lot so if you’re hiring a car or a scooter – drive slow! The speed limit is only around 50 km/h but there’s nothing that will ruin your holiday sooner than running over mans best friend.

Things to do on the island

It depends on what type of traveller you are but for us, five days was enough on the island. If we were to stay longer I’d probably get a flight over to nearby Aitutaki for a few nights for a change of scene.

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1. Snorkelling

The most popular (and free if you take your own gear) activity on the island is the snorkelling. On our first day we headed over to Muri – the most touristy of the towns but nonetheless stunning. Unfortunately, the lagoon here doesn’t have as much on show as other parts of the island, but the water was warm and the palm tree lined, white sand beach is inviting. Worth a visit but we didn’t spend a whole lot of time here.

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Our favourite snorkel spot was just a stones throw away from where we were staying at Aroa Beach. As soon as you duck your snorkel mask beneath the water you enter into an underwater fish metropolis. Highlights include the Convict Surgeonfish, Moon Wrasse, Moorish Idol, Picasso Triggerfish and loads of species of Butterfly fish. It was magnificent!

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A trick is to click your fingers or bash your hands together under the water to create noise, this attracts the fish over to you and they’ll come and check you out before darting off. The Picasso Triggerfish can sometimes bite in summer as they lay eggs and get territorial so give them their space.

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One morning we took a boat out with a German guy who works at Adventure Cook Islands and snorkelled the outer reef and the 100-year-old Mai Tai shipwreck. This was such an incredible experience and again I saw more fish here than I’ve ever seen in my entire life! I would highly recommend the trip – we were out for three hours and it only cost us $70 each.

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The tour guide pointed out loads of cool sea life, demonstrated some impressive free diving skills, and gave us tips on keeping our masks fog-free (cover the clear plastic with toothpaste overnight and wash off in the morning).

2. Hiking

There is an awesome cross island hike you can take up to Te Rua Manga aka ‘The Needle’. It starts in Avarua, the main town, and ends on the south side of the island by the abandoned hotel. It took us around 3 hours return to do the walk, we hiked back down the same way we came as our car was parked in Avarua.

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Parts of the hike require you to climb a little but for the most part its well sign posted and painless. The views from the summit are spectacular and we also met some curious chickens at the top who hang out waiting for hikers to share their lunch.

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I recommend taking mozzie spray, you go through pretty dense and humid rainforests full of the blood suckers! There are also warnings about biting centipedes and stinging paper-wasps but we didn’t meet any of those, thankfully.

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At the start of the trail we came across old macdonalds farm and met some goats and pigs, which was a delight! Matt got his wildlife photographer hat on and went in for a few close-ups.

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3. Markets

Arrive on a Friday so you can visit the Saturday morning Punanga Nui Market in Avarua. You can stock up on fruits for the week as there is much more selection at a lower price compared to the supermarkets. Grab a chilled coconut whilst you’re there. They sell the usual toot – souvenirs, tie dye t-shirts, sarongs and sun hats. It’s worth it for the tasty smelling food stalls.

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On Thursday, Muri holds a night market selling savoury and sweet treats. Good atmosphere and cheap food. I’m pretty sure they have this on other nights but you can grab a weekly event guide from the airport which gives you the low down on restaurants and live entertainment on the island.

4. What else…

Well there’s the islands many cultural nights. We went along to one and to be honest, it wasn’t really our cup of tea. It’s very “resorty” – I know I just made that word up but you know the type of activity where you get herded around with a big group of tourists (wearing the local sarongs and shirts they picked up at the market) and then queue up alongside the buffet exchanging small talk…yeah, nah probably wouldn’t sign myself up for that again. Snob? Maybe. Sorry? Not sorry.

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If you’re into whales the Whale and Wildlife Centre is excellent for a rainy day! Loads of cool animal bones and pickled things in jars. Plus some history about the islands marine life as well as information on the greats such as Jacque Cousteau.

The last day rained so we grabbed a massage at the Muri Beach Club Spa which was a perfect way to kill some time before our flight.

The night skies are beautiful! If you have a clear night the stars are out in force. Just try and find a dark spot away from the lights of the resorts.

Eating and drinking

Fresh coconut water! Lots of fresh coconut water. And only $2 for a whole coconut. Electrolyte heaven.

Apart from that, being a vegetarian on the Cook Islands SUCKED. If I was lucky there was one option I could have at a restaurant. I’m not sure I can say I had one good meal.

But how about those coconuts!

Conveniently, some of the restaurants offer free transfers to and from your accommodation (thanks Kikau Hut), and a lot of the restaurants are situated right on the beach (the Waterline) – even some with tables on the sand. The atmosphere, cocktails and entertainment make up for the lack of meat-free options. Sort-off.

On a positive note, the LBV Bakery in Muri is a top spot for brunch!

Hugely thankful to Matty-Boom-Batty for whisking me away and winning the man vs coconut contest. What a babe!

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