Category Archives: My Journey

Stories from the road as I travel around following Abel Tasman and the Wakas

Gillespies Beach

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Google says you can get from Punakaiki to Fox Glacier in three and a half hours.

I can’t, it took the whole day.

I wasn’t dawdling, but I did have to keep stopping. I would be coming back along this part of the journey, and when I came back I would be filming scenes about where Tasman first came to the shore, and where he first anchored up. So as I was passing I was checking out vantage points, parking places and critically, where I did and didn’t get a mobile signal.

I had a couple of chores to attend to as well, but they wouldn’t take long; I needed to make sure I filled the van with diesel and that I got some fresh milk and a few other food essentials (bread, coffee, licorice allsorts).

The biggest place I was passing through was Greymouth, so I swung in there to do my shopping. I don’t like to bad-mouth a place, so I won’t dwell on Greymouth, but it was like someone had tried to turn Aberdeen into a holiday resort… and failed.

I pulled into a parking spot that said ’60 minutes’… that would be fine, I only had to pick up a couple of things at the supermarket. I walked off to have a quick look at the waterfront first, where I noticed that the free parking there was 120 mins… but all the spaces were empty.

It seemed that no-one needed to spend two hours in Greymouth. I could understand that.

I turned back from the waterfront, towards the supermarket, but got back into the van instead. It was cold and dark with a frigid wind, and I didn’t like the place. If I’d taken full advantage of the 120 mins free parking available, then all I would have got in Greymouth that I didn’t have before would have been hypothermia.

One way bridge

The only signage at the start of this one lane bridge makes the recommendation… “Give Way”

Hokitika was a bit further down the road, and I didn’t need anything special… I would be able to get it there.

Greymouth and Hokitika were like chalk and cheese. Greymouth looked like it was waiting for something to happen… or, it had already happened a long time ago, and everyone had missed it.

Hokitika by comparison seemed like a town with energy and prospects. I liked it straight away. The (few) streets were wide and bright, everywhere was clean and neat, and everything was either new, or old… there were no run-down in-between bits.

The beachfront car park at Hokitika.

The beachfront car park at Hokitika.

I had lunch there right on the sea front. If I had tried this in Greymouth I would have been in a shipyard.

There was still quite a long way to go.

It wasn’t that the distance was great, rather that I wasn’t going very fast. The roads are all fine, and I rolled along at a respectable speed, but there was an awful lot of stopping and looking going on.

I had a late afternoon coffee at Franz Joseph Glacier. I’d had glimpses of the Alps since just after Greymouth (150 km away), but here, at the foot of the mountains everything was in cloud. Mt Cook is 3,724 metres (12,218 ft) and rises straight from the coastal plains. The forecast had said ‘clear’… but that is no guarantee of ‘clear’ near the mountains.

I was hoping to get to Gillespies Beach in daylight, but got to the start of the final stretch of road with only about 20 mins of sun left… and thought the better of it. The last piece of road is a steep, narrow and winding dirt road for 12 km. There’s only room for one vehicle at a time, and the passing places are small.

I didn’t want to be on that road in the dark, so I pulled onto a campsite in Fox Glacier, where I took full advantage of unlimited hot water while I had it. Where I was going next would be cold. The Campsite where I stayed was cold enough… the morning had come bright, and clear… and frozen.

I moved on to Lake Matheson and then towards Gillespies Beach… it was only a few kilometers down the road from the campground to where the roads lapses to dirt and goes bush, and I was there in just a few minutes.

Instructions on how to get to Gillespies Beach go something like this;

  • Get yourself to Fox Township. You only have 2 choices. You can either go from Wanaka to the South (260 km away), or Hokitika to the North (160 km away); there are no other options. The only road in and out of Fox Glacier township is State Highway 6.
  • Take the road out of town that is NOT the State Highway (there is only one road out of town that is not the State Highway).
  • Follow that road until you are Nowhere. You’ll know you have reached Nowhere when the tar seal ends.
  • At Nowhere, turn right (there isn’t actually a choice… straight ahead has a gate across it, and there is no ‘left’).
  • 12 kilometres beyond Nowhere, the dirt road ends in a small car park. You have arrived at Gillespies Beach.
  • Cook River

    The Cook River in the foreground, Mount Cook on the skyline.

    At the end of the tarmac seal, and before the dirt road disappears into bush, is the Aoraki Lookout, and it is absolutely stunning. This place should be right at the top of the list for sedentary tourists who don’t like to get further than 50 metres from their cars.

    I parked up there and waited for a while. I had arrived quite early in the morning, and intended to let the morning pass before entering. The road ahead carried warnings about being narrow and winding, and I didn’t want to meet another campervan part way through. According to what I could see on Google maps there was only a single lay-by in the next 12 km. So, I was going to wait until early afternoon. This would let anyone leaving pass through before I entered.

    My time there wasn’t idle. This was the last place I would get an internet connection, so I busied myself downloading the bits and pieces of maps I would need in the next day or so. I knew for sure that I needed some maps as props; maps indicating where Tasman thought he was, and where he actually was.

    … and having to stay at the Lookout wasn’t a hardship.

    Pastures fill the plain in that makes up the foreground, leading to steep bushed hills. Above them craggy, barren and rocky ground, split with streams, leads up sharply to the snow capped peaks; Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and the Navigator Range. Dividing the view in the centre is the Fox Glacier; white and fat between its enclosing buttresses, stretching out before it abruptly ends at an ice cliff, exposing the Cook River beneath.

    The place was utterly serene; there was only the faint splishing of the River to my right, the rustle of the wind, and the whistling of the tui’s. The white peaks shone brilliant against the backdrop of a flawless blue sky, and the hardy green of the bush magnified the vibrant lushness of the pastures.

    I watched as the DOC Ranger went in, followed shortly after by a couple of four wheel drives… but only one small van came out.

    road sign

    I think they’re trying to tell me something

    Presently the Ranger returned and we chatted a while. He assured me there was nothing big to come out. The Ranger, perhaps in his thirties, had been a local tour guide on the glaciers before joining DOC and was presently regretting not climbing Mt Tasman before the winter weather moved in.

    Satisfied it was safe to go on in, I closed up the shop and got rolling. I had no idea what would be at the end of the road, but something I could guarantee was that there would be a raging fire shortly after I arrived.

    As it turned out, the road was a pussy cat… I’ve been down far more demanding. I think all the cautions must be for the benefit of overseas tourists unused to our local dirt roads.

    After two bridges the road left the pasture behind and rolled on into thick beech forest. I watched ahead for traffic now blinkered by the dense growth on each side. The road would up over a hill, and the down again without even a glimpse of what was beyond until suddenly the forest parted leaving me on a scrub covered plain before the dunes and beach.

    There was only a single house here, the last standing abode from the Gold Rush days. At its peak there had been hundreds of miners at Gillespies Beach, sifting the alluvial silt for gold. Enough people passed through here to support four hotels. Now there was just that solitary house, a few rusting relics of machinery, and a handful of hardy tourists.

    Gillespies Beach camping area

    Gillespies Beach camping area

    The campsite at the end of the road was simple… anything else would have been completely out of place. It comprised; a water tank, toilet, small flat car park… and a view to die for.

    Gillespies Beach

    Gillespies Beach

    At first I wandered around rather dazed at where I was. The view from the park-up was incredible, but from the beach was extraordinary. I overcame all sensible objections, took my shoes and socks off, stood in the sea and took a photo of the snow capped peaks.

    Sensational, just sensational.

    Mid-afternoon was the time for filming. It was then that I could face the sun and have the mountains in the shot behind me. I did these first. If the weather was to change then I could do the other scene’s, which looked up and down the beach, even if it was cloudy… but three scene’s required a view of the beach and mountains. Despite it now being winter I filmed in short sleeves and shorts. It was definitely pushing the point a bit, but worth it to try and preserve continuity with all my other footage. I was quietly hoping that the weather would be so kind again tomorrow. If it was cloudy, windy and cold then I would still have to wear short sleeves, as the scenes continued in and out of each other.

    When I was done filming I wandered the beach for a while before picking out my fire place for the evening. I chose a spot that gave me a sunset view (everywhere had that) but also a mountain view. Place chosen, I moved driftwood to it until I had more than I could possibly need (I have learned previously that it’s much easier to find firewood in the light rather than the dark).

    sunset fire

    Sunset by the fire on Gillespies Beach.

    That evening I sat by my fire and watched the sun slowly drop into the sea. I had to keep turning, my attention pulled alternately to the moutains, the ocean and back to the mountains again. As the sun sank the peaks turned from brilliant white, through orange and gold to pink and purple. Finally, long after the beach fell into shade, the last of the sun’s ray rose above the peaks, leaving them stark, chill and silent in eerie blue.

    My knees and shins glowed from the heat of the fire while the frosty air pinched my ears and cheeks… and slowly, the sky came alight.

    I had company by the fire; a young woman from France. She was touring New Zealand on her own in a station wagon. At first I struggled to decide whether that made here adventurous, or foolhardy. The following couple of hours of conversation left me going with the former.

    We sat until the chill began to overwhelm the warmth of the fire, and then called it a night.

    By the time I emerged next morning into the crisp and frosted day, she had moved on. People sleeping in unheated cars… in the Southern Alps… in winter … tend to do that.

    Dashing South

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    Takaka: A town with its own toymaker; my kind of place.

    I was really enjoying Golden Bay, but I’d found all I needed to find, I’d caught up with some friends, and a window of opportunity was opening.

    The forecast for the South Island, West Coast said there would be three days of fine weather… beginning on Saturday.

    On my last night in Takaka I wanted to catch up with friends, so I’d moved on to a campsite in ‘town’. There was nothing wrong with the place, it had everything I needed… hot showers, hot water in the kitchen, flushing toilets, safe, flat, … it just had no… ‘wow!’.

    I am used to staying at places that are quite out of this world. I am used to ‘OMG’… ‘OK’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.

    The place was just fine apart from one thing… mud. The ground was wet and soft, and it was nearly (but not quite) impossible to keep the mud outside… so I was pleased to leave that behind.

    The furthest South I need to get to is Gillespies Beach; it’s on the West Coast near Fox Glacier, down by the Southern Alps. What I need to film there requires clear weather; I have scenes that need me on the beach, with Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the background. Days like that are fairly infrequent through the winter… so now’s the time.

    I was on my way by 10:00, and pleased to be off the mud of the campsite, but sad to be leaving Golden Bay. If they’re ever in need of new residents they can give me a call.

    I wound my way back over Takaka Hill and soon enough I was looking back down the other side, across Tasman Bay. I’m still a bit miffed about that one. It’s called Tasman Bay, and they even have a fine statue of him… but he never went there.

    Instead of going back to Nelson I now turned right… inland, and South.

    After an hour or so the road meets the road to the East Coast at a place called ‘Katawiri Junction’. The Maori name for Westport, and the river it sits by is Katawiri. From Westport, the local population could travel up river 150km returning with Moa, Argillite and Greenstone.

    traffic lights

    You’re kidding, right?

    Unexpected bridge

    Oh! I see.

    The descent down the Buller River was a wonder. I’m surprised it’s not promoted as one of the things to see and do in NZ. The top of the river is steep, narrow and turbulent and the road clings to the steep sides, weaving its way through cliffs and gorges. In time it changes, to a broad placid flow. It’s still tightly held by the towering hills, but has a slow and lazy flow.

    Suddenly, the plains open up, and minutes later, there is the West Coast… wide and wild.

    west coast beach

    The West coast at snudown

    I was driving this coastal section with the setting sun… always my favourite way to see this the West Coast… and what coast this is.

    The land pushes hard up to the ocean here. Huge bush covered hills punctured by limestone cliffs run straight into sea with piers of rocks coming up to join them. The whole scene was covered with a spray haze, which, in the setting sun gave an appearance of warmth, but the air was sharp and pure.

    Tonight I have gone as far as Punakaiki. I’ll be back here again soon.


    ‘Pancake rocks’ at Punakaiki, looking South

    Hereabouts is where Tasman first came to the coast, and so this is where my story starts in earnest… but first, I have a myth to dispel… and for that I have to go further south.

    I have no signal at all here, and don’t know quite when I will get to post this, but as I sign off I’m once again listening to the reassuring rumble of the West Coast.

    Tomorrow… Greymouth, Hokitika, Fox Glacier and then, Gillespies Beach.

    Cape Farewell

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    Before leaving the campsite at Tukurua Road I shot a quick bit of video, but was excited by the prospect of the day and keen to get moving.

    From where I was you can’t go far north before the road stops, but I wasn’t going quite to the end of the road today. I was going to Farewell spit…. About 5 km before the end of that particular road.

    A brief stop at Collingwood to replenish my bread and milk, and I was on my way to the Cape.

    Farewell Spit Cafe

    Farewell Spit Cafe

    There’s a wonderful café at the Cape with views clear down the length of the spit, and I sat sipping there for a while, but looking down the length of dunes just made me impatient to get my pack on, and soon I was striding down the sand.

    The spit extends for 25km but I wasn’t going that far. I was looking for a vantage point, a place to tell the story. I was looking for somewhere that gave me a view of the northeast, or ‘outer’ coast.

    Tasman came along this piece of coast on the afternoon of 17th of December 1642… the day that he first saw signs of people. He had seen smoke first thing in the morning, and then followed this coast along to the very end of the spit, where he had anchored.

    Farewell Spit

    Farewell Spit

    I followed the dunes of the inner shore until I reached the point where the last hill came down to the shoreline; then I followed this ridge up. I was looking for something, and an hour later I found it; a mizzen.

    It was a depression in the ground, about three metres long and one and a half wide, and on the top of the ridge. There is no natural process that can make a depression like this on the top of a hill… this is man-made. Tasman reported seeing smoke ‘at various places’, and I was looking for one of these places… and had found one.

    Where I was standing was the last piece of high ground overlooking farewell Spit. This was where you would keep a lookout if you wanted forewarning of anyone entering the bay from the West. This was one of the places that a signal fire had been lit.

    Smoke from here can be seen across the whole bay, right out to ‘Separation Point’, the peak of ridge dividing Golden Bay and Tasman Bay.

    What a wonderful day. I stood there looking down the length of the sand knowing that there was no footprint for the next 25 kms. I could hear no-one, and see no-one.

    I pulled onto a camping spot called ‘the Gravel Yard’ and parked up on the water’s edge, looking across Golden Bay to Abel Tasman National Park, and snow-capped peaks.

    This Streetview scene is at the entrance to the stop-over. After about 100 there is a claring on the sea-front (the tide is out in this scene).

    It was level, quiet, and beautiful. I had clear sky in all directions, a full mobile signal, a gas heater that works and a full gas bottle. Just stunning.

    In the evening, to cap off a wonderful day, I had a long call from an old friend; thanks Pete.

    Next morning I rose with the sun, and stepped out into the frosted day, grass crunching underfoot. More small vans had arrived with the last of the light, and I’d watched them lift their rear doors and stands in the freezing breeze to cook their dinners. I’ll admit to some considerable smugness as I looked on from the comfort of my heated van, one eye on them, and the other on the TV.

    Then, it was off to the lighthouse.

    Looking across Golden Bay from above Farewell Spit

    Looking across Golden Bay from above Farewell Spit

    There’s something you can guarantee about a lighthouse… you will always get a good view of the coast from it.

    5km down the road from where I was parked was a rough road with a track off it. Thirty minutes up the track was the lighthouse; a somewhat disappointing modern automatic station, but then I was there for the vista, not the lighthouse.

    From the lighthouse I had clear sight of the Cape itself, where the direction of the land turns from Northeast to East. I could see where Tasman changed his course to the east to follow the lie of the land. Further along the ridge to the east I had a wonderful view down the length of Farewell spit, and clear across to the other side of the bay; Seperation Point.

    Job done, I moved back to the van. It wasn’t clear to me ‘til the last instant whether I should turn left, to see what was at the end of the road, or turn right and move on to my next location seeking destination.

    Curiosity overcame duty, and I turned left. I’d seen some cars continue down the road, four in total, and on this road that was a lot… so there must be something down there worth seeing. The car park at the end had a signpost to Wharariki Beach, 30 mins, so I threw my pack back on and set off.

    What an absolute ripper.

    Archway rocks, Wharariki Beach

    Archway rocks, Wharariki Beach

    The beach is big; wide and windblown. In all respects it felt like a west coast beach, even the shape of the rocks was familiar, one resembling Camel Rock at Piha.

    I declared it an ‘Honorary’ West Coast beach… kin in spirit if not aspect.

    Apart from a handful of sightseers this huge span of sand was deserted from cliff to cliff. Moving into position to get a good picture through the openings in ‘Archway Rocks’, I found the best place signposted for me; some joker had written “te pic” in the sand, and they were right… it was the best place.

    I was feeling all smug with myself, as I was the only person on this part of the beach… the other five or six people were missing the best shot. I walked over to let them know, only to discover that it was actually me that was missing the main event.

    In a group of rock pools, on the tide line, there were a dozen seal pups performing for the spectators.

    They were utterly absorbing, and had the small crowd silent and transfixed.

    Golden Bay is a simply glorious place. No wonder the Ngati Tumatakokiri settled here.

    Somebody, Pinch me

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    Kaiteriteri Beach

    Kaiteriteri Beach from the Shoreline Cafe

    It took longer than I expected to do what I had to do in Nelson.

    I needed some work doing on the van; the heater didn’t work and the spare had to be couriered in. Then, since the gas had been messed with I needed a new ‘Gas Compliance Certificate’. I also needed some rust fixing under the Heems in order to pass the COF (same as MOT in England), so I had to spend some time waiting for that. It was like watching paint dry… actually, some of it WAS watching paint dry.

    After that I could finally be on my way.

    I was headed towards Golden Bay, but didn’t have time to get there in daylight, so I pulled into Kaiteriteri (take the ‘s’ off ‘sky’ then add ‘Terry’ ‘Terry’).

    I’d been there once before, a very long time ago, and yes… it IS still gorgeous.

    How to fit four people in a campervan

    How to fit four people into a small campervan

    The campsite wasn’t unpleasant… it just had no atmosphere about it. It had everything, but it is built for flocks of families on their summer holidays, and at this time of year, with 414 of the 420 camping spaces vacant, the place just looked forgotten and abandoned.

    Despite that the Kaiteriteri Beach Motor Camp is what it says it is, it’s a campsite on the beach front, and the café next to it, ‘the Shoreline Café’ is also what it claims to be. The Café, which has a deck overlooking the sea, served me twice; the first time because I wanted a coffee, the second time because it was so dammed nice sitting there looking out over the ocean.

    This morning I got all cleaned up and on the road fairly early; I had a stop planned on the way from Kaiteriteri to Takaka. I remember that the road was pretty spectacular, a big climb to a saddle, then down onto the plain and to the sea.

    From the top of the saddle I’d seen that there was a track up to the summit ridge which promised 360° views… and that seemed like somewhere I needed to go. It took an hour or so to get up there from the road, but it was absolutely fabulous, with views back down onto Tasman Bay, across to the Kahurangi Range and out to Golden Bay and Farewell spit.

    Here’s a quick clip from up there.

    I rolled on down into Takaka… it was simply breathtaking dropping down onto the plains. I hadn’t remember that part. The Kahurangi Range was huge on one side of the valley, all covered in bush. The other side was rough and craggy, but the detail of the rock is curved and fluted where the soft limestone has been dissolved by centuries of rainfall.

    The valley floor was green, vivid green like you see in Ireland, and it contrasted with the autumn tints in the late afternoon sun.

    From the top of Takaka Hill

    From the top of Takaka Hill

    Takaka itself? I fell in love with it immediately. It’s a small town, in England it would be considered a decent sized village. It’s provincial town with a showground, a hardware store, 2 banks, a school, a police station and a garage, but these days it’s clearly here as much for the tourists as the farmers.

    I picked a coffee shop with seats in the sun. It was opposite the Golden Bay Museum. I’ll be going in there… it’s also known as the ‘Abel Tasman Museum’.

    The sun was getting low. As I sat I checked out the local campsites… unsually I hadn’t actually picked one out in advance. I saw one just outside town, then a couple more on the way to Cape Farewell… so I got going.

    Somehow I didn’t see the turning to the campsite close to town (it turned out I was already past it), and ended up at the one on the shore inside Golden Bay. I grimaced somewhat at the sign on the driveway, “Golden Bay Holiday Park”… but I didn’t need to. This place is an absolute gem.

    No doubt it would have a different feel in summer, but now it is empty, and I have prime spot of the beach front. It’s a ‘can do’ place. Lot’s of campsites has signs alerting you to what you shouldn’t do, this one is the opposite. It tells you what you can do. The fish filleting station is well signposted, and the sign say, ‘please fillet your fish here’. By the fridges is a saying advising you to clearly label your stuff… next to it are sticky labels and the permanent markers.

    Campground at Golden Bay

    Campground at Golden Bay

    I walked along the beach briefly, and sat to watch the seals taking in the last warmth of the day. I saw a couple of fire pits and on my way back to the van I noticed a sign telling me about fires. There was no problem lighting a fire on the beach, you just had to let the local rural fire officer know… the sign gave his name and mobile number.

    After dark I went back to the beach and looked across the bay. There were nearly no lights and I suddenly realised what It was like for the Maori to see two big ships, with lights, sitting there in the middle of the bay.

    In the morning I’m off to the west coast, a place called Anatoki… it’s another ‘end of the road’ place. I doubt there will be coverage, but I may only visit and then come back here. We’ll see.

    Ngatuka Bay

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    From above Ngakuta Bay

    From above Ngakuta Bay

    Today is my Birthday, and I’m on the coast road between Picton and Nelson. I’m right here. I hadn’t planned to be anywhere special for my birthday, but it’s certainly worked out that way.

    I left Otaki over a week ago. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s a council run location, and the rules are that you can only stay for two nights. I will want to go back there, so I played nicely and moved on. Otaki is a wonderful west coast place, peaceful while I was there, but you knew that in a couple of hours it could all change and be wild as! I think the petulance of the coast is part of its appeal; you never know what’s coming next… placid can turn to brutal at a moment’s notice.

    There was a spell of bad weather coming again, a seemingly endless procession of Low’s kept coming up from the south-west… stormy and cold… so I moved on to Wellington where I could get some shelter there from the approaching storms; I had something very special to do there too.

    From above Ngakuta Bay

    My new map tool

    For a long time I’ve been experimenting with ways of showing what I’m up to and where I’m going in map form. I am advancing a set of stories, journeys, and these are expressed much more vividly as locations on a map, rather than chapter titles and place names in text.

    I went back to Eagle Technology where I worked for many years, to meet up with some old friends, and to have a look at some particular technology I was keen on. The result was that for a modest investment I now have a map index to everything that I’m presenting here.

    It took me a week or so to learn all the things I needed to learn, to put a sensible looking map together, and to link in all that I want to link. Now that it’s done I’m back to my normal routine.

    You can see from the map that I moved from Otaki to Lower Hutt, to a campsite at Upper Hutt (I needed a proper shower, and their laundry), across Cook Strait, through Picton, and onto Rarangi.

    Rarangi may appear to be in the wrong direction for what I’m doing, but it’s close to somewhere very important indeed…. for that you will need to read the up-coming post about the people that lived on the Wairau Bar, at the mouth of the Wairau River.

    Now, I’m on my way to Nelson; I have some very important things to do there.

    There’s a guy there who wrote a book on the history of Nelson (the place, not the person) and he clearly knows more about the genealogy of the early Maori immigrants than anyone else in print. I want to pick his brains on a couple of important details if he’s amenable. But there’s also a rather more practical and urgent need to go to Nelson… my heater’s packed up!

    Grape fields and the Seaward Kaikoura range from Rarangi

    Grape fields and the Seaward Kaikoura range from Rarangi

    Twice now I’ve have had to pull out my sleeping bag as I was simply too cold with just my duvet. At Tongariro it got down to 2C, and it seemed the same at Rarangi a couple of nights ago.

    I have a gas heater which fills the van with hot air in about three minutes flat… when it’s working… which unfortunately… it isn’t. The igniter has gone AWOL, and there’s no ‘McGyver’ fix I can apply. I tried to get it repaired in Lower Hutt, but unfortunately the guy didn’t have the spare part in stock, and it would take a week to come in. It was right then that I decided to get on the ferry. If I had to hang around somewhere for a week, then the Marlborough Sounds was far more inviting than Lower Hutt. I don’t want to be rude about Lower Hutt… I’m sure many people find it has exactly what they want, but unfortunately… it has nearly nothing that I want. Whereas I could happily hang around Nelson for ages.

    I was on the boat at the next sailing.

    Writing this post at Ngakuta Bay

    Writing this post at Ngakuta Bay

    Where I am now, I am looking across a big inlet in the Marlborough Sounds. I see lawn leading to beach and water, boats, jetties, more boats, bush clad islands, and misty hills. I can hear the gulls, and the occasional clanking of shackle against mast… and nothing else. I can’t see any buildings, and I can’t hear any traffic or commerce.

    The water occasionally splishes and rustles as a shoal of bait fish is chased up to the surface by some predator. Shags take advantage of an easy meal, and snatch lunch from the surface. A dolphin has just cruised in and out of the bay… and I am the only person here to enjoy it.

    If I could stay here overnight, I would.

    I can stay just a couple of km’s down the road, and I might do that (signal permitting)… we’ll see. After all, it’s my birthday, and I might just treat myself to a day parked on the sea-shore overlooking Anakiwa.

    Nelson can wait another day.

    One Month on the road

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    Otaki Beach

    Parked up at Otaki Beach

    It’s been a month since I last saw the sun set over the sea, and tonight I am again parked on a beach on the west coast… and I got an absolute ripper.

    Today marks having been on the road for a month, and what a month it’s been. According to the Metservice it was the wettest April since records began… and certainly I had to work my filming days around that, but it didn’t stop me; I always had other things to do on the days I couldn’t get the camera’s out.

    I have put 17 posts on the Six Boats blog on the progress of either Abel Tasman, or the Kurahaupo. I have written over 18,000 words of the book, prepared over 50 accompanying illustrations, and verified all of the details I’ve given … and that’s a lot of facts to re-check. I have written all the scripts, for the docco’, scouted out all the shoot locations, and recorded over 80Gb of video; as researcher, scriptwriter, driver, wardrobe, props, sound guy, cameraman, director and actor… and I made the sandwiches and coffee too. I have been from the West Coast of the North Island, to the East, and back again. I’ve seen the land bone dry, and I’ve seen in full flood. I’ve seen a full moon, a new moon and a full lunar eclipse. I have even seen Mount Ruapehu from both East and West coasts… as well as up close, and I have driven over 1,300 Km, just between the campsites I have stayed at.

    Today, for the first night in a month I will sleep listening to the waves on the West Coast, and that’s something very special to me. I don’t know what it is about the West Coast, but it stirs me deeply. I spent 3 night’s up the coast at Whanganui, but had to stay inland… there’s nowhere you can stay on the beach up there. I’d spotted this place. As soon as I was finished up in Whanganui, I came straight here. I’m parked 20 paces back from the high tide line, in the centre of this view…

    Otaki Beach

    The entrance to Otaki Beach. As seen in Streetview

    … and it’s absolutely sensational.

    Otaki Beach

    Otaki Beach through the office window

    Kapiti Island is away to my left, Cape Taranaki to my right and the shoreline is 180° right in front of me. It took me a while to settle down, I was just so excited by being here. I didn’t know whether to look out to sea, up the coast, or down the coast… whether to go for a walk, or just sit and take it all in with a cuppa. In the end I did a bit of each. This evening the sun set in the middle of the sea, was followed three hours later by a moonset. Unfortunately I can only stay 2 nights.

    One month into the journey and I now begin to shift focus. Up till now I’ve been mostly occupied with getting the Kurahaupo people moved towards where I need them… in Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island. I will complete their journey from Whanganui to there in one just more post. Now, my attention shifts to Abel Tasman.

    I’ve currently advanced Tasman as far as Mauritius. I now need to move him into the Southern Ocean, across to Tasmania, and then onto the Tasman Sea and heading East. That’s just three more posts about Abel Tasman before he sights New Zealand.

    I’m at this beach because I need to film something here about what happened to Tasman on the night of 19th December, 1642… which I’ll fill you in on later. I will also film a short sequence about the Kurahaupo people sailing past here, before they turned out to the Marlborough Sounds. I also need to prepare the dialogue for the sequences I’ll film while I’m on the ferry; it’s the best vantage point for a couple of details about Tasman’s journey. From the ferry I can also best indicate the route taken by the Kurahaupo people… the Ngati Tumatakokiri, and that means remembering to have a shirt change ready (Waka’s = maroon, Tasman = blue).

    I have to film these a little out of sequence as the presented order will be…
    1. Kurahaupo crossing Cook strait going South.
    2. Tasman crossing Cook strait going north.
    3. Tasman going back to the South side of Cook strait, and finally,
    4. Tasman crossing Cook strait again, going north.

    I only intent to go and return once, so I want to knock all these off on the way over if possible. I have a few days of work in and around here, and then I’m going to catch up with some friends in Wellington before crossing to the South Island. So, all up, how are things after a month on the road? As then man who fell off the top of a hundred storey building was heard to say as he passed the 32nd floor… So far so good!

    Busy Days

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    From Otatara Pa look towards Cape Kidnappers across the Heretaunga Plains

    From Otatara Pa look towards Cape Kidnappers across the Heretaunga Plains

    Having finished what I needed to do at Te Awanga, my next block of filming was at Otatara Pa.

    I had 3 scenes to shoot, and they needed mid-day and afternoon sun, but the forecast didn’t look too flash…. ‘Clear early, then clouding over’; so I got myself off to an early start.

    By 10:30 I was striding up Otatara Pa. On the way up I got all the cut-away shots I needed, and then set about the main work on the top ridge.

    By the time I’d finished the first scene I’d noticed the drop in temperature. Cloud was building and it was getting darker. I wouldn’t have time to do all three scenes before the weather packed in. Looking at what I had to do, I decided that the middle scene could be done elsewhere at a pinch… I could use a nondescript background, like a bushed hillside.

    Plan “A” wasn’t happening.

    I pressed on quickly with the third scene. This HAD to be done at Otatara, as I needed to indicate North-West from the top ridge… the direction that Tumatakokiri went.

    I’d just finished that as a lone tramper came along the ridge, straight down the line of the lens… but that was OK, I was pretty confident I’d got that scene ‘in the can’.

    We fell to talking, about what I was doing, who did what, where etc. George (I’ll call him George) pointed out that if I was making a documentary about Abel Tasman, then surely I was on the wrong coast!

    Well done George… you are the first person I’ve chatted to on this trip that knew that Tasman only sailed up the West Coast.

    I launched into an explanation about the other waka’s, and was about to deliver a synopsis on the Voyage of the Tainui when I noticed the rainbow over his shoulder.

    Rainbow… It’s not called a sun-bow is it!

    ‘Clear early, then clouding over’… rubbish! These clouds looked very wet indeed.

    I brought the conversation to a rather abrupt end as I still had to get a shot to get of me striding off to the North-West, which I did in an intensifying drizzle.

    It began to rain quite well as I packed my stuff up.

    Early morning at Eclipse Beach

    Early morning at Eclipse Beach

    Back at the van I toweled off, and drove back across the plains to ‘Eclipse Beach’… where I’d watched the Lunar Eclipse. In the morning, I’d shoot the missing scene against some bush that backed onto the campsite, and then head off to Taupo.

    I woke with the dawn, and what a cracker. It was sunny with a crystal clear atmosphere.

    Plan “A” went out of the window… and I drove back to Otatara Pa. I’d shoot the missing scene back on the hilltop there.

    Ruapehu from Otatara Pa

    Ruapehu from Otatara Pa.

    As I crossed the plains, my attention was suddenly drawn to the horizon. I could see Ruapehu! It’s 112 km away from where I was, but being able to see it was really important to my storyline. Tumatakokiri took his people from the plains to lake Taupo, at the foot of those snow covered peaks… perfect! And there is was, shining white on the horizon… and visible from Te Awanga.

    I did the missing scene, and then re-shot the piece describing Tumatatkokiri’s departure… this time I could point to where he went, and then walk off towards it. Brilliant!

    Getting a move on I drove on straight away towards Taupo, over the Tarawera range. It was an absolutely gorgeous drive up through the valleys with the autumn tinted vines of the plain slowly giving way to the hardened grasslands of the plateau.

    Sunset on Ruapehu across Lake Taupo

    Sunset on Ruapehu across Lake Taupo

    As I crested the range I was delighted to find that Ruapehu was still clear… and again, I abandoned my first plan… which was to go to the South end of the Lake. Instead, I went back to ‘5 Mile’ campsite… where I could enjoy that view of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe at sunset.


    You know… Plan B worked out so-ooo much better than Plan A.

    Lake Taupo from above Turangi

    Lake Taupo from above Turangi

    Lake Rotoaire, looking at Tongariro and Ngauruhoe

    Lake Rotoaire, looking at Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. This is ‘Mordor’ in The Lord of the Rings

    Steaming vents on Mt Tongariro

    Steaming vents on Mt Tongariro

    The next day came up gloomy, so I did Taupo… some shopping essentials, a coffee made by someone else… and of course, the Library.

    I was looking for information about the Ngati Tumatakoriri in the Taupo area… but I wasn’t hopeful. The Tumatakokiri’s fate was that they were wiped out in about 1830, and their oral tradition was lost… and sure enough, I’d already seen the scant material they had, but I did pick up some other useful details about who else was around at the time, and it confirmed that the Tumatakokiri almost certainly went where I thought they did.

    Back at ‘5 Mile’ I moved myself off the waterfront… I needed to get out of the wind, and pretty soon I was able to sit out in the sun again, sheltered behind a big willow… and up came Graham… (not ‘George’. I asked his name this time, and actually remembered it!).

    We sat and yarn-ed a while over a coffee, and I really enjoyed the company. It’s been quite a while since I had an actual, whole, conversation with someone. Thank you Graham.

    From 5 mile I’d explored around and found where I’d tell the next part of the Kurahaupo story. Lake Rotoaire, and that’s where I was today… absolutely stunning!

    The lake was calm, covered with all manner of water fowl, and what a backdrop… Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe… both bright and clear in the sun, and both steaming away merrily.

    I drew quite a crowd as I stood there, alone, filming me, talking to myself. More questions, more explanations… I don’t mind.

    What a great few days… and the downside? Unfortunately, clear skies are great during the day, but that means cold at night… and the forecast for tonight is… 2 (yes two!) degrees… and that’s the forecast for Taupo.

    I am not in Taupo, I’m on the plateau well above Taupo, at the foot of Mount Ruapehu, 15 km from National Park.

    Ruapehu from the head of the Whanganui River

    Mount Ruapehu from the head of the Whanganui River

    It’s going to be a cold one.

    Time to put the jug on, crank up the heating, and get ready for tomorrow.

    And tomorrow’s action?… down the Whanganui river road.

    42 Seconds

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    camera setup

    Two camera set-up with script board

    I thought I might give you an idea just how this filming thing all works.

    Today I needed to film 3 sequences here at Te Awanga. They’re all within easy walking distance of the van, so today I didn’t have to think too much about having everything with me for the whole day… I could come back to the van between scenes to unload the camera’s, re-charge the batteries and pick up anything I’d forgotten.

    Yesterday, I’d described the Kurahaupo people leaving Mahia, and talked about the sorts of boats they would have built to get to here. I’d talked about other tribes in the area, and how they would have resolve territorial boundaries.

    I’d got all the shot’s I needed at that end of the beach; views up and down the river, across the river, where the river met the ocean… and I had the shots of me walking into and out of the position I delivered the dialogue from.

    The closing shot from yesterday was of me walking up the beach towards where the Kurahaupo people first settled… Te Awanga… the location for today’s scenes.

    Finishing off the day’s work meant copying everything from the camera’s and reviewing each piece of footage; was it useable dialogue, useable cut-away shots, or for the bin (set-up shots and mis-takes).

    Then I started preparing for today’s shooting.
    – Make sure all my camera and audio batteries are all on charge
    – Final fine tuning of the script content, and the continuity of dialogue between scenes

    My first scene is a continuation from last one I shot yesterday.

    In the last scene I shot yesterday, the closing line was…
    “This river, the Tukituki, marked their boundary, and the people of the Kurahaupo occupied the land to the west of here, making their first settlement just a little further up this beach.”

    Then I walked away up the beach.

    For my first scene today I needed the continuation shot of me walking up the beach to where I would deliver my next dialogue. Then I would shoot the next piece of dialogue.

    Today’s shooting covered these three themes
    – Getting established and clearing land to grow crops. The importance of Fern root until they had their own crops.
    – Whatonga’s first son ‘Tara’
    – Whatonga’s exploration of the North Island and his second son ‘Tautoki’

    I already had the cut-away views shots I needed… Shots of the valley, the plains, the sea, the lagoon and Cape Kidnappers.

    Shooting with dialogue is done using two camera’s… one a half body shot, and the other a close-up. This takes quite a while to set up. I position each camera so that I think they are correct. I adjust the zoom, and fix the aperture setting for the light conditions in the shot. I mark the exact position to stand.

    The only way to find out if this is all right is to test; film a short burst, and then look at it… then, adjust, film and check again… for each camera untill it’s all good.

    Then I shut the camera’s down to preserve battery life while I set up the audio, and mount the script board on the tripod. I run through my lines a few times, and then I’m ready.

    To shoot I start both camera’s, check that they are both rolling, check that the sound level meter flickers when I speak, and ‘click’ the clapper board to allow the two camera’s footage to be synchronised.

    Then… ‘positions’ and ‘action’.

    After a couple of runs through I check what I’ve taken… in both cameras, and then I repeat, and repeat, and repeat, the scene until I have it all the way through correctly.

    When I’m satisfied that the scene can be assembled successfully from the pieces I have shot, I pack up, and move the camera’s on to the next set-up.

    It’s quite a performance.

    Here is one of the scenes from today. It is just the shot from the ‘A’ camera… no cut-aways included, or the wide angle… just the dialogue in close-up.

    It is only 42 seconds long… This one was the 18th attempt out of 23 that I took.

    I had to stop shooting each time a cloud came over, while someone mowed their lawn, when a lady and her son paddled their canoes around the lagoon behind me, when someone came up and started talking to me while I was shooting… plus of course when I fluffed the delivery.

    Today it took me about 2 hours to capture this 42 seconds. The total preparation; research, scripting and illustrations, would run to several days.

    Tonight, I have my batteries on charge, and I have my scripts and illustrations all printed out ready for tomorrow.

    In the morning I will breakfast, shower and pack the van. I will also need to prepare lunch and a coffee flask before I leave the campsite.

    I have a 30 minute drive to Otatara Pa, where I’m shooting, and then a 30 minute walk to get to the shoot locations. For the correct sun position I need to film late morning to evening, but the weather forecast gives cloud coming in in the afternoon… we’ll see, I have about 5 hours worth to do there. It will be what it will be.

    So that’s me… a day in the life of.

    When I’m not doing this I’m researching my next step, and putting stuff together for Facebook and the Blog posts.

    Whatever happens, it will be an early start tomorrow, and for that I need an early night.

    It’s been a long day. Goodnight all.

    Te Awanga

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    I had a really good day when I shot this video. A break in the weather allowed me to get out and about a bit.

    I’d gone into Napier and had a look around there, and then I’d gone to the Library. The thing about Libraries is that local libraries keep material that has local relevance. I was looking for something particular and local… and it was there.

    I was only in the Library a couple of hours before I had what I needed, and then I moved on to my main stop of the day. Otatara Pa.

    otatara pa

    Otatara Pa was already established and occupied by the time the Kurahaupo people arrived in Hawke’s Bay

    The excitement for me here had been heightened by what I’d learned at the Library.

    I’d picked the Pa site out from Google maps, and read up on it somewhat. I liked it because it overlooked the plains, but also had line of sight to Mahia and Ruapehu. That suited me perfectly. The Kurahaupo people came from Mahia, settled on the plains, and the person I was going to follow, Tumatakokiri, had left from there to go towards Ruapehu.

    At the Library I learned that the Pa was already occupied by the time the Kurahaupo people arrived.

    It was sensational walking around visualising what was happening on its tops, on its flanks, and on the plain below.

    The ‘main man’ in the Kurahupo story at the moment is Whatonga. He had three sons that are important to the storyline; Tara, Tautoki (Rangitane’s father) and Tumatakokiri.

    At the Library I had discovered that where I was camped was the beach that the Kurahaupo people had arrived on, and where they built their ‘kainga’, village.

    Whatonga and his people had walked on the beach I was now parked on.

    Lunar eclipse

    Partial and full eclipse, seen from the beach at Haumoana

    The eeriness of that discovery was heightened that evening by a clear sky and a total Lunar Eclipse.

    The next two days were an outdoor write-off.

    Bad weather was coming. I’d seen it on the forecasts and spent a morning fruitlessly looking for somewhere suitable to hunker down. The tail end of a cyclone was going over and for the next couple of days things were going to be a bit rough. I was looking for somewhere with shelter from wind, and height above rivers.

    Scouting around the free sites in the area I didn’t find anywhere likely. They we right next to water, or open to the wind, or prone to falling trees closing the access. I gave up on the freedom camping locations and pulled onto Te Wanga campsite as the light began to fail. I liked the campsite immediately. It was just like Piha, a mix of permanent people and tourists… and the manager and residents were all easy and friendly too.

    I also liked Te Awanga for another reason.

    Te Awanga is where the Whatonga and Hotuwaipara lived when they had their first child.

    The wind picked up and stayed up for 36 hours. Getting in and out of the van meant risking being thrown on the ground as the wind grabbed the door, and my doormats made a new home in a downwind hedge.

    I was getting rocked around quite a bit in the van, but fared much better than a couple of French tourists. They had to chase their tent down the beach after it took off in a squall. The next day they spent drying everything, EVERYTHING they owned.

    The second day was mostly just wind, not as bad as the previous day but still enough to eject me onto the grass if I opened the door carelessly.

    The wind had peaked at over 80 kph and that had prevented me from putting my satellite dish up… otherwise, apart from being bounced around a bit I was fine. I’d done better than some I saw on the news… the car underwater on Tamaki Drive, and the Campervan on its side in Nelson.

    Overnight, the wind blew itself through, and the skies cleared, and this morning I could see across the bay back to Mahia.


    Te Awanga in the early morning light

    As I walked down the beach and up the riverbank my mind was full of the details;

    Whatonga paddled out of this lagoon to go fishing. This is where Hotuwaipara spiked her hand on a Rock Cod. This is where Whatonga and Hotuwaipara had their son, Tara-Ika.

    As a boy, Tara would have played along the river bank I now walked on. Just over the hill at Waimarama is the Pa that he built, and his Marae is at at Maraetotara…


    On to Heretaunga

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    I always enjoy Mahia, but it was time to move on. The skies hard darkened again, so even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t film again for a few days… but I don’t need to.

    There a few points I was bothered about, but on reviewing the video I’m sure that it’s all fixable in the editing. Here’s hoping. I now have a few more pre-shoot checks to make:

    I need to check that my glasses aren’t on too crooked, that the lens hasn’t picked up some dust or spray, and that I’m evenly lit across my face .

    If the light is directly across me i.e. my face if half lit and half shaded, then the camera keeps adjusting the aperture according to what’s in the centre of the frame… and that makes the background keep going light and dark. I can either manually set the aperture, or stand in a more evenly lit position.

    This isn’t as simple as it sounds. If I stand in an evenly lit position, then I may not have the right stuff behind me, or can’t point to the things I’m talking about. And fixing the aperture sounds easy, except, I have to be stood in the frame to set it… and if I’m stood in the frame then I can’t set it because I’m IN the frame… out of reach of the controls on the camera.

    Anyway, it’s all more leaning on what to do and not do. At least I’m on top of the sound issues now. Now that I have my cables re-wired I can hear the sound in playback on the camera, which I never had before… I wouldn’t pick up any wind noise, or clothing rustle until I was back at the van editing… and by then it was too late.

    So, all in all, Mahia worked out well. It took longer than I’d have liked, but then, I’m not in control of the weather.

    Mahia to Napier

    Click to open map

    I drove back to Wairoa, and topped up my fuel there, and then it was back over the top to Napier. I really wanted to get some pictures of the Napier to Gisborne railway line (now disused), it’s an engineering marvel. But getting good photo angles was tricky, and when I did see a nice shot I couldn’t stop or turn.

    The railway picks a line through and across steep sided valleys until it drops back down by the Esk River, and it left me wondering just how the people from the Kurahaupo made it through here.


    There really were wild goats all over the road for the next 2 hours

    Their hard work would have started about where the sign said “Beware of Goats next 70 km”… and they were right about the goats.

    The Kurahaupo people were, as far as I understand it, on foot, and there were no roads or tracks. They also had no pack animals or wheels, so they had to carry everything on their backs… and they had to cross at least five significant rivers; Nuhaka, Wairoa, Mohaka, Waikere, and Esk to get to where they were going. None of these can be avoided without a huge detour.

    I am going to do some more research locally. The Kurahaupo people had a lot of stuff to move, so it would make a lot more sense if they had used the coast, and moved by boat. If I had the choice of carrying stuff, or paddling it in boats, I know which I would do. I would take the time to build canoes. I am also wondering if they managed to rescue one of the Kurahaupo hulls… Napier library tomorrow!

    Lake Tutira

    Lake Tutira

    I’m sorry I’ve not captured some of that scenery between Mahia and Napier to show you, but finding good vantage positions was difficult. The photo’s I did get weren’t good. You’ll have to make do with this picture of Lake Tutira instead. It is a DOC campsite, so I thought I’d check it out as I was passing. It would be a wonderful place to stop in summer, and is duly noted.

    It was getting dark by the time got through Napier. The Council here will fine you for ‘freedom camping’, but also provides free locations for people like me with vans that are ‘Self Contained’. From their list of campsites I’d picked out two likely looking ones.

    I didn’t get past the first.

    As soon as I pulled up I could see it had all five boxes ticked; stunning view, quiet, clear line of sight for the satellite dish, clear above for the solar panels, and flat. As I parked I found it had another wonderful attribute… live music.

    In the fading light the lady in the bus next to me was stood outside playing her violin, and she was very good. I don’t know who you are Lady, but Bravo!, it was wonderful, thank you.

    By mid-morning, most of the people had gone, including the violin lady. They had been parked on the turfed, grassy meadow part of the campsite, and it had rained well in the night. The field was turning to mud and they all moved on before bogged in became a liklihood. I am parked on the stones of the shore-meadow margin, and can’t sink in.

    I am on the coast immediately to the South of Napier, parked 15 paces from the high tide mark (and a metre above it!). Facing out to sea I have Napier to my left, and Cape Kidnappers to my right. Each is about 7 km away.

    The view here would be stunning but unfortunately, it can’t be seen through the drizzle, and it looks as though this is set in for a few days.

    Tomorrow I’m going to ‘reccie’ the Otatara Pa to work out exactly where I want to stand to say which bits. But for filming I need a clear day as I need line of sight from the Pa back to the Mahia Peninsula and across to Mt Ruapehu. Both are visible from there… but only on a decent day… and I may not get that until Sunday.

    We’ll see. As I said before, I’m not in charge of the weather.

    There’s another reason I think that the Kurahaupo people might have moved by canoe and not walked… and it’s to do with the name they call the place they settle at; ‘Heretaunga’. But I’m going to leave you guessing about that one for a while.