Thursday, February 10, 2022

Ambling Through New Zealand's North Island (September-November 2021)


A coastal hike near Opotiki

Greymouth, New Zealand

It’s a prodigiously rainy and windy day, as a huge rainstorm batters the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Terri and I are huddling indoors at a welcome refuge at Duke's Hostel, a venerable backpacker's joint in Greymouth.  It’s a good day to write a blog post, and a good day to be under a solid roof.

One of the maps that Terri created for my new book during MIQ

It’s time to catch up on our travels. When last I wrote, I reported on our fun three-week jaunt through Turkey back in August, 2021. We then flew to Auckland, via lots of covid-related restrictions and hoops; there was an anxious ten-minute wait in Istanbul airport while Singapore Airlines check-in staff had a telephone conversation with New Zealand Immigration to make sure that I was eligible to fly into the country. We arrived late on the evening of September 4th into a ghostly, almost-deserted airport, got processed and sorted onto our bus, and taken to the Rydges Hotel, our home for the next two weeks of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ).
Some of Terri's grandkids

Those two weeks passed surprisingly pleasantly. We had a room on the eighth floor, with a view towards Auckland’s Sky Tower, two enormous king-sized beds and three delicious meals a day delivered to the room. We were confined indoors except for occasional “exercise” sessions on a rooftop terrace or along the ramp leading to the underground parking garage; we weren’t allowed to do anything that might result in us breathing heavily, so the word “exercise” didn’t seem to have its usual meaning. The weather was relentlessly cold and rainy, so we weren’t itching to be outdoors, and we amused ourselves by watching US Open tennis, reading and (in the case of Terri) working on the hand-drawn maps for my next book, about my Silk Road cycling ride.

After two weeks, we were certified as disease-free and ready to be released into the community. While we were in Turkey, New Zealand had had its first serious covid outbreak in over a year, and so Auckland, the epicentre, was under a partial lockdown. As a result the North Island was cut in two, and travel from north to south through Auckland was impossible. We had planned to wait out the chilly months of September and October somewhere in the north, but instead we picked up Edmund the Elgrand (our third camping vehicle, after our beloved Stanley and much-used Douglas) at Terri’s daughter’s farm on the northern outskirts of Auckland, spent a hurried couple of hours visiting, and then fled south to the liberty of Hamilton. We spent a week there at the house of Terri’s good friends Ross and Debbie, taking care of administrative steps like getting the van’s Warrant of Fitness renewed, getting our first shots of the Pfizer vaccine (we had not been eligible for vaccinations in Indonesia), buying me a second-hand bicycle, and obtaining a solar panel and second-hand storage battery to run our fridge/freezer.

Indiana with the first physical copy of my book that I'd held 

Another delicious dinner with Lilian and John

Terri with her cousin Phillipa and her family

We might have lingered longer in Hamilton, but covid began to leak out of the Auckland cordon into the Hamilton area, so we fled further to the Tauranga area where we holed up for almost two weeks with Lilian and John, inveterate globetrotting friends who had visited us in Tbilisi. They had a guest apartment where we hid out from more cold and rain, explored the fabulous variety of fruit trees that filled their property (we left laden with avocadoes and lemons) and worked on fitting out Edmund for the road. We bought a roof rack and a luggage box to go on it, had the 175-watt solar panel attached onto the rack, mounted an awning and tent to hang off the side of the vehicle, and I even put my physics degree to practical use as I wired up the battery, the solar controller unit, the solar panel and the interior electrical outlets. (My initial wiring wasn’t really up to snuff, and I ended up having to redo it a couple of weeks later, but since then it’s functioned perfectly, which pleases me immensely.) We also rode our bicycles around, hiked up Mount Maunganui, did pullup bar workouts in playgrounds (keeping up the routines we had established in Bali) and had late-afternoon beers and dinners with Lilian and John, recounting stories from the road. (They are some of the few travellers I’ve met who have been to far more countries than I have, and their stories of travels in the 1970s were epic.) Importantly for further travel, we were also able to get vaccinated (something that we had not been able to do in Indonesia) with our first dose of Pfizer. We also dropped in on more of Terri's friends and family living in and around Tauranga.

Terri and her cousin Pepper

Eventually the van was ready to hit the road, and we started our stately progress down the east coast of the North Island. We started with a few nights in Ohope, just to the east of Papamoa. It was my first experience of “freedom camping”, in which towns designate certain areas for self-contained vehicles (ones with a toilet and a grey-water container) to stay for free. The Ohope freedom camps were nothing to write home about, with lots of vehicles crammed into small spaces, but it was a chance for us to test out our set-up. We discovered soon that my wiring job wasn’t up to snuff, as I hadn’t quite gotten the connectors from the solar panels to the roof to complete the circuit; we discovered this when the car battery stopped working and I started crawling around the circuit with a voltmeter. Once I had the panel working, we were back in business. We also discovered that rain is a constant accompaniment to camping in New Zealand!

Morgan, steak chef extraordinaire
From there we drove to Kutarere, a tiny community between Ohope and Opotiki. There we were lucky to stay with Terri’s cousin Pepper. We were very glad to have a solid roof over our heads when a torrential downpour hammered down for two days and flooded Opotoki’s rivers. Pepper was an amazing host and she and her friend Mason kept us well fed and entertained. We tried our hands at gathering oysters near Opotiki, and were successful enough to have two massive oyster feasts. We also received in the post a new solar controller (I had mangled the previous one in my electrical incompetence) and this time I was much more careful in connecting everything neatly, with a crimping tool and lots of tiny ferrules to keep the wire ends neat.) Finally everything was hunky dory on the roof, and the electrics have remained trouble free ever since. The new controller also has a Bluetooth connection to our telephones, so we can check the status of the battery, the solars and the load circuit in real time, which is an addictive thing!

Eventually we tore ourselves away, via a night at the oyster beds (which proved to be a very noisy place to camp!) and our second dose of covid vaccine in Opotiki. We also had an auto electrician install a circuit to allow us to charge our storage battery from the car engine when it’s running, something which has been an invaluable boost to the battery on days when the sun hasn’t shone enough.

An oyster feast

Majestic horse near East Cape

From Opotiki we started driving towards the East Cape, the big and somewhat remote protrusion in the northeast corner of the North Island. We stopped in at Omaio, at a freedom camp that we had been told about, and stayed for almost a week. The campsite is a huge field up above the beach, and at times we had it almost entirely to ourselves. Even when there were a few other campers, we all had lots of space to ourselves. It was a lovely spot, with oysters to be had from the rocky shoreline and great cycling along the coastal highway. Terri was feeling a bit under the weather from her second vaccine shot, and this was a perfect spot to rest and recuperate. Most of our camping neighbours were keen fishermen, and we were given some delicious snapper as a welcome addition to our food supply. The energetic lady who ran the local shop kept us entertained with stories, and warned us that we were only welcome if we’d been vaccinated. She had been vaccinated, and was glad to report that although she’d been infested with nanobots and turned magnetic as a result, she’d used Epsom salts to wash them away. We nodded wisely and tried not to giggle.

From Omaio we made our way further out along the Cape to lovely Maraehako, a commercial campground with a lovely location in a secluded cove. We rented kayaks and explored the shoreline, deeply pitted with caves. That evening, as we were sitting in our tent, we heard the call of a little blue penguin and went to the shoreline to see one walking along the shore between brief swims in the sea. It was our first sighting of blue penguins this trip (although we’d seen them several times on our 2018 trip), and it was wonderful to see this endearing creature again in the flesh.

Edmund on the road back from East Cape

East Cape lighthouse

We made it to Te Araroa next, a small community just west of the East Cape. We drove out to the East Cape itself and climbed up the hill to the lighthouse that marks the easternmost point in mainland New Zealand, a beautiful if windswept spot. We liked it so much that the next day we jumped on our bicycles and rode most of the way back to East Cape, revelling in the fabulous coastal scenery, although we got caught in rain on the way back to Te Araroa. From there we drove inland to Te Puia Hot Springs (which were, sadly, closed) and then south to Tokomaru Bay, the first of a series of coastal towns that stretch north from Terri’s birthplace of Gisborne. We spent a couple of days in Tokomaru Bay eating delicious fish and chips, doing workouts at the local rugby field (the goalposts made a great bar to hang our gymnastic rings from) and lazing beside the shore. The beach was pretty, although it had a thick covering of driftwood resulting from the extensive logging operations on commercial timber plantations all along the East Cape.

Baby paradise shelducks at Cook's Cove

Male paradise shelduck looking protective of his brood

Lovely Tokomaru Bay

We moved on to Tolaga Bay, almost a twin of Tokomaru Bay, where we hiked out to Cook’s Cove (where James Cook anchored back in 1769), cycled, worked out and ate more fish and chips. It was an idyllic spot, but we could see bad weather appearing on our weather forecasts, so we fled to Gisborne to shelter under the roof of Terri’s childhood neighbour Helen. We ended up spending nearly a week there as the rain just continued to fall, breaking local precipitation records and flooding low-lying areas of Gisborne. It was a relief to be indoors, and we had a wonderful time catching up with Helen, her sister Vicky and their mother Bessie, who told us all sorts of stories from her childhood, her family history and the childhood of Vicky, Helen and Terri in the suburbs of Gisborne. Gisborne (which we had visited in 2018) reminds me a lot of my hometown of Thunder Bay. It has an industrial air to it, a commercial port, a feeling of isolation (a lot less in the case of Gisborne, but psychologically it feels remote from the rest of the North Island) and a sense that the economic and property boom engulfing the North Island is leaving Gisborne behind a bit.

Peaceful Mahia campsite

Cycling on the Mahia Peninsula
We almost didn’t leave Gisborne, not because we didn’t want to but because our van refused to start. We managed to get it going in the end and drove to the lovely Mahia Peninsula, where we camped on a fabulous beach after having to tow the van the final few hundred metres from the corner store where we had unwisely stopped the engine. The next day we finally got the car to start after many attempts, contacted a mechanic in nearby Wairoa and drove to camp nearby. We had a pretty place to stay, although the next morning we encountered one of the few instances of genuinely unfriendly behaviour of the trip from a local woman who let her dogs run free; when they tried to ransack our food supplies we asked her to control her dogs, whereupon she exploded in a foul-mouthed tirade. Still shaking our heads, we drove to Terry the mechanic’s place, had the problem diagnosed (our starter motor needed new carbon brushes) and camped in his backyard. The next day a courier delivered the necessary part, and by mid-afternoon we were driving away, back to the Mahia Peninsula to resume our interrupted idyll by the sea.

Neat rock patterns on the Mahia Peninsula
We spent a few days on the Mahia Peninsula, site of many happy childhood memories for Terri, whose father and mother used to bring the children there to the beach. It’s a spectacular spot, with a sheltered beach on one side and a wild coastline open to the ocean on the other side. We hiked, cycled, collected shellfish and chatted with our neighbours, an eclectic mix of travellers from all over the country. At the southern tip of the peninsula a company called Rocket Lab has a launch facility for commercial satellites; there was a launch scheduled while we were there, and lots of campers showed up to watch, but it was cancelled due to high winds so we weren’t able to see the spectacle.

Refreshed by the Mahia Peninsula, we drove south towards Napier, staying at a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite at Lake Tutira. It was a beautiful spot, but we were raked by gale-force winds that stirred up the tiny lake’s surface into a roiling mass of whitecaps. We found a place to camp that was sheltered by a belt of tall trees, but in the middle of the night we were awoken by a thunderous crack that shook the car. I got up to find that a massive branch had broken off one of the trees, narrowly missing our neighbours who were sleeping in a small tent. As I got up, I saw them frantically packing up and throwing their gear into their car before driving off; had that branch fallen two metres to one side, they would have been crushed to death under it. It was a sobering night!

An angry and malevolent swan, Lake Tutira

In the morning we awoke to find the wind still strafing us, but we went for a lovely hike anyway high into the hills. It was a mixture of lovely native bush, mature pine plantations which creaked ominously in the gusts, and cutover slash piles from plantations that had been felled recently. Forestry is never a lovely sight to behold, but in New Zealand, where the native forests were often felled and burned a century and a half ago, these stands of alien-looking exotic trees planted in neat rows on land that was sheep paddocks not long ago, it’s particularly jarring.

Samson family reunion near Napier

Rock album cover shot

Cliffs along the way to Cape Kidnappers

Having survived Lake Tutira, we made our way to Napier via a few short walks in the hills, in tiny pockets of surviving native forest. At Haumoana freedom camp we rendezvoused with Terri’s sister Karen and her husband Joshua. We had a great get-together and a feast of grilled chicken before retiring early in anticipation of the next day. We awoke and made an earlier start than usual as our schedule was determined by the tide tables. We spent the day walking along the beach out to Cape Kidnappers, along the sand left behind by retreating tides, underneath impressive vertical cliffs. It took about three hours to get to our destination, a huge colony of Australasian gannets who nest atop the cliffs. We saw them a few years ago west of Auckland, but this was made more special by the effort required to get there. With a wary eye on the incoming tides, we retreated the way we had come, marching back past a smaller gannet colony as well as cormorants, gulls and terns. It was an exhilarating walk, and we got back to the start long before the tide cut the track. I went off for a short bike ride once we were back in camp, glad to get in lots of outdoor activity on the warmest, sunniest day we had experienced yet.

Yours truly on the way to Cape Kidnappers

A loud dispute in the gannet colony

A male gannet bringing a seaweed garland for his mate

Terri and a few of her gannet pals

The view from the top of Cape Kidnappers

The sheltering mossy forest on Holdsworth

From Haumoana, we drove south for several hours through agricultural land until we reached the foot of the Tararua Range and Mt. Holdsworth DOC campground. We set up our tent and awning and went for an exploratory ramble along the river. Back at the car we arranged accommodation for the following night in a DOC alpine hut up atop the mountains, grilled pork chops, packed our backpacks and got ready for our first overnight hike of the trip.

It dawned bright but windy the next day, and we sweated uphill through the dense forest, our bodies unused to our heavy backpacks. The higher we got, the more the wind howled, until by the treeline it was blowing a full gale, almost knocking us off our feet and turning our backpacks into sails. We persevered to Powell Hut, at about 1050 metres above sea level, where we sheltered indoors for several hours, unwilling to face the ferocious winds, lingering over lunch and endless cups of tea. Finally, around 2:30, it became less blustery and we were able to wander, carrying only a camera bag and some warm clothes, up towards the summit of Mt. Holdsworth. It felt like a homecoming to be up above the treeline in the tussock grass of the alpine zone, walking through a dramatic mountain landscape dissected by deep gorges. We made it to the top of Mt. Holdsworth and partway to the next peak, Jumbo, before turning back to trot downhill to the warmth of the hut. It was a full hut that evening, with a diverse group of trampers sharing stories and experiences. The Tararuas are not too far from Wellington, and a lot of the hikers came from there, either university students or government employees out for their first big hike of the year. It was a fun atmosphere, and Terri and I feasted on pasta carbonara padded out with a few rashers of bacon. The full moon rose as we headed to bed and lit up our hut room with its pale silvery glow.

Atop a breezy Mt. Holdsworth

Descending from Mt.Holdsworth

Castle Rock and its sketchy-looking summit walk

The sunrise the next morning was spectacular, setting the sky alight from first light. The winds had returned with a vengeance, and we were glad to get down into the shelter of the trees as rain clouds gathered overhead. We threw our packs into the car and drove to Castlepoint, a pretty seaside village that’s been gentrified with lots of expensive new baches (summer/weekend cottages). We hiked along the dramatic seashore and up to Castle Rock, a peak that seemed to loom perfectly vertically above the shoreline. The path proved to be less alarming than it looked from below, and the views were sensational. We descended carefully and set up camp in a little freedom camp on the edge of the dunes.

The vista from atop Castle Rock

A chilly Terri at Castle Point

Lazy sea lion near Cape Palliser

From Castlepoint we retreated to Masterton, the regional hub, sorted out Department of Conservation campsite passes (a steal at NZ $100 a year, given that one night in a campground costs $15 per person) and then headed south towards the southern tip of the North Island. It was a dramatic drive along a rugged, remote coastline to Cape Palliser and the 254 wooden steps leading up to its lighthouse, from where we hiked for an hour along the coast to an abandoned 19th century Maori village. We swam in the rather frigid river, returned to the car, visited a nearby colony of sea lions and then drove back a few kilometres to camp at a DOC campsite at the foot of the Putangirua Pinnacles.

Sea lion pup, Cape Palliser

Putangirua Pinnacles

We explored the Pinnacles on foot the next day. They are very picturesque eroded conglomerate, rather like the Badlands of South Dakota, or the houdous of the French Alps near Guillestre which we visited last year. It was a decent-sized hike, almost four hours, and got us salivating about the longer treks we were hoping to do in the South Island. Our campground neighbours gave us some paua (abalone) which they had gathered, which tasted absolutely delicious. The fresh seafood and fish from New Zealand’s oceans really are some of the culinary highlights of travel in this country!

Putangirua Pinnacles

Wildflower, Pinnacles Track

Lovely butterfly

The next day was devoted to trying to find one of New Zealand’s most elusive and cryptic native birds, the matata or fernbird. We drove to Boggy Pond, one of the few places where they are reliably seen. Although it was a lovely spot, full of black swans, paradise shelducks, cormorants and tiny baby pied stilts, we had no luck with the fernbirds. We retreated for the last time to Masterton to have lunch in a city park with Terri’s old army friend Vivienne, and then headed out to cycle part of the Remutaka Rail Trail. It was steep for a train line (this section had its own specialized hill-climbing engines in the 19th century) but made for a spectacular ride. It felt good to be cycling in nature rather than along the side of a highway for once! 

A baby pied stilt

Tuatara, Zealandia

We coasted downhill from the summit tunnel and then rashly followed Google Maps’ directions towards a freedom camp. The program saved a few hundred metres of distance by sending us along a dirt road with a small ford in it. We discovered that Edmund the Elgrand doesn’t really like fords when we lodged it firmly in the pebbly riverbed, partially tearing off the rear bumper in the process. We took off the bicycles from their bike rack at the back and Terri managed to coax the vehicle up the opposite bank. After all that, we didn’t even end up staying at the freedom camp since it was apparently abandoned and lived in by a collection of people who seemed to have substance abuse and anger management issues. Instead we drove to an idyllic DOC camp a few kilometres away and spent a peaceful night.

Red-fronted parakeet (kakariki), Zealandia
The next day was our last day of real exploration on the North Island. We tried to hike along a path marked on our map app, but the trail soon petered out, apparently abandoned and overgrown. Instead we drove to the other side of the Remutaka Rail Trail, pulled out the bicycles and pedalled up the other side of the previous day’s incline. The grade was far gentler on this side (1% rather than 5%) and almost imperceptible at times. The scenery was magnificent, and it was a fun morning’s activity. On our way towards Karen’s house at the Kapiti Coast, we stopped off at another birdwatching spot, Pauatahanui, again looking for matatas, and again striking out, although three biology students we met had seen one just ten minutes earlier. We admitted defeat eventually and drove on to Karen and Joshua’s house, where we spent our last days on the North Island eating, drinking and making merry. We did sally forth one sunny day to explore Zealandia, the amazing predator-free bird sanctuary in the very heart of Wellington (we had been there in 2018 as well), but aside from that, we stayed close to home. Joshua fixed up our mangled bumper, and we visited a couple of Terri’s nieces and nephews who live nearby. Once again we were lucky to enjoy such warm hospitality, always a wonderful feeling after weeks of living out of our campervan.

In the early hours of November 30th we embarked on a ferry to take us across the Cook Strait to the South Island, but that story will have to wait for the next blog post. We spent a total of almost three months on the North Island, moving at a very leisurely pace and waiting (mostly in vain) for the cold, blustery spring weather to change into warm summer. It was pleasant, but we were both keen to get to the big wide-open spaces of the South Island and some larger-scale outdoor adventures.

Majestic kaka, Zealandia


Sunday, December 19, 2021

2021: Making The Most Of Stasis

Terri and I dining out in Lipah


Te Anau, New Zealand

It's once again the end of a year, and time to look back over the highs and lows of the past 365 days. These summations seem to come with greater and greater frequency as I careen down the declining side of life, but 2021 seemed to pass with greater speed than most years because it was a full year of plans altered, disrupted and complicated by covid-19. There's some travel to look back upon, but much, much less than would usually be the case for a year spent being economically inactive. Terri and I should have been driving around Africa in Stanley, but that didn't happen. Having said that, we did endeavour to make the most out of a frustrating travel situation.

The year began in Bali, where Terri and I had fled in late November of last year as the Indonesian border opened up a crack. Lipah, the little bay near better-known Amed, made an ideal base for us to wait out a pandemic. Terri had the foresight and wisdom to buy a house overlooking Lipah Bay over a decade ago, and it is now the closest thing we have to a home base. We had made some improvements to the house back in 2017-18 when we lived there for a number of months, but this time around we made some more substantial alterations. Over the months we put in a new roof (the old one had been so thoroughly nibbled by termites that it was a minor miracle that it hadn't fallen in on top of our heads); put in a few bits of strategic concrete to reinforce the garden and make our outdoor shower less muddy underfoot; installed a workout bar for pullups; got new and much more comfortable beds; improved our outdoor diving gear area; touched up our outdoor kitchen; vastly improved our water system; and completely redesigned our garden area, adding a somewhat grandiose entrance gate topped with a bougainvillea arch and even planting some grape vines. By the end of our various improvements, the house felt much more liveable and home-like than ever before, and it was hard to tear ourselves away from it in early August.

Lovely silhouettes and shadows on Gunung Agung

The rhythm of life in Lipah was simple and seductive. Three days a week we arose early and worked out faithfully on our pullup bar, using long elastic resistance bands to help us do the pullups that we couldn't do unaided, and then hanging gymnastic rings from the bar to do other exercises. Between that and a set of dip bars that we ordered online, both of us found our upper body strength increasingly very noticeably over the months. I have never had much upper-body strength, but as I get older, I think that this sort of exercise is what my aging body needs.

Paddling near Lipah

One of the nearby bays that we regularly visited by kayak

Other mornings found us up running along the undulating headlines and coves of the nearby coastline, or cycling up the improbably steep roads running back from the coast. We bought a sea kayak in January, and immediately wondered why we hadn't bought one years earlier, as it gave us another outdoor activity to do together, one that let us see our nearby coastline from a completely new perspective. Most days at some point we got out swimming and snorkelling in Lipah Bay, saying hello to familiar friends like the pair of leaf scorpionfish that always haunt the same coral bommie in the middle of the bay. We both improved our swimming technique, with first Terri and then I becoming somewhat proficient in the butterfly stroke. It was always a joy to be able to experience so much underwater beauty a one-minute stroll from our house. Of course we also got out scuba diving from time to time, either in Lipah (often at night) or down the coast in the spectacular macro diving mecca of Tulamben with our friend and underwater critter-spotter extraordinaire Komang. We were certainly not lacking in outdoor activities to keep ourselves fit and entertained!

Baby frogfish

Unidentia sandramillenae

Thecacera sp. nudibranch

Another beautiful Goniobranchus sp. nudibranch

Doto greenamyeri (or the Doto Donut nudibranch)

When I wasn't running, cycling, paddling or bobbing around outdoors, I was putting the finishing touches on my first book, Pedalling To Kailash. If you haven't read it yet, there's still time. (Buy yourself an entertaining Christmas present!) It's been a learning experience, with lots of reviews from satisfied and entertained readers, but far fewer sales than I had dreamed of. I am still trying to get more people to buy the book, although I have to conclude that most money and time spent marketing a book ends up being for nought. The plan is still to try to get an agent and an actual commercial publisher to bring my second book, Silk And Solitude, to market backed by the marketing heft of a publishing house used to publicizing books. Stay tuned in 2022! And profound thanks to all of you who have read the book, given me feedback and (importantly) written reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or Google Books.

Publication Date on February 28th

Me holding the paperback version for the first time

Another addition to our Lipah life consisted of a stray female cat (Fantine, or Mama Cat) whom we started feeding in December and who moved in in January when she was about to give birth. She produced a single ginger kitten whom we dubbed Ginger Bear, but within a week the kitten disappeared. We were sad, certain that the little creature had been killed by a neighbourhood tomcat or eaten by a snake. A week afterwards, during a torrential downpour, however, Mama disappeared outside and returned with a bedraggled kitten in her mouth. From that point on the two of them lived at our house, entertaining us with their antics. Ginger Bear grew from being a helpless pile of fluff into a strong, kind-hearted funny cat, despite the constant thrashings administered by Mama who clearly subscribed to the school of Tough Love. Terri and I spent many happy moments watching the two of them fight and then make up by snuggling next to each other for a nap. Neither Terri nor I had owned a pet for decades, and it really made us happy to have these two felines light up our lives.

A newly-born Ginger Bear

Our tiny bundle of ginger joy

Ginger Bear getting used to walking

Mama Cat beating sense into Ginger Bear

Terri and Ginger Bear

Most of the time we stayed in Lipah, but we did get away occasionally to other parts of Bali. We combined a visa run to Singaraja with a few days of diving and relaxing in the muck-diving area of Puri Jati in late January. We took advantage of a cheap deal to cycle north up the coast to a little resort in Tejakula for a two-night getaway. A second visa run in May gave us a chance to explore the interior of the island near scenic Mt. Batur and its huge caldera. I returned to the Batur area a month later by bicycle to get some exercise. Mostly, however, we were content to live quietly and enjoyably in Lipah.

Terri on the beach at Tejakula

Our biggest excursion from Bali was a trip to Flores in June to see the famous Komodo dragons. I had visited Komodo back in 1996, but Terri had never seen them and was keen to make up for this omission. For her birthday we booked what was promised to be a swanky cruise around Komodo, Rinca and other picturesque island. Reality proved to be a bit less than advertised, with the clients on our boat being largely Indonesians obsessed with Instagramming every spot on the itinerary, with drones and carefully selected outfits, and the crew keener on ear-splitting karaoke and thumping bass than on the natural scenery. It made us glad to escape back to Lipah without catching covid, once we had seen the dragons (as impressive as I remembered them), mantas and beautiful scenery.

A Komodo dragon out for an afternoon stroll

Terri, the dragon and I

Terri and manta ray

Manta ray near Komodo

Maree snorkelling near Komodo

Me snorkelling near Komodo

A stunning sunrise on our Komodo trip

On a pink-sand beach near Komodo

As idyllic as our existence in Lipah was, there were forces pushing us towards New Zealand. I had spent a lot of time, effort and money to procure a partner visa allowing me to breach the border defences that NZ had erected against covid, and it was going to expire in early September if I didn't enter the country. Terri managed to get coveted and rare spots in the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system, and we booked flights. As July progressed, however, covid numbers in Indonesia began to surge and countries like Singapore and New Zealand erected new barriers; we would have to spend at least three weeks in another country before we would be allowed to transit through Singapore airport and continue on to New Zealand. So we scrambled to change MIQ dates, booked flights to Turkey (one of the few countries that travellers from Indonesia were allowed to enter at that point) and set off in August for Ankara.

I wrote a long (perhaps overly long!) blog post about that trip which you can read here. The short version is that it was a fabulous journey through ancient history (some of it very ancient indeed!) and scenery. It was my fourth visit to Turkey, and it likely won't be my last. It was great to be out on the open road again, and it was hard to pry ourselves away to catch our flight to Auckland on September 3rd.

Cuneiform tablet, Ankara



Hittite relief, Kayalipinar

Kackar Mountains

Valley of the Roses, Cappadocia

Valley of the Roses, Cappadocia

Hot air ballooning, Cappdocia

Cappadocian ballooning

Sultanhani caravansarai

Talking with the experts at Acem Hoyuk

Replicas of wall paintings at Catal Hoyuk

Midas Memorial

Hanging out with the Phrygians

Our time in New Zealand started with two weeks in MIQ, spent in a fancy five-star hotel in central Auckland. It was a surprisingly comfortable gilded cage, with three top-notch meals a day, satellite TV, internet and a pile of books on my Kindle to keep me occupied. When we were released, it was into a New Zealand's worst outbreak of coronavirus so far, and we couldn't go north of Auckland as we had hoped to do, at least until the weather warmed up. Instead we spent chunks of time in both Hamilton and Papamoa with very accommodating friends of Terri's. We used the time to get vaccinated (something we couldn't do in Indonesia) and to work on our campervan, a Nissan Elgrand that Terri had bought and partially outfitted the year before when she was trapped in NZ by the first wave of the pandemic. We added solar panels, a roof box, a side awning and a tent that hangs under the awning, providing a lot more living space. It took us a while to get used to living out of Edmund, but a few weeks of ambling slowly down the east coast of the North Island, camping beside beautiful shorelines and trying our hands at fishing (unsuccessfully) and gathering shellfish (more successfully) got us used to it. We eventually made our way to Gisborne, Terri's hometown, and sat out an apocalyptic rainstorm that lasted for days and flooded out sections of the city. We picked up speed as we headed south, doing more hiking in the Tararua Range and along the south coast of the North Island, cycling parts of the Remutaka Rail Trail and then taking refuge in Wellington at the home of Terri's sister Karen, where we visited the magical bird sanctuary of Zealandia and got ready for the bigger adventures to come on the South Island.

Atop Mt. Holdsworth

Terri on a precipitous slope near Castlepoint

Duck family, Lake Tutiru

New Zealand scaup

We crossed over to the South Island on the ferry at the very end of November, and came quite directly down to Fiordland, in the southwest corner of the island. We were lucky to take advantage of lots of cancellations to get bookings on the Kepler, Milford and Routeburn tracks, iconic multi-day treks that are usually well-nigh impossible to get onto (covid does have its occasional advantages). The trekking has been spectacular, and we are now keen to do many more long walks through the spectacular scenery of this magical part of New Zealand. The plan is to spend at least two more months on the South Island until I (probably; it's so hard to plan anything in advance these days!) go to Switzerland in late March to spend time with my mother, who's living with my sister and her family in my old stomping ground of Leysin. 

Kepler Track

Whio (blue duck), Milford Track

Unusual fungus, Kepler Track

Cheeky kea, Milford Track

McKinnon Pass, Milford Track

Terri and I atop the McKinnon Pass, Milford Track

I hope that all of you who are reading this summary of a year spent waiting for the pandemic to end have had your own adventures and accomplishments to look back on. I also hope that 2022 ends up being a more "normal" year in which international travel becomes easier and less painful. I wish all of you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Happy on a cruise around Milford Sound, New Zealand