Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Helicopter flight video

Well we are feeling truly privileged. Never been in a helicopter before so our maiden flight was over some stupendous alpine scenery, landing on a glacier at 6,500 feet before descending to the Tasman Sea shore at Milford Sound. Thanks to everyone who made this possible!

Here's a video of the flight

Back down to earth now, with a $12 campsite beside a beautiful lake - Moke Lake

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Jet boating on the Shotover River - a dramatic video!

We succumbed to the tourist marketing drive and booked a Jet Boat trip on the Shotover River near Queenstown. Wow, what an adventure!

Luckily we were advised that a small, family run enterprise operates at Skippers Canyon in the upper reaches of the river and they provide a much more interesting experience than the very commercial operations nearer town. Our trip began with an hour's minibus journey up a winding, steep and very narrow track (which took 4 years to build in the 1840's) which was carved into the hillside to give better access to the goldfields. The views were superb:

Once we arrived at the river we were introduced to our driver and his incredible boat. Powered by a 420hp V8 engine, the secret of these craft is the Kiwi invention of the Hamilton water jet. This sucks water up through a grill in the bottom of the boat and squirts it out at high velocity through a directional nozzle at the stern. No propellers or rudders mean that the boats can attain speeds of about 80kph in water as shallow as a couple of inches.

To get the full effect have a look at the video that Graham took here

then have a look at a professional version! here

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Wonderful Wanaka!

Wow, this is a pretty fantastic place if outdoor pursuits are your thing. In winter there's good skiing and at this time of year lots of walking, cycling, climbing and watersports to choose from.

We've had a couple of energetic days, with, first, a long walk along the edge of the lake (17km was about the day's tally in very hot temperatures - up to about 32 degrees - so a swim in the very cold lake was refreshing) and then, the following day, an excellent mountain bike ride on very straightforward trails along the Clutha and Hawea rivers.

At the end of the day's cycle we had a great evening with Graham's Godmother Sue and her family. Sue arrived here on holiday from Scotland 10 days ago with daughter Gillie to stay with her oldest son Keith, daughter in law Andrea and family. Keith, Andrea and their 3 children moved here from Christchurch just over a year ago (they were in the city when it was hit by both major earthquakes) and we can certainly understand why they chose Wanaka as their new base. We're finding it hard to leave but will head west towards Queenstown tomorrow for more amazing scenery.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Videos of Molesworth Station

Graham's gone all Top  Gear on this video of our drive through Molesworth Station - have a look here

There's also a NZTV video telling you a bit more about the operation of this 181,000 hectare  farm here

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Moving south to Wanaka

We've moved steadily south, motoring an easy 200 - 250km each day, following the hills at the western fringe of the Canterbury Plains. We decided against a visit to Christchurch as the city is still showing the very raw scars of the 2011 earthquake and instead stayed at some very remote DOC camps. 

One was next to Mount Thomas so we climbed it in the afternoon and descended though trees humming to the sound of millions of wasps - not Di's favourite insect!

The view across towards Christchurch

Mountains to the west

A weird, turbulent cloud formation as we descended - 2 hours later the wind arrived with a bang
Since then we've headed inland to central Otago and arrived yesterday in Wanaka where there's a beautiful blue lake, impressive hills all around and lots of ways to spend money for an adrenaline rush - bungy-jumping, sky-diving, jet-boating, gliding; you name an extreme sport and there's an organisation here selling it!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Farming on a different scale

We've driven a most amazing road in the past couple of days, thanks to a tip from Tony & Claire in Auckland. A 200km cross-country single-track (and 150km of it just gravel) took us from Blenheim, on the north east coast, to the skiing and spa resort village of Hanmer Springs, north west of Christchurch. Much of the track was originally a sheep-drovers' road and then it was 'improved' to allow maintenance access for the main electricity grid power lines which were installed in the late 1950s.

The road passes through Molesworth Station, the biggest farm in NZ at an amazing 181,000 hectares. Most of this land is pretty inaccessible by vehicle and very mountainous and, by the late 1930's, grazing by 95,000 sheep and an uncontrolled rabbit population had rendered pretty much useless any farmable land that there was. The run holders (tenant farmers) "walked off the property" in 1938 so the management of the station reverted to the Crown and since then there has been a systematic improvement programme in place.

Today the farm is home to 10,000 beef cattle - Angus and Hereford crosses - which roam free. During the 'warmer' months they are moved up into the higher pastures and are then brought down into the lower areas during the winter. It's real cowboy country - a permanent staff of 5 is augmented by a team of herdsmen who round up the cattle on horseback (there are 80 horses and 40 working dogs), aided by spotter planes to locate them. The land consists of some large plains around the Acheron River and very impressive mountains that still had vestiges of snow on them.

We took 2 days to do the trail, camping near the farm station overnight. We'll post some video of the trip when we get it edited but, in the meantime, here are some photos:

A suspension bridge built in the 60's by the electricity company - two others washed away in winter floods!

The car begins to gather dust

Evening light at our camp stop

The centre section of the road is closed at night in summer and all the time in winter
The Acheron River in the valley

Time for  a wash!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A video of the Abel Tasman track

We've posted a short video of the Abel Tasman track here Hope it gives you an idea of the  beauty of the place

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Blog Writer's Desk

We're finding internet access as and when we can to catch up with emails and to add stories to the blog. Some places are better than others:

Blog update at the Wairau winery; it's tough out here you know!

As we're passing through Marlborough it seemed wrong to miss out on a winery visit. Wairau is a family run place which reminds us very much of Yeo Valley - the outdoor restaurant was fully booked on a sunny Saturday lunchtime so we were lucky to arrive early to bag a table. Have a look at their website here

Next we are heading south and up into the hills on a gravel road to another DOC campsite in the middle of nowhere.

The Awesome Abel Tasman Track

From Mistletoe Bay we drove west through the city of Nelson (it's not big) and then north up to the Abel Tasman national park. Here, again, is a famous coastal walk which takes about three days to complete but there's a brilliant water taxi service which calls at all the main beaches every hour or so during the day, so there's the option to walk one way and travel by boat the other.

Part of the track crosses an estuary so it's only open a couple of hours either side of low water and this dictated our plan for the day. We took the boat south and then walked back, about 5 hours' walking, to the camp site.

A brilliant design feature - climb aboard with dry feet!

Di wants one of these!

Hugging the coast as we head south

A beautiful bridge on the coastal track

Crossing the estuary - the tidal range is pretty massive here, about 6m
The long walk back was made rather more challenging when Di stumbled and twisted her ankle, about 3 hours away from the end of the walk. Graham gave her a piggy back though the river as we didn't think she'd get her walking boot back on if she took it off but she was very brave and made it back to camp.

Meeting other walkers

Soft golden sands - beautiful but not easy walking with a poorly ankle
In spite of the injury it was an epic day and we celebrated with a wonderful BBQ back at camp - fillet steak, cream sauce, roasted veg and a glass or two of red win. 'Sweet as' as they say in these parts.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

In South Island

We left a very wet and windy Wellington for a good three hour crossing to Picton in the Marlborough Sounds, South Island. The Cook Straight wasn't rough, thankfully (it has a bit of a reputation) and the last couple of hours are spectacular as the large ferry threads its way into some narrow and dramatic sounds.

After a night in Picton we headed west to a beautiful campsite called Mistletoe Bay on the edge of the much-tramped Queen Charlotte Track. The track takes several days to complete so we just did a long day (about 7 hours' walking) to enjoy the views:

The following day (yesterday) we took things a bit easier and launched the inflatable kayak into the bay for a gentle paddle:

It was really good to be able to take a break from the driving so we stayed at the camp for 3 nights and enjoyed meeting a family from Helston, Cornwall. Chris and Melaine have taken their sons Devon and Mackensie on a wonderful trip through Australia and New Zealand and, like the boat kids we've met on our voyage, the boys are thriving on the experience.

We're currently in Nelson (using the wifi in the public library) and, after replenishing the food supplies, we'll head up to the Abel-Tasman national park for a few days. There's another famous walking trail there so whilst the weather's good we'll do some more tramping, as it's known in these parts.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Napier - the Art Deco City

The city of Napier, on the east coast just south of Gisborne, suffered a huge earthquake in 1931 and most of its buildings were destroyed. As a result the town centre was rebuilt and today has the largest number of Art Deco buildings in the southern hemisphere:

Our walk around town was followed by a really interesting visit to a small Hawkes Bay winery called Unison. It's one of several clustered around the original path of the river that once flowed through Hastings, just south of Napier before it found an easier path to the sea. The land here, known as Gimblett Gravels, was once thought to be useless for growing anything and was destined to be quarried for concrete manufacture until a few wine makers realised its potential about 30 years ago. Land that could be bought for $9 per acre back then is now worth, fully planted, around $240,000 per acre!