We decided to take a long weekend at Castlepoint, New Zealand. We wanted to stay in a bach since we knew many of those would be right on the beach. A bach (pronounced “batch” without the “t”) is like a cabin or summer home. We had heard of them, but we had never stayed in one. I visited the website Bookabach to find our accommodation. We decided on a two-bedroom bach, on the beach, with stunning views of the Castlepoint Lighthouse. The only things we had to bring were our linens and groceries. Other than that, everything is provided by the bach owner.
The small town of Castlepoint is a little more than a two-hour drive from Lower Hutt. The journey is not bad; although, Leslie would disagree because of Rimutaka Pass. She really dislikes that pass.
Castlepoint lies along the east coast of the north island. If one is looking for wild nightlife, this is probably not the place to visit. There is one coffee house/grocery, the Castlepoint Store (they are called dairies here) and one hotel/restaurant, the Castlepoint Hotel and Guesthouse. It is also known as the Whakataki Hotel. On our way into town, we stopped at the hotel for a coffee.
September is the beginning of spring in New Zealand, so the weather can be dicey. We indeed found that to be true. It was cold and rainy for much of our visit. Regardless, we had a fun, relaxing weekend. It seemed more like a fall afternoon than a spring day.
We whiled away some of our time by quietly sitting in the bach, reading, or doing art projects. When we looked up, we were looking out of a large picture window, right at the lighthouse.
Except for some raindrops periodically hitting the bach, it was tranquil. It was also rather chilly inside. There were some space heaters available, but we did not turn them on too high. We would rather be comfortably cold than excruciatingly hot.
Part of what made the environment so relaxing was the water. I mean both the ocean and the rain. I have never been able to put my finger on the reason why, but something is soothing about the sound of water to the human spirit. It seems to “soothe the savage beast.” I could sit, watch, and listen to the ocean and the rain for hours. The smell of the sea and the rain added to the experience and the overall relaxation. I love Colorado, but I have come to love the islands of New Zealand too.
On our first afternoon, we walked along the beach in front of our bach. There was a lot of activity because there was a fishing tournament in full swing. We watched one man for a while as he set his bait, cast, and then reeled the line back to shore. He said he had caught a couple, but he did not think they were anything to write home about.
The fisherman told us the tournament was drawing to a close. He said there would be a large gathering at the Wairarapa Sports Fishing Club to celebrate the winners and have a fish-fry. He suggested we stop by and partake. We opted not to since we did not feel comfortable. Besides, we had our heart set on dinner at the hotel.
The ocean swells were reasonably strong. At times, the fishing boats out disappeared from view as they bobbed up and down. Leslie and I were both glad we were on terra firma.
Since the fishing tournament was ending, people were beginning to bring their boats to shore. It is always fun to watch people launch and recover boats. They drive out onto the beach with a tractor, point the trailer into the surf, and either launch or recover. I assume the small bay is too unprotected to have an actual marina. Also, once a marina is in place, then it requires time and energy to operate and maintain. So, I am sure the locals think the tractor and trailer method is much preferred.
Because of the weather, we opted to not climb to the lighthouse that first afternoon. For dinner that evening, we went back to the Castlepoint Hotel. The dining area was a combination of a bar, diner, and pool hall. There was a more formal dining room to the left as one entered, but everyone seemed to opt for the other. I am sure a big reason why was the roaring fire in the woodstove. We had a glass of wine and a good ol’ stick-to-your-ribs dinner.
Back at the bach, I sat up my tripod to try to get some photos of the lighthouse in action. It was a cloudy, misty, and cold evening. I think that made for a good picture.
The next morning, we drove a little farther north along the coast. In about 15-minutes we came to the Mataikona Rocks. One of the Kiwis in the hotel the night before had recommended we visit. They were an unusual formation. We arrived as the tide was coming in. That limited how much of the structure we could see. The compositions are layers of sandstone that have been upthrust when tectonic plates collided.
It was still a mostly cloudy day. However, now and then, the sun would poke through. That made for some excellent photographs.
On the way to the Mataikona Rocks, we drove past a beautifully green paddock. It was part of a sheep ranch. One could see dozens of sheep and lambs. The shades of green in this country are hard to explain adequately. They are just so brilliant.
Near the Mataikona Rocks was a little-used trail along the beach. Along the path was a sign regarding Paua taking and the relevant regulations. I found that very interesting.
After some additional exploring and beach-combing, we drove back to the bach. Before departing Lower Hutt, we packed some groceries…and wine. That evening we ended up barbequing some beautiful steaks. I am sure part of the reason they tasted so good was the picturesque beauty all around us. The patio of the bach had a small overhang. I moved the barbeque under that for protection from the weather.
The following morning, our last day there, I woke up early. I checked outside and saw that the sky was relatively clear. I had never taken photographs of the stars. I decided to try it. I can tell I will need a lot more practice to get a perfect shot. That said, I did end up with one shot that I liked. Without very much light pollution at Castlepoint, it is incredible all of the stars one can see.
Many of our friends from work have been to Castlepoint. For those that have not been there, I highly recommend the trip. It was so lovely to relax and not be running from one tourist site to the next. We felt very relaxed when we returned home.
I scheduled a business trip to Auckland, New Zealand, and Apia, Samoa. I was fortunate that Leslie was able to accompany me.
In Auckland, we stayed at the Stamford Plaza Hotel. One evening we decided to try the Kabuki Teppanyaki restaurant in the hotel. It is a Japanese display cooking restaurant. Along one of the walls are dozens of bottles of various alcohol.
We had been to that restaurant once before and liked it, so we decided to try it again. The second time was even better. Maybe the chef was more flamboyant. What was the most surprising about the meal was my utensils…I was able to eat the entire meal with chopsticks! That is a feat I was never able to accomplish before.
I work with a Japanese colleague. After the trip, I asked her if these restaurants were popular in Japan. She said, not really. It is much more of a touristy thing.
Following our time in Auckland, it was off to Samoa. It is only about a three and one-half hour flight.
Our hotel room overlooked the Pacific. That provided the opportunity to watch ships coming and going from the port of Apia.
Of all the times I have visited Apia, I had never visited the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. During this trip, we had an opportunity to go. It was fascinating. The Scottish RLS was born on November 13, 1850. Around 1888, RLS made his first visit to Samoa. He fell in love with the island. In 1890 he bought a plot of land and built his home. That is now the RLS Museum.
For about US$20, one can take part in a guided tour of the residence. One of the interesting things about the house are the fireplaces in some of the rooms. Obviously, RLS was thinking of Scotland when he designed the home. A fireplace was indispensable in Scotland; in Samoa they are superfluous.
The grounds are stunning with a wide variety of tropical plants and flowers. The house is at the base of Mount Vaea. He died at the very young age of 44 and is buried upon that mount, overlooking the sea.
Following the photo below of Leslie holding the Vailima beer, I added some additional photographs of the Catholic cathedral in Apia. It is one of the most stunning I have ever seen.
Everything is going to be alright…according to the sign on the Christchurch Art Gallery. The neon phrase is 46 meters (151 feet) long. One cannot miss it, particularly at night. Unveiled in 2015 as part of the Christchurch Art Gallery reopening following the 2011 earthquake it is one of a series of neon work done by Martin Creed.
I was in Christchurch as part of a team preparing for the visit of Secretary of State John Kerry. His ultimate destination was “the ice.” He was to visit some of the facilities of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). The departure point for flights to the USAP McMurdo Station is a corner of the Christchurch International Airport. The flights are on Boeing C-17 Globemaster operated by the United States Air Force.
To make sure everything was ready for his visit, the team went to the USAP offices and clothing distribution center. Those are in buildings just across the street from the airport. The clothing distribution center is essentially a large warehouse with all sorts of winter-weather gear. The gear is checked out and fitted to those making the trip. During the fitting, the travelers are given an in-depth briefing on the dangers of the Antarctic and how to deal with emergencies.
Before going to the ice, the Secretary had several engagements in Christchurch. As soon as there was a decent weather-window, he and his entourage were off to the airport. It is about a five-hour flight. He was to spend at least one night there, depending on the weather at the Antarctic.
While he was gone, we spent time preparing for his return. In the off-hours, I wandered around the city, taking photographs.My restaurant of choice became The Rockpool. It is a sports bar/pool hall/restaurant. One day for lunch, I decided to have a Whitebait Butty sandwich. Whitebait is a small fish, about the size of a sardine. It is a favorite fish in New Zealand. I had wanted to try it, so I took the plunge.
The sandwich is made up of a whitebait fritter and two large, toasted, and buttered pieces of bread. The fritter is egg and the fish. I thought it was good enough; however, I do not know that I need to have another. The Rockpool is where I had dinner with some of the team as we watched the results of the U. S. presidential race. At many points during the meal, there were collective groans throughout the restaurant as it became apparent that Donald Trump would win the election. The newspapers the next day demonstrated the frayed feelings of New Zealanders as it related to our new president.
Walking around town, one does not have to look hard to see the remnants of the February 22, 2011 earthquake. The scars from that 6.2 magnitude earthquake are everywhere in the central business district. One of the most notable, or at least the most visited, would have to be the Christchurch Cathedral. The western ¼ of the Cathedral is gone, lying in ruin on the ground. There are supports in place to keep other parts of the Cathedral from falling. Unfortunately, it is no longer a place of worship, but rather a home for pigeons. If anything, it presents an eerie, but a strong memorial to the 185 people who were killed that February afternoon.
The Cathedral Square area seems to be becoming more and more vibrant. There are several art installations and frequent visits from various food trucks. The Christchurch Tramway streetcars also have a stop at the square. That means people are always coming and going from the area.
About four blocks east of the damaged Cathedral, one finds the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. That is the “replacement” worship space for the Anglican parish displaced by the earthquake. Locally it is known as the “cardboard cathedral.” That is because it is made substantially of cardboard. It is most visible when one looks at the cylindrical forms used to support the roof. They are quite literally forms, used when pouring concrete in the ground for footings or foundations. It is a unique look.
Just a few blocks north of the Transitional Cathedral is the Firefighters Reserve, a memorial to firefighters worldwide. Its focal point is steel beams from the World Trade Center donated by the City of New York to the City of Christchurch. It is moving in its simplicity beside the Avon River.
On one of my walks, I visited the Canterbury Museum. In 2016, Air New Zealand celebrated its 75th anniversary. To commemorate that, the museum had a special exhibit. I thought it was fascinating. As a collector-come-hoarder (some would say) I particularly liked the numerous old advertising posters. My favorite was of the plane taking off in the evening over Wellington.
There was a darker piece of the exhibit. That was the area dedicated to the tragic November 28, 1979, Antarctic flight. On that day, an Antarctic sightseeing flight from Auckland crashed on Mount Erebus. All 257 aboard were killed.
Adjacent to the museum is the Botanical Gardens. At the entry-point, one encounters the Peacock Fountain. It is not named after the bird, but rather the man; John Thomas Peacock. Upon his death in 1905, he bequeathed a large amount of money to the Christchurch Beautifying Society. The Society used the money to install the fountain.
The 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall fountain is imposing. Erected in 1911, it was ultimately dismantled and placed in storage in 1949. Restoration efforts began in the 1980s. Very nearly half of the more than 300 pieces had to be recast. The rededication of the fountain in its current location was in 1996. It is indeed a sight worth seeing. I found another fountain in the Gardens, the Regret Fountain. At roughly six meters (20 feet), it is not quite as tall as the Peacock Fountain, but it is impressive in its way. Sam Mahon is the fountain sculptor. The installation dates to 1997. That is a lever at the edge of the fountain beckoning people to push. When pushed, the fountain comes to life. I witnessed several people do that while I was there.
At the southeast corner of the park, at the end of a dirt path, is a Tudor-style house. It is known as the Curators House and is now a restaurant. I stopped by and noticed it was a Spanish restaurant. That immediately put it on my list for that night’s dinner.
It was about a three-block walk from my hotel to the restaurant. Once seated, I struck up a conversation with my server in Spanish. She was surprised not only by me speaking Spanish, but Spanish with a Castillan accent. That was fun to dust off my language skills.
For my starter, I had to have Patatas Bravas. Here it consisted of hand-cut potato wedges topped with spicy oven-roasted capsicum, tomato dressing, and aioli. That was one of my favorite tapas when we lived in Spain.
I followed that delicious tapa with Pescado a la Plancha (chargrilled fish). The menu described the dish as fish of the day with Canary Island style mojo verde, herbed vinaigrette, and sautéed seasonal vegetables. The fish of the day was an entire sole. It was easily the size of a dinner plate. I was not able to eat the whole serving, but what I had was so rich and delicious. I had zero room left for dessert. The walk back to the hotel helped settle my colossal meal.Later in the week, I stopped at the Christchurch Art Gallery. For such a small museum, they have an extraordinary collection. A couple of my favorites are the painting No! and the sculpture Survey #4. No! by Tony Fomison (1971) reminds me of the phrase, “talk to the hand.” Survey #4 by Peter Trevelyan (2013-2014) is impressive because the entire sculpture is made from 0.5mm mechanical pencil leads. I do not believe I could have come up with such an idea in a million years.
I also liked Portrait of O’Donnell Moffett by Rita Angus (c. 1939). I think what strikes me about that painting is the fact a copy of it appears on the wall of a building on New Regent Street. More about that soon. On the exterior of the gallery, my two favorite pieces are Chapman’s Homer, a sculpture by Michael Parekowhai (2011). I guess that is because the bull reminds me of Spain. I also enjoyed the whimsical sculpture Quasi by Ronnie van Hout (2016). Even though it is on the roof of the gallery, at five-meters (16 feet), it is easily seen from the ground.
About a block away from the gallery is The Arts Centre. The center is an extensive collection of neo-gothic style buildings dating from the early 20th Century. The buildings were severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake and had been undergoing painstaking restoration. The buildings were originally the University of Canterbury.
Maybe it is because there are a lot of buildings that no longer exist, leaving bare walls; but there is a lot of wall art in the central business district of Christchurch. They are each colorful and eye-catching in their way. One of those is the copy of the Rita Angus work on the north end of the buildings on New Regent Street. That area of two-story buildings dates to 1932. It is a genuinely colorful area of the CBD with many boutique shops and cafes. The pastel colors of the buildings repeat every fourth building. It can be a bustling area, especially when the streetcars pass along the pedestrian-friendly street.
The Re:START mall is another unique feature of the post-earthquake CBD. Since so many of the stores in the CBD were destroyed, the Re:START mall tried to pump life back into the area with stores in shipping containers. That idea has helped keep the CBD shopping alive. It is in a beautiful setting near the Bridge of Remembrance and the Avon River terrace seating. There always seems to be an abundance of people in the area.
One evening, even though it was raining, I went out for a photo walk. It was a little uncomfortable and challenging, but I think I got some excellent photos; mainly since I was working without a tripod.
This time of year, the sun does not rise until nearly 08:00. It was dark when we departed home.
The first stop was Macca’s for fuel. Some orange juice and a couple of Sausage Egg McMuffins and we were ready for the trip. When we got back in the car, we could begin to see the faint hint of a sunrise. Our destination was a mere 32 kilometers (20 miles) away, Kaitoke Regional Park. The draw was Rivendell. Many of our past trips along State Highway 2 took us up and over Rimutaka Pass. On each trip, we passed a sign, pointing to the north, with the words “Kaitoke Regional Park” and “Rivendell.” Not too long ago, I asked one of my Kiwi colleagues whether the “Rivendell” on the sign referred to the Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies and books. I was happy to hear, “yes.”
In roughly 20 minutes, we made that often-passed turn to the north. At the entry to the park, we stopped at the information pavilion. No one else was around. It was interesting to read about the longfin eel. I had never heard of that species of eel. Perhaps that was because it is endemic to New Zealand (found nowhere else on earth). The eels may live in rivers for decades before returning to the sea to mate.
Leaving the pavilion, we continued north. In about one kilometer, we arrived at the small parking area for Rivendell. Once again, we were by ourselves. Exiting our vehicle, I grabbed my camera gear. We walked down to the Pakuratahi River. The river water, like every river we have seen in New Zealand, was crystal clear. After taking some photographs, we decided it was time to hike to Rivendell.
Our hike began at the parking lot. We knew which direction we were to travel; however, we were unsure about the distance. It ended up being only about 200 meters until we found the Rivendell Path. We did not know at the time, but the walk along the path to Rivendell was also only about 200 meters. In addition to being a short hike, it was very level. The hiking surface was a combination of sealed road and well-groomed gravel path.
We knew before we set out that Rivendell no longer exists; however, there is some preservation of the area used for filming. There are a few signposts throughout the site, which help interpret portions of what happened in Rivendell in LOTR. One signpost demonstrated the relative heights of Hobbits, trolls, Sauron, etc.; while another showed a plan indicating the location of various parts of the Rivendell site. The only structure at the place that harkens back to the movie set is the Elvish Archway. While the archway is an interesting photo opportunity, it is a reproduction. Regardless, we enjoyed our brief trip to Rivendell.
We walked back to the parking area to prepare for our next activity, the Swingbridge. At the Kaitoke Regional Park, the Pakuratahi River merges with the Hutt River. A bridge crosses both rivers. Over the Pakuratahi River is a cement girder bridge leading to Rivendell. On the other hand, over the Hutt River is a suspension bridge dubbed the Swingbridge. As soon as one steps on the suspension portion, it becomes very evident from whence the name comes. Luckily, the Swingbridge is only about ten meters above the water. If it had been 100 or 150 meters above the river, I am sure I would not have managed the crossing.
The draw of the Swingbridge is more than merely the view of the Hutt River. It is the quickest way to get to the Loop Walk, a short trail through the rainforest. Rainforests have become one of my favorite things about New Zealand. The flora of the rainforests is impressive. The loop trail winds through numerous species of trees, ferns, and other plants that are endemic to New Zealand. Some of the trees reach heights of 50 meters. While the circumference of the trees is no match for the California redwood trees, they are still imposing.
New Zealand is host to about 200 species of fern, and there are numerous species located along the loop trail. The silver fern, at up to 10 meters in height, is the most imposing and famous. The Maori call the new, tightly coiled fronds “koru.” The koru is one of my favorite things to photograph in the rainforest.
Leaving the rainforest, it was back across Swingbridge. At the parking lot, I retrieved our folding chairs from the car. We took those down to the edge of the Pakuratahi River and sat at the river’s side for a long time. It was such a peaceful setting. The sound of the river (I would call it a stream) was very soothing.
While sitting beside the Pakuratahi, I had my camera on a tripod, capturing photos now and then. We saw two mallard drakes and two mallard hens coming toward us. They were kind enough to allow me to take several photographs.
When we got cold, the temperature was right at 50 degrees Fahrenheit; we packed up and took another short walk to warm up. A sign near the river indicated kayakers faced a three-hour trip down the Hutt River, through a gorge. When we got back to the parking area, there just happened to be three kayakers. Leslie struck up a conversation with the young men. They told us they could make the trip downriver in about two hours. What increases the time is the existence of inexperienced kayakers. That day, they were the only kayakers around. One of the young men indicated he might have been suffering from a hangover. He added that he could not wait to get in the river and overturn. He thought that might help his condition. Sure enough, once in the river, he deliberately turned over. I do not know if that helped him or not.
After that walk, we had a picnic lunch and then returned to Lower Hutt.
For anyone in the area, I highly recommend a trip to the Kaitoke Regional Park.