Side trip to Napier 16-21 August

I picked Napier, on the East coast, in between sits as had been told the weather’s much better there and has some very interesting architecture in the Art Deco style. It’s also in Hawke’s Bay, one of the famous wine regions of NZ. I’d booked 5 nights in an Airbnb. ‘Lonely Planet’ describes Napier as ‘a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent English seaside resort’.

The bus journey from Tauranga took 6 hours, including 2 stops, the lunch stop being at Taupo where I’ll be coming to later. Each time I got off I’d lost my seat, my last seat was next to a man called David, a retired English anaesthetist who settled in Rotorua 22 years ago. He told me a lot about his private life along the way, which rather surprised me so I reciprocated by telling him a bit about me! Well, we were never going to see each other again.

On arrival at Napier I was picked up by Beth, the lady of the house, married to Peter. The ad for their home stated they had one double room with shared bathroom, which led onto a sunroom and could additionally be rented out if more than 2 people, I presumed if a family was booking. So I was quite surprised to find that the sunroom had an occupant (Beth said an Indian girl, but with her NZ accent I thought she said “Andy and Gill” which was amusing) as there was a connecting door from my room with no lock. I discovered also that they never lock the back door which concerned me rather, so I didn’t need a key. I made a bit of a fuss about this but let it go as they said they had never had a problem before. I walked into town along the sea front, Marine Parade, and was quite disappointed with the beach which I’d expected to be white sand but was black, stony and pretty mucky. The sea however looked beautiful and there was an amazing sky:

Strange sky

After wandering around checking out the restaurants I selected ‘Indigo’ for an Indian meal. When I got back to the house, I joined Beth and Peter, who were watching television, and went to bed wondering how I could approach Peter about the extra booking of the sun room which I hadn’t been told about. In addition to the Indian girl, who I never actually saw, I was told there was an Indian man in the room also! Peter and Beth are such a lovely couple and I didn’t want to upset them by being my usual undiplomatic self and live up to our ‘whinging Pom’ character.

The next morning (Saturday 17th) I sat with Peter over breakfast. He’s quite chatty and we talked about all sorts while Beth was still in bed. I brought how surprises I was about the sunroom being let and he said he’d had to as her booking had come through (for my room but after I’d booked it) when his phone was off charge so he felt obliged to let her have the sunroom free. I understood that and let it go.

I decided to go to the Museum (MTG – museum, theatre, gallery) first of all as was interested in the history of the town which had been pretty much flattened by an earthquake measuring 7.8 on 3 February 1931 killing 256 people. Hawke’s Bay is one of the most seismically active regions of NZ and earthquakes can happen any time. People are reminded to check what to do to survive an earthquake and how to plan, prepare and recover. Upon rebuilding the town, most of the buildings in the centre were built in the Art Deco style, which is what Napier is famous for. There is an Art Deco Festival in the town every February which is very popular.

It’s a smart little museum incorporating a theatre/conference space and library. On the ground floor was a small Maori Gallery, the basement had a very good permanent exhibition of the 1931 earthquake with a film of ‘Survivor Stories’ none of whom can be alive now. On the top floor was a collection of silverware and a room about a Victorian family who’d immigrated to New Zealand. Bizarrely, in the silverware section, there was a young Japanese man playing classical music on the violin, no idea why.

I then took the very steep walk up to Bluff Hill lookout (most people sensibly drove up there) and was rewarded with good views above the port (a Customs port of entry since 1855) which every year coordinates the arrival of over 600 ships, more than 5 million tonnes of cargo and more than 70 cruise ships with 125,000 passengers. I was glad a cruise ship wasn’t arriving during my stay. Major exports include forestry products and refrigerated agricultural products such as meat, apples and squash; imports include fertiliser and oil products.

On the way up to the lookout I’d met an English woman called Suzanne and her daughter Gabby. Gabby had deferred her Uni course and been travelling around NZ since February and her mother had come out to join her for 5 weeks. We ended up walking together and arrived at the Urban Winery, where I’d planned to go, so they decided to join me. There was a pleasant Argentinian man in charge and we paid $10 to taste 4 different Tony Bish wines and bought some olives, nuts and hummus to go with them. I thought at the time it was good value and liked the place which was in an Art Deco building named The National Tobacco Company Ltd.

The National Tobacco Company was founded by a German immigrant, Gerard Husheer, in 1923. It prospered very quickly enabling Husheer to buy out the NZ Tobacco Company which he’d formed in 1913 but control of which had been wrested from him during World War I owing to his nationality. He became very wealthy but died in 1954. Shortly after, the firm was bought by Rothmans of Pall Mall then in 1999 merged with WD & HO Wills Ltd to form British American Tobacco Ltd.

I’d been planning to walk back to the Airbnb but when we left the winery it was dark and pouring with rain so shared a taxi with Suzanne and Gabby. When I got back there was a new person in the sunroom, a 29 year old Belgian called Olivia. So much for the one-off booking!

The next day, Sunday, after chatting with Olivia over breakfast, I took Leo, Peter and Beth’s nearly 10 year old cross Staffy and bulldog who had taken to me instantly and me to him, for an hour’s walk along the seafront as he hadn’t had one yesterday. On the way back it started to hail! So much for the lovely weather in Napier but then the weather in NZ can turn on a sixpence.

I then went to the Aquarium, actually the National Aquarium of NZ, arriving in time for the penguin feeding, most of whom had been rescued for various reasons. It was very cute. The. There was shark feeding for which two divers entered the glass tunnel, however the sharks didn’t appear interested but instead they were hassled by a stingray. I was rather disappointed with the Aquarium especially given its ‘National’ status. I then walked into town, had a late lunch in a cafe and back ‘home’ for another TV dinner with Peter, Beth and Olivia.

Monday proved to be rather better weather and I’d suggested to Olivia that she might like to accompany me for a cycle ride as Peter had two bicycles he lends out. This was brave of me as Olivia had told me she’d cycled around parts of NZ for some months with all her luggage but had since sold the bike. I’d heard that people cycled from vineyard to vineyard for wine tastings and the area has some great cycle trails.

We sent off along Marine Parade cycling east planning a first stop at ‘The Filter room’ suggested by Peter as it does tastings of craft beer (which Olivia liked) also different ciders which would have suited me. However, when we got there we discovered it was only open Thursday – Sunday which was rather disappointing.

Next stop was Peter’s favourite vineyard: Brookfields. This was founded in 1937 and Hawke’s Bay’s ‘oldest boutique’ winery. A lot of the wines are exported to China and London.We were told by John who met us that we were in luck as 45 minutes later a large group was arriving. After sampling a few different white, rose and red wines (one of which would cost £145 in a London restaurant) and more generous portions than the Urban Winery we were told there was no charge.

Before coming to Napier I’d decided I’d cycle to Hastings (that’s the NZ Hastings obviously!) a distance of 20km, so we made that our lunch stop. What we saw wasn’t particularly appealing, probably because it’s the commercial hub of the region, and we didn’t have much time to explore as wanted to get to another couple of wineries before dark. Hastings also suffered in the 1931 earthquake and has some Art Deco and Spanish Mission buildings, built in the aftermath.

We had planned to go to two wineries that were next to each other but, in the end, only had time for one, Mission Estate, which I suggested as I’d drunk some of their wine. The building reminded me of a monastery in the Spanish style. The Estate was established in 1851 by the French Marist religious order and is NZ’s oldest winery with a well respected reputation at home and abroad. We paid just $6 for even more generous samples of about 7 wines and were given a glass in a box, which we both ended up giving to Peter to add to his collection as it wasn’t practical for us to carry them in our luggage.

Peter had been offering us lifts to wherever we’d like to go but we’d both refused, preferring to either walk or cycle. However, we accepted a lift to Te Mata Peak the next day. I hadn’t heard of it so was glad Peter had mentioned it. It was a lovely journey up the peak on a windy road with fantastic views all around at the top. Like so many places in NZ it’s steeped in Maori legend. There were some very fit cyclists cycling up, and the area has a lot of walking tracks which we didn’t have time for as were dropping Olivia off on the main road to hitchhike her way to her next destination.

I spent the afternoon walking around Napier taking pics of the Art Deco buildings before returning for my last TV dinner!

A selection of some of the Art Deco buildings in Napier:

I’d planned to take Leo for a long walk along the seafront on Wednesday 21st but rain stopped play, so I mooched about the house. It had just been Leo’s 10th birthday and he likes nothing more than to play with balloons, and pretty impressive too. I found it completely hilarious but unfortunately can’t post the video here as it won’t accept if with my free account, so posted it instead on Facebook and Twitter, the latter attracting 443 views at time of writing.

Peter gave me a lift to the Inter City bus stop in town for my 1.30pm bus to Palmerston North and my 4th NZ housesit. This Airbnb experience has indeed been wonderful and I couldn’t have met a nicer couple.


Alpaca sausage anyone? 3 – 15 August

Jenny told me that I could have the morning (Saturday 3rd) to myself as she was running in her first half marathon, off road in Rotorua (81km from her home) and Pete was ferrying the girls to netball and hockey matches and no one would be back until the afternoon.

The girls seem to participate in a lot of sports for their young age. Ivy plays hockey, netball, taekwondo and water polo and Cora hockey, swimming and tap dancing. Pete cycles a lot and coaches one of the hockey teams and Jenny attends a running club 3 times per week. Wherever they go they have 10km to drive before getting to the main road and most things seem to happen in Tauranga, 16 km along that main road. Jenny and Pete are English and met in Taiwan where Jenny was teaching English and Pete was working there too. They have lived in NZ for about 15 years, moving to their current home 12 years ago. Pete works as a water treatment engineer in Auckland, staying there in the week, and Jenny as a copywriter for magazines and companies.

So I had my first morning to say hi to the alpacas, get to know Chewie (short for Chewbacca) the one year old Airedale Terrier (I hadn’t realised quite how big they are) and Lady, a 6 year old Cavoodle. Jenny had told me that I didn’t have to take the dogs out for walks as they are quite happy running around the paddocks for 30-40 minutes twice a day, but left details of several walks, three of which they could both go on together. One of these was just to the other end of the road which leads to a car park and bush walks, although the dogs aren’t allowed in the bush. In between downpours (not great weather) I took them for that walk and discovered that Chewie barks at cars, other animals in fact anything that moves. He’s quite big and strong and pulls hard on the lead.

Lady – Cavoodle and Chewie – Airedale Terrier

The family returned mid afternoon and Pete showed me the alpacas’ feeding routine which is basically a bucket of alpaca pellets between them and making sure they’ve enough hay. There’s plenty of rain water around for them in various receptacles. Firstly they were moved into different fields, with 6 adolescents in one, 17 females and babies in another and poor Romeo, the only grown male, on his own. They all have names, after various Disney princesses, gods and goddesses etc. Jenny had told me that the alpacas are easier to look after than the dogs, and so it turned out to be. When I first applied for this housesit there were 30 alpacas, now there are 24 as some have been sold and the others turned into sausages and minced meat! Apparently alpaca meat tastes similar to venison, if you like that kind of thing!

There are also 3 cats, one of whom went awol a few months ago, another called Beast who I’ve seen but runs away if he sees me and a ginger cat called Eddie who is quite friendly, however the dogs have to be kept separate from the cats otherwise there’d be blood drawn! Poor Eddie has no tail as he lost it in a road accident before the family rescued him.

Alpacas galore!

The girls sat watching tv with me (recordings of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces) and Cora, of her own accord, laid her head against me and snuggled up, which I thought was quite sweet. She probably sees me as a substitute grandmother, hers both being in England! Pete drove 10km each way to the fish and chip shop which turned out to be my 3rd fish and chips meal in a week!

Nothing much happened on the Sunday, other than the family leaving at 0730 to travel to the airport for their flight to Fiji, me getting used to the house and animals and driving into Bethlehem (yes really!) the town before Tauranga for a shop at their big Countdown supermarket, which I really enjoyed. The weather was pretty awful all day but I managed to walk the dogs to the end of the road and back, and enjoyed feeding the alpacas. Monday was pretty similar, staying around the house and running the dogs in the paddocks. The dogs eat and sleep in cages on the deck at the back of the house. It feels rotten that they sleep outside in the cold when they’ve been snuggling up in the warm during the evening however, they seem to enjoy it and when I say “Bedtime” they run straight out to do a pee and then get into their cages to be locked up for the night after a treat.

Jenny uses a dog sitter, Jo, in Te Puna (which is where I got off the bus) and told me not to hesitate booking Chewie in as there are often rescue dogs and he’s good with them. It means that I can then take Lady out on her own who, unlike Chewie, is quite sociable with other dogs. I took Chewie to Jo’s on Tuesday 6th so I could take Lady for a walk along the beach near Mount Maunganui, which is at the head of a peninsula. The Mount can be seen from the house and I plan to walk up it when the weather’s fine and when I can book both dogs in with Jo. The Mount is often shrouded in mist and I’m waiting for the perfect opportunity to take a picture of it from the house. It was a lovely beach and Lady enjoyed running after a ball. She reminded me of Annie’s dog, Koura, who will run after a ball or frisbee all day given half a chance. In fact Lady looks a bit like a bigger Koura! Chewie was pleased to see me when I collected him.

The beach with Mount Maunganui in the background

Some of the alpacas will eat out of my hand, while others are too timid. They’re pretty docile although Chewie barks at them which unnerves them. They’re very curious about the dogs and come to greet me when I’m approaching. I just think what a great experience this is as how often am I likely to get the opportunity to look after alpacas? It’s like I’ve got my own mini zoo for a while. It’s true that they are easy but I count them every day just in case someone might have sneaked in during the night to steal a few. I’m sure the dogs would bark if that were to happen and they certainly couldn’t escape as the fencing is all quite secure.

Jo had said Chewie could go to hers again on Wednesday and as it looked like another fine day I accepted. A few people had suggested I go to Waihi Beach, 50 km in the direction I’d come from to get here, so I did. It was also a lovely beach and Lady spent two hours running after the ball, in and out of the sea, which possibly might have been too much but she could have gone on longer if I’d let her. I went into the little town for some lunch and a look at a couple of nice gift shops. I can’t really buy anything however as I’ll either have to carry it around (and there’s no space in my case) or post home at vast expense!

Lady with ball on Waihi beach

I picked another of the walks I could relatively safely walk the two dogs together on and on Thursday afternoon (8th) went to Puketoki Reserve, 5km down the road and off on the right. In 1926 a chap called Henry Havelock Sharplin donated 85 acres of native bush to the Whakamarama community which became this Reserve. He brought a small timber mill with him when he and his family arrived from Staveley near Ashburton in 1912 and established the Whakamarama Land and Timber Company. There is still evidence of the milling and it’s extensive tramway network in the reserve, extending far beyond the 85 acres (10km). Most of the timber was rimu and eventually shipped to Auckland. The business thrived until 1946.

Puketoki Reserve and reminder of its past life

There was a short loop and long loop, so I chose the long loop. It was ok until we met a young woman with dreadlocks and 2 hoola hoops at which Chewie took umbrage. I asked her what she did with the hoola hoops and she said “dancing”. Well, each to their own…! We then met a little pug, which should have been on a lead but wasn’t, and I thought Chewie was going to eat her!

The weather was pretty awful until Monday 12th. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to walk up Mount Maunganui and this seemed the perfect day. I’d been told dogs weren’t allowed on the Mount so booked Lady in at Jo’s with Chewie for the day.

Mount Maunganui (Mauao) is a historic reserve owned by Maori and managed by Tauranga City Council. It’s an extinct volcanic cone occupying a narrow peninsula in a small beach town called The Mount which has a lovely tranquil feel to it. It seemed odd to me that dogs aren’t allowed on the Mount as it’s sacred to the Maori people yet 4 wheel drive vehicles are! There is a 3.4 km base track and several tracks to the summit. I decided to walk the base track first, walking clockwise of course! The views were glorious all the way round, helped by the blue sky and sunshine. There was the possibility of spotting seals but I didn’t see any, sadly. There were a lot of fitness walkers and runners. I then walked to the summit and came down a different way to the beach on the opposite side.

A few views from Mount Maunganui:

On Tuesday I dropped off Chewie again at Jo’s and took Lady on a walk around the Waikareao Estuary, a special ecological area. Nothing really exciting to say about this walk except that it was over 8km round, some of it on boardwalks, and gave Lady and me some good exercise.

Wednesday 14th and, once again, I dropped Chewie off at Jo’s and took Lady to the Te Puna Quarry Park, just off the state highway and recommended by Jo. This was a wonderful place described as ‘a community development in the environmental arts’ with a variety of tracks leading to lots of different garden areas with varied plants including irises, heritage roses, cacti and magnolia, an Australian area, South African area, Japanese garden, native plants, ponds all of which are mostly looked after by volunteers. There were great views of the Mount and coast from the top of the quarry park via the Lion’s Steps. There were also a lot of sculptures and on leaving I noticed there was a sculpture guide. However, with Lady in tow, I didn’t take a great deal of notice and also thought it really wasn’t the ideal place to walk a dog even though they were allowed on leads.

The family was due back on Thursday 15th and, as it was a lovely day, I decided to go back to the Te Puna Quarry Park on my own to take some pictures and do the sculpture trail. I put the dogs in their pen, an enclosed area outside with two kennels, which Jenny had said to use when I went out or if I’d had enough of them. I’d only used it once when I initially went to the supermarket and hadn’t planned on using it again because they looked at me with such sad faces making me feel rather guilty. However, it was worth it for the greeting I got on my return: Chewie leaping up and down on his hind legs like a canine pogo stick, and Lady attempting to imitate him, then leaping up onto me when they were released. Jo had told me they liked their pen, but they didn’t appear to.

The family arrived back at 5.30 pm and enjoyed the 3 course meal I’d prepared for them, apart from Ivy who wasn’t feeling well so went to bed.

It was an early rise on Friday as Jenny was taking me to the bus stop in Tauranga and dropping off Cora (Ivy still unwell) at school. Jenny then was off to her running club, which she attends 3 times a week, in preparation for her second half marathon in Sydney in September! Another housesit completed!

A pleasant little interlude (29 July – 2 August 2019)

I was sad to leave Spike and Ted on Monday 29th July, especially leaving before the family returned, and savoured my last short walks with them along the boardwalk.

I then experienced my first Inter City bus which left Auckland at 1225 to arrive in Thames, on the west side of the Coromandel Peninsula at 1410. It was a double decker so I chose to sit on top, although the front seats with the best view had already been taken. I really enjoyed the journey once we got away from the city, with rolling fields interspersed with lots of small strangely shaped hills dotted about (no doubt formed as a result of volcanic activity) the odd farm but, otherwise, quite unpopulated. I guess that isn’t surprising given that a third of New Zealand’s entire population lives in Auckland.

Arriving too early to check into the Lady Bowen b & b that was to be home for the next 2 nights, I had tea and cake (becoming a habit) at a little cafe and got talking to the lady owner, Jude. When I told her where I was staying she said she hadn’t realised it was still going and that it had been a brothel!

The town itself has a look of the Wild West about it and I felt as if I’d stepped straight onto the set of a Western. The east side of the Coromandel Peninsula was the area where James Cook first set foot and also where the Maori first arrived. Cook named the town Thames because he thought the Waihou river, going inland from the town, was similar to London’s River Thames. The Coromandel Peninsula is quite spectacular, with beaches along the west and east coasts, although those on the east side are nicer with whiter sand, and running along the middle rises thick forest/bush with lots of walking (or tramping as they say in NZ) trails. It’s one of the places New Zealanders flock to for their summer holidays, if they haven’t gone to Bali or Fiji that is!

I got to the b & b at the allotted check in time of 3pm and was warmly welcomed by Stu who was missing quite a few teeth and said “No worries” at least 30 times, which of course I felt obliged to reprimand him for! He gave me a potted history of the Lady Bowen building which had been one of many hotels built in the 1860s when people also flocked to the area in the hope of becoming rich on the gold that had been found. There is no doubt it would have been used as a brothel. Stu and his wife Barbara bought the building a year or so ago which was then being used as a backpackers’ hostel called ‘Sunkist’ and rather unloved. They are restoring it and renamed it Lady Bowen as it was originally called.

Opposite the b & b is a coastal walkway, fairly short, going north and south, so I walked south. Along the way was a hide, which I sat in for all of 5 minutes (there wasn’t much to see as the tide was out). I had a brief conversation with a young South African couple who, with their 3 young children, had arrived in NZ 6 weeks before to make it their home. After departing the young woman of the couple ran after me to ask me to dinner, which was really kind but, despite the fact I had told myself before leaving England that I would accept any such offers I declined very graciously. Something to do with the 3 children and my having to decline meat, but I know I should have accepted…

So, instead, I ate at the Junction Hotel which was very pleasant despite the fact the portions were small.

Some of the buildings in Thames:

On Tuesday 30th I decided to go for a walk and investigate historic ‘Rocky’s walk’ just off the main road in the northernmost part of Thames leading up into the forest in a semi circle and then back down to Victoria Street which led to the main road. What could possibly go wrong? I walked along the northern section of the coastal walkway and on to Ash Street the end of which appeared to be the start of the walk. Whether it was or not, I certainly had an adventure and kept walking up and up, negotiating fallen trees at times and balancing on a narrow trunk to avoid walking ankle deep through water. It was very slippery in places and I could have done with my walking poles which were languishing in the bottom of my case in my room, not having yet seen the light of day!

I wasn’t too worried as there was just the one path and orange markers or red chalk markings on trees along the way. There were also pink markers which I later found out were places were poison had been laid for possums. After two hours however, and not looking like the track was going to reach Victoria Street, I thought it sensible to turn back, despite a dislike of retracing steps on walks preferring circular walks where possible. It was much more difficult, needless to say, walking down and I slipped a couple of times getting covered in mud but, fortunately, injury free. However, somehow I ended up getting down to Victoria Street, and had no idea how as I hadn’t seen another path on the way up. Weird! This appeared to be the actual start of the walk, so I’d been way off.

Some pics from the walk:

Anyway, all hot and flustered by this stage I was very pleased to see civilisation again and walked back along the beach, stopping to admire the ‘Variable Oystercatchers’ scrabbling along the beach and shore. The beach, by the way, is completely covered in shells, many empty oyster shells amongst them. An information board told me that the Oystercatchers here are called ‘Variable’ as they’re not all the same, some black some grey and others black and white and only found in NZ:

After walking into town still covered in mud in search of tea and cake I went back to the b & b for another cuppa, shower and change. There had been 5 people, including me, staying last night but tonight just me and an older man. He arrived as I was leaving for dinner but I didn’t stop to chat as was starving and was concerned he might want to join me….should have let him! I really fancied some fish and chips which I thought I deserved and went to another restaurant called ‘Gastronomics’ which was pretty much full mainly with parties of people but, despite that, I was warmly welcomed and served efficiently by the three young waitresses. Date and toffee steamed pudding with ice cream followed the fish and chips, all very delicious and I waddled back.

The next morning at breakfast I discovered that the other guest was a private detective called Mike who was on a job and staying for 2-3 nights. I assumed it would be the normal matrimonial type of thing, following a spouse to see if he/she is having an affair but he told me he deals mainly with fraud cases. He was a police officer for 13 years and set up his own private investigation business when he had a young family and wanted to earn more money. It seems he earns rather a lot now and despite having just celebrated his 70th birthday wasn’t going to retire any time soon. He was an interesting and funny chap and I was sorry I had to leave to catch a bus, and should have had dinner with him last night if I’d known! Before I left he wanted to put me in touch with an ex Essex Police Officer who now lives in New Plymouth, called her up on his phone so I could chat. So if I make it there she’ll show me the sights.

Barbara kindly drove me to the bus stop and while waiting for it I chatted to a couple of ladies sitting on a bench who I assumed were mother and daughter waiting for the bus too. I ‘assumed’ wrong on both counts as they were Jehovah’s Witnesses (I hadn’t spotted the tell tale stand with booklets nearby). To their credit they never once mentioned this until I asked where they were going.

It was just a 50 minute journey to Waihi for which I managed to get a seat in the front of the top deck this time. My accommodation for two nights was an Airbnb at a woman called Julie’s home and I was to be her first guest, so thought she might be nervous. She very kindly met me at the bus stop and walked me to the Real Estate Agent’s where she works as a rental property manager. I left my big case there and was to investigate the little town until 5 pm when she was leaving for home.

Waihi is another gold mining town (NZ’s ‘Heart of Gold’ in actual fact) and Julie suggested I might like to walk to the edge and round the rim of the Martha mine. Before doing so I went to one of the many cafes in Seddon Street, the main drag, for some lunch. Then, afterwards, as I headed for the mine it started to pour with rain so went instead to the library spending a good two hours in there reading and writing.

The town is dominated by a Cornish Pumphouse which looms over Seddon Street. It was built in 1906 to house steam engines and pumping equipment to dewater Martha Mine, and pumped out 7,000 litres of water per minute. It ceased being used from 1913 when it’s steam power was replaced by electricity. The pumphouse, which weighs 1840 tons, was moved from its original site above the mine to its current site in 2006 when underground workings threatened its stability. I walked to the rim of Martha mine and read that 7 vertical shafts were sunk into the mine, the deepest being 600 metres, from which radiated a network of 175 km of tunnels on 15 levels. At its peak, in 1909, there were about 1500 people working at this mine and at the Victoria Battery which I was to see the next day. The original mine was closed in 1952 but was the first to be commissioned following a resurgence of the gold mining industry in NZ in the late 1970s.

I went to meet up with Julie for a lift to her home and on the way she drove me around the town to orientate me. She admitted she was nervous and was keen to get things right. Being her first guest she’d got some little bottles of Prosecco to celebrate, I’d bought some nibbles, and we enjoyed a very open and frank conversation in her music room/lounge in front of her wood burner. That and a wood burner in the lounge off the kitchen/diner was the only form of heating and my bedroom and bathroom were freezing. There was, fortunately, an electric blanket on the bed so that was toasty. Julie and I had a lot in common and it was great for me to have her company and a proper talk.

Despite her full time job Julie teaches piano some evenings, is a tour guide (as and when) for which I hadn’t heard about but worth knowing, sometimes accompanies singers/instrumentalists, does the odd gig with a band playing keyboards and keeps the books for her partner, Lee, who lives in Auckland. She told me she decided to have a go at Airbnb for company!

Julie playing the piano in her music room/lounge

The next day I’d decided to hire a bicycle to ride the Hauraki Rail Trail, one of the easiest cycle trails in the country, cycling the section from Waihi to Paeroa, 24 km each way. The whole trail runs from Thames and south to Te Aroha with the section Waihi to Paeroa (pronounced Pie-rower) branching off east. The trail uses parts of the abandoned ECMT (East Coast Main Trunk) and Thames branch railways, there is also a small section of railway where you can ride a diesel train from Waihi to Waikino.

I took my time, stopping regularly to take photos and enjoy the views. Whilst it was mainly sunny all day it was also quite chilly. I was glad I’d packed my cycling shorts which I wore under running trousers as expected to have a numb bum having not cycled for at least 9 months. The trail follows the Ohinemuri river, through lovely countryside and the picturesque Karangahake Gorge (where there are some nice walks, which I’m saving for another time), over a historic rail road bridge and through a 1km rail tunnel which I was glad to get out of (it was dimly lit and cold, plus I dislike tunnels) and passing the Victoria Battery where there are historic mining relics and a museum, which was closed. Fair enough, I only passed about 5 others cyclists throughout the day.

Some of the views en route to Paeroa. The waterfall is the Owharoa waterfall:

Ore was transported from Martha Mine to the Victoria Battery, in Waikino (8 miles east) where ample water was available, by the mining company’s 2 foot 9 gauge ‘Rake’ line in 40 wagons each loaded with 1 ton of quartz and pulled by one of 6 English-built steam locomotives. Between 1897 and 1901 the ore was first tipped into large brick-line ore roasting kilns where alternate layers of 50 tons of native timber and ore were stacked into the 8 kilns and burnt for a few days. The ore and ash were then transported to crushers, stampers, tube mills and agitation tanks for cyanide treatment. The remainder was returned to Waihi for further treatment resulting in gold and silver bars being poured. After 1901 the kilns became redundant due to the huge consumption of timber (a ton of timber per ton of ore) which was deforesting the area, and a wet crushing process was introduced.

Remains of the battery:

The workers went on a bitter and violent strike in 1912 owing to poor wages and living conditions, which led to a radical Labour movement that eventually became part of the NZ Labour Party in Parliament.

I arrived at Paeroa feeling rather jaded as, having not cycled for about 9 months, it proved harder than expected also the path was gravel. On the recommendation of a lady in the i-site office (tourist information) I had lunch in ‘The Refinery’ which was quite retro and had a nice ambience and menu. I was rather chilly so chose a bowl of soup and pot of tea, after which I decided to cycle straight back without making so many stops. It did seem easier going back so hopefully I’ve partially regained my cycling legs.

That evening I went out to dinner with Julie at Waihi’s RSA (Returned Servicemen Association) club. Most towns have one and they are often good places to eat. While they’re primarily for members, anyone else can go in – you just have to fill in a form. The bar was cheap and I enjoyed fish and chips again (twice in a week – very unusual for me!) followed by apple crumble. At 7pm the lights were switched off, a cross on a wall was lit up and everyone stood up when a woman told us it was the time to remember those who gave their lives for us. She recited the well known stanza from Laurence Binyon’s ‘For The Fallen’ 1st World War poem: “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them” at which point everyone repeated “we will remember them”. I admit it brought a tear, and understand this happens in the clubs regularly, not just once a year.

Next day, Friday 2nd August, I’d booked a bus leaving Waihi for Tauranga (pronounced ‘Tour wronger’) at 3.10pm so took my time getting ready. I was able to leave my case at Julie’s workplace again and went to the museum. Again, an excellent volunteer called Maggie gave me an introductory talk and I checked out the small museum which was in the main about gold mining and included a video of interviews with retired miners, since deceased, a model of the mine in its heyday and some lovely old photos. I learnt that a lot of the miners who had made the tunnels signed up for action in the First World War and were used to dig tunnels then.

I checked out another cafe called the Ti-Tree Cafe for lunch, a popular little place. Most of the towns in the Coromandel Peninsula seem to have lots of cafes, antique shops and ‘Op shops’ (charity shops) although they haven’t learnt how to do nice window displays here yet – perhaps they need Mary Portas to train them.

The bus was 10 minutes late and the bus driver not overly friendly. It had started raining and got worse. I was rather perturbed as the driver seemed to be going too fast for the conditions, probably to make up time. After 30 minutes and 15 minutes from my destination, Te Puna just before Tauranga, traffic came to a standstill and eventually we were told there was a 4 car pile-up. I got in contact with Jenny (houseowner of the housesit I was going to) who was waiting for me at the bus stop. There were police cars and an ambulance travelling from her direction, two fire engines and recovery vehicles from mine so assumed it was serious. We were told it could be 3 hours before the road was cleared so I suggested Jenny went home and I’d let her know when we moved. In the end it took 90 minutes and we discovered a person had been trapped in one of the 3 cars (not 4) and gone to hospital with serious injuries. A lady in the bus told me that road (state highway 2) is notorious for accidents and I just thanked my lucky stars that we hadn’t been involved in it, given the speed the driver had been doing.

Anyway, Jenny picked me up and took me to her home, Hacienda Suri Alpaca Stud, at the top of Whakamarama Rd which is about 10km long. By the way, ‘Wh’ in New Zealand is pronounced ‘F’ so you can work out how embarrassing the name of the road is!

I was introduced to the rest of the family: Jenny’s husband Pete and their two daughters Ivy, 9, and Cora, 8. They were very sociable as are used to Airbnb guests (my bedroom) and ‘workaway’ people in the summer. Jenny who like me doesn’t eat meat provided us with pasta with roast vegetables whilst Pete and the girls had pasta with meat……alpaca!

Hairy Maclary and his mate Ted at Housesit #2 in NZ 19-28 July 2019

Up early on Friday 19th to get to my second housesit with just enough time to have a quick drive around the block in Sarah’s automatic Golf which she very kindly, at the last minute, suggested I might like to use. I repaid this kindness by kerbing it, which Sarah dismissed as not a problem despite the fact she’d just told me she’d had the car for only 4 months! Needless to say, I was very embarrassed! She, her husband Michael and their two sons, Jake – 15 and Sam – 13, left around 10am for the airport and a 10 day holiday in Fiji, just a 3 hour flight and one of the common Kiwi and Ozzie holiday destinations and dream destination for us Europeans. Their dream destinations are France and Spain, funny that!

My two charges, Ted and Spike, didn’t seem too bothered when the family left and accepted me straight away. They are Brussels Griffon dogs, a breed I hadn’t heard of before. Ted, the golden coloured one, is 6 and Spike, black, is 3 and a bit of a Hairy Maclary lookalike you might think especially as the books were written by a NZ author. I was soon to learn the dogs have very different personalities but get on well together, although Spike does try to wind Ted up a lot. Sarah’s ad for a sitter stated that if you weren’t happy for them to sleep on the bed with you then you needn’t apply. I thought I could cope with 10 days of that, they’re only little after all, but hadn’t realised that Ted would get under the covers and lie against my side and Spike on top of the covers against my other side with me squashed in the middle! C’est une housesitter’s vie!

I was told they just needed a 10 minute walk each morning, but best to walk them separately as Spike goes berserk at all dogs whereas Ted is quite sociable, even though he’s frightened of his own shadow. 10 minutes didn’t seem much to me, so I took them for our first walk (a wet one as it rained most of the day) of 20 minutes around the block. Then a visit to Countdown supermarket in the car, fortunately with no incident, to stock up. This turned out to be the only time I used the car as the area is so nice for walking and the bus stop to catch the ‘Outer Link’ bus into the centre is just a short walk. There are also Inner Link and City Link buses, in addition to numbered ones, which go round in a loop.

Saturday 20th was a day for exploring the local area and I found there were lots of interesting walks right on the doorstep, which I later discovered the owners hadn’t introduced the dogs to (well, difficult in 10 minutes). About 300 yards or so from the house (another one storey house as is common) is Weona Reserve, with a path of about 1.2 km by the water which, in the middle, is boardwalked. This has become my favourite dog walk in the area and the dogs seem impressed too – a novelty no doubt!

Some pics of Weona Reserve:

After walking them I went off for a walk on my own finding Cox’s Reserve, a large park with football pitch, lovely tennis clubs at each end and overlooking Waitemata Harbour. When I leave the dogs Spike goes absolutely berserk and can be heard at the end of the road. He is a very needy dog sticking to me like glue wanting to be around and on me all the time. Ted remains calm, entertaining himself quietly but they both bark like mad when I return as if to punish me for leaving them.

On Sunday 21st I went off to two other Heritage New Zealand houses taking two buses. The first, Ewelme Cottage in the Parnell area of Auckland, is only open on Sundays. I was greeted by Dianne, who was very informative as I was the first visitor she’d had and, I suspect, probably the only one all day. It was built by the first resident Vicar of Howick, Vicesimus Lush. You’d never believe he was English with a name like that, and I’d never heard the name, but it’s Latin for 20th. He was in fact his parents’ 22nd child but they didn’t count their first two who died in infancy! He built the house for his family as it was nearer the school his sons were to go to. It was completed in 1864 and lived in almost constantly by the Lush family until 1968.

Most of the original furnishings are intact and a lot of possessions on show in the house, including over 900 books and some Spode pottery. I spent some time looking around and feeling the atmosphere and was then invited by Dianne for a cup of tea with her on the verandah. This is starting to become a habit, at National Trust properties you have to buy your own!

Pics of Ewelme Cottage and Dianne on the verandah. The bedroom with three beds is called the ‘boys’ barracks’ separate from where the girls slept:

I had been so transported back to the 1860s that it was a real shock to leave and have to walk along Broadway, Newmarket – Auckland’s premier fashion, shopping and entertainment area. It rather spoilt things, however I reached the second house, Highwic, built in 1862, and found tranquility restored. This is a very large mansion, the legacy of early colonial Alfred Buckland – a businessman, farmer and father of 21 children (he remarried after his first wife died) who made a lasting contribution to provincial Auckland. He was an auctioneer, selling livestock and produce and held the first wool sale in NZ in 1858. He was one of the largest landowners in the Auckland province, also owning and racing horses. The house grew as his wealth and family grew.

On Monday 22nd I took the dogs out, separately of course, to Cox’s Reserve, 75 mins for Spike and over 2 hours for Ted as we met a lady called Cathy along the way with her two dogs. Sarah couldn’t believe it when I WhatsApp’d her later to tell her what the dogs had achieved.

On 23rd the dogs got shorter walks and I then took a bus into town to post a parcel back to Helen’s of a coat and handbag I decided I wouldn’t need as they were taking up too much room in my case. I investigated the quays, having a picnic lunch there in the sunshine, then walked to Tamaki Drive area, east along the coast, which wasn’t the best choice of coastal walks as I was accompanied by traffic all the way. However, it was good exercise and I could get two buses back.

While at this house I’ve been overdosing on Netflix which has included a season of ‘Tales in the City’ (adapted from Armistead Maupin’s books) and last night a whole season of ‘After Life’ which, apart from the swearing, was brilliant and showed another side to Ricky Gervais. I can thoroughly recommend it also a lovely film ‘Hampstead’ based in the Hampstead of London starring Diane Keaton.

The weather has been pretty well perfect considering it’s winter here but Spring is definitely in the air. It lends itself to being outside as much as possible and I haven’t really thought too much about visiting the city as love being in this area and keeping the dogs happy.

On Wednesday 24th I took each dog on another walk, starting off along the boardwalk and then into adjacent Meola Reef Reserve, a favourite for dog walkers. I took my camera to get a few pics along the way, and met a nice couple who took a pic of me with Spike:

Having reread the houseowners’ blurb I realised they owned a cafe called ‘Five Loaves’ so thought I’d check it out as just a 30 minute walk away in the affluent Herne Bay area. En route I popped into a second hand bookshop and bought the ‘Penguin History of New Zealand’ by Michael King, who I’d read about in Devonport where a Writers’ Centre had been set up in his memory after he and his wife were killed in a car accident in 2004. He was one of NZ’s most prominent biographers and historians and this book, I’m led to believe, is the definitive history book. The lady in the bookshop has run it for 33 years. I enjoyed a cinnamon brioche with my tea outside the cafe and had a long, pleasant conversation with a couple who sat beside me with their elderly dog in a special dog pushchair. On the way back I enjoyed the view over the harbour just before sunset, which I couldn’t wait for as had the dogs to feed!

On Thursday 25th it struck me that I’ve been in Auckland for the same amount of time I spent travelling around both islands 26 years ago on a Contiki trip with 18-35 year olds from around the world. This really is slow travel and I heartily recommend it although I do feel that it’s time to move on from the city.

On Friday 26th I went into the centre to go to a World Press Photo Journalism exhibition in Smith and Coughey’s, which looks like their version of House of Fraser, in Queen Street – the main shopping street and a nicer version of Oxford Street. A quick picnic lunch in Albert Park, a nice park with bandstand that is overlooked by the Art Gallery, before investigating the city library.

The history book tells me that archaeologists and carbon dating shows that New Zealand wasn’t populated until the 13th century, the first people (Maori) who bravely sailed from various Polynesian islands (likely Tonga, Samoa, Uvea and Futuna) not knowing there would be other land and navigating by the stars. On Sunday 28th I took myself off to the Maritime Museum to see replicas of the boats they sailed in, details of Captain Cook’s voyages and others who landed in the country, a lovely exhibition devoted to the Europeans who first colonised New Zealand with some personal stories, replicas of the cabins and conditions they would have had in the 1860s and a contrasting cabin from the 20th century. There were exhibits on whaling, ferries, the Americas Cup and the sailing Round the World record breakers.

I then had a wander around Wynyard Quarter, a reclaimed piece of land by the quays which reminded me a little of St. Katherine’s dock, London with lots of eateries and millionaires’ yachts. There have been some new hotels and apartments built in advance of the 2021 Americas Cup and it’s all rather smart.

I went back ‘home’ for my last night at this housesit which I’ve very much enjoyed.

Rain and shine

The days seem to be alternating between rain and sun but, considering it’s winter, it’s not been too cold although New Zealanders would disagree. On rainy days (often torrential) I generally hang around the house (not a bad place to do that) reading, writing, planning and keeping the cats company. On sunny, dry days, I get out and about.

On google maps I noticed Swanson is on a circular scenic drive route so, on Thursday 11th July, took the Toyota out for a spin to Bethells Beach in a little place called Te Henga, not far south of Muriwai where I was last Sunday. More volcanic black sand and, having walked to the beach by negotiating paths over steep sand dunes, I realised I could have parked elsewhere to get to it on the flat! Not far away was a walk to a lake called Lake Wainamu. The suggested path went across a stream, deeper than my shoes, so decided to do the alternative route over one very steep sand dune. At the top, there was no sign of the lake and, as by then I was pretty hot, I decided to give up and return to the car.

Next port of call was Aratiki Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, just west of Swanson, rainforest replete with a variety of flora and fauna and home to the huge kauri tree. Unfortunately the incurable kauri dieback disease is killing kauri here so most of the forested areas have been closed off, and where there are paths it’s necessary to scrub your boots and spray them with the equipment provided at each end. Just like we did some years ago in England.

I walked along a track called the Beveridge track, so called after a ranger called John Beveridge who’d worked there for many years. At the start were handy information panels by the various trees explaining the uses made of them by the Maori people such as medicinal, instrument making and utensils. The path was pretty enclosed by trees but here and there were glimpses of the coast and the lower reservoir, one of three main ones, supplying water to the area. Along the way I met a lady called Elsa and her dog Banjo. We had a lovely conversation and it transpired that she’s off to Ossett in Yorkshire at the end of the month to visit an elderly aunt who will help her with research for a biography she’s writing about her late mother. Her parents came from Southampton and Bedford.

I had planned to go on to Titirangi but, after the long chat with Elsa and finishing the walk, decided to drive back ‘home’ before the sun set.

Friday 12th was rainy but Saturday 13th was lovely so I picked one of the heritage walks listed on Auckland Council’s brilliant website: the weirdly titled ‘Farms and Ballast Pit Walk’ and took the train from Swanson to Mount Eden for the start nearby. The walk highlighted three families, and where they had lived, who had settled in the area in the 19th century to farm the land, which of course now is more residential, having been acquired by the Crown in 1841. The area had a nice feel to it and is clearly upmarket with Mount Albert, a volcanic cone, dominating (Owairaka, its Maori name) offering wonderful views and a good place for lunch.

Towards the end of the walk was Alberton House, which belonged to Allen Kerry Taylor, one of several brothers of Scottish descent who inherited money from their father, a colonel in the British Army stationed in India. The house is now owned by Heritage New Zealand, the equivalent of our National Trust, which has a reciprocal agreement to allow members in free. Before leaving England I had cancelled renewal of my NT membership but heard from a friend that members could get in free in NZ and Australia so kept it going.

I loved the house and was welcomed initially by Randall, the manager, and given an introduction by an elderly volunteer called Bet, with whom I had a long conversation. The house had a really nice old smell to it, the like of which I’d never experienced, and 18 rooms. Mr Taylor had had a large family, 10 children, several of whom died young and was very much the local squire, holding lavish garden parties and dances. Randall told me to look out for the BBC dramatisation of ‘The Luminaries’ (a book I’m reading at time of writing) which won the Booker Prize in 2013 for its author, Eleanor Catton born in Canada but brought up in New Zealand. It’s to be shown next March and the ballroom in the house was used as a bar in Dunedin. Apparently Griff Rhys Jones was also filming there a month ago as part of a series he’s doing travelling round NZ, so that will be worth looking out for too.

I happened to be the last person in the house and to top off a lovely afternoon Randall offered me a cup of Earl Grey tea and biscuits and I sat on the verandah with him and Bet chatting for a while as the sun started to sink. Another perfect afternoon.

Wimbledon has been on since before I left home and, by chance, I’d been waking in the middle of the night so watched some on TV from bed. The highlight was waking at 0420 during the men’s final at 2:1 to Djokovic v Federer in the 5th set. It was worth missing some sleep for the outstanding tennis from both players.

Monday 15th lent itself really well to another scenic drive and it turned out to be t-shirt weather. Piha was the first stop, another beautiful beach. However, it has wild surf and strong undercurrents with its own reality TV show called ‘Piha Rescue’. There was a nice walk over the clifftop to a good vantage point and I watched as people chanced their luck walking on rocks near the crashing waves as if daring them not to drag them in. Why are there always people who feel they’re invincible?

Next was another beach called Karekare, not as scenic as Piha and in 1825 it was the site of a massacre of the local Maori tribe by an invading one. It’s one of the most dangerous beaches in the country and not the best place for a swim. It has featured in several films, perhaps the most famous being ‘The Piano’.

Then I made it to Titirangi which sounded charming but was nothing to write home about. However, I called into the Te Uru Waitekere Contemporary Art Gallery which was worthwhile.

Tuesday 16th I spent cleaning, packing and making soup for the family’s return from Bali, whose flight was due at 0400 arriving home just before 0500. I got up and after welcoming the family home and a chat, Paul drove me to the station to get a commuter train just before 0700 to Britomart, the end of the line in the city centre. I’d booked 2 nights in the Ibis Budget hotel which was just a short walk from the station. After checking in and some breakfast in the nice little Sunflower Cafe, which I visited the next two mornings, I went to the Auckland Art Gallery.

Most of the museums in Auckland are free to residents, donation requested of other New Zealanders and generally a fee of $20 for everyone else. On this occasion there was also an exhibition of an artist called Frances Hodgkins, who I’d never heard of, a New Zealander who left for Europe aged 32 where most of her art (and prolific it is) was done. She lived in England, particularly Cornwall, for quite some time but loved France and Morocco and moved around very regularly. So I stumped up an extra $8 to include that exhibition too. Her work is very colourful – mainly landscapes and still life. I liked it and think she must have been quite an interesting woman.

I came across the work of two of New Zealand’s famous 19th century artists, Gottfried Lindauer and Charles Goldie who both painted portraits of Maori people and scenes. I absolutely loved their work. One of them even showed tattooing in progress using those lethal tools I’d seen in the Museum – interesting!

The Tohunga-ta-mojo at work (master tattooist) by Gottfried Lindauer (1839-1926)
A close up of the pain he’s going through.
Portrait of Patara Te Tuni (high ranking Maori) by Charles F. Goldie in 1908

I took advantage of a free private guided tour around some of the highlights of the gallery with a volunteer called Pleasance who went well over her normal allotted time as I kept asking questions. A nice experience followed by a shorter free talk on a few of Frances Hodgkins’ paintings. The gallery was a nice mix of old and new New Zealand art, some European art – one of my favourites being ‘For of such is the kingdom of heaven’ by an English painter called Frank Bramley (1857-1915). I also learnt about a movement called ‘The Guerilla Girls’ – a. group of women who wore guerilla masks while protesting in the ‘80s about the fact there were so few female artists represented in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The gallery had been refurbished 5 years ago and, I understand, is a vast improvement on the original.

‘For of such is the kingdom of heaven’ by Frank Bramley

Later I took a bus to meet Sarah and Michael, homeowners of my next sit in the West Mere area of Auckland and their two Brussels Griffon dogs, Ted and Spike.

Thursday 18th turned out to be mainly glorious with the odd spit of rain. I got an 11am ferry to Devonport, on the North Shore, a mere 10 minute journey for the amazing cost of $4.90 (approx £2.65). In fact, at this juncture I must just say how very impressed I am with public transport in Auckland, not just for the cheapness but the variety, cleanliness and, in the main, its punctuality. When I’ve mentioned this to local people they’ve looked at me as if I’m crazy – I guess they haven’t experienced the London equivalent. Of course, this doesn’t extend to the rest of the mainland where to explore in any depth a car is vital. There’s a very good bus service between cities and some trains but not much else. That’s why, for me, it’s been much appreciated when the use of a car has been thrown in at housesits.

As soon as I got to Devonport I meandered east along King Edward Parade which afforded some lovely views across the water with the Sky Tower, as ever, dominating the skyline. I couldn’t help but marvel at some of the amazing homes that were overlooking the sea and Auckland’s CBD (central business district). It also struck me how very peaceful the place was. What a great place to live, and how wonderful to commute by ferry, which runs from very early until late at night 7 days a week. Do they know how lucky they are, I wondered?

At the end of the Parade was Torpedo Bay and its Navy Museum, Devonport being the home of the Royal New Zealand Navy. For once, entry was free to all and although I thought I’d find it boring it really wasn’t. It was a fascinating place and explored NZ’s naval contribution to the two World Wars and all conflicts the country involved itself in afterwards. It catered very well for children too as most museums do nowadays.

Just around the corner was the entrance to North Head Historic Reserve or, to give it its Maori name, Maungauika (Uika’s mountain) one of the oldest volcanic cones in the Auckland volcanic field and one of three in Devonport. It is considered the most significant coastal defence site in the country. It was a lovely walk round and up to the summit with great views of some of the Hauraki Gulf islands such as Rangitoto, Waiheke and Brown island and even to the Coromandel Peninsular . There were a lot of military tunnels to explore, connecting bunkers, empty gun emplacements and lookouts.

After an enjoyable amble I walked to Cheltenham Beach along Cheltenham Road having been told by a lady (who took a not too good a picture of me by the road sign) that this was a must see. Well, it wouldn’t rate in the top 10 of NZ’s beaches but, obviously, I had to go there! I walked the length of the sandy beach, again looking in wonderment at the houses located right on the beach, and then on the rocky outcrop around the headland until access ended. On the way I saw a couple of wading birds with long red beaks and tried to get closer to take a pic, not having invested in a zoomier lens (mainly because of its weight) than the one that came with my camera. Having looked them up later online I discovered they were Oystercatchers! Well my knowledge of birds is mainly limited to robins, blackbirds, sparrows and magpies back home and I’ve always had a hopeless capacity for including more!

By this time, having skipped lunch, I rather fancied afternoon tea but the cafe I stumbled upon, although offering a cream tea, had a strong smell of fried food emanating from it which I decided would remove the pleasure of a cup of Earl Grey and a scone. So they missed out on my patronage!

The other main volcanic cone in Devonport is Mount Victoria, another ‘must visit/climb’ for the views. I did, but by this time it was getting cloudy so the views weren’t as good as earlier. Back down to the main road, Victoria Road, very Victorian and Art Deco with, allegedly, Australiasia’s oldest purpose built cinema, the Victoria, built in 1912 and, after the longed for cup of Earl Grey tea and a nice cake, I went to see the enchanting ‘The Lion King’ film there before catching an 8.15pm ferry back and a microwave dinner in my hotel room!

Goodbye pommy summer, hello Kiwi winter

After greeting Annie, Bath homeowner, back from her hols and sharing dinner with her I spent two nights at Helen and Richard’s sorting out my baggage for NZ and saying a final goodbye over a dinner of Waitrose Indian food and a few glasses of Prosecco. Then it was four nights at Margaret and Paul’s, enjoying drinks and food in their lovely garden and a trip to the Cranleigh Country Show, a particular highlight. Margaret was happy to drive me to the airport but I decided to take the train from Farnham to Woking and from there a National Express coach to Heathrow.

I flew with Thai Airways via Bangkok where there was a 4 hour wait. I’d left Heathrow at 2200 on Tuesday 2 July and arrived into Auckland at 1130 on Thursday 4 July. A pre-booked Sky Bus into the centre, inner city link bus to the Ponsonby area and a short walk got me to the Great Ponsonby Arthotel, which I’d booked for two nights and looked quirkier online that it actually was. I had arrived in the rain which only got heavier as the afternoon progressed into evening. I felt ok until I laid down, waking up at 2100! Too tired and wet outside to bother going out for dinner, I showered and went to bed only to keep waking up through the night.

At 1030, after my first, delicious, kiwi breakfast, I was picked up by Kerry, houseowner of my first housesit in NZ located in Swanson, western suburb of Auckland. She told me it was unfortunate I’d arrived on the “crappiest” day weather-wise! I liked her immediately and knew I’d hit the jackpot when she showed me round the family’s executive home – a huge bungalow. I met the four cats, all rescued, and the quirks of the home and cats’ routine was explained.

My charges, from left, Phoebe, Sammy, Bing and Mama

I took the Metro back into the centre as Kerry had a lot to do before leaving with the family the next morning. Swanson is the end of the western metro line, just under an hour from the centre, and the station a 10 minute walk from the housesit. I spent the rest of the day orientating myself in the centre, walking back to the guesthouse and eating dinner in an Italian restaurant .

Next morning, Saturday 6 July, I got up at 0630 arriving at Kerry’s just after 0900. I met her husband Paul (a Croatian who used to play cricket for his country) and their delightful children Ryan (15), Troy (13) and daughter Taylor (10). I had a lovely conversation with Ryan who’s really into history and researching his and the family’s ancestry. They left by taxis at 1000 but I had to call them back as one big suitcase had been left behind! Good job they had a housesitter to notice!

The home has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a huge kitchen/diner and pool. I could fit my downstairs into their garage! How lucky am I?

The kitchen diner!

I had been loaned their Toyota Highlander so drove it very carefully to Pak ‘n’ Save, the NZ equivalent of Aldi/Lidl to get some groceries.

Next day, Sunday 7th, was forecast sunny so I packed a sandwich and drove to Muriwai Beach, 28 km from the house on the west coast. There’s no public transport there so I was grateful of the car and impressed there was no parking charge at the car park. The beach (black volcanic sand) had a few dog walkers, brave surfers in the sea and hang gliders leaping off the hilltop. The area is well known for its clifftop gannet colonies although busiest from August and I took a walk along the marked route to see them, then found a lovely bench made from two wooden surfboards in memory of Adam Strange, a surfer who died aged 48.

Monday 8th turned out to be rainy so I went to the Auckland Memorial Museum to be educated a little. The ground floor concentrated on Maori and Pacific Island cultures, the first floor natural history with a fantastic section on volcanoes and the top floor dedicated to the two World Wars. There was also an interesting exhibition: ‘Carried Away:Bags Unpacked’ with over 150 different bags. I thought that my friend Caroline Hartley would have found this particularly fascinating. I know that the huge Maori Court should have been the highlight but I was fascinated, nay repelled, by some Samoan tattooing implements:

See below for instruments of torture, I mean tattoos!
Would you have a tattoo done with these?

Today, 9th, was another dull day so I decided to stay around the house to do some writing and planning. I had my first visitor, a chap from Auckland Council with the grand title of ‘Swimming Pool Fence Assessor’. He’d immigrated from England over four years ago with his teacher wife so we had a nice chat. His job: to check the ‘fencing’ around the pool (actually glass) was in order. He found that the gate to the pool was faulty as it didn’t self close! This seemed quite bizarre to me, and health and safety gone mad, but it seems the owners have 4 weeks to put it right then have to send a video of it to the council with a fee of $65!

Joy of joys, I discovered I could access Wimbledon via TVNZ on my iPad free. Only thing is it starts at 11.15pm! I envisage doing night duty for the semis and finals!

Feeling in need of some fresh air, I took myself off for a fairly uninteresting four mile walk in the local area.

Things I’ve learnt so far on this journey:

Auckland is very hilly, not surprisingly given that it was formed by volcanoes. I’m reminded a little of San Francisco.

An AT Hop card is Auckland’s equivalent of London’s Oyster Card and you must ‘Tag on’ and ‘Tag off’ before and after each journey. It can be used for trains, buses and some ferries.

The Skytower is the main landmark in the centre of Auckland and can be seen from miles away.

You can get ‘Marmite’ here after all but it’s called ‘My Mate’!

And ladies, if you need your vagina tightened then Bangkok is the place to go! (I know, trust me!)

Housesits in England 2019

Housesits in England 2019

At time of writing I’m on my 10th, and final, housesit in the UK before travelling to New Zealand on 2 July. The time has gone so fast, I can’t believe it. Having posted from all these sits on Facebook I’ll just précis them here.  Thus far I’ve received 5 star reports from the owners who would have me back and who I’d be very pleased to return to, pending future availability in the UK. This housesitting lifestyle is a fabulous way of making new friends as well as enjoying the company of other people’s pets and living in a variety of different homes for free!

Housesit #1 was in Kemsing, near Sevenoaks, from 12 January- 1 February. Unfortunately there were no animals as the owners’ (Nic and Steve) dog had died the year before and their cat had to be put down before I sat. I was so pleased they still wanted me to sit and Steve, a retired Met Police Officer, had selected me pretty quickly. I’ll be for ever grateful that he set the ball rolling! While there I was able to see Shaun, catch up with Jill and Robert in Sevenoaks (joining Jill at her personal training sessions), go to see ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ (musical based on ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) at the Coliseum with Jill and do some great walks as the house backed on to the Pilgrim’s Way and North Downs. One walk I did was:
There was Netflix in the house so I gorged on both seasons of ‘The Crown’ and some of ‘Peaky Blinders’. The sit was during really cold weather, but that didn’t stop me going out for walks. While there I also visited Hev and her dog Ajay in advance of sit #6 in Bognor Regis, met up with Sue in London and popped to Hastings to see Felicity for a day.

Before the next housesit I had 3 nights adrift so stayed for 2 in an Airbnb near Margate, visiting the Tate Gallery there (not overly impressed) and Broadstairs, where we spent many family holidays and remains a special place for me. The third night I spent at my cousin, Allister’s, and wife Bernice in Luton who I hadn’t seen for many years. 

Housesit #2 was, to date, the longest sit. This was near Evesham from 4 February – 8 March. The owners, Rose and Bob, were quite delightful (as were Nic and Steve) and I instantly felt I’d known them for years. Having met them in advance of sitting, I arrived the afternoon before they left for New Zealand. I took Dougal (their 3 year old Tibetan Terrier) out for a trial walk while Rose and Bob watched from the window. He didn’t want to go with me at first, but was eventually persuaded. Dougal has a fixation with tennis balls and as long as you kicked it (which he seemed to prefer) or threw it he was happy. Only thing was, he wouldn’t bring it back although I did manage to get him to bring back sticks by the end of my stay. I was encouraged to invite friends to stay, to keep me company, which is quite unusual and I was glad of weekends with Annie, Nicki, Trish and Helen, also day visits from Monica and Mel, Karen and Ann and a meet up with Heather and her dog Ruby who sadly didn’t get on with Dougal. 
There were also 2 shy kittens called Topsy and Tim. Eventually, after 3 weeks, Topsy sat on my knee for a few seconds but that was all. They were very cute and it was fun watching them chase each other around and up along the pelmet and curtains.
Again, I did some fabulous walks including Croome Park (NT) several times, the ‘Round Evesham walk’ a few times, Clent Hills (NT) – a first for Dougal and Evesham Country park.
It was very muddy for the initial weeks and Dougal got covered in it. I had to lift him into a sink after each walk (2 long ones per day) and rinse off the mud. He also had to be combed each evening as his hair would easily matt, which unfortunately I struggled with and had to take him to the groomers to get it cut out. Despite all that, I had a fantastic time and wouldn’t hesitate to return, just need to perfect my grooming skills!

In between sits 2 & 3 I was able to visit my lovely friend Maggie in Kirkbymoorside for a few days, one highlight being a visit and walk around the Yorkshire Arboretum.

Housesit #3 Gotherington, north of Cheltenham 13-22 March
The owners are Jude and Pete, who I’d also met in advance. They had been living in France for a few years but decided to return in advance of Brexit. Their animals are Fleure, a wire-haired Jack Russell, and a cat called Daisy. Fleure wasn’t keen on going for a walk initially, so I went off for a long walk by myself. Of course, as soon as I got back she wanted a walk and then got used to me quite quickly. It was lovely exploring the area, which I was embarrassed not to know at all despite it being quite close to Cheltenham. It meant I was able to meet up with friends again and one highlight was discovering Dumbleton Hall on a lovely walk from Andoversford with Karen. Fleure was impeccably behaved while we had lunch around the grand fireplace in the entrance. 

Housesit #4 Broughton, Cambridgeshire 22 – 27 March. This was just a short sit while owners Andria and Mark went on a skiing break. My charges were Toffee, a female Norfolk Terrier, Biffy a large farm cat and two chickens in this small village. I didn’t dare let Toffee off her lead as it was obvious she’d run amok. There were lovely walks straight out of the door, and further afield we explored the riverside walk and Houghton Mill (NT) and paid my first visit to Cambridge, parking at the Park and Ride and catching a bus on the strange but brilliant ‘guided busway’.  

This sit was followed by 3 nights at Margaret and Paul’s, mainly to see ‘Calendar Girls the Musical’ which we’d booked some months previously.

Housesit #5 Longwell Green (between Bristol & Bath) 31 March – 12 April. Again I got on straight away with owners Michelle and Daniel who were travelling to Japan to celebrate Daniel’s 50th. It was the first time they’d used Trusted Housesitters. My charge: another Jack Russell called Teddy. Walks with Teddy included Siston Common, the lovely Leigh Woods (NT) in Bristol, Westonbirt Arboretum and Willsbridge Mill. I was able to meet up with Annie and her dog Koura (who took no interest in Teddy) at Stourhead (NT) in the rain and a day meeting owner of housesit #10, Annie and her dog Pickle, which didn’t go well as Pickle bit Teddy on the nose on sight! We did however have a lovely day which included a walk around Prior Park, Bath (NT). My National Trust membership has certainly paid for itself several times over! I introduced Teddy to Helen and Richard, did a walk near their home in Hawkesbury Upton and then had Sunday lunch in their local pub. Helen also joined me for a trip to the cinema on my last night to see ‘All About Eve’ starring Gillian Anderson and streamed live from the National Theatre.

Another night adrift between sits meant I was able to visit Julia, Andrew and children in Winchester which was a bonus.

Housesit #6 Bognor Regis, 13 – 27 April. Lovely Hev left me in charge of her gorgeous Coton de Tulear (I’d never heard of the breed before) Ajay who really captured my heart mainly because his head would rotate about 180 degrees when anyone spoke to him! Hev’s home is a lovely, and extremely well organised and tidy, bungalow within walking distance of the beach. I had never been to Bognor so it was another first for me. I discovered that Ajay had never been on the beach so I introduced him to it and he was in his element. Walking along the prom became a regular route, and I met up with Annie, Graham and Koura who brought their camper van nearby for 2 days. We did some lovely walking around Slindon Woods (NT) and I went with Ajay to Houghton Forest, Eartham Woods and a circular walk at West Wittering where he got chased into the sea by another dog. I think that was his first experience of the sea too! Felicity visited one  cold day as did Margaret, popping with her to Pagham Harbour and Selsey Bill after some lovely fish and chips. 

I had 3 nights adrift and Monica very kindly put me up. Always good to spend time with her.

Housesit #7 Shamley Green near Guildford 30 April – 8 May.

Houseowners Joelle and Trevor left me in charge of their little Bichon Maltese dogs Lily and Benny. Lily, in particular, stole my heart as every time I sat down she would sit on my lap which made Benny jealous and he would sidle up close to me. Their home was a lovely, compact, modern 2 bed house in the beautiful Surrey Hills which backed right on to the Downs Link cycleway. We walked around Blackheath Common, Cucknells Wood, the North Downs Way, Headley Heath (NT) and along the Wey and Arun Canal stopping for a half of lager and packet of crisps at a canalside pub. I was able to meet up with Margaret in Guildford for shopping and lunch, which was fun.

I had a day adrift so booked into an Airbnb in Westergate, near Chichester, in a house owned by a really nice couple. After checking in I went out for a pre-theatre meal at ‘Bill’s’ and saw ‘Shadowlands’ at the Chichester Festival Theatre starring High Bonneville. 

Housesit #8 Funtington near Chichester 9 – 11 May.

A fairly last minute house sit for Sara and Keith in a large rambling bungalow (rented) for their very obedient dogs Lyla, aged 10, and Bridget, aged 3 and two chickens. Despite the short stay I packed in a lot, going straight from the house on long walks with Lyla at my heels and Bridget running off into the woods but always returning. So lovely to be able to let dogs off their leads. We did a super walk around Bosham Harbour which turned out to be longer than it was meant to be as I got a bit lost, and Kingsley Vale National Nature Reserve which was on the doorstep. I had agreed to get to my next sit near Ringwood by 4pm, before Sara and Keith were due back. They told me, no worries, and to leave Lyla and Bridget with back door open as they would be fine. I was rather reluctant but had no other recourse. It turned out they were fine when they returned two hours later!

Housesit #9 Ashley Heath near Ringwood (New Forest) 11 – 23 May.

I was the first Trusted Housesitter for Christine and John who live in a beautiful detached house with a long drive and lovely gardens. They have two adorable Burmese cats, Milo and Willow, and 10 rare breed chickens – Christine’s pride and joy, and some goldfish in a pond. I was lucky to have some very good weather here and enjoyed a couple of afternoons sitting in a deckchair reading. The cats were fortunately lap cats and the chickens were fun. They had a large enclosure with an outside electric fence. I enjoyed lots of fresh eggs with various coloured shells. 
The house was quite near the Castleman Trailway and one of the first things I did was to walk along it and check out the nearby Moors Valley Country Park and Forest, as had planned to meet Julia and Isabel there one day. The planned day turned out to be rainy so I went to their house instead. I enjoyed a trip to Ringwood and a long walk in the New Forest. I also went to Cheltenham in a day, had a nice lunch with Monica, Pat and Mary then saw the Cotswold Savoyards’ production of ‘Oliver’ at the Everyman Theatre that, no doubt, I would have auditioned for had I not left Cheltenham 4 months previously.

The night of 23 May was spent at Helen and Richard’s and I cooked them my famous fish pie as they were both at work when I arrived. This is the fish pie that I’ve been cooking for a lot of the owners upon their return in the hope that it might guarantee me a 5 star report! Helen and Richard had been storing my tent and camping equipment which I collected and travelled to the Hay Festival the next morning.

Annual pilgrimage to the Hay Festival 24 May – 3 June. As always, a fabulous time was had and a great opportunity to catch up with Glenys and other fellow volunteers.

Night of 3 June was spent again at Helen and Richard’s and tent etc were deposited in their garage. From 4 – 7 June I stayed with Annie and Graham, night of 7 June at Caroline and Simon’s in Cheltenham and the next day got a National Express coach to London staying for 2 nights with Alison in Wapping and catching up with her, Carolyn and Jean at a lovely Italian restaurant finishing off with wine at a Hilton hotel. On Sunday 9 June I walked from Wapping to Greenwich and back to see Carolyn again, with Pimms overlooking Greenwich Park and a late lunch at Cafe Rouge. That evening, Alison and I saw ‘Rocketman’ and it was back to Caroline and Simon’s for night of 10 June. Annie and Graham very kindly put me up again from 11 – 13 June.

Housesit #10 Bath 13 – 26 June.

Houseowner, Annie, who I’d met with Teddy took me out for fish and chips and left me in charge of Pickle and Gem leaving the next morning on a bus to Bristol Airport. I wasn’t sure what my relationship would be like with Pickle after she’d lunged at Teddy on sight but it soon became evident she was impeccably behaved. Annie’s Victorian house is in a brilliant location, over the road from the riverside path and around the corner from Victoria Park, both nice ways to walk into the centre. It’s been fantastic getting to know Bath, including a free 2 hour guided walk, trips to the Museum of Bath Architecture and Fashion Museum, walking the Skyline with Monica and a boat trip and canal/riverside walk with Helen. Gem stays upstairs in the house and spends most of his time sleeping, Pickle stays downstairs as they don’t get on.

My charges so far