north to south

I had assumed our journey from the North Island to the South Island of New Zealand would be in a north-south direction. In actuality, the crossing of Cook Strait is from east to west. Named after Captain James Cook, who first mapped it in 1773, the waters of the strait are considered among the most dangerous and unpredictable in the world. The regular ferry service is often disrupted due to rough water and heavy swells from strong winds. Fortunately, our early morning sailing from Wellington was on a sea of glass.

About half of the 70 kilometre voyage is in the strait before entering the spectacular Marlborough Sounds.

Many of the small settlements, surrounded by steep, wooded hills, are only accessible by boat.

With 1500 kilometres of coastline, the islands and peninsulas of the Sounds comprise one-fifth of New Zealand’s total.

Made up of four distinctly different Sounds (Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus and Mahua), it is boggling to think that 10,000 years ago, this stunning area was actually a valley.

Three and a half hours after leaving Wellington, we arrived in Picton Harbour at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound.

As we drove out of town, we paused to look back at the breathtaking scenery and bustling harbour before continuing our South Island adventure.

tropical twilight

On the ‘must do’ list while in Darwin during the dry season is Mindil Beach Market. As the heat of the day subsides, a wander around the myriad stalls provides the opportunity to purchase unusual artisan crafts or that obligatory souvenir for those at home. More importantly, the Mindil Beach Casino Resort is right next door and the Sandbar is a perfect location to enjoy a well-earned beverage.

With a delicious antipasto platter and magnificent view of the descending sun over the Arafura Sea, I was catered.

Another spectacular Top End sunset

accompanied us to our table on the deck of The Vue restaurant.

Overlooking the infinity pool and, appropriately named, Infinity bar

we watched as the earth turned and another fabulous day came to an end.

Sultans of Spring

At the end of yet another long, cold, very wet winter we had a promising start to spring. I transplanted some daffodil bulbs last year to the border in front of the studio, they added some early colour along with the camelias.

Sadly, apart from a few sporadic sunny days, the weather of the past two months has been nothing short of atrocious. Amazingly, there are many stoic soldiers that have battled on through the gloomy days, torrential rain and high winds. Nothing seems to deter the annual display of daffodils and a lone jonquil,

and a kaleidoscope of crocuses continue to pop up in unexpected places.

Florentina iris and Spanish bluebells braved the elements

and a surprise appearance from Lachenalia emerged from a young hydrangea shrub.

We have a few clumps of Clivea around the garden but they are often chomped by our nocturnal visitors.

The Magnolia tree is still recovering from years in the shade and will be helped by the impending removal of a few huge gum trees.

The rhododendron blooms in the same section of garden are stunning this year and have the most delicious scent, no wonder the bumble bees are happy.

New tree fern fronds are eagerly unfurling in anticipation of warmer days.

Another spectacular show from the Waratah, although the flowers are now struggling with the prolonged inclement conditions.

Our blueberry yield was very poor last year so we protected them from gale force winds while the fruit set. It is looking promising for this year’s bounty, now we need to protect them from birds and marauding fauna.

Geraldton Wax and grevilleas are providing the bees with much needed nourishment.

I am hopeful that the solitary oriental poppy will become many next year.

Zealandia

One of the places on our ‘must see’ list while in Aotearoa was Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. For millions of years, native and endemic species had evolved without the need to defend themselves – until humans, and the mammals they introduced, managed to render at least 51 bird, 3 frog, 3 lizard, 1 freshwater fish, 1 bat, 4 plant, and a number of invertebrate species extinct. Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, the 225 hectares (just under a square mile) of forest, surrounded by 8.6 kilometres of pest-exclusion fencing, has reintroduced 18 species of wildlife to the area after being absent for over 100 years. We exited the visitor centre to the magnificent view of Karori Reservoir.

Completed in 1878, the Karori Dam and valve tower hailed the beginning of the municipal water supply to Wellington City and continued to contribute until the late 20th century.

There are many kilometres of walking trails through the sanctuary, we headed up the main path that followed the lake.

It wasn’t long before we encountered a gorgeous family of pied shags. Known in many countries as cormorants, they are brilliant swimmers and, because their feathers are not waterproof, can stay underwater for up to 30 seconds. Unfortunately, this means they get quickly waterlogged and cold and need to spend a lot of time preening and drying their feathers.

When a predator approaches a nesting colony, the chicks will jump into the water long before they can fly and are very good at climbing back up to the nest. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed their adorable  young.

Further along the path, we encountered a pair of birds enjoying a drink at a sugar water bar.

The kākā is a large, olive-brown forest parrot with flashes of crimson and orange plumage under their wings. The word kā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori and so the name kākā is thought to be a reference to their loud call. Effectively extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century, fourteen captive-bred kākā were transferred from zoos between 2002 and 2007 and breeding has been very successful at Zealandia.

As the trail narrowed and foliage thickened,

we could hear unusual clicks, croaks and bell-like sounds. Looking up, we spied a beautiful black bird with white pom-poms at its throat.

The tūī is known for its complex vocabulary and can mimic other birds, ringtones of phones, door chimes and even human speech thanks to its ‘double voice-box’. While watching and listening, mesmerised, it became evident in the sunlight that the dark plumage was actually a dazzling iridescent green.

We stumbled upon what appeared to be old iron railway tracks in a clearing. Alluvial gold was discovered in the area in 1869 and local residents flocked to lay a claim. Two years later, quartz mining took its place with water wheels and crushing machinery installed. Presumably, these are remnants of the mine sites.

We traversed the upper dam wall, completed in 1908

and paused to take in the stunning vista across the upper reservoir toward urban Wellington.

We crossed a suspension bridge, enveloped by dense forest

to travel a different route back to our starting point. We didn’t expect to see the elusive tuatara but the mainly nocturnal creatures were basking in the sun.

Tuatara means ‘peaks on the back’ in Māori and they are considered to be messengers of Whiro, the god of death and disaster. Scientists refer to them as ‘living fossils’ because they are the only living members left of the Rhynchocophalian order. All other members became extinct around 65 millions years ago.

We first spotted these birds while staying at Motuoapa Bay. Though not a native species, the California quail is a welcome substitute for the now extinct New Zealand quail, helping to balance the ecosystem.

With a hint from this Tūī that lunch time was nigh,

we left Zealandia in search of sustenance.

boating bliss

Winter is the perfect time of year to visit friends in Darwin, especially when they own a boat.

No, not that one….this one.

We set off on a sea of glass from Cullen Bay Ferry Wharf

and rounded the headland,

before the hint of tropical houses in the suburb of Larrakeyah peeked at us through the trees.

In the distance, Darwin city cut the colour blue with a swathe of silver and green.

Larrakeyah was one of the first parts of the city to be developed, with the colony’s first hospital built in 1874. It is named after the Larrakia people, the traditional custodians of the land.

In 1869, Dr. Robert Peel, a surgeon with the first survey team, found water ‘…in a gully between Fort Point and Point Emery’. Aptly named Doctors Gully, it soon became a landing point. In the early 1950s, a nearby resident started throwing bread scraps to the fish that would gather at high tide and in 1981, Aquascene Fish Feeding was established. Visitors can now stand in the shallows and hand feed the fish in the waters of this official marine sanctuary.

The Esplanade runs the length of the waterfront overlooking Darwin Harbour and alongside, Bicentennial Park is home to monuments and memorials as part of the WWII walking trail. Lookout Point is a good place to start.

With calm waters and stupendous scenery, it was time to serve drinks and nibbles.

Continuing down the coast toward the end of the park,

the Deckchair Cinema operates seven nights a week in the dry season. Established in 1954, Darwin’s only independent cinema gives audiences the chance to watch a diverse range of movies that would otherwise go unseen on the big screen.

Adjacent to the cinema, Parliament House was opened in 1994 on the site of the Darwin Post Office that was bombed in February 1942.

On the other side of the cinema, Government House is well hidden from view. It is the oldest European building in the Northern Territory and has been home to Government Residents and Administrators since 1871.

At the end of the Esplanade, Jervois Park marked our point of return

as the evening sun cast the cityscape in a new light.

The occupants of this fishing boat should probably have looked behind them.

On the horizon, eight jet skiers resembled the riders of the Apocolypse, fortunately not close enough to shatter the serenity.

As Sol descended,

we returned to Cullen Bay

and another day came to a spectacular close.