The Barn

Normally when I go travel, I try to stay in a slightly more comfortable place with a proper attached toilet and comfortable beds. On the NZ trip, the booking of the accommodation as with everything else was done by the ladies. One of the place that they booked for us to stay at was “The Barn”. 01-DSC05235

Frankly I had no idea what sort of place it was but from their exciting chatter, I gather it was some kind of farm stay. I am fine with farm stay so I didn’t really bothered to ask further just that I heard it was rustic. And so when we reached the Barn, I had no idea what I was in for. But the first look at where we were sleeping was rather interesting. It was a barn all right.But what we didn’t realise was it was not a barn converted to living quarter. It was still a real barn as  it has:

48-DSC05584

An axe for chopping firewood but which reminds me of …………

41-DSC05568

Some sort of harness

49-DSC05585

Firewood

55-DSC05602

Bit of pieces of junk and machinery lying all over

05-DSC05586

Stack of Hay

25-20151119_081444

The lower deck of the Barn

And these are on the ground floor. Our quarter were up stair. Quite quaint and rustic, I must admit.

51-DSC05587

Upstairs

01-DSC05210

Bed no 1 with a settee in front of it

45-DSC05573

Cooking stove and wash basin

43-DSC05570

Bed no 2

44-DSC05572

A fire stove where we have to keep adding the firewood it keep the fire going

There was no central heating, no air conditioning, no tv and worse no wifi 🙁

And then we didn’t figure out the next bit until it was too late 05-DSC05215There was no “real hot water”. There was some sort of heater but half the time the water was too cold and to stand butt naked in the semi open bathroom waiting for the water to heat up? Brrrr. And did I mentioned that the bath room has no door and only a shower curtain?

And our toilet was on the ground floor as well. It looks pretty nice right? Did I mention it is actually an outhouse and we have to brave the cold to get to it?10-DSC05218

And this is the inside of the toilet. Looks clean and neat until we open the WC and realise it is all natural with no water flushing! OMG!  They call it the Longdrop. Luckily it didn’t smell as bad as it looks as the owner puts in sulphur, some sort of worms to digest all the gooey things inside.09-DSC05217

So half the time we were half frozen. Thank goodness the ladies had bought lot of food from the supermarket and for the 2 nights we were there, they cook up some pretty tasty stuff. Breakfast was home made croissants and jam and fresh eggs from the many hens running around.

Now apart from the lack of central heating, hot water, flushing toilet, wifi, tv….. everything else was almost perfect. The grounds were beautifully decorated with quaint little things like

A hobbit house20-DSC05245

Pooh House15-DSC05228

A beautiful little stream03-DSC05242 To get the the Barn with our luggages, we have to cross this bigger stream02-DSC05240

And the owner has to use her 4×4 to send us over08-DSC05606

But there is a suspension bridge which brings us to the main house where the owner stays if we just need to go over without any luggage18-DSC05237

Beside these, there was an outdoor bathtub (wonder who will want to soak there in the cold?), other quirky stuff plus chicken, ducks and the odd cows running around’07-DSC05595 04-DSC05563

So despite the lack of creature comfort, I did enjoy my stay at the Barn. Quite an interesting experience and for city folks like us. For those looking for something different, this could be it. Well worth braving the cold!

Birds of New Zealand

I knew I was going to regret not bringing a long lens for the trip. I was pretty sure I will see many birds and will not be able to take any decent shots of them.

My fear came true on the very first day that we went to the Auckland Botanic Garden. Everywhere we could hear the chirping of birds and we spotted many too. With a zoom of 28 – 70 mm, getting a decent photo was going to be tough 🙁

The first bird we spotted was a beautiful parrot/rooster like bird that ran across the field. This drastically cropped blurry shot was the best I could managed of this Eastern Rosella. This is what I called a FT. A non-native bird from Australia which apparently has since managed to do well in NZ.

Eastern Rosella

Eastern Rosella

But I was more lucky with the next 2 birds at the garden. Somehow they landed near enough for me to shoot off a continuous burst and volia:

Tui

Tui

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

Both are native birds of NZ. I was able to spot the Tui at several locations subsequently and took more photos of them.

On our trip to One Tree Hill, the first animal I spotted when out of the car was a big flock of Helmeted Guinea Fowl. I think they belong to the farm at Cornwall Park.

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

On a visit to see the Glow Worms at Waitomo, there were plenty of this little Fantail flying around. Unfortunately all I managed was this rather “blurred” shot of one of them.

Fantail

Fantail

I first spotted this Pukeko at the Sulphur Beach and subsequently at the Otorohanga Kiwi House. But I hit pay dirt at Hamilton Lake where there was a large flock of ducks and Pukeko and even an Australian Coot!

Pukeko

Pukeko

Australian Coot

Australian Coot

Ducks gathering around us as we had duck food with us.08-DSC05739 07-DSC05737

But the best was on our 2nd last day and we were at Army Bay and the Shakespear Regional Park. Beside the seagulls which were everywhere, there were some good finds.

Southern black-backed gull

Southern black-backed gull

Red Billed Gull

Red Billed Gull

The highlight has to be this extremely rare Dotterel which had a breeding nest nearby and became very agitated when we went too near.

New Zealand Dotterel

New Zealand Dotterel

There was also an Oyster Catcher with a nest nearby and it was making a lot of noise to try to scare us off

Oyster Catcher

Oyster Catcher

In the parks there were other birds like these strange looking California quail. Now how did the California birds end up in NZ?

California quail

California quail

And unlike Singapore, Sparrow seems to be doing well in NZ and they can be found everywhere.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

More birds at the Otorohanga Kiwi House here

New Zealand Day 12 Cockles Harvesting

Back in Auckland we wanted to go to the Zoo but our host said the Auckland Zoo pales in comparison with our Singapore Zoo and it was not worth going. Instead, they brought us to harvest cockles.

I have no idea what that entails. I didn’t fancy the idea of swimming in icy cold water but it sounds fun and was something mountain tortoise like us have not done before.

The beach was beautiful and to our surprise harvesting cockles was as easy as ABC. Just wade into the water, put our hands into the sand and scoop.04-DSC05882

And volia, one pail full of cockles05-DSC05897New Zealand has a rule prohibiting the over harvesting of cockles. Each person is only allowed to collect 50 cockles. So between the 5 of us we have 250. Not bad for a half an hour effort.15-20151121_101954

Our host then brought us to another part of the beach where there was a park and at the park there were electric grill! And boy oh boy, the fresh cockles tasted damn good cooked over the electric grill!39-20151121_112737The ladies also found some oyster at this beach and added them to the barbecue. I think this has got to be one of the best shellfish meal ever! And certainly a very much better alternative than going to the zoo.

New Zealand Day 10 – Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park

Another of the tourist place but we were all hyped up to see the Kiwi. Unfortunately, out of the 4 different species of Kiwi on display, we only managed to see 1. The others were too shy and hiding somewhere in the dark enclosure. No pictures allowed in the Kiwi display area so have to make do with these stuffed Kiwis on display at the souvenir shop.18-DSC05476

Out of the Kiwi enclosures and into the open, our first sighting was this not afraid of human, Spur Winged Plover which was walking all over the place.

Spur Winged Plover

Spur Winged Plover

There are many species of ducks all over the place but I can’t really differentiate between all the different species. Anyway ducks are not my favourite photo subjects so no photos here.

But there is this big pigeon. Also very tame.05-DSC05358It landed on my head then hopped onto my hand before flying off to this railing.

The ladies had a nice time feeding the Kakariki08-DSC05380

I got photos of some other nice birds.

Kea

Kea

14-DSC05415

Kotare New Zealand Kingfisher

Kotare New Zealand Kingfisher

And this Green Tree Gecko which are the only other animals they have beside birds.15-DSC05420More photos here

New Zealand Day 8 Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Before we went off to NZ, my friend said we were going to do some alpine crossing. Me being me, didn’t bother to check what it entails. Only thing I know was it was going to be cold – after all she said Alpine Crossing.  And boy, was I in for one of the best trip ever. To said the crossing was spectacular is an understatement. Words cannot describe how beautiful the place is even though it seems like a desolated area.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is reputed to be the best single day hike in NZ and that boast is certainly true. We started at Mangatepopo. 001-DSC04500

The first 6 km sees us walking through wide open ground most of which was covered with red brownish shrubs.012-DSC04521

Walking along the clearly marked trail, we could see on our right this mountain.021-DSC04543Most of the time it was shroud by clouds and one cannot see it clearly but when the cloud goes away:057-DSC04635What we have is a perfectly form volcano called Mt Ngauruhoe. Standing at 2287 metres high, a hike up to the summit will take approximately 3 hours so we wisely decided to give it a miss. Incidentally, Mt Ngauruhoe is more famously known as Mt Doom in the Lords of the Ring movie cos that where the location shoot was done!

Our hike took us up and up to South Crater but just before that was this warning sign warning for those who are not prepared for the climb up.034-DSC04573Of course we continued and at the top of the South Crater, we were greeted by the sight of this beautiful red rock face the Red Crater.104-DSC04746We continued to trudge uphill. Frankly the climb wasn’t difficult. It was just a long gentle walk up and up until we finally reached the highest point of the climb at 1886 metres. 117-DSC04786 What was difficult was the strong wind. We had been warned by our host that the wind would be about 40 km/hour but coming from hot sunny Singapore, I have absolutely no idea what that actually translate into until I see my friend being blown all over the places several time. The wind was that strong and despite the blazing sun, we all had our hood and gloves on.

At the summit, we have a panoramic view of the whole area including the beautiful Mt Tongariro.132-DSC04818There is also supposed to be a side hike to the summit but again we elected to just stay on the main trek. We were enjoying the scenery and taking lots and lots of photos and group and group of other hikers were overtaking us. We found out from our host that Singaporeans take one of the longest time to complete the hike because we take too many photographs. How apt in our case!

At the top of the Red Crater there was a sharp descent of almost 45 degree. Being kiasu and kiasee of falling/rolling down the slope, I took my time putting one foot forward gingerly while others just ran down like it was some flat ground.

In this photo shooting upward, you can see the almost vertical slope and the loose soil that we have to walk down on.
116-DSC04779Going downhill, there is also the first of the 2 lakes, the Emerald Lakes which is actually 3 separate green colored lakes. The green color is not algae hor. It is actually some mineral leached from the volcano’s thermal area.
114-20151117_123231Further down the trail is a much bigger lake, the Blue Lake which apparently is an old volcanic vent.140-DSC04837It is all downhill from here onward. The vegetation are back – no longer bare land and as we descend, we can see far far into the horizon.159-DSC04882

But the descent was also the most boring part of the route as it took us through 6 km of almost repetitive terrain of shrubs winding over the same area.

We finally reached the exit point 8 hours after we started right on schedule where our host was there to pick us up and send us back to our lodge.

More photos on my Facebook page. 

New Zealand Day 5 Tarawera Trail Marathon & 50k

After 4 days of enjoying ourself in cool NZ, we reached the purpose of our visit. The day of the Tarawera Trail Marathon & 50 K.  A few months ago, together with the rest of the group, I had signed up for the 50K. I must say quite reluctantly. I  am too lazy to train for long distance and the thoughts of running in our hot sun freaks me out. But still the thought of finally doing a decent 50K race in nice cool weather was too tempting and I followed suit. I figured this race wouldn’t be that difficult and I wasn’t too far wrong.

The race takes place in Te Puia in Rotorua. Te Puia is a geyser park and so as we waited for the flag off, we could see smoke and steam rising everywhere. I must say this has got to be the most unique race start ever. 13-DSCN6246Before the race flagged off, there was a prayer for blessing for the runners by a Maori Priest. There was also a Haka dance by the Maori.

The first part of the race took us through fairly wide open flat trails. It was an easy run and most of the experienced runners seem to take advantage of it to push fast. What’s the hurry?27-DSCN6270There is supposed to be an aid station every 7 km. Over here in Singapore we call it a drink station. But I call these aid station at this race, buffet table cos I never seen such a big spread. They have absolutely everything! From all sort of candies, chocolates, fruits, chips, bread to electrolytes, soft drinks …. Just look at the length of the table!02-DSCN6275 34-DSCN6287 I almost want to DNF here. What the point of suffering for the next 43 km when I can sit here and eat and enjoy myself!

But of course I have a mission to accomplish and have to continue. The next  7 km brought us through more of the same open trails before we hit the next buffet table. And then we have our first climb up this little hill. I think 500 m or so of trudging upward.03-DSCN6292This was the only climb that was steep enough for me to have to hold on to the trees and roots for support. After that it was all rolling hills. Round the corner we had our first glimpse of the Green Lake, one of the highlight of the race. 04-DSCN6298

And then we were out in some farmland where we had to run alongside the middle of the hill. Being a coward and scare of hurting my ankle on the grassy surface or worse rolling down, I decided to walk this stretch.05-DSCN6306it was a long walk up and down before another climb to the next aid station and then a long climb down and run over the farmland.06-DSCN6314

Out of the farmland and we begin to climb. Then the cursed problem that had been hitting me this year came back again. Out of the blue, my right calf seized up! Shit! I walked it off for a while but every time I try to run, it came back. And worse it moved up to the quads! Sigh…. there goes my race! And I still had another 30 km or so to go!

I managed to walk on and reach back the aid station at Green Lake. There I applied a little bit of muscle rub and ate a lot. The next check point was Buried Village where there was a cut off. I asked and was told I had 3 hours to cover that 7 km. I think even if I walk all the way, I will still take less than 3 hours. So it looks like I have no excuse but to continue.

There was a stretch just before Buried Village when we have to run on the road and surprisingly I could run. 08-DSCN6349I ran the entire 2 km stretch here. Oh mine, it felt good to be able to run again. The leg didn’t give any problem and when I reach Buried Village or what I call the Carnival, I knew I was home free. There was no way I was going to DNF this.

The aid station at Buried Village was unlike any I ever seen. There was nice picnic table, a long stretch of tented tables with again all sort of food and volunteers in costumes. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. And they served hot tea too! That why it is a carnival to me.09-DSCN6354After this there was a series of waterfalls. Beautiful. I think I spent at least 10 minutes there trying to coax my compact camera to come up with some nice picture.10-DSCN6368

And from one nice scenic waterfall to one nice scenic lake, Lake Tarawera for which the race and area is named after.07-DSCN6339

After walking for what seems like ages I see this:12-DSCN6398Time to celebrate? But no I have been forewarned that this is the most brutal part of the race. There is a steep uphill climb of 2 km. Sighed. And that climb seems like almost never ending. The only saving grace was that it wasn’t that steep and rather easy to walk up. No need to crawl. And what goes up must come down and finally after what seems like an eternity, downhill at last and soon the shore of the Lake and a final 50 metres run and I completed my first official 50 km trail race!

As I had expected, this is a relatively easy trail race. With the generous time given, one can simply walk the whole 50 km and still complete on time. In fact they do have a Walker category which flags off half an hour earlier. If not for my cramp which I still trying to figure out what causes it, I think a sub 9 hours is possible. As it is, even with walking almost 30 km, I took just slightly over 10 hours which considering the terrain and climb, I think is pretty decent.

There was a nice reception waiting for me back at the finish line. The rest of my group had long finished and were waiting for me. The race directors were there to personally greet each returning runners and the buffet table was still there plus coffee, hot dogs. There was even a hot spring for us to soak our tired legs in although I didn’t get to use that unfortunately.

The only bad thing was the transportation logistics at the end. The race ended on the far bank of Lake Tarawera and we have to rely on boats to bring us back to the mainland. But there were too few boats and it took too long to come. We waited for almost 2 hours for our ride and finally when it came, we were dropped off in the middle of an open ground with no bus! Cold, tired and hungry, the group of us huddled around in the open and waited for another half an hour before a bus turned up to bring us back to town. That was a big let down coming after the high of the completion. Hopefully the organiser will sort that out for the next edition. That little cockup aside, this has got to be one of the best and fun race ever (cramps aside). Nice easy route, good food, beautiful places, cool weather, what more can one ask for,

More photos of the beautiful race here on my FB page