Skip to main content
A Maverick Traveller: The Podcasts of Mary Jane Walker

A Maverick Traveller: The Podcasts of Mary Jane Walker

By Mary Jane Walker
This is the channel for the podcasts of New Zealand author, blogger and adventurer Mary Jane Walker ('A Maverick Traveller'). Mary Jane has published twelve books of travel memoirs, several of which are now audiobooks on Gumroad. For more, see her website!
Listen on
Where to listen
Breaker Logo


Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Overcast Logo


Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


Stitcher Logo


Currently playing episode

On a Kiwi Visa in Cappadocia

A Maverick Traveller: The Podcasts of Mary Jane Walker

Through the Catlins by Campervan
This post follows up my two earlier posts about the wild Catlins region of New Zealand. I went through in a campervan at the start of June 2021. I visit the waterfalls, and list freedom camping sites. Information about freedom camping sites can be a bit hard to come by, so I have made the effort to identify all five such sites in the Catlins. I also describe other camping spots, including beautiful Pūrākaunui Bay, my favourite.
June 17, 2021
Lake Marian: Camping and Looking at the Routeburn
THE Lake Marian Track has lately become very popular, although tourist numbers are down at present because of Covid (so, if in NZ already, you should go there!). The track begins from Marian Carpark, one kilometre down the unsealed Hollyford Road from its intersection with the Milford Road, some ninety kilometres out from Te Anau. It now has a wooden gantry only 20 minutes in, from which you can admire the Marian Falls, which are really more like rapids. Even if you don’t do the rest of the track, you can still walk to the gantry . . . All in all, this is one of the best little short trips that you can do from the road in New Zealand! Indeed, the travel writer GirlEatWorld has described Lake Marian as “my favorite experience in New Zealand so far.”
June 12, 2021
Around Mount Taranaki by the Southern Side
The Taranaki (NZ) Around the Mountain Circuit turned into an epic for me! I only got halfway before falling into a ravine on the way north and injuring myself, so the northern side will have to be written up some other time. But meanwhile, here are some thoughts on doing the southern side. Which is what you miss out if, like a lot of people, you only tramp around the northern side of the mountain, handy to New Plymouth, where the popular Pouakai Track and (Northern) Summit Route are located. I decided to go up to Syme Hut, next to Fanthams Peak/Panitahi, which you can see on the left of the featured image. Then I hiked through all kinds of wonderful terrain, before getting lost on poorly signposted and maintained track and injuring myself, and needing to be helicoptered out. Original blog post:
June 8, 2021
‘The Town of Light’: Reefton and the Kirwans Track
Reefton, on the West Coast of NZ’s South Island, was one of the first towns to get electric light and is the gateway to many trails today. It is the only sizable town on the West Coast that’s some way inland. The town got its start in 1871 following the discovery of a gold reef nearby, and was originally called Reef Town. To this day it’s got plenty of atmosphere (mostly smelling of coal-smoke), and is surrounded by historic mine workings.‍ The town has a lot old-time charm. The 100% New Zealand page on Reefton invites you to: "Follow the town’s heritage walk past the Reefton School of Mines, the courthouse, Oddfellows Hall, St Xavier’s Convent and the Band Hall. At the Miner’s Hut you can sit in front of the fire, enjoy a cup of tea and watch steel being shaped by a blacksmith." There are lots of walking and hiking tracks nearby, as well, including the start of the Paparoa Track which I talk about in another post. And also, of course, the Kirwans Track, which people generally do as part of a loop hike. Original blog post:
June 8, 2021
There’s more to Hanmer than Springs!
Hanmer Springs is a popular hot-spring resort east of the Lewis Pass in NZ’s South Island. It’s also the gateway to a wilderness. You get to Hanmer Springs by turning northward, off State Highway 7 between the Lewis Pass and Culverden. The town lies in a small plain just south of the Hanmer Range, which includes Mount Isobel and Jacks Pass. It’s a short trip from there to the historic St James Homestead, Amuri Skifield and the pretty Peters Valley, which leads into the St James Conservation Area and the St James Cycle Trail.‍ The St James Conservation area to the northwest of Hanmer Springs, named after the old homestead, has a lot of variety of landscape. It is in a transitional zone between the beech forests of the Lewis Pass area, watered by westerly winds, and the more desert-like terrain due north and east of Hanmer Springs. In fact, many of the best features of the area are to the north and northwest of the town. As one blogger puts it, “North of Hanmer Springs exists a rugged, expansive landscape where few visitors bother to tread.” Closest to the town, on the northern side, is the Hanmer Forest Park, where there are a number of short walks, tramping tracks and walking tracks. These include the Mt Isobel Track, to the summit of Mount Isobel. Original blog post:
June 8, 2021
Do we need a Referendum on Immigration?
That’s a question we need to ask in New Zealand. Should immigration targets be linked to positive spending on infrastructure and housing to cope? On last Sunday’s Q+A, most of the panel and the interviewees seemed to think that New Zealand needed a larger population, built up by immigration. Or that immigration-fuelled growth was, at any rate, inevitable. Indeed, why shouldn’t New Zealand grow its population and its cities? By the standards of many other countries, we have the room. And yet, New Zealand has a longstanding habit of failing to make sure that all the necessary transport links, pipes, wires, schools, hospitals, houses and jobs are in place, before the population is bumped up by immigration. As far back as the mid-1970s, this failure to plan led to the rise of Rob Muldoon’s brand of anti-immigrant populism. Nothing much has changed since then. Except that the problem of too few houses, in particular, has got worse. Do we need a referendum linking permitted levels of immigration to prior provision for jobs, housing and infrastructure, to force the New Zealand state to lift its planning game? Note regarding featured image: A much cheaper house than almost any in New Zealand, at Port Elliot, South Australia. Original blog post:
June 8, 2021
The Paparoa Track
THE PAPAROA TRACK is New Zealand’s most recently-commissioned Great Walk. The track partly follows an old gold-miners’ pathway with the hopeful name of the Croesus Track. And it partly also follows a brand-new course, including the epic gorge of the Pororari River. This part of New Zealand is probably the southernmost place on earth where you will find “tropical” jungle with palm trees and giant tree ferns. It’s 42 degrees south. But intense and continual rainfall and the moderating influence of the nearby Tasman Sea keeps the frosts, which are the main enemy of that kind of ecology, at bay. From end to end, the Paparoa track Runs from the historic mining town of Blackball, at the southern end, to Punakaiki, the site of the famous pancake rocks and blowholes, in the north.  Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Greymouth and Westport: The Heart of the Coast
THE population heartland of the South Island’s West Coast lies in the area around Greymouth and Westport, where mines in the hills are joined with a comparative abundance of flat land by West Coast standards. The plain sits west of the South Island’s gigantic Alpine Fault: a crack in the earth’s crust that runs southwest like a ruler to Fiordland, in a way that is very striking on a topopgraphical map. The coastal plain to the west of the fault is nowhere else as wide as it is in the vicinity of Greymouth. Which is, therefore, the biggest town on the South Island’s West Coast, with its base hospital and other facilities. Centred on Greymouth, the Grey District, also known as Māwhera, calls itself ‘The Heart of the Coast’. However, that slogan could be extended to include Westport and also Hokitika, a little further south of Greymouth. Very few people on the West Coast live outside this area, though the Coast stretches for hundreds of kilometres. I say quite a lot about the Hokitika area in my earlier West Coast blog post called ‘Green Jungles and Waters of Jade’, so I don’t need to talk about Hokitika in this post. Between Westport and Greymouth, there is also the isolated finger of mountains known as the Paparoa: these days, Paparoa National Park. I’ll do a post on those mountains shortly, and separately. In this post, I’ll describe a road trip from north to south, starting at Westport and travelling southward past the incredible coastal wonders of Fox River and Punakaiki, to Greymouth and then on to Lake Brunner/Moana and the former Brunner coal mine. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Karamea: A Road Trip to the top of the South Island’s West Coast
Visitor numbers are up in the limestone country near Karamea, New Zealand. Which is a good thing, as it’s really worth a visit! Things to see include the incredible Ōpārara arches and Mirror Tarn, accessible from a road built by loggers decades ago when logging was still allowed. Starting out from Westport, the first place you’ll want to make a turnoff to see is the historic mining community of Denniston, on top of a low mountain some 600 metres or two thousand feet above the coast. There are see-through interpretive panels that have sketches of the town as it was around 1900 drawn on them, as you would have seen it from that spot in the day.‍ And there's plenty more . . .  Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
My Latest Heaphy Hike (and a flight back over the Dragons Teeth)
The two ends of the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks. are far apart. But flying back over the top is just as amazing! I’ve done the Heaphy a couple of times from the eastern end. So, this time (March 2021) I decided to go from the west, for a change, and also because I was on the West Coast already. I hastily booked a flight with a firm called Golden Bay Air, which also does scenic flights, to take me back to Karamea when I’d finished. And then I started walking from the Kōhaihai Shelter and Campsite, where the track terminates in the west.‍ One thing about the Heaphy Track is that the two ends are a lot further apart by way of the rest of the road network than on foot. The 78 km length of the track becomes 463 km by road, a seven-hour drive. It can cost as much as NZ $370 to $500 to have your car relocated by a driver, unless you manage to strike a lucky deal with someone going back anyway. The alternatives are to take one of the local bus services back to where you have left your car, or to fly. A full list of all passenger transport services in the region, both by road and by air, is provided on I decided to fly back in order to save time and, also, to view some of the amazing terrain of Kahurangi National Park from the air. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Thinking Small: How New Zealand tried to squash Auckland
This post takes a closer look at the New Zealand state’s longstanding historical unwillingness to make plans for Auckland’s growth. A COUPLE of weeks ago we blogged about “the paradox of retrenchment in the face of growth.” We wrote about how it was practically an orthodoxy some forty years ago that the populations of Auckland, and of a New Zealand of little more than three million, were not going to get much larger. And how, for that reason, the government could give up on planning for the next million the way it had previously done. And how, strangely enough, even now that we have twice as many Aucklanders and 5.1 million New Zealanders within our shores, and a huge catch-up required, investment to deal with past and future growth is actually being cut back by the Auckland Council. In this post we’re going to dive a little deeper into the specifics of why New Zealand seems to have such a problem with planning for the growth of Auckland, its largest city, in particular. (Note: some quotes appear as direct images of old book pages, and thus don't come out in the podcast.) Featured image credit: The Auckland Multi-Linear Scheme as presented to the Auckland Rapid Rail Symposium, 1969, by the then chief planner of the Auckland Regional Authority, Frederick W. O. Jones. Cropped square for this episode as per the requirements of Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Is Auckland Council making itself Redundant? The paradox of retrenchment in the face of growth
Auckland Council, New Zealand’s so-called Super City administration, has become known for at least four areas of failure in a decade. Why? It’s time to question the approach of chief executives such as Jim Stabback and his predecessor Stephen Town, and their sub-chiefs in Auckland Transport, Ports of Auckland and Watercare, which all too often focuses on short-term savings and cuts. This isn’t necessarily the fault of individuals. It’s also due to the wider incentive-culture of the public service today, which focuses on savings. It’s also due to an older and more chronic weakness of New Zealand local government, in that those who want to put a stop to expenditure are always vocal in ratepayer circles. Featured image credit: Auckland Light Rail, official image via Greater Auckland (2018). Crown copyright reserved. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
A Walk on the Wildside: New Zealand’s Banks Track — near Christchurch, yet remote
It was my amazing luck to hike the Banks Track at the end of January, 2021. It’s on the ‘wild side’ of the rocky, volcanic Banks Peninsula. Billed on its website as New Zealand’s “original private walking track,” the Banks Track invites you to spend three nights on the remote south-eastern tip of Te Horomaka or Banks Peninsula, also known in Māori as Te Pātaka o Rakaihautū.‍ In spite of its proximity to a big city and the smaller, touristy town of Akaroa, the area through which the Banks Track runs is an incredibly wild one, especially once you get over the top of a ridge overlooking Akaroa Harbour and onto the slope that faces out to the Pacific Ocean: the Wildside, where penguins and seals abound.‍ The track, which won a Travelers Choice award from Tripadvisor in 2020, loops between Akaroa and the still smaller village of Ōnuku by way of a section of oceanic cliff-coast in the middle. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Whenua Hou: Codfish Island and the few Kākāpō Left
AFTER my month on Rakiura/Stewart Island, I left for Whenua Hou, also known as Codfish Island, to work on track maintenance. Even in normal times, to stay on the island you have to go through quarantine, which I did in Invercargill. During the process, they checked for foreign grasses in my gear,so I had made sure to purchase new socks and wash down my pack and wet weather gear.‍ During the breeding season of the kākāpō, a rare flightless parrot that is active at night and sleeps by day, the rangers frequent the wooden walkways on the island for about two months, travelling between nests and monitoring the birds. Once they are nesting, volunteers camp outside the burrows and monitor the comings and goings of the parent. There are cameras placed in every nest to monitor the incubation period. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
The Isle of Blushing Skies: Rakiura/Stewart Island and the North-West Circuit Track
THE small size of Oban belies its importance as Stewart Island’s only town and the entranceway to the North West Circuit Track where I was to be spending a few weeks volunteering as a hut warden, and also to the much shorter Rakiura Track, the southernmost of New Zealand’s official Great Walks. The Māori name for Stewart Island is Rakiura, which means ‘blushing [or glowing] skies’ and is far more poetic in my view. It seems to be a reference to long twilights in these subantarctic latitudes, the aurora australis which can sometimes be seen from here, or both. After catching a ferry over from Invercargill, I met Phil Brooks, the DOC manager in charge of volunteers. He took me through the safety checks, taught me how to operate the radio and detailed what was expected of me while at the Port William Hut, which I was to take charge of. Oban is in a bay called Halfmoon Bay, just north of a much larger inlet called Paterson Inlet or Whaka a te Wera. The star of the inlet is Ulva Island or Te Wharawhara, an island that has never been milled and is free of predators, including rats. Ulva/Te Wharawhara is therefore a little piece of New Zealand as it used to be, or as near as is possible today, and is served by regular ferries as it is an open sanctuary, with walking trails. The island is quite sizable, more than three and a half kilometres long, so there is plenty to see. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Canterbury Surprise: The Foothills of the Alps
Christchurch, New Zealand, has some amazing Lord of the Rings country to its north & west. You don’t have to go far from town to get there! Looking at just one of these areas, the Hakatere Conservation Park, it's close to Erewhon, the setting of the English writer Samuel Butler’s fictional utopia Erewhon,but also an actual place. This district includes an isolated hill with sweeping views called Mount Sunday, so-called because riders from several areas would meet up there each Sunday to swap news. Mount Sunday is otherwise best known as the site of Edoras in the Lord of the Rings movies. They say that this is one of the most remote Lord of the Rings sites that you can easily get to, and the whole area is Lord of the Rings country, really. The Te Araroa Trail runs through here, and from Lake Clearwater you can venture along a section of the trail. And also do the Mystery Lake track, which runs along the edge of the stunning ravine of the Potts River for part of the way, and then via the Mystery Lake Link Track to the Potts Hut Track, which leads in one direction to the Boundary Creek Hut, and in another to the Potts Hut on Mount Potts. In earlier times, a part of this area was also a major Māori food-gathering area, called Ō Tū Wharekai, (or alternately, in English, the Ashburton Lakes). The Māori name builds on the word for banquet hall or dining room (wharekai). The area is also one through which people used to travel on the way to gather pounamu or New Zealand jade on the West Coast, stocking up on food as they did so.‍ Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Banks Peninsula and the Port Hills
Banks Peninsula (near Christchurch NZ) is an eroded volcano with several harbours, historic ports, wildlife, and lots of hiking trails. In its topography it resembles one of the Hawai‘ian islands, though naturally somewhat colder and bleaker. The biggest harbours on the peninsula are Lyttelton Harbour just south of Christchurch and Akaroa Harbour further east, on the south side. The peninsula has two Māori names, Horomaka (‘foiling of Maka’), a name that refers to events during an ancient punitive raid, and Te Pātaka o Rakaihautū, meaning the storehouse of a famous Māori explorer of the newly occupied land of New Zealand, Rakaihautū. Legends also have it, variously, that the peninsula was scraped up from a reef, or that the demigod Māui heaped stones over an evil giant or octopus that now sleeps beneath and occasionally cracks the land open when it stirs, a story that’s a little too close for comfort in view of the recent Christchurch earthquakes. Over a long period of time the plains of Canterbury have grown outward toward the peninsula so that it is now no longer an island, just as debris from the mountains has also done at Kaikōura, another former island. The Port Hills are full of parks and reserves, scenic drives in the form of the Summit Road and Mount Pleasant Road, and rock-climbing cliffs. They yield stunning views of the city and its port of Lyttelton, and there is even a scenic gondola. There are also various windswept hikes that you can do on the tussocky tops. Altogether, like many New Zealand cities, Christchurch is really blessed with nearby nature.‍ Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Between Blenheim and Nelson
BETWEEN Blenheim and Nelson, there is a ruggedly beautiful area that extends from the Marlborough Sounds in the north-east to Nelson Lakes National Park, in the southwest, via the Richmond Range. To the west, and south, of this great triangular block of mountains there are the river flats and plains of Nelson and, on the Blenheim side, the Wairau valley. Ironically, though Nelson and Blenheim are not far apart, the Richmond Range is a formidable barrier, as is its seaward continuation in the form of the Marlborough Sounds, a collection of drowned river valleys to the north of Picton. The Marlborough Sounds were once above sea level in their entirety but were invaded by the sea at the end of the last ice-age, with.the result that a series of sharp ridges and sharp-edged islands now poke up above the water. One of the most special places you might wish to visit, on the coast near Blenheim, is the Wairau Bar, also known as the boulder bank or Pokohiwi, an 11 kilometre-long spit with a long history of human habitation. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Nelson: Town of History and Trees
NELSON is a lovely, leafy city at the top end of the South Island of New Zealand. It has a sunny climate, lots of old buildings both in wood and stone, and a frankly amazing abundance of hiking trails in the hills that overlook the town.‍ The locality on which Nelson was established is known in Māori as Wakatu or Whakatū: names that look and sound similar but don’t mean the same thing. All the same, Wakatu or Whakatū is routinely used as the Māori name for the modern city of Nelson. Lots of buildings and institutions in Nelson bear a version of this name. Nelson was the first New Zealand settlement to be designated a city, as far back as 1859. One thing you notice in this part of the country is that there are a lot of large, stately-looking trees even in areas that are not actually parkland. Trees that were deliberately planted a long time ago (if introduced), or that generations of otherwise axe-wielding colonists refrained from chopping down (if native), do now lend the the northern end of the South Island a special charm, both in town and in farming districts alike. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Christchurch: Gateway to Antarctica, rich in heritage, recovering from crises
With an abundance of gothic stone architecture and a large pedestrian area, Christchurch, New Zealand, is like a quaint old city in Europe. Indeed, I never get sick of visiting the thriving metropolis of Christchurch, or Ōtautahi, which is in fact now the largest city in the South Island, its current population about 420,000 overall. Much of its heritage has, thankfully, survived the earthquakes of a decade ago. The river that runs through the city, named the Avon by the colonists, not after Shakespeare’s Avon but a river of the same name in Scotland, also bears the Māori name of Ōtākaro. The Māori name means ‘of games’, because children always traditionally played alongside it while adults gathered food such as flounder, eels, ducks, whitebait and freshwater fish from the river, its swampy surroundings and its estuary, which it shares with another small river called the Ōpāwaho, or Heathcote. To continue, Christchurch has strong Antarctic traditions. The New Zealand, American and Italian Antarctic programmes are all based in Christchurch. The unique working museum known as the International Antarctic Centre, beside Christchurch International Airport, is definitely worth a visit. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Kaikōura: Eating crayfish and watching whales
Kaikōura is a major whale-watching destination, between Blenheim and Christchurch on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The town sits just to the landward side of a deep submarine trench, whose chilly uplifting waters nourish large populations of crayfish, the namesakes of Kaikōura, which means ‘eat crayfish’ in Māori. The town is also just to the seaward side of two ranges of lofty coastal mountains shooting all the way up to the 2885 m or 9,465-foot Tapuae-o-Uenuku (‘footsteps of the rainbow god’): a very prominent and Himalayan-looking peak that’s easily visible from Wellington. But there’s a lot more than just crayfish living in the waters off Kaikōura. Their cousins, the shrimp-like krill that feed the greatest whales, also thrive in these waters, which plunge rapidly to great depths just offshore, as quickly as the mountains rise onshore. These great, cold depths create upwellings that fertilise the sea and nourish the krill. This brings whales that feed on krill, sucking in entire shoals and then filtering out the water through a comb-like structure in their mouths made of a substance called baleen.‍ Another quite different kind of large whale that is often seen at Kaikōura is the sperm whale. Sperm whales can dive up to two thousand metres down or more than a mile, in fact: going down for about 45 minutes at a time and then catching their breath for about fifteen minutes on the surface. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
The South Island and its Peoples
IT’S something of a cliché, in New Zealand’s South Island, that Christchurch is ‘English’ and Dunedin ‘Scottish’. Indeed, for a long time, the different national origins of early settler communities, including a significant number of Chinese gold miners, entirely overshadowed the fact that Māori also inhabited the South Island for some seven or eight hundred years and were the first colonisers, having navigated their way there from the tropical Pacific. Māori culture was seen as something associated with the North Island and the boiling mud pools of Rotorua, not the South Island: where, indeed, colonial poets wrote about an empty land, untouched by humans until they came along. It was true that Māori eventually became far more numerous in the North. But to say that the centre of gravity passed to the North is not to say that South Island Māori faded away completely. Instead, a distinctive culture known as that of the Waitaha people came into being, one of its products being a form of art that looks quite different to the ‘classic’ Maori art of the North Island. . . . Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Kahurangi National Park: Cobb Valley, Mt Arthur and the Nelson Tablelands‍
KAHURANGI National Park, which occupies a vast area west of Motueka, is the second largest national park in New Zealand after Fiordland. With over five hundred and seventy kilometres of tracks, including the famous seventy-eight-kilometre Heaphy Track which I write about in another post, Kahurangi is tramping heaven. With its coastal palm forests, marble mountains, rare birds like the rock wren and the spotted kiwi, and tussock high country, it’s an incredible place to be. In Māori, Kahurangi means treasured possession, which is exactly what this park is. For hundreds of years the Māori used tracks through this region to find pounamu, greenstone in local English, which was used to make taonga or heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. The diverse terrain I covered included a series of unique geological features. Mt Arthur is made of hard, crystalline marble: below the ground are some of the deepest shafts and most intricate cave systems in the world. Cavers have currently joined two cave systems in the area and made a massive thirty-six kilometres long, twelve hundred-metre deep underground labyrinth. Nettlebed is now the deepest cave in the Southern Hemisphere of which the depth is known. In contrast, the Tablelands, a high plateau, are made of limestone and quartz that were lifted and twisted over millennia to form mountains. There are lots of interesting places to visit there, including the historic Asbestos Cottage, the home of two recluses who used to make a living mining that mineral in the days when it was still widely used in industry, among other things. The Cobb Valley is different again: its rivers were once glaciers smoothing and polishing the rock as they advanced to form a U-shaped valley, always the sign of anow-vanished glacier as opposed to the steep V that is carved by a river. The valley today still bears many signs of its former glaciers and is filled with volcanic rock, schist and sandstone.‍ Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
The Tūātapere Hump Ridge Track
The Tūātapere Hump Ridge Track, soon to become New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, gives great views of the setting sun past rock outcrops. A three-day loop track along the south coast of New Zealand, the Hump Ridge Track (for short) covers fifty-five kilometres of beaches, forests and subalpine terrain. Near the town of Tūātapere, west of Invercargill, the track is managed by Tūātapere Humpridge Track, a charitable trust set up via a partnership formed between the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and the local community. The trust offers a range of tour packages such as guided tours and helicopter rides, and it is well worth consulting its website even if you are just a more ordinary sort of tramper. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
The Kepler Track: Just divine views
THE Kepler Track begins on the shores of Lake Te Anau — the largest body of fresh water in the South Island of New Zealand — and winds its way through the spectacular Fiordland National Park.‍ Looping for some sixty kilometres up alpine heights and alongside two beautiful lakes, the track starts and ends only five kilometres from the town of Te Anau, at the Kepler Track carpark. According to the official Discover New Zealand website, what’s unique about the Kepler Track is that it was designed from scratch: "Unlike many other multi-day walks, which evolved from Māori greenstone trails or pioneer exploration routes, the Kepler Track was custom-made, built for pleasure, rather than necessity. "Opened in 1988, the track was carefully planned to show walkers all the best features of Fiordland — moss-draped beech forest, prolific bird life, tussock high country, huge mountain ranges, cascading waterfalls,vast glacier-carved valleys, luxuriant river flats and limestone formations.The track’s construction makes for easier walking. Most streams are bridged,boardwalks cover boggy areas and the very steep sections have steps. Walk the Kepler and you’ll see everything that’s marvelous about this exquisite corner of the world." (Quoted as of the time of writing.) The Kepler Track certain does make for magnificent views of the mountains and of the two large lakes that it loops between!‍ Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Caples-Greenstone Track: More birds galore
A MODERATELY demanding tramp winds its way through the beautiful Caples and Greenstone Valleys, which come together by the shore of Lake Wakatipu and are also joined, in the hills, by the subalpine pass of McKellar Saddle, which offers incredible views of the surrounding landscape. There is plenty of native wildlife on the track, and when I first did it a few years ago, we were lucky enough to see falcons, kea, mōhua, and plenty of other birds. The tracks, which form a loop in the same way that the Rees and the Dart do, can be hiked from either the Lake Wakatipu end near Kinloch and Glenorchy, or from The Divide on the road to Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. The Divide also is one of the end points for the nearby Routeburn Track and many exhausted Routeburn trampers are picked up there, although some choose to extend their hike and carry on through the Caples/Greenstone for a longer tramp. Even without an extension onto the Routeburn, the Caples/Greenstone is still a significant four-day journey. On the other hand, ranks the Caples/Greenstone as an easier option than the otherwise similar Rees-Dart Track. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Rees-Dart: The Most Beautiful Glacier
IT was cold, and boggy underfoot, as a few friends and I began our tramp upthe Dart River on the great Rees-Dart Track near Glenorchy. Part of the South Island’s World Heritage area, the Rees and Dart Valleys were first used by the Ngāi Tahu people of Murihiku/Southland and Otago for hunting moa and collecting greenstone. Alongside its English name, the Dart River has an official Māori name which also appears on maps, Te Awa Whakatipu, meaning the river that drains into Lake Wakatipu. The route runs up the beautiful, initially flat-bottomed river valley of the Dart/Awa Whakatipu and joins with the Rees River in quite different country, at the Tititea/Mount Aspiring National Park boundary, before looping back to Lake Wakatipu down the Rees. It’s at that upper point that you can also go still further up the Dart/Te Awa Whakatipu to the Dart Glacier, or over the Cascade Saddle Track into the Matukituki Valley. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Otago's Dry Centre
BETWEEN Queenstown, where I live, and Dunedin, there’s an aridly picturesque region called Central Otago. Central Otago is a rain-shadow region, kept dry by the blocking effect of the high mountains around Queenstown. It looks a lot like Outback Australia or parts of the Middle East that I’ve been to. Some call it a desert, though there are a few too many trees and shrubs for that to be literally true. Though the average year-round temperature isn’t high in Otago as compared to Outback Australia or the Middle East, it gets pretty hot under a blue summer sky in Central all the same — and in Queenstown too, once it has been summer for a while. Central Otago towns are mostly quite historic by New Zealand standards, with whole streets of stone buildings erected in the 1860s and 1870s for want of timber; buildings that nobody has ever had the heart to demolish. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
From Haast to Wānaka
PARTICULARLY SCENIC is the section of highway that leads from Haast to Lake Wānaka, and ultimately to the town at the southern end of the lake, via the Haast Pass/Tiorepatea. Historically, this was an important route for Māori pounamu (greenstone) prospectors, as the top of the pass is only 562 m or 1,844 feet above sea level. This makes it the lowest of the passes traversing the Southern Alps. However, it is girded by mountains, and important tramping tracks branch off to the sides. . , . The Blue Pools are a gorgeous gem. They are not the only blue pools in New Zealand, made blue by depth and clarity of water. But they are very accessible from the Haast Pass road, near Makarora, whereas other pools of this sort are often more of a hike. . . . Not a name to inspire much confidence in one’s likelihood of keeping warm, Siberia Hut is located below Mount Dreadful and Mount Awful, which make it sound like the hike was going to be some epic journey out of The Lord of the Rings– but then,the lovely little Crucible Lake was also nearby. In fact, it was a gorgeous day at the time, as you can see! Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
French Ridge
French Ridge is one of several mountaineering and hiking destinations at the head of the Matukituki Valley, west of Wānaka, New Zealand. MY tramp up to French Ridge Hut was quite difficult, as the track was coated with spiny plants native to New Zealand called speargrass, which gets very slippery underfoot when it snows. The track was also filled with mountaineers who, like me, wanted to climb Mount French. I had brought my ice axe along and wanted to practice my skills with it on the mountain. From the flat, trampers ford the Liverpool stream or cross over on a swing bridge to the track and climb for a few hours through bush and sub-alpine terrain to reach the French Ridge Hut. The hut offers spectacular views of the nearby Mount French, named after WWI Field Marshal John French, who was, rather ironically, said to have been be afraid of heights (hat tip Danilo Hegg, ‘Mt French, 2356m’, in The climb is only a five to six-hour return trip from French Ridge Hut, heading up towards Quarterdeck Pass and then along a snowy ridge to the summit. Although not a prominent peak itself, Mount French is an incredible viewing platform for the nearby Mount Aspiring and Bonar Glacier, and is often climbed by mountaineers in consolation for not making it to these. The views back down into the valley are really good as well. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Matukituki Valley and Mt Aspiring/Tititea
The Matukituki Valley, west of Lake Wānaka, is a must-visit for anyone in the Queenstown region of the South Island of New Zealand. "We began our tramp into the Matukituki Valley, which is common up to a point where it branches into the East and West Matukituki Valleys, from the Raspberry Creek Carpark, an hour’s drive up from Wānaka and a short distance into the West Matukituki Valley. It was an incredible drive, too, up a half-unsealed road with Rob Roy Peak and Mt Aspiring on the right, and another set of mountain ranges to the left which include the Treble Cone skifield, near the entrance to the valley system. The road is sealed as far as the turnoff to Treble Cone, and unsealed thereafter." Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Queenstown: 10 Things to do in Town and Around
FIRST, take a cruise on the 1912-vintage Lake steamer TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak Station for lunch and a tour of the farm park, or, better still,for dinner on a long summer evening.‍ TSS is short for Twin Screw Steamer: it means that the vessel has two propellors (‘screws’) and that it is, indeed, powered by steam. I’ve got a blog post about the Earnslaw with more pictures and video, called ‘History in Motion: Travelling through Time on the TSS Earnslaw’.‍ Second, go up the Skyline Gondola to the Skyline Restaurant,which is perched on a crag 450 metres or nearly 1,500 feet above Queenstown. And there's plenty more . . . including an eleventh activity that I've thrown in for good measure! Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Queenstown: Tourism Capital
QUEENSTOWN is nearly two hours south of Auckland by jet, two hours that make a difference. Auckland has palm trees and looks like Fiji. Surrounded by mountains that are often snowy on top, Queenstown looks more like somewhere in Norway or Switzerland. The town is on a long lake called Lake Wakatipu, which stretches 80 km or 50 miles from Kingston at one end to Glenorchy and Kinloch at the other. Queenstown is part-way between, and is in a large mountain basin which it shares with the smaller but more picturesque town of Arrowtown. With all its attractions, Queenstown thus lies at the heart of what has been for perhaps a hundred years and more the most touristy part of New Zealand: a landscape of skifields, tramping tracks and amazing mountain scenery. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Aoraki/Mount Cook
New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, lies at the heart of a national park that supports mountaineering, hiking and cycle tours. Things to do range from dangerous mountaineering opportunities to simple,scenic daywalks and the start of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, which goes all the way down to Oamaru. Mount Cook Village, at the foot of Aoraki/Mount Cook, is totally accessible by car and bus, and you can use it as a base for activities that are as adventurous as you like.‍ In this episode, I also talk about my adventures on a High Alpine Skills course. Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
Arthur's Pass
There’s heaps to do in Arthur’s Pass, the busiest pass between Christchurch and the West Coast in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Arthur's Pass is the most commercially important alpine pass in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s certainly the only one with a regular train service, stopping at a rather Swiss-style mountain station at the Pass. Once you get there, by car or via the TranzAlpine scenic excursion train service, you will find that are lots of tramps and other things that can be done in the pass. As for the road, though it was built earlier, it clung to the side of the mountains over the same stretch and was regularly wiped out by landslides. Indeed, the skeptics had the last laugh in a way, when, after about 130 years the government gave up on trying to repair the worst section and replaced it with the 440-metre long Ōtira Viaduct.‍ I was sitting there admiring this marvel of engineering when my rubber-soled sandal was attacked by kea parrots (nestor notabilis), which have no fear of human beings whatsoever and a peculiar obsession with rubber. Several kea gathered on a railing to wait their turn to have a go at my sandals. Kea are notorious for stripping the rubber from car windscreens and wipers and generally trashing campsites. They are also ranked as among the most intelligent birds in the world if not the most intelligent, so it’s a kind of mischieviousness, I think.‍ Original blog post:
June 7, 2021
The Lovely Lewis Pass and Maruia Valley
ONE of my favourite parts of New Zealand is the Lewis Pass / Maruia Valley area in the middle of the northern half of the Southern Alps. You get there by way means of State Highway (SH) 7, which runs through the area. One of the best multi-day hikes that you can do in the vicinity of the Lewis Pass is the St James Walkway, named after the former St James Station upon which most of the walkway’s sixty-six kilometres is located.‍ There are numerous other tramps off to the side of SH 7 in the Lewis Pass / Maruia Valley area, such as the Lake Daniell tramp, Lake Christabel, the Lewis Tops Track which begins on the western side of SH 7 from a spot near the northern road-end of the St James Walkway, and others. Original blog post:
June 6, 2021
Welcome Flat: The Best Hot Pools
My favourite wilderness hot pools are at Welcome Flat on the Copland River, on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Copland is a tributary of the Karangarua, River which runs from the Southern Alps down to the Tasman Sea at a location south of Fox Glacier. Welcome Flat is on the lower part of the Copland River, at an altitude of about 430 metres, with a very flash hut. ‍Adding to the magnificence and strangeness of this section of the West Coast is the fact that it’s in an area called the ‘beech gap’, which extends from Paringa to the Taramakau River, south of Greymouth. The beech gap, which is thus quite sizable, is an area where all the native beech trees were killed by the glaciers of the ice ages, after which, in a curious irony, only the more tropical-looking podocarps regenerated.‍ Original blog post:
June 6, 2021
Green Jungles and Waters of Jade: The natural riches of the South Island's wild West Coast
The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island stretches for hundreds of kilometres, from the sunny northwest to cold and stormy Fiordland. It's an area with far fewer inhabitants than the eastern side of the South Island. Far fewer inhabitants, but a lot more rain! For in New Zealand the weather comes mainly from the west and metres of rain are dumped each year in the hills whose streams run to the west. From the north, the South Island’s West Coast begins, just off the map above, with the Whanganui Inlet west of Cape Farewell and a stretch of trackless coast north of the Heaphy River. . . . . South of Ross, we are now starting to get into a part of the country where the hand of European colonisation and even the presence of the Māori, save for gathering pounamu, has only been lightly felt. In fact, all the National Parks from Aoraki/Mount Cook southward are part of Te Wāhipounamu/South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Te Wāhipounamu means ‘the place of pounamu’. The national parks are Westland Tai Poutini, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland; and land in this part of the country is more likely to be in a national park than not The coast road heads inland, as the true coast is now wild and swampy, with lowland forest and lagoons. There will be no more seaports to compare with Westport, Greymouth or even Hokitika; only the small fishing settlement of Jackson Bay just north of the roadless wilderness of Fiordland. . . . Original blog post:
June 6, 2021
The Heaphy Track and the Old Ghost Road
I have tramped the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, three times now. The walk stretches through the Kahurangi National Park at the top of the South Island, west of the famous Abel Tasman Track, and winds its way through native bush and tussock downs to the wild Tasman Sea on the West Coast, where some of the world's southernmost palm trees grow. The track can be walked in either direction, beginning at the eastern end at Brown Hut, or starting in Karamea on the West Coast by driving fifteen kilometres north to the Kohaihai River campsite. Carrying on south, you get to the towns of Karamea, Granity and Westport. From Westport, you can go inland by road toward the Buller Gorge until you get to Lyell, and then hike or bike the Old Ghost Road, at 85 km in length New Zealand’s longest single track, up to the town of Seddonville. The Old Ghost Road is quite a bit gnarlier than the Heaphy Track and is in fact the most difficult cycle trail in the official New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT) system. It’s recommended that every rider cycle it from Lyell north and not the other way, as there is a section that’s nearly impossible from north to south, and the trail also contains New Zealand’s longest section of ‘single track’, a very narrow section on an exposed hillside. There are also some other famous tracks in this region, such as the Wangapeka Track and the Leslie-Karamea Track. Original blog post:
June 6, 2021
The Nelson Lakes and the Travers/Sabine Circuit
THE Nelson Lakes, Rotoroa and Rotoiti, and the associated Travers-Sabine Circuit are really one of the gems of the New Zealand outdoors, with their own Nelson Lakes National Park. The scenery is magnificent, there are plenty of huts to stay in, and good tracks. The lakes are very historic as Lake Rotoiti has a large population of eels, which Māori travelling overland to the sources of pounamu on the West Coast used to dry and smoke for sustenance on the way. Reaching in behind the lakes, the Travers-Sabine Circuit is about eighty kilometres (fifty miles) long. It reaches deep into the mountainous country behind Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa and involves one significant alpine saddle, the Poukiriri orTravers Saddle, which has its summit at 1787 metres or nearly 6,000 feet above sea level and can be icy even in summer.‍ Original blog post:
June 5, 2021
The Romantic Routeburn
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s ten official Great Walks (soon to be eleven). In UNESCO World Heritage surroundings, the Routeburn Track was also reputedly named one of the eleven top trails in the world by National Geographic Adventure magazine in 2005. It leads from the headwaters of Lake Wakatipu to the Divide, on the road to Milford Sound. The whole 32-kilometre track can be done as amulti-day hike, but sections of the track are also very accessible to day-walkers. Also dubbed ‘the ultimate alpine adventure’ by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and others, the Routeburn Track boasts unrivalled views of the Southern Alps to the east and the Darran Mountains to the west. Original blog post:
June 5, 2021
Gertrude Saddle: A Rock Climber's Paradise
I had an adventure of quite a different kind when I went tramping and climbing in the Gertrude Valley, in NZ’s Fiordland National Park. Nestled underneath the Darran Mountain Range, the valley is reached from a carpark that turns off the Milford Road just before the eastern entrance to the Homer Tunnel. The Gertrude Saddle, at the head of the valley, has great scenic views down toward Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. It is, however, potentially quite hazardous and needs to be approached with care, and only in good weather. The track up the Gertrude Valley and the final route to the saddle are one-way and return, as the western side of the Gertrude Saddle is basically a cliff. Original blog post:
June 5, 2021
Tramping the Milford Track and Feeling very Scottish
I did the Milford Track a few years ago with the Wakatipu Tramping Club. It’s New Zealand’s most famous hike, and the Sound is a wonder. "Mackinnon Pass bears the name of the Scottish explorer Quintin McKinnon, whose first and last names have both been written down in various ways. Like much of the South Island the pass has a real Scottish-highlands feel to it as well. It put me in touch with my father’s-side roots for a moment, even if his native town of Dundee is on the other side of the world!" "...As we caught a short boat ride past Mitre Peak to finish our tramp, it wasn’t hard to see why it is perhaps the most iconic mountain in New Zealand.‍" Original blog post:
June 5, 2021
The Hollyford Track
IT was autumn when, fresh from the summer tramping season, I decided to hike the beautiful Hollyford Track in Fiordland National Park. It was an epic four-day journey with a pre-booked jetboat ride back along the lengthy finger lake known as Lake McKerrow, or Whakatipu Waitai, to shorten the return trip. I tramped the nine kilometres up from the end of the Lower Hollyford Road to the beautiful Hidden Falls, a walk of about two to three hours, and went on the nearby Pyke River swing bridge, the longest swingbridge in the National Park. I spent the night at the Hidden Falls Hut, and woke early to see a beautiful low-lying fog blanketing the valley — what a majestic sight for only my second day on the Hollyford! Original blog post:
June 4, 2021
The Dusky Track — An Epic
The Dusky Track, in the far southwest of NZ’s South Island, is about the same length as the popular Heaphy Track, but much gnarlier! You can do the Dusky Track in either direction. I did it from south to north. In that direction, you get to the Dusky Track by way of a ferry on Lake Hauroko,one of the southernmost big lakes in New Zealand and at 462 m (1,516 feet) max,the deepest. Before boarding the ferry or after you step off at the Lake Hauroko road-end, which can be reached from Southland townships such as Tūātapere. you can also do the ‘short but stiff’ Lake Hauroko Lookout Track,which is one of my faves, and the Lake Hauroko Loop Bush Walk. In the other direction, the Lake Hauroko stage would be at the end. Trailing 84 km through the Fiordland National Park, the Dusky Track is a challenging tramp taking eight to ten days to complete and is rated by DOC as suitable only for experienced groups of trampers.‍ Featured image credit: The Dusky Track, marked out in black, runs northwardfrom Lake Hauroko (bottom) to the Wilmot Pass Road from the West Arm of LakeManapōuri (top right). This map includes an optional midway detour to SupperCove. The noticeable, apparently grey line to the east of the Dusky Track isthe course of the power lines from the Lake Manapōuri power station over thetop of the Borland Road and a section of the Wilmot Pass Road. Background map LINZ via NZ Topo Map, 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0. Original Blog Post:
June 3, 2021
Milford Sound/Piopiotahi, and its Scenic Road
Why only spend a day or two at the sound when you can spend a week on the road as well? MILFORD Sound, or Piopiotahi, is at the end of a scenic drive known as Te Anau Milford Highway (SH 94), or the Milford Road. People generally go to the sound for a day and come back. Alternatively, they may walk the Milford Track. But you can also spend a week or so in the Milford area just doing day trips off the Milford Road, which is actually one of the most scenic roads in the world. And in fact, this is really the best approach if you aren’t doing the track. Original blog post:
June 3, 2021
The Coast North-West of Nelson
ONE of the classic New Zealand holidays simply involves heading along the coast north-west of Nelson, or Whakatū. You journey south-west to begin with, through Stoke and Richmond, which are now suburbs of Nelson/Whakatū, through Hope and Brightwater, as far as the historic town of Wakefield, which has the South Island’s oldest church, St Johns, dating back to the 1840s.‍ From Wakefield you double back and head on up the coast north westward through Mapua and Motueka on the main road, and then on minor coast roads to Kaiteriteri and Marahau and the beginning of Abel Tasman National Park. This is a really beautiful stretch of rocky coast, sheltered beaches and tidal sandflats, with famous sights to see and things to do such as the Split Apple Rock, the Abel Tasman monument and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. And there's more . . .  Even though you are still in the South Island, most of this area is so warm and sheltered that it seems quite subtropical. Original blog post:
June 3, 2021
Some of My South Island Faves
What are some of my favourite walks, hikes and places to visit in the South Island? Here’s a short list. (Some are covered in more detail in other blog posts of mine, and linked to them accordingly.) To start with, I’ve just lately done the romantically named Moonlight Track, which runs from the beautiful Moke, pronounced Mokeh, Lake to Arthurs Point in the hills behind new Zealand’s informal tourist capital of Queenstown. The track’s named after a prospector called George Fairweather Moonlight: but I like to think it would be fun to do it under a full moon as well! Featured image credit: The landing of the North Island by Māui and his brothers. Ceramic tile mural by E. Mervyn Taylor (1962), currently on permanent display in the Takapuna Public Library in suburban Auckland. Original blog post:
June 3, 2021
Forgotten World: An almost abandoned highway, into the rugged interior of New Zealand's North Island
The North Island of New Zealand’s rugged interior, explored by way of an almost abandoned highway, now popular with cycle tourists. JUST LATELY, I came across a diary of travels in old-time New Zealand called In the Land of the Tui. Published in London in the 1890s, the diary was kept by a woman named Eliza Wilson. At one point, the redoubtable Mrs. Wilson mentions a curious fact that is still an aspect of New Zealand life today. After running into some Auckland polo players at Christchurch’s Riccarton Racecourse, she wrote that: "We very rarely meet any residents of Auckland so far south, and it has been pleasant to hear something of that portion of these islands which seems as remote as though it were in another sphere. It is odd that a town, so recently the seat of Government [Auckland was the capital of New Zealand from 1842 until 1865], should now have become strange to the rest of the Colony; but so it is; Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin are always en rapport, but Auckland appears distant and separate." There is a very good reason why this was so, and why it remains so. The reason lies in the extraordinary ruggedness of a belt of terrain that stretches all the way from Taranaki, at the westward extension of the North Island, to East Cape at its eastern-most end. This belt of rugged terrain is caused by the collision of tectonic plates, the Australian and the Pacific, and it isolates Auckland from the rest of the country almost as effectively as a larger or more obvious mountain range would. Both of the North Island’s two largest rivers originate in this belt, which includes Lake Waikaremoana, Lake Taupō and the large volcanoes of the central North Island. The Waikato River flows northward from Lake Taupō to reach the sea south of Auckland. The other of these two big rivers, the Whanganui, originates near Lake Rotoaira and flows northward, then westward, and finally southward to the sea at Whanganui, a distance of 290 kilometres. Though mainly used by cycle tourists (mountain bikes are best) the Forgotten World Highway can be driven by car; but it pays to fill up first and I wouldn’t take a really flash car down that road.‍ Original blog post:
June 3, 2021
Waikaremoana: Also Steeped in Māoritanga
AS A CHILD, I gained a strong connection to Lake Waikaremoana, the lake of rippling waters, which is located in the Māori stewardship area of Te Urewera (formerly Te Urewera National Park). Since Waikaremoana is only a few hours north of Hastings, my family used to camp out at the lake every Christmas holidays from when I was six years old until I was about sixteen. I tramped the area extensively in 1995 and 1998 and redid it in 2008 and in 2012 — I always seem to keep coming back there. The area is home to the Ngāi Tūhoe people, a local Māori tribe, and even as a young child I recognised their strong presence in the area. I remember that when we would drive into Murupara we would always being amazed at how everyone working in the shop spoke Māori. Original blog post:
June 3, 2021
Lakes Rotoaira and Rotopounamu: Between the Volcanoes and Taupō
Well worth a visit are Lakes Rotoaira and Rotopounamu, two beautiful lakes which lie halfway between the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park and Lake Taupō. Both lakes are bordered by native bush and closely overlooked by the bald-topped Mount Pihanga, visible at centre-right in the aerial photograph below. Lake Rotoaira was raised in the 1970s for the purposes of the Tongariro Power Scheme. It is privately owned and you need a permit to go boating or fishing. But the smaller of the two lakes, Lake Rotopounamu, is quite unmodified, public, and totally surrounded by bush. A walking track off StateHighway 47 goes all the way around Lake Rotopounamu. Original Blog Post:
June 3, 2021
Mount Tongariro and the Tongariro Crossing: A Gem
UNLIKE the sheer peaks of nearby Mounts Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, Mount Tongariro is more spread out, and supports a popular alpine crossing. Tongariro can be ascended by way of the one-day alpine crossing, or as part of the longer three to four day Tongariro Northern Circuit, which is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. (By the way, it is strongly, officially, recommended that anyone who is not a serious mountaineer should not attempt the Tongariro crossing, or circuit, in the more wintery months between early May and late October. The same goes for all New Zealand’s Great Walks. They are only ‘walks’ in season.) You can download a PDF brochure on the Tongariro trails from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC).‍ Original blog post:
June 2, 2021
Mount Ruapehu: You can make it
IN THE CENTRE of the North Island,the sprawling Tongariro National Park is hard to miss with its three volcanic peaks of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe jutting out of the bare high plains of the Central North Island, southwest of Lake Taupō.‍ Mount Ruapehu has two skifields, at Tūroa and Whakapapa, and is very popular with skiiers from Auckland. I’ve also done three snowcraft and climbing courses on Mount Ruapehu and climbed to the top. Original blog post:
June 2, 2021
Pirongia: A Pretty Subalpine Climb in Bog
THE largest remaining area of native forest near the Waikato’s biggest city, southwest of Auckland, New Zealand There's heaps of things for a visitor to the Waikato region, south of Auckland, to do. East of Cambridge, there’s a range of low mountains with spectacular views over the plains and south to the volcanoes of the central North Island. You can drive to the top of Pukemako and look out from there. Further east, still just a few kilometres from Cambridge, are Hobbiton, Te Aroha Hot Springs, Mount Te Aroha and the Kaimai Range, all of which I’ve talked about in other posts. West of Cambridge lie the town of Te Awamutu and Pirongia mountain, a subalpine mountain with beautiful volcanic rock faces,. In the remainder of this episode, I’m going to talk about hiking on Pirongia which, at 959 metres high or 3,146 feet, is easily the highest peak in the Waikato region. At only 25 kilometres southwest of Hamilton (also known as Kirikiroa), Pirongia mountain is also the largest remaining area of native forest close to the Waikato’s biggest city. Original blog post:
June 2, 2021
The Kaimai Range of New Zealand: From Mount Te Aroha to Hobbiton
I’VE done Mount Te Aroha twice. At 952 metres or 3,123 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Kaimai Range, which continues the mountains of the Coromandel Peninsula southward, next to the Hauraki Plains. Mount Te Aroha is located next to the spa town of Te Aroha, halfway along the Range. The climb isn’t challenging, and it takes only three hours to reach the summit if you are reasonably fit. There are lots of other tracks nearby. The Hauraki Rail Trail cycleway runs parallel to the Range, and leads to Matamata, close to the Lord of the Rings set of Hobbiton, where I've posed in front of the sign for the featured image! Original Blog Post:
June 2, 2021
The Coromandel Pinnacles of New Zealand: Hundreds of Steps in Rock, with a view over the Pacific Ocean
MY MOTHER fell in love with the Kauaeranga Valley near Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula, and decided to move there from Hastings in 1980. I did heaps of walks in the area right through the ’80s and into the ‘90s. I tramped the Pinnacles Walk, also called the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, for the first time in the 1980s and have since done it about ten times since.‍ The website has a page on the Pinnacles among its must-does, and this is a good information source. The track up to the Pinnacles is not especially difficult for a fit person, as it was carved into the form of a staircase (in the steeper sections) so that kauri loggers, miners, and kauri gum diggers, excavating the ground for unfossilised resin, could get pack horses up and down. Original blog post:
June 1, 2021
Auckland's Western Wilds
LOCATED just a 30-minute drive west from downtown Auckland, the Hillary Trail is one of Auckland’s best-kept secrets. It’s too well kept a secret, really, as many Aucklanders have yet to experience it. Like me, they may take a long time to find it. Some Aucklanders, however, like the fact that it is a semi-secret. Named after New Zealand’s most famous explorer, Sir Edmund Hillary, whom my editor Chris Harris has kindly sketched just below, the track takes you through the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, along wild coastline, past countless waterfalls, and through ancient bush.‍ Original blog post: (Featured image credit: Nicki Botica Williams, with special thanks.)
June 1, 2021
Waiheke in the Sun
WAIHEKE Island is the largest island in Auckland’s inner Hauraki Gulf. It used to be a hippie getaway but is now covered in wine trails! There’s a good Wikipedia page on Waiheke Island, which used to be a hippie getaway but is totally gentrified and wine-trail-ified now, though there are still a few hippies apparently. A friend of mine heard a nice song once called ‘Waiheke in the Sun’ (or maybe that was just one of the lines), but we can’t find any mention of it on the Internet: this was in pre-internet days. Anyway, we’ve borrowed the title. Original blog post:
June 1, 2021
The 27 Regional Parks of Auckland
THE Auckland region of New Zealand has twenty-seven regional parks. The parks are a legacy of a generation of immediately post-World War II conservationists such as Jim Holdaway and Judge Arnold Turner, who saw that a booming Auckland metropolis would need these green lungs conserved. The regional parks of Auckland are shown as red circles with yellow centres in a map which also appears as the featured image for this episode, and which also shows ferry routes (easier to see in the original blog post!). From the top of the map downward, the parks are listed with live links in the blog post: (Featured image credits: Background map data ©2020 Google. North at top.)
June 1, 2021
The Winterless North
SOUTH of the long, thin Aupori peninsula is the main bulk of the part of New Zealand known as Te Tai Tokerau (‘the north coast’) or Northland, a region long dubbed the ‘winterless north’ by local tourism operators. This is almost true, even if it isn’t literally true.‍ Northland used to be covered in kauri, a tree of great significance to Māori and esteemed as particularly valuable to loggers, partly because the oldest ones are huge and partly because the wood is rot-proof and easy to work as well, with a beautiful, honey-like appearance. Kauri also produce hard resin called kauri gum, which had many decorative and industrial uses at one time. The marine playground of the Bay of Islands and its protective southern breakwater, the Cape Brett peninsula, are the main attractions on the east coast. The Cape Brett peninsula is of special significance to Māori as the branching-off place of the seven ancestral ocean-going canoes (double-hulled and more like catamaran yachts) on which the ancestors of the Māori were said to have arrived from Hawaiki or in material terms, Eastern Polynesia, roughly one thousand years ago. Original blog post:
June 1, 2021
Spirits Bay and Sand Duning
SPIRITS BAY is in the far north of New Zealand, known to Māori as the ‘tail of the fish’, with subtropical white sandy beaches and fabulous sunrises and sunsets. This beautiful area also serves as the starting point for the Te Paki Coastal Track, a walk of three to four days. About halfway along the track you come to Cape Rēinga, also known as Te Rerenga Wairua, which is where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Seameet. More significantly, Cape Rēinga is a sacred place. In Māori mythology it is considered to be the place where the spirits of the dead go to be cleansed and then leap off and enter the underworld to return to their eternal home of Hawaiki, also called Hawaiki-a-Nui, or Great Hawaiki. Interestingly enough, this heaven is also the Māori equivalent of the Garden of Eden: the place from which the ancestors of the Maori were said to have come to live in New Zealand, in a sense, as exiles. Original blog post:
June 1, 2021
New Zealand Travel Tips
SAVE for the yellow-bellied sea snake that occasionally drifts down from Fiji, we New Zealanders don’t have any snakes. Nor do we have crocodiles, venomous ticks or cassowaries to kick you to death. And you aren’t too likely to die of thirst either. Such are the differences between New Zealand and Australia,which at first glance make New Zealand seem a cosy sort of a place. All the same, outdoor New Zealand, where the terrain is steep and where it rains a lot, isn’t without its hazards of mountains, water and bad weather. So, in this episode, I’ll start with a note on outdoor safety. This will be followed by a description of the best places to get maps and travel brochures, a section on camping information, and a section on some other useful apps. Original blog post:
June 1, 2021
Devonport, New Zealand: Auckland’s must-visit ferry suburb
DEVONPORT, New Zealand, is an attractive old suburb on Auckland’s North Shore, a short ferry ride from downtown. Devonport (Auckland) is the most important base of the Royal New Zealand Navy. And before that the Royal Navy’s New Zealand Squadron. Whence its name, which is the same as that of the headquarters of the Royal Navy near Plymouth, in Devon.‍ These days, the suburb’s something of a hedonistic getaway. The old official and semi-official buildings have been repurposed into bars and cafes and offices, though the base is still there.‍
June 1, 2021
The Remarkable Dry River at Ātene
An almost unique natural feature, and site of an attempt to dam the wild and scenic Whanganui River. THIS post follows on from my earlier one about the Whanganui River. In this post, I zero in on one rather unusual and especially scenic feature of the river, a cut-off meander or ‘oxbow’ that is still preserved as an obvious dried-up river channel, with a skyline walk around the tops that surround it. This remarkable feature is at a spot called Ātene, a missionary-bestowed name which is Maori for Athens. It is inhabited by Māori who farm the flat bottomland around the central hill and live at a small settlement called Ātene Pā. (Featured image credit: View from the Ātene Skyline Track, by Michal Klajban, 22 September 2014, CC-BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped square for this episode.)
June 1, 2021
Carrying on down the Waikato (part 2)
A region steeped in history: Part two of a two-part post. SOUTH of Pirongia there’s the Waitomo Caves, which are inhabited by creatures called glow-worms. There’s a European glow-worm, the larval stage of a firefly which glows yellowish-green. But the New Zealand glow worms (with relatives in Australia) are quite different and in some ways a lot weirder, like most things in New Zealand. New Zealand glow-worms are carnivorous gnat larvae that live in caves in huge numbers, like bats. They hang sticky threads around themselves, lighting up the threads with a blue glow. Small creatures attracted by the light get tangled in the threads and devoured. It’s a pretty supernatural experience to be in a glow-worm cave. . . . And that's not the only remarkable thing still to see in the Waikato region.
May 31, 2021
Carrying on down the Waikato
A region steeped in history: Part one of a two-part post. WHEN I got to the end of the Forgotten World Highway, I was in Taumarunui. The Whanganui River — the Rhine of New Zealand — is still quite sizable even that far inland, more than 200 km by the run of the river. This post is about my journey into and through the lands of another river: the Waikato, which flows out of Lake Taupō and down to the sea through the Waikato plains. The Waikato River flows through eight hydroelectric dams. It’s a much more domesticated river than the Whanganui! My starting point for this journey was Taumarunui, on the Whanganui River. Taumarunui is an old Māori settlement that evolved into a town in more recent times, first as a terminus for Whanganui riverboats. And then as a railway town when the North Island Main Trunk Railway was finally driven through the centre of the North Island in 1908. After that, Taumarunui became an important halfway stop on the North Island Main Trunk railway line, celebrated in a local Woodie Guthrie-type folk song from years ago: You can get to Taumarunui / Going north or going south / And you end up there at midnight / And you’ve cinders in your mouth But in earlier times, as the featured image suggest, the river was also the cradle of conflict between settler and Māori. (Featured image credit: The Pioneer doing battle with a Māori pā (fortification) at Meremere on 31 October 1863. Detail from an image catalogued as A-110–006 at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, via Minimally cropped square for this episode.)
May 31, 2021
The Talents of Taranaki
What else can I say about this wonderful region? IN the last two posts I’ve dwelt on the history of Taranaki, New Zealand. and the region’s famous mountain. But what of its other attractions? In this post I’ll write about those, and then finish by taking my leave on the Forgotten World Highway. (Featured image credit: New Plymouth looking towards Ōakura, the central part of a panorama on the Photo Gallery of VisitNewPlymouth.)
May 31, 2021
Climbing the Cone of Catastrophes
Beautiful but deadly, New Zealand's Mount Taranaki is reasonably easy to get up. The hard part is getting down. I’VE climbed Mount Taranaki twice, via the Northern Summit Route which starts near New Plymouth and via the Southern Summit Route which starts at Dawson Falls. More than eighty climbers have died on the slopes of Mount Taranaki since the first recorded instance of such a fatality in the 1890s. To which must be added the victims of the several aircraft that have crashed into the prominent peak in bad weather and darkness as well. Indeed, bad weather is common. On two days out of three you can't see the mountain's prominent cone for clouds, as in the featured image. For all these reasons and more, Mount Taranaki’s been dubbed ‘the cone of catastrophes’.
May 31, 2021
Lands of the Shining Peak
‘When death itself is dead, I shall be alive’ THE next region I came to in my tour around New Zealand's lower North Island was Taranaki, also known as the Taranaki or, very colloqually, the Naki. Everyone in the region lives under the beautiful 2,518 metre (8,261 feet) volcano that gives the region its name, Mount Taranaki: a name that’s thought to mean ‘shining peak’, a reference to the way the mountain looks during the cooler months of the year. The deceptively beautiful area is also the site of incredible historical conflict, captured in the words of a famous guerilla leader, quoted above. (Featured image credit: Cape Egmont Lighthouse with Mount Taranaki in the background. Photograph by Russell Street, 3 August 2013, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Minimally cropped square for this post.)
May 31, 2021
Tales of the Whanganui
Rediscovering the ‘Rhine of New Zealand’ A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, New Zealand’s rivers were highways. Back then, the Whanganui River was called the Rhine of New Zealand. Goods were shipped up and down it as far as Taumarunui, 230 kilometres (140 miles) inland from the port of Whanganui. That was one reason the river was compared to the Rhine. The other reason was the scenery. (Featured image credit: A horse being loaded onto the paddle-steamer Wairere, on the steep banks of the Whanganui River, around 1900. If the planks shifted suddenly the horse would panic, and the photographer, William Coates, has captured such a dramatic incident. Undated photograph, Whanganui Regional Museum, reference WR-C-159a. Minimally cropped square for this episode.)
May 31, 2021
From Chasms to Coast
THE landscape north of Wellington, on the west side of New Zealand's North Island, is often overlooked by tourists and travellers. But it shouldn’t be. Check out this scene, for instance (the feature image). Is it the Bastei, outside Dresden? No: it’s part of a similar jumble of rock pillars and chasms called the Iron Gates, near the tiny town of Mangaweka, north-east of Palmerston North. From the Iron Gates you can look out over all the plains, with stunning views recorded on this website. If a spot like this was in Europe or Asia it would be packed, just like the Bastei. But because it’s in the middle of nowhere, even by New Zealand standards, it might just be you and your friends. (Feature image credit: Rangiwahia Track Bridge in the Iron Gates area. Image reproduced from the media gallery of CEDA, the Central Districts Economic Development Agency, Cropped square for this episode.)
May 31, 2021
Union Jacks and Grumpy Cats
Twenty-five years ago, New Zealanders were demanding that some of their monuments be torn down. What can we learn from that experience? ALONG with Covid, this has been the year in which Confederate Civil War monuments have fallen in America. And monuments to Christopher Columbus, and to colonialists like Cecil Rhodes and the slaver Edward Colston in Britain as well. Well, a battle over the monuments is nothing new to New Zealand, either: a country stuffed with memorials to the now-vanished British Empire and its heroes (a comprehensive guide can be found here). What’s been happening just lately in America and Britain has been going on for a long time in New Zealand. For instance, a 79-day occupation that caused the destruction of one monument amid calls for others to go took place 25 years ago, now, in one coastal city. New Zealand still hasn’t arrived at a consensus on the issue. But it might be possible to glean some lessons from the New Zealand experience. And it’s to that that I turn.
May 31, 2021
Wild, Weird, Windy Wellington
I visit New Zealand’s capital city: a cultured and beautiful town assaulted endlessly by nature’s forces at ‘the head of Māui’s fish’ IN my last post, I mentioned that some people say New Zealand’s the ‘Saudi Arabia of Wind’. The country extends across thirteen degrees of latitude from north to south: most of it south of the fortieth parallel where the Southern Hemisphere’s ‘roaring forties’ officially begin. The roaring forties whip through wherever there is a gap in the mountains. One of these gaps is Te Āpiti, the Manawatū Gorge, the site of all those wind farms. But the biggest gap is Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Where, as it happens, the nation’s capital city of Wellington is. (The featured image is Man walking against strong wind, Wellington, 6 November 1967. Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1967/5183/12-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22739071. Trimmed square and retouched, without compromising the integrity of the image, for this episode.)
May 31, 2021
East of the Ranges: Central Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa
GROWING up in Hastings, New Zealand, gave me a very outdoor lifestyle. I probably played about eight sports at secondary school and was always outside and active. My favourite beaches were Ocean Beach and Waimarama. They have golden sand and I remember doing a lot of boogie boarding. Another place we used to go was Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui (‘the jawbone of Māui’), an amazing headland that sticks out a long way into the Pacific at the southern end of Hawke Bay, a bit like Young Nicks Head / Te Kurī only bigger. The Cape has a gannet colony at its tip. This July, I headed south from Hastings into the area known as Central Hawkes Bay, even though it’s actually to the south of the Bay.
May 30, 2021
From Te Kurī to Te Mata: What you will see as you leave Gisborne for Hawkes Bay
BACKTRACKING a little from Māhia, where my last post ended, toward the southern end of the misnamed Poverty Bay, there’s a headland called Young Nicks Head or Te Kurī (‘the dog’), short for Te Kurī-a-Pāoa, ‘Pāoa’s dog’, after the legendary captain of the ancestral Horouta voyaging-canoe, also known as Pāwa. (Featured image credit: Gregor Riethmaier, ‘“Pania of the Reef” on the Marine Parade, Napier’. Archives New Zealand AAQT 6539 W3537 68 A80964, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
May 30, 2021
From Hobbiton to Rocket Lab: A slow journey around New Zealand's East Cape
AFTER the Coromandel, I decided to drive around New Zealand’s remote East Cape. The East Cape area’s quite remote from the country’s main areas of population. Travellers on city business tend to go through the middle of the North Island, or fly. And most tourists also stick to better-known parts of New Zealand, such as the mountains around Queenstown. So, the East Cape’s got a long coastline with lots of beaches, and yet it’s also ‘off the beaten track’ even for tourists: which is perhaps getting close to a unique combination in today’s world. It’s a really good place to visit if you want to have an un-pressured sort of a holiday. Just two weeks by the seaside in a small hotel or cabin or under the canvas of a big old tent listening to the booming surf in your bunk at night. The kind of holiday a lot of New Zealanders had as kids and remember all their lives.
May 30, 2021
Cruising around the Coromandel: By road, in New Zealand
THE Coromandel Peninsula sits east of Auckland, on the far side of the Hauraki Gulf. Generally known just as the Coromandel for short, the peninsula’s not really on the way to anywhere else. So, you have to make a special trip. And it’s really rugged, mostly covered in forested mountains with a low density of population. All of which makes the Coromandel a top holiday destination and hippie hangout! The more so, because the peninsula is really scenic, with a ton of lonely beaches and offshore islands, as well as inland tramping (hiking) tracks. In fact, the population on the peninsula can soar past a hundred and thirty thousand in summer as holidaymakers descend on the region, mostly from Auckland. To get to the Coromandel from Auckland, you can either drive around the sizable Hauraki (‘north wind’) Gulf, or catch a ferry from downtown Auckland to Coromandel town. It’s also possible to fly.
May 30, 2021
A Misty Day out at the Remarkables: Matchstalk Figures amid the Snow
The Remarkables are a range of mountains that tower epically and in a Grand Teton-like sort of a way over Queenstown, New Zealand. You can see them from Coronet Peak, on the other side of the ‘Promised Land’. The weekend after my trip to Coronet, we decided to go to to the Remarkables skifield. The Remarkables skifield has the advantage of being more open to the north, where the sunshine comes from in New Zealand, and thus sunnier than Coronet Peak where as a rule the snow-blowers catch the sun, but you don’t! The skiers made pops of colour against the blue-grey, like figures in one of the northern English painter L S Lowry’s famous depictions of winter gloom, with its “matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.”
May 30, 2021
Changing Times at Coronet Peak: From a cosy ski club to costly commercialism, and having to make their own snow
In this podcast I talk about a visit to Coronet Peak, a ski-field near Queenstown, New Zealand. Coronet Peak started out as a club field in 1947 but is now commercial. I talk about the old days when skiing was a way to get around and not yet a sport, and how it seems that back then the snow lay on Coronet Peak all year round. These days it's melting away, and the field has to use the largest collection of snow-making machines in the Southern Hemisphere. The cost of which is, no doubt, included in the inflated price of today's ski passes!
July 5, 2020
Russian Splendour Renewed: A Heritage Tour of Moscow and St Petersburg
Russia is a country where opinions about the past are constantly changing. In the Communist era many old buildings were pulled down or neglected (though some were preserved), but now more of the old buildings are being done up. Even buildings once demolished have miraculously reappeared.
June 29, 2020
The Peninsula of the Dawn: Te Atatū and its living mudflats
In the western suburbs of Auckland lies another slice of wilderness, the peninsula of Te Atatū and its two bush-clad estuaries, the Henderson and the Whau. Until 1960 the peninsula was almost cut off from the world even though it's close to the inner city, and it's kept some of its old, wild character.
June 29, 2020
Amazing Arrowtown: New Zealand's Colonial Time Capsule
In this podcast, I talk about Arrowtown, Queenstown's smaller neighbour, which has preserved its heritage as a tourist attraction while its bigger, brasher neighbour has relied on selling scenery. There's a lot of character in Arrowtown. But beware: it doesn't get much sun in winter!
June 29, 2020
Cyprus: The Island that Copper’s named after
NOW EXPANDED INTO A BOOK, 'CATCHY CYPRUS', ON AMAZON! I travel to Cyprus, a divided island nation in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean, tucked up hard by Turkey and Syria. Cyprus used to supply the ancient Mediterranean world with copper, named after the island in English and other languages. I see turtles at the Alagadi Turtle Beach, visit Larnaca and Nicosia, the Paphos Forest and a monastery linked to founding president Archbishop Makarios, and the Kato Pyrgos resort.
June 10, 2020
Hatay, Explored Further
This is the second of my two podcasts on Hatay. I talk about the old town of Antakya (Antioch) and its heritage, including the remarkable Moses Tree and a historic mosque. I discuss the Green Man, Hızır, who is said to have accompanied Moses, and how we visited the waterfall where the nymph Daphne is supposed to have been turned into a laurel tree to escape the pursuit of Apollo. We also travel up the coast, where the sun sets into the Mediterranean, from Samandağ to Iskenderun. (My first podcast on Hatay is here.)
June 10, 2020
Homestay in Hatay
After Istanbul, I went to the south-eastern province of Hatay to stay with a friend I'd made. We stayed in the historic city of Antakya which the Bible calls Antioch, and travelled around the province looking at its amazing heritage. Not many people go to Hatay at the moment because of the troubles in nearby Syria. This is the first part of a two-part podcast. The second part is here.
June 10, 2020
Prelude to Aspiring: Or, what to do when there's no snow in paradise
Finding not much snow up the skifields this winter, I go on a trip to the Matukituki Valley. This is a hidden gem below Mt Aspiring, up a 50 km road westward from Wanaka. It was the site of a famous 1949 expedition in which the elderly explorer and founder of the New Zealand Alpine Club, A. P. Harper, was accompanied by the poet James K. Baxter, the composer Douglas Lilburn and the photographer Brian Brake in the hope of making a great artistic production, which unfortunately never happened.
June 10, 2020
'Tossed by the Wind': The rare and remarkable creatures of Tiritiri Matangi (Part Two)
My explorations of Tiritiri Matangi Island, continued from Part One, in which I encounter tuatara and rare songbirds and hike the island's trails.
June 10, 2020
'Tossed by the Wind': The rare and remarkable creatures of Tiritiri Matangi (Part One)
Just north-east of Auckland, New Zealand, lies the sanctuary island of Tiritiri Matangi, a high-value scientific reserve that is home to some of the rarest and weirdest creatures on the planet such as the kiwi and the tuatara. And yet you can go there, and even stay overnight. Tripadvisor has awarded Tiritiri Matangi its Certificate of Excellence and, as of the date of publication of the original post on which this podcast is based (June 6th, 2019), rated it at #2 out of 208 things to do in central Auckland! (This is continued in a separate podcast, Part Two.)
June 10, 2020
On a Kiwi Visa in Cappadocia
Cappadocia was a centre of Greek culture for more than two thousand years. For most of its history, the old-time Ottoman Empire had a strong Greek presence, and presence of other Christian minorities, now almost gone from modern Turkey. In this podcast, I talk about Cappadocia's history and cultural relics as well as its freaky natural landforms, formed by the erosion of volcanic ash over millennia and hollowed out to form residences, churches and even whole underground cities!
June 10, 2020
Bobs Cove: A Sacred Pool to the Māori, a Mine to the Pākehā, Instagrammable Today
This post is about Bobs Cove west of Queenstown: a really interesting place to spend a day, with one of the most Instagrammable views in New Zealand from the top of Picnic Point, other attractions nearby, and a ton of local history!
June 6, 2020
Auckland: Thoughts on a Young City
Auckland, New Zealand, is a city that’s now almost 180 years old, yet which even most locals don’t seem to think of as having much of a history. This is the podcast of a post that touches briefly on the history of Auckland, with some colourful images and three videos. It talks about the degradation of a metropolis once dubbed the 'Queen City' by traffic and motorways, and asks if Auckland can get its mojo back.
May 30, 2020
Behind the Scenery: Striking Historical Gold in New Zealand
This a short, sharp post in which I reflect on the screening of 'The Luminaries' in New Zealand and why it is that we don't do more to promote our fantastic historical stories, as we could.
May 23, 2020
Auckland's Icon: A trip to Rangitoto, the harbour volcano
I hike up Rangitoto Island, the iconic green volcano that dominates the approaches to Auckland Harbour. I swim on the far side of the beautiful island, where you can't see Auckland at all and could imagine yourself completely away from it all in the South Pacific. And all for the cost of a harbour ferry ride.
May 23, 2020
An Undeveloped Gem: Auckland's Rotoroa Island
In this post I visit Auckland's Rotoroa Island, a refuge for alcoholics from 1910 till 2005, which missed out on being over-developed for tourism in the way that neighbouring Pakatoa Island was. Perhaps fortunately so! These days, Rotoroa Island is a nature sanctuary with lots of flightless birds running around under the developing trees. It's still pretty low-key, but there are places to stay.
May 23, 2020
Covid from a Kiwi Perspective
The countries that are succeeding and the countries that are failing. What distinguishes them, and what will happen in the future?
May 23, 2020
15 Best Places to see the Sunrise in Auckland: Two Inner-City Volcanoes
I watch the sun rise from two of Auckland, New Zealand’s pretty green volcanoes and talk about their history and significance to Aucklanders. The second in a continuing series of posts about sunrises in Auckland, described as Part 2 in the audio.
May 23, 2020
15 Best Places to see the Sunrise in Auckland, New Zealand: The City's Eastern Beaches
Before the lockdown, I went to a number of spots in Auckland to photograph the sunrise. This is the podcast to accompany a post that includes some photos and a video from the city's eastern beaches, taken as I strolled from St Heliers to Ōkahu Bay via Kohimarama and Mission Bay, visiting the Savage Memorial at Bastion Point / Takaparawhā. This is the first of several posts that make up the total, and is described as Part 1 in the audio..
May 23, 2020
Sample Introduction to Eternal Egypt: My Encounter with an Ancient Land
This is the introduction  to the audiobook of Eternal Egypt: My Encounter with an Ancient Land. In this book, Mary Jane explores Egypt, a cradle of civilisation described by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus as the ‘gift of the Nile’. Mary Jane long put off going to Egypt for years before she finally went. She’s glad she did: there’s so much more to Egypt than the pyramids! You can order the audiobook on Gumroad, and the Kindle or Print book on Amazon. The Gumroad audiobook includes a PDF with all the images in the print book and Kindle, in colour. Amazon Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars Worth a quick read! Reviewed in the United States on February 28, 2020 I liked this little book...its very short and like having an informal chat with the author. I was recently in Egypt for 3 weeks in January (2020!). I miss the country very much! I would never have traveled there alone, however. Some of the troubles the author ran into, would have never happened, and she herself said she should have planned ahead at the time. But, I think she got a much more personal and intimate view of the country than I did. If you're thinking about going to Egypt, GO! But book with a travel agency and not on the fly.
May 12, 2020
Lovely Lebanon audiobook: Free Sample Chapter
Here is a free sample chapter, 'The Hezbollah War Museum', from the audiobook of my 2019 book Lovely Lebanon: A Little Country with a Big History.  The audiobook is currently available on Gumroad, and the ebook and print book are currently available on Amazon.  Here's its first Amazon review, from 27 April 2020 (Five stars out of five): "Interesting book! "Since I cannot travel myself, I enjoyed reading this book about Lebanon. I like the way the author brings in tidbits of history, along with discussions of the scenery. I am anxious to read other books by the author." If you buy the audiobook on Gumroad, you get a PDF with all the pictures in the book (in colour) as well.
May 7, 2020
Catchy Cyprus: Once was the Island of Love (audiobook) (free Introduction)
This is the Introduction to my tenth book of travel memoirs, 'Catchy Cyprus: Once was the Island of Love', which you can buy as an audiobook with PDF images on Gumroad, or also as a Kindle or paperback on Amazon.
April 23, 2020
What can you find within Five Kilometres of your House?
Holed up in Point Chevalier, Auckland, I explore my local surroundings within a five kilometre exercise bubble, and discover a wealth of hidden places that I'd often ignored before.
April 11, 2020
Leper Colonies or Lockdown for Covid-19?
A report from the front lines of the invisible war in New Zealand, a comparison with Mediaeval social distancing practices, and a visit to a secret oasis in the hills above Queenstown where you can still take your exercise and admire the views!
April 11, 2020
Introduction to my 2019 book 'The Scottish Isles: Shetlands, Orkneys and Hebrides (Part 1)'
This is the Introduction to my ninth book of travel memoirs, 'The Scottish Isles: Shetlands, Orkneys and Hebrides (Part 1)', which you can buy as an audiobook with PDF images on Gumroad, or also as a Kindle or paperback on Amazon.
March 30, 2020
Lockdown in Queenstown
Will Queenstown revert to the animals? That's the question my editor sets out to investigate as the mountain resort town enters the second night of a four-week lockdown, with bewildered ducks wondering who will feed them, timid wild cormorants getting bolder and a little sparrow staking a claim to a streetlight!
March 30, 2020
From Oamaru to Timaru
In this post, I travel north from Oamaru to the similarly-named town of Timaru, stopping off at Waimate. If Oamaru is the 'whitestone city', Oamaru is bluestone (meaning basalt) and granite, courtesy of a nearby volcano named Mt Horrible. Perhaps the most remarkable attraction is the Te Ana Rock Art Centre, which showcases Māori cave drawings of the utmost amazingness!
March 30, 2020
Blown Away in Brisbane
Brisbane is Australia's third largest city. It's the hub of Queensland culture, offering glimpses of the past and of the future.
March 30, 2020
The Lonely Landscape of the Chatham Islands, where the Coronavirus probably won’t ever arrive
My fourth blog post on the Chathams. From Waitangi I headed north again, toward freaky lonesome volcanoes and wandering cattle. And then down south and around, through Kōpinga Marae and listening to a lecture at Kaingaroa, marvelling at the landscape all the way.
March 30, 2020
The Museum at Waitangi
In this post, I visit the museum in the council chamber at Waitangi on the Chathams, and talk some more about the islands' fascinating history, with pictures. Who is that man in the photo? Listen on!
March 30, 2020
There are Moriori, after all!
This is my second post about the Chathams. I posted it a day after hearing that the New Zealand Government had done a deal to recognise Moriori claims. I visit the grave of Tame Horomana Rehe or Tommy Solomon, the 'last' Moriori who wasn't the last, and talk about the fascinating landscape of the islands.
March 30, 2020
East to the Chathams
New Zealand has a North Island and a South Island, but did you know that there's an east island as well? More precisely, an archipelago called the Chathams. I flew there in January 2020 and went exploring. It turns out that this place is far more historically important than people realise! (The first of four posts.)
March 30, 2020
‘I can’t believe I haven’t stayed here before!’ The Wonderland of Oamaru
This is a post about Oamaru, an amazingly historic town in northern Otago, New Zealand. It's the home of the famous writer Janet Frame, and a town that's obvously had a lot of community investment over the years.
March 30, 2020
Up to the Place of Light, down the Water of Tears
The Pigroot, which I've also blogged about, runs south of a great wilderness. To the north, there is another scenic drive, which runs through the the Lindis Pass and the towns of Cromwell, Ōmārama, Otematata, Kurow and Duntroon. This is about that road trip!
March 30, 2020
Dunedin’s Town Belt and Olveston House, and a backtrack to Mt Cargill
Adelaide is famous for its parklands, but Dunedin should be too. In this post I explore the city's town belt, the great belt of parklands that encompasses its downtown area. I visit historic Olveston House, in the town belt. And I also climb to the top of Mount Cargill (north of Dunedin) for a view over the city.
March 30, 2020
The North Coast into Dunedin
I continue my journey from the Pigroot down into Dunedin, visiting the oldest surviving farm in New Zealand and a bizarre warrior museum when I finally hit town.
March 30, 2020
The Old Gold Road: Dawdling to Dunedin on the Pigroot Trail
In this post I describe spring travel along the 'Pigroot' road from Queenstown toward Dunedin. I stop in at the historic townships of St Bathans, Wedderburn and Naseby. In the next post I'll complete my journey, travelling south along the coast.
March 30, 2020
Train Time for Timaru?
Timaru, New Zealand, used to be a Railway Junction. Why can’t main line passenger rail services be restored in the age of climate change?
March 29, 2020
'Where I Went': Chapter 2 of Iran: Make Love not War – Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll on the Silk Road
This is the second chapter of my book Iran: Make Love not War – Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll on the Silk Road.  It describes where I went in Iran, and is a good overview of the book, which can be purchased as a Kindle or Paperback on Amazon (ASIN i.e.shopcode: B07W4W7FXR) and as an audiobook on Gumroad, at The book has 283 images, viewable in colour for free on
March 10, 2020
Free sample of A Maverick Cuban Way audiobook: Introduction
This is the Introduction to my book A Maverick Cuban Way, first published in 2017. You can listen to it for free.  The whole audiobook is for sale on Gumroad for US $9.99 at  You can also see the photos in the book, 247 images in total, on this widget:  A Maverick Cuban Way is also for sale on your local Amazon website as a paperback and a Kindle.
February 25, 2020
Iran: Make Love not War - Part 6 - Weaving Carpets Slowly
In this podcast, based on a November 2019 blog post, I talk about the artistic and scholarly culture of Persia and its contribution to the survival of Persia, or Iran, as a nation over many centuries. Surprisingly enough, carpet weaving seems to have played an important part!
December 30, 2019
David Unaipon Country
In this podcast, based on a November 2019 blog post, I travel to Raukkan in South Australia to pay my respects to the memory of David Unaipon, the polymath who appears on Australia's $50 bill.  I also talk about David Unaipon's life and achievements, against the odds, in an early-twentieth-century Australia where the lives of aboriginals such as Unaipon were often strictly controlled.
December 30, 2019
Outside Adelaide: From Hahndorf to Port Elliot
Adelaide, South Australia, is a very charming city. But sometimes you want to get out into the country. In this podcast, of a blog post I put up in November 2019, I go to the German-Australian town of Hahndorf, and then to the Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, to the Fleurieu Peninsula, and to the seaside towns of Port Elliot and nearby Victor Harbour
December 30, 2019
Doubtful Sound Revisited
This podcast combines the fourth and fifth of my posts about travel in New Zealand in springtime. I visit Doubtful Sound / Pātea in south-west New Zealand on the 19th and 20th of September, 2019, taking an overnight boat trip and describing the things I see and do along the way. An overnight boat trip is a really good way to see the fiords of south-west New Zealand, as the weather is often changeable . The blog post is dated 22 December 2019 in the audio; part two, which I added to the first post to complete the podcast as part two is shorter, came out on the 29th. 
December 29, 2019
The Humiliations of Persia
This is a further podcast in my Iranian series. It concerns the way that Persia, or Iran, has often suffered a form of cultural condescension at the hands of the West, for instance in the relative virtues of the Spartans and the Persians in the '300' films. Iran has also been invaded and occupied many times by outside powers, most recently in the course of World War II: a little-known episode which set the scene for the Battle of Stalingrad. The prickly attitudes of the present-day Islamic Republic can partly be traced to these humiliations. The series is also posted, with images, on my blog at, and on Medium.
December 17, 2019
The Great Dieback
In this podcast, I talk about the serious global problem of phytophthora species being spread from one country to another. Phytophthora is a Greek word meaning 'Destroyer of Plants'. It refers to a kind of fungus or blight organism that thrives in damp soil. There are many species of phytophthora and when a new species is introduced, it is often devastating to the local plant community. Local phytophthora can also wipe out imported plants. The Irish potato blight, which caused a famine in the 1840s, was the result of a species of phytophthora. In this podcast, based on a blog post on my website, I talk about the destruction of native eucalyptus trees in Australia and native kauri trees in New Zealand, by what are probably introduced species of phytophthora brought in on things like muddy boots and imported plants in the days when biosecurity wasn't as strict. Other native species in Australia and New Zealand are affected as well.
December 15, 2019
A Spring Break at Wanaka
This post is one of a series that I'm putting out this southern summer, 2019/2020, about the pleasures of travelling off the beaten track in New Zealand. Off the beaten track in terms of place, and time of year. For it's about a trip I made in spring, when when the weather's improving but there aren't many tourists about, to a place called Wanaka, on Lake Wanaka north of Queenstown. Among other things, Wanaka's the site of an oft-photographed willow, #ThatWanakaTree. So maybe it's not that far off the beaten track after all! But still, it's interesting to visit in the off season and to take some side trips to the alpine Matukituki Valley (which IS off the beaten track) and to the Snow Farm cross-country ski facility, which still has some snow to farm at that time of year.
December 15, 2019
Off the beaten track at Manapouri
A post about spring travel in New Zealand, when things aren't busy but the weather's mostly fine. I stay at a funky holiday camp with a lot of history and talk about local hiking treks.
December 14, 2019
History in Motion: Travelling through Time on the TSS Earnslaw
New Zealand is a young country, but a country with a lot of history all the same. This includes the amazing lake steamer, the TSS Earnslaw, launched in 1912 and still going strong under steam power. This podcast is based on a blog post of the same title, on my website, which includes photos and videos.
October 25, 2019
Adelaide and South Australia (Part 2)
I talk about how Adelaide is a supremely walkable city, ‘Designed for Life’, thanks to a farsighted early plan. I walk around the downtown and visit the old gaol, and talk about threats to Adelaide's livability as a result of road construction and loss of heritage buildings.
October 20, 2019
Iran: Make Love not War - Part 5 - The Caspian Riviera
It had been really hot at Alamut, and the mountains semi-arid. So we went through green forests to the shores of the Caspian Sea, the strange inland ocean of central Asia, where people from Tehran go for their holidays.
October 13, 2019
Iran: Make Love not War – Part 4 – The Valley of the Assassins
Perhaps you've heard of the 'Old Man of the Mountain'? Hassan-i Sabbah was the real-life inspiration for the game Assassin's Creed. I visit his stronghold in the Alamut Valley, part of a historically rebellious and frontier-like part of Iran northwest of Tehran.
October 4, 2019
Adelaide and South Australia (Part 1)
This podcast is based on the first of a series of blog posts on Adelaide (the capital of South Australia) and the region nearby. Adelaide is a spectacularly attractive city with massive inner city parklands, though many historic buildings are at risk. The region nearby is where nearly everyone in South Australia who isn't actually from Adelaide lives. It includes the aborignal community of Raukkan, historic settler towns and numerous nature parks.
October 4, 2019
Australian Alps: a visit to the ski resorts of Perisher and Thredbo
In this post, I visit the ski resorts of Perisher and Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains area of the Australian Alps. The area's quite famous and historic (as in 'The Man from Snowy River') and the skifields are huge. I give out some practical tips about where to stay and how to save money by booking ahead, and share heaps of photos and videos and stories gleaned by talking to local people.
September 12, 2019
Iran: Make Love not War - Part 3 - Tabriz and the Road of the Martyrs
In this episode, I cross the border into Iran and travel to Tabriz, then on to the Alamut Valley. The first thing I see at the border is people smuggling cigarettes! In a small town on the border, I get told with a throat-slitting gesture that I must wear a hijab in Iran or be killed. This advice was overly dramatic for places like Tehran, which are fairly cosmopolitan (though you'd still get in trouble with the morality police). But it might have been true locally and I certainly wasn't going to offend anyone. Leaving the wild frontier with its smugglers and dire warnings behind, I had planned to head toward the Caspian Sea shore and see some old castles there, then travel along the beautiful, green shore of this inland sea to the Alamut Valley, stronghold of a legendary Mediaeval guild of assassins founded by Hassan-i Sabbah ('The Old Man of the Mountain'). But the roads in the north were too bad. Instead, we travelled along the main highway leading to Tehran, a road lined with pictures of people killed in wars defending Iran's Islamic Revolution: war dead who the Iranians called martyrs. The pictures were decorated with red tulips, which are the Iranian equivalent of the Flanders poppy.
September 4, 2019
Iran: Make Love not War - Part 2
In this episode, I cross the border from Turkey into Iran and talk about some of the practicalities of getting there, including visa issues and changing money.
August 12, 2019
Iran: Make Love not War - Part 1
This podcast is based on the first of a series of blog posts I'm putting up about a trip I made to Iran, in the Autumn of 2018. I describe where I went in the country and some of the issues it faces. I crossed overland from Turkey, and made my way to Tabriz, and from there to the Alamut Valley, the home of a famous guild of Mediaeval assassins, who took on the oppressors of the poor. From there I travelled to Tehran, with a side trip to the resort town of Chalus, on the Caspian Sea. Then I went on to Isfahan, a famous planned city; and then Shiraz, home of poets and (before the Islamic Revolution) of Iran's wine-makers as well. The Shiraz area is also where Iran's ancient capital of Persepolis and the associated tomb-complexes of Naqsh-e Rostam and Pasagardae are found. And from there, to the famous, Star Wars-like desert city of Yazd, with its wind-catcher towers that drag air through people's houses in a natural form of air conditioning, and its Zoraostrian 'towers of silence', where the dead were laid out for vultures. I talk about Iran's problems with drought and various forms of oppression and enmity, and its amazing ancient culture that comes through in spite of all that.
July 30, 2019
A Maverick Traveller (audiobook): Part 2 of 2
 This is an experimental upload of the first half of an audiobook of A Maverick Traveller, prepared using Animaker and Amazon Polly. A Maverick Traveller is the first of Mary Jane Walker's travel memoirs, first published in 2017 and since updated The Kindle and print versions contain 93 images and you can go to the sales link here. This audiobook episode follows on from Part 1, beginning at Chapter 25, 'Dictators and Dracula''. See also Mary Jane's website and blog. 
June 25, 2019
A Maverick Traveller (audiobook): Part 1 of 2
This is an experimental upload of the first half of an audiobook of A Maverick Traveller, prepared using Animaker and Amazon Polly. A Maverick Traveller is the first of Mary Jane Walker's travel memoirs, first published in 2017 and since updated. The Kindle and print versions contain 93 images and you can go to the sales link here. The audiobook ends at the end of Chapter 24 'All Roads Lead Around Rome' and the second half begins at the start of Chapter 25, 'Dictators and Dracula'. See also Mary Jane's website and blog.
June 25, 2019
Maungatautiri, the Sanctuary Mountain
The world's largest ecological reserve behind a pest-proof fence lies south-east of Cambridge, New Zealand, close to Hobbiton and the Waitomo glow-worm caves. It's the Maungatautari Reserve, also known as Sanctuary Mountain. All kinds of ancient and endangered species now have a chance to thrive on this island in the sky, rising up above the intensively-farmed plains of the Waikato. I went for a ramble on the mountain with the Auckland meetup group, Feet First.
June 10, 2019