Favourite Places: Exploring Makara Walkway with Welly Walks

Makara Beach is easily one of my favourite spots around Wellington. Just a short 30-minute drive from the city center, you’ll feel like you’re the only person on the island.

pano from beach

I’ve been here several times, as Brett is an avid spear-fisherman and the rocky shorelines makes for ideal conditions. The first time we drove to Makara, the beach was dark and gloomy – but I haven’t had a bad day since. Even when Wellington is windy and cold, Makara seems to be in its own world with low winds at beach level, calm waves and clear waters.

beachview
Mana Island is just visible from the main entrance of Makara Beach

Although we are approaching Autumn, this past weekend felt like a summer day – with warm temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. This is how I’ve come to know Makara Beach, and have experienced my best Wellington days out here, sitting on the (rocky – not sandy) beach and searching for shells and sea glass.

opposite beach view

shells

A few weeks ago, I found an iPhone App that lists different walks around Wellington, with Makara Walkway being one of them. So when Brett told me he was going diving with a friend (meaning that I didn’t need to sit on the beach and keep watch) I took the opportunity to explore the hills around the beach.

The Welly Walks app guides you through the hike (which is easy enough to navigate on your own), but also tells the history of the area. The gun emplacements and bunkers near the summit were originally built following the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbour. Although they were commissioned by the start of WWII, these grounds never saw any action and were de-commissioned in 1944 (credit to the Welly Walks App for the history lesson).

barracks2

barracksview
Mana Island & Kapiti Island in the distance

As with any ocean look-out built during WWI/WWII, the views are incredible, as it was necessary to scout out invaders. The irony is that these grounds have now become a place of peace and reflection for hikers or picnickers – a complete turnaround from the original strategy of their placement.

me with view

To get to this viewpoint you can either hike from the beach or (the most popular route by the looks of it) park near the B2 turbine and take a short walk.

sheep
Part of the hike crosses over farmland, so you’re bound to make some new friends along the way 🙂

The B2 turbine is also a site to see, as it’s the only wind turbine in the area that pedestrians can access up close. I personally find the wind turbines to be very calming and peaceful to watch, and although they seem to always be turning in full force around Makara Beach, there was hardly any wind at ground level.

B2
B2 Turbine (FYI for you lazy people: parking access is just around this hill)
gully
Shepherds Gully Fault

Although the app suggests to take the Opau Bay route and walk back to Makara along the beach, I went back down the way I came, for a couple of reasons. The beach is very rocky and somewhat annoying to navigate (which I know from experience), and the views near the beginning of the trail were secluded and incredible, and I wanted to re-visit these places on my way back down to the beach.

viewoveropau
Gun emplacements, with Opau Beach to the left; South Island in the distance
pano2
View from the hike up/down that I wanted to re-vist 🙂

The hike took about two hours to complete, including numerous “photo op” stops. The climb to the top is relatively steep, but worth every aching muscle once you see the incredible views for yourself.

I don’t often repeat hikes (as I like to see as many new things as possible), but I would definitely do this one again and perhaps spend a bit more time relaxing at the top and enjoying the views.

And as much as I loved Makara Beach before, this hike has solidified it as one of my favourite places in the Wellington area.

cactus

Victoria Street Market in Wellington, New Zealand

Since my family is over 10,000kms away (12, 827 to be exact), I have zero Easter weekend obligations. So, forget about Lazy Sundays – I’m all about productivity today.

First on the list was a trip to the Victoria Street Sunday Market. I’ve lived in Wellington for three months now and can’t believe I waited so long to experience this.

After scouring the Internet for opening times (in addition to whether it was happening over the Easter weekend) I’d seen websites indicating it starts at 4am, 6:30am and 8:30am. I decided 8:00am was a safe bet, in order to beat an early afternoon rush and get first pick (pun intended) at the produce.

FullSizeRender

In case you’re wondering – yes, I literally plan and research everything. It’s just what I do.

Getting There + Scouting Bargains

Just a short five-minute walk from my apartment, the Market hosts at least a dozen vendors – all with relatively similar offerings. I think the best way to start is to do a walk-around and check out the prices and quality. I ended up getting some great deals and a nice variety of veggies with this approach.

FullSizeRender (1)

The one thing on my “wish list” that I didn’t pick up were sweet potatoes – they were the size of a football, and the same vendor’s other produce was also super-sized (I’d never seen carrots so big!). Giant sweet potatoes freak me out. Always have and always will. And they’re a pain to chop. Not surprisingly, I decided to pass on the sweet po’s this time.

The HAUL

My fruit and veggie haul (below) cost a grand total of $9.10. The “Showstopper” purchase today was the purple kale, which was only $1.50. If that’s not worth getting out of bed early on a Sunday, then I don’t know what is. 😊

FullSizeRender (2)

Update: My Herb Grave – I mean, Herb Garden

This afternoon I’ll taking another attempt at growing an herb garden. If you don’t follow me on Instagram, I often comment about how my herbs are either dead, wilted, or just plain ugly and inedible… But I am determined to make this work. This time I’ll attempt to grow parsley, peppermint (both are apparently impossible to kill), cilantro and dill. I’m armed with fresh soil, seeds and organic fertilizer… I just need to muster up some patience and I’m all set!

FullSizeRender (3)
Back row left to right: Marjoram (oregano), Sage & Thyme   Front: Dead Basil, Lettuce and Cilantro — Guess which box is getting a makeover?

Current Mode

I’m hanging out at the only Starbucks in Wellington (sometimes you just need a taste of MURICA to get your day going), while there’s a Balsamic Glazed Roast Beef in the slow cooker at home. See what I mean about productivity? And you bet I’ve got the Market carrots and onions hanging out in the balsamic juices with the meat (I think I enjoy the carrots more than the roast itself, but this recipe is delicious and very low-maintenance).

FullSizeRender (4)

I’m also about to book some accommodation for our trip to Australia in two weeks. Brett is competing at the Sydney Fitness Expo (Powerlifting) and I’m tagging along for the ride. I’ll have two days of “free time” in Sydney, and the Planner in me is just dying to cram every activity possible into those two days. BUT. I won’t. I’m going to plan a couple of adventures and just wing it for the remaining two hours. See what I did there? 😉

Anyway, back to my To Do List now – I hope you all have a Productive Sunday!

My Top 5 Tourist Fails

Have you ever experienced a “Pinterest Fail”? It’s when you find a recipe for “THEBESTCHOCOLATECHIPCOOKIESEVER” and they end up looking like this:

20140101_162838.jpg
Pinterest cookie fail, circa 2012

True story.

Well, the same thing can happen when travelling… and I like to call these “Tourist Fails”. You travel across the province/country/world to do THEBESTTHINGEVER and something (usually the weather) presents the unexpected and you end up with less-than-perfect travel photos. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you do it anyway – rain or shine, my friends.

So, here are my Top 5 Tourist Fails (so far):

Tourist Fail Number 1: Stonehenge, England, United Kingdom, March 2010

I visited Stonehenge shortly after they built a gate to keep tourists from touching /stealing /breathing on the stones. If you cannot tell by the look on my face, it was cold and windy as hell. I think I lasted 10 minutes outside before running back to the bus. Also, the brochures don’t mention that Stonehenge is located directly beside a busy highway and massive parking lot (albeit with a highly convenient coffee shop and loo). This is the best photo I got.

England 2010 480
It’s so bad that I’m not even mad about it anymore.

Tourist Fail Number 2: Machu Picchu, Peru, South America, October 2011

You know those days when you regret not checking the weather forecast? To this day I’ve never seen so many ponchos in one place. Thankfully, my trusty North Face windbreaker has been with me through it all. And we went for pizza afterwards. Which gave us food poisoning. Check off the ol’ bucket list.

P1030897.JPG
Pro Tip: Take the self-guided tour in reverse to avoid the crowds
P1030914
This was the first leg of our four-week South America trip

Tourist Fail Number 3: Cape Palliser, North Island, New Zealand, December 2016

Yes, even many years later I have failed to check the weather report. You can read all about my trip to Cape Palliser and the seal Nursery visit in my Cape Palliser blog post.

IMG_5762

Tourist Fail Number 4: Loch Ness, Scotland, United Kingdom, April 2010

This one isn’t weather-related but I honestly thought we would see Nessie (please refrain from laughing). I was travelling the UK with a friend from high school on a serious shoestring budget. We were so cheap that when we got to the castle at the end of the 90-minute walk we didn’t even want to pay the £10 to see it up close. Then we walked the return 90 minutes and took the bus back to Glasgow. Let’s just erase this from memory now.

England 2010 Part Two 003

England 2010 Part Two 008
Nixon belts were still cool back then, okay?
England 2010 Part Two 016
My first time seeing herds of sheep… Prepping myself for New Zealand, I guess!

Tourist Fail Number 5: Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada, October 2015 & 2016

In 2015, my sister (the Machu Picchu one) came to visit me and we drove 10 hours from St. John’s to Rocky Harbour for a three-day weekend. The boat tour season at Western Brook Falls was over, so we set off to hike the Green Gardens trail instead. Yes, it may have rained, hailed and snowed, but trust me, cracking an ice-cold Iceberg beer at the viewpoint over the lush grass and sea stacks made the journey more than worth it.

20151011_162655

20151011_153937
Pro Tip 2: You can totally use your shoe to open a beer, and socks as mittens when in a pinch.

20151011_152749edit

Bonus Fail:

I went back to Gros Morne in September 2016, this time with Brett before we moved to New Zealand. The ferry was still running at Western Brook Falls and I was so excited to finally get on it.

I’ll just leave these photos here.

IMG_4224
So naive about how cold it would be on the water…
IMG_4248
At the end of Western Brook Pond (the famous view is from the top of these cliffs)
IMG_4177.JPG
The North Face jacket is still present – under Brett’s hoodie. Seriously, it’s effing cold out there.

Funny enough – looking back through old photos to write this blog post made me realized that I actually enjoyed having these unexpected and less-than perfect travel experiences.

Postcard photos and “everything was fantastic” vacation stories are a dime-a-dozen, and if I’m going to travel that far to see something, I want to see it from a new perspective and in a unique way – not identical to something I pulled from Pinterest.

Travelling has taught me the value of being flexible and having the ability to laugh at myself… and most importantly to check the weather forecast more often 😊

48 hours in the Art Deco capital: Napier, New Zealand

The past few weekends were spent lounging around the house, visiting cafes and eating copious amounts of wings and fries. Now, I’m all for R&R but I also get a bit ‘squirrely’ when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. This past weekend we switched things up and drove four hours up the North Island to Napier for a weekend away from the city. *Note that it took five hours because of my superb navigation skills.

Napier

Napier is a unique city – and much bigger than I’d anticipated. Part of the City Centre was rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the 1930s, and now boasts an abundance of Art Deco buildings from that era. Now there’s your history lesson for the day.

Accommodation

We spent two nights at The Nautilus on Marine Parade. Our perch from the second floor was stunning: unobstructed views of the ocean and Cape Kidnappers in the distance. We were just far enough from the City Centre to avoid the crowds of tourists, but just close enough to walk to dozens of restaurants and the bike shop where we began our wine tour on Saturday morning.

IMG_7160
View from our balcony to the ocean

The Vineyard Tour

I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of biking from vineyard to vineyard, but decided it would be a good idea to burn some calories while drinking a lot of wine. Brilliant, right? So we booked ourselves in with Napier City Bike Tours on the “Country to Coast” self-guided tour. I think this was a great package: we were dropped off about 20 minutes out of the city at 10:30am, bike 16km and stopped at six cellar doors, then we were picked up and shuttled back to the city at 4:00pm.

IMG_7196
View from Black Barn Vineyard

Any reservations I’d had about biking around the vineyards quickly disappeared. This was an excellent way to spend a Saturday: The sun was shining and temps were around 25 degrees all day. Each vineyard was unique and special in its own way – differentiated by their host, scenery, wine offerings, and history of the vineyard. We visited:

Above: Te Mata and Beach House

Our wine choices

We purchased wine from both Te Mata and Akarangi. The funny thing about wine is that there are two types I will always avoid: Shiraz and Chardonnay. They just don’t do it for me (I actually had to dump out my Chardonnay tasting at Black Barn).

However… Our favourite wine at Te Mata was a Syrah (related to the Shiraz grape) and the Chardonnay from Akarangi. The fact that I bought Chardonnay speaks volumes for this vineyard. We learned from the owner that they’d produced wine in previous years, shut down the business for family reasons, and have only just started producing wine again since late 2016. Their wines are currently online and at their cellar door (which happens to be a church, relocated from nearby Clive). Akarangi was certainly my top pick for location, chill vibes and beautiful wines.

IMG_7230
Akarangi Cellar Door

Note: Another bonus of the tour is that you can leave your purchases at the vineyard and the shuttle driver will collect them before meeting you at your pick-up location. That was a much-appreciated perk.

The unexpected highlight

Near Te Mata vineyard is a café called Chalk ‘n’ Cheese. Do not bypass this place. We stopped in for a cheeseboard and while choosing our selection had a full cheese-tasting experience. I cannot recall the exact cheese we decided on but everything was incredible – and the woman conducting the tasting was very knowledgeable. She also had a very dry sense of humor, which came through when Brett remarked that one of the cheeses would “taste good in a toastie” and her reply to me (with an eyeroll) was, “I am so sorry for this Kiwi man.”

We sat outside underneath beautiful, ripe fig trees. I know they were ripe because one plummeted down onto my arm and exploded with fig juice. A man, whom I’m assuming is a regular, looked at me and said “Oh, you got figged on!”.

Yes, yes I did.

Aside from the fig incident, this was the perfect pit stop on our bike tour, and I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone in the area.

img_7209.jpg

Dining out in Napier

After arriving back in the city we went on an evening bike ride to find some food. Honestly, we just wanted pizza. While we were cycling around the “non-tourist” area of town looking for Hell Pizza, we came across Dough Pizzeria. It looked much more inviting than the mob of hungry takeaway patrons at Hell, so we parked our bikes outside of Dough and went in. The wood fire pizza was delicious and reminded me of a place back in Newfoundland that serves authentic, Italian-style pizza (or so I assume since I’ve never been to Italy). I opted for the Mediterranean simply for the black olives, and Brett ordered a chicken pizza. Both were delicious and devoured in minutes (no joke). I think we went to bed at 9:30pm with our carb coma, and it was so worth it.

IMG_7272.JPG

We headed back to Wellington early Sunday morning, and it’s incredible how much we were able to see while in Napier for just two nights. I can definitely see myself heading back there in the summer months to visit more vineyards, bike along the trails and get consumed in the relaxed lifestyle once again.

NZ’s best one-day walk: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is at the top of New Zealand’s To Do list and rated as the “best day hike” in the country. With sparkling lakes nestled high up in the mountains of Tongariro National Park and surrounded by craters and volcanos, this 19.4km day hike covers a variety of eco systems. Brett and his parents had never completed the hike before, so the choice was easy when deciding on a weekend getaway.

img_6348

The forecast boasted temperatures up to 23 degree Celsius and clear skies. Dozens – perhaps hundreds – of hikers were among us as we dislodged from the shuttle bus at 7:00am and felt the crisp morning air on our skin. I was very content with my decision to pack a down jacket and mittens.

An hour into the hike, as we made our way up the “Devil’s Staircase”, I couldn’t help but wonder what brought each person to hike the trail. For every person there was a varying level of fitness, age, and clothing options (there will always be a person on the trail in jeans, and I pity their chaffed thighs the next day).

For a pair of women, this was a fitness goal. They slurped from their Camelback water bags – replenishing the liquids in their bodies surely just as fast as it was being sweat from their pores. Halfway up the Devil’s Staircase they urged each other to carry on.

A group of young girls were inadequately prepared, as they wore taboo jeans and fresh sneakers – complete with Marc Jacobs backpacks. I think I would have cried with them, had I been in their presence during the muddy descent on a latter part of the trail. Oh to be young and impractical.

For myself, it was the curiosity. In every country, there is always a “thing” that must be seen: the Statue of Liberty in NYC, Stonehenge in England, Machu Picchu in Peru, etc. This trail is the “thing” of New Zealand’s North Island.

img_6361

So up we went, single-file like an army of ants on the ultimate pursuit of what had been promised to us if we just continued to put one foot in front of the other.

About two hours into the hike, Mount Ngauruhoe towered over our army. Without a cloud in the sky, the peak was threatening and dominant. Only the bravest of hikers would take the chance climbing to the top – a track I will save for another lifetime.

img_6371

Near the turnoff to Mount Tongariro we were greeted with a bird’s eye view of the Blue and Emerald Lakes, along with the steaming Red Crater. This was the highlight on the hike: the landscape that was promised to us tourists whom had travelled from around the world just to catch a glimpse. And it’s true: the Emerald Lakes were as green and jeweled as the photos, and Blue Lake sparkled in the afternoon sun, with its untouched sand begging for a beach comber to set up their umbrella. I was fortunate enough to distance myself between the other hikers and capture some photos without anyone in sight.

img_6411

The lakes were surely the highlight of the Crossing, followed by 10kms of switch-backs down the other side of the mountain ranges. The view of Taupo Lake was breathtaking, but trust me, it’s a harrowing feeling to see the parking lot below and know that you are still three hours away. Eventually, with sore toes and fatigued legs, we made it to the parking lot below and we had completed our journey.

img_6481

. . . . .

Now back in my flat in downtown Wellington – a fair distance from the mountains and their hidden gems in the sky, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the experience.

At the time I felt that this was not “magical” whatsoever – and I still stand by that statement to an extent. The stench from the sulfuric gas of the nearby volcano was enough to make my stomach turn, regardless of how long it had been since I ate breakfast. And aside from my 30 seconds of staring at the Blue Lake before another army of hikers passed, the mood of the hike is not that of reflection and tranquility.

But there’s something to be said about the must-see “things” around the world and the expectations that are set. And this is something that I need to constantly remind myself of. It’s important to remember that there are many, many others looking to fill the same void in their life when visiting these popular destinations: the curiosity, the achievement, crossing something off the Bucket List. I was initially surprised by the number of tourists eager to hike the Tongariro Crossing, but I shouldn’t have been.

img_6368

And although I didn’t initially believe there was enough opportunity for reflection, perhaps there was. I remember looking around at the others and wondering if the ancient Maori tribes (iwi) would be horrified to see how many people were trampling on their sacred land (albeit with trendy Marc J backpacks in tow). But I think they would be proud of the number of people who had come from around the globe to appreciate the landscape and beauty that the Crossing offers. Although the trail is now commercialized with toilet facilities and man-made stairs, it is well-preserved and clean considering the traffic that flows through each year. (And yes, I did yell at anyone who went near the water… the tourist brochure says not to touch it!).

If I were to summarize the Tongariro Crossing (other than in the previous 850 words of this post), I would advise you to bring plenty of patience, for you will need it on the ascent, the decent, and everything in between. There are many, many others on the trail, but do not let it spoil the hard work that you put in to get there. Because it’s not easy hiking uphill with hundreds of strangers whilst hungry, thirsty, and sick to your stomach from the Sulphur gas vents in the hills beside you. But I think that’s what makes it a unique experience, and now that I think about it: That’s exactly what I was looking for.

img_6431

The road less traveled: Carterton, New Zealand

New Zealand’s North Island looks like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, with a splash of Dr. Seuss throw in. This is due to the rolling, green landscape, with a single tree occasionally scattered on a hilltop. It really looks like a fairy tale.

As a sendoff for my last day of Christmas vacation, Brett and I planned to go hiking nearby. We headed towards Carterton, a small town about 15 minutes from Masterton. At the end of Dalefield Road was the access point to Mount Dick Lookout, known to be one of the best viewpoints in the Wairarapa (the other is Rocky Lookout, which I’d hiked to with Brett’s dad in November).

img_5999

 

I’d read online that there was a road leading to the top, which requires 4-wheel drive unless the roads are dry. We weren’t sure where the road ended and the trail began, so Brett and I took his 2007 Corolla station wagon up the dirt road towards the Lookout.

Eventually, we realized that we were on the trail, and that if we wanted to get our exercise for the day, we’d need to park and get out. However, the momentum of driving uphill got the best of us, and we drove the entire way to the top in 2-wheel drive without any issues (*phew*).

img_6000
I think I counted about 873 blind corners on this route.

Even before we reached the peak, we were rewarded with picturesque views of the surrounding valley, including lush forests and farmland. It was quite breath-taking at the top, with very low wind levels considering the elevation of 520m above sea level. In the far distance, we could see Lake Wairarapa near the town of Featherston, which is my favourite viewpoint during the train commute to Wellington.

img_5967
Posing with Mr. Brett Gibbs himself

In hindsight, the 3.7km walk to the top would’ve been easily manageable for Brett and I, as we are quite active and the slope wasn’t very steep. However, I’d say we were not fully prepared for the trip (i.e., Brett refused to bring his own water bottle and I’m not really into sharing) so driving was likely the best option for us today. If you’re interested in a shorter walk, there is a ‘parking area’ about 2/3 up the hill, which would likely give you a 30-minute walk to the top.

Before taking the winding road back to the city, we had a mini photo shoot (as all couples do these days, especially when the boyfriend has a popular social media presence).

Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

img_5951
I’m actually just thinking about pizza.

So, regardless of our hiking fail, Brett and I have reservations at the infamous Iberia Café in Masterton for $10 pizza night. Seriously. $10. Tax is included and Kiwis don’t tip (my understanding is that wait staff are paid above minimum wage versus relying on non-guaranteed gratuities). So, you give them a $10 bill and eat the pizza. It’s amazing. And it’s so, so good.

Here’s hoping I can fling myself out of bed at 5:00am tomorrow morning to make the 6:20am train with a pizza hangover. 🙂

Jan 8, 2017 8:00PM Update:

Behold, the three glorious pizzas we ordered: Apricot Chicken (front), Pepperoni (back left) and Brie & Cranberry (back right). We’re at the point now that we get recognized as ‘regulars’. Perhaps it really is time to move. 😉

pizza

Paradise for surfers and seals: Cape Palliser, New Zealand

Today we drove approximately 90 minutes to Cape Palliser, the Southern-most point of New Zealand’s North Island. This coast doubles as a home to both surfers and seals – and divers if the ocean is calm enough – which, on this day, it unfortunately was not.

img_5749
Cape Palliser

Despite the high winds and rain, we shimmied up the 250+ slippery stairs leading to the 1897 Cape Palliser Lighthouse. It quickly became a “tortoise and hare” situation. As Brett leapt up the stairs like an antelope, I slowly made my way up, rigid and terrified as I passed a fellow tourist. We had to decide who would hold the only railing and who was at the mercy of the wind.

I held the rail.

img_5763
Going up…

At the top, we were rewarded with a 180 degree view of the coast. Brett’s dad took an obligatory photo of Brett and I. Not surprisingly, the weather was not co-operating and we were left with yet another hilarious tourist-y image of us trying to conceal our discomfort in the cold and rain. I like to think these types of photos are becoming some sort of weird tradition for us.

img_5762
I personally think a down jacket is a necessary addition to any summer wardrobe.

After surviving the descent back to the parking lot, we took a tour of “The Nursery”. This is where a large amount of seals congregate to make noise and stink up the crisp ocean air. Just kidding. This is the seal colony’s home base, which provides a natural shelter from the elements, even during high tide and winds. Oddly enough, I toggled back and forth on my opinion of the seals: one minute they were adorable with big bulging eyes, and the next minute I was screaming in horror as a big blob flopped towards the truck.

There’s really no middle ground with these creatures.

img_5802
There are dozens of camouflaged blobs in this photo. 
img_5796
“The Big Blob”

After safely arriving back home in Masterton, Brett and I took a recovery session at Iberia Café: home of the best (if not the only) Apricot Chicken Pizza. Paired with shoestring fries and a flat white coffee, this was the perfect way to cap off another day in the beautiful land of New Zealand.

img_5806
View from The Nursery

PS – If you were expecting me to finish this post with a photo of the mouth-watering pizza, I’m sorry to report that it didn’t stand a chance. Maybe next time. 😉