Charlotte Coales

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In 2012, I took a 6 month career break to travel to New Zealand, Africa and Madagascar.  This is a record of some of my adventures, big and small......

By coales, Mar 3 2012 05:57AM

Having previously spent several months in Auckland, and with time to kill before heading South, I set about the task of finding somewhere new to discover. The sea surrounding Auckland is littered with islands, some covered in vineyards and homes, others protected nature reserves. However, New Zealand's fourth largest island also lies off of the North Island coast, and this was the one I set out to explore.


Great Barrier Island is home to approximately 750 people and was a rough 4 1/2 hour ferry ride from Auckland harbour. (Take a look for yourself: http://vimeo.com/37574610 ) Needless to say, I was grateful for the effectiveness of my travel pills. Others were less fortunate. I spent two nights on the island, only a brief visit, but discovered a new and breathtaking part of New Zealand.


It's a very simple and rural place, with the odd areas of habitation scattered across the island. Everything else is either lush farmland or seemingly untouched bush and mountains. They don't have possums here, but local newspapers proudly write about the number of ferral cats and Indian Mynahs (a species of bird) shot by local residents in the past few months. Pests remain a constant issue.

Shops and restaurants are few and far between. My first day was a public holiday and consequently everything was closed. Thank goodness for the emergency can of tuna in my bag. The second day, a Tuesday, was little better. Only one cafe opens in the village of Claris (a 45 minute walk from my hostel) on Tuesdays. Everywhere else is open later in the week. Considering the lack of competition, the food was surprisingly delicious!


There is no public transport on the island. So you either walk, drive or hitch. I had always shyed away from the latter option, a risk I had always thought not worth taking. But I was assured it was the way everyone got around. So, after a long days walking (with a break to soak in the natural hot springs of a stream) I decided I would use my thumb! But I never even had the chance to remove my hand from my pocket, as the first car to approach immediately pulled over and offered me a lift. It would appear to be impossible to walk down the road on Great Barrier wothout someone stopping!


Although the quietness of the island was a shock after the hustle and bustle of Auckland, the lack of mobile phone signal and absence of light pollution and noise, made for an idyllic retreat. The beaches have glorious white sand, kaka (a native species of parrot) flap around in the trees and for the first time ever I could imagine giant moa stalking through the marshes in years gone past!



By coales, Mar 3 2012 05:52AM

'If you hit a rock, lean into it, not away from it' said the instructor, 'if you lean away, the water will come over the side of your boat and you'll go under.' The obligatory safety talk was beginning to make me wonder what I'd signed myself up to! 'If anyone gets into trouble, my first priority is myself', he continued. 'Once I am safe, my next priority is to make sure the rest of the group is ok. Once I am certain they are ok, and if it is safe to do so, I will then see if I can help you.' Great!


I had been wanting to kayak down the Whanganui River for YEARS - ever since I was last here, in the middle of winter and the river was in flood with full-size tress being uprooted and swept down it! Not ideal conditions for a gentle paddle! And now finally here I was, wrapped up in my life-jacket, paddle in hand, mildly terrified. I hadn't realised there were rapids on this river!


To be fair though, the rapids are only level 1 - 2, pretty tame and quite safe as long as you're sensible and know what you're doing.....or are with someone who knows what they're doing, which is why I had chosen to take a guided tour. Our guide, Shane, was from Canada. Trained on the Yukon, he knew little about the native fauna and flora of New Zealand, but everything about water safety and reading the river and rapids.


I was on a four-day kayak down the river, camping overnight at DOC (department of conservation) maintained sites and cut-off from mobile phones, electricity and the outside world. Paradise. Just me, my kayak and the river. Thick bush and high rising gorges, native pigeons (far more attractive than the regular kind!) and the constant thrum of cicadas.


I did have one close call, and have learnt a valuable lesson in life......don't get distracted by the local wildlife! We'd just passed through some rapids and I was merrily paddling along, when I noticed something hurtling down from the sky and plopping into the water. It was a large, emerald green beetle and, I guessed, not aquatic! It was floating around a few feet away from my boat and I was wondering whether I might be able to scoop it up with my paddle, when I happened to glance up. Looming up ahead was a large tree stump, protruding out of the water. S**t. All thoughts for the well being of the beetle vanished. I was now desperately trying to paddle away from the stump, but the water was dragging me straight towards it. There was nothing else left to do. My kayak hit the tree. I leant in, pushed away with my hands, and slid past. Crisis over, I made a mental note to concentrate on the potential hazards of the river more, and the plight of flying insects less!


Short film clip: http://vimeo.com/37575511



By coales, Feb 26 2012 05:05AM

New Zealand has a problem. While brimming with native wildife, it's also having to tackle all of the introduced plant and animal species that have been brought into the country over the past two hundred years. No easy feat. Introduced mammals such as ferrets, stoats and rats thrive on the easy pickings of ground nesting, flightless brids. Meanwhile deer, boar and goats gallavant around the countryside and possums from Australia munch on the lush New Zealand bush eating an estimated 9,000 tonnes of leaves, berries and fruit every night!


The solution? Island sanctuarys. Places where introduced species and predators have been erradicated and native animals have been reintroduced. The 'islands' aren't always surrounded by water, sometimes they're areas of land on the mainland that have been carefully fenced off. Two metre high fences with strictly controlled gates - nothing's getting in or out of there without a lot of trouble.


I visited the island of Tiri Matangi, an easy ferry ride from New Zealand's largest city, Auckland. But what a difference a ferry ride makes! The island is teeming with birdlife. And if you aren't quick enough to see a Saddleback or Stitchbird skimming through the trees, you'll certainly hear them. The native calls of the Tui and Bellbird fill the air, while the prehistoric looking Takahe ambles through the undergrowth. With only 200 individuals left, this bird needs all the help it can get.


These islands are acting like an ark, preserving native species and allowing them to increase in number, so that one day they may return to the 'wild'. But that will all depend on how successfully New Zealand can irradicate it's pest species. With an estimated 30 million possums, they've got a long way to go!


Photo: Takahe and chick

By coales, Feb 26 2012 04:14AM

It's been a jammed packed month since I left the UK - I've caught up with friends, explored some of the wilder parts of New Zealand and had a couple of unexpected trips to the dentist plus some badly bruised ribs, joy!

However, in all this time I have failed to update my blog. Tut tut I hear you say. So, over the next few days I shall endeavour to give you a taster of my experiences here.....stay tuned!


By coales, Jan 26 2012 03:31PM

Well, I think I've figured out how to write a blog.....or at least how to get it showing on the screen! The next step will be to make it sound interesting!


In less than 48 hours I will be taking off from Heathrow airport, heading to Auckland, on what I think can be best described as my 2012 mini-adventure! I have an arm full of yellow fever, hep A & B, rabies and various other concoctions, a backpack full of anti-malarials and I have just figured out how to use my new kindle (a parting present from work which will be brillant, especially now I've managed to turn it on!)


It would appear that there is no auto-correct for spelling mistakes etc on this blog, so I apologise now for any irregular phrasing, you'll hopefully get the gist of what I'm trying to say. There is a fine line between staying in touch and bombarding folk with endless updates, so I shall endeavour to avoid blogging for the sake of it and stick to punchy tales and stories of my experiences.


On that note, I shall sign off and return to packing (a tiresome task) and speak to you again once I'm south of the equator!

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