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Transit to Takaka

Caravan Diaries 2020

sunny 22 °C

I have worked out that this is my sixth visit to Takaka, and Takaka itself has a big part to play in my evolution as a traveller. The first time I was here, I was (I think) in a car, but maybe I had come over in the bus. In any event, I was staying in a backpackers, and seeing all these people getting about in vans, and sleeping wherever they felt like. I wanted some of that and it wasn't much later that I acquired a van - Webster - and took him to Takaka, I remember sleeping at the top of the hill in him. Some years later, I was thinking about getting another van, or even a campervan, but ultimately decided on a caravan, because I'd be able to unhook and go exploring. I have now spent four summers in it.

Of course, there's a bit of a drive to get from Moana to Takaka - about six hours, according to Google. I take three days! First, I have to go to Greymouth for coffee. People give it a hard time, but I am always tempted to potter around. I'll be back this way early in the New Year so persuade myself to stay for the bare minimum - some library time, coffee and a whitebait fritter sandwich and a visit to the new Red Door bookshop. The fritter is from Sevenpenny, named in honour of a dispute over the price of beer. The brewery tried to put it up to 8 pennies, but there was a drinkers' boycott, so the brewer had to back down and put the price back to seven pennies. The fritter is rather overcooked but the bookshop is splendid. I already have many of the books for sale - always nice to find a place with matching tastes - but pick up John Lanchester's Capital for a whole $5.

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I have nowhere booked, so head north to see how far I get. The road is not particularly difficult, apart from having a poor surface, which causes the caravan to bounce a bit on the towbar. Despite the supposed lack of dithering, it is around 3:00 when I get into Reefton: no chance of lunch, so after a quick coffee I head off. Murchison has even less on offer, but I am beginning to flag and am tempted to stay. After an ice cream and a wander, I remember there's a camping ground another hour up the road, at Tapawera. It proves to be a very small camp - about 8 spots under wonderful old oak trees - in a very small town. The pub is my only option, but puts on a tasty roast lamb dinner so I'm content.

I was quite impressed with Kaiteriteri last time I was there, so have a night booked in the beach front motorcamp - it is very spacious and still far from busy, despite being less than two weeks out from Christmas. The beach has glorious golden sand, which draws me to sit on a bench overlooking the beach and read for a bit.

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Motueka is just down the road, and has a nice variety of places to eat. I may have made an error in ordering my beef jungle curry at ChocDees Thai - I know it is supposed to be hot (no coconut milk to lessen the punch), but wow, I could barely eat this version.

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I do much better at Smoking Barrell - it apparently does BBQ smoked meats, but I was drawn to the chicken and waffle, and think I had the best version ever. There was quite a bit more chicken than waffle, cheese, pickle, coriander and a hint of spice in the sauce, all very delicious.

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The Takaka Hill is one of the more daunting drives, made worse by road works on the Motueka side to repair some pretty large slips. When I came over in Old Jeep towing the caravan, by the time I got to the other side, my brakes were almost on fire. I have even found my report of that trip. This time, my concern was more about going up, as I have new brakes and have learned not to be so reliant on them going down hills. While I had no problems, my Jeep and I both felt like we needed a smoke by the time we made it over. Unfortunately, neither of us had tobacco, so I went off to Wholemeal for a coffee and watched the National Theatre production of Cyrano de Bergerac, which just happened to be showing as I arrived.

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It was a very modern production, no props at all, except for a few chairs. There's other stuff, but the bulk of the play revolves around intellectual Roxanne, beautiful dumbo Christian, and ugly (because of his big nose) but poetic Cyrano. Both men are in love with Roxane, but she only has eyes for Christian. She has standards, however: he must write her letters, but he can't, he's a dumbo. So Cyrano takes on the letter writer role, pours out his heart to her (as Christian) and Roxane falls in love all over again with the writer of the letter. There may be some variation as to how matters end - in this version of the play, Cyrano does eventually convince her that he wrote the letters and puts her to proof that she loves for the heart and mind, even if the person is ugly. The play ends leaving this up in the air.

Posted by NZBarry 11:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Detour to Moana

Caravan Diaries 2020

sunny 22 °C

Given my destination, heading across Arthur's Pass to Lake Brunner is not the most logical path to take, but I have a voucher for a night in the hotel there I need to cash in. Yes, that's right - my third night of a caravan holiday is spent in a hotel.

It is an easy drive across the Canterbury Plains, via a compulsory stop in Sheffield for a pie - steak and cheese, naturally. Arthur's Pass always takes me by surprise, because all the climbing is done well before you actually hit the village. One particular long uphill stretch is not to my Jeep's satisfaction - there is a bit of smoke emission, which is never a good thing. I have a bit of a conundrum in Arthur's Pass - there's the café or across the road a rather welcoming looking place where I could have a quick beer. I compromise and have a ginger beer in the café, as I still have to confront the Otira Gorge.

There have been several signs saying that the Gorge is not recommended for vehicles towing things, because it inclines down very steeply, but I have noticed several cars coming the other way towing caravans as well as a number of tankers. As it happens, I follow a tanker with trailer all the way down so progress is very slow. From the bottom, it is only about half an hour to Moana, which is right on the shores of the lake. I have been here several times already, by train, in my old van Webster, on random trips across to the West Coast and I even had a few nights over Christmas in the motor camp here a few years ago. There is very little to the town - not even a proper shop - but it is my favourite lakeside spot, because Lake Brunner is such a cool lake. I am lucky enough to be at the station when a train comes through.

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The hotel is quite a surprise - it has grown since I last saw it: basically it had just been the bit at the front. Now there are three levels of apartments (one is for sale at $425,000). I remember staying in a skodie old room beside the bar and not being very impressed, but my room this time gives me a view of the lake and is very comfortable. The staff are wonderfully warm but dinner is, um, not great - the fish and chips are fine, but the lamb skewers have very little substance to them.

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Well, now that I have dined, perhaps it is time I showed you the lake? This is the view from the front of the hotel (and, no, I do not skateboard).

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Down on the lake front, it is very peaceful, a couple of families with their kids playing and that's about it. The boats look very tranquil.

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I particularly like this picture, with the late sun caught up in the clouds.

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There is a cafe - the Station House Cafe - which I plan to have my morning coffee at. I am not an early riser: even so, it would have been a half hour wait for the cafe to open, and it was unlikely to have much of a buzz, so I head to Greymouth.

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Posted by NZBarry 11:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Caravan Diaries - 2020 Version

Dunedin - Christchurch

sunny 22 °C

My trips away in the caravan always seem to involve an element of awkwardness. One time, my Jeep had trouble starting but both the AA and an auto electrician assured me the battery was fine, so I set off. After a hairy morning in the Winchester camping ground, I decided to ignore the experts and replace the battery - problem solved. Last year, in my newer Jeep, my caravan electric cable and safety chain would not reach the Jeep, meaning some urgent repairs were needed in Oamaru before I could set off. This year, my difficulty took on a different dimension. I had been watching old Top Gear shows - where they have cars at wildly unrealistic prices, at least when the show was first broadcast. Seventeen years later, their 2003 car of the year can be had in what I am assured is good condition for $4,800.

So, after a quick safety check on the caravan in Oamaru and minor repairs, I throw all plans out the window and head to Christchurch to collect this beauty - a 2003 Jaguar SE 3.0. It is a bit weird to buy a car this nice and put it into storage for a month or more, but it's not like it is up to the job of towing my caravan - although some point out it would reflect a certain style to do so.

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I don't really have any plans for my Christchurch sojourn, and do spend rather a long time on various buses and walking, going out to collect my Jeep from near the Jaguar owner's house and then getting back from the storage place to the holiday park near the airport. I do have a couple of nice meals - a very good beef pad kra prao from Kum Pun on Victoria Street, on my first night.

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Next night, I head out to Sumner, which has to be one of my favourite suburbs. The sun is a bit reticent, so the beach is not looking the flashest, but the Village Inn is a very friendly spot. It's quiz night and a few teams are assembling - one wearing Christmas hats and full length aprons making them look like naked women with extremely hairy legs. They were very keen to have no photos taken but I suspect that as the night progressed, it would become hard to maintain anonymity.

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I have a tasty red pilsner from the local Conception Brewery and move across the road to Miss Peppercorn, a Sichuan restaurant for dumplings in a vaguely chilli-based sauce and a braised brisket stew which has a nice chilli element and sichuan peppercorns. There are many items on the menu I like the look of, but this is something I have not had before.

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Out in the streets of Sumner, I like the look of the new library, but it's closed. An old Land Rover catches my eye, as does a fellow who is endlessly circling on a motorised skateboard. Most amusing is the group of firemen who have ditched their fire engine to eat ice creams. Good for them.

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Time to hit the road - going west!

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Posted by NZBarry 10:17 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Holy Trinity Cathedral - Georgian Orthodox

sunny

To look at this cathedral, you might think it is pretty old but it was only completed in 2004, to celebrate that the Georgian Orthodox Church has been in existence for 1,500 year and, apparently, the 2,000'th birthday of Christ (in which case, the timing is a bit off). It is huge - one of the largest religious buildings in the world. It sits up on the hill behind the Presidential Palace - I find it incongruous that you'd have two such fabulous buildings into which millions have been poured surrounding by housing which is so old and precarious that its falling down.

The Cathedral sits on a rather large area, surrounded by a wall - you can only get in by going through a gate.

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I have got used to these churches not having any seating - although I don't quite know how things work. There are a couple of pulpits, but not up the front - every so often a fellow in robes would come and read silently from a book, then wander off again. Most people there seem like me, just in to have a gander, but some are obviously here to carry out a form of religious observance - walking around the various pictures and saying something, presumably a short prayer, in front of each.

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Wandering around the grounds, I hear an annoying buzzing noise - a drone, it turns out. There's a fellow making a tourism video - he's engrossed in his work, but his off-sider explains what's going on. This building is so high, I wish I had a drone.

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Big as the main church is, there is an even bigger area underneath it, on two levels - completely empty. Maybe in time they will find a use for it.

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There's another, much smaller church on the street heading back down. Down on the flat, I am intrigued by a wee cat - it is evidently hunting something but neither I nor the other people who stopped to watch can work out what, and then he just wanders off.

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This is looking back up from where I came from.

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I walk past this building several times, and never work out what it is - it seems quite an impressive and modern building to not be used, but it is obviously empty. I spot a sign beside it with the European Union symbol, but have no idea if there's a connection.

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Posted by NZBarry 05:30 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

D. Aghmashenebeli Avenue - Tbilisi

overcast

I spent most nights in Tbilisi on the Left Bank of the Mtkvari River, but not a whole lot of my time there - the Old Town and lots of other things are on the Right Bank. Still, there are some decent things to see in my neighbourhood. The main street is D. Aghmashenebeli - named after a King from nearly a thousand years ago (David IV The Builder), who is given credit for repelling the Turks and kicking off the Georgian Golden Age. It is a bit of a frustrating street - nice neo-classical buildings from the 19th century but I walk up it for about a mile without finding a basic place to sit down and have a drink - no bars at all.

That said, on my first walk up it, I find a restaurant which is quite famous. I only go in because it looks intriguing (there are even canaries in a cage in the corner, quite talkative ones) but it turns out that Barbarestan has quite the backstory, one which has even featured in the New Yorker Magazine - until 2015 it was struggling along with nothing in particular going for it. The owner went to a flea market and picked up a cookbook published in 1874 (written by Barbare Jorjadze, one of Georgia's first female authors and probably its first feminist). Seventy years of soviet rule erased many of these recipes from Georgia's cultural memory, so the owners of Barbarestan decided to bring them back. Apparently the family running the restaurant cooked their way through all 815 recipes, although nowhere near that number of dishes feature on the menu. To my shame, none of this is known to me when I dine there - I just think the things on the menu sound really strange and don't look too closely at them, having a steak instead. It is a busy place - I am seated near the door and see many people sent away.

One place I do go to a lot is opposite the Marjanishvili station, Entree cafe - just a small place with maybe ten tables, but a lot of baked goods and decent coffee - I go in at least once a day and it doesn't take long before the staff recognise me - even when I go away for a few days and come back.
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It is on Marjanishvili Street, site of the Marjanishvili performing arts theatre (no signage is in English so I don't go in), which has its own cafe. I only go in to the cafe once and am given very special treatment - I only buy a coffee, but they give me a free (and delicious) biscuity thing (I do ask what it is but don't understand the answer) and then they give me a flask of coffee, asking me to tell them whether it is any good.
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Going south down Aghmashenebeli Avenue, the buildings are a bit less special but there are a couple of famous places to stop in at. One is the Laghidze Water shop - which basically only sells lemonade and has done so since 1900, but in Georgia lemonade comes in many flavours, so we're talking fizzy water to which a flavour syrup is added. Chocolate lemonade doesn't sound very appealing to me, so I go for a lemon flavoured lemonade. There is also a Khachapuri (cheese pie) bakery called Machakhela- there are three or four women all clad in white in a glass-walled room busily rolling out pastry, filling it, and baking it the whole time I am there.
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Towards the end there is a block or two of bars and restaurants - none showing many signs of life any time I walk through:
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The Presidential Palace is up on the hill above the street (I do go up there, but that's another post)
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It takes me a while to find out what that tubular structure is below the Palace - there are actually two of them - the Rike Concert Hall and an exhibition space
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It is in Rike Park - a pretty splendid park, apparently quite new, and one which cost 2.5 million Euro. I am stopped in my tracks as I go in by a fellow with a very brightly coloured bird, one I don't initially believe to be alive, but sure enough, it is. Beside him is a steampunk tree.
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There are other things to see, like the oversize grand piano, and a band is playing near the entrance from the Old Town
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To get to the Old Town, you either go up in the Aerial Tramway and walk back down or you walk across the Bridge of Peace - also built around 2010. It has unkindly been nick-named the Always Ultra, because some think it looks like a Maxipad (I wouldn't know!):
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Posted by NZBarry 05:38 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

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