Ireland: County Kerry

This mornings journey took us out of Cork, past Macroom and over the Derrynasaggart Mountains where Ireland’s highest pub the ‘Top of Coom’ is situated. It is situated just over the border between Counties Cork and Kerry. The scenery around us reminded us very much of Scotland, especially the hills where I grew up.


The road descends through Glen Fesk and on into Killarney which boasts Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub. We had a coffee and a brief wander around town before taking the turning for the Ring of Kerry. We only had a few hours to drive the road and there are many routes over the mountains and interesting ancient sites around which will have to be explored in a more leisurely fashion on another trip. Our first stop was at the point at Rossbeigh where the tide was just about to start to recede on the rocky shore. A couple of people were trying somewhat unsuccessfully to surf.

There are sand dunes and a beach on the other side of the point and it is possible to explore it on horseback if you wish. We could see the Slieve Mountains across the water. The next stop for a walk was Inny Strand on Ballinskellig Bay just before Waterville. This was a little busier with some people swimming. The water would not be warm enough to tempt me in.

Parking here is limited but we managed to find a space and walked on the beach.

The tide had retreated more since we left our last walk and numerous jellyfish were stranded on the beach.

On the edge of the bay was a derelict concrete building. After wondering what it was, we discovered that it had once been a hotel. We could not help thinking that if someone could invest in it, it could be resurrected in such a beautiful spot. Back on the road we kept stopping at various points to admire the view.

Near Castle Cove, the mist descended and began to hide the islands offshore.

We had a brief spell of rain and passed several signs to standing stones (some people even seemed to have them in their garden) to explore in the future. Eventually we reached Kenmare, a small town filled with places to stay, eat and drink in addition to local services. Its name means ‘head of the sea’ and it sits at the end of a bay. It is a good base for exploring the local area. After settling into our hotel we walked the short distance into town and after eating, found some traditional music in a local pub to finish off the night.

Ireland: driving to Waterford


We had a leisurely start to the day as we left Dublin by the coast road. It passes through Dalkey and Killiney (I once stayed in the Castle Hotel here for a research project meeting) and to our first port of call: breakfast at Shankill Street Food Outlet. There is an Oscar Wilde quote on the wall in the toilet here and a map of a 47km walk which crosses over to Tallaght.

We then drove through Greystone which was voted the most liveable place in the world in 2008. It was not immediately obvious driving through why this might be as it did not seem all that very different from other places we could think of. I am sure there must be more under the surface, not visible to the passing traveller. After passing through Wicklow, driving and food meant that when we reached Brittas Bay, a beach walk was essential. I noticed a couple of nearby campsites which took tourers and made a note to return when we have our campervan. The beach was quiet but had lifeguards and a few families enjoying the sun. I found some sea glass and our friends picked up some shells.

We made a significant contribution to our daily 10,000 steps.
Beyond Arklow the road leaves the coast and diverts inland to Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross before reaching Waterford. We made use of the last sunshine exploring Ireland’s oldest town, founded by Vikings in 914 AD.

The tower near the end of the esplanade dates from 1003.

There are old fortifications, the oldest Catholic Church in Ireland and many other buildings of various ages and architectural style to look at.


There is also a fair amount of street art. One of the hotel staff said that every year, various artists arrive in the town to add more during the annual Spraoi Street Art Festival. In 2017 this takes place on August 4-6th. I spotted some art down an alley:


You can visit the Tower, the museum, Bishops Palace and other sights but it began to rain so we escaped to the comfort of our hotel which is in an old building.

New Zealand: Auckland in midwinter


While the northern hemisphere is celebrating the summer solstice by touching Stonehenge and other rituals, the 21st of June is the midwinter solstice down here in the southern hemisphere. We drove from Hamilton to Auckland for our last few days in New Zealand. The sunsets just after 5pm behind the city so we walked down to the harbour to enjoy the evening light.

Someone I was at school with has been living in Auckland for many years and had invited us over to their house in Devonport for an evening meal. We took the 10 minute ferry with all the commuters returning home in the dark and had a very enjoyable evening. The following morning the forecast rain had arrived so we decided to visit the museum which sits in Auckland Domain and had a very wet walk there. The neoclassical building was constructed in 1929 and is Auckland War Memorial Museum. Most of the top floor is devoted to the war memorial collection. However, it contains many other gems. On the ground floor Maori and Pacific Islander artefacts are on display.

In the ancestral meeting house (remove your shoes to enter) a restoration project was underway.

Although New Zealand had its own potteries from the late 19th century, we found a link with home as Royal Doulton and a tile manufacturer in Hanley produced china and tiles with Maori decoration in the early 20th century. There were also silver teaspoons from Birmingham. Other exhibits were Wild Child: childhood in New Zealand, sections on volcanoes, natural history, 20th century Japanese ceramics and a very powerful photographic exhibition entitled Being Chinese in Aotearoa chronicling the experiences of Chinese people in New Zealand in over 90 photographs from the first settler in 1842 to the present day. Unfortunately, we will not be here to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which starts on 7 July 2017. It was raining less on the return journey but the sky remained overcast and the Sky Tower was in the mist so not an evening to go up for the view.

On Friday morning, we were back on the Devonport ferry for a wander around the town. Close to the ferry terminal is Windsor Reserve with a very large tree that has numerous aerial roots. The New Zealand Tree Register identifies it as a Moreton Bay Fig, also known as an Australian Banyan.

Devonport has two bookshops, both on Victoria Road. Bookmark has secondhand books including a large section on military history in addition to all the usual sections. The shop on the other side of the street sells new books. On Queen’s Parade, we found a gallery selling antique maps and prints, Japanese woodblock prints and other modern prints and a few paintings but nothing to add to our collection. On a clear day, it would have been worth walking up Mount Victoria for the view but as the mist had descended, we confined ourselves to walking on the beach where I found some sea glass and had some conversations with the dog walkers, one of whom was originally from Northern Ireland.

As the city was shrouded in mist this was also not a day for the Skytower.

At the ferry terminal, I picked up a free copy of Paperboy, a free magazine published every Thursday and is a great guide to what’s on around the city. I spotted a photographic exhibition at the Trish Clark Gallery and would have loved to see it but the gallery opened so late that we could not manage it before a late lunch and the walk to Eden Park. We had a great lunch in the Indian restaurant opposite our hotel. A Fan Trail had been marked out for us to walk to the venue and entertainment was laid on along the route. These ladies were dancing to Amy Winehouse:

There were people dancing with fire, various bands (one of whom were doing a not very good rendition of UB40’s Red, Red Wine and people dressed up in all sorts of costumes. It took one and a half hours to get there and find our seat. Unfortunately the British and Irish Lions lost the match with the All Blacks so we slipped out early and caught the first train back to the city centre. Tomorrow we leave Auckland to start the long journey home.

New Zealand: Queenstown to Fox Glacier

Today we continued on Highway 6 out of Queenstown and through the Karawau Gorge on the modern concrete bridge. The 1880 old bridge nearby became the world’s first commercial bungee jumping venture. You can still do this here if it is your thing. The road passes wineries and orchards. There is even a place called Bannockburn which is quite unlike the Bannockburn I know. When I was at school we could always remember the date of the Battle of Bannockburn as the local pub is called the 1314 Inn. We could have taken a more direct minor road over a 1000m pass to our morning coffee stop at Wanaka but in winter this is likely to be very icy or snowy as it goes past a ski area. Wanaka is a smaller, quieter and laid-back place than Queenstown and might be worth considering for any future trip in the region. It has a very pleasant overlook onto Boys Bay.

Further north, the road passes alongside Lake Hawes

over a small neck of land and then back alongside Lake Wanaka.

There was hardly anyone else on the road. Near Makarova we could see all the mountains around us.

The Haast Pass is a bit of a non-event. It is 564m but as it is in the middle of rainforest, there are no views. The early Maori had been using this route for a long time before the first Europeans appeared. It is named after a German Geologist, Julius von Haast but others suggest that Scottish Prospector Charles Cameron may have crossed it before him. The road was not opened to vehicles until 1965. Highway 6 follows the Haast River right down to the beach. Various creeks are crossed on the way but the one with the best name was Crikey Creek. I could hear the Tasman Sea waves before I could see them but we had a walk on the beach after filling up with fuel.

Mountains back onto the beach.

Back on the highway we were soon at Bruce Bay where notices warn drivers about debris being blown onto the road in high seas.

Our destination was the Fox Glacier. The Franz Josef Glacier a little further north is bigger but busier. Even at the Fox, you are advised to walk up the path before 8am or after 6pm in summer. There are numerous companies who will sell you guided walks on the glacier or helicopter rides but we chose the low key drive to the last carpark on the access road and then the walk up to it. The access road marks the face of the glacier in 1915 and 1935. It had even retreated and continues to do so since 2008. We made the 20 minute walk up to the viewing area a power walk as we had been sitting in the car rather a lot.


Afterwards we settled into our motel in the village and are preparing for the longer drive tomorrow.

New Zealand: the road to Queenstown

Another early start on a cold frosty morning to drive back down Highway 94 and then over to Queenstown. Milford Sound is a good place for dark skies as there is very little light pollution. Although I have been in the southern hemisphere numerous times, I always find the stars in the southern sky a little disorientating. The car thermometer read zero for most of the icy road down to Te Anau where we were accompanied by misty mountains and frosty leaves.


We had to drive carefully in order not to end up in in a ditch like one vehicle we passed with emergency services in attendance. We had stopped at one layby to look at the view and noticed two Kea on another car. They appeared to be trying to eat the rubber seals. I told the two women in the car that our squirrels chew the lead flashing on the roof for no obvious reason. I was quite pleased to get a shot of them as we had seen several Kea but they had all disappeared very quickly. I am still trying to identify all the raptors we have seen feeding on road kill.


At Te Anau we stopped for a coffee and then turned towards Queenstown. The sun had at last come out and the thermometer started to rise a little.

Our picnic lunch was eaten by Lake Wakatipu and then we endured the major roadworks around the construction of a new bridge into Queenstown. It was quite strange to be back among the crowds on a Friday afternoon in this busy town. It is a major base for winter sports and there were a lot of young people around. There are numerous outdoor retailers and obviously some wealth around as there is also a Louis Vuitton store. Needless to say we did not need to do any shopping but chose a walk around the garden peninsula instead. There we discovered a new sport. We had spotted a few people throwing frisbees and coming across one in the undergrowth, had assumed it was lost. We shouted over to the nearest family who told us to leave it which was a bit mystifying. We saw a few more lying on the ground, seemingly abandoned further on, but it was not until we left the park that I saw a notice saying that Disc Golf had been played there since the 1990s.

Some people thought it was warm enough to sit on the beach but it was not warm enough for me.

Fortunately our hotel is out of town a bit and fairly quiet for relaxing in before tomorrow’s journey.

New Zealand: the scenic route from Dunedin to Invercargill

As we were having breakfast in a cafe near our motel this morning, an elderly gentleman walked by all wrapped up against the cold (it was frosty) eating a very large ice-cream. The thermometer certainly has not got up to ice-cream eating temperatures for me. Shortly afterwards, an elderly lady walked past holding a small branch with a few leaves on, in front of her. I have no idea what that was for.

Dunedin to Invercargill on the highway only takes about two hours to drive but there is a slower, scenic option which follows the coast and then through the Catlins where remnants of the original forest remain and have not been cleared for farming. For the first few miles the road runs alongside the ocean and this morning, Brighton Beach was empty.

At Taieri Mouth the road turns inland for a while and into the mist which was lying. Milton is a small town built on wood and wool and further on is Balclutha, the largest town on the road. The Clutha River is the largest in New Zealand by volume of water. We had a coffee here before continuing on our journey. While many of Dunedin’s central streets have the names of streets in Edinburgh’s New Town and some of those in the suburbs have Edinburgh suburb names, we assume that Balclutha was settled by Glaswegians as we had only just entered the town and seen streets named Glasgow, Clyde and Renfrew.

There are numerous diversions along the road. Walking trails start at various points, there are a few waterfalls, caves, horse riding and many others. One we did take was the road down to Nugget Point. There is a short walking trail to the lighthouse.
There are lookouts and short trails to hides as it is possible to see penguins, seals, sea lions and birds. We saw one seal at a distance today. There was a large party of several families with five rented camper vans at the lighthouse. We decided to make a quick get away in order to avoid being stuck behind all five on the narrow road on the point. Back on the scenic route we approached the Catlins and passed Catlins Lake which is in fact, a sea loch.
At Florence Hill Lookout you get a good view of Tautuku Bay and Peninsula with some of the old growth forest.
The information board said that the area was first inhabited by Maori arrived from AD 900-1700. It was sighted by Captain Cook and whalers and sealers arrived in the early 19th century followed by settlers from 1850 who started clearing the forest for timber and then farmland. Apparently, the road was not sealed until 2005. Grasses and flax border many of the roads and on Florence Hill one guy was spending ages photographing the grass seedheads. As the road approaches Invercargill it turns inland through farmland and bordering wetlands where there are a number of nature reserves and bird-watching centres. Having left Dunedin which lays claim to the steepest street in the world and have now arrived in Invercargill which is very flat. So not much energy will be expended looking for our evening meal.

New Zealand: dodging the showers on the north Otago coast

Waking in Timaru we saw snow had appeared on the distant mountains. A few hardy dog walkers were already on the beach and a badminton team who had been staying in the same motel were packing up to leave. Today’s journey was to head south on Highway 1. The southern part of the country had had heavy rain overnight and it was just reaching us so we were treated with intermittent showers and rainbows. The road initially parallels the beach and the railway line through farming country. Just before crossing the Waitaki River we pulled over as two guys were emerging from their camper van having spent the night there. Most of the rivers in Canterbury and this one are fairly low at this point in the year and there have been a few years of drought: irrigation equipment is standing in many of the fields.

Oamaru has a lot of late 19th century buildings, interesting shops and would be a great place to wander around had the rain not become very heavy. After a coffee we drove down towards the harbour where a rather wet Farmers Market was in progress. These birds were sheltering on the quayside, waiting for it to improve.

We decided it was too wet to walk to the lighthouse and knew the penguins would most likely be out fishing until late afternoon, so we continued driving. The Moeraki Boulders are about 30 minutes south of Oamaru and fortunately we had a brief respite from the rain to explore them. They are large spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach, probably best seen when the tide is out. It was just turning and going out when we visited. The coastal trail continues along here and you could walk along here to Shag Point.


The road continues along the coast with a number of picnic sites to pull over in.
We took the turning to Shag Point which was an early settlement site and also a coal mining area until the 1970s. There are notices urging you to stay on the marked paths to avoid falling into a mine shaft. There are mining relics around but it is now a reserve where fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins can be seen. We saw several seals with more in the distance, gulls and an oystercatcher but a heavy hail shower ended the wandering and we did not get round all the paths.

The road then swings inland to Palmerston and down towards Dunedin, our next destination.