New Zealand: the Banks Peninsula

The Land of the Long White Cloud was cloudy as we left central Christchurch to pick up our car back at the airport. We left through the southern suburbs and then east towards the Banks Peninsula. Sighted and named after the naturalist Joseph Banks by Captain Cook in 1770, it was settled briefly by the French in the 19th century before the British claimed it.

South of Christchurch we stopped for coffee in Tai Tapu at the Store Cafe which seemed popular with a local cycling club. The next halt was at Lake Ellesmere which is actually a broad, shallow lagoon separated from the Pacific Ocean by a long narrow sandy spit. We could see Black Swans in the distance. At Lake Forsyth just before Little River, there were Mallard, Australasian Crested Grebes and this White-Faced Heron.
While I was looking at birds, James had spotted some brown cattle he thought were Herefords but had a large white stripe along their backs and down to their white heads. He chatted to the farmer who confirmed that they were Herefords. At Little River, we looked in the old station which is now run by the Little River Railway Station Trust. They are a small volunteer community group who lease the Historic Railway Station from Christchurch City Council. They look after the Gardens, the Building and environs and restore the railway carriages. Inside, there is a Heritage Room and a Waiting Room with the Little River War Memorial Boards from the 1914-18 and 1940-45 World Wars. There are displays in s on local historical and community events and reference books available for people to use to research their family history. The old railway is now a 48km Rail Trail which can be walked, ridden or biked. There is also a gallery selling art and crafts plus you can Stay in a Silo.

The tide was out at Barry’s Bay
and we finally reached Akaroa
The lighthouse was moved from the headland when automation took place. As we ate our picnic lunch this female House Sparrow sat watching us hoping for scraps.

New Zealand: finally reaching Christchurch

It is not a good idea to travel on a bank holiday weekend if you can avoid it and certainly not one that is also the start of a half term holiday for a large part of England. We booked this trip many months ago and I cannot quite remember why we chose this weekend to fly out to New Zealand for a month. The weekend and holiday crowds were not really a problem. The thing that put the spanner in the works was the massive global IT failure experienced by British Airways. We had got to the airport fairly early on the day we were due to leave and problems only became apparent as the time progressed. Flights before ours had not left and a disaster was unfolding at Heathrow and across the world. Eventually we were told to reclaim our bags, go home and rebook the following day. It was fairly easy for us to take a train and taxi home and sleep in our own bed rather than on the floor of Terminal 5 at Heathrow in the chaos there. I had tried via the website, app and calling the airline to rebook as they had cancelled two of the four flights we were to take. That was all unsuccessful and it was apparent that it was going to take several days for things to return to any semblance of normality so we had to book alternative flights so that we could get there only a day later than planned.

We arrived mid-afternoon. Our last flight, from Brisbane to Christchurch was only three hours. As we got closer to New Zealand, the clouds thickened but as we descended, the mountains appeared and then the Canterbury plain surrounding Christchurch. After so many hours in transit, we dumped our luggage at the hotel and then walked around a little before it got dark. We are very close to Cathedral Square. The 1881 cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquakes, losing it’s spire and a large stained glass window.

The Transitional aka Cardboard Cathedral is currently in use while a battle rages between those who want the original restored and those who wish something new.

There are roadworks and building going on all around with art works helping to fill the gaps. We had planned to spend a day here as the parks, botanic garden, art gallery and museum and wandering by the river would all have been worth doing but the delays mean that will have to wait for another trip.

Leaving Shetland and exploring coastal Aberdeenshire and Angus

We had our last sunset in Eshaness, packed up and as our ferry was not due to leave until late afternoon the following day, slowly made our way to Lerwick with a stop in Scalloway en route. We were now back on two-lane roads. The castle was built in 1600 and sits in the natural harbour. The adjacent museum is very good and covers the links with Norway as well as local history. In World War 2 the ‘Shetland Bus’ travelled over regularly to support the Norwegians. Linking in with our recent visit to the Titanic Experience in Belfast, the person who first heard the May Day call of the Titanic was in Scalloway.

The ferry left Lerwick Harbour and after a meal and watching Shetland disappear in the mist we tried to sleep but that was difficult as the ferry stopped in Kirkwall on this trip and there was much clanging and banging as the ramp was lowered.

We arrived in Aberdeen harbour very early but as we did not need to meet the friends we were staying with that night until late afternoon, decided to drive slowly down the coast. The first stop was Stonehaven where a guy was trying to surf without much success.

The ducks looked a bit happier.

Just south of Stonehaven we entered the Dunottar Estate and woods. I was very glad to be back amongst trees after being in almost tree-less Shetland for a week. The Dunottar Estate and castle are privately owned, by one of the 500 people who own most of Scotland. It was raining but we looked around the castle and some of the grounds.

Further down the coast we passed the Todhead Lighthouse, Gourdoun, a harbour on Bervie Bay and in Johnshaven found an artwork for the bathroom in the Starfish Studio. It was dry enough for a walk by the time we reached the Nature Reserve at St Cyrus where poles stuck in the beach are the remains of old salmon net structures.
We had a very short walk on Lunan bay before the heavens opened again and we diverted inland to meet up with our friends before returning to four-lane motorways and traffic jams on the way home.

Shetland: Braewick and North Roe

On our last full day in Shetland we woke to yet another sunny morning and decided to walk on the beach at Braewick. It is a mixture of shingle and sand and has good views to Da Drongs and the cliffs. We had it all to ourselves.

We had a coffee at the café & met the German woman we had spoken to at Tangwick and sat chatting with her for a while. Then drove over to Ollibary and then over to rejoin the A970 on a minor road before heading north to Sandvoe.
The beach here was also empty apart from a few sheep grazing.

As we left family with a toddler & bucket and spades were just arriving. At North Roe we chatted to a guy who was cleaning his ropes in the sea.

Heading back to the lighthouse via a minor road to Urafirth, we spotted this sculpture at the junction with the A970.

Shetland: Hamnavoe and Tingon

Hamnavoe is the site of Eshaness’ main pier. It was also home to John Williamson, a weaver who had no medical training but devised a method of inoculation against smallpox and gave this to 3000 people who all survived. This earned him the name of Johnny Notion and his cottage is now a camping böd.

We parked a little way out of the hamlet where the track to Tingon leaves the road. This is next to the Giant’s Stones which are thought to have been part of a stone circle. The local myth was that the two stones were the head and foot of a giant’s grave. Here is the smaller of the two.
Walking up the track there are some great views over the small lochs and the coast. We met a woman feeding her horses who confirmed that we could walk alongside a wall down to the Warie Gill where there is a waterfall. Today this was just a trickle but we had good views over to the stacks of Muckle Ossa, Little Ossa and Fladda offshore.
We then tried to make our way back down the coast to Hamnavoe. As this is a little-used route there is no path as such and only a couple of stiles over the fences. At one point, there was no stile over the fence to follow the coastline. While I spent my youth climbing over sheep fences, I now weigh considerably more and would not want to demolish one in the process so we diverted inland towards the road. Inevitably, I could not quite make the jump over a boggy section and landed in it while James managed to get over it s. Thankfully I was only ankle-deep and my camera was quite safe. Back at the lighthouse I cleaned myself and my boots up as James was complaining about the smell in the car on the way back.

That evening we headed back down the road, finally back to the two-lane bit to have our evening meal at Frankie’s Fish & Chips in Brae. It is the UK’s most northerly chip shop and won an award in 2015. One customer was wearing a skimpy T-shirt and shorts which I thought was a bit over the top as it was only 19 degrees. You can eat outside on the veranda but I thought it was too windy for that. The food was certainly worth the journey and I imagine it must be very busy in high season. The sun set that evening at 21.50 and it was still light after 23.00. James woke at 4.00 and looking out saw that it was light again.

Shetland: Hillswick and Tangwick

In addition to the St Magnus Bay Hotel, Hillswick has a community shop where we picked up a few items and I found some sea glass on the small pebble beach on the Ura Firth side while James was posting the postcards. It also has the headquarters of the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary based in a building which was built as a trading booth in 1684 and then became Shetland’s oldest pub. We then walked past the old graveyard, through a field of sheep, stepping over run rigs and down onto West Ayre beach. You can walk all around the Hillswick Ness (about four miles) but we just walked part of the way up the hill where there are views across Sandwick to the Heads of Grocken. We only met one other person who was continuing to walk around the Ness.

Fulmars nest on the cliffs.
After wandering on the empty beach for a while we hopped back into the car to drive to Tangwick. The Northmavine Museum is here in the late 17th century former laird’s house. It also holds the local archives and has various exhibitions in addition to permanent displays. On our visit the exhibition was on shops, many of which had disappeared as the area suffered depopulation, people acquiring cars and travelling to Brae and Lerwick and more recently, internet shopping. In addition to Hillswick, the shop at Ollabery is also a community shop. There is a self-service mini-café at the museum and after getting the caffeine levels up it was time to wander down to the beach here.

There were birds feeding on the shore and a pair of Eider ducks on the water. Several grey seals were lying on a rock and one was in the water looking at me, trying to decide whether to come ashore. Even when I retreated, he stayed in the water.

We met a German woman who was planning to walk all round Eshaness the following day and had decided upon a great place to camp in the shelter of the abandoned building on the bay. On the way back to the lighthouse we discovered that it is not just sheep who wander on the roads around here.

Shetland: exploring Eshaness north and south of the lighthouse

We woke to sun and light cloud on our first full day in Shetland. Rain was forecast later and having spent so much time yesterday in the car, we decided to explore on foot. A little further back down the road is the Cross Kirk Churchyard which is still in use as a burial ground. The Roman Catholic Cross Kirk continued after the reformation but gained a reputation as a place of ‘superstitious pilgrimage’ and it was burnt to the ground in the 17th century by the minister of Northmavine, Hercules Sinclair who was a Protestant zealot. Some of the older stones apparently commemorate local notables but after a wet winter they were covered with lichens and I could not read them.

Back to the coast we descended to Stenness which was a Haaf (deep water) Station where fisherman went 40 miles offshore to fish for cod and ling with lines. The ruins of their summer lodges remain on the beach. Any sand on the beach is dark and along with all the black rocks, clues to the area’s volcanic past.

We wandered back along the coastal trail on the cliffs. Just south of the lighthouse is the Kirn O’Slettans. It is thought to have been one of the side vents of the volcano and when the waves are high enough they blow up it and the spray drenches the lighthouse. Back at the lighthouse we had lunch and then set off to Brae as James felt the need to find a newspaper (we had no internet at the lighthouse and the only thing on the TV news was the cyber attack). Mission accomplished, we stopped off at the Mavis Grind on the way back. Deserted by people but with sheep grazing, we walked along the shore and I picked up some wool for a future project.

After dinner, I sat outside and waited for the 21.40ish sunset.

Our second full day at the lighthouse was sunny but the wind had returned. We decided to walk up the coastal path to the north of the lighthouse. The trail is marked at stiles and occasionally signposts but mostly you follow the coast on sheep tracks and don’t get too close to the edge. Following sheep tracks reminded me of my childhood on the Ochil Hills. I spent hours just exploring on sheep tracks. We first reached the Hols O’Scrada, a 100m passage which was a long cave where the pressure of the water opened it to the sky. There used to be two holes but the bridge between them collapsed in 1873.
We diverted off the trail a little to visit the Broch O’Houlland where the remains of a defensive broch sit on a peninsula on the loch.

Further on up the coast there is a large gap in the cliffs at Grind O’ Da Navir.