All alone with a forest full of birds... that was my amazing experience a couple of weeks ago.
We hear a lot about the mental health benefits of getting outdoors. Well, I've always known that being close to nature does me good, whether it's sitting on the coast gazing out to sea or undertaking an expedition like hiking the Queen Charlotte Track.
I hit the jackpot recently by staying overnight with family members in a little cottage in Nga Manu Nature Reserve on the Kapiti Coast. I hadn't visited the reserve before but I learned a lot about it. Nga Manu is administered by a Charitable Trust, with a primary focus on New Zealand native bird conservation. The reserve has been open to the public since 1981 and covers approximately 15 hectares of predominantly coastal lowland swamp forest.
The watch tower, a viewing position by the lake, Nga Manu and adjoining blocks from above.
The best thing for me about staying over in the reserve was very early on Sunday morning when I crept out of the cottage on my own. Just me and nga manu (the birds). Magical.
In the still of early morning I was surrounded by the sights and sounds of different birds. Sitting quietly in several different spots in the forest paid dividends. I was visited by a busy quail family and a majestic white-aproned kereru. Tui and piwakawaka (fantails) were plentiful. Pukeko were very curious about my presence and a pair of paradise ducks honked to each other to reunite on the lake. The colours of a chaffinch up close were stunning and my bird identification skills were put to the test by a cute round robin (best guess!).
Paradise ducks reunited, a kereru on high, the endangered Whio
Apart from the birds that come and go as they please in the reserve, Nga Manu also has a number of aviaries and a nocturnal bird house. Birds in enclosures make me feel a little sad but it was very special to see the beautiful endangered whio (blue duck) which is part of a captive breeding programme at Nga Manu - the aim being to boost their population in the wild. It was a privilege to watch two curious kiwi going about their business in the dim light of the nocturnal enclosure.
Finding and sharing these experiences is what Welcome Tours is all about. Nga Manu is good for getting up close and personal with nature without having to bust a gut in the process, in fact most of the area is flat enough to be accessible by wheelchair or buggy. In addition to feeling zen from being at one with nature, there's an opportunity to learn about and support wildlife conservation. How good is that? For a particularly unique and memorable experience, I do recommend staying overnight in the cottage.
Welcome Tours has a gentle nature escape lined up that you are welcome to join. In November we're heading over the hill for the Wairarapa Spring Garden tour, which incorporates the annual Wairarapa Gardens Weekend. We'll have the opportunity to visit private gardens that open to the public exclusively for this Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre fundraiser - an excellent cause. Hop on board!
One thing is for sure - you never know what Wellington will serve up next. Last weekend these free-styling zebras were out doing their thing, as cool as cucumbers on Cuba Street.
The zebra crew were a roaming feature of the event-packed Cuba Dupa festival. Even the rain could do little to dampen the vibrant party atmosphere around the 'Cuba Quarter'. With many of the 250 performers wandering amongst the crowd between shows, kookiness was everywhere.
And food???!! The choice from street food stalls was amazing. The Whittaker's chocolate and plum doughnut was to die for (hmmmm, perhaps one shouldn't have too many of those...)
A couple of weeks earlier the colourful Wellington International Pride Parade filled the city streets to the sensational beats of Wellington Batucuda. It was impossible not to get caught up in the rhythm and vibe of the celebration.
Summer brought with it Wellington's neighbourhood festivities as well, with market stalls and family-focused entertainment events. The kids dancing at the Island Bay Festival in February were a highlight for me, and it was pretty special to see that the Fred Dagg's Kiwi gumboot legacy lives on.
Events compete for attention in a jam-packed buzz of cultural activity in Wellington. Pigs in muck we are. I haven't even mentioned the annual Gardens Magic concerts, Waitangi Day events, the Pasefika Festival, Readers and Writers Week, the Fringe Festival, the opening of Te Auaha, the New Zealand Festival, or Chinese New Year celebrations.
Several years ago Wellingtonians were chuffed when the Lonely Planet travel guide described our city as the "coolest little capital in the world". Size aside, I reckon we're possibly the coolest capital, full stop.
Quarrying at Owhiro Bay is thankfully well behind us and now days this spectacular piece of coastline is even graced with a landscaped visitor entrance and a designer information centre. If you are keen for a hike around the coast, it's a good idea to come here on a Sunday when the area is closed to vehicles. And if you visit between May and August you will be treated to the sight (and smell!) of a colony of fur seals hauled up on the rocks at Sinclair Head. They are definitely worth investigating - from a safe distance!
Speaking of marine life, Taputeranga marine reserve was introduced in 2008 and stretches from the old quarry at Owhiro Bay around to Princess Bay. The resurgence of sea life within this 854 hectare protected area is stunning. It's definitely worth getting amongst it with a mask and snorkel (and preferably a wet-suit - the water here is NEVER warm!). They say the sea floor around the island is now teeming with crayfish and that the crays are so at ease, they don't even bother hiding in the crevices anymore.
In my view the moods and spirit of the South Coast are captured well in artist Michael McCormack's paintings. Good on Michael for gifting the mural on the side of his studio gallery (pictured) to the people of Island Bay. It's a lovely feature.
Discover some of Sue's favourite spots with her on the Wellington South Coast Discovery Day Trip. Thursday 19 April 2018.
Have you paid much attention to the Wellington waterfront lately? I mean, really taken a good look at what's there? Sure, it's a great place for a stroll on a gorgeous day - picturesque with a buzz of activity. But if you start peeking in the nooks and crannies and paying attention to the information around you, you'll be treated to a wealth of art and culture. And it couldn't be easier, with a number of helpful guides that make this discovery a breeze.
Let's start with the Wellington Writer's Walk. Sculptural quotations dotted around the waterfront pay tribute to Wellington in the words of New Zealand poets, novelists and playwrights.
To spur you further along your cultural journey, there's a Waterfront Sculpture Trail.
One sculpture of note is the Kupe statue which depicts the arrival of Maori in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It was originally on show at the grand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington (1939/40) and has resided at the Wellington Railway Station, the Wellington Showgrounds and Te Papa. Now cast in bronze, the statue seems at home on the waterfront, standing proud in front of Te Wharewaka o Poneke function centre.
Of the 13 sculptures on the trail, my personal favourite is Nga Kina by Michel Tuffery. It reminds me of summer holidays. At present Nga Kina is backed by a building site, but it's still worth a visit.
Left: Kupe by William Trethewey (1939), Centre: Nga Kina by Michel Tuffery (2012). Right: Fruits of the Garden by Paul Dibble (2002).
And call me unobservant but I only recently noticed the large Paul Dibble sculpture Fruits of the Garden that sits high in Frank Kitts park. This is best viewed from the park, but can be seen from the waterfront walk as well.
If you would like to join a small group, Sue is hosting a guided tour of Wellington Waterfront on Thursday 22 March.
"Make sure you wear clean underwear - you never know when you'll get hit by a bus."
Thanks to wee Colton's early arrival two weeks ago (pictured), I have joined the auspicious Grandparents Club. I am absolutely delighted! Now as a grandparent, when the time is right, I will sagely and dutifully pass on pearlers like the above. I can't wait.
Advice about clean undies is pretty much timeless. But when it comes to advising Colton's parents, I have to keep in mind that a whole generation of new humans has been raised since I was last nursing a wee one. Practices have changed. I check myself before offering outdated and unhelpful advice, and I'm learning from the new parents. It's a great position to be in, I'm loving it!
I often talk about the special relationship I had with my own Grandmother. Grandma Winnie was a big part of my childhood. She did seem sage and wise - she was also lots of fun. Grandma shared her love of birds and music and she had the patience to teach me so many things.
I can picture Grandma's face at the window for hours on end as I showed off various inane 'talents' I was trying to master. (Seriously I have no talents. In fact going cross-eyed is the only trick I thought I had nailed in my whole life and to my dismay I found out recently I don't even do that properly).
Grandparents and grandchildren do have something really special going on, don't you think?
If the kids are happy on holiday, everyone's happy, right? The full activity programme takes care of that. And opportunities for family story telling are woven into the programme.
Grandma and I would have had the BEST time on this tour! Perhaps Colton and I will one day too.
When I think of my new delightful wee grandson and other grandchildren to follow, I think about the impression I want to leave. Like my own grandmother before me, I hope to be patient and comforting, to have truckloads of fun with my grandchildren, and to love them unconditionally. That will be a job well done.
Oh, and it's nearly my turn to endure "Watch me!! Watch me!!", "Look what I can do!!". Fair's fair, after all.
Bookings for the Fun Times tour are closing on 19 December - if you are interested, you'll need to be in quick!
Foxton, with it's vast black sand beach was my party venue as a Palmerston North teenager. And the super cool thing was that you could drive all the way up the beach to Himatangi.
I have barely thought about Foxton since, but as a tour operator, a new cultural heritage centre has brought the small Horowhenua town back on my radar.
Te Awa Hou Nieuwe Stroom opened to a large multicultural crowd on 18 November 2017.
It houses the national Oranjehof Dutch museum along with the Piriharakeke Generation Inspiration Centre which tells the story of local Maori. The facility appropriately carries Foxton's original name 'Te Awahou', meaning 'the new stream' in its title, and a Dutch translation of the same.
Foxton is a great choice of location for New Zealand's national Dutch museum. For starters, Foxton has boasted a functioning replica 17th century Dutch flour mill in its main street since 2003 and the area has strong Dutch ancestry.
Officials and locals alike are hoping that the 8.5 million dollar Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom will help to breathe life back into a town that has seen busier days. The new venue certainly piqued my interest, and once Foxton got my attention I realised it has much more to offer.
Consequently Welcome Tours' upcoming Dutch-themed trip to Foxton will also include a visit to MAVtech (audio visual museum) housed in Foxton's historic movie theatre. Enthusiastic volunteers are opening the doors to us so that we can take an entertaining trip down memory lane.
The beautiful godwit sculptures at the turnoff to Foxton represent the Manawatu estuary's wonderful natural environment. The bird life is so impressive that the area has been recognised as a wetland of international importance by the United Nations. Ninety five species of bird having been identified there!
I am beginning to picture a second day trip to Foxton that includes a visit to the Manawatu estuary, the Piriharakeke Generation Inspiration Centre and the flax-stripping museum....
Sure, Foxton's not likely to outdo Queenstown for visitor numbers any time soon (and that's a good thing), but I do recommend you check Foxton out next time you are in the vicinity. Or even better join us on Friday 8 December for a fun day of discovery! Details are here.
I enjoyed two very different community events over Labour weekend. The first was the inaugural Paekakariki Pride parade - part of a weekend festival of celebrations for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. It was great fun and an important event. Bravo Paekakariki!
The second was the Indian and South East Asian Diwali festival of light on the waterfront. It was full of dance, beautiful garments, henna tattoos and aromatic Indian foods.
Both events were bursting with vibrancy and a sense of community. It made me think how fortunate Wellingtonians are to have the chance to soak up the rich cultural flavours at events such as these.
I am a self-confessed diversity geek. I can rave on about it for hours! Not surprisingly, diversity is one of Welcome Tours’ core values. For us, this means that we value individuality - we respect and appreciate that our guests bring with them a treasure trove of life experiences and perspectives that add richness to a tour.
Sometimes, through valuing diversity, we adapt our itineraries to the customs or requirements of a particular group. We are always happy to work with a group to deliver a tour in a way that suits them.
'Welcome Tours' aims to be inclusive of all people. Our name is no accident – it is intended to evoke warmth and a sense of belonging – for everyone.
We also seek out diverse activities and perspectives to build into our itineraries. For example, this afternoon I have completed a proposal for an overseas wedding party that includes a waka experience on Wellington harbour – it’s a great way to experience kiwi culture and build friendships at the same time.
Welcome Tours isn’t afraid to step away from the mainstream, in fact we believe it’s where much of the magic happens. Come and join us on an adventure.
As the Director of Welcome Tours, I see myself as being on a journey of discovery along with my Kiwi and international guests. I admit though to some identity confusion. Tourist? Visitor? Local? Who am I when I explore Aotearoa/New Zealand?
Even though Kiwis on holiday here are counted as tourists, most of us are a bit funny about being called a tourist in our homeland. It infers that we don't belong, that we don't understand how things are done around here, that we’re not ‘one of the locals’...
Maybe it depends on perspective. Perhaps in a global village it really doesn't matter.
If I was on the affirmative in a debating team, I could happily argue that being considered a tourist is a good thing. That tourist label gives us a license to see things from a fresh perspective. We don’t have to pretend we know everything. We are seen as inviting new sights and experiences.
So given that we Kiwis definitely don’t want to miss out on all of the things there are to see and discover in this amazing land, how about we create a new local tourist identity? Something that we claim with pride...
Lourist' definitely sounds inappropriate! How about 'toural'? Perhaps not...
There are plenty of buzzwords to describe this sentiment such as 'responsible tourism', 'corporate social responsibility', 'having a social license to operate'...
But words alone won't cut it.
Here are some of the ways that Welcome Tours is walking that talk:
Keeping it local: Welcome Tours prefers to have authentic local experiences and to put our dollars into the local economy.
Protecting the environment:
- We keep paper usage to a minimum (no large glossy brochures for us).
- We optimise fuel efficiency to limit our CO2 emissions.
- We ensure that our tours leave no litter behind.
To the left: Here's our future - a recharging station at Masterton's Queen Elizabeth Park.
Being informed: We facilitate opportunities for guests to learn what the planet needs from humans and we keep learning about responsible ways to run our business.
Fostering social connections: We believe that genuine engagement and sharing experiences is where the magic happens on tour. Living in a high-tech age makes it all the more important to ensure that we take those moments to bond over a cuppa.
Paying attention to pronunciation: Out of respect for people and places we expect to get place names and guest names right.
Come and join us on our adventures to experience first hand how we respect and enjoy our environment and its people.
What would possess me, a seemingly sensible, well-paid public servant to throw in the towel and take to the road with a new business venture?
Founding Welcome Tours means coming full career circle for me. As a teenager I studied at polytech with the aim of becoming a tour operator. A placement with Wellington sightseeing legend Wally Hammond introduced me to a lasting friend and mentor. However in typical kiwi style, I headed overseas in my early 20's for an OE and then to varsity to do further study. From there, I found my way into various public service roles. The jobs were interesting and challenging and I gave my all, but come mid-2016 I was ready for a change. At this point I took time out to have a serious think about how I want to spend the 20-odd working years that I hope to have left ahead of me.
My love of travel has taken me across the globe - relaxing on Pacific islands, partying in Panama, nannying in the French Alps, sightseeing in Shanghai... Each time I venture away from home and have these amazing experiences I am reminded of what a special place New Zealand is. There are so many magical sights and great experiences right here at home - with language we understand, a currency we know, a timezone we're attuned to and great people to boot!
I want to experience more of New Zealand myself. It's time for me to get out from behind a desk and go and meet characters with crazy hobbies, get to know our plants and birds, understand where my food comes from, and have lots of FUN!!
Sue is the Director and Chief Holiday Maker at Welcome Tours. Sue blogs about new discoveries and the things that matter to Welcome Tours.