Gretchen Markle

Travel Blog

(posted on 11 Oct 2016)

We headed home via the Waitakere Ranges. The highlight of the day was the gannet colony at Waitipu.

Cliffs at Waitipu when Gannets Nest

(Drawing doesn't begin to do them justice)

The lowlight of the day was the beginning of a bad migraine that lasted for four days. I managed to do a bit of exploring the next day (beach at Piha; Kitekite Falls), but I had to dig deep.

Kitekite Falls

(Done later from photo and memory)

(posted on 5 Oct 2016)

A sunny day today! The clouds are creating great shadows on the fields opposite.

Olive Grove


New Zealand has one native owl, a little guy, called the Morepork. Guess what it's call sounds like?

When we first heard of the Morepork, we envisioned a Barred Owl. Then we saw a stuffed specimen over at Tawharanui and discovered that it's not that much larger than a Northern Saw-whet owl (about one-and-a-half times the size). Unfortunately, we haven't seen this little guy, but we love the idea of him.

(posted on 3 Oct 2016)

A quiet day today. We're just slowly getting ready to go home.

Young Cabbage Tree

Cabbage trees are nifty, funny-looking things. They look like a cross between a palm tree and pampas grass. This one is a little one out on the patio. In the wild, they can grow up to 10 metres or so tall.

There's another tree (Kowhai) in the yard that is covered in drooping yellow blossoms. The birds LOVE it. So far, we've seen Blackbirds, Thrushes, European goldfinches, Chaffinches, Tuis, Rosellas (bright green parakeets with red faces) and even one of the big native pigeons!

(posted on 2 Oct 2016)

I used the morning to do the big shop, last one before we leave. It meant running to and from the car, driving with headlights on, and dodging the huge puddles. Things lived up to the forecast today (a weather warning), complete with lightning and thunder and flooded roads. Then this afternoon the sky brightened up and, my goodness, it's almost decent out there.

Another day of 'kitchening'. Yesterday, I baked bread and granola, made soup stock and mayonnaise, and whipped up curry for dinner. Trying to get ahead of things so that when the weather clears (OMG, the sun just came out!!!), I can take advantage. Today, I made a huge batch of chicken soup. That will do a few lunches. Yum.

We Skyped last evening with a couple on the Canary Islands. Nice people who are aiming to live an off-grid life on Fuerteventura. Looks like we'll be taking care of the two dogs and the home front for them next summer. Boy, will that be a switch from this past one. (I hope we're not overreacting. It could get pretty hot and dry there. But won't that be wonderful? And new landscapes and new palettes. Yum.)

After the Storm


Here, landslides are called 'slips'. There have been a lot of them lately. The ground is so saturated that any amount of rain - let alone the drenchings that we've had the last couple of days - washes out the banks above and below the roadways. Last week, a whole major peninsula was cut off by washouts, and there have been more on highways today.

(posted on 30 Sep 2016)

Back to Tawharanui today in what will probably be our last visit.

The forecast was for cloudy with showers, possibly heavy, developing in the afternoon. In spite of that, we made our sandwiches, packed our binoculars and raincoats, and headed out. And, boy, did we get lucky!

We decided not to walk any of the tracks over the fields. We got to the first gate, saw the mud that was 6 inches deep with water sitting in the sheep footprints and thought, "Unh, unh". So back we went to the trail along the creek, with its lovely jungley forest full of palms and birds. It was full of life, including little kids! It's school holidays right now, and, bless them, parents are bringing their children to these wonderful places to experience nature at its best.

We segued down to the beach where we sat in the warm sun, ditched the bottoms of our trousers, and lunched by the turquoise ocean. Then we walked the long, flat, clean sand beach to an access at the far end. Hiked back along the dune trail in a totally different ecosystem. Then, as a final fling, took the trail around the marsh. All in bright, warm sunshine, but with an eye to the approaching weather coming in from the east.

Stopped for gelato again. (How could we resist, knowing that this is probably our last chance before we leave?) Back into the car, heading home when, whammo, the skies opened and we could barely see across the narrow valley for rain. How's that for timing? The gods were certainly smiling upon us today!

Macrocarpas above the beach at Tawharanui


Stopped at the veggie place on the way home to pick up some carrots and potatoes and gluten-free bread. The carrots here are big and fat, but crispy and sweet, like the ones from China, but they're grown locally. And beets ("beet root") cost the same per kilo as parsnips!

(posted on 28 Sep 2016)

Today was a 'busy' day, taking care of business for our future travels. We started with an early morning Skype (aborted), then FaceTime with a potential housesit in central France. Two sweet little rescue Westies and a couple of barn cats. It looks pretty nifty. We're in the running with another couple. We should know by the end of the week.

Then there was the posted sit right close to home, this one in a section of Victoria known as the Gorge. Lovely area right along a tidal outlet. Looks good for that one, too.

And, finally, we decided to fix our flight times and work around them if necessary. Our wonderful travel agent, Lori, came through as usual with some great deals.

Whew. That's a lot settled. And it wasn't an outdoor day anyhow. Lots of rain. (Rain? Here? Naw!!!)

In the between times, I tried replaying yesterday's cliffs:

Cliffs 2

I think I may be spinning my wheels, painting-wise. Maybe if I just keep trying to push things, I'll eventually break out of this rut.


Today's tidbit has nothing to do with New Zealand. It's about France. We gave up on our Skype with the French homeowners because we had such a terrible connection. We could hear only about a third of their side of the dialogue, and the image was lousy. The homeowner suggested switching to FaceTime. We did, and we had a nice, clean, clear conversation. She told us that France rather disapproves of Skype (apparently because they can't really eavesdrop very well), and so Skype doesn't work very well in France. Interesting... Big Brother is watching and screwing things up, too.

(posted on 27 Sep 2016)

We had a lovely, dry walk today! We went over to Martins Bay, which is right next to Scandrett Regional Park. Usually we go to Scandrett, hike down the hill to the bay, and wander the long snady beach. Today we drove straight down to Martins Bay, parked there, hiked up the hill to Scandrett, sloped back down, and then walked the beach. Wow. Such excitement!

It's school holidays right now, so there were kids on the beach. Some were practising to be grown-up kiwis, clad only in shorts and barefoot even though the temps are in the mid-teens. Others had more layers but were nevertheless dabbling in the ocean. I wish I were young enough for my body to adjust. I'd love to be that tough! Regardless of their clothing, it's great to see kids playing on the beach.

When we got down to the south end, my sweetie went off to explore and read while I got out the paints. The cliffs are covered with yellow-flowering shrubs. I think they're Hypericum perforatum, a variety of St. John's Wort, and - judging by how prolific they are - most probably an invasive species down here. Whatever their status, they are rather pretty.

Cliffs at Martins Bay

Oh, I forgot to mention. We saw a Reef Heron (pretty well all grey, and quite a bit larger than the White-faced heron). Another new bird!

(posted on 26 Sep 2016)

There was light at the end of the day. This was partly because we are now on Daylight Savings Time, so it's still light at dinnertime. It was also because the skies cleared - sort of - late in the day, leaving some gaps in the cloud cover.

I think I'm growing gills. Even the checkout clerks at the grocery store were commenting on the lousy weather we've had since we arrived.

Listen to me whinge. It isn't that bad. It's just that with all this constant rain, we don't get many chances to get out and explore. Either we get soaked in the process, or the tracks are far too muddy to walk. When we get a good day, it's a blessing! (And we did get that week back in August when there were four sunny days. Honest.)

Clouds at Sunset

(posted on 24 Sep 2016)

Thank goodness we went to the park yesterday. Today was a total washout. Lots of rain, sideways rain, coming down in buckets at times. There's no way we could have heard birds, let alone find them. And there's no way I could have painted.

It was definitely an indoor day. So I baked bread and made soup.

Here's another sketch from yesterday. I tried to capture the feel of the bush down along the creek at Tawharanui:

Bush at Tawharanui


We don't realize just how lucky we are on Vancouver Island with our great selection of produce and a choice of wonderful breads from all kinds of artisan bakeries. Good bread is hard to find down here. If we want decent, substantial bread for my sweetie, I have to bake it. Back to the skills I learned years ago...

(posted on 23 Sep 2016)

It was the first day of spring, and the forecast wasn't too dire, so we decided to go back to one of our favourite spots, Tawharanui. It's the peninsula that has been fenced off from the mainland in an effort to keep out the introduced predators - dogs, cats, rats, stoats, possums, etc. The scheme is working, and both the flora and fauna are making an amazing comeback. As my beloved says, Tawharanui has everything: beaches, rocky shores, creeks, marshes, open vistas and gorgeous forest filled with birdlife. Every time we go, we love it. Today was a great day for birds, starting off with the sweet, rare, and amazingly tame little Robin. We also got to see all kinds of other birds, many of whom just don't survive outside the park - Bellbirds, Saddlebacks, Parrots, etc. While my sweetie explored and watched birds, I did a couple of sketches. Here's the view from the road up between the fields and the forest:

View at Tawharanui

(The palm-like plants on the right are Cabbage trees; the taller one is a Tea tree. Both are native species.)


There's a great gelato place on the route to the park. We stopped on our way home and treated ourselves. My sweetie had a NZ specialty, Hokey Pokey, which is sort of vanilla with crunchy bits of caramel. (It's apparently unique to NZ.) I had something weird and wonderful, and darned if I can remember the name of the fruit. Yummy!

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