Gratia - Outdoors

Amber Sharkbait Jones in Hawaii

No need to be afraid: swimming with sharks can be like therapy

I was a victim of Jaws. That is, a victim of the grossly over-dramatised Hollywood message that sharks are terrifying monsters, and that the ocean is a dangerous place. My recent experience of swimming with sharks through One Ocean Diving in Hawaii has changed all of that. Here's the story of my first experience - swimming with sharks.

Best of The Catlins

A photographic tour of the gorgeous Catlins to warm your cockles

Although we only had a few days in The Catlins, our brief glimpse of the beautiful coastlines, native forest, and incredible rock formations was spectacular enough to last us through many a rainy winter night. Here are a few of our favourite photographs from the trip. Most of these areas we have dedicated whole blogs to, so click the links to find out more (and to see more pretty pictures). 

Cascade Kauri Waitakere Dam Circuit

From a hiker in training

Auckland City is right next door to some of the best short walks and hiking trails in New Zealand. Just a 30 minute drive from Auckland’s CBD, the Waitakere Ranges Regional Parkland covers more than 16,000 hectares of native forest and coastline and contains 250km of walking and tramping tracks which overlook spectacular vistas, waterfalls and beaches. The Cascade Kauri Waitakere Dam Circuit is just one of these great walks, which I had the pleasure (and pain) of undertaking recently.

Cathedral Caves, The Catlins

Expect to get wet

After our early morning sunset watching at Surat Bay, Wanda and I drove to see the Cathedral Caves near Papatowai. Though this is one of the few outdoor sights in the Catlins that entails a fee ($5 for adults, $1 for children) the women at the Owaka Information Centre nodded so enthusiastically when we asked if it was a Catlins Necessity that we were convinced.

Haleiwa Bay, Hawaii

Travel blogger Amber on the salty, shoe-less life below the ocean surface

Hawaii is somewhere to go if you have an affiliation with the ocean. Everything and everyone is geared towards living the dreamy, salty ocean life without worries or shoes. For six weeks I had the pleasure of being part of it all, on the North Shore in Haleiwa Bay. It's a mecca for surfing, diving, swimming, fishing (yes, anything water inspired) and home of the world's best acai bowls. Here's a visual taste of my time there, living with the sea turtles and dolphins under the surface of the ocean. 

Harwood Hole, Abel Tasman National Park

Like many beautiful and mysterious things, Harwood Hole is also dangerous. It is the 'deepest vertical shaft' in New Zealand, as various websites humorously tell us, with a depth of 357 metres, and no barriers around the entrance. If you're visiting the Abel Tasman National Park or Nelson, the forty-five minute walk to the cave system is not to be missed. 

Hawaii, the Big Island

Flowing lava, snowy mountains and surfing all on one little 'Big Island'

To diffuse any confusion right at the start, here's the thing: within Hawaii the US State (which encompasses most of the Hawaiian archipelago - 137 islands and islets in the Central Pacific) there is an island called Hawaii. It is the largest of the Hawaiian islands, and so is called the Big Island. Got it? Phew - now on to the fun part. 

How to make 2000 new friends in one day

For those of you in Auckland and Wellington this past weekend you may have heard of (or attended) The Big Dog Walk With Lots of Dogs.

This event was one of a kind and started with the simple idea of getting a massive group of people and dogs together at the same time. And it worked perfectly! Both owners and their subservient quadrupeds seemed to love the day! Check out our photo blog covering the event.

Introducing The Coromandel on Gratia

To help you find all the best things to do in The Beautiful Coromandel 

Gratia are thrilled to announce our partnership with Destination Coromandel! Together, we’ve created Gratia’s Coromandel theme, so you can see all of the best things to do and explore when you visit The Coromandel. Get the Gratia app from the App Store or Play Store, choose The Coromandel theme and then you’re all set to swipe through the best activities and hidden locations The Coromandel has to offer.

Jack's Blowhole in The Catlins

In ‘inappropriate’ conditions, not so much a blowhole as a… normal hole

Outdoorswoman Wanda and I took the walk to Jack’s Blowhole at high tide, which is of course the time to visit a blowhole. The drive from Owaka was quite amazing – the high tide had filled the fields with water, so sheep were trapped on small islands of grass, while ducks floated on large puddles in the paddocks. 

Kauai and Hanakapiai Falls

Suddenly our mud-drenched shoes, mosquito bites and sunburn were worth it

Throughout my five week trip in Hawaii, Kauai was the only island that made me feel a little homesick for New Zealand. Not dissimilar at all to the landscape and culture of our little rock, Kauai was everything I love about our country all within one little tropical island.

Kayaking on Lake Wanaka one Saturday

I was nervous about kayaking on Lake Wanaka. In fact, I was slightly hoping that it would rain so I would have an excuse not to go. It’s something I haven’t done in ten years, and that one time I did it was in an indoor swimming pool for school ‘camp’. (I think that was a result of some institutional fear of the great outdoors).

Not trusting my upper-body strength, I decided that a two-person kayak would be the best way to go, and that the other person involved should be as close to Arnold Schwarzenegger as possible.

To my surprise, it was not at all scary. In fact, it was very calming, pulling yourself across the water, taking in the views all around.

We rented our kayak from Wanaka Kayaks, which has a trailer of one and two-person kayaks set up on the beach.

Kayaking on Lake Wanaka is a wonderful way to explore the area and appreciate both the water and the mountains all around. We went exploring for an hour, paddling out to Eely Point, but you can also go to the Wanaka tree – possibly the most photographed tree in existence – or Waterfall Creek. If you hire a kayak for two hours, you can paddle out to Ruby Island and have a picnic lunch on the secluded little beach.

The only problem arose when we went into the lake for the second time, without the rudder in place – which lets you control the direction of the kayak with pedals. When we were pushed out into the water that second time, the woman we hired the kayak from said something about us going in without the rudder, but all I thought was “Shhh, I’m trying to focus on how to take a photo of my legs in the kayak, without dropping the camera into the lake”. Anyway, we both panicked a little bit. For a moment I forgot we were on a lake, and worried that we would be washed out to sea. Luckily, while I was panicking and taking some photos, my co-pilot decided to be sensible and use all of that upper-body strength to get us back ashore.

As I calmed down and we safely reached the shore, it came to me that two-person kayaking could be a good form of couples’ counselling. You’re stuck together, you have to cooperate, and you’re in a beautiful and relaxing environment. Also, you’re far enough apart that things can’t get too ugly – unless one of you hits the other with their paddle.

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Photography by Melanie Tollemache

Kitekite Falls in the Waitakere Ranges

Just follow the sound of running water...

Surrounded by the Waitakere Ranges' lush native bush, the air has a damp, fresh feel to it. Here in the forest, I feel like I've left the busyness of the city completely behind; the only noise is the rustle of leaves, native bird song and my footfalls crunching the ground. 

Matarangi Beach, The Coromandel

The season of wet and cold is upon us here in New Zealand, so why not live in fantasy land for a while and imagine you're at Matarangi Beach in the summertime? The Coromandel in January is a far nicer place to be, so let's just plan for summer and pretend... 

Matukituki Valley: Track to Aspiring Hut

The Matukituki Valley is a beautiful area of the South Island with various walking tracks, just an hour's drive from Wanaka. The two best-known day walks are the tracks to Aspiring Hut and Rob Roy Glacier, both of which begin at the Raspberry Flats car park. Earlier this year we took the walk to Aspiring Hut, so here are some photos and words of encouragement to tempt you to get out the hiking boots. 

Millennium Track

Every week or two during my time in Wanaka, I would reach a level of guilt over my physical laziness where I would decide to accompany Wanda on her strenuous 7am march the next day. The Millennium Track was my preferred walk because it only brought me to the brink of collapse for around ten minutes, as opposed to Mt Iron, which had me gasping and faint for closer to half an hour. Also, it has to be said, the views from the Millennium Track as the sun rises are quite spectacular.  

Mt. Iron Walking Track: A Survivor's Tale

Or, a tale of embarrassment and red-facedness

I decide to walk up Mt. Iron with a local Wanaka woman who does this track two or three times a week and calls it a ‘doddle’ – we’ll call her Wanda. It is an 80 minute climb up and down Mt. Iron – 60 minutes for Wanda, and she expects me to keep up. I am prepared to make a fool of myself; I have been sitting at the dining table and agonising over my laptop for too long, and am worried that I will soon lose the use of my limbs.

My Alps 2 Ocean adventure

We recently added Alps 2 Ocean bike trail as a theme partner on Gratia. The trail is about 300 km long and you can start either in Tekapo (easy first day) or from Mt Cook Aoraki (harder first day). It takes in stunning scenery – views of the Southern Alps and Mt Cook, Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau lakes, the flats of the MacKenzie Country, the Waitaki valley and its three man-made hydro lakes, walking tracks, wineries, pastoral farms and some great options for accommodation and food. The trail finishes in Oamaru, arguably the single most interesting town to visit in NZ at present. We did the tour in 5 days but 6 to 8 is more relaxed and provides time to do a few other things and take some side excursions.

Nugget Point, The Catlins

Oh! That's why it's called Nugget Point: the enormous nuggets

Nugget Point in the Glorious Catlins is an easy ten-minute stroll to the lighthouse and look-out point. Here you gaze over a cliff to the namesake rock nuggets, which, I must say, are far too spectacular to deserve the poultry-suggesting name 'nugget'. To make an afternoon of it in this part of the Catlins, Roaring Bay is only two minutes' drive from Nugget Point's trail entrance, and is home to a colony of yellow-eye penguins, while the wonderfully rocky beach of Kaka Point is just a five-minute trip.