Farewell to New Zealand

It was the East Cape drive what done it, honest guv. Eric again offers his sincere apologies to our avid readers (he lives in hope) but it has taken a while to recover from that one day’s drive, which was definitely worth doing but ….. The last few days on Auckland have allowed some catching up and Eric offers the diary up to date. This time it is all his own work, Joyce has not been able to proof read it, nor add supplementary detail, so Eric apologises for any inadvertent errors or errors introduced by the quirky auto correct function in Word which has a field day with New Zealand names.

Tomorrow we fly to Tahiti and cross the date line, gaining an extra day and going from 13 hours ahead of the UK to ? Hours behind (Eric has not worked the time difference out yet). We are not sure as to our connectivity to the interweb from hereon in so gaps in posting may be legitimately the result of lack of WiFi rather than Eric’s innate indolence.

Sunday 25th January 2015   Day 139   Wellington wanderings

This morning saw us heading back to Johnsonville to visit St John’s Anglican Church. This was a non standard Sunday service as they conducted two baptisms and communion. The vicar was multi-talented not only leading the liturgy but also the worship with his trusty guitar.

From the church the continued fine weather suggested that we should use it wisely so we headed for the beach. This time we decided to try a different part of the peninsula and headed south to Lyall beach where we sunbathed and paddled. Having enjoyed the sunshine we headed back into Wellington to finish our exploration of the Te Papa museum.

Having enjoyed visiting the historical and Natural History galleries, the in house Marae and bush walk we returned to our car, thankfully not being ticketed for overstaying our two hours, again. We then drove to near Lambton Quay and found another parking spot from which we walked to the Cable Car and ascended to the Botanic Garden with its extensive views over Wellington. We began to explore the gardens but realised that since they occupied a very steep valley we would have a long haul back to the cable car if we visited all the gardens. As a result we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre, deciding that the rose gardens would be past their best and headed back up past the Observatories to use the return portion of our cable car ticket.

Once back at Lambton Quay we took advantage of a dinner deal at the Arizona restaurant and enjoyed our steaks. Feeling replete we then drove to the Civic Square from where we explored the Waterfront before returning for an early night.

 

Monday 26th January 2015 Day 140 Kiwi kapers

Our focus today was the wildlife reserve of Zeelandia, which is a predator free area of regrow native bush centred on two reservoirs. Construction of a predator proof fence along the ridge line combined with trapping has successfully eradicated stoats, cats, opossums and rats, although the occasional mouse can still be found.

We enjoyed three hours strolling through the forest and looking for the threatened bird species that are successfully breeding in this safe forest environment. The stars of the show were the resident pair of takahe, South Island flightless birds believed to be extinct but surviving in the wild on a small colony in the mountains above Te Ana; the kaka, a rare species of parrot and the hihi, a nectar feeder. We also saw many other birds such as the Mew Zealand scaup, a diving duck, tui and the kereru.

After our walk we enjoyed lunch in their café and visited their very informative exhibition. As part of the package we booked a night tour and therefore returned to our accommodation for a rest and a snack tea before returning to Zeelandia. The night tour started at dusk and extended into full darkness. We were fortunate to hear and then observe a New Zealand Falcon, albeit flying high above us and to hear the morepork owl and the lesser spotted kiwi. We also saw juvenile and adult Tuatara, the brown teal and the longing eel. However we did miss out on the Maud Island frog and the weta. The highlight of the evening was seeing two Lesser Spotted kiwi rooting for food. The second we observed for a long time before we lost sight, only finding that it had crept up behind us. As we walked back to the Visitor Centre, way beyond our nominal finish tome, we marvelled at the display of stars laid out above us including Orion, the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.

 

Tuesday 27th January 2015. Day 141 Hastings hastening

Leaving our accommodation at 10.00am we ignored the route proposed by our gps and headed up the Hutt Valley After a short drive we stopped at the Mangaroa Hill scenic reserve viewpoint with a good view of the reservoirs and the valley. A little further on we drove into the Kaitoke Regional Park in search of the location of Rivendell. The river scenery here is beautiful and in a grove of trees by a tributary scene we found the location. Information boards show where the components of the set were located, with a even gate left in place. As we were there a small group tour was doing the rounds and one of the visitors, in supplied costume and pointed ears, took a pose under the very tree where Legolas had his publicity photographs ramen. After enjoying the contact with the silver screen, albeit at a very far remove, we walked down to the swing bridge over the river to enjoy the scenery.

SH2 now took us over the pass at the head of the Hutt valley and down a steep and twisting road alongside the Rimutaka gorge. In Greytown we paused for a pie and then continued north towards Napier. Just before we arrived we diverted into Hastings to look at the Art Deco architecture which resulted from the rebuilding after the 1936 earthquake. As we began our wanderings around the town centre the rain began, inhibiting a more extensive tour.

Having viewed a number of building façades we then drove to Napier easily finding our accommodation on a hill above the city centre. Our hosts very kindly invited us to join them for dinner and we had a most convivial evening before retiring to our self contained studio room.

 

Wednesday 28th January 2015.   Day 142 Deco dallying

Having breakfasted in our room we headed out to explore the Art Deco architecture of Napier parking near the spa we walked on to the steep black sand beach with its heavy surf. Taking our hosts advice and using their guidebook, we started with a film at the Art Deco centre which explained the events of the 1935 earthquake and the way in which Napier had been rebuilt in an unified and up to date style, which happened to be Art Deco. The significance of such a concentration of this architecture in one place had been recognised and led to its preservation, with Napier taking the theme to its heart, with a festival and events celebrating all that was the 1930s.

We spent over two hours in the centre, overrunning our car arming allowance. Thankfully, although a warden had been around as we left the car, making our tyre, she had not returned by the time we drove away.

Our next stop was Bluff Hill with its superb viewpoint over the Port of Napier, with its extensive stock piles of large logs, and along the Napier waterfront. After our picnic lunch we drove back to Ocean Spa and tried to recapture our enjoyment of the Hammer Springs experience. Although there was some water jets and spouts it was not quite the same, although we did enjoy it. Feeling relaxed we returned to shower and change before heading back into town. A search for eateries led us to the Lone Star restaurant near the sea front where we enjoyed a dinner of lamb shanks. Having eaten we drove along the extensive beach before returning to bed.

 

 

Thursday 29th January 2015. Day 143 Mata magnificence

With a lot of possibilities today we made a reasonably early start, leaving at around 9.00am. Our first stop, having by passed Perfume Point the old sewage outfall, was a view of the fishing harbour of Port Arhuriri and the old Rothmans tobacco factory built in the Art Deco style. We had missed two places to visit on our way into Napier so we retraced our steps to Havelock North where we admired the church, having a tour delivered by the vicar, and its shopping centre. We then drove up the mountain to Te Mata viewpoint, with extensive and superb views from a platform perched atop a knife edged ridge.

Resuming our northwards track and by passing Napier and visited Whirinaki Conservation Park. The road was narrow and very windy with a great deal of heavy traffic travelling the other way. For the first time we felt threatened, especially when two logging trucks passed us fast on corners, across the median line.

Further on the route we stopped at Wairoa for Osler’s bakery pies which we are sitting by the river. From here we drove out and partially round the Mahia peninsula, as suggested by tonight’s hostess, enjoying the beautiful coastal views.

Our next stop were the Morea hot springs where we walked through the bush up valley to what used to be bathhouse number two, bathhouse number one having been buried in a landslide. Here we found three stainless steel ponds, two with hot spring water, the other filled with cold water. The two existing occupants soon left and we were left on our own to enjoy a good soak in the very hot water.

From here we drive into Gisborne, viewing the main street in assign and going to the riverside to view the statues of Captain Cook and Nick Young, the first to sight New Zealand in this area. On a hill above the town is the Titirangi Domain, with its own statue of Captain Cook and which offers good views of the town and the coast.

Having enjoyed the view we drove a little further to Wainui, where we resolved a very warm welcome from our hosts.

 

Friday 30th January 2015. Day 144 Cape contretemps

We knew that this was to be a big day but Eric had not fully appreciated the demands of driving a relatively long distance on largely classic New Zealand roads, narrow, winding and with logging trucks thundering the other way.

We started at 9.00am with a walk along the delightful Ennui beach then headed for the East Cape. The coastal scenery was beautiful and we took the opportunity to enjoy the views at a variety of bays and headland viewpoints. Including Pouhawa, Whaihau, Tolaga, Tokomaru Bays. At Tikitiki we much enjoyed visiting the richly carved Maori church. This whole region has a strong Maori as evidenced in the many Marie, with their meeting houses. At Te Araroa we stopped for a picnic lunch before taking to the unsealed road for the drive towards the East Cape and it lighthouse, the most easterly. The road gave delightful views of the coast and we spotted a large number of cows enjoying a stroll or lying on the sand. As we neared the cape the rad quality deteriorated with one section very narrow, on its outside edge crumbling into the sea 15 metres below. On reaching the furthest point on the road we spied the lighthouse on the ridge above us. Apparently it could be reached by footpath but we thought that seeing it was enough so we retraced our steps to Te Araroa.

From there the coastline was attractive but without many particular stopping places. We tried to view the church at Raukokore, perched in splendid isolation on a low headland, but a service was in progress so we pushed on. Eric found the last part of the drive very tiring and was very glad to reach our B&B accommodation in Thornton, having driven through Opitiki and Whakatane. Eric felt too tired to venture forth for a meal so we resorted to our emergency meal of Macaroni cheese, which we enjoyed on our hosts’ deck.

 

Saturday 31st January 2015. Day 145 Gorgeous geothermals

Still feeling very tired we headed out at 10.00am and drove back into Whakatane to view the sights. We enjoyed the riverside with its quay and drove to the river mouth to view the coastal scenery. On our way we found Murieai’s cave, sacred to the Maori and saw the Mātaatua Wharenui meeting house which travelled extensively before returning home in 1996.

From Whakatane we drove to Ohope, stopping at the Lions Club lookout before driving towards Kohi Point along the West End beach. Stopping at the end we paddled along the beach. Our next stop was Ohuwa harbour then we turned back towards Whakatane to pick up our route through the mountains to Taupo, avoiding Rotorua. This road took us over the Matahiri dam, where we stopped for lunch and brought us on to the Rotorua to Taupo road amidst clouds of steam from the geothermal sites. Seizing the opportunity Eric stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, the Department of Conservation managed geothermal site. Although the weather was obviously threatening rain Eric set off in only his shirt, ignoring so many years of telling others to only go out fully prepared for any weather. As a result during the tour we were soaked by the increasingly heavy showers of rain. However it was worth it as the site has a wide range of very colourful geothermal features which are visually stunning. Photographing thermal pools in the rain adds an extra dimension to the experience. Having explored the whole site we drove into Taupe and found our accommodation, well placed just off Rifle Range Road.

Having settled in and rested a little we walked the short distance into Taupo to investigate the possibilities for eating. Finding many of the menus were the same and fancying chicken we settled upon the Coffee Club for chicken schnitzel. The lack of clientele should have given us a clue and while adequate the food was not outstanding.

 

Sunday 1st February 2015   Day 146 Doom disappointment

The day began with a Skype call to Clare and Ed followed by a visit to the local Baptist church. The lively worship band led very well and the word underlined the importance of legacy and the importance of passing on the message to future generations.

From the church we headed south into the Tongariro National Park to see the volcanoes. We stopped on the shores of Lake Rotoaira to visit the excavated site of a Maori village and to view Motohupui island where the All Blacks Haka originated.

The weather continued to be poor and the rain became heavier and more persistent, with low cloud, as we drove into the National Park. As a result instead of the sight of three magnificent volcanoes all we could see was mist. Mount Doom was hiding. Discouraged we heed to the village of National Park for lunch. Our host had recommended Speights but when they could not supply the steak on their menu we repaired to the nearby Station café for a small steak sandwich.

Lunch completed we headed back towards Taupo. We drove into Whakepapa Village, past Chateau Tongariro, a most impressive edifice, and up to the ski area and the ski lifts. Visibility was now down to 10 met rest and we could see nothing of the mountain. Descending towards the main road we had a dilemma. On the one hand a cup of tea at the Chateau, on the other a walk to Tawhai falls. The only solution was to divide the responsibilities. Joyce would take tea and Eric would undertake the walk. Once the falls had been views and photographed Eric joined Joyce in the plush, if slightly faded, glory of the Chateau’s lounge to finish Joyce’s cup of tea while listening to the pianist serenading the guests.

Once we had enjoyed our refreshment we headed back to Taupe, pausing only to visit the lower redoubt at Te Porere. Once back at our accommodation we enjoyed a meal of beans on toast before a Skype call to Mud, Lucy and Annabel, the first since the New Year now their internet has been connected in their new home.

 

Monday 2nd February 2015. Day 147. Geothermal gallivant

This morning we resumed our northwards track and headed towards Rotorua. The pouring rain did little to speed our departure and it was gone 10.30am before we bade farewell to our host family. As it was so wet we paused in Taupo to visit the local museum which had some interesting Maori artefacts, a medal winning Chelsea show garden and some challenging modern art.

From Taupe we visited Huka Falls where the outflow of Lake Taupe, the Waikato river flows through a narrow gorge, producing a very impressive set of rapids ending in a waterfall. Near the falls we found the Craters of the Moon geothermal park. Joyce did not think this worth a visit but Eric did homing and enjoyed the variety of fumeroles on display. Although not the most spectacular examples it had some specialist interest.

Resuming our travels northwards we then diverted to visit Orakei Karako, the Hidden Valley geothermal park. Although a long way off the main road it was worth the extra distance. From the visitors centre we crossed the arm of Lake Ohakuri, originally a fast flowing river, to the broad sinter terrace which descends into the water. From there a well made path leads up through the valley past the ink pools, hot springs and mud pools to the Ruatapu cave, 36 metres deep with the mirror pool at its base. This was a fascinating visit which offered many beautiful views of the geothermal landform, albeit without any of the geysers in the park putting on a show.

Having completed our visit we rejoined the main road towards Rotorua, retracing our steps of Saturday to Wai-O-Tapu where we visited the mud pools we had missed. From here we drove into Rotorua to our motel. The town has the distinctive geothermal smell of H2S which permeates everywhere. Once settled we popped over the road, in the car, to the Countdown supermarket to repel nth supplies, buying a roast chicken and vegetables for tonight’s meal, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Tuesday 3rd February 2015. Day 148 Volcanic views

Our first full day in Rotorua offered more geothermal possibilities. As we were again tired we did not leave the motel until almost 11.00am. The smell of H2S continues its impact.

The first attraction was Hell’s Gate, a geothermal park to the north of the town. Named from George Bernard Shaw’s description of the area as ‘the entrance to Hell’ it offered another chance to see the range of geothermal activity and to be exposed to more Sulphur gases. A short drive brought us to the Park and we spent almost 2 hours strolling round the two geothermal areas, separated by a short bush walk. The features on show ate now familiar, although less colourful than this we enjoyed on our way to Taupo. The mud pools, ink pots and boiling water pools all generate their own fascination, engaging sight, hearing and smell as well as feeling the heat given off from the sinter. As we walked along the defined paths the sounds of boiling water or mud emerging from hidden vents close to the path was at times unnerving. The results of the geothermal activity here seemed to be more violent than those already experienced.

After enjoying this area we drove back towards Rotorua before diverting eastwards towards Lake Tarawera. On the way we drove round the eastern side of Lake Okareka then stopped at the Blue Lake, Lake Tikitapu where we had lunch on the lakeside. Finding a suitable spot was not without its minor excitements. We first chose a car park right on the lakeside, already occupied by some cars but with plenty of spaces in between. Choosing a space midway between two cars Eric neatly parked only to be presented with an excellent view, of a drain. Repeating the exercise further along the view this time was of two rubbish bins. Third time lucky we found a spot with a picnic bench.

After lunch we drove to a viewpoint which allowed a view over, not only the Blue lake but also the sacred Green Lake, Lake Rotokakahi. The colours of both lakes were distinctive, especially when they were not in shade from the intermittent cloud cover.

Beyond this viewpoint we reached the buried village, which was destroyed by the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, a fissure eruption which also involved two neighbouring peaks. The vulcanicity here is facinating as these volcanic edifices are lava domes of rhyolite but this eruption generated basalt.

The buried village was the village of Te Wairoa which had grown up as a service centre for the tourist industry revolving around visiting the exquisite white and pink sinter terraces on nearby Lake Rotomahana. Although set up as a model farming village by an early missionary, the resident Maori soon took advantage of the economic opportunities offered by tourism. As a result f the eruption 120 people died and a number of kainga (Maori villages) were obliterated and the focus of the tourism, the terraces, were destroyed, drowned under a much enlarged lake. The night of the eruption produced tales if tragedy and heroism and the excavated reminds offer testimony to the strength of natural processes and human resilience. There is a link to Surrey as the Te Waiora meeting house, Hinemhini which survived the eruption now resides at Clandon Park.

From the village we drove to a viewpoint overlooking Lake Tarewera and down to the lake itself, allowing a clear view of the volcanoes, before returning to the motel.

At 5.20pm we were collected by a coach to take us to Tasaki village for our Hangi meal and cultural experience. Having validated our booking at the visitors centre the coach, named Huia, driven by our excellent guide Cairo, who greeted us from the four winds, headed south towards the village. As we drove this vehicle became a waka, a canoe, which we paddled around roundabouts while learning some Maori and what to expect fir the rest of the evening. A chief was selected, who would represent our tribe during the evening.

On arrival at Tanaka we assembled around the welcome space and the chiefs stood in front to face the ceremonial challenge from 3 warriors, the last bearing the peace offering, a tree branch to be picked up by one of the 4 chiefs from the 4 wakas that arrived that evening. Once this ceremony was completed, the women sang a welcome to us and our chiefs were welcomed with the Hong (pressing noses twice) and exchanging ‘Kia Ora’ we were welcomed into the village.

Once inside the gate we were divided into six groups which began a round robin of demonstrations of aspects of traditional Maori culture each located in front of a whare (building) dedicated to that skill. The demonstrations were:

Poi – the dexterous manipulation of balls on strings

Weaving

Stick games

Warrior training – improving footwork

Tattoos

The Haka

Volunteers were requested for many of these, thankfully not the tattooing, and Eric felt that he should join in with the three for which he was eligible. After participating in the stick game, a version of catch the stick as participants moved in response to commands, the warrior training, step patterns without touching the grid and the haka, he felt he had made enough of a spectacle of himself for the evening. How wrong he was.

The demonstrations completed we were shown the removal of our food from the pit where it had been steamed on a bed of hot stones. We then moved into the meeting house for a cultural show of song and dance, which was delivered with skill and enthusiasm. This was followed by the hangi, the meal of steamed food. It was cooked to perfection and the potato, sweet potato, stuffing, lamb and chicken went down a treat. This was followed by steamed pudding and Pavlova. A final round of songs, led by Cairo, closed the evening and we returned to our waka.

Once aboard we were expected to offer a song to the rest of the tribe, starting with the chief. Eventually it was our turn and Eric elected to go it alone, singing an old campfire song ‘Our paddles clean and bright’, which he got through without forgetting the words or the tune, although the latter was probably more ‘all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

As we started dropping off members of the tribe at their hotels we sang ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’ as Cairo drove four times around the same roundabout. We were almost the last to be dropped off and we retired extremely happy with the experiences of the evening.

 

Wednesday 4th February 2015. Day 149. Geyser gushes

We continue to be tired, so are trying to cut down on what we are doing. We left the motel at 10.30 am and drove to the shopping mall across the road to find some new insoles for Joyce. Having done so much walking thus far her current set are quite worn through. Thx task accomplished we headed for Te Puia, to view the spectacular geyser. We found the site with no trouble and were allowed to park near the main entrance. Having purchased our day pass we decided to visit the geothermal parts first. From the terrace we could see spectacular geyser activity so we headed in that direction, pausing only to visit the kiwi house in a vain effort to see the Greater Spotted kiwi.

 

The geysers were still active when we arrived and we visited various viewpoints to enjoy their display. Set in a large sinter terrace, complete with numerous fumeroles and solfatara with bright yellow sulphur crystals, the large of the two geysers was erupting a continuous column of water and attendant steam up to 20 meters from a well developed sinter cone. Despite the benefit of a map of the park it was not fully clear which geysers we were seeing. In the end it turned out that we had seen the main geyser, Te Puia and its smaller neighbour ‘The Prince of Wales Feathers’ but at that time being ensure we Sa and waited for the next eruption. After almost an hour of waiting, the main geyser is supposed to erupt two of three times every hour, we gave up and walked around the rest of the geothermal displays, enjoying the boiling pools of water and mud. The mud offered a constant delight with bubbles forming and reforming and generating fountains of boiling mud. In one pool a wide range of volcanic forms could be seen, created in mud, with simulated lava flow, volcanoes and caldera, albeit on a very small scale.

On returning to the centre of the park Joyce returned to the car for our picnic things, as the visit had token far longer than we had expected. From the picnic table we were able to see the geysers again in full display as we enjoyed our lunch. After eating we revisited the kiwi and enjoyed watching the bird rooting through the forest floor in its enclosure in the dim light.

We next visited the Maori part of the park with its reconstructed village and marae. Here we saw a decorated share and store house and were allowed to enter the richly carved and panted meeting house, with its woven wall panels. As we left the park we visited the national carving and weaving centres, with beautiful displays of high quality skilled artistic endeavour.

From Te Puia we drove through Rotorua to the lake front and then parked near the museum. Built as a spa at the beginning of the 20th century as a government venture to encourage visitors the South Sea Spa was built in mock Elizabethan style, using innovative construction techniques including concrete made with crushed pumice. Despite the inspired vision the realities of creating a luxurious bathing establishment foundered on the technological difficulties of handling geothermal water and the building eventually became the museum.

Inside there was a cinema, with a 4D film on the 1886 eruption and an excellent display on the local Maori culture, with more about the 1886 eruption we had explored yesterday. An art gallery and a display of the building’s us in its heyday, including an exploration of the basement and the roof space en route to a viewing platform on the roof, completed our visit.

On our way back to the motel we passed the Polynesian Spa, where we took advantage of entry to the adults only pools. This spa can trace its roots back to the earliest bath houses in Rotorua and utilized hot eater from the Priests spring, an acid hot spring reputed to offer recovery from muscular maladies, and the Rachel Spring, an alkaline one offering eternal beauty. Having enjoyed 90 minutes soaking in a number of pools of both types we repaired to the motel for our second roast chicken meal.

 

Thursday 5th February 2015. Day 150. Lake longeurs

With only a short distance to drive today and no significant sights identified on our itinerary, we took our time and checked out at the latest possible moment at 10.00am. Having been regaled with the advertising blandishments of ‘The Warehouse’ and having failed to enter its hallowed portals yesterday, today was the day to check out this home of bargains. Once again driving across the road next to the motel, we parked and did a quick reconnoitre of this emporium of myriad delights. Having satisfied our curiosity we left without any purchases and took to the road to explore more of the Lakes District.

We retraced our steps on highway 30 towards Whaketane, passing Hell’s Gate, and reaching Lake Rotoiti. Although the overnight rain had passed and blue skies were becoming the order of the day, with occasional cumulus and cirrus clouds, the legacy of the tropical storm that had just passed could still be felt in a strong gusty wind. This tended to inhibit leaving the calm of the car so we admired the view of this large lake through the car windows. As we left our viewing spot we took a side road to Lake Okataina, which proved a short but interesting drive on a narrow, typically winding, road. This lake was a little more sheltered and offered a beautiful view from the boat launching ramp, albeit a little spoilt by the string of buoys supporting the nets inhibiting the spread of aquatic plants. This crater lake was smaller, with steeper sides clothed in native trees and with a more convoluted shoreline, making it visually more interesting. Having taken our fill of lacustrine loveliness we returned to the highway and passed Lake Rotoehu, with a brief picture stop, then Lake Rotoma, where again we paused for view, the second time at the downwind end of the lake where the breaking waves on the lakeshore were more reminiscent of ocean swells as they showered us with water.

Having completed the run of lakes we turned north for the coast and stopped at Matata where we enjoyed our picnic on an extensive sandy beach with very few other people in sight. The sunshine and the relatively light wind made this an excellent stopping point for a lunch and a paddle.

After lunch we resumed our travels towards Tauranga, passing through Te Puke, the Kiwi fruit capital of the world. As elsewhere we passed through the horticultural district marked by its very high wind break hedges, approaching 15 metres high in places.

We then drove into Mount Maunganui and having been blown off Pilot’s Beach we parked next to the Main Beach, which was a little more sheltered. Disappointed that he could not drive up the 232 meter high peak Eric resolved to climb it on foot. Joyce however decided that ice cream and a cup of tea were a far more sorting challenge therefore we again resolved the dilemma by dividing the responsibilities, Eric doing the climb and Joyce enjoying the refreshments.

On hour later Eric joined Joyce in the café where she had found refuge, having had her ice cream almost blown out of her hands. After a cup of something hot we drove towards an historic house we wanted to see in Tauranga, but snarled in heavy traffic we changed the plan and decided to head to our accommodation, which turned out to be where we had just left. One ‘U’ turn later we found our hosts and settled into the studio room.

After a brief test we went to the New World supermarket for a few necessities then took advantage of Pizza Hut’s 5$ for a large pizza offer, enjoying the pizzas back in our room.

 

Friday 6th February 2015. Day 151   Hobbit hokum

Today we undertook a long expected journey to visit the film set of Hobbiton, recreated in a more permanent form, with attendant tourist potential, for the Hobbit trilogy. We had booked a tour departing from the i-site in Matamata at 11.45am and therefore enjoyed a quiet start to the day before leaving must after 10.00am.

The route took us across the bridge to skirt Tauranga CBD, with impressive views over the harbour and into the port and the marina. Avoiding the toll road we made our way via Judea and Bethlehem, following the Cambridge Road. Try and do that anywhere else. Once we had shaken the dust of Tauranga from our wheels we headed over the Kaimai range on a fast but windy rad, especially descending to the plains beyond. The weather ahead looked threatening, with heavy showers in view, despite the blue sky, and the wind continued to be strong and very gusty.

The trip to Matamata took just over 50 minutes, with a stop for petrol as the warning light came on as we descended the hill. A convenient Gull station, which accepted our Countdown money off voucher, provided relief for Eric’s continued worries about running out of fuel. We pushed on along the main street, searching for signs to the i-site building, with no luck but ahead saw the building itself, a very impressive thatched structure which, despite being above ground, had all the hallmarks of hobbit architecture, including round doors and windows.

Finding somewhere to park for more than 60 minutes we visited a café for coffee and a snack, as our tour extended across luncheon and because second breakfast never goes amiss. We checked in at the registration desk, using the e-ticket on Joyce’s pad and were issued our entry tickets. The shuttle bus was waiting at the front door and we were soon heading towards Hobbiton, built on a mixed stock farm in the hills beyond Matamata. The site had been spotted by aerial survey as a potential setting because of its lake and distinctive pine tree, which was needed as ‘the party tree’. The original set, for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ had been temporary but the film’s success encouraged a more permanent replacement for the Hobbit.

The throughput of this site is impressive, with over 1,500 visitors per day in guided tour groups of around 40 people in the peak summer season. On arriving at the entrance to the site, with its extensive car park, café and gift shop, we collected our enthusiastic guide Jess, a student, who led us through the set while supplying us with interesting stories about what could be seen and what happened during filming. At least that was the idea but once the tour started 40 keen photographers stopping for ‘the picture’ made the reality a little different. We were not immune to the delights of photographing this gorgeous place and therefore missed many of Jess’s gems. The photographic process was made more difficult by the couples and families wanting a series of photographs with their loved ones posing in or in front of the points of interest. This proved a problem at times, leading to Eric muttering choice imprecations under his breath as a fifth or six photograph was being poised, with the photographer taking a long time to capture the moment.

The set is a delight with the quirky architecture of round windows and doors, at various scales for cinematic effect, set into hillsides with chimney pots set on the slope above. The gardens, decorative, vegetable and fruit, are beautifully maintained and produce crops to be used in the restaurant. The detail within each frontage is delightful, with beekeeping and an artist’s studio being most notable. Bag End is a delight, complete with the sign on the fate ‘No Admittance Except on Party Business’ and a most realistic artificial oak tree set above it.

The view over the lake to the thatched mill and Green Dragon Inn, with the stone built arched bridge, is a real delight and the tour ends with a drink in the Inn, although not to Eric’s aster as on offer was either alcoholic, carbonated or both. Once those who could had enjoyed their beverage we returned to the coach which took us back to the Visitor’s Centre for time in the gift shop, before returning us to Matamata at just before 3.00pm.

We were looking forward to an all day breakfast at the café we had visited earlier, only to find them losing up as we arrived. We finally discovered a pub where we enjoyed the next best thing, steak and chips. Having fortified ourselves we reversed our route and drove back over the mountain towards Tauranga. Nearing our destination we took a detour to McLaren Falls where we stopped to admire the rock face with a wide range of potholes exposed as much of the river’s flow is rounded behind a dam. Carrying on we explored a little more of rural New Zealand before rejoining the main road. The gps attempted to navigate us through the port, closed off by security gates. We had learnt better yesterday so Eric took his preferred route, eventually finding our way back to our studio by 5.20pm. A quiet evening followed, with some work on the blog trying t catch up on the days missed.

 

Saturday 7th February 2015. Day 152. Beach blandishments

Leaving Mount Maunganui we drove bit Tauranga where we visited the gardens of the Elm Mission, the home of the missionary efforts in New Zealand. The house and chapel were closed but we enjoyed a stroll through the grounds. This was followed by a walk around the Monmouth Redoubt, a defensive position built by the Monmouth Light infantry during the Maori rebellions of the 1860s.

Leaving Tauranga we reached Katikati where we took a few photographs of the murals then drove to the headland at Bowentown, pa site, with good coastal views. Buying coffee en route we stopped at Waihi beach to drink it and have a paddle. This was followed by a brief stop at a reserve in Waihi town, where a pond boasted 3 resident Pukekas.

From Waihi we drove into the Karangahake gorge, the middle section of which is spectacular. This area was an important gold mining location and boasts much industrial archaeology. From across the river we viewed the Victoria battery, a rock crushing site allowing recovery of gold and visited the Goldfields railway Waikino and Waihi stations Back in Waihi we saw the 230m deep gold mine pit.

Our route then took us to Waimama beach and then the long Whangamata beach where we enjoyed Craig’s fish and chips on a bench overlooking the beach. We then went to the crescent beach at Onemana beach and Opoutere beach of whitish sand, reached after a stroll through a forest.

At Tairua harbour we enjoyed ice-creams while viewing the marina and beach. Our last stop was Hot water beach where a large crowd of people marked the best spots for enjoying the hot springs which lie beneath the sand. We arrived just before 6.00pm, two hours after low tide, so the tide w’s coming in but there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the thermal pools. We realised w were not correctly equipped as we did not have our own spade to dig a pool in the sand. However w dud find an abandoned pool and Joyce enjoyed sitting in the hot water, tempered by cold sea water as the waves invaded the pool, driven by the rising tide. The water was certainly very hot, digging ones feet into the sand resulted in near scales. Eric did not embrace the while experience, preferring just to paddle. Having experienced this phenomena w drove to our hosts marina front cottage in Whitianga, which had been moved as a single unit from elsewhere.

 

Sunday 8th February 2015. Day 153 Whitangia wanderings

Today saw a leisurely start as we were booked in to the 10.30 glass bottomed boat tour of Mercury Bay. The boat left from the wharf only a short walk from our accommodation. With a party of 14 we headed past the impressive ignimbrite cliffs to Cook Beach in Cook Bay then into the spectacular Cathedral Cove, with its long tunnel through the headland and numerous stcks. Aging we flirted with the silver screen as Prince Caspian was filmed here. We also visited Champagne Bay and Orua’s cave, big enough to take the boat, and developed along the fault line associated with the springs at hot water bay. We spent time in the Te Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve watching the marine life through the glass bottom of the boat. Just outside the reserve near one of the island in the bay w enjoyed a snorkel and were impressed by the profusion and variety of sea life.

Returning to our room we showered and dressed and enjoyed a sandwich lunch before heading out at 2.15pm to explore more of the Coromandel peninsula. On our way we visited  Kuaotohu Bay and Matarangi Beach with its beach front houses. At Whangapua beach we paddled at one end of the beach and enjoyed ice cream at the other, having looked at the lagoon and the way to New Chum beach.

The road then travelled inland and over a pass with the Maungataururu viewpoint and access to the Lissell battery, which proved too far to walk. We then reached Coromandel and drove north looking at Shelley Bay, Oamaru Bay, Papa Aroha and Amodeo Bay. We turned round 7.7 km before reaching Colville and returned to Coromandel. A elk along the main street produced a number of dining potentials bur in the end we chose the Pepper Tree restaurant for a meal of Lamb and Beef n Reef

Returning to Whitianga involved a short cut using Road 309, an unsealed road. This proved to be an interesting drive. The road surface was fine but again the way was steep and tortuous. Soon after the start we found the Kauri grove and walked to a viewpoint of 8 mature Kauri trees which had survived the extensive logging of the region. Although kiwi apparently lived in the area we were not fortunate enough to see any more.

 

Monday 9th February 2015. Day 154. Auckland arrival

Leaving our hosts at 9.30am we took another unsealed road, this time Coraglen to Tapu. As we neared the other side of the peninsula we stumbled upon Rapaura falls and water gardens and enjoyed a visit to to this beautiful site. After a coffee and cake we drove on to Tapu. Following the coast we traversed the Tapu-Ruamahuga scenic reserve and the Te Puru foreshore and scenic reserves bore reaching Thames.

Thames had a wealth of industrial history, based on gold, with a number of very fine old buildings. We strolled around the older parts of town and enjoyed a snack of pies in a bakery. We then drove into th Coromandel Forest Park along the Kauaeragai Valley, although we turned back when a notice on the unsealed road informed us that the road beyond that point was not council maintained.

From Thames we headed into Auckland with one brief stop for an ice cream. Joyce had a chiropractor appointment for 6.00pm so Eric dropped her off before finding our last B&B stay in New Zealand in Newmarket, near the Auckland Domain. Having settled in Eric drove beck t collect Joyce. Near the chiropractor was a take away selling roast dinners o w enjoyed a sit in meal of pork and beef. Needing petrol Eric consults the gps for the nearest BP or Caltech station as he needed to use up the points on h’s AA fuel card. Par for the course, as in Sydney, the first location proved to have no petrol station. Trusting in technology and being sure lightning would not strike twice Eric headed for the second indicated location and again drew a blank. Frustrated he headed off in a random directions and finally found Caltech station, with relatively cheap petrol, finally a win: win situation.

Following the gps back to Newmarket took us part Mt Eden. We drove to the summit and enjoyed evening views over Auckland as well as the view into the spectacular crater. Once back in our accommodation Eric parked the  underground carpark, not needing it until we travel to the airport on Thursday.

 

Tuesday 10th February 2015. Day 155 Domain doings

We took our time this morning, with Joyce dong some washing and Skyping with Clare and Ed. Just before 12.00pm we headed out into the Auckland domain to visit the War Memorial Museum. Set on the hill top in a most impressive building with a recent extension, fronted by the cenotaph, the museum houses a most impressive collection of Pacific and Maori artefacts on the ground floor, as well and Natural History on the first floor and on the top floor the military and memorial sections, which are well displayed. We spent 3 hours exploring the collections and having lunch in the café, finally finding our all day breakfast.

On leaving the museum we headed for the Parnell district visiting the beautiful wood church of St Mary’s, in the Gothic style and the modern Holy Trinity Cathedral, the choir and chancel built of brick and stone and the navel of wood. The stained glass west window is very impressive. After this we wandered along the shopping street with its picturesque buildings before returning to our room. Dinner tonight involved eating up or last emergency meal.

Eric spent the evening, until late, bringing the blog up to date while Joyce completed a second round of washing, ready for the next stage in our travels.

 

Wednesday 11th February 2015. Day 156 Maritime manoeuvres

We were again a little slow in getting going this morning but were heading out by 10.30am. We had bought two HOP cards yesterday for use on Auckland’s public transport system, despite the fact that we were only using them for one day and they cost $5 before any top up. Eric had decided that using the card would be far easier than using cash. We first investigated the location of the hair salon for Joyce’s appointment tomorrow then walked to the Khyber Pass Road to find a bus stop for the Inner Link route.

The bus soon arrived and we tapped on for the short trip to K-Road where we were to catch the City Link service. Despite protestations from Joyce, Eric dragged her off the bus, remembering to tap off, at what he was convinced was the correct stop only to find that we had to walk to the next stop, where conveniently the red bus was waiting long enough for us to catch it.

Proceeding down Queen’s Street with its imposing, if slightly drab façades, we passed the ferry buildings and reached the Wynward area of the waterfront which is being newly developed. Passing the storage silos and the fish market, with views of the harbour bridge in the distance, we found ourselves amongst cafés right on the quayside with the Maritime Museum in close proximity Joyce stopped for a much needed coffee while Eric went back to take the photographs he was going to take on our return to the bus stop where we were going to catch the returning bus to the Maritime Museum which we now no longer needed to catch as the Museum was so close at hand, if you see what I mean. After coffee and a pause as the pedestrian bridge was raised to allow a catamaran out of the inner basin we strolled further along the waterfront to the Maritime Museum where we gained discounted entry, with another voucher, on our Senior’s price. We also booked a harbour cruise which left from the museum’s jetty.

While waiting for the cruise we walked around the first two galleries with interesting examples of Pacific canoes and more modern New Zealand seafaring. At 1.15pm we assembled, along with a group of excited school children, ready to board the Tom Ashby, a ketch rigged scow which had been built for the museum’s inauguration, 20 years ago. Although normally under sail this trip was under engine power and we traversed the marina before venturing out into the outer harbour and under the harbour bridge. We then travelled back past the ferry and cruise terminals before docking at the museum.

As time was getting on we left the museum and found a waterfront café for lunch of fish and chips for Joyce and burger for Eric. After the meal we went back into the museum and finished our tour before walking to view the ferry terminal from the shore, conveniently at a Movenpick ice cream outlet.

Having enjoyed the entertainment by Swiss ice cream we walked up Albert Street to Sky City and watched as intrepid souls flung themselves from near the top. We attempted to gain entry but the top level was closed for maintenance and there was no discount on the entry nor would they accept our discount voucher on Senior’s entry prices. Eric walked out in disgust at this.

From Skycity the Inner Link bus was available to take us back to near our accommodation going the long way via Ponsonby. We sat and waited for almost 30 minutes before the 5.25pm bus arrived at 5.55pm, displaying a Bus Full sign. Thankfully some passengers alighted and we were able squeeze on. The journey took us through some new areas of Auckland and from Grafton Station a short walk along the edge of the Auckland Domain, where 10 games of cricket were being played within the space of the major cricket field, brought us to our accommodation. We spent the evening packing ready for our flight tomorrow.

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