A Travellerspoint blog

Most photographed of…

rain 21 °C

We’d left geo thermal active ‘Rotovegas’ bright and early (9:30am) to head northward. No clue how far we’d get but we knew we wanted to get to Bay of Islands district at some point. We did get through Auckland and started thinking about maybe staying in Orewa or maybe Waiwera. Rolling through those towns and it still being early in the afternoon, the prospect of Leigh, a place that was highly recommended to us and in the guide books as well seemed a good choice. However, with the low overcast and rain that had been falling all day suggested that the full beauty of this spot wouldn’t be enjoyed, so we pressed on further. Whangarei (pronounced ‘Fan-garee’, notice that they didn’t follow their own rules regarding ‘ng’?) was next up on the map and proved to be a great place. We stopped at the travelers’ info office and spoke with a lovely young lady named Alin who gave us some great suggestions for where to stay. We ended up in this homestay (B&B) at the top of a hill overlooking the yachts in the town’s harbour. The proprietor Ann recommended a great restaurant at the harbour overlooking all the boats, so we walked along the waterfront, in through the front door of this eatery and was greeted by this lovely young lady named Alin… the same one that helped us earlier at the information center. What were the odds?

Whangarei has a natural port that many of the world cruising set stay in during the hurricane season. Boats are generally 50’+ and you can easily pick out the liveaboards.

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In the morning, the skies were even more rain laden than the previous day. The Bay of Islands was only 70km further north, so the guide book had suggested that a scenic drive out to Whangarei Heads would be of interest. Indeed, Alison and I could see that coves and bays would be very picturesque… in the sunshine, but we could hardly see more than a few 100 feet through the rain. Oh well, the weather’s the weather and we’ve made a note that we’ll do this loop on the southbound trip to Auckland to catch our flight (or maybe we’ll need to make another trip back to ZLand).

Our next stop was Whangarei Falls, which the Lonely Planet lists as the most photographed falls in all of New Zealand. We’d slipped on our jumpers and wellingtons and grabbed out brollies and tramped the track around the falls. No worries, good on ya, mate. And we’re not yankin’ your chain. (Translation: We put on sweaters and boots, took the umbrellas and walked around the circular footpath at the falls. Totally enjoyable. No shit.) We’re starting to get the hang of their Kiwi lingo… we think (hope).

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Ok… the guide book also suggested another most photoed spot that we needed to see. These were the pride of the town of Kawakawa. They were of their public loo (lew/lou/lue/loow???). Yes, we are talking about their toilets. They pride themselves mightily. Now they were designed by a fellow named Hundertwasser who was a noted world artist and eco architect. Actually, they were worth the visit that we needed to pay them. First opportunity that Alison and I have had to actually and legally p… on art, although we quite liked what he had created.

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Next, with the rain still falling, we rolled into Paihia in the Bay of Islands. This is the region that most visitors coming to Zland expect to see since it is the most photographed region in New Zealand. Are you finally getting the theme? Stopping at the info center by the water indicated that the rain was expected to continue until Thursday and since today is Tuesday, we squeezed back into our Getz and continued yet further north to Doubtless Bay so that we could do the 90 Mile Beach adventure tomorrow.

See, we’ll be sitting in this big wheeled vehicle with 8 other new to be made friends and travel up the west coast beach to Cape Reinga. The distance isn’t actually 90 miles, but more like 90km. The name giver must have been an early advocate of the metric system, just didn’t know his conversions or units very well. And from what we’ve been told, they’ll drive up the beach on what’s called ‘State Highway 1F’ although it’s only sand and dunes all the way. No rental cars allowed. Could you just picture getting our Getz stuck in the sand and then having it float out to sea on the next high tide? That ought to be good story, trying to explain why the NZ coast guard is searching for their car.

Tonight, we tramped (gotta love their choice of words) over to the Mangonui Fish Shop for their fish and chips. See, they’re world famous and most photographed too.

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Posted by Ali-Mike 00:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Thar She Blows

overcast 21 °C

So today we headed off to Waiotapu Thermal Pools which is just south of Rotorua. There, the area is themo active meaning that there are lots of openings where steam, boiling water, mud and various minerals are spouted from the world beneath our feet. Also located here is the Lady Knox Geyser which goes off at exactly 10:15am each day. Unlike Old Faithfull in Yellowstone, this one requires a little prompting by dropping a bit of organic soap down its throat. Can’t say I understand fully why this works, but it does.
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Zorbing is one of those weird activities where you strap yourself inside a huge inflated beach ball and get rolled down a hill. And you pay $50nz for the privilege. We gave it a pass.
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Later, we walked around the shore of Lake Rotorua marveling at the thermo pools that provides this town with its unique aroma (rotten egg smell).
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Tomorrow, we leave for parts further north. Not sure where we'll be yet.

Posted by Ali-Mike 01:35 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Rotorua

The nose knows when you’ve arrived

rain 20 °C

Today we travelled from Waitomo to Rotorua. It was raining as we left. We took the backroads since taking the main highway would have had us add 100s of kilometers to the trip. And yes, we tanked up, filled the water bottle and packed snacks for the inevitable getting lost. Which didn’t happen… well just once. Anyway, we arrived in Rotorua just after lunch… in the rain. Due to the hot springs and geysers, there’s a delicate fragrance of rotten eggs (sulphur) in the air.

With outdoor activity somewhat dampened, the Rotorua Museum offered an inviting afternoon indoors. Pretty good museum too covering the history of this place. Later in the evening it was off to the ‘Fat Dog Café’ which was highly rated in the Lonely Planet guide (justifiably so) and it was still raining. Checking the internet, it’s gonna be raining for the next coupla days.

Ramblings:
What’s good about ZLand?
1)
The roads are smooth and well marked without tire eating potholes. Everything is paved, even the backroads.

2)
Everywhere, the roads are twisty and winding. Given the nature of the landscape, this is understandable. Next time we come, we’re gonna get a Harley!

3)
The speed limit on all roads is 100kph. You’re not gonna maintain that speed though since many hairpin corners need to be taken at considerably slower speed. But these are all marked with their safe speeds. It’s great to be able to open ’er up a bit on the straight stretches. Here in New Zealand, the speed limit is not considered to be a target speed.

4)
There aren’t many stop signs or traffic lights and almost every intersection is a yield type with the more busy ones having traffic circles (round abouts?). Very civilized and it keeps traffic flowing. Too bad North America can’t cotton on to this idea.

5)
No tipping – everywhere you go, the service people do not expect a tip. You can if you want, but it’s not required.

6)
When buying something, the price you see is the price you pay. No taxes are added at checkout since the price already includes the tax.

7)
A purchase amount is rounded to the nearest 10 cents. Sometimes you pay a few pennies more and sometimes you save a few pennies. Their coin currency does not have pennies or nickels. Again, very civilized!

8)
After a while, you just stop taking pictures of the scenery since every corner offers something worthy of a shot. It’s just spectacular everywhere you go.

9)
Great wine – they make a lot of wine here and you can sample it everywhere – and at a reasonable price.

10)
They speak English thus eliminating the need to embarrass yourself with attempting sign language although a few people have chuckled at our pronunciation (mis-pronunciation) of some of the Maori names. Who would have guessed that ‘wh’ is pronounced as ‘f’ or that ‘ng’ is ‘n’?

Posted by Ali-Mike 11:48 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

A river runs through it

They gave us the keys to the airplane

sunny 24 °C

We're guessing that you're wondering how these titles relate to the Tongariro Crossing, right? See, we didn't actually do what we'd planned yesterday. The weather forecast was for rain, poor visibility and gale force winds developing at the higher elevations - read: in the volcanoes we were gonna traverse. So, we moved to plan 'B'. This was to pack up and move north to Waitomo Caves, since the surface weather would have no impact on us underground touring the caves. So we made the plans last evening before bed and woke up this morning to brilliant sunshine - too late to catch the last shuttle to the track starting point.

We were halfway to Waitomo when we stopped at an iSite (a tourist information office). This is where we booked our Black Water Caving Adventure and our accommodation for tonight. More on that in a bit. What happened next when I went to pay for our bookings was a bit upsetting. No credit card! Thinking back, the last place I'd used it was at this restaurant in the village we were staying last night. The lady behind the counter offered to call and sure enough, the restaurant had it. Whew... and my bad. So, it was time to turn our fuel sipping buggy around and head the 50 km back. Good scenery though.

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We should have mentioned this place we had dinner at in yesterday's entry. The place is called the 'Station' and at one time was a railway station that has now been converted into a fine eating establishment. The food was the best that we've enjoyed from any restaurant that we've visited in ZLand. There was one unique aspect... as the 9:07 rolled through (it doesn't stop there anymore - remember the restaurant is a converted rail station) the whole building shook and we hastened to hang onto our plates and wine glasses before they left the table for the floor. Anyway, I got my card back.

The lady at the information centre had asked whether we'd be interested in something a bit different for our accommodation this evening. Being the adventurers that we are, we had said sure. So we ended up booking the cockpit area of a Bristol..... a Vietnam era military freighter plane. This one's been all fitted out with two bedrooms, washroom and living space including a kitchenette. The main area is in the belly cargo area, but the second bedroom is up on the flight deck. The cockpit is still mostly there and I couldn't resist crawling into the left seat which would have been the captain's chair. Lonely Planet listed this place in the top 10 in the world for most unique accommodations. Pretty cool.

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We had booked ourselves onto a black water adventure through the caves that this region is known for. These differ from white water as there are no rapids, only water that the sun does not shine on. We got kitted with wet suits, rubber boots and helmets with lights so we could see the rocks that we were gonna hit with our heads. So they take us to this place and I look around and there ain’t no cave. Our guide then points to a hole in the ground, straps a harness onto us and says, ‘go for it’. It was about of 100’ down into the inky blackness, which was good ’cause it probably would have scared the crap out of me. The next thing was them giving us inner tubes and for us to jump off this ledge into water that is supposed to be somewhere below but ya can’t see it. You just know that it’s gonna be cold too. Put the tube around your butt and jump out we’re told. Yup, I was right… it was a ways down and the water was damn cold. The good thing is I didn’t flip upside down since the impact wedged my butt through the middle jamming me good and tight. It took a couple of good thrashings about to free myself. Don’t know if I coulda held my breath long enough if backside up! Anyway, floating along, the glow worms which ZLand is famous for showed up everywhere. Impressive! We also got to see eels, spiders the size of a ’60s Buick and eventually, the light of day again. But… we had to climb up a waterfall to get there. And it seemed we had to climb the same height that we repelled at the start. This was not the simple natural rock steps which always are on the tourist trips. No… we had to wriggle up a small opening wedging ourselves on opposite sides of the opening working our way upward. Kinda spider walk style. What a blast! The whole adventure lasted five hours.

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To finish the day, we took a late night hike to find more glow worms. They blended in with the multitude of stars that were out on this clear, cloudless and moonless night. Surreal!

BTW: the sleep in the plane was the best sleep that either one of us ever had on an airplane.

Posted by Ali-Mike 02:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

To the moon

Our Getz takes us there

overcast 21 °C

Today would be spent travelling to a place called National Park via Taupo. We left Napier in the morning travelling along highway 5 which showed a number of small towns along its route. Our car (yes, I’m calling it a car now because I believed it has now earned that title) had ¼ tank of gas in it that was still left from the full tank it had when it was picked up. As the distance to Taupo was 134km, the plan was to gas up somewhere on the highway. Well, you can probably guess that these place names weren’t representing towns but basically road junctions. No towns, no buildings, no gas! I finally realized that there was no gas as we approached the half way point. Funny, but the South Island posted signs indicating that there was no fuel available for distances greater than 100km, but that practice does not seem to be done on the North Island. Anyway, we slid into Taupo to a fuel station, with the needle firmly on empty and the fuel light on brightly. We tanked up putting 34 litre into the tank. Based on the 514kms that we’d done since picking up the car, that would suggest a burn rate of 6.6l/100km. This buggy sips at the fuel! And at almost $2nz/litre, that’s another plus. Anyway, we dodged this bullet. The year of Mike continues.

While in Taupo, we explored the Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon. The falls were OK but not extraordinary. The Craters of the Moon however were something else. This is an area that has a lot of geothermal activity. This means that everywhere you look, steam rises from openings in the ground. If there’s water nearby, it becomes boiling mud. We took the walkway through this area and were instructed not to step off the path, since the ground can be hot and unstable possibly giving way.

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We stopped at the Chateau Tongariro and snapped the following pic. It’s pretty much representative of the scenery we’ve been enjoying today.

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Tomorrow the plan is to hike the Tongariro Crossing, an 8 hour trek across the volcanoes. This is written up in the guidebooks as perhaps being the most scenic hike in all of New Zealand. Hope they don’t decide to get active.

Posted by Ali-Mike 11:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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