Category Archives: New Zealand

Posts made in New Zealand

Haere ra New Zealand

After five fabulous weeks we today left New Zealand and took 2.5 hour flight to Fiji. We felt really quite sad to leave NZ, a country that has really captivated us. With so many amazing places to see and adventurous activities to do it feels like the time flew by.

We spent our last couple of days driving back towards Christchurch where we would drop off our camper van (Toni). After staying overnight in the lovely village of Moeraki we checked out the Moeraki Boulders on the beach a couple of kilometres away. These cluster rocks are lava bubbles that hardened when they came into contact with the sea. They almost look like discarded giant marbles, almost manmade at first glance. Inside they are hollow as we could see from a few that had cracked leaving alien like egg shells. Sadly it was a rainy day (one of the few down points of NZ!) but the boulders were no less impressive.

From the boulders we drove over up to Oamaru for lunch and then headed about 100km down a scenic road where we passed several hydroelectric dams along the expansive Oamaru river. We stopped at the site of some Maori rock art, which was interesting although it was difficult to make out the drawings as they have been tampered with over time and now they are fenced off. We also drove past some lookout points for Mt. Cook, Australasia’s highest mountain (not sure why it isn’t included in the seven summits?), but sadly clouds were shrouding the mountain and we couldn’t see it. We decided instead to stop for a coffee in Twizel, a strange little town that is the gateway to the Mt. Cook national park.

Another 50km up the road we reached Lake Tekapo, which with its bright blue water (caused by minerals in the water) and mountain setting is very scenic. There’s also a tiny church, nicely named the Church of the Good Shepherd, which has a picturesque location right on the shore of the lake. Again the weather wasn’t very helpful, the rain didn’t stop all day, and the view was unfortunately limited.

We had planned to stay in a campsite by the lake, but they were crazily overpriced so we opted instead to drive on and stay at a DOC campsite about 50km away. We had to drive down some gravel roads to right the campsite, which was in the middle of nowhere, and when we got there we found a tree was blocking the entrance to the campsite. With darkness falling we decided to just pull in by the side of the road and sleep there, surrounded by fields of sheep and cows – they make some strange sounds at night! We saw the funny side though, even when we realised we had no wine and only one
bottle of beer between three of us!

It was a cold wet night so we were happy to get on the road early the next day for a three hour drive to the Banks Peninsular, within reach of Christchurch. On the way we stopped at Geraldine, a quaint country town with some nice shops, cafes, and a cheese factory. Not far after turning off the main highway we drove along the coast of the peninsular and stopped for lunch at the stony beach at Birding Flat. A beautiful spot with bright blue water and crashing waves. 🙂

From there the road went over the mountains in a series of long tight bends, not much fun in a bulky camper van but the views at the top down the valley below made it worthwhile.

Although named by Captain Cook the Banks Peninsular was originally settled by the French and the main town of Akaroa has French vibe. The roads are all called Rue something and there are French cafes, flags, and entrepreneurs dressed up as Frenchmen to encourage the tourists who come ashore off the large cruise ships that pull into the picturesque bay to buy their souvenirs!

To be fair Akaroa is a nice town set on a sheltered by in the middle of the peninsular. We stayed at a campsite just above the town, which gave us a nice view around the bay, and we enjoyed some decent Fish & Chips (French Fries!) at a nice cafe by the water where we watched the sun go down – a suitable way to end our South Island trip.

So next day we drove the last 75km, back up and down the windy mountain pass, to Christchurch. After a coffee at an old vicarage on the outskirts of town we dropped off Ute at the airport and said our goodbyes – hopefully she enjoyed her trip with us but I am sure she is looking forward to a bit more space! We then returned Toni to the hire company, he may have been a bit old and rusty, but we were really happy campers with him! Then we returned to the airport and took a short flight back to Auckland where our journey had begun five weeks ago.

We stayed at a hostel in the city centre, where it was nice to have a real bed again! This morning we did a bit of shopping for a few bits and pieces for our onward travels and enjoyed a decent cooked breakfast at the Vulcan Cafe – worth a visit if you are in Auckland. We are now in Fiji, where we are looking forward to some relaxation time (travelling is quite tiring – honest!) in some of the island resorts – it will be nice to be in the same place for more than a couple of nights! First impressions are that the people are very laid back and friendly, and the beer tastes good!

So Haere ra (goodbye in Maori) NZ and kia ora (thank you) for an amazing time, we will remember you fondly and hope that we will meet again one (sunny!) day.

You can find a load of photos taken during our time in NZ here.

Glaciers, Hang-Gliding, Fjords – the fun never stops in New Zealand!

We are thoroughly enjoying our New Zealand trip, and sadly it is rapidly drawing to a close, we have had another fantastic week here. After enjoying the town of Hokitika we drove south to Glacier Country, where there are several glaciers but two, Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, in particular are relatively accessible to the novice ice climber – i.e. me!

Our journey south took us firstly to the Franz Josef Glacier where we did a walk to its terminal (the glacier-geek word for the final ice face at the bottom of the glacier. The walk started in a forest and took us along the river basin formed by glacier melt water to within 200m of the terminal. I did a heli-hike on this glacier five years ago (see here) but this gave me another perspective. The photos don’t do it justice, the scale of the glacier is amazing.

The glaciers are roped off from the public as there is a real danger of icefalls (some blocks can weigh over a ton) and river surges, sadly there have been several fatal accidents in recent years with tourists who have climbed over the rope for a closer look. The only way to get close, but not too close, is to take a guided tour which we had planned to do on the Fox Glacier. It’s on 23km between the glaciers and each has a picturesque alpine village of the same name nearby, we spent a couple of nights at a campsite in Fox Glacier village – a favourite hangout of the inquisitive Kea (a parrot native to NZ).

The glaciers look pretty similar, although Fox is slightly longer and has a shorter and more interesting walk to its terminal. Our tour company provided us with boots, jackets, and gloves before we set off with our guide Ruth and group of 12 people for the glacier. We stayed well clear of the terminal, which as we got closer we could hear cracking (like a rifle) as bits of ice broke off, we walked up a steep path through the forest alongside the glacier to a point where we could safely walk onto it. Before we did we donned crampons (metal spikes that fit onto walking boots) so that we could walk on the ice without going arse over tit!

We were really lucky to have a sunny day and it was surprisingly hot, hence I’m wearing shorts, and with the backdrop of the Southern Alps very spectacular. The ice looks ‘dirty’ as the glacier wears away the mountains either side of it and causes rock falls, which it scoops up and takes with it down the mountain – descend, on average, an incredible 1.5m a day. At first the ice was relatively flat and compact but as we walked higher there were crevasses, which provided good photo opportunities.

We spent about 4 hours on the ice, checking out various ice features along the way, and walking up to an icefall about two thirds of the way up the glacier. Here the ice formed impressive jagged seracs that would require ice climbing gear to traverse.

It was a fantastic experience, you don’t get the chance to walk on a glacier everyday (unless you a glacier guide!), and one I would thoroughly recommend to anyone visiting the south island. There are a load of photos from our walk on Fox Glacier here.

Next morning we took a stroll around nearby Lake Matheson, which is renowned for reflecting the peaks of the Southern Alps (including Mt. Cook, the highest NZ peak at 3755m) that tower over it. Sadly the clouds we shrouding the peaks but it was a decent view nevertheless.

They were even better with a hearty slice of Mud Cake and a decent Cappuccino at the Matheson Cafe by the lake – thanks for the tip Mum!

Suitably stuffed we drove south down the rugged West Coast through the town of Haast where we turned off the main road and drove about 50km through wilderness to the fishing hamlet at Jacksons Bay. The views here across the bay with a mountain backdrop are simply stunning. We did a short walk out to ‘Ocean Beach’ before dining at the Craypot cafe (a rustic caravan on the quay), where we ate fresh fish (it was swimming not long before!) and tried out the local delicacy of Whitebait Patties – nice but didn’t taste too fishy! The views out the window would make many poncy restaurants very envious!

Sadly it seemed Sand flies also enjoyed the view as there were masses of them here. These aggressive and persistent little flies have a painful bite that becomes very itchy and there’s not much that you can do to stop them. So we left them behind and drove back to the main highway and then an hour or so south towards Wanaka, overnighting at a remote DOC campsite at Pleasant Flat. Next morning we cruised through the Mt. Aspiring National Park to Wanaka stopping couple of times on the way to admire the views, waterfalls, and some amazingly blue pools.

As we came into Wanaka we stopped at Puzzling World where there are lots of puzzling things to admire, such as holograms, waterfalls that flow up, and a room that plays with your eyes. Although Lisa is pretty small…

We then went for a look round Wanaka and had a coffee in a nice cafe, but the weather was a bit nasty so we decided to drive on to the quaint village of Arrowtown, just north of NZ’s adventure capital Queenstown. Arrowtown was built in the 1860’s when gold was discovered here and retains many historical buildings set on pretty tree lined avenues, it’s a bit touristy but nevertheless enjoyable.

It was only a short drive to Queenstown but the scenery is stunning. The town lies at one end of Lake Wakatipu and is dwarfed by mountains quite appropriately named ‘The Remarkables. The town has a nice vibe about it, and whilst many people come here to do adrenalin based activities (parachuting, bungy jumping, jet boating, etc – the list is endless) it is well worth a visit in itself. There are lots of nice shops, which Lisa and her Mum meticulously explored, and some good cafes and pubs.

Of course no visit would be complete without getting the adrenalin pumping a bit, and having done a parachute jump here on my last visit (see here) I fancied something a little more graceful – hang-gliding! I convinced Lisa it was a good idea and were soon picked up by SkyTrek and driven up very windy roads to the nearby ski pistes on the Coronet Peak (1656m). It was pretty cold up there with a chilly wind and even a few flakes of snow, however our pilots said conditions were great for flying.

There were six of us flying that day and there were three pilots so we went in two batches, me in the first and Lisa in the second. After donning a flight suit, helmet, and gloves, we did a takeoff practice with our pilot Augusto from Chile. We were then strapped to the glider and move to the top of a steep slope, which we then ran down as fast as we could to take off. This all happened really quick and it took only 3 or 4 steps before we were airborne.

The flight was amazing, I felt feeling like an eagle soaring high in the sky, it was so peaceful and calm. To be honest I wasn’t taking in the view too much, just enjoying the feeling of gliding, although I could see alpine forests and tiny houses in the valley below. Alfonso let me have a go at flying the glider, which was surprisingly easy – pushing down on the metal the way you want to go. However I was happy to let him do the flying, and just take it all in.

The glider flies at about 25 mph, but to get lower for landing we had to cut some stomach churning turns, I just saw the forest below spinning! It felt much faster as the ground got closer, although the landing in a grassy field was smooth and we soon came to a stop. We flew for 15-20 minutes, an amazing experience from start to finish. I wanted to have another go and was a bit jealous when we drove back up to the peak and Lisa got her turn!

The wind was stronger by the time we had got back up but the sky was clearer, Lisa also flew with Augusto and was first to go in her group – the last of the three pilots decided not fly as the winds were too strong! She seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, there was a big smile on her face when we met at the landing field!

To cap of the day we went for a beer at a nice bar down by the lake and a massive, and delicious, burger at the revered ‘Fergburger’ – don’t miss this if you are in Queenstown!

We camped overnight at a DOC campsite on the lake about 12km out of Queenstown on the road to Glenorchy. We drove out to Glenorchy, about 50km down the lake from Queenstown, the next morning. This is the area that was used as Isengard in the Lord of the Rings films , you need a bit of imagination but it does feel like you in middle earth sometimes – imagine a big tower with an eye on it here!

We did a nice walk, at the start of the Routeburn track, through the dense forest to Lake Sylvan, it almost felt like the trees were watching you!

After the walk and a coffee in a nice cafe in Glenorchy we drove back to Queenstown and stayed in an overpriced campsite near the town centre, where we enjoyed a bit of sushi for dinner. Next morning we awoke to a lovely sunny day so took the chance to take the cable car up Bob’s Peak, which offers spectacular views over the town, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding mountains.

There’s a bungy jump at the top and we enjoyed watching people springing into oblivion, even better is that there is a Luge up here, I love the Luge!

I would of stayed on it all day but we had to get on the road again
as we wanted to checkout the Fjordland so took the long drive to Milford Sound, about four hours from Queenstown. We stopped for a break at the town of Te Anau on the way, and stopped overnight in a very remote DOC campsite about halfway along the 125km road that leads from Te Anau to Milford Sound – a very scenic road that makes the return journey worth it.

Next morning we were up early to drive the last leg to Milford Sound to meet our pre-booked boat tour, we took an early one to miss the tour bus crowds who come in at midday (good advice from the lonely planet!). About 20km from Milford Sound you have to drive through the scary Homer Tunnel, built in 1954 it looked and felt like could cave in at any moment! The first sight of the sound was stunning, rocky cliffs rising out of the blue waters with forests clinging to the slopes.

We boarded our boat and were happy to see it wasn’t too busy, and on cruising out of the crazily large terminal (says something about the tourist numbers that flock here) we immediately came across a pod of playful bottlenose dolphins – not an everyday sight here according to our guide.

It was a leisurely two hour return cruise along the fjord to it’s opening at the Tasman Sea and back. It rains here approx. 200 days a year and with 7m of rain falling it is not surprising that there are some gushing waterfalls that add to the spectacular scenery.

We also saw some seal lazing on the rocks, it really is a lovely place and well worth the long journey to get there. After the cruise it was another long drive as we needed to make up for some lost time and get over to the Catlins national park on the South East coast.

It’s quite different on this side of the island with rolling farmland, forests, and rugged bays – it reminds me of Devon or Cornwall. It took us most of the afternoon to reach our beach camp at Curio Bay. A lovely place with a sandy windswept beach and home to a pod of dolphins and some Yellow-Eyed penguins, a few of which we saw come in at dusk.

Having done a lot of driving the day before we took it easy and spent some time just relaxing overlooking the bay and watching the dolphins. The next land directly out from here is Antartica and the waves are pretty strong and some weather beaten looking trees. We had a look at ‘Niagara Falls’ about 100 times smaller than its American big brother (someone had a laugh with that one). In Papatowai we visited the Lost Gypsy Gallery, a madcap array of inventions by someone who has too much time on their hands! Some very funny and ingenious inventions though, I especially liked the pedal powered TV!

Another stop was Cathedral Caves, huge arched caves that have been cut by the oppressive sea through the rock. You can only reach the caves two hours either side of low tide, and there are two caves leading to one chamber that is gradually being extended, very impressive.

We ‘freedom camped’ overnight near the tiered Purakaunni Falls, which we had a look at this morning.

Then we drove around the coast to Nugget Point, a fabulous place where a lighthouse has been built on a rocky outcrop that is home to a colony of fur seals. With 100m drops to the ocean around the lighthouse the views are awesome.

It was then a 90km drive to Dunedin, the South Islands second largest city, where we spent this afternoon looking around. Founded by Scots there is a similarity with Edinburgh, a Robert Burns statue stands in prime position in the city centre. With lots of nice cafes it was a nice place to spend a few hours, there are lots of colonial buildings, including the Edwardian style train station.

Late this afternoon we drove another 70km north to Moeraki, a charming fishing village with some boulders on the beach that look like discarded marbles. We’ll check out the boulders tomorrow, but tonight we treated to a lovely sunset from the cliffs.

Very sadly our time in New Zealand is almost up, on Friday we will drop of the campervan in Christchurch and fly up to Auckland from where we will fly to Fiji on Saturday. We are looking forward to that, but it will be hard to leave this amazing country.

There’s a whole load of photos to look at here.

Aotearoa Escapade Exploits

At the end of my last post I mentioned that we were going to do some ‘Blackwater Rafting’ at Waitimo Caves, we didn’t realise it was Valentine’s Day – what a romantic treat to plunge into a cold and wet cave! We took a Caving Tour (Rap, Raft, and Rock) with a guide, Rudi from Hawaii, through a section of the expansive Waitimo Caves, kitted out in a thick wetsuit, helmet, and wellys! To get into the cave we firstly had to abseil (Rap = Rappel) 27m into the natural cave entrance.

Once at the bottom we got our feet wet, and cold, in the knee deep stream that runs through the cave. Here we picked up an inflated wheel inner tube, which became our raft as we gently (a lot tamer than ‘Black Water Rafting’ makes it sound!!) floated along through caves covered with glow worms – very impressive. Upon reaching a series of smaller caves we did some caving, squeezing headfirst through tunnels in the rock that were barely wider than our bodies – scary but exhilarating!

Rudi was a bit of a joker and he made us go through a tiny hole, which had us performing a kind of handstand through by going head first through the rock.

After some more ‘Black Water Rafting’ we had to climb (Rock = Rocking Climbing) the cave wall back up to the surface, with the safety of being belayed by Rudi. It was nice to see the sun again after 3 hours in the cave but it was an awesome experience from start to finish, one of the highlights of our NZ trip so far. There are more photos from the cave tour here.

After a welcome shower and a cup of piping hot soup we drove south about 150km to the mountains of the Tongariro National Park. We stayed at the YHA hostel in a village simply named National Park, here we met Rich who was over from the UK on holiday. The reason for meeting here was to undertake the Tongariro Alpine Crossing walk, reputedly the best one day trek in NZ. Therefore early the next morning we found ourselves at the start of the trail, a 19.4km trail across an active volcano.

We were a bit worried about the weather but whilst it was a fresh morning it wasn’t raining as we set off, and although the peaks of the mountains were covered by cloud there were good views down the valley.

Unfortunately as we climbed the mountain we ascended into the mist of the cloud above, supposedly there are great views from up there but we couldn’t see much except the inside of the cloud. However, the inside of the giant crater offered an escape from the cloud and a bit of a view.

We had to climb up the scree slopes of the crater and around its rim, here the rain kicked in, which soon has us soaked through and with the gusty winds pretty cold and miserable! The emerald lakes glared out from the mist and lifted our mood, reminding us why we were doing this blumin walk!

We walked the middle section of the walk, past steaming volcanic vents, as fast as possible hoping to get out of the wind and rain. As we walked around Mt. Ngauruhoe, aka. Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, our shoes were sodden which felt quite appropriate at the time!

It took us a couple of hours to reach the Ketetachi Hut where we joined masses of other trekkers sheltering from the rain whilst trying to get a bit of warmth by huddling around a small gas stove. It was quite a depressing vibe in the hut so after a bit of lunch warmed we decided to press on. It was a steep descent from the hut and after 15 minutes we were under the cloud and out of the wind and rain – it felt positively tropical! Higher up there had been no vegetation whatsoever but down here there was a lush forest.

It was a pleasant hour or so walk through the forest to the end of the trail where we were picked up by a shuttle bus from our hostel. Despite the conditions we (or at least I did!) had enjoyed the walk, especially the first and last sections, but after around 7 hours of walking we were glad it was over!

We had certainly earned the beers and pub meal we consumed in the evening! Above all it had been good to see Rich, we have made many friends on our travels but it is really nice to see an old friend again. There’s more photos from the walk here. Sadly we had to say our goodbyes as the next day we headed south, about 340km, to Wellington whilst he went north to Auckland.

After the rigours of the previous day we were happy to be sat in the car, we made a lunch stop the picturesque Otaki Beach before arriving into Wellington in the mid-afternoon and returned our hire car.

Wellington, located at the southern tip of the North Island, although smaller than Auckland (a population of 400 thousand compared to 1.2 million) is the capital of New Zealand. It’s a picturesque city with a busy harbour set in a sheltered bay, founded in the mid-1800’s and named after named after Arthur Wellesley (the first Duke of Wellington and victor of the Battle of Waterloo). There is a ratchety cable car (over 100 years old) that runs up the steep hill from the harbour to the hilltop botanical gardens, which offers a good view over the city.

The city is known for being susceptible to strong gales and not to disappoint there were cool strong winds blowing through the streets on our arrival. No worries though there are plenty of cool bars and cafes offering a shelter from the wind 🙂

The highlight of Wellington is the magnificent ‘Te Papa’ (Maori for Treasure Box), which is the national museum. There is a huge collection, over six floors, of historical and cultural artefacts from the history of NZ, from Maori times through European settlement to the present day. There was so much to see that it was a little overwhelming, but we particularly liked the section on earthquakes and volcanoes – which of course are real threats to NZ.

We spent a couple of days in Wellington enjoying all that the city had to offer – the steamed green lipped mussel pots served up by the Belgium beer cafe were a particular highlight. From Wellington we took the interislander ferry to the port town of Picton at the northern tip of the South Island. It was a scenic three hour crossing, both leaving Wellington and cruising up the Marlborough Sounds.

From Picton we took a bus a couple of hours south to the village of Kaikoura, which with its turquoise blue bay and black volcanic beach set against some 2800m mountains is very scenic. It was a nice sunny day so we lazed about on the beach for the rest of the day. We stayed overnight in a nice little hostel with a sea view what more could one want?

We couldn’t hang around though (we had already planned to return in a few days to do some whale watching) as we needed to get to Christchurch to meet Lisa’s Mum, Ute, who is travelling round the South Island with us for a few weeks. We took a bus to Christchurch and got dropped off at the airport ready to meet Ute, but we had a few hours to spare so we checked out the nearby Antarctica museum. Informative and interactive, including an Antarctic storm experience where one goes into (they give you a big jacket) a glorified freezer set to -10 degrees and then big fans blast cold air in your face simulating a wind chill of -30, flipping cold It took my feet a long time to warm up again!

Later, after 10 months apart, it was a happy/emotional reunion for Lisa and her Mum. I think Ute was pretty happy to have finished her 30 hour journey from Germany.

We spent the evening catching up, and then the next day we went for a walk around Christchurch – or rather what is sadly left of it following the 22nd Feb 2011 earthquake and regular aftershocks. I was here 5 years ago but I hardly recognised anything, except the museum which seemed intact, the city centre is cordoned off and makes for quite an apocalyptic scene.

A lot of buildings have already been demolished and there are now empty spaces where they once stood – there is a reluctance to rebuild as they now know the city lies directly over a major fault line. However some businesses have made a fresh start by trading out of shipping containers, giving the city a new quirky and colourful high street.

There wasn’t too much to see so we didn’t linger in Christchurch for long, we picked up a camper van (which we have named Toni) and drove north about 30km to a campsite at Amberley Beach where we enjoyed dinner with a sea view.

Next morning we drove back to Kaikoura and went out on a whale watching trip in the bay, which is inhabited year round by Sperm Whales. There gigantic mammals deep dive to staggering depths around 1000m below the surface to feed and can stay underwater for up to an hour. However, they spend around 10 minutes on the surface re-oxygenating between dives and this gives a good opportunity to see them. We were lucky enough to see two whales, our captain impressively tracked them down using an underwater microphone on a pole, resting on the surface blowing up big plumes of steam when they breathed. The most impressive thing to see though is when they dive and the mighty tale comes out of the water, set against a backdrop of the mountains it was picture perfect.

More whale watching photos here. As well as whales we saw several albatrosses gliding just above the waves, a seal colony, and a lone penguin that popped up to see check us out – a fantastic trip all round. That evening we stayed on a campsite in Kaikoura and then next day we set off on a long drive to the town of Motueka, which is a jumping off point for the Abel Tasman National Park. Unfortunately the 280km drive took longer than we had hoped for when ‘Toni’ sprung a radiator leak in the town of Blenheim, but thankfully it was an easy fix and we were on our way again after a few hours. We made it to Motueka and stayed at a basic campsite right on the beach, which was nice until a windy storm kicked in and had us worried the heavy ocean waves might crash over us (the sound of wind, rain, and waves are amplified in a camper van!). We survived though and awoke to a nice sunny day, the weather here seems to change very quickly.

To get into the national park we had to take a water taxi from the quaint seaside village of Kaiteriteri. There were some pretty big waves and as the boat was quick we got airborne quite a bit, bum numbingly so! Along the way we stopped to see some seals lazing on the rocks, and also to see the ‘Split Apple Rock’.

We got dropped off on the beach at Barks Bay and then walked 6km along a forest trail back to Torrents Bay where we were picked up by the taxi four hours later. It was a lovely walk, the air smelt fresh in the lush forest, and there were lots of scenic lookouts across blue bays with sandy beaches to stop and admire the view.

Back in Kaiteriteri we relaxed on the beach for a while before enjoying some Fush n Chups (that’s how the Kiwi’s say it anyway) in Motueka. We tried out Kumara (a sweet potato native to NZ) chips which were nice, tasting a bit like roasted turnip.

Alas we would have liked to have stayed in Abel Tasman for a while longer but being on a limited timescale we had to get back on the road again. We drove about 250km south to the rugged west coast, most of the journey was inland though and we stopped at the country town of Murchison scene of two big earthquakes in 1929 and 1968 which we learned about in the tiny museum in the town. About 14km down the road we got the chance to walk across NZ’s largest swing bridge, which spans the Buller Gorge. At 110m long and hanging 17m above the water it was quite vertigo inducing!

On the other side of the bridge was a nice little bush loop walk, which took us alongside the fault line of the 1929 earthquake – basically a big load of rock pushed up from underground. With the weather playing games, from torrential rain to clear blue skies in minutes, we finally reached the coast and were greeted with some fabulous views – pounding waves, weather beaten limestone cliffs, and dense forests. It is easy to see why this is rated as one of the best drives in the world.

We stayed overnight, in a beachside campsite, at the village of Punakaiki, which is close to some rock formations named ‘Pancake Rocks’. Scientists are baffled how they were formed, but these limestone cliffs resemble stacks of pancakes. Battered by strong waves for thousands of years they have formed some interesting formations.

Next day we drove about 100km south to Hokitika, a lovely seaside town, making a short stop on the way at Greymouth (not so lovely). Hokitika was founded in the 1860’s as a Jade mining town, today it is a more of a holiday town although there are plenty of jewellery shops selling Jade carvings. We also visited a Kiwi centre, where we got the chance to see a Kiwi which considering they are one of the symbols of NZ are practically impossible in the wild as they are very shy. They are pretty cute and surprisingly big! There were also some pretty big eels in a huge tank that we helped to feed. The highlight of the town is the beach, although windy, it is a dark volcanic beach strewn with driftwood, which the locals have creatively used to good effect.

We enjoyed the sunset and after went for a couple of Speights beers, brewed locally, in the nearby pub. We also checked out a glow worm den just north of the town, not in a cave this time but under the thick cover of pine trees – they looked like stars!

As you can probably tell we are loving NZ, the people are so friendly and the landscape is jaw droppingly stunning. Today we are off to Glacier country and will do a days hike across the Fox Glacier, there is so much to do and see here!

I’ve uploaded a load of photos, which you can browse here.

Ki Ora New Zealand!

Ki Ora! (that means Hello in Maori!)

We arrived in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, on the 4th of February and were immediately pleased to see sunny skies having left a grey and rainy Sydney. I’ve been to Auckland a couple of times before, most recently for the Rugby World Cup in October 2011, and have never been too excited about it – you don’t come to NZ for its cities. This time though we stayed out of the city at a quiet hostel in the nice suburb of Parnell, which gave me a different impression of the city.

We followed a walking tour route from our guidebook which took us from the impressive Auckland museum, along the main shopping street of Queen Street, to the Art Gallery, through Albert Park to the University, and ending at the bustling harbour.

Later in the afternoon we walking up Mt. Eden, which is a 196m former volcano cone (with a 50m deep crater at the top, which is a spiritual site for the Maoris) that rises above the city. The views were suburb, across the city and harbour out to sea.

There was also a festival in celebration of the Chinese New Year with lots of Chinese dancing and food stalls selling food from around Asia for much cheapness – of course I overindulged, and then regretted it for 3 days after as something (maybe the Taiwanese sausage) didn’t agree with me 🙁

This wasn’t too great as we had a long drive (we rented a car) the next day to the Bay of Islands, which is located in the North East of the North Island. To minimise the pain we broke up the journey with regular stops, not hard as there are numerous scenic lookout points along the way. We took the longer route along the Western side of the peninsular so that we could see the Waipoua Kauri Forest – the remnants of a once-extensive Kauri Forest of northern NZ. The Kauri trees are very impressive, they can stand up to 60m tall with a diameter of 5m – it has to be seen to be appreciated and photos don’t do it justice. Here is Lisa (I appreciate she makes most things look big) standing in front of the biggest tree in the forest – Tane Mahuta (Maori for Forest God) – at 51m tall with a girth of 13.8m and a wood mass of 244.5 cubic meters it is way bigger than any tree I have seen before.

We stayed at Paihai, on the mainland side of the Bay of Islands, which is near the Waitangi where the treaty of Sovereignty between the British and the Maori was signed in 1840 – by coincidence we arrive on February 6th which is Waitangi Day (a public holiday) exactly 172 years since the treaty was signed. There was a festival at the site to celebration, but unfortunately by the time we arrived this was wrapping up.

We used Paihai as a base to explore both the stunning Bay of Islands and Northland region. On our first day we drove up to the northernmost point of NZ – Cape Reinga which is at the tip of the long and thin Aupouri Peninsula. On its west coast is an endless stretch of beach, dubbed 90 Mile Beach although 90km is more accurate, lined with sand dunes and forest – very impressive. We weren’t sure if it was worth the drive to the Cape but we were very glad we did as the views were amazing, standing at the lighthouse we had a real end-of-the-world feeling. Maoris consider this the place where souls depart on their journey to their spiritual homeland and it is easy to see why.

This is the point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and you could see a line of waves breaking into each other, which was mesmerising to watch. There is a signpost here, which showed the distance to London as 18029km – a long way from home! If this place wasn’t impressive enough quite incredibly there is a 800 year old Pohutukawa tree clinging on to the rocks above the crashing waves, even scientists are baffled how it survives here – the Maori believe souls slide down its roots.

Next day we spent the day cruising around the Bay of Islands onboard the Fullers ‘Cream Trip’- originally used to collect the cream from the dairy farms around the Islands and the original tourist cruise here. It was another fantastic day as we cruised through tranquil turquoise waters around many of the islands, made even better when a pod of dolphins swam around us for a while.

We made a lunch stop on one of the islands and trekked up to its highest point for a panoramic view around the Bay.

We also went out into the choppier waters of the Pacific to the Easternmost Island, which has a sea eroded archway through it dubbed ‘The Hole in the Rock’. This was impressive, but more so the massive school of fish swimming here, there were thousands of them and the deck hand quickly threw a fishing line in and was soon reeling a few in for his dinner!

We finished the cruise in the town of Russell, NZ’s first European settlement once dubbed ‘The hellhole of the Pacific’ as it became a magnet for rough elements such as convicts, whalers, and drunken sailors. It’s hard to imagine this seedy past though as today it’s a quaint historic town full of cafes, B&B’s, and gift shops. We had a walk around and on the advice of Koen and Tamara (the Dutch couple we met on the East Coast of Australia) visited the ice cream parlour to sample the local delicacy – an Ice Cream Burger. An ice cream of your choice toasted between two sweet bread slices – beautiful, thanks for the tip guys!

Unfortunately we had to leave the Bay of Islands the next day driving south back past Auckland to the Coromandel peninsular. Shortly after leaving Paihia we stopped at the town of Kawakawa to have a look at some public toilets, not just any toilets but ones decorated by the Austrian artist Hundertwasser.

We know Hundertwasser’s work from Vienna where he decorated houses and even a power station in his usual elaborative style without straight lines. We hadn’t realised that he had lived in NZ, from 1973 until his death in 2000, so were pleasantly surprised to find his toilets in Kawakawa!

It took most of the day to get to Coromandel Town where we would spend the night and it was motorways most of the way until we entered the peninsula, where we found ourselves driving alongside the ocean with some stunning views. In the town we bought some of the local speciality, smoked mussels, and relaxed for the evening at our nice hostel which had a nice garden with a trampoline (we got to act like kids for a while) before going to the bay for an sunset through some amazing clouds.

The following day we drove down the east coast of the peninsular initially along a unsealed road called the ‘309 Road’ as it took a horse and kart 3 hours and 9 minutes to traverse it. Along the way we past a pig farm with some very cute piglets, a honey farm, and the picturesque Waiau Falls. At the end of the road we stopped for lunch and an little kip at the picturesque Mercury Bay (named as Captain Cook watched Mercury pass in front of the Sun here allowing him to determine is latitude.

Later we checked out Cooks Bay before going onto ‘Hot Water Beach’ where we burned our feet in the amazingly hot thermal springs. For two hours either side of low-tide an area of sand becomes accessible where these 60 degree hot water springs bubble up to the surface. Lots of people came here with spades and dug thermal pools using a mix of the hot water and the cool sea water. Even though you saw people jump when they touched the water you still had to give it a go to believe it!

After burning ourselves enough we drove a few hours south, leaving the picturesque peninsular behind, to the town of Rotoura – famous as an area of intense geo-thermal activity. As soon as we entered the town we could smell the sulphur rich (think bad eggs) air. It The Maori revered this place and it is rich in history and a good place to learn about their culture. Our first visit was to the Te Whakarewarewa thermal reserve 3km from the city, here there is a Maori village amongst steaming geysers and boiling mud pools. We took an interesting guided tour and watched a cultural performance with lots of singing and dancing – including the ‘Haka’, which most people will know from the NZ Rugby team.

We also sampled a sweet corn cooked in the one of the hot mineral pools, nice. In the afternoon I got to revisit one of my favourite things from my last NZ trip, the luge! We took the cable car up Mt. Ngongotaha which overlooks Rotoura (and lake of the same name) and then came back down on a gravity powered go-kart – so much fun!

Lisa was initially unsure but enjoyed it (nearly as much as me), sadly we couldn’t stay too long (but there’s another on the South Island 😉 ) as in the evening we went to a Maori cultural experience at the Tamaki Village where we enjoyed an evening of entertainment learning all about how the Maoris’ once lived. After being picked up and briefed by our Marae (aka. Hilarious bus driver) we were greeted with a pretty scary Haka before being welcomed into the traditional village.

We had demonstrations on Maori life and watched various dances before being treated to a ‘Hangi’ feast. The ‘Hangi’ is an oven made by digging a hole into which stones that have been heated on a fire are placed, then baskets of food are put on top and then the oven is covered – result lovely succulent meat (chicken, lamb, pork, etc)! Of course it was a commercialised tourist experience but we still thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone.

Next day after a bit of a relaxed morning in the town we drove south towards the town of Taupo but stopped about 30km out of Rotoura at the Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland. Meaning ‘Sacred Waters’ in Maori it is probably the most spectacular and famous thermal reserve in NZ. Formed 700 years ago by a massive hydrothermal eruption there are brightly coloured pools, geysers, and bubbling mud pools packed into a small area. I visited this park 5 years ago but it was no less impressive the second time. The Champagne pool is particularly impressive, 65m wide with a surface temperature of 74 degree and full of minerals such as gold, silver, mercury, arsenic, and of course sulphur giving it an colourful almost alien world appearance.

After a few hours walking around the park we got back on the road and drove into Taupo, which lies on the shore of NZ’s biggest lake of the same name. Firstly we checked out the torrential Huka Falls, which lie on the Waikato River that flows from Lake Taupo and through a hydroelectric power station produce 15% of NZ’s electricity. The power of the water is immense.

In the evening we walked down to the hot springs in the park about 20 mins out of the town where streams of hot water run down waterfalls into the Waikato River, making a refreshing and natural thermal pool. One had to be careful though as the river water was ice cold!

Today we took a cruise out onto Lake Taupo on a steam boat (impressed Dad?) called the Ernest Kemp. The highlight of which were the 10m high Maori carvings carved into the rocky cliffs in the 1970’s. They depict Ngatoro-i-rangi who guided tribes to the Taupo area over a thousand years ago.

This afternoon we drove over to Waitomo, which is an area famous for its extensive network of caves. Tomorrow we will try out blackwater rafting through some glow worm caves – should be fun!

We are absolutely loving NZ (Australia is a distant memory already!) and barely a minute goes by without us taking a photo, you can see some of Auckland here, Northland here, Coromandel here, Rotoura and Taupo here.

A weekend at the Rugby World Cup

Owing to the proximity of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last weekend I took the chance to go over to Auckland for the England v Scotland game. I flew over with Tom after work on Friday, a 2 hour 40 min flight packed with Rugby fans. Unfortunately due to NZ being 3 hours ahead of Australia it was past 1am Saturday morning when we landed, and gone 2am when we checked into the hostel. We fancied a beer and were surprised/happy to find most of the pubs in the lively Fort Street area still open, after a cheeky pint we retired for the evening at 3am!

Owing to the time difference, and the usual plastic bag rustling by dorm mates, we slept through until midday NZ time. We emerged into a drizzly Auckland and soon sought out some ‘breakfast’ and stumbled upon the decent Vulcan Café just off Queen St, the city’s main thoroughfare. A full fry up, first one in a while, set us up nicely for the day. Here we met an old BT colleague of mine, Les, who came to the game with us. A Geordie lad, the Kiwi’s thought he was Scottish, who I hadn’t seen him for 4 or 5 years his sense of humor brightened up the grey day 🙂

We went to collect our tickets from the ticket desk at the Sky Tower and watched people base jumping from the observation platform 192m above the ground attached two very thin wires – rather them than me! After checking out the Rugby fan zone at the city wharf, which was packed and wet, we decided the warmth of a pub was much more enticing and watched the Australia v Russia game there. Auckland was full of Rugby fans, lots of grown men in face paint, Scots in kilts, Englishmen dressed up as Knights, and Kiwi’s pretending to be Scots. We hadn’t even got a flag so when a guy came through the pub selling England scarves for $15 we took the opportunity to look much more patriotic!

We took the bus to the Stadium, the impressive Eden Park, which is about 4km out of the city centre. We were pretty early for the game, which gave us time to look around a bit, watch the France v Tonga game on the big screens, and make use of the bar and hotdog stands and hotdog facilities.

It wasn’t long before the ground filled up to its 60’000 capacity and there were English and Scottish flags everywhere – probably a 50:50 split. The stadium capacity has been extended for the World Cup with temporary seating, and we were sat on these in the North East corner, which gave us a decent unrestricted view of the game. Surprisingly, in a country that has its fair share of rain, much of the stadium wasn’t covered, but fortunately we were only subjected to light drizzle and managed to stay pretty dry throughout the game.

With both teams requiring points, Scotland needing an 8 point victory, to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition there was a nervy atmosphere as England kicked off attacking towards us. It seemed like everyone, bar those born in England, were supporting Scotland – around us were Kiwi’s and American’s claiming Scottish heritage, annoyingly shrieking every time Scotland went forward.

Unfortunately Scotland dominated the first half as England struggled to keep hold of the ball and giving away numerous penalties, which Scotland happily converted. England seemed desperate for points with Jonny Wilkinson kicking for penalties at every opportunity, unfortunately his range was off and many fell short – encouraging much ridicule from the Scottish fans. It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that he finally hit the target and England got their first points. I’m no Rugby expert but I would have thought it would be a better tactic to keep possession and go for a try, especially as the kicking wasn’t working – that said England’s runners rarely threatened either.

Scotland got a drop goal just before half time and the first half ended 9-3 to Scotland and the Scottish fans were getting cocky – “two points to go” was the chant of the Kiwi guys behind us. Time to fetch some more beers to stiffen the nerves and warm us up!

England must have been given a motivational rollicking by coach Martin Johnson as the second half was a much improved performance, finally we started to look threatening. Unfortunately Jonny’s kicking didn’t get any better as he sliced an almost certain drop goal wide of the posts – much to the delight of the Scottish fans. This fired up the Scots and they raced down the other end only to be denied a try by some last ditch England defending. We got pretty worried when England conceded a penalty after an scrum infringement and Scotland went 12-3 up, enough to send them through to the next round at England’s expense.

 

Soon after, relievingly, Wilkinson rectified his earlier mistake and fired over a drop goal to claw England back to 12-6. This seemed to get England going again and he soon kicked a conversion to bring it back to 12-9 with about 15 minutes of the game remaining , now we were feeling confident and a chorus of “Swing low, sweet chariot” went around the stadium.

There were a couple of opportunities for both teams in the final stages as the game finally opened up, and we went berserk when a high pass was thrown wide to Chris Ashton who dived over the line for a try. The resulting kick was converted by Toby Flood and with only minutes of the game remaining the score was 16-12 to England, and only St Georges flags were flying around the stadium.

The final whistle soon came and England had clawed their way into the Quarter finals. Nerves frayed, voice was gone, but elated I have to admit it was very satisfying smiling at the pseudo-Scots on the way out! He who laughs last, laughs longest 😉

We caught the bus back into the city and enjoyed some victory beverages whilst watching the Liverpool v Everton footy game – a rare treat to be able to watch proper football. There we met some proper Scots who whilst sad to be out of the tournament congratulated us on the win and wished us well for the next rounds. Still on Sydney time we stayed in the pub until it closed at 4am!

Unfortunately we had to be out of the hostel by 10am, so feeling a little worse for wear we met up with Les for a coffee and had a little walk around the wharf before heading to the airport for our flight back to Sydney. Luckily for us Monday was a bank holiday in New South Wales and a day of R&R was much appreciated!

It was a great weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of live Rugby, if it wasn’t so expensive I’d be back out in Auckland for the quarter finals against the French. Come on England!

I took a few photos, which you can see here.