North Island

5th April – Cook Strait

It was handy the clocks went back an hour. It meant we could lie in and still be packed before breakfast.

We were due to catch the 1:15 p.m. ferry from Picton across the Cook Strait to Wellington, North Island. This gave us plenty of time to take the scenic route via Queen Charlotte Drive along the end of Queen Charlotte Sound. South Island’s farewell to us was yet more lovely scenery.

The ferry spends the first hour of the three hour crossing wriggling its way through the drowned valleys that make up Marlborough Sound. The pilot must really need to be on his toes but the passengers get some great views. Then it’s a quick sprint across the open water of the Cook Strait before the long curve into Wellington harbour. We had a good view of the city as we approached, with houses climbing the hillsides all around.

After a wash and brush-up we hit the streets, found a lively bit of town and had a lovely dinner at a Turkish restaurant. The bit of Wellington we saw was promising, and we look forward to exploring more of it tomorrow.

6th April – Wellington

A day to look around Wellington. We started with the Te Papa Museum, the national museum of NZ with a Maori name that translates as “container of treasures”. It was aptly named. We started, as advised by one of the staff, at the top floor and worked our way down, concentrating on the fourth and second floors with a coffee break between the two. We could cheerfully have spent a day on each floor. It was fascinating and informative – so much so that Colin forgot to look at the Meccano exhibition on the first floor!

We wandered along the waterfront and then made our way to the cablecar

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which took us up to the Botanic Gardens and the Carter Observatory. The latter kept us entertained for a couple of hours, including a show in the planetarium. Then back down and a stroll for afternoon tea in our favourite street (Cuba St).

Dined on curry. The North Islanders clearly have a different view of “hot” to the South Islanders. We were still sweating as we hit Kitty O’Shea’s to listen to the session. Colin feared he would regret not having an instrument with him, but found to his relief he only knew a quarter of the tunes. We were amused at the way the players rotated in and out.

7th April – To Ohakune

Our first job this morning was to pick up our new hire car. This turned out to be a Toyoto Camry. Very nice, except (a) the handbrake is foot-operated and (b) the hand controls are all on the opposite side of the steering wheel to what we’re used to. By the end of the day Pat was still indicating with the windscreen wipers! Leaving “Windy Wellie” we travelled through huge, grass-covered and multi-faceted hills. We expected to see giant hobbits or teletubbies appearing at any moment! The hills gradually gave way to open countryside, real farming country. The towns were small and reminiscent of America, with a central commercial strip.

Now in Ohakune, at the southern end of the Tongariro National Park, we’re among mountains again. This is NZ’s largest ski field. Our digs are nice but, being out in the country, have poor internet reception. Blogging may be spasmodic for the next couple of days.

8th April – Ohakune

Rain. Rain, rain and more rain. Undaunted, we set off for the drive into Tongariro National Park, making for the ski resort above Whakapapa village. We got to the top of the road but it was still teeming down, the ski lift wasn’t running and the visibility was too poor to see any mountains. The drive was still interesting for the volcanic landscape so we were glad we’d made the effort. The visitors’ centre was interesting too. For instance, skiing can be much more exciting in NZ because they have things called lahars. This is an eruption of hot mud that mixes with the snow and hurtles downhill at 10s of metres per second. When it happens, a siren sounds and skiers are advised to remove their skis and climb to somewhere high and safe. You don’t get that in the alps!

After a cafe lunch we headed back to Ohakune and drove up to its ski resort. This was a very twisty road, with increasingly barren scenery on both sides. At the top it was distinctly lunar in feel.

And that was it for the day. Fortunately, our guest house had a lovely guest lounge so we holed up there for the rest of the afternoon with pot of tea and our books. This is where Peter Jackson stayed while filming several Lord of the Rings scenes. We only moved to go for dinner at The Powder Keg, a wooden lodge-type of place with huge beams and wood fires. Very good it was, too.

9th April – To Rotorua

Still raining and on the drive along the Desert Road we hit a little fog as well. Which was a pity, as we’d been promised a good view of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in LOTR). Still, it had eased somewhat when we reached Taupo, a much more up-market kind of town than we’ve met before, and worth more than the brief look we were able to give it.

Over coffee we finally sussed out how the NZ coffee system works. You order your coffee and get given a number to display on your table, but they don’t actually make your coffee until the next customer has ordered theirs. That way they always have an outstanding order to fulfill!

It was almost dry when we stopped to see Huka Falls.

It rained off and on during the drive to Wai-o-Tapu, but on our walk round the Thermal Wonderland, as it modestly called itself, we were almost dry for the first half, meaning we could take some photos. What a place it was – we could pretty much concur with its description. There are bubbling pools, multi-coloured lakes,

clouds of steam issuing from every quarter and in some parts a strong smell of sulphur. What we hadn’t anticipated were the sounds; the bubbling mud you might expect but some craters produced a real roar. It takes nearly two hours to walk around the whole area. A great experience.

There was just time to drop off our bags at the next B&B before we were picked up for our evening at Tamaki Maori Village. We were greeted with a hakka, which was enough to scare some of the children on the trip, then taken through the village to learn something about Maori culture and history before enjoying a stage performance of dance and song. It was good fun. The evening ended with a hangi, a meal cooked on hot stones in an underground pit. It tasted a bit smokey to be honest but at least the pavlova had been made in a proper oven!

10th April – To Hahei

This morning we returned to Wai-o-tapu to see the geyser eruption that happens at 10.15 every day. At 9.30 we were among the first there but by 10 a huge crowd had built up. An official started off the eruption by dropping a soapy substance into the crater and for a little while the smell of sulphur was overridden by a pleasant, clean smell. Once it started, the geyser shot up into the air in spectacular fashion.

Next we were off to the Rotorua museum, housed in a splendid old building among spectacular grounds that include bowling greens and a croquet lawn. We enjoyed finding out more about the history of the region … and the panoramic view from the roof.
After lunch we were back on the road, heading for the Coromandel Peninsula and our meeting with Linda and Dan. For the first half of the journey it rained fairly steadily with occasional downpours when the wipers really couldn’t keep up. But it brightened up for the rest of the way and we had spectacular views of the Pinnacles. These are peaks that look like a child’s drawing of a mountain; they are almost conical.

The evening was spent catching up with our friends and enjoying a meal together in a micro-brewery.

11th April – Hahei

We spent the day with our friends Linda and Dan. Linda was one major reason why we chose New Zealand for our holiday, but that’s another story for Pat to tell!

First was a quick visit to the beach at Hahei. Beautiful. Then a very short drive along the coast, cameras again readily to hand,

and a walk to Cathedral Cove, one of Coromandel’s must-sees. The walk, although not too long, was quite tiring – but well worth it. The cove has a pretty beach and a huge arch where the breaking waves boom.

Back in the village we had a look round, then back to Linda and Dan’s for beer and lunch on their deck. Then off to Hot Water Beach where you’re supposed to be able to dig a hole and find hot water to sit in. We dug hopefully but failed to arrive at any hot water. We weren’t alone; none of the crowd there managed to find any hot water that day!

We rounded off the day with a good dinner at The Church, Hahei’s latest restaurant.

12th April – To Auckland

Our final day in New Zealand. We whiled away a couple of pleasant hours in the village watching the annual parade of tractors. This was more interesting than it sounds as the whole community seemed to be taking part, with both tractors and people in fancy dress, and even a pipe band. Never mind if there were only 4 pipers, they gave a good account of themselves. There was a sort of village fete on the green at the end with cake sale, sausage sizzle and ice cream. Then we said goodbye to Linda and Dan. They went off to perform babysitting duties nearer home while we drove around the peninsula to Coromandel Town and the Driving Creek Railway.

This very narrow gauge train runs up a mountain just north of Coromandel town. Orginally built to fetch clay for the pottery it now carries tourists instead. Great fun. The Driving Creek cafe next door was commendably quirky, and we managed to pick up a couple of second-hand books.

Then it was time to dash across to drop the car off at Auckland airport. Dash we did, except for 17 kilometres at a crawl. Typical Auckland traffic, we gathered. Then a nice final NZ dinner at our hotel.