New Zealand – The North Island through the eyes of an Australian traveler
Finally we are off on this trip of a lifetime. I learned about New Zealand at school in the 70’s and the thought of exploding water geysers and bubbling mud has intrigued me ever since. Almost everyone I know has either been there or is from there and so I’ve heard many more travel and life stories about the place. In preparation for our trip we’ve booked almost everything in advance, saved it all on tripit, opened a splitwise account and watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Now it’s time to see if all the preparation and planning comes together in a great trip.
21st December (Perth to Auckland by air, 5343kms)
Our first leg involved dropping The Piper at Sydney airport to visit his dad for Christmas. As usual he was nervous about flying but excited about the few weeks ahead of him. With him safely in my mums car we navigated the border crossing and stocked up on alcohol in preparation for the trip. Turns out today is the longest day of the year. But for us, we lost 5 hours in time difference between Perth and Auckland, arriving in the late evening to dwindling daylight. Yahoo, they have daylight savings. The extra daylight is so precious when there is so much to see and do. Cashed up and with an NZ sim card, we called up our transfer and checked into our overnight, dated but clean, airport motel room. A vodka and a pizza and we were both ready for bed and hugely excited about picking up the camper in the morning.
22nd December (Auckland to Hot Water Beach, 175kms)
There’s too much to see and not enough time so we were up and ready to go by 8am, the earliest time to request a pickup by the camper hire company, Tui. Their car arrived quickly and we were ready to grab the keys and go. However, the first of the bad news for the day was that the car had return from the previous hirer with a smashed windscreen, requiring replacement before we could have it. So, we were given a little run about and pointed in the direction of the shopping centre, and told to come back after lunch. Not happy but with no option, we decided to make the best of it and headed to Auckland city.
The Newby wanted to see Sky Tower anyway so we followed the roads and took the opportunity to go to the top and see the sights. The view and the coffee went a long way to improving our mood. Auckland looks to be a nice city, if a little quiet for a weekday (perhaps because its 3 days before Christmas). The port had a few ships and many pretty boats and yachts docked around the bays. A few crazy people were jumping from the tower while some other less crazy ones were doing the external walk. I was just happy to have a floor under my feet but avoided the places where that floor was glass!
With lunchtime approaching we headed for the shopping centre and stocked up on food, drinks and other supplies, including a potted mint plant for our drink garnishes. Back at Tui, the camper arrived shortly after us and was ready to go so we loaded the food and had our run through before the ‘fridge decided it didn’t want to play. Unfortunately this meant the vehicle had to be taken away (before we even had a chance to drive it) and have the fridge checked only to find it needed replacing. Times a ticking and my patience was wearing very thin. And thinner. And so thin I thought it might snap. Many hours later, most spent in the waiting room, long after the admin staff packed up and left, we finally got the keys. With a days hire refunded, and free chair, table and BBQ hire, we finally hit the road at 6pm. Initially we didn’t have a plan for the night, hoping to find something while we were out and about, but we decided to book in to Hot Water Beach and rolled into the park at 8.30pm. The drive over was windy but we were far from the slowest and arrived with daylight to spare.
The whole reason for coming here was to experience the hot water on the beach. Not in the water but coming up through the sand. With the tide right just as we arrived, we parked the camper and headed over to the beach. The hot spots weren’t hard to find, it was just a matter of looking at all the people sitting in hand dug pools. Lots of them. Obviously other people had heard about this spot as well and there was no room for us, even if we had our swimmers. So, with the sun setting, we dug our feet into the water and felt the heat before walking back to the camper for our first dinner on the road. If this caravan park is anything to go by, NZ is going to be able to offer some good experiences for us. We had a site surrounded by hedges, with amenities blocks that included individual bathrooms (toilet, shower sink in one) and what looked like a good camp kitchen. Our first evening on the road bought our long first day on the road to end. Here’s hoping tomorrow is less eventful.
23rd December (Hot Water Beach to Otorohanga, 243kms)
The only problem with caravan parks is the 10am check out time. If I ever run a caravan park I’m going to change that to 12 midday. Let’s face it, if you arrive in the evening and leave in the morning you are lucky to get 16 hrs in the park. Perhaps you’ll have one shower each, top up the water (more likely once every few days), plug in the van to recharge the battery, and leave behind one bag of rubbish. The average cost of a site is $40 (NZ) but varies from $35 to $55. Anyway, we made the 10am check out and hit the road more relaxed than yesterday and headed for Hahei Beach for a coffee. This was our first experience of NZ’s blue water, white sands, warm days and cool forests.
Fortified with coffee we opted to follow the crowds to Cathedral Cove and walked down the path to the amazing rock formations where the forest meets the sea across a bridge of land. We also encountered waterfalls (perhaps a sign of things to come) and the ocean breeze kept us cool as we walked back to the car looking for some lunch before driving off to continue the adventure. One of the things I love in the wild is the birds. Walking back from the beach we took a hobbit like side trail to escape the heat and came across a couple observing a family of California Quail. Mum and Dad had a large clutch of chicks under their control and we were able to watch them for a while. At the time I didn’t know what we were seeing but I was hopeful we would get to see a few of the indigenous birds like the Kiwi, Kea, Weka and the Tui.
Back at the camper we attempted to have lunch at the beach again but the wind had different ideas and I ended up in the drivers seat with my salad, watching the world through the windscreen! Fighting with a table and lunch and a drink was just too hard. Not that the wind was cold or particularly strong, just enough to make a pleasant lunch impossible. Now full of food we closed up and I noticed that the camper step was broken. I suspect it was my driving off the site this morning but The Newby assured me its easily repairable so we moved on. Knowing only that we were headed for pre-booked accommodation in Otorohanga, The Newby looked for a route and things to do along the way. The plan was to head down the middle of the island, rather than the east coast, simply because time was ticking again.
He discovered that NZ has a national soft drink, Lemon & Paeroa, also known as L&P, and that the town of Paeroa has a tourist attraction dedicated to it. Apparently there is a large L&P bottle on the main road as a landmark in the town but we wouldn’t know because, despite driving there, we somehow managed to miss it. Poor navigation would be my take on it but I can’t drive and navi at the same time. Perhaps we should have had the tourist radio plugged in after all. One for next time …
Eventually we arrived in Otorohanga, having bagged our first NZ geocache at the base of a huge mountain that stayed in our view for many kilometres after we drove away. In fact the town of Te Aroha looked like it had a fair bit to offer, not just walking up the mountain but also providing us the first chance to experience hot springs and geysers. If only we had time to do everything but we will next time … Onwards to Otorohanga, also known as Kiwiana, with all roads leading to Hamilton, we arrived in the early evening to our first booking. Time to see if everything is going to plan. Appears that we did that right and were parked up in our spot and ready for a walk to the Edmund Hilary mall and home again for dinner. The caravan park here is also very good and the town has good services including a Countdown supermarket, although we still can’t get any turkey for our Christmas dinner. They also have the big Pukeko bird in the park and the huge corrugated iron kiwi that was wearing its Christmas pants. And here lies the reason we were in Otorohanga, to see the kiwi at the Kiwi House.
24th December (Otorohanga to Kawhia, 125km)
Although we went from Oto the Kawhia (pronounced like mafia with a k) we did heaps along the way and had our first exciting, extreme-ish experience. But first we visited the Kiwi House, via the corrugated kiwi. As background you have to understand that NZ had no land dwelling mammals prior to colonisation. Their only mammals were bats and seals. So birds and lizards were the predominate species across both islands. So of course we all learned about the kiwi in school and I was keen to see one. The reality is that the kiwi is endangered and that should never have happened. It is estimated that there are about 68 000 kiwi left from a population of 23 000 000 in 1900. The biggest threat is humans, simply because we bought stoats and dogs with us that prey on the birds and their young. Similarly cats and Australian possums eat the eggs of the birds. Approximately 20 kiwis are killed each week and at this rate, they will be extinct in my lifetime. Hence the kiwi house and other protection approaches that are in use across the country. If only the little dudes had evolved to fly, but then they didn’t have to because there were no predators to fly away from them. We can only hope they don’t go the way of the moa.
The kiwi house was quiet and full of all the birds you can see in NZ. I wanted to see most of them in the wild but the kiwi house helped me to work out what I looking for. In the sanctuary we saw the kiwis, the kea, the weka, the native pigeon, the falcon and the kaka, as well as the ducks and lizards that are distributed across the country. The one I didn’t see was the Tui, the name of the camper hire company, and the bird I was hoping to identify in advance so I’d know what I was looking for in the real world. I can recommend this attraction and make sure you get there in time for the keeper talks. If at all possible try to feed the kea. I did and it was a great thing to do! The pass for the park lasts all day so you can come and go for lunch and a look around town. We spent all morning there and could have spent longer but we had another adventure booked for the afternoon. So we headed off to Waitomo.
One of the attractions recommended by a colleague was the glow worm cave and in particular the black water rafting experience. The video online looked thrilling, if a little scary, especially the part jumping backwards off a waterfall into the water, landing on your inner tube. But I was up for it, so after lunch in the camper we signed in, donned the wetsuit and wet boots, chose a tube and off we went with a group of 12 others and 2 guides. The short bus ride took us to the cave, owned privately but leased back to the company that run the tours. One of the people in the tour formerly worked for the tour company so he was telling us how land ownership changed as a result of these caves. New Zealanders used to own the land and everything under it. Now the law has landowners owning only 3m below the land, directly changed thanks to this cave and the governments need to control access to such earthly riches. At the time the law changed, the land owner fought it and he remains one of the few people in NZ to own his land and everything underneath it.
Anyway, back to the tour. We arrived at the site and had a practice run through the backward launch sequence. After a demo we lined up to stand backwards, with our heels over the edge of a platform over the water. We then held the tube to our bums and jumped backwards into the water, helped by a launching push from one of the guides, landing with a splash in the murky water. We then floated downstream to the ladder, caught a hold of it and climbed out of the water. At least most of us did, although 3 young women struggled with this task and at that point I vowed that we would not be before them or after them in the line up!! Practice complete we were ready to head to the cave and practice the congo line. Everyone seated in their rings, forward facing, holding the feet of the person behind them. Instructions included massaging the feet, after making sure that there were indeed feet in the boots and the boots were indeed the right way up!
Good to go we walked to the water, waded in and floated off. We were also equipped with helmets, fitted with headlamps and these came in handy as we were underground almost straight away. The tour included wading, floating, congo line and two backward launches over the falls. We did it all and wanted more. The best part was the glow worms, the attraction we were all there for. It came towards the end, with all lights off, in congo line, dotted all over the roof of the cave. It was at this point we learned that the glow worms are in fact glow maggots but that hardly sounds appealing to holiday makers and thrill seekers. “Glow Maggot Black Water Rafting”. I don’t think it will sell well. We also got to see the stringy poo hanging from the roof in long ribbons. Surprisingly, a beautiful site. Like the Kiwi House, I can highly recommend this attraction that ends with a hot showers and hot soup and a bagel. There are two other tours that are easier or harder, depending on you, so if you’re over that way try out The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company.
Dry and warm we headed for our overnight stop in Kawhia. The drive there is windy and hilly but pretty. We arrived to our caravan park late but were met by the nicest of park managers who helped us onto the site, gave us the lowdown on the things to do and see, and offered us a shovel for the beach tomorrow and the opportunity to return to the park to shower and change afterwards. Being Christmas Eve the festive spirit infused the park and we had a pleasant, if cool walk around the foreshore before a lovely dinner and drinks.
25th December (Kawhia to Rotorua, 195km)
Merry Christmas to all from NZ. It was an odd Christmas in that there was no 4am wake up from the kids for presents. We have done that, a week ago so they are happy doing their things this year. The Drummer is with her BF and The Piper is with his Dad. Meantime we headed to Aotera for a walk while we waited for the tide to drop. In researching our trip we discovered that Kawhai has its own hot water beach so we decided to have a hot water spa for Christmas. The Newby promised to dig me one as my present but there are a few limitations. Firstly the tide needs to be low, then you need a shovel, then you need to like black sand everywhere and finally you need to traverse the sand dune. But believe me it’s all worth it. Within a few minutes I was sitting in our kidney shaped pool across the geothermal seam, enjoying the warmth from the water on a cool and overcast Christmas Day. We had the heads up about how to find the seam from the friendly caravan park owner. You have to walk down the beach, lining up the two yellow poles, digging your feet into the sand, until you find the spot. And we found it.
Those around us tried to capitalise on our find but we stayed put as they dug in anyway. The German young people constructed a perfect round pool complete with stubby holders and settled in for the afternoon. The English invaded the pool of our neighbours (who would have thought it??). The Asian pool diggers swapped and changed and begged and borrowed shovels, while other came and went. The crowd here was smaller and more fun than the crowd we encountered in Hahei, perhaps because it’s Christmas. If you’re headed here I do have one word of warning – remove all silver jewelry as it will tarnish in the high sulphur content water. I learned that one the hard way but at least I know for sure my ring, bracelet and charms are indeed silver. Finally we offered our pool to some neighbours and headed back to the caravan park for a shower before driving across the middle of the North Island to Rotorua. The trip is pleasant and we made the calls to family and friends, before arriving at the caravan park in the early evening but well in time to witness the MKR style frenzy in the camp kitchen. The kitchen layout was made up of at least 8 areas divided off with low walls, each comprising a full stove with an oven, a sink and prep benches. Being Christmas Day there was much activity and many meals being cooked and roasted. I was grateful for the BBQ and the plan to have a Christmas steak. I hope you had a fabulous Christmas Day too.
26th December (Rotorua)
This is our first stop of more than one night. So today we had the chance to sleep in if we wanted to. No 10am check out to contend with. Instead we lazily got organised and headed off to Bunnings. No trip anywhere, anytime, is complete without a Bunnings trip. We needed the tools and screws to repair the step I broke three days ago. On route we explored the foreshore and waterfront, the baths and mud pools in the town centre (none too exciting) and stocked up on food. The beauty of having a camper is that you can shop and stock as needed. We wanted to experience mud pools and geysers but were reluctant to share the experience with 1000s of others in a paid attraction. A bit of research revealed that a short walk in the beautiful Redwood Park leads to a lookout above Pōhutu. This geyser is the largest active one in the southern hemisphere and we saw it erupting. Looking down it was very obvious that there were indeed many people in the attraction that encircles the geyser.
Our walk to the lookout also took us past some mud pools but they still weren’t exciting me in the way I had hoped. After 40 years waiting to see what we learned all about at school I was starting to think that the mystery was all wrapped up in paid attractions and crowds of people. Not what 8 year old me had imagined or 48 year old me wanted to see. Thrilled by our walk and view of the geyser but hoping for more we consulted the information at hand and decided to head to the mud pools at Waiotapu. We didn’t go into the paid attraction preferring instead to enjoy the free spot just off the road where we found a big mud pool plopping and squirting and bubbling away, steam rising into the air with very few people crowded around. Watching this activity was highly entertaining and we spent at least half an hour on the side of the road watching the phenomenon. And what an amazing phenomenon it is. Satisfied that mud still boils naturally to the surface and that the average Joe can see it we headed off to have a look at Waiotapu stream (aka hot’n’cold) in lieu of Kerosene Creek that was recommended but just plain too busy. Hot’n’Cold is a place where a hot stream merges with a cold stream. The hot was certainly hot, so much so leaving my feet in the water was not possible for more than a few seconds. While we didn’t swim, many people were sitting and swimming in the area where the water merges, enjoying the beauty of the place.
We weren’t keen to share the water with so many so we headed instead to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools where we opted to hire a private pool for 45 minutes. A perfect luxury on Boxing Day. The pool had a shower, a spa with varying depths, continuous water flow with adjustable water temperature and an uninterrupted view out to the surrounding valley. Needless to say we loved every minute of our time there. The options included a public pool, public spa’s, camping and walks among the surrounding area. This is the largest single source of boiling water rising to the surface of the earth in NZ. Its an amazing sight, safely fenced off to prevent any nasty injuries. After a beautiful day, that included amassing 7 geocaches, we headed back to the caravan park where I finally cleaned off my silver jewelry with a toothbrush and bicarb based toothpaste. While everything else in Rotorua was fabulous I would have to say that I was disappointed with this park. The thermal pools there were not at all inviting (the reason we chose the park in the first place), the showers were cold and the area allocated to us was merely a parking spot. If I was to visit Rotorua again I would look for another park, perhaps more affordable and also more central to the town proper.
27th December (Rotorua to Turangi, 295km)
Having satisfied my lifelong desire to see the mud and geysers, we could leave Rotorua happy. Having run out of time the day before though, we had a drive out to the blue and green lakes. Both are beautiful and perhaps staying at Blue Lake caravan park would also be a good option over Rotorua proper. Our main plan for the day though was a much anticipated sailing trip on Lake Taupo. This was another pre-booked attraction and something I was looking forward to. I have to say the whole experience was amazing. We arrived with more than enough time to have lunch in the camper before organising ourselves for the sail. Smartly we grabbed a fleece each and put on long pants, socks and shoes. We boarded bang on time and left the harbour in the safe hands of our captain David and his international deckhand. Mostly we motored from the north in a southerly direction although there was some time under sail. The edges of the lake host some lovely homes and other beautiful scenery and we enjoyed looking around. The destination of the sail is the carvings. We rounded a bay in the lake and found the carvings with the afternoon sun shining perfectly on to them.
These carvings are not old in turns of world art. But they are fantastic. The main carving is a likeness of Ngatoroirangi, a visionary Māori navigator who guided the Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to the Taupō area over a thousand years ago. It is over 10 metres high and took the artist, Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell 4 summers to carve. It is a great sight, surrounded by other smaller carvings and the stunning water enhanced the carving beautifully. The lake itself sits in a volcanic caldera, is huge (the size of the island of Singapore!) and is flanked by a snow capped Mount Ruapehu. Dear God, there is snow in my summer holiday again! Fortunately our sail took us nowhere near the mount but it did involve a wonderful trip back to Taupo under sail. This part of the experience was fabulous. During this time we were invited to have a steer of the yacht as we were served with coffee or tea or a beer or wine. As a BYO we had a little bit of Chrissy cake with us that we enjoyed with our bevvie of choice. Unfortunately our journey came to an end all too soon and we were deposited back at the harbour with the promise of a boat ride again anytime in the future in exchange for timtams or a bottle of scotch. I would do the trip again any day and be more than happy to pay for it. It was great value for money.
Safely back on land we decided to have a quick look at the renowned Huka falls. These falls are NZ’s most visited attraction simply because they are accessible. The carpark attests to how popular they are but going late in the day proved to be a smart move. The stats are amazing and are a consequence of the Waikato River being the only draining river out of Lake Taupo. Consider this. Lake Taupo is a volcano caldera the geographical size of Singapore and drains via one river. When that river narrows from 100m to just 15 meters across the edge of the caldera, despite only falling 11m, the falls are spectacular. This is because approximately 220,000 liters per second goes over the edge. That’s not a typo but it is enough to fill one Olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds! If you’re up for it, you can experience the falls in a jetboat but the thought of doing this activity at the most visited sight in NZ killed the excitement a bit for me. I like the sights as much as the next person but I’m not that keen on my fellow travelers. No offense intended.
Next up we decided to visit the craters of the moon geothermal park. However it closes at 5pm so we couldn’t go in. Another one for the next time list. But this gives you an idea just how full our days are, even when we’re only traveling short distances like Rotorua to Turangi. Being so late, and with washing to do, we decided to head for our accommodation in Turangi. The Turangi Kiwi Holiday Park utilises part of the living area allocated to accommodate the workers associated with the Tongariro hydro-electric power development project. Some of the old buildings remain as cabins and amenities blocks. The powered sites were perfect and we encountered our favourite geocache of the trip, the letterbox of Geoffrey Cachemore. This stop was a great chance to do some washing, break out the barbie for dinner and enjoy being outside.
28th December (Turangi to Foxton Beach, 344kms)
The plans for the next two days were not made at home. Instead we have no bookings for attractions or accommodation, other than knowing we need to be on the interislander ferry on new years eve. We have debated the pro’s and con’s of heading east to Napier versus heading south straight to Wellington or west to Whanganui. In the end I wanted to go west but I let him talk me into heading south (at least for today). So off we went to explore the area known as Tongariro National Park. As it turns out, this area includes the snow capped mountain we could see on our yachting adventure yesterday. I’m sure I recall hearing about Mt Ruapehu at school but the park includes two other great peaks as well. The first of these is Mt Tongarrio, the second is Mt Ngauruhoe and the third is Ruapehu.
Our first stop was the lookout from the south of Lake Taupo for a quick cache but also a last glimpse of Mt Tauhara (that looks like a lady lying on her side). Chasing caches we drove past the masses at various spots and instead stopped at a spot that the app informed us was a Maori archaeological settlement site. What a cool spot. Right at the base of Mt Tongarrio and across Lake Rotoaira. Why did we think it was cool? Well, the view of Mt Tongarrio is fabulous. You can see a steam vent and some residual summer snow. Then there is the view of the lake and the island on it. Of course the place is steeped in history, the most exciting of which is that this is the home of the haka. And everyone is driving past it!! Here’s how the story goes … the island was a fortress for a group with a chief that everyone liked. Unfortunately folk took advantage of this and also went there seeking refuge. One such fugitive hid so well that his hunters left without their quarry despite a thorough search. When finally he emerged from a food storage pit he did a rhythmic chant with some great moves, with a chorus of Ka Mate, Ka Mate. If you don’t believe me, check the fine print on the picture. What a cool spot that is preserved and rightly protected for the future.
Our next stop was roadside to try to get a selfie with Mt Ruapehu. The picture wasn’t hard but balancing the camera, running into the shot and looking half decent was! Now if you look back through my travels you’ll see that I spent last summer in knee deep snow. Mostly I was OK with it, but the thought of snow on another summer was doing my head in. So needless to say, despite how fantastic the view looked, I was none to impressed with the idea of snow again! Nevertheless we decided to drive in to and through Whakapapa (too busy) onto Mt Ruhepeo for a look and some lunch. There is some tourist friendly stuff to do up on the mountain in summer but we were happy just to have a look. From the western side of the mountain the view to Mt Ngauruhoe is fabulous. This is the classic looking volcano shape and you can imagine it erupting and spewing lava into the air! This side of the mountain also gave us another fine lunch spot and we enjoyed a spectacular view with coffee and good food. The luxury of having your kitchen with you everywhere you go cannot be understated. This trip has seen some amazing lunch locations so far, with more to come.
After lunch we decided to go down and then back up the mountain from the southern side. The drive up is windier and steeper, takin g you hirer than the western side. It’s perfect for a car with manual gears. Not so much for an automatic. The Newby drove it “like we hired it” and by the time we arrived at the top he had boiled the poor car! With green coolant bubbling all over the road we lifted the bonnet to the cool mountain air and decided the best thing to do was to go for a walk. The place was largely abandoned although it’s easy to see that it would be a bustling when it’s covered in snow. There were far fewer cars up here and nothing opened to tourists at all so we just admired the spectacular view and took photos. The Newby added to his “limited edition” of panoramas while I snapped everything in sight. Although I didn’t know it, he was secretly worried about the car and I think this spoilt his trip up the mountain but he portrayed a calm that made me calm, so I just thought all would be well … Back at the boiled car we tentatively turned the key in the ignition and it started straight up. Hopeful that it was undamaged we cruised down to the mountain and parked at a creek to grab a cache. This one is called “Mollie – RIP” and is dedicated to Mollie the circus clown as it is close to her final resting place. The cache description reads … “During the summer of 1957 Mollie came to town with Bullen’s circus. Mollie was famous for being able to do a head-stand on her front legs. Unfortunately she broke her tether and headed down to the river to dine out on poisonous tutu berries. Despite best efforts to save her, she died and is buried in this vicinity”. Rest in peace Mollie.
As I said earlier, today and tomorrow are unplanned so I decided to drive (for the cars sake) and left him to find us accommodation for the night. The plan with this trip originally was to hire a vehicle that was not too big and would give us an idea of whether we would like to own a slide on camper ourselves. Between the planning and the actual holiday, we bit the bullet and bought our own anyway. But the other part of the plan was that the camper we hired was significantly cheaper than a true motor home so we could afford a paid campsite each night. Quite frankly, when I’m on holidays I don’t want to deal with a toilet cassette. I’m a nurse. I’ve dealt with human excrement enough to last me a life time. Anyway, back to the camper. Its small inside, with a full size bed, a kitchen sink, two burners, a fridge and some poorly used storage. Having a dual cab car we decide to take a side each of the back seat for our luggage which meant we didn’t need to move our stuff each night to go to bed. There is no TV and few windows but we like to live outdoors as much as possible so the space is really for sleeping. We also are not big TV watchers and would rather go for a walk in the evening. But today was a huge day and so The Newby didn’t have too many requests for tonight’s site. The weather wasn’t looking so fine so we headed for a place with a deal on and parked the camper at Foxton Beach for the night. Back on the west coast of the North Island.
9th December (Foxton Beach to Martinborough, 411km)
Today we had to make a big decision. To go to Wellington via the worlds longest place name or not? He was keen to do this when we were planning the trip but was reluctant today because the weather forecast wasn’t great and we were on the west coast and the place we wanted to go is on the east coast. Nothing for it but to get coffee, discuss the pro and cons for an hour, stock up on lollies to ensure our pack a day habit is maintained and make a decision. Finally I called it – lets do it. So from cute little Woodville we headed north then east, picking up some caches and eventually arrived in Porangahau. The weather was indeed foul and we tried to have a nice lunch by the beach but the rain and wind conspired to treat us badly so we set up the table and chairs, ate or lunch and packed up and did a runner. The drive in was consumed with looking for our end destination. How hard can it be to find the sign pointing to Tetaumatawhakatangihangakoauaotamateaurehaeaturipukapihimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuaakitanarahu? The signs got to be big right? Of course the map we have lacks detail and there is no internet access on state highway 52, so pinpointing the place isn’t easy.
Then, as we suspect we won’t find it, we come across the road sign to “the world’s longest place name”. Obviously those few words are easier to fit on the road sign, and with that we’re off in the right direction again. A couple of bends and here we are at Tetaumatawhakatangihangakoauaotamateaurehaeaturipukapihimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuaakitanarahu. I hear you asking “what is there”? Nothing. Well not nothing. A very big sign, a geocache (should have thought to check the geocaching app for directions) and a big hill. And rain. But what a fun place to be!! It was so worth the whole day in the car (by the time we got to Martinborough tonight) and we hung out at the site for at least half an hour. The story goes that the place name is a Maori word meaning “The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater’, played his flute to his loved one”. No wonder there are so many letters! There’s not much else to say that can’t be said in that description, but my picture shows a sign above the place name that adds a bit of detail. Getting the whole sign in the picture meant the camera had to be rested a fair distance back, making the run in to the picture a bit harried. I should say pictures, had to make a few attempts to get the right one.
Then The Newby said he was going to recite the name. Far too good an opportunity to pass up I turned on the video, gave him the nod to start and off he went. Click here to have a look at it. As you can see he did a fair job although i think he has the wrong accent for reciting a Maori place name. With all our photos taken, the video recorded and the geocahe found, we were ready to get out of the rain and head for the end of the road. Eventually. It was a big, long day in the car, most of which I drove. The Newby secured us a site for the night and we rolled into Martinborough to some very expensive grass. But what can you do when there’s only one option in town? Having spent a long day in the car we decided to go for a walk and secure the caches in town. The “attraction” in the town is that the square is in the shape of a Union Jack, designed to imprint a strong symbol of empire on the landscape. Being strong royalists (not) we wanted to see this so we set off in the general direction. The attraction for the region is wineries and as we walked towards the square we encountered a wine bar? Union Jack Square or wine bar? Tough decision but we decided to leave some of our money in town and made a left, straight into Micro Wine Bar. Great decision. Here’s what I wrote on Zomato about our experience …
“RATED 5.0 (out of 5.0)
We were out and about in Martinborough having an evening walk after a long day in the car. We were headed for the square when we saw this spot and forget where we were going … We decided to try the taste plate of white (one each) and enjoyed the selection we were offered. The outdoor area was warm despite the cool evening, with throw rugs available for the really cold. There is seating inside too as well as outside the shop front. We didn’t eat (dinner was waiting in the van) so we can’t comment on food but the service was perfect and the music, played on the turntable was ideal. No complaints except it’s so far from home …”
Eventually we made it back to the camper and cooked up a midnight feast of omelette and fell into bed exhausted but happy with our unplanned but fun day. Shame we didn’t get to see the Union Jack inspired square. We’ve added that to the “next time” list.
30th December (Martinborough to Wellington, 241kms)
This is our last day on the north island and we’re not wasting a moment. Fortunately the plan was to get up early because just as I headed out the door bound for the shower a siren resounded around the town. When you’re in a place that is rocked by earthquakes, the sound of a siren is frightening. At least it was to us. But it wasn’t to any of our fellow campers and the earth didn’t move, so we went about our business as a fire engine roared out of town (that should have made me twig what the siren was about, but it didn’t). Reassured that nothing bad was happening, we finished getting ready and headed off for Cape Palliser. The books and websites describe the lighthouse and the seal colony but there is so much more to see there. The drive through the country side is incredibly pretty and then you come to the coast. The sheer cliffs falling straight into the ocean, but for the road carved into them, makes for some fantastic sightseeing and hairy driving. Bend after bend we were both gobsmacked and thrilled by the scenery and we were blessed with a crystal clear, warm sunny day. After yesterday this in itself was amazing!
Eventually we arrived at the end of the road, signified by some animal skins hanging from the gate. My skilled parking allowed us to have the door open away from the rest of the cars in the car park and me to pee without prying eyes. It also meant that the mint could be left out to sun without fear of being stolen, although the seagull was not too sure who the other bird was on the fence post. I was really, really hopeful of seeing a seal or too, so I took the opportunity to ask a passing pedestrian if they knew where to look. She kindly told me that they were “everywhere” so we kept our fingers crossed and embarked on our walk up to the lighthouse. Lonely Planet claims there are 200 steps. I can tell you for sure there are in fact 250. And they are steep and narrow! But we made it up and the view was amazing. Fortunately I remembered the binoculars so The Newby didn’t have to run back down for them. We gazed out into the distance, catching sight of the South Island. Actually the day was so clear we could see the snow capped peak of a mountain in the Kaikora Range. The book says “if you’re lucky, you may see the South Island”. We were so lucky today. The other thing I spotted through the binoculars, right in front of the lighthouse, was the seals. Oh wow. And no one was there looking at them. Having pointed them out to The Newby we quietly descended the steps with our secret and made our way along the paths to find the seals.
And there they were. Not one or two or even three, but 20 or 30 or maybe more. Basking in the sun on the sand and the rocks, we had them all to ourselves for a while and they were delightful to watch. No wonder the lady looked at me oddly when she told me they were everywhere. She must have thought I was blind (and dumb). These beautiful creatures allowed us to approach very close to them, but we kept in mind the warning of not standing between them and the ocean. We stayed there for quite some time, thrilled with our find but eventually we headed back to the camper, passing seals we hadn’t even realised were there when we arrived! With the promise of a seal nursery further along we headed back in the direction we came. Not too far along at all we stopped to collect some sand (more about that later) and The Newby came face to face with a sun bathing seal. They really are everywhere and lapping up the warmth and safety of the beach and water. Next stop was indeed the nursery where we saw babies suckling from their mummies and got very close to other babies left onshore while their mummies were out fishing. Such an amazing site and a wonderful experience. If you ever get close to this part of the world make sure you go here. On our last day on the North Island we were being treated to some real NZ magic.
Finally The Newby dragged me away and we headed along the coast to the boat launching area. Now that sounds boring and dull but I can assure you it’s anything but. The water here must get very rough and the beach must be liable to change while the fisho’s are at sea because they have launching graders with the longest draw bars I have ever seen. I guess the idea is that they machines can be high and dry while the trailer is in the water, and if need be the grader can carve a way to or from the water line through any sand or gravel deposited on the beach. In the spirit of craziness that seems to infuse this place, the machines are painted and decorated. My favourite is Capt’n Jack or the purple one (of course), which we got to see in action. The fishing must be good to warrant all this equipment and effort.
Eventually our stomachs told us it was time to eat so we found a patch of coastline, parked the van strategically and plonked ourselves in the sunshine to watch the surfers carve through the waves. This is the type of day I dreamed about as we were planning this trip so I was in no hurry to move along. The addition of the phenomenon of an iridescent cloud topped off our day in the part of NZ’s north island. What an amazing sight and something I have not ever seen before. But all good things must come to an end and we left the Cape to explore the road to Wellington. Along the way we found a gorgeous church with the most beautifully overgrown graveyard. Of course we were chasing a cache, which we found, or rather The Newby found, after the Muggles had left. This church and the surrounds are indicative of the sheer beauty of NZ and the pride the country has in its landscapes and buildings.
Having got the absolute most we possibly could out of the day we finally drove the last few kms to Wellington, over the seriously steep and windy road and alongside the Hutt River. The stupid navigation app got us twisted around on ourselves and we were forced to ascend to the ‘burbs in order to do a u-turn. Great view but the descent and subsequent tight turn back onto the motorway was not so good for the step. Once again we hooked it up on the kerb. A good reason not to get a camper with a low hanging step! Having ditched the sat nav we found the caravan park, secured a site (eventually) and refreshed for date night in the city. Our Uber driver was a keen Belgian who gave us the low down on places to go, and chatted about the earthquake risk, commenting on yesterday’s shaking. Yesterday’s shaking??? We were completely unaware that an aftershock of 5.6 magnitude, had rumbled Seddon and been felt across the Strait. It had also caused further rocks to slide in Kaikora, closing the road briefly. Perhaps we would have felt it, had we not been driving. While he admitted to liking the experience he acknowledged the fear of earthquakes for New Zealanders. In a perverse way I sort of want to experience a quake, at the same time as I am scared silly by the thought. Thankfully no one was hurt in this episode of Mother Nature’s evolution.
Date night in Wellington was lovely, although my tip and fall down the stairs was a bit painful. Perhaps I was PFO, perhaps it was sheer exhaustion from a very long, very exciting day. Regardless, it didn’t dampen the wonderful experiences we have had on the North Island. Everyone says “if you liked the north, wait until you get to the south”. It’s going to have to be good to beat what we’ve done here, but bring it on!!! Follow us by clicking here …