Days 12 – 15 – Journeying from the North to the Center, then to the West

This post is more days than I initially planned for a few reasons. 1 – I was driving  – A LOT – from day 12 – day 15 I drove around 750 miles – on winding, curvy New Zealand roads – including a nasty accident laden rush hour in Auckland – I was in the city well before rush hour – but a nasty wreck caused me about 3 hours of sitting in traffic. 2 – due to some crazy winter weather some of my stops were shorter than planned, or didn’t happen at all – and 3 – with this post I will officially be caught up to today’s travels, which is pretty important because I fly home in a little under 3 1/2 days (but I don’t arrive in Atlanta for almost 5 days – the 19th will last something in excess of 40 hours for me – the thought makes my head hurt!)

Tuesday, July 11

On day 12 – I left Kohukohu, and the hospitality of the nuns – who I truly had an enjoyable time getting to know – they were fantastic hosts – and the location was serene and beautiful.

It had been too wet and rainy to really do laundry and expect it to dry for the next leg of my journey, so I decided to stop at a laundromat in Whangarei, and while I was there see if I could find a quilt shop for my Aunt who had sent me a request for some kiwi quilting supplies. I lucked out and found a laundromat where I could drop off my clothes, and a quilt shop as well.

In the quilt shop I found this cute table runner kit, that will fit in my suitcase, and hopefully will work for what Aunt Linda wants – they did have some really neat Kiwiana fabric – and it was a cool stop – and not one I would have typically made- but I am glad I did!

After the Quilt Shop, and while I was waiting on my laundry, I explored Whangarei a bit, and grabbed a little lunch. I found a Hundertwasser inspired sculpture – which is apparently the beginning of a museum they are working on in the Northland.

With that, I bid adieu to the lovely Northland, picked up my clothes from the Laundromat, and headed south – hoping to hit Auckland by 2:30. I actually hit Auckland by 3:00 – but the traffic was already abysmal – so I jammed out to Pandora on the parking lot that was the road I was travelling on.

Once (finally) clear of Auckland, I headed to my destination – a lovely little holiday park in Te Aroha. I checked in, and was shown to my lovely little cabin – and thankfully arrived in time to take advantage of the nice spa pool in the park – just what I needed after the LONG drive I had. It was a crystal clear night – and I loved just looking at the stars while I relaxed, and was even joined with some fellow American travelers, and we exchanged travel tips and destination ideas. All in all it was a lovely evening – and I could have stayed at the park much longer than the one night – I mean, how cute was my cabin?

Wednesday, July 12

The next day I got up and headed to planned stop 1 – Wairere Falls – I got about 5 minutes down the 2-hour long track when it started sleeting on me – and no matter how great my jacket and rain coat are – I am just not a fan of scrambling over icy rocks on a trail to see a waterfall, so I decided it wasn’t meant to be – and the group that was ahead of me did the same – when I was getting back in my car at the lot a couple came back out of the track and said that we made a good choice – the visibility at the falls was so bad you really couldn’t see anyway, and the rocks at the upper path were already frosty – yuck!

What I should have seen at the falls would have been the North Island’s tallest waterfall – which would have been cool, but I definitely think I made the right call.

My next stop, after several hours of driving was just to stop at a quick overlook – to see the Blue and Green lakes – two lakes beside one another that look different colors due to mineral deposits on their beds (the pictures don’t do the colors justice, by the way).

A few minutes from the 2 lakes, I arrived at my next destination, the Museum and Archeological Excavation site of Te Wairoa – a city that was buried by a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886.

The museum starts by taking you through the horrible events of that night, and then you are able to visit the excavation sites where they are still uncovering parts of the village. The amount of dirt and ash that buried the village is massive. The stroll through the land was beautiful, and it was easy to see why people had chosen to make their home here – in the shadow of Tarawera. They uncovered many interesting things – including a cellar full of some of the rarest and most expensive spirits of the day – as they were preparing for an event in town. Feel free to look through the pictures, but know that there are a few things that may need a trigger warning – the devastation, relics and stories are a startling reminder of the power of mother nature.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My next stop was a quick one, just to check out some cool thermal activity on my way to Lake Taupo. At Waiotapu I saw natural hot springs, that people just pull off of the side of the road to take a dip in – I passed on the dipping myself – 1) because the water was kinda gross looking, and sulpher-y – and I didn’t want to smell like that for the rest of my drive (and the warning signs do little to help with the gross factor, btw), and 2 – there was a bus full of school children from some sort of school holiday camp in the stream – which certainly didn’t scream relaxation to me.

But, what was cool, was my next stop, the bubbling mud pools – they were fascinating!

When it starting spitting rain I decided to continue on – and head to my next stop, Huka Falls. Huka Falls was amazing – but it really didn’t fit my definition of “falls”, however it was a CRAZY fast moving river – one which generates a fair amount of hydroelectric power. In the summer they run a jet up the water – talk about a rush!

Then I journeyed on to Lake Taupo and checked into my Air BnB for the next 2 nights, explored Taupo and had dinner.

The cold had certainly arrived, and there was sleet and snow (at higher elevations) for most of the night, which meant that most everything was shut down the next day (including roads leading to the East, where the weather is just not pretty – I am so thankful that my next stop is West!).

Thursday – July 13

The weather also meant that my boat trip the Maori Rock Carvings on the Lake was cancelled, so I ended up with really nothing to do for the day. The only places really open in town were, oh darn, the Mineral Spas – so I looked online and scored a cheapo day pass for one of the spas and went for a nice soak. Not a bad plan B, if I do say so myself. The other thing this unexpected weather allowed me to do was get caught up on my blog, and finish my reapplication to continue as a part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts group – so I went ahead and knocked that out as well (which I needed to do, as it is, in fact, due this week!).

Friday – July 14th 

This morning my first stop was the wharf to see if the boat trip I was supposed to go on yesterday was a go for today, before I headed out of town. My expectations were low, because the weather wasn’t great – better than the previous day mind you, but still questionable. I also knew that unless others were booked they would not take out the boat just for me – not that I could blame them there.

It wasn’t looking great, but then a group of 5 called, and wanted to go out. That pushed us over the minimum and the captain said, let’s roll. Now – the weather cleared quite nicely on the boat, but there were some pretty crazy waves. Fortunately, I did not get sea sick, but the poor family of 5 was not as lucky – and I felt pretty bad for them.

The rock carvings were neat, though and I was glad I got to see them. Mind you these carvings are not ancient (but they are older than I am!) LOL!.

We also got to feed ducks off of the back of the boat – which was cool – even if they didn’t always just bite the cookie – I had one give me a nice beak-ing on my finger!

You can learn more about the history of the rock carvings here: http://www.greatlaketaupo.com/things-to-do/must-do/maorirockcarvings/history/

This video shows the boat movement during some of the worst motion – and I aimed high to spare you all from the vomiting people – but, I take no responsibility for your sea sickness if you choose to watch it. 😉

As soon as I was back on terra firma I set out for my next destination, New Plymouth. The drive was pretty easy, but unfortunately I was reminded of why you take out car rental insurance when a rock was kicked up at my windshield and gave me a nice crack. I am sure it will be fun dealing with the rental car company and the insurance process across the Pacific, since I return the rental car the day before I leave the country. Oh well – life goes on.

I stopped at the 3 sisters trail – unfortunately, the tide was too high to safely make it out to the rocks.

I made it to the West Coast in time to catch the sunset – so it was a great way to end the day.

My Air BnB for the night was quite cozy, and I watched a movie with my hosts before heading to bed.

Saturday July 15th

I slept in a little this morning, because I had a relatively short drive planned, and two little walks I wanted to do, but I was in no rush for the day.

My first walk for the day was the Potaema Walk to the swamp, which promised great views of Mt. Taranaki. I got to the trail head, and wasn’t even a few minutes down the trail when I reached a massive downed tree – the diameter of the tree was almost as tall as me (no short jokes needed, btw), and totally covered the path, with no safe way to go around, so I turned around, and when I got back to my car called the Department of Conservation to report the blocked trail. (and yes, that is snow. . . )

Moving on, I headed to my next stop in Egmont, the Dawson Falls Center, where there is a great track that not only gives stunning views of the Taranaki region, but also takes you through a Goblin Forest. However, that was also not to be, as I got to the road leading the last 6 KM to the trail head only to see the dreaded “Chains Required” sign. Since my rental car does not have chains (and honestly – this Southern Girl has no business driving on those roads chains or no chains) – I had to put this in the loss column. . .

But hey – check out this cool camper I saw on my way:

IMG_9250

At this point I was going to be several hours earlier than I had told my host for the night, so I sent her a message asking what the earliest I could check in would be – and she said she would be ready for me at 4:00 – so I headed on – taking a nice long coffee stop along the way – and then going ahead and knocking one of my plans for tomorrow off my list, this crazy underground elevator – built in 1919 as a commuter option for folks from Durie Hill to reach the City Center.

The elevator itself is accessed via a long underground tunnel.

Stepping on the elevator is a step back in time:

 

And it is a bumpy, shaky ride that shows the age of the elevator.

At the top, you can climb the spiral staircase and get some pretty amazing views:

After this, I was able to check into the Rose Cottage – what a great place to spend the next 2 nights, and I just love my host, Kay.

I will probably share more about Rose Cottage in tomorrow’s post.

And that my friends is all – I am caught up, and there are probably only a few (at most 3, probably 2?) more blog updates live for you from New Zealand – then I am back in the US!

I guess I need to start planning my next adventure! 🙂

Advertisements

Day 7 – Exploring the Coromandel

Today I had an exciting day planned – bit I was a bit concerned that the weather would not be on my side. I started my morning by going just down the road to Captain Cook’s Landing site.

Then I headed to Hot Water Beach – this fascinating area where you dig a hot pool – on the beach – but only within about an hour of low tide. I got to the area early – went to the cafe to rent my shovel, then I headed out to the beach.

It was some seriously fantastic (airport and people of  Walmart caliber) people watching, as well as just a cool experience – although – I could have done without the folks who just decided they should strip down on the beach – I don’t get it!

It was a great way to start my day – but it looked as though the weather was not going to be on my side to get to Cathedral Cove – I was worried about walking down and getting caught in the storm, and most of the boat tours were cancelling left and right, and seeing as it was the off season – options were limited.

Realizing that Cathedral Cove might not happen, I moved on and went to check out Shakespeare’s Cliff (because Captain Cook did name everything he saw after something in England you know). This gave me great views of Cooke’s Beach and the scenery around me.

I still had tons of day to kill, so I decided to take the (very short) ferry across to Whitianga.

I walked around a bit, and decided I should probably grab a late lunch, as it was past 2:00. I settled into a little cafe, and ordered a grilled chicken pasta dish – then as I was at the table waiting, my phone rang – it was a tour guide operator, that heard I wanted to get on a tour (this is such a kiwi thing) – and he had a boat that had just left, but if I was interested would come back and get me to join the tour, if I could get there fast – I mean – guys – who does that?

So, I quickly found the server, and was just going to tell her I was leaving because something came up – and y’all – she tried to give me a refund – also – who does that? I refused to let her pay me – but she wasn’t going to let me leave without my order, so they packaged it really quick, and I ran across to the wharf to catch the boat – with my to go pasta in hand. It stayed sealed and amazingly enough dry on the seat during the amazing boat tour, and I enjoyed it even more after – as a lunch/dinner.

The boat tour was windy, cold and wet – but spectacular!

We toured the coastal features of Cook’s Bay, Mercury Bay and the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve – which is chock full of amazing coastal formations thanks to the constant movement of the Mighty South Pacific Ocean. We even had a pod of dolphins swim right beside our boat – truly an amazing experience. The captain was entertaining and shared history, amazing stories and humor with us, and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip – frequently forgetting about the cold rain and wind. We even got to go inside a blowhole cavern and a cave!

I took a ton of pictures, and even some video. I compiled the videos into a YouTube video, which you can see here – it includes the blowhole, the dolphins and the cave.

The cave was slightly terrifying getting out, because the sea swell came in pretty rapidly – a good reminder that the ocean, while beautiful, is not to be taken for granted.

The pictures from the boat tour show Cathedral Cove, Champagne Rock, the fish, and the rugged beautiful coastline – and as has been a regular occurrence for me here – a rainbow or two.

I went back home to my Air BnB, where I warmed up by the fire, and enjoyed a movie, laughs and great conversations with my Air BnB hosts!

It was not the day I had planned initially, but it was spectacular!

Day 6 – Eastland to the Cormandel

I woke up this morning, and enjoyed the sights from my lodging – I mean, it might be basic, and have the “slippery stairs of death” but – check out these views:

It was a great way to start my morning.

I began my journey to the Cormandel with a little backtracking, because it was dark last night, I missed this church, which is apparently the most photographed church in New Zealand, and I think you can see why – such a gorgeous ocean front location. Also, Penguins nest under the church for protection – there is a pretty fantastic sermon illustration there for someone – Lisa? Elizabeth?

After touring the church, I hit the road – and stopped because these signs caught my eyes.

As you can see – the drive is scenic at every turn – just a beautiful landscape.

I stumbled upon an unexpected stop in the Nukuhou Salt Marsh. Prior to New Zealand I never would have considered myself a birder – but the bird life here is just amazing – and they fascinate me – It was a lovely walk – and peaceful respite from driving.

My next stop was a little bush tramp – and apparently I did not take many pictures – but I took a few at the gate.

It was a peaceful little spot – and you could just wander in the bush and get lose track of time.

After this, I drove through Mount Monganui –  and did get a glimpse of the mountain before carrying on.

IMG_8270

The rest of the drive was quite a bit more eventful than I would like, with an incident involving a semi, which caused a bit of a delay while things got situated – but I am quite thankful – no one was hurt, and the other driver was very apologetic – and everything was handled quickly and efficiently so that I could be on my way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit shaken, but I took a few minutes to regroup and then headed on my way to Cooke’s Beach – where I was greeted by some spectacular Air BnB hosts – and their dogs – who thought I was pretty cool, I must say. The highlight was the lovely clawfoot soaker tub – which was a stunning way to unwind after my tense drive and experience.

 

 

The Milford Road, Milford Sound, and the Glowworm Caves

This weekend I headed to Te Anau, which is often referred to as the gateway to Milford Sound.

After landing in Invercargill, I had some time to spare, so I spent my afternoon at the Southland Museum – which was also conveniently the bus stop I would depart from on my journey to Te Anau. I didn’t take many pictures – they actually were not allowed in many places – but I loved the natural history section and the large collection of New Zealand species they had on display.

New Zealand has had quite the cold snap – so my scenery on the bus ride was quite the wintry wonderland. I arrived at the hostel around 5:30 – and was so thankful the bus driver dropped me off at my lodging location instead of the bus stop, because it was dark and cold.

I checked in, started laundry (I didn’t want to do it on Stewart Island if I could help it, since they pay 4x more for electricity down there than here on the “mainland”), and went to grab a quick dinner and some groceries.

As I was settling in at my room I saw an alert on Facebook that the Aurora was spiking – so I thought I would go at give it a look – being a little further north, with some cloud cover, I wasn’t sure I would see much, but I did spot the glow in the south.

It wasn’t much, but it was cool to see.

IMG_0175

Sunday morning I was up early to catch my tour to Milford Sound. I was picked up by our driver Simon at the hostel, and immediately knew this was going to be a fun day.

Simon is a live-off-the grid, NZ local who has worked in nature conservation, science and tourism most of his life. He shared amazing stories and his passion for the Fiordlands, and because this was a small tour continually tried to give us extra stops.

Our first stop was the Eglinton Valley Flats in Fiordland National Park. Here we could see the mountains all around.

You could still see (and feel) the frost on the grass!

 

We had perfect weather for our next stop – the wind was still – the sun was shining – which meant that the reflection from the Mirror Lakes was stunning!

We had a few more stops on our way up to Milford, and there were some pretty entertaining Keas and some scenery.

And then we arrived at Milford, with a few minutes to spare, so we got to take in the scenery before heading to the boat terminal.

It really was a perfect day to cruise Milford Sound (which is not a sound, but a Fjord, for what it is worth) even if it was crazy cold. Our cruise took us from the terminal all the way out to the Tasman Sea – which felt like the end of the world. It was an awe-inspiring, breathtaking and unbelievable journey. I know that the pictures cannot possibly do this justice, and the scale is so impossible to get, but I hope you enjoy them. I used my DSLR, so those pictures are in the slideshow, while the pictures from my phone are below in the grid. There are a ton of pictures, because even though it was freezing, I stayed on the top deck the entire journey – I wanted to savor every moment of this likely once in a lifetime experience.

Look closely and you will see seals and dolphins. Like I said, it was a perfect day!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the cruise we boarded the mini-bus and started the journey back to Te Anau – but Simon had more stops for us.

Our first stop on the way back was the historic bridge over the Tutoko River.

Our next stop was the Chasm – a nice 20 minute walk where you see some of the coolest structures in rock made by water I have ever seen!

In the parking lot this lady had this cool van that she had converted into a coffee shop, so while we waited on everyone to finish the trail, I got my favorite NZ coffee drink – a flat white – and we enjoyed the mischievous keas in the parking lot – what funny little birds!

When we reached the Homer Tunnel – we had about 5 minutes before the one way tunnel was opened up for us, so we had one last chance to get out and enjoy the scenery on this side of the Milford road.

Driving along the Milford Road is a beautiful experience.

After a few more stops (I felt like . . . but wait, there is more!), Simon dropped me back off at the hostel, where I had a few hours to relax and have dinner before heading to my next adventure, the  Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.

For dinner, Simon recommended a dairy that had fish and chips – since his tour was so wonderful, I thought I would take his recommendation. It was not a mistake. Yummy fish!

Then I walked to the glowworm caves for my underground adventure. Cameras are not allowed in the cave, but I bought the picture package to share the experience with you all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What you don’t see is the journey “under the glow” so to speak – guys – it was so cool – it really does look like the videos and pictures online, like this one, which is amazing:

or this one:

(these videos are from different caves, but the same experience applies).

It is DARK – which is what allows you to see the glow worms, and I will admit – getting in the boat when you cannot see anything is a little disconcerting.

WOW – today was certainly one of those epic days, that I am so fortunate to be able to have here on this New Zealand journey.