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.

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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:

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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! 🙂

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Day 11 – Boating and Exploring

This morning was my last full day in Northland, so I decided to see if I could take a boat trip out to the hole in the rock and check out the Bay of Islands from the water. It was a gorgeous day for a boat ride – and in the winter you might get the chance to swim with dolphins, so I thought why not – even if it would be quite nippy – it might be worth it. The boat ride was great, and it only rained on us during our lunch stop. The scenery was remarkable!

The dolphins were hiding though – and the seas were a bit rough – so the chances for swimming were looking grim – but that was ok. I did get to see little blue penguins in the water – SO cool!

Hole in the Rock was really scenic – but the seas were rough – I was impressed when our captain was able to take us through the hole (you can see the video later in the post)!

Check out the cool Wahine (woman) formation in the rock:

There is a legend dealing with safe passage on the seas and this formation.

We then cruised through the bay to our lunch stop – Otehei Bay.

 

Lunch was a standard kiwi barbecue, then we got to explore the island. We did have a pop up rain shower – but then it all cleared.

On the way back we did see dolphins – but the water was too choppy to attempt swimming with them – but it was great watching them flip and play with the boats.

Check out this video overview:

I got off the boat in Russell, planning to explore a bit before taking the ferry back to Pahia.

I caught the last ferry back to Pahia, then explored a little there.

On my way back to Kohukohu to pack and get ready to head south the next morning, I made a little stop at Haruru Falls.

This was a great way to end my Bay of Islands Adventure – and get ready to head south – hopefully the impending winter weather will hold off for my last few days in NZ, or at least not block the roads I need to access.

Day 8 and 9 – History, Culture and Giant Trees in the Northland

Day 8 was set to be a LONG day of driving, as I ventured from the beautiful Coromandel up through Auckland to the “Winterless North”.

I started by sharing breakfast with my lovely hosts, meeting a friend of theirs who stopped by to say hi (a common Kiwi occurrence), then I set out on my way.

I had a goal of making it through Auckland before 3 to hopefully avoid rush hour. The drive was pretty easy and thanks to some routing of Google Maps around a traffic incident, I made good time, and cleared through to Warkworth without much trouble, I stopped in Warkworth for a little stroll, snack, gas,  and bathroom break, and then I headed on my way. The only “scenic” stop I had planned for today was in Kawakawa – at some famous toilets, in fact.

The Hundertwasser Toilets are quite the famous road side attraction in the Bay of Islands – and the Hundertwasser inspired art style can be found throughout the region as a result.  The  Austrian-born artist found an anonymity and peace in New Zealand when he participated in an art show here in the 90s. He purchased a home outside of Kawakawa, and became involved in the local community. He offered a design to the local council, and the Hundertwasser public toilets were born.  Hundertwasser died unexpectedly in February 2000, and as a result the building is the only Hundertwasser structure in the Southern Hemisphere, and the last major project ever undertaken by the famous artist and designer. I have to say – they are the coolest public toilets I have ever been in! Interestingly, he engaged the local community in the construction, having students at the local secondary school create the clay tiles!

The influence can be seen as you stroll through Kawakawa as well.

I then drove on to my AirBnB – in a lovely peaceful location – and where I found I was renting from 2 lovely nuns. It was very interesting hearing their story and learning about their faith journey and how they ended up in the Northland.

Day 9 was a day for exploring – I started by heading to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where I learned and got to experience more about the history of New Zealand.

Touring the grounds was quite fascinating – as was looking at the differences in the carvings for each Maori tribe.

The weather was sunny and beautiful – I was indeed in the “winterless north”

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The cultural performance was great – and we were allowed to video the outside part.

The volunteer definitely had an experience!

After Waitangi, I ventured into Pahia, grabbed lunch, then set out to my next destination, the long drive to Tane Mahuta – the largest living Kauri Tree in New Zealand – but I made a stop on the long drive out to admire the views of the Tasman Sea at the Arai-te-Uru Recreation Reserve.

After my quick stop, I went to Tane Mahuta – located in the Waipoua Kauri Forest Reserve. I entered the path entrance, where you clean your shoes to prevent Kauri Dieback – as these trees are very sensitive.

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I walked down the path, and was in sheer awe of the size of this tree – which almost sneaks up on you!

I had to use the panoramic shot to get the whole tree in the picture!

After walking around a bit more, I headed back to Kohukohu, excited for some new adventures tomorrow.

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.

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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.

 

 

Road Trip – Days 2 and 3 – Hawkes Bay

I woke up early in Dannevirke, and hit the road to head towards Napier.

My first, rather long detour (quite appropriately, actually) was to the longest place name in the world, a hill called Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu. The locals call it Taumata, as you can imagine that spitting out that whole name would take quite a while.

It is roughly translated as the The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his  puterino (flute) to his loved one, a brother who passed away. If you zoom in on the picture you can read the story there.

After this, I continued on my journey through the lovely and scenic Hawkes Bay – passing through lots of farm land and wine country.

I made a few stops to admire the landscape, then checked into my hotel in Napier – which was quite lovely.

One stop was just to capture this crazy hedge:

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Once I was settled in at my hotel and ready to explore, I headed to the Bluff Hill Lookout, which promised views and a lookout over the port. The wind was fierce, and there was a bit of rain, but I did manage to get a few pictures and not blow away. On a prettier day,  I could have watched the works at the port for hours, I think.

I left the lookout, and descended down into the town of Napier, an Art Deco style town, due to an earthquake that decimated the town in the 30’s.

I decided that I would stroll along the boardwalk, and just see what I could discover, as there were gardens and other features along the way.

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Once I had had enough of the cold, wind and rain, I grabbed dinner and headed back to the hotel.

The next day was my Hawkes Bay wine tour. I was picked up early in the morning, and had the tour guide to myself for the entire morning.

We started by heading up to Te Mata peak – which gave lovely views of the Hawkes Bay region – in between the foggy cloud cover – unfortunately, most of my pictures are after the fog rolled back in. The hang glider launch points made me laugh, and terrified me at the same time. I will do lots of things – but I am pretty certain I AM NOT that brave!

After that we headed to our first winery, Black Barn – which had a phenomenal Riesling – I am trying to save it to bring home. . . We will see. . .

I love the scenery of wineries!

The next stop was my favorite winery of the day I think – but that maybe because the lady running the tasting thought I was “charming” – it is totally the southern accent y’all – and gave me extra to taste – which panned out, because I made sure to find out howto buy their wine back in the states, and got a little bit of wine to take with me as well.

After this, I got to go to the Arataki Honey company store, which had tasters of different types of honey, as well as cool displays on the process for getting honey in New Zealand – the science teacher in me enjoyed it very much! Also, I had no idea there were so many unique honey flavors! Wow!

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After the honey store, it was time for lunch, at a winery – y’all – they know how to do a yummy spread at the NZ wineries.

After lunch we picked up some others to join the tour, all Brits here for the Lions Rugby tour. They were a fun bunch, and it was nice to chat, compare travel notes and laugh along with them as we tasted wines the rest of the afternoon.

Around 5:00 I was dropped off at my hotel, and obviously wasn’t driving anywhere, so I ordered a pizza and relaxed for the rest of the evening in my hotel room (and watched Survivor NZ).

Matiu / Somes Island

Taking advantage of a sunny day, I finally made it out to Matui/Somes Island – which is the island that sits in the middle of Wellington Harbor. It was one of my Wellington must dos, and I had not made it out, and with my time winding down, knew this might be the last nice day for it, so I paused my writing flow, packed a picnic and set out to catch the ferry to the island.

You can learn more about the island here:

The island has a fascinating history, as it has served as a quarantine station, military outpost, interment camp and now wildlife refuge. The island gives the opportunity to discover nature by traveling along various tracks, and I ended up walking on each track on the island and extending my stay there because it was such a lovely day, and I was enjoying my tramp so much.

When you arrive on the island your first stop is the quarantine station, where you check your bag and shoes for bio-security risks. Once cleared, you are able to start exploring.

As I walked, I was immediatly greeting with stunning views of the harbor, Eastborne and Petone.

My first stop was the cemetery monument.

Between 1918 and 1920, Somes Island was used as a human quarantine station during the influenza pandemic, and many died on the island.