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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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

The Catlins – Friday and Saturday

Friday afternoon I picked up my rental car for a new experience – driving on the left. I have to admit, this was something that made me very nervous, but like most things that cause us to worry needlessly, it was not as bad as I anticipated. I found staying left to come very naturally after driving for a few minutes. The oddest thing? The fact that my blinker (indicator/turn signal) and windshield wipers were the opposite of what I am used to, so there were quite a few instances of turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker – but even that was remedied rather quickly.

The most interesting thing about driving in New Zealand: the maximum speed limit anywhere in NZ is 100 km/h – which is equal to 62.14 m/h (for the most part – this was not a problem, because most of my road trip was on wandery back roads in the Catlins, however, on the motorway out of Dunedin I was thankful for cruise control.)

My first stop through the Catlins was a stop to grab a bite to eat in a little town called Milton. I was lucky that I had a beautiful evening for the first leg of my road trip.

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After grabbing a bite, I continued to my next stop Kaka Point. I was racing a bit against the sun at this point, as it does get dark crazy early down here this time of year.

While it was darker than I would have liked, I did enjoy the beach and a nice coffee at the surf club.

Knowing at this point it would be too dark to continue to the Nugget Point Lighthouse, I continued on the way to my overnight stop, Surat Bay Lodge near Owaka. Most of my journey after dark was on little dirt roads, and even in the dark it was clear that I was passing through some amazing pristine country.

At the hostel, it was clear I was in penguin country.

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I must admit, I was thankful for the early darkness, because I was wrestling with a bit of a sinus infection, and sleep was a good thing. (You will notice in my pictures from Saturday that my poor sinuses were quite swollen, but all is well – thankful for packing a sinus rinse and some Zyrtec – not many pharmacies in this part of the world on a weekend.)

I got up early the next morning, and headed out for more adventure, starting with enjoying the beauty of Surat Bay.

My first walk/tramp/hike was Purakanui Falls – a lovely walk through the bush, leading to a beautiful waterfall.

After the falls, I stopped a few places along the road, including Florence Hill Lookout.

Next stop was the Lake Wilkie Walk:

After Lake Wilkie, I ventured to McLean Falls:

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Finally I checked into the Lazy Dolphin Lodge in Curio Bay, then went up the road to the petrified forest, where I stayed until dusk to get a glimpse of the lovely penguins.  The pictures of the penguins didn’t turn out, (too dark and too far away) but it was cool to watch them play in the water and on the sand.

Next up tomorrow, I have to time it just right, but I am planning to backtrack to Cathedral Caves, and hit some other cool points of interest along the way to Invercargill.