Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Taupo and Rotorua

Feb 19 – Taupo
Breakfast was as usual, oatmeal and coffee. We got to sleep in the tent last night since it wasn't rainy and it was a welcome change. It did mean that we had to dry all the condensation out of it. Once we packed up we headed off to see Huka Falls which had been suggested to us by Dan and Gabrielle as well as the receptionist at the holiday park. While the falls aren't particular high there was a massive amount of water flowing over them making them quite spectacular. Obviously the Kiwis have harnessed the awesome power of these falls with a dam downstream that provides 15% of NZ power. We checked out the falls from either side of the river and took a bunch of photos. We were planning on exploring Taupo today and on our way back into town from the falls we saw some signs for Reid's Farm. We stopped to check it out and it seemed to be a riverside campsite but we couldn't find anywhere that said the cost. We continued on to the Taupo i-Site and asked them about this place. Turns out it's a free camp ground, Sweet!! We got some info on a geothermal site called Craters of the Moon which had also been recommended to us by Dan and Gabrielle. We wandered around town a little bit then picked up some groceries before heading back to Reid's Farm. We enjoyed our lunch by the river with a beer in hand. It was still gorgeous out so we figured we should take advantage and check out Craters of the Moon while we had a nice day. We drove up to the thermal area and paid the $6/person entrance fee. All the workers are volunteers and the fee is to keep up the facilities. Previously it was free but there were a fair number of break-ins in the carpark. We had an hour long walk along a well marked path. We saw bubbling craters, mud pools and steam vents as well as explosion craters and colourful soils. It was pretty hot out but you could still see steam rising. We enjoyed the walk and seeing the thermal area but we were ready to head back to the river for a dip and a beer. We got back to the farm and set up the tent, then took our camp chairs down to the riverside. The wind cooled us off quickly so we didn't end up going for a swim, just read and enjoyed the scenery. We noticed the river level started rising quite quickly. We think this is due to the closing of the dam at the end of the river. We had to keep moving our chairs back from the water. Once the sun left us we made our dinner then just relaxed peacefully by our campsite for the rest of the evening.
Huka Falls

Lake Taupo

Craters of the Moon

Bubbling Mud Pools

Craters of the Moon
Feb 20 – Taupo and Rotorua
The day didn't start off too nice, it had rained last night. We eventually got dried out and packed up. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds. We started towards Rotorua but stopped off at a glass blowing studio. They were charging $5 a head to watch the glass blowers which I thought ridiculous as you can see them for free in Victoria. We just had a look around the show room and while there were some lovely things most were out of the common persons price range. Further along the highway was Aratiatia Rapids. There was a hydro electric dam at the start of the rapids and when we arrived there was only a tiny trickle going through. We had arrived with perfect timing as they open the gates for about 15min 4 times a day and it was almost time. It took only seconds for water to start raging through and only minutes for the rapids to fill to their natural capacity. It was fascinating to see the water over come all the rocks in the ravine. The gates were closed back up and it took no less time for the water to reduce to a trickle. At this point the sun had come back out so we decided to return to Reid's Farm and go for a swim. After a refreshing swim and bath we had some lunch. Our sun had hidden it's face behind some large grey clouds so we decided to try our drive to Rotorua again. It rained on us a bit on our drive and we had some window wiper malfunctions, which Beau fixed easily. We decided to check out Kerosene Creek, a free hot water steam about 20km outside of Rotorua. We chilled out in a pool area below a short waterfall for a little while. The creek was quite hot and a little bit smelly. We chatted with kiwi sitting next to us for a bit then we all decided we had had enough of the heat. Back at the car park we were approached by two guys who were hoping for a ride back into town. We were happy to oblige and gave the Dutch guy and Canadian a ride. We stopped into the towns i-Site, which is also where we let our hitchhikers out, in hopes of getting some info on what to do in the area. Unfortunately the i-Site also doubles as a booking agency and was very busy. We picked up some pamphlets and took a walk about the town. We walked through the central park which is also a thermal area. There were some smelly, bubbling lakes and mud bogs. We also walked by the lake which was quite pretty. After our walk we headed to the McDonald's for wifi and then to Pak 'n' Save for some essentials which included wine. We had a little trouble getting back on the road as there kept being medians in the way of our turns! We finally got where we wanted to go, after a few U turns, which was a lovely DOC site 15min out of town. I was quite thankful for the distance as Rotorua has quite the sulphurous smell. The DOC site was on Lake .... and was very full when we arrived. We got lucky with a primo spot at the end right next to a grassy area for the tent. We made some tinned potato and bacon soup for dinner with loads of extra veges added. Later while enjoying drinking chocolate and cookies we heard some rustling in the woods behind us. I shone my light over and we saw several wallabies! We weren't entirely sure what they were at first but it was obvious they weren't possums with their kangaroo like hind legs. We had confirmation later that they were indeed wallabies.
Aratiatia Rapids without water

Aratiatia Rapids with water
Bubbling Mud Hole

Steamy lake in Rotorua central park

Lake Rotorua
Feb 21 – Rotorua
It was a beautiful morning. We decided to stay another night in Rotorua since we had such a gorgeous day and chill by the lake. We had to nip into town for of course beer as well as fill our water bottles. While Beau went into Pak 'n' Save I went to McDonald's and updated my blog. We were happy to head back out to our DOC site, Rotorua has quite the stinky sulphurous smell. At the campsite almost everyone had left. We drank a couple of beers in the sunshine then went for a refreshing dip in the lake. After our swim we made up some guacamole to have with chips for our lunch. Once we started eating the heavens opened on us...noooooooooooo. Gone was our beautiful sunny day. We took refuge under the covered cooking area. The rain stopped and the sun came back out for a little bit. We made a judgement call so we packed up the tent once it dried. We figure if the weather cleared we could always reset up the tent. Glad we made that call since it rained on and off the rest of the afternoon. We concocted a way to set the tarp up with the car to give us more of a rain shelter. That evening the rain stopped but we didn't have high hopes for throughout the night.
The lake looking right

The lake looking left

Napier and Tongariro

Feb 17 – Napier
We slept late this morning and were the last to leave the campsite. We weren't in a rush so that was fine by us. We drove towards Napier and turned off at the first winery we saw. Esk Valley Estates was a very large winery. The guy who served our tastings was very friendly and we got to try quite a few different wines. They were pretty good but nothing caught our fancy. We headed into the town and took a nice walk along the harbour. Then we went into the town center which is known for it's Art Deco buildings. We saw quite a few people dressed up strangely and as it turns out it is Art Deco weekend so there were tons of 1930's cars about and many people were dressed in 30's clothes. We was quite an interesting day to be in Napier. I went into a cool bead store that had tons of beads but they were pretty overpriced. I did pick up a couple of Paua Shell pieces. We had a wander around the town center and stopped in to Opossum World. Opossum World was interesting... they had stuffed birds and showcased their songs while stuffed opossums were stealing their eggs. I guess it was bringing attention to the negative impact that opossums have on the native birds of New Zealand. There was internet in the town center so we checked on the weather in Tongariro and it turned out only tomorrow was supposed to be nice all week. We decided we needed to take advantage of this little window of opportunity. We stopped into Pak 'n' Save for some groceries then started the 3hr drive to Tongariro. Our drive turned into a torrential down pour with a little bit of thunder and lightning thrown into the mix. This gave me heart palpitations thinking it would be like this tomorrow. We arrived in Tongariro National Park around 7pm and started the arduous task of finding transport for the crossing. There were a few options that took you from the hostel to the start of the crossing, picked you up at the end and took you back to the hostel for $30pp. We eventually, after stopping into 3 different places and calling two others, found a company that will take you from the car park at the end to the beginning and you just walk back to your car for $25pp. We had the ingenious idea of dropping one of us off at the start then the other taking the car to the end and grabbing the shuttle back so we only have to pay for one way. After sorting that we went to the DOC site nearby and made a late dinner. The rain was letting up though so it was looking up for the weather tomorrow. I guess we'll find out at 4:30am when our wake up call is.
People dressed up for Art Deco Weekend

One of the many old cars
Feb 18 – Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The alarm going off at 4:30am sucked! We got our little packs organized, lunches ready and headed out in the dark. While we drove to the start I made peanut butter and banana sandwiches for our breakfast. Once at the beginning we decided I should drive to the end since I had been looking at the map and knew more or less where to go. I drove speedily to the end to make it in time for the 6am pick up. The shuttle was there when I arrived and I was able to snag one of the few parking spots. Once in the van I ate my peanut butter and banana sandwich and chatted with the an older American couple. We waited a few extra minutes so another couple could climb aboard. They were Canadians too. We arrived back at the beginning just as the sun rose around 6:45am. It was quite foggy out and we couldn't see too much of the landscape yet. We started our walk and the landscape was quite barren, with scrubby bushes and volcanic rocks. The clouds were covering the mountains and that made me a little apprehensive about the visibility but luckily as we walked the sky started to clear. It started off with a fairly benign incline until we hit Soda Springs, after that it was very uphill. There were numerous stairs until we reached the foot of Mt Ngaruruhoe more commonly known as Mt Doom. Many of the clouds had cleared by this point but there were still some moving over the mountains and obscuring our view. All you had to do though was wait a few minutes and the scene changed into a spectacular picture. From Mt Ngauruhoe we walked cross the south crater. The crater looked very alien and barren much like the lunar surface. The sun had popped out at some point and had us cooking in our layers. Shortly after shedding some we were layering back up as a very frigged wind was blowing. We had a very vertical climb to the highest point of the crossing at 1887m. We had ascended 800m from our start point. The view up there was incredible. Beau and I balanced our handy dandy bending leg tripod on the sign and got a picture with us and Mt Doom. You can take side trips to the top of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro but I felt that a 6-8 hr hike was plenty without adding on a couple 2-3 hr side trips. From the the red crater, the top, we descended a slippery scree slope to the Emerald Ponds. The ponds are amazing shades of green due to their high sulphur content. They are also geothermal and not safe for swimming. We headed across the central crater to the Blue Lake. The lake was a lovely turquoise blue. There was only a brief up hill then most of the rest of the hike was down. There were a crazy amount of switch backs that zigged and zagged you down the other side of the crossing. Most of our hike down was through scrub land again with some larger plants thrown into the mix. At one point the whole ecosystem changed and it became rainforesty with ferns, mosses, trees, puddles and mud. It was pretty wet in so we were dodging lots of mucky spots. After descending over 1000m we finally reached the car at about 1:15pm. We had taken lunch with us but never felt like stopping for it, we did have lots of snacks though. We slumped into our camp chairs, shucked our shoes and had our lunch. Man did it feel good. We decided to head into Taupo and made a scenic look out stop along the way. We stopped lake side at one picnic area and went for a much needed swim. It was refreshing. While trying to get into town there was some sort of charity relay race going on all along the highway. It slowed down traffic some but it was good to see so many people out although I don't know what the relay was for. We checked out 4 different motorcamps in town and were shocked and appalled at all the prices. We settled on the cheapest one which didn't have a free pool or spa but showers were included and that was the main thing for us. We had some dinner and got cleaned up, the shower felt very good. We got to watch the finale of X-Factor Australia which we had started watching in Christchurch.
Mt Doom/ Mt Ngaruruhoe

Emerald Ponds

Blue Lake
Looking down on Lake Taupo from the Crossing

A pretty waterfall near the end

Thursday, 23 February 2012

East Coast and Gisbourne

Feb 14 – Pacific Coast Highway
Lucky for us that we slept in the car last night, it meant we didn't have to struggle with drying the tent this morning. I was lucky enough to be up in time to snag the one shower while Beau lolly gagged about in “bed” and ended up missing out. After breakfast of oatmeal, we added cereal to it for some texture and the berries, we packed up then went for a short walk along the beach behind our campsite. The day looked promising but it just wasn't quite there yet. I was driving today and we had a few nice spots to stop for pictures while on our way. One beach was very tempting to stay longer at but we decided to keep moving instead of chilling for a bit. In Opotiki we went into the i-Site to get some info on the Pacific Coast Highway. This is the long way to go around to Gisbourne taking 6hrs to go about 330 km if you drive without stopping. We had some nice spots pointed out to us on the map and then we were on our way. Our first photo stop was a school some very nice carvings on the outside. We made multiple scenery stops along the way as well. One in particular was in Whanarua Bay where we stopped at Pacific Coast Macadamias and tried their double chocolate macadamia nut ice cream. We then drove down a one lane hill to a beach. It claimed to be the most beautiful bay in NZ. It was nice but I'm sure we've seen prettier. Our next stop was a quaint old church in Raukokore. It made a lovely scene on it's own little point. Our next stop was Lottin Point which had a very interesting drive down. We went through sheep pastures and had to watch for sheep running across the road then down a twisty turny road to the water. We climbed over a bunch of the larger rocks there and were hoping to see some muscles but no such luck. This apparently isn't a bad spot for snorkeling but we didn't go in. We were driving along and spotted a sign for a water fall. We decided to go check it out even though it was an awkward spot to park and we had to traipse through a field together. My what a traipse it was, the field was really wet and our feet got muddy and wet. YUCK. The waterfall was pretty but the walk did nothing for my temperament. We started the look out for a place to stay around Te Araroa the closest town to the east cape. We were under the impression there were two campsites around but could only find one. Looks like the other closed up shop. We checked in to a basic holiday park but they did have free hot showers! We opted to sleep in the car again since the ground was quite wet and the sky was threatening rain. We over ate at dinner time with way too much pumpkin fried rice. It was also a little dry so I don't recommend it!
Maori carved school

Whanarua Bay
Raukokore Church

Lottin Point
Feb 15 – East Cape
Beau and I both woke up pretty early this morning, around when the sun was about to rise, we thought of going up the the East Cape Lighthouse at this time but opted to go back to bed. It's apparently one of the first places to see the sun rise. We did get up later on and after showers and breakfast we headed off to check out the lighthouse. Turns out we should have taken advantage of the pretty nice weather this morning and gone early because it started to rain once we hit the car park. It was a bit of a hike to the lighthouse and it was raining fairly heavily so we decided against it. We drove the scenic, gravel twisty 20km back to Te Araroa and reconnected with the highway. We drove for a bit and then stopped at St Mary's Church. From the outside it just looks like your average church but inside was completely Maori. The walls were covered with Tukutuku woven flax panels and intricate carvings. It was incredible and a taste of what the inside of a marae would look like, a traditional Maori meeting house. We popped into the town of Ruatoria in hopes of an ATM but alas while they boasted a bank there was no ATM. We were getting peckish so at Tokomaru Bay we stopped by their historic wharf and ate our lunch. I was hopping to take a nice picture after we had finished eating but typically it started raining hard again. I should know better then to expect the weather to hold out for me! We had several torrential down pours while we were driving and our wipers had a hard time keeping up. We had some other plans for the day but with the bleak weather we decided against the Cooks Cove walk and snorkeling around Tolaga Bay. I was really disappointed since these two activities had been suggested to us. We got into Gisbourne and headed to the Wine Center so we could get a map and some information on the wineries in the area. Afterwards we thought to have a coffee in a nice cafe while using the internet. But we ended up being redirected to McDonald's to get wifi. We got money, groceries, coffee and wifi then headed to a holiday park for the night. We stayed at an okay priced one with a lounge and kitchen facilities. We had bought a frozen pizza for dinner and watched some tv while charging our various electronics. It was kind of rainy still so we slept in the car again. We met an older Canadian couple in the lounge and it turns out her brother lives in Brockville! Small world ehh...
East Cape Light house, the most eastern lighthouse in the world
St. Mary's Church

Maroi wall carving
Feb 16 – Gisbourne Wine Tasting
Breakfast today was a breakfast sandwich on a cheese bun but without the cheese. We eventually got our selves packed up after watching the news. There was a Green Stone shop I wanted to check out where you can see the stone carvers at work. Unfortunately there weren't any carvers carving while we were there but they did have some info on the process of carving jade. We went back to McD's to do some more updating although again I ran out of bandwidth! We then went wine tasting. Our first stop was Bushmere Estates and it was amazing!! It was a $5 tasting fee and we tried about 7 different wines. The wines were really nice but they also had food parings with most of the tastings. It was really interesting to try the wine then eat the food and see how it alters the wine. Their Vidal went amazingly with blue cheese! We bought a bottle of their Gewurztraminer which was nicely chilled then wrapped in bubble wrap in hopes it'll still be nice and cool later. We moved on to another winery and were disgusted by their tasting prices. It was $15 for 5 wines and they served them to you on a platter so I doubt you would get the same experience. We left after we used their facilities. Our next stop was Kirkpatrick Estate Winery. We were served by the proprietor and wine maker. The guy bought the winery about 8 years ago and his wine maker, who still works for him part time, taught him the ropes. He is also looking into breaking into the Canadian wine market. Beau and I shared a tasting and while his wines were quite nice we didn't buy anything since we already had our bottle. We drove down the road a little ways and then Beau took a sharp left down a road towards the ocean. We ended up at a peaceful little ocean lagoon. It was gorgeous. We ate our PB&B and had a nice walk on the beach watching the little crabs scuttle about. Later on we stopped at another beach which wasn't as pretty but still very nice. A guy was fishing off the beach and his grey lab was romping around. We ended up at a lake side DOC site that was pretty but not well maintained. The grass was super long and it looked like it might rain again so we opted to sleep in the car. There was a covered picnic table area that was great to cook under and was right next to the lake. It was very peaceful with the lake, the ducks and the black swans. It had a very Huntsville feel to it. Beau and I finished dinner while it was still day light so we played a game of crib but by the time we finished we were having trouble pegging in the low light and it was getting chilly.
Our first beachside stop

Our second beach stop
Our lakeside campsite.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Auckland to Mt Maunganui

Feb 10 – Sushi
After many mornings of oatmeal I was super stoked to make crepes for breakfast. While I was cooking Beau got started on folding our laundry which was strewn around Elaine's family room. I made up a batch of crepes for Beau, Shane and I but it became clear quickly that more crepes were needed. The boys asked nicely so I made a second batch of crepes after which we were stuffed. Shane had some errands to run and since it was relatively complicated to add another driver to the rental car Beau took Shane out on an excursion. In the mean time I showered and was sadly excited to do my hair. The guys got back and had found some of our sushi supplies for this evening. We dropped Shane off at work and picked Elaine up from work. I had to go in to get her and Elaine introduced me to some of her co-workers. Many of them thought we looked very alike. I think we look like sisters but it also played apart that my hair is about shoulder length as is Elaine's (we never have had the same length of hair) and I was wearing her clothes. We went into the seafood market to pick up some nice fresh salmon for sushi tonight. We popped back to the house so Elaine could change and we could stick the fish in the fridge then it was off to the airport. Mom and Dad had a three hour layover in Auckland on their way to Tahiti so we were meeting them for coffee. We got to the airport, during rush hour, and Elaine and I went in to find the rents while Beau did laps in the car. We found Mom and Dad then walked outside right as Beau was coming around in the lot. We did get a dirty look from the traffic marshal as we quickly piled into the car. We headed to a near by shopping center and had coffee. We caught up on all that we had missed over the past few weeks and before we knew it it was time to take them back to the airport. We said our goodbyes as none of us know when we'll see each other next :( We popped into CountDown on the way home and picked up the rest of our sushi ingredients. Beau and I got started on our sushi prep which was relatively intensive with lots of chopping. We had salmon, shrimp, crab, sweet potato, carrot, cucumber, and avocado. We made a crap ton of sushi and gorged ourselves on it when it was finally done. It was way better to make it at home than to go out for it! After we decided to play a game of Trivia Pursuit. It was a good game and Elaine won, even in her sleep deprived state (she was up around 5am for work). After the game most of us headed to bed although Beau stayed up to work his website.

Yummy Sushi!

Feb 11 – Goat Island
Beau made seafood omelets for breakfast this morning with some of our left over sushi ingredients. After breakfast the three of us hung out for a bit. Elaine and I then headed out to the Green Stone Shop (Jade). We found a lovely pendant for Elaine's birthday and I bought myself some lovely jade earrings. We picked up some groceries for dinner and headed back to the house. Elaine and I made a yummy tuna melt sandwich for lunch but Beau had been pigging out on crackers and peanut butter so he declined. Once Shane had gotten home from work we set off for Goat Island Marine Reserve to go snorkeling. When we reached Goat Island it was starting to cloud over... boooo. Beau and I went snorkeling and saw lots of fishes but it was pretty chilly. I love my snorkel gear though, the mask is awesome and for what we paid for the rest it works pretty darn good. We went in then Elaine and Shane went out. I got showered and dressed while Beau chilled on the beach. Elaine and Shane came in and were totally pumped, they had seen a sting ray! The sun had hidden itself behind a big dark cloud so we headed up to the car and the other three got cleaned up. It started raining while they were getting changed so we got our snorkel in just in time. During our ride back into Auckland we discussed whether we should pick something up for dinner or still make bean burgers as planned. When we got back to the house we had decided to go ahead and make bean burgers. Elaine and I started on the burgers while the boys ran out to pick up lettuce and tomato. Man were they good. We were so stuffed, Beau could only eat one! The rest of the evening passed very quietly.
Goat Fish
Feb 12 – Shopping
This morning I made Elaine her promised crepes and I also made a pineapple ginger sauce to go with. The sauce turned out pretty good although it could have been more syrupy. Shane had to work at 10 so I made sure to be up in time so he could enjoy breakfast with us. After breakfast, clean up and showers Elaine and I headed down Queen street to do some shopping. We were shopping for my birthday present. We checked out a bunch of stores but unfortunately what's “in style” right now is awful. It's like 80's crossed with 50's mixed with pastels. Man am I glad this year I don't have to shop much. We did have fun in one store though. Elaine was bad and put the idea in my head that I could mail something home so we tried on some pretty dresses. We didn't get me one but that might change when I come back to Auckland. We were both famished so we headed back to the house and made left over bean burgers for lunch. After lunch we thought of another store to check out so decided to run out to them too. On our way out we ran into Shane on his way home for work. We didn't have any more luck with the other two stores but one way closed which didn't help. When we returned the boys were going to go for a walk. Beau and I had been talking about leaving Auckland tonight but we decided to stay even though we would have to park on the street over night and make sure we either moved or payed for parking. I started on my packing while they went walking. When the guys got back we started talking about what to do for dinner. We decided to go out and then proceeded to hunt through their entertainment book to find a deal. I was surprised and delighted to find a Thai-Laos restaurant nearby. We decided on this place and brought a bottle of wine with us. Many restaurants here allow BYO for wine for a small corking fee. The food was really good and they had sticky rice!! I was very excited to have sticky rice outside of Lao and to be able to share the fun with Elaine and Shane. After dinner we decided to pick up another bottle of wine and some ice cream, there was still pineapple ginger sauce left over from this morning. It was pouring rain out still (it started raining when we were trying to park for dinner) but Shane and Beau brought the car around for Elaine and I, such gentlemen. Back at Elaine and Shane's there were no handy parking spaces across the street so Beau had to park a fair ways away and book it back through the rain. We did have wine and ice cream at the ready when he got back in. We enjoyed our dessert with tv then headed to bed.

Feb 13 – Mt Maunganui
We left Auckland fairly early this morning. Elaine and Shane's room mates had returned the night before so we had to park on the street which is only free until 8am. Luckily Sam left with the car so we pulled into his spot for about half an hour to load up. We were on the road by 8:30. We were heading to Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty today. Along the way we stopped to buy some cheap gas and also got a deal on some avocados. We arrived in Mt Maunganui, which is just past Tauranga, and had a lovely Subway sandwich for lunch. We were full out of groceries and Subway is about the cheapest way for us to eat a healthy lunch. We wandered along the main drag checking out some of the little shops. It was fairly nice out at this point, it hadn't been promising earlier, so we decided to go for a walk around the base of Mt Maunganui. It was a leisurely 45-60min walk and was quite pretty. There were some other walks you could do too but I didn't feel like climbing a mountain today. While on our walk we noticed some guys with parachutes above the mountain. I'm guessing they had jumped out of a plane or something because they were too high to have jumped from the mountain. It would be a pretty awesome view from up there. After our walk we headed back to the car and drove along the beachfront and took in the view of the beach, the cafes and the condos. We headed into Tauranga to find a grocery store. We were successful with a Pak 'n' Save and got loaded up. We were headed to the Matata DOC site for the night. As we were driving it started to rain. It hadn't stopped when we reached the camp site so we decided to attempt sleeping in the car. We got situated by a tree and set up the tarp between the car and the tree. Our little set up let us cook in the back of the car with the hatch open and kept us dry. We got lucky though and the rain let up for a but and the sun came out. Sadly we could still see rain clouds in the not too distant distance. We got everything done before it started to rain again and then we snuggled down into the back of the car for a relatively comfortable nights sleep.
@ Mt Maunganui

Pukeko wandering by the car, they are a raptor-like bird

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Coromandel and Auckland

We've been all over the Coromandel, back to Auckland and now on to the East Coast.  I was going to get all caught up on my blog in Auckland but instead of writing up and posting I spent quality time with Elaine and Shane.  Sorry! Also with my McDonalds internet I'm limited on how much I can upload so it might take a few posts to catch with with photos!

Feb 7 – Coromandel Peninsula Beach Day
Since we stayed at a Holiday Park we took advantage of the facilities and made eggs for breakfast, a much needed change from oatmeal. After breakfast we did our usual clean up and take down then hit the road. We were headed up to the top of the Coromandel Peninsula. Man was it a crazy road! The first section was paved and very twisty turny. There were some sections with the sign “Wash out” which meant that part of the road had collapsed near the edge and the narrow two lane road was now 1.5 lanes. Fortunately we didn't meet anyone in these section even though there were a number of people coming the other way. After a certain point the road turned to gravel and combined with hairpin turns and blind corners were also hills. The road here was barely wide enough for two cars and in some sections was only one car wide. We made it safely to Port Jackson which is a little bit south of the tip. There was quite a large DOC site there which also had electric BBQ's and fire pits, the toilets were some of the less nice pit toilets we've been at. It was a beautiful sunny day so Beau tried out our new snorkel gear and I read on the beach. There wasn't too much to see sea life wise in the bay but I think Beau enjoyed himself anyways. It was actually quite windy out so I got a few sandy wind gust but it kept me from getting too hot. I didn't actually go in the water. We were feeling sleepy so we had a little nap before dinner. For dinner we used the electric BBQ to cook on meaning we actually stuck our pots on the hot surface which worked quite well. There was a large group of Germans who arrived but a smallish bus, which I can't image driving on those roads, and their guide was preparing a lovely spread of grilled vegetables which would have been nice to get in on. Once done dinner we headed back to our site and noticed a pile of driftwood sitting at an empty site. We confiscated the wood and had a lovely fire which helped keep the night chill off.
View to the left from our campsite at Port Jackson

View to the right from our campsite at Port Jackson
Feb 8 – Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove
It was another beautiful day this morning. We took advantage of the electric BBQ and fried some eggs for breakfast and made toast on it. We are headed over to the east side of the peninsula today to check out Hot Water beach and Cathedral Cove. We had to go back down the crazy road we were on yesterday to reach the highway over to Whitianga. We passed back through Coromandel Town and stopped into the Coromandel Smoking Company to buy some smoked muscles. We bought garlic, habanero and original. We drove along HWY 25 and made some scenic picture stops. At one of the stops you could see either side of the peninsula. Once we reached Whitianga we needed to pick up some groceries, we only found a little convenience store type grocer so they had very limited selection. We did pick up some crackers to have with our muscle which we ate on a waterfront bench. The muscles were delicious especially the garlic ones. We were a little disappointed in the habanero ones, they weren't spicy. On our way out of town we found a proper grocery store and picked up some better things for dinner that night. We then went to Hot Water beach. There is a natural hot spring that flows under the sand into the ocean here and at low tide you can dig yourself your own little hot pool. The place was packed! We did get lucky and some people were leaving their pool when we arrived so we snagged their spot. There is only a small area that actually has hot water coming down it so you have to have dug in the right spot. You can also dig where the water is too hot. The place would have been more enjoyable if there weren't so many people, it was a bit of a tourist trap but at least it was free. We hung out in our hot pool for a little bit then went for a swim to try to wash all the sand off of us. As you can imagine there was sand in all kinds of uncomfortable places. We ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich then headed to Cathedral Cove. This is a popular beach with some really cool rock formations including a big tunnel through the rocks to a beach on the other side. It's also a marine reserve. It was a little late in the day for snorkeling so we plan to come back and check out the sea life next week. We drove to a DOC site called Broken Hills in the center of the Coromandel Peninsula, it was an old gold mining area. After getting set up we made a decent dinner of chick pea spaghetti. The camp warden came over to check our registration and also told us about a cool little night walk. He was taking some people later on and invited us to join in. A little while later we set off for the walk with the warden and nine other people. When we reached the entrance to the walk there was a tour bus parked on the side of the road. Apparently this walk is cool enough to warrant tours. We hiked up the tail and saw tons of glow worms in the rocks. We hopped across a little river and were shown an old miners jails. People that had stolen gold were placed in this tiny cell. As kind of a gag though there was a skeleton laid out on the bench, it had sneakers and glasses on. We were also shown a prospectors mine. It dead ended but was pretty cool, we did some some very hideous bugs called weta. Beau aptly described them as a cockroach with spider legs. YUCK! After the mine we headed back to the campsite, we might have gone on a further hike but the path was choked with the tour bus people.

The coastal road we had to follow
Hot Water Beach
Cathedral Cove
Feb 9 – Back to Auckland
It had been pretty chilly last night so there was condensation all over the tent, inside and out. While we had our coffee and oatmeal we got the tent dried out and packed up. We headed towards Auckland and on our way stopped off at McDonalds to check our e-mail. We had confirmation that Elaine or Shane would be home today and had a McFlurry while we were there. That was a huge disappointment! It was more like a sundae with crappy toppings. I guess they don't have to try as hard when there is no DQ to compete with! We got into Auckland around lunch time and were able to park in Elaine and Shane's parkade as their roomies where away for the weekend. We had lunch with Elaine and Shane and caught up a little then Elaine headed off to work. I got some laundry going before we headed out for a walk to Mt Eden. There was a spectacular 360 deg view of Auckland from the top of the dormant volcano. After our little walk we headed down to the CountDown to pick up beer. Beau and I have been craving a nice cold beer. We haven't been able to chill anything so if we get alcohol it tends to be red wine since it can be served at ambient temperature. Back at the house Shane got started on making us pizza for dinner. Elaine got home and we were severed some delicious thai chicken pizza. We spent the evening catching up on Australia and our travels around the north island.

View of DT Auckland with the crater

Monday, 6 February 2012

Northland and Coramandel

We have been staying at basic campsites and using McDonald's internet to update our websites and check our e-mails.  You'll have to forgive us for the lack of continual updates.  We also are trying to charge all our electronics using a car charger.  It's amusing we were able to be more connected than in Asia.  I'll try to add pictures to this post at a later date, the internet is too slow to do it currently.

Feb 1 – Forest Giants
After dreams of kiwis danced in our heads we woke up to a fairly nice morning. We headed on out of our Trounson forest park and on to Waipoua Forest. This forest boasts the largest two kauri trees in New Zealand. We stopped at a look out but didn't really know what we were looking at besides a lot of trees. We continued on to the visitors center to find out where we should be going. After consulting their forest map we set off again. Our next stop was to see an area of young kauri trees. The younger trees were tall but quite skinny. I guess they fill out as they get older. Our next stop had several different trees to see. The first was called the Four Sisters and was actually 4 separate trees who's bases had fused together. The next stop of the walk was Te Matua Ngahere, the Father of the Forest. He is the second largest kauri tree in New Zealand but is also the widest with a 16.41m girth. He also has a volume of 208.1m3, a total height of 29.9m and a trunk height of 10.21m. He's huge!! On this walk we could have also seen the 7th largest kauri but after seeing the Father of the Forest we didn't think it would measure up. A short drive later we stopped to see Tane Mahuta, the Lord/God of the Forest and the largest kauri. He has a volume of 244.5m3, a total height of 51.5m, a trunk height of 17.7m and a girth of 13.8m. He was gigantic. I wish the pictures could properly capture how immense these trees are. Unfortunately due to the delicate and shallow nature of the kauri roots you aren't allowed too close to the trees. We continued our drive and stopped for lunch at a picnic spot outside of the tiny town of Omapere. Slightly further on was Hokianga Harbour and there were some spectacular views from the top of the cliffs overlooking the harbour and town. Shortly after we continued driving we stopped to pick up a German girl hitch hiking. She was headed to the Far North too. We were taking the scenic drive and took a small car ferry across the Hokianga river at Rawene, We continued north for awhile and dropped our passenger off at a hostel in Henderson Bay. We checked out the beach there and had a little walk along it. This is a silica sand beach and if you shuffle your feet through the sand it squeaks! We made it to the DOC site just slightly south of Cape Reinga. We set up, had dinner and a nice walk along the beach. Beau had stuck up conversation with our neighbors who were Kiwi-Americans. They had been skin diving and caught some abalone. Unfortunately they had run out of gas to cook with but we lent them our stove and we got to try some of there sea food. It was soooo good, like a seafood steak. Yum!!! We talked with them for awhile and they got Beau into the hunter-gatherer mind set so we'll see how that goes in the future! It was a lovely clear night with a very bright half moon.
Te Matua Ngahere, Father of the Forest

Tane Mahuta, the Lord/God of the Forest
Henderson Bay

Feb 2 – Cape Reinga
The day started off beautiful with sunny clear skies. We had breakfast and hit the road to see Cape Reinga while the weather held. Cape Reinga is most North-West point of New Zealand, just a little bit east is the most north point. It is also a spiritual point for the Maori people as they believed all souls had to pass through Cape Reinga to reach their spiritual home land. Here is also where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. Apparently on rough days the waves can reach 10m high, but our day was very calm. The views were breath taking with bright blue sky, puffy white clouds and turquoise waters. After taking tons of photos we hit the road and went to check out some sand dunes. We went to see the Te Paki Giant Sand dunes. They were huge definitely not expecting to see desert like sand dunes in New Zealand. Looking in one direction all you could see was sky and sand but turn around and there were green forests. You could rent boogie boards to slide down the hills but after our not so cool experience of sand tobogganing in Vietnam we decided against it. We walked along the dunes for a bit in a small stream. Beau was hoping to reach the sea but it was actually quite far away from where we were. So we headed back to the car. We drove to a 90 Mile Beach access and actually drove onto the beach. We took advantage of our little beach site and had lunch. We drove back into Kaitaia to pick up some groceries and borrow some internet. We also bought two camp chairs from the Warehouse since we had nothing to sit on last night. We head out to the Karikari peninsula to a DOC site there. The cicadas were super loud but our spot ended up being relatively shelter and quiet in comparison to most. We enjoyed a mug of wine with our steak stirfry.
Us at the Light House at Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga Lighthouse

The Dunes at Te Paki

90 Mile Beach
Feb 3 – Happy Birthday to Me
I started my 25th birthday with an icy cold shower. Okay it wasn't that bad, it was nice to feel clean. Our plan was to go wine tasting today. We hit the road and found a winery right off the get go. Our first winery of the day was Karikari Estates where we shared a tasting platter of 5 wines. This is the north-most winery in New Zealand. The way they did it was a little unfortunate though because they had us sit down outside and brought us out our platter with a laminated wine info sheet. The view was spectacular but we missed being able to talk with the wine server. Their wines were good though but we didn't buy any. We continued on to our next stop which was an area called Kerikeri, it has most of the wineries in Northland. Our next winery was called Fat Pig Vineyards. It had decent wines but the proprietor was lacking some in the personality department. Personally, I would have thought the woman would be happy to tell us about her winery and how it started, but it was like pulling teeth. Their grapes were grown on the property but the wine was made in Kerikeri, nothing more than that. We did get to try our first port which was very nice. Our next winery, Marsden Estate Winery, was very different than the last two. It was more upscale but they had unlimited free tastings and very nice wine. The girl helping us was quite helpful but a little busy with helping a new girl in the restaurant. If we had had wine storage and more money I would have bought wine from them. Our last winery, Cottle Hill, was very good all around. The proprietor was an American who sailed over to NZ in '92 and opened his own winery. He was very helpful with his wines and also talked to us about things to see in NZ and catching yours own seafood. We did buy a bottle of Chamboucin which I think was one of the first times we tried this variety but it was delicious. He also gave us a tip for some nice Fish and Chips for lunch. We stopped for the Fish 'n' Chips in Paihai and ate them on a bench by the ocean. Once into the town center we had a little wander around. They had a little craft market going on in the town square but there wasn't too much of interest. We also checked out a dive shop and were very disheartened to learn it was $229 for two dives. A little out of our budget right now, I think we'll save it for Australia. We were trying to decided whether to head over to the town of Russell but it wasn't all that nice out so we decided against it. We headed down to the Whananaki DOC site which was actually about 30km from the main road but was a lovely seaside setting. My birthday dinner was a poor mans chilli but turned out okay, especially with our nice wine to accompany it.

Feb 4 – Whangarei and Waipu Caves
After another slightly dissatisfying breakfast of oatmeal and coffee we got talking with our neighbours. They were a middle aged couple from near Tauranga and gave us some more tips on where to go in the area. We headed out from the DOC site and went down the road a little further to check out a pretty nice surf beach. We watched some surfers fight with the waves to get out to sea and catch a few waves. We headed back to the highway and down to Whangarei. We wandered around the town some a checked out some shops for a Kiwi charm for my birthday. We also looked at the town basin and bought a delicious curry wrap from a street vendor. We picked up groceries, gas and propane so it was an expensive day. A little ways down from Whangarei was the town of Waipu which had some glow worm caves we had been told to check out. They were incredible! And free! We had to wade through some streams and duck under rocks. It was like looking at the stars except under ground. There were so many of them that it was light enough to see each other without our flashlights. It was amazing and free :) There was a DOC site right off the highway that we pulled into after the caves. It was super windy but we were able to find a good spot with some shelter. We also used the tent as a wind block for the camp stove. We cooked up some yummy pork meat balls with garlic chilli sauce and pasta. Our location didn't actually turn out to be perfect since we were setup next to a group of teenagers. They weren't too loud but they did leave a mess of garbage to blow around and for the birds to eat. Idiots.

Feb 5 – On to Coromandel Penninsula
As we were finishing eating our breakfast it started to rain some, not wanting to pack up a wet tent we scrambled to get the tent down and out of the rain. Of course as soon as we had heaved the last of the pieces into the back seat the rain stopped. It did allow us to finish our coffee before we properly packed up the tent up sans rain. We drove down to Goat Island Marine Reserve which is supposed to have really good snorkeling. The place was packed but it is a Sunday. It was also windy and cool. Beau looked into renting us some fins and wet suits but was told the visibility was very poor today. The glass bottom boat trips were also cancelled for the day. It was suggested to us to return when the winds were not blowing from the north or north-east. We continued down the road and made a short detour when we saw a winery sign. We went down to Helios Winery that was run by an older gentleman. We talked with him for some time about his wine making operation and about the micro light aircraft he had. We got back on the road but hung a Louie when we saw another winery sign. This one was quite expensive to do a tasting but had a Fill Your Own Bottle deal going on for $10 so we filled the one bottle we had in the car. We stopped into one last winery that was directly off the highway and shared a lovely tasting from a very flamboyant guy. We also got a chance to taste their port as well which was very nice. We were about ready for lunch so we followed some signs down to a regional park and had tomato soup and crackers for lunch. We drove onwards down past Auckland and went to check out Hunua Falls. The falls were pretty nice but again the place was packed with people since it is a long weekend. We had a brief walk and took a few pictures. Next stop was the city of Thames for the night or rather a DOC site just out of town. We found the DOC site and set up at a camp site right next to a “BBQ” or as we call it a fire pit. We had our first camp fire in all of NZ and it was lovely. It kept us nice and warm although there were a few moments of rain to keep us on our toes.
Hunua Falls
Feb 6 – Super Bowl Monday
As we all know Beau is an avid football fan so watching the Super Bowl was kind of a big deal. We headed into Thames and found a bar that would be showing the game. We had a little time before kick off so we hit up a McD's for some free wifi then went into the Warehouse and bought ourselves some snorkeling fins. They are nice and short so packable and still helpful when snorkeling. We were running late for the game now and missed kickoff but we settled into the bar with a beer and some wedges. Beau was happy with the outcome of the game, if his team couldn't win then the team that beat them had to. Afterwards we went to the Pak 'n' Save for a few groceries and then drove to Coromandel Town. This was a VERY twisty narrow drove. I definitely took it slow. We arrived in the town and were looking into Holiday Parks. It was a painful $18/person but they had full facilities, showers were 50cents. We got set up and had our first hot shower since leaving Auckland! It was glorious. We also had a full kitchen to cook in, power for the computer and watched some of Avatar. We didn't get to finish the movie though as the room got closed down on us. We hunkered down in our tent for a good nights sleep, it was a little chilly out.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Taranaki to Auckland then North

We've rented a car for the month of January and started on our exploration of the North Island.  We are checking out Northland then the Coromandel before hanging out with Elaine and Shane in Auckland for a few days.  Our trip has been great so far, WE SAW A KIWI IN THE WILD!!

Jan 28 – Taranaki Drive
Gabrielle and Dan had an early flight this morning but were kind enough to offer us a ride to the car rental place. We are transferring a car to Auckland meaning we have a free rental for 2 days. Getting a was both good and bad, good because we had a free ride, bad because we had to wait around for about an hour for the rent place to open. It was also a Saturday so the little cafe nearby didn't open till 9 either. So we just sat on the stoop till they opened at 8am. Our transfer car is a Subaru Legacy which is an all wheel drive station wagon and apparently takes premium gas. This might be a little expensive for gas, especially since regular is $2.11/L. We headed out of Wellington stopping into a couple of hardware stores to check out camp stoves. We didn't find the one we were looking for so we continued on our way. On our way out of town we picked up a french couple hitchhiking. They were trying to get to Tongariro so we took them as far as Whanganui. In this town we went to the the hardware store and bought a camp stove then went to the Countdown to pick up groceries. While there our cashier was telling us all about the tower they had in town. So we drove to check it out, it also boasts one of only two underground elevators in the world. It was a nice but windy view from the top of the tower. After our tower excursion we continued on our way along the coast around Mt Taranaki. Unfortunately the mountain had a big cloud sitting on the top of it so the view wasn't quite what it could have been. We finally stopped at a holiday park for dinner and camping. These places are a little expensive but have full kitchen facilities. The place was pretty much deserted too. We made dinner and enjoyed a mug of wine before heading to bed. It is our first night in the tent.

War Memorial Tower
Whanganui Town

Jan 29 – Taranaki to Auckland
There is nothing like starting your with a brewery tasting. Shortly after we had gotten back on the road this morning there was a sign for Mike's organic brewery so obviously we had to stop. The grounds were nice and we headed into an older building for our tastings. They had hosted a wedding the night before and were still in the process of cleaning up. It would have been a very cool wedding venue with a rustic country feel. Beau and I split on a tasting, only $5, and we got to try 6 different 4 ounce tastings. We tried a strawberry blonde, an ale, a lager, a pilser, a coffee porter and a whisky porter. I'm not sure how to describe a porter but the whisky actually quite good and the coffee one was a little too burnt coffee tasting. We continued on our drive make a stop at a black sand beach. It had to be the softest, finest sand I've ever felt. We stopped for gas later on and it hurt to fill the car, it takes premium and was $2.18/L. OUCH! We drove onto Hamilton where we stopped to exchange an inverter we had bought for the car to charge our electronics. Then it was on to Auckland. We arrived in Auckland around dinner time and Elaine and Shane had some left over food they fed us although we were prepared to cook for ourselves. We spent the evening talking, and discussing our plans.

Beau on the Black Sand Beach

Pretty cool drift wood!

Jan 30 – Auckland
Elaine and Shane were headed to Australia today to meet back up with Mom and Dad. Beau was very sweet and drove them even though they had to be there at 5:30am. After dropping them off he had about an hour to kill before he returned the car, then took the bus back to the apartment. While he was doing all this I commandeered Elaine's bed since the air-mattress was mighty uncomfortable. When Beau got back we looked into some more rental cars and possibly buying a car. We weren't sure we would end up with the car we had booked online the night before as their system seemed a little dodgy. We ended up finding another car to rent and booked it. We called the online company to cancel the car but it's a 100% cancellation fee. I had a small panic moment but we uncancelled our car and will hopefully be picking up a little 2 door hatch back tomorrow for $22/day. We are for now keeping the other booking since they don't have our card info. With that relatively sorted we decided to go down to the waterfront. I was a little turned around coming out of Elaine's and we set off walking perpendicular to the water, ooops. We corrected ourselves and meandered on down. Today is a public holiday so there were all kinds of things going on in town. We saw dragon boat races, buskers (it was the World Buskers Festival), all kinds of sail boats and there was also a seafood festival which cost too much to get in to. We enjoyed our walk along the waterfront. We needed to pick up a few things to make dinner so we started hunting up a grocery store. Elaine had told me where to go but I couldn't remember her directions. During our hunt we were sidetracked by a big group of people gathered around a busker who was about the perform. He apparently used to work for Cirque de Soleil. He did a few balancing, strength acts at first, balancing on one hand, balancing on two hands then touching his toes to the top of his head. His big act though was balancing on one hand on a 15ft pole with 4 guys from the audience working to keep this pole steady then spinning in a circle. It was pretty cool and very dangerous. I would guess he makes quite a bit of money doings this as there was quite the crowd gathered around. After all the excitement we found the grocery store then hiked back to Elaine's. It's very up hill! After dinner we started organizing our stuff and where we were going. We also had a great chat with Elaine's roommate Katherine and she gave us some tips on where to go in NZ.
Super cool sail boat in Auckland Harbour

The acrobatic busker

Jan 31 – Northland
This morning we picked up our rental car without much trouble. The guy was a little late picking us up from Elaine's but no biggie. We had reserved a little 2 door hatch back but they didn't have any so they gave us a 4 door hatch back, it probably rents for $30/day instead of $22 but we got it for the agreed price. We nipped back to Elaine's, grabbed our stuff and hit the road (we also sent the other rental company an e-mail cancelling our booking for that day, they don't have our card info so too bad for them). Our exit from Auckland wasn't too smooth, we couldn't figure out how to get back on the high way at first. But eventually we figured it out. After lunch we switched driving so I got my first experience on the other side of the road. I did okay although I turned on the windshield wipers several times instead of signalling, and signalled the wrong way once too. It's also a little different to keep yourself centered in the road, you tend hug the left side which is okay if there is a shoulder but in most cases there isn't. We arrived in Dargaville without incident and picked up some groceries. The price of vege's was ridiculous but we got a premixed vege pack on sale. After leaving the kumara (sweet potato) capitol we head to our DOC campsite in Trounson Kauri Park. We had forgotten to get change to pay for our camp site but got very lucky that a camp warden had just arrived on site and he gave us change. We set up the tent and then went for a walk through the scenic reserve. The reserve is very strict about keeping contaminates out and provide boot washing stations. This is to preserve the Kauri trees which used to be found all over the North Island but now only pockets of forest are still alive. This is one of the best opportunities to see a kiwi in the wild, crossing my fingers! After our walk we played crib and made dinner. After eating we were looking over the maps getting a feel for where we were going tomorrow when a woman came to let us know she was selling some local produce from her car. We walked over to check it out and the woman commented on my Tiger Beer t-shirt. We got to talking, she was from Vietnam and we told her all about our travels. We bought some avocado , cucumber and zucchini from her for $3.50 but as we were leaving she handed us a bag of beans and said they were on her because she liked us! Funny to think we got some free beans all because I'm wearing my Tiger Beer shirt.

We got lucky with the kiwis!! On our night walk we saw two of them digging for grubs in the ground. We didn't know if we'd hear them or know they were near by but we heard something moving in the underbrush and our handy red lights showed us the kiwis. The red light is necessary to not blind the kiwis with your flashlights and it doesn't scare them away. We were able to watch them searching for food in their natural habitat. One of them did get a little annoyed at our presents and made some strange high pitched cawing noise. I had no idea what a kiwi would sound like but I didn't expect the noise it did make. We also saw a few glow worms which look like twinkling stars in the forest. I have to say that seeing kiwis in their natural environment is one of the highlights of this trip!