RTW Day 23 – Auckland
10th March 2018
Today we fly to Auckland. We arrive at the airport early (we allowed extra time to visit a temple en route but it is being redecorated). This gives me 4 hours to decide how to dispose of our remaining $28 in duty free, which bizarrely is playing Christmas carols. I opt for a cheese and pineapple sandwich, a fridge magnet and a jar of chilli chutney.
I fall in love with New Zealand before we even land. This is a combination of the view out of plane window as we approach plus the generous amount of wine distributed by the lovely Air New Zealand crew.
There is a slight blip at immigration. I try to go through the e-gate but accidentally answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘have you spent any of the past 12 months in prison?’ I get pulled out of the queue to see an immigration officer. I explain that the correct answer is ‘no but I had quite a lot of wine on the flight’. He is very understanding, stamps my passport and sends me on my way. The old man sulks. He went through the e-gate without incident and doesn’t have a stamp in his passport. There is a slight blip at customs when the chilli chutney is discovered in my luggage. But I am allowed to keep it.
We’re staying in an apartment as our original hotel cancelled the booking. It has upped the cost somewhat but the presence of a washing machine is a source of great excitement. The apartment is directly opposite the SkyTower, to be accurate, opposite the SkyTower bungee area. It’s quite disconcerting, every now and then a body comes hurtling past the window.
We go for a wander, Auckland is heaving. There’s a big yacht race in town so the harbour side is buzzing with music and boats and people. You can go inside a yacht to see how the crew live or if you’re flash, take a ride round the bay.
We’re not flash, we take a look round then buy some bread and cheese from the supermarket and go home to do our laundry and have supper. I add some chilli chutney to my sandwich. It is very strong. It is some considerable time before I regain any feeling in my lips and I wish it had been confiscated by customs.
RTW Day 24 – Auckland
11th March 2018
This morning we start with a passion of mine; sculpture trails. Owls, on this occasion. The Big Hoot places 50 owls painted by local artists around town. We manage to locate 20 before losing interest. Or at least until the old man loses interest. He has spotted a boat and can’t resist a boat ride.
We take a ferry to Waiheke Island, which is a lovely afternoon out for two reasons; (1) the scenery is beautiful and (2) it’s covered with wineries. We have a picnic beside the bay then go to a winery for a tasting which is served on a hillside overlooking the vineyard.
Goldie Estate claims to specialise in ‘Wine Science’. I think I would be a good wine scientist.
We catch the return ferry to the mainland. It’s starting to get rather choppy. Cyclone Hola is heading our way. We buy a nutritiously balanced evening meal; a bag of chips and a bottle of Hawkes Bay sparkling wine and head back to the apartment to pack. Tomorrow we set forth on our New Zealand adventure.
RTW Day 25 – Rotorua
12th March 2018
Auckland has been fun but I’m excited to get moving. Today we pick up our hire car and head south. First stop – Matamata, which has rebranded itself Hobbiton since its use as a film location in The Hobbit. I’m not a Lord of the Rings fan but the old man has bought me a set location tour ticket regardless.
The Matamata tourist information office has been converted to resemble a hobbit hole and there is a sign which says ‘Welcome to Hobbiton’ in the street outside. They’re keen to milk their LOTR link for all it’s worth.
We drive to the set location; a 1250 acre sheep farm in the middle of nowhere. Despite this, the place is heaving with tourists and set tours depart every 10 minutes hosting up to 4000 visitors a day. I can’t believe how many people are willing to forego £42 of their hard earned cash and 2 hours of their life.
We have a guided tour of the hobbit village. It’s a pretty location in the rolling hills which Peter Jackson chose from a helicopter because of its lake and huge ‘party tree’. The tour is full of interesting facts like how the buildings are constructed in varying proportions depending on what characters are going to stand outside. Big ones to make hobbits look small, small ones to make Gandalf look big etc.
The tour finishes with a complimentary mug of cider at the Green Dragon Inn, which improves the experience somewhat.
We continue to our overnight destination, Rotorua. It’s a fascinating town. As you approach, you can see random gushes of steam escaping from the earth here and there.
We check in to our cabin at the Cosy Cottage Thermal Holiday Park. It’s on the shore of Lake Rotorua and has its own thermal springs and a pool of boiling mud (in the children’s play area!?). The swimming pool, central heating and the showers are all powered by the geothermal springs. It even has a steam oven where you can cook your dinner over a spring. It sounds fun until I read that it takes 5 hours to cook a chicken. Who has the patience for that nonsense? They sell ready roast chickens in the supermarket round the corner. You can be in and out in 10 minutes.
We take a drive to Kuirau Park for more geothermal activity. It’s like a normal city park but peppered with steaming springs and boiling mud holes. It’s quite spectacular but rather smelly. By now we are in the grips of Cyclone Hola. The rain is getting steadily heavier and we are soaked through so we admit defeat and return to our cabin to dry off.
RTW Day 26 – Taupo
Taupo 13th March 2018
The springs in the park were good but for a full-on geothermal experience one needs to part with cash. We select Te Puia as it covers three NZ essentials; geysers, Haka and kiwis.
Before leaving Rotorua, a brief stop at Government Gardens. Past the Maori carvings and huge wrought the iron gateway is a beautifully manicured Victorian rose garden leading to a vibrant green volcanic lake with random clouds of steam belching forth. It’s both very English and very un-English at the same time.
We continue to Te Puia and opt to start with the Maori cultural performance which includes a Haka. I even get the opportunity to go on stage and learn a Maori dance.
Culture checklist ticked, we head for the biggest geyser, Pohutu. A board explains that the geyser erupts every 30-60 minutes and that the smaller Prince of Wales Feathers geyser is an indicator of when this will happen. There is geyser activity and it looks pretty impressive. The old man explains that this is the small geyser and we sit down to await Pohutu. I’m not convinced but I am informed that I am too impatient and that he is determined to get his $50 worth. 80 minutes later, with mild sunstroke and having inhaled our bodyweight in sulphurous gassed, he asks a tour guide when Pohutu is likely to spring into action. She says it has been in action continuously for over an hour.
We head off for tonight’s destination, Taupo. We detour for a walk round the Craters of the Moon, a boardwalk round some more geysers and mud pools, but it’s way past lunch time and I’m pretty much over geysers and definitely over sulphurous gas, so we don’t stay long.
We purchase picnic supplies and head for the Huka Falls. It’s a beautiful place for a lunch stop with the roar from the falls where blue-green water turns to white rapids and back again as the river flows through a narrow gorge into a pool. Here adrenaline junkies can spin round and round in a speedboat for no apparent reason.
A few minutes down the road is Lake Taupo. My first impression of Taupo is that it is very pretty. My second is that it scores highly on the weird sculpture scale. After a photo stop, we continue to our hotel, Tuscany on Taupo.
I say hotel because the old man told me he booked a hotel. He has in fact booked a B&B. I have programmed Google Maps for Tuscany on Taupo. It informs me we’ve arrived. We drive up and down a residential street several times wondering where the chuffing heck the hotel is. Eventually we find our accommodation, which is very nice. It has access to the lake shore which has a footpath running around it. We take a stroll as the sun sets, stopping for fish and chips.
RTW Day 27 – Carterton
14th March 2018
We have a 5 hour drive ahead of us today so I start with a lovely scenic run round Lake Taupo. It’s a pleasant way to start the day and sets me up for the huge cooked breakfast our host has prepared.
We set off, breaking our journey at the coastal town of Napier. The area was decimated by an earthquake in 1931, hence a large rebuilding programme in the 1930s. So it’s an Art Deco extravaganza with many of the public buildings, hotels and shops built in that style.
We purchase a self guide tour map for $10. The old man mutters about the cost. A lot. Then we spend an hour wandering round the city centre taking pictures of the Art Deco buildings. We return through the pristine seafront gardens, have a picnic lunch and set off for tonight’s destination – Carterton where the old man will be reunited with his best friend from school.
We reach our destination which is a small holding in the back of beyond 60 miles north of Wellington. There are some sheep and lots of alpacas. We spend a pleasant evening eating, drinking and catching up.
RTW Day 28 – Martinborough
15th March 2018
Today, for a nice change, I’m not responsible for the itinerary so no need to pore over guide books and maps selecting destinations and planning routes.
Before going out, a tour of the property which starts with paddocks running down to a creek, then turns to woodland and ends at a river. Plus a chance to meet the resident sheep and alpacas.
Our hosts’ plan for the day; a trip to Martinborough, part of the NZ Wine Trail. It seems fitting that my namesake town is renowned for its abundance of wineries.
Our first winery is Hawthornthwaite where we buy a bottle of rose and have a lunch platter. The platter is huge and contains a significant amount of various cheeses. Wine and cheese with friends in the sunshine – does life get any better than that? There are also cold cuts, chutneys, figs, sundried tomatoes, olives and pickles, mostly grown in or made at the vineyard.
We move on to Tirohana for a tasting and to purchase some wine for later. I go to the toilet and a tipsy old lady follows me into the cubicle where I point out (and she has to check to confirm) there is only one toilet. Eventually I am left alone and she stands outside alternatively checking the door and knocking on it until I vacate the cubicle.
Next, as if we haven’t eaten/drunk enough already, we stop in Martinborough for coffee and dessert.
Mr Martin was both egotistical and patriotic. He named the town after himself, had it build round a park with 8 roads leading outwards forming the shape of the Union Flag, then named those streets after places he had visited.
A brief shopping stop in the market town of Carterton. According to my guide book, Carterton is renowned for its hanging baskets so I take some photos. I choose a pretty 19th century building with window boxes, hanging baskets and banners with photos of a man’s face. A voice behind me asks if I ‘would like to photograph the real thing?’ I am taking pictures of the office of the local MP (the man on the banners) who is standing next to me on the pavement. I make an embarrassed retreat. Home for dinner and maybe a little more wine…
RTW Day 29 – Greytown
16th March 2018
Not a great start to the day; I’m up at 4 am to a barrage of increasingly stressed texts from daughter no 1 who is offloaded from a flight at Bucharest airport for ‘acting suspiciously’.
It’s our last day visiting friends who suggest an outing to Greytown – claim to fame NZ small town of the year 2017. It’s a beautiful little town with many traditional wooden Victorian buildings (the fire brigade is very centrally located). We wander along the high street admiring the architecture and Greytown’s other pride, its abundance of mature trees. Most notably the Historic Tree, an enormous eucalyptus planted, having been stolen off a wheelbarrow while its owner was in the pub, in 1856.
On the outskirts is the Cobblestone Museum. This isn’t as I first suspected a museum dedicated to cobblestones. It’s a selection of old public buildings which, having outlived their usefulness, were moved here to create a ‘settlement village’.
We take a look around and learn Greytown has another claim to fame – it is here that the Kidd family, whilst experimenting with cross-pollination, created the Gala Apple.
We stop for lunch at the Clareville Bakery, very proud of its status of ‘Best Regional Rural Café of the Year’. The food is good but their success is reflected in their prices. I’m not sure even a really good cheese and ham toastie is worth $17.
We head home, stopping (suddenly) along the way to photograph a mother pukeko bird with two babies which we spot on the verge. A pleasant day out plus daughter no 1 has successfully booked and boarded another flight to Dubai.
In the evening we head out to Mount Holdsworth Pizza. It’s literally at the end of a track half way up a mountain in the middle of nowhere but it’s absolutely packed. It’s owned by a Swiss family and built to resemble an alpine chalet. You have to order a base in advance then make your topping choice on arrival. We sit by the brook listening to the live band with our BYO wine until our pizzas arrive. I have blue cheese, bacon and onion and it’s delicious. A perfect end to the day.
RTW Day 30 – Rarangi
17th March 2018
Saturday is, of course, parkrun day. We have to set off at 6 am to make it to Lower Hutt in time. The route is out and back along the River Hutt. The course description states that “on a calm day this will be a fast and scenic course”. Luckily it is a calm day and it is indeed a scenic course. I don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it’s fast.
It features a split start with the faster runners running along the riverside, while the slower runners start at the top of the river bank and run down to join the riverside further on. A bit of a rolling start for us oldies and fatties. I finish 30 seconds behind the old man. I can see him in front of me but I can’t quite catch him.
That concludes our time on North Island. We head to Wellington to catch the ferry to Picton. We change out of our running gear but showering isn’t possible. The old man thinks this is a problem. I see it more as somebody else’s problem. Once we have dropped the hire car and grabbed some breakfast in McDonalds we have 2 hours to walk the mile back to the ferry terminal.
So I am allowed an hour in the enormous Te Papa, Wellington’s combined museum and art gallery. It’s a real whistle stop tour, you could amuse yourself for days in here, it’s packed with exhibits with plenty of opportunity to interact.
We take the lift to the observation platform on the 6th floor then walk back down to the ground taking in as much as possible in such a short time, working our way through art and Maori culture to social and natural history.
We have time to amble along the waterfront admiring the view and taking photos before boarding our ferry.
I’m not a huge fan of boats. Luckily, after a few blustery days in the grip of Cyclone, it is calm today. Although I am a little concerned that they deem it necessary to tether the vehicles and by the large number of sick bag dispensers dotted around.
It’s a 3.5 hour journey out through Wellington Harbour, across the Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds. My brochure promises me some of the most breath taking scenery in the world.
I order a basket of chips with aioli for lunch. The are literally the best chips I have ever tasted. Nevertheless, I am relieved they don’t make a reappearance when we reach open water. The aioli is very strong, thus adding to my odour issues.
Once we enter Queen Charlotte Sound we go on deck to enjoy the view. It is indeed very special with its lush green volcanic landscape and blue-green waters. We even have some dolphins come to dance in the ship’s wash.
We have a short drive on arrival to the coastal town of Rarangi to our B&B. It’s quite fancy and even has a jacuzzi bath. Luxury – my first bath in a month. Then a frantic dash to the supermarket when we realise it closes for the weekend in 22 minutes and it’s a 9 minute drive. We make it in time to buy life’s essentials – bread, cheese and beer and have supper listening to waves crashing on the shore outside.