Saturday 26th April 2014
When we arrived in Auckland many moons ago, all we really saw was the airport hotel. Last night we had a room (in the Quality Hotel, Parnell, Auckland) with a really spectacular view of Auckland by night. We have one day left to explore this huge city of 1.4 million inhabitants.
We started our last day with a fascinating morning in Auckland’s War Memorial Museum. The New Zealand museums really are excellent. Unexpectedly we spent a very happy hour looking at about 100 superb wildlife photos which made the final of the BBC Wildlife Magazine annual photography competition. We didn’t always agree with the judges’ choice of category winner but deciding on our choices for winners was half the fun.
We then spent another couple of hours looking at the exhibitions on Maori culture and the military history of New Zealand. There was so much more that we didn’t have time for . . .
Then a fantastic trip up (initially to the 52nd then the 60th floor) of the famous Auckland Sky Tower (a really lovely treat from Sian, Sian and Michael). The views were panoramic (photo at the top of this post) and gave us a much better idea of the geography of the city, including its volcanic hills, bays and the port.
Tomorrow we fly out of Auckland airport, but only as far as Fiji!
However I suspect that it will be the end of the blog entries for a little while . . .
Friday 25th April, ANZAC Day.
Anne here. Another catch up post from last week…
We actually drove up the West side of the Coromandel peninsula yesterday afternoon after leaving Hobbiton and stayed in Coromandel Town last night. The weather improved dramatically. The road twists and winds its way along side the Firth of Thames, with cute little bays. The water was so still you could see lots of reflections and hardly any ripples. A road sign said beware of wide loads because the road is very narrow; it didn’t explain that this meant large boats on trailers and the occasional very long log lorries!
So many of the places where we have stayed have definitely qualified as “a room with a (superb) view” but this was “a whole house with a (superb) view”. Coromandel town is based around fishing (the fresh fish is fantastic) and also allegedly lots of arts and crafts and a gold mining history, although we didn’t see the latter two.
Then today we drove on a very dramatic road across the top of the peninsula then down the east side of the peninsula in blazing hot sunshine. The beautiful white beaches make this side the more popular, with fairly upmarket holiday apartments and really nice small towns. We didn’t see as much of the beaches as I hoped from the car and sadly we didn’t have time for the walk that they deserved.
Suddenly, what has felt like a never ending holiday in New Zealand, has a definite end date! We fly out of Auckland on Sunday morning! Aaaggghhhh.
Thursday 24th April.
Anne here, a catch up post for last week . . .
You are quite right, we couldn’t leave New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton, near Matamata. Even though it was pouring with rain, absolutely pouring, it was definitely worth a visit.
You catch a coach from a central point, out into the Alexander family owned farm and immediately the rolling hills looked familiar to all Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film fans. Our group was made up of a few LOTR fanatics, a few brave souls who admitted to never having seen the films or read the books and the rest of us who had some knowledge.
Highlights include lots and lots of Hobbit holes, the party tree and field, a free drink in the very cosy Green Dragon, the loan of a huge umbrella and a really excellent, cheerful and knowledgeable guide. They need to be incredibly knowledgable to satisfy the LOTR geeks but our guide also had lots of “behind the scenes” anecdotes and explained how some of the scenes were filmed. For example some of the Hobbit holes are large and some are smaller depending on the height of the actor and the size that they need to look on screen.
Definitely recommended, although apparently it gets very busy in summer.
Anne here . . .
Wednesday 23rd April
I felt a bit unsure about going to a Maori cultural show in case it was a bit patronising but the Whakarewarewa Maori Living Village in Rotorua is a fantastic introduction to the Maori culture. The village has about 25 to 30 Maori families living on the site. Parts of the village are a bit scruffy but the Maori guide, Manawa, was excellent, with fascinating anecdotes and lots of information about the history of the eight Maori tribes and their customs. We had a traditional hangi pie lunch in the village cafe. Then we watched a Maori performance, including audience participation and the Haka.
The Maori chose this place for the village because of the geothermal pools. Our lunch was geothermally steamed in a oven box in the ground. The villagers have steaming hot water for all their washing, heating and cooking needs.
Even after two days, I am still totally amazed by the steaming pools, geysers, mud holes and craters in the ground. The local park in Rotorua has areas fenced off because of huge steam plumes coming out of the ground.
We ended the day with a ride on the Sky Gondola with fantastic views over Rotorua and Lake Rotorua. Followed by another spa bath under the stars!
Anne here . . .
Tuesday 22nd April.
We started the morning with a last look at Lake Taupo, because I liked it so much. Then we spent the rest of the morning in the Wairakei park area, just North of Taupo. We accidentally came across Wairakei geothermal power station but it was really interesting! Honestly!
Then a real spectacle just for the tourists . . . Three times a day, the flood gates of the Aratiatia dam are opened for 15 minutes to enable a huge torrent of ice blue/white water to cascade and thunder through the incredibly narrow Aratiatia gorge and rapids. The purpose? To entertain the tourists. Was it worth going to watch? Absolutely. Not that many tourists were there but we were all enthralled by the spectacle.
Then onto Rotorua, just over an hour’s drive away.
First impressions of Rotorua: SMELLY (sulphur); wide tree-lined avenues; quite large, a major tourist centre; a bit mad!; geothermally produced plumes of hot steam everywhere; fantastic sunsets over the lake and lots of black swans; and for the first time a few mad drivers.
After booking into our cheap and cheerful (the staff were fantastic) motel, with a huge, rather mad, outdoor, concrete geothermally heated spa bath, we decided to explore the Tarawera area.
But first we went to the Blue and Green lakes, or more accurately the Blue Lake and the bluey/green Lake. I didn’t think that the colours were that different although they were both beautiful. The green lake is sacred to the Maori so all water based activity is in the blue lake only.
Mount Tarawera is volcanic and erupted in 1886 burying a Maori village and killing over 100 people. It also destroyed the world famous pink and white terraces (layers of silica on the edge of the lake). In comparison tonight Lake Tarawera was incredibly serene and calm. Paul took some stunning photos. One of Lake Tarawera is at the top of this post.
And yes we did end the evening in the geothermally heated concrete outdoor spa bath!