Archive for February, 2014

Day 14 Friday 28 February – Te Anau, Dunedin

We got up this morning to an overcast day with light rain and it was quite cold!  It was still dark when we went to breakfast at 7.00am.

Leaving the Fiordland region, we travelled through the Southland countryside of rolling hills to Dunedin, stopping at Gore for morning tea, where it was a chilly 9°the coldest we have felt since we got here. Gore is Tamworth’s sister city and they host the Golden Guitar Awards here too.

As we drove along, we saw lots of sheep (many more than in the North Island), cattle and deer.

We continued our journey to Dunedin, New Zealand’s 5th largest city arriving at 12.00pm.  Dunedin lies on the central eastern coast of Otago, surrounding the head of the Otago Harbour.  The harbor and hills around Dunedin are the remnants of an extinct volcano.  The city suburbs extend out into the surrounding valleys and hills and onto the Otago Peninsula and along the shores of the Otago Harbour and the Pacific Ocean. Dunedin is home to the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university.

We were taken for a city tour and then had an hour and a half break for lunch and a wander around before being taken to Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, situated on the Otago Peninsula.  William Larnach came over from Australia and he and his wife Eliza and their children lived there for many years.  The main section of the castle that they lived in took three years to build, 1871-1874, and then they continued to build while they resided in it.  William built the castle as a legacy for his children and he built the Ballroom for his children with windows from First Bank of Otago, a souvenir from his previous employment.

We enjoyed our guided tour around the castle, learning about its history and interesting family stories.  Larnach’s third wife, Constance’s Boudoir is said to be haunted, but we didn’t see the ghost!  It started raining quite heavily while we were inside the castle but luckily the sun came out again just in time for us to climb the narrow stone spiral staircase to the parapet, where we had 360° views over the Otago harbour and peninsula.  We also went for a wander through the gardens before heading back down the hill and through the city to our lovely hotel.

Tonight, we had a special Scottish-themed evening – A Taste of New Zealand. Maria, Sandy and Ian (from Scotland) were the “volunteers” to be part of the evening.  They were taken off to a room to prepare for the Haggis Ceremony – they were dressed in aprons that looked like kilts and vests.  Maria and Ian wore a tartan tam o’shanter with red hair coming out the bottom of it, while Sandy wore a plain tam o’shanter.  A piper led us around the hallway to a room where the rest of the tour group was waiting.  We marched behind the piper, who played his bagpipes, with Ian brandishing a sword, Sandy carrying the Haggis on a tray and Maria bringing up the rear, carrying a tray of whiskey in glasses.

We had the Haggis ceremony, “Addressing the Haggis”, which including a toast with the whiskey.  There was much laughter and frivolity.  The piper played a few wee tunes and then we all marched behind him around to the restaurant for dinner, which was delicious.

What a great night we had – a lovely end to a day in the Scottish-themed city of Dunedin!!

Day 13 Thursday 27 February – Te Anau, Milford Sound

We left Queenstown this morning just before 7.00am and watched the sun come up over The Remarkables as we drove along beside Lake Wakatipu.  One of the places we drove through was Garston, which is New Zealand’s most inland town – interestingly, 90% of all New Zealanders live within 6 km of the ocean and no town is more than 160km away from the ocean.

We drove beside the Eyre Mountains, which were a beautiful golden colour as the sun lit up the mountain and travelled through patchwork-like farming communities – vegetables, cattle and sheep. We could see a wind farm in the distance near Mossburn and three large white quartz seams on the side of Mt Takatimu.

We stopped at Te Anau for morning tea and were able to buy some lunch to save time and money when we got to Milford Sound.  While we were doing that, Malcolm and Laurie went to our hotel and dropped our bags off as we were coming back to Te Anau to stay the night.  Te Anau means “The Cave” and is very apt because there is a glow-worm cave here.

We continued our journey, driving along beside Lake Te Anau, which is 60 km long.  By then, the weather had started to change and it was quite overcast with low cloud, so we didn’t see it at it s best.

As we drove along, we could see the beautiful Eglington Valley and the Upukerara River and then we entered the Fjordland National Park where our scenery changed to a thick forest.  We stopped for a photo opportunity at a pretty little spot called Mirror Lakes and we got out of the coach and walked arund the boardwalk set amongst the trees next to the lake.

We travelled up the mountain range to the Homer Tunnel, which is an unlined 1,219metre tunnel cut through the mountain, giving access to Milford Sound.

We wound our way down the other side of the mountain, stopping at The Chasm, where we had a 15 minute walk in the forest to the Upper Falls, where the Cleddau River plunges through a narrow chasm 22metres deep.  The force of the water has created the most amazing shapes in the huge rocks, some of which had holes in them. Words can’t do justice to this incredible Chasm – our photos in the gallery will give some idea.

We finally arrived at Milford Sound and boarded the Milford Sovereign for our 1½ hour cruise.  Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1200 metres or more.  Our cruise took us close to the cliffs along the southern edge, stopping and turning around so that everyone had a view of the points of interest.  We cruised along the whole length and out into the Tasman Sea, before turning around and heading back along the Northern edge. The heavy overcast conditions and low cloud limited our ability to see the top of most of the mountains and also made our photos look drab and lacking colour – very disappointing.

The captain nosed the boat into the cliff face so that we all had an amazing view of the Fairy Falls and as we continued around the Sound, we saw a waterfall that was being blown upwards – amazing site. At times, after heavy rain, many hundreds of temporary waterfalls can be seen running down the steep sided rock faces that line the fjord.  As we approached Stirling Falls, the captain slowed down and moved in close so that we could get great views of this big waterfall cascading 155 metres down the cliff face, spraying those of us who had ventured out onto open decks to take photos – fantastic!

We saw some seals basking on a rock and we were able to get some photos of them before returning to the wharf just in time because it had started to rain.

We made our way back to our hotel in Te Anau and were delighted to see that it is set up like an olden days village. Each room has a shop front façade with different names on them – Maria and Dennis are in the Apothecary for Medicines and Perfumes (what a coincidence!) and we are in the New England Dentist.  Some of the others are Ironmonger, Dressmaker, Diggers Bank & Deposit and Cabinet & Butter Churn Maker.

We topped off our lovely day with a delicious dinner served by very friendly and cheerful staff.

Day 12 Wednesday 26 February – Queenstown

We woke this morning to another beautiful day in Queenstown, and after a leisurely breakfast, we walked down the hill to the town centre where we did some shopping.  We then had a short stroll to the wharf/jetty area, where we watched as the captain hand fed some wild trout.  We boarded our boat for our 90 minute cruise on Lake Wakatipu. There were several areas on the boat – an inside lounge area, a sun deck and a covered viewing area at the rear of the boat, which is where we sat, taking in the amazing views.  We cruised along the lake past the Golf Course, the Yacht Club and a lovely residential area of beautiful homes overlooking the lake.  We continued along to the end of the lake to the Historic Kawarau Bridge, with a fantastic view of The Remarkables – this end of the lake links with the Shotover River.  We came back along the other side of the lake and had great views to Coronet Peak (the ski area) before returning to the wharf. We enjoyed the commentary on the boat, where we learnt some more interesting facts about Queenstown.  1.55 million tourists visit Queenstown every year both in the summer months  to enjoy the lake and in the winter months for the ski resorts in the area and tourism is now the town’s source of income.

Lake Wakatipu is a Z-shaped lake and is New Zealand’s purest lake, both in clarity and in pureness of water – you can actually drink the water.  The lake was carved out by a glacier, is 290 square kilometres and at Devil’s Staircase it is 400 metres deep, which makes its bed well below sea level. In some areas, the bottom of the lake was only about a foot below the bottom of the boat. We had a wonderful cruise, taking photographs and just soaking up the absolutely beautiful scenery.

We then went for a walk and found a little bakery to buy our lunch, walked back to a grassed area next to the wharf/jetty area to eat our lunch.  It was quite cool in the shade but very warm in the sun.

We wandered along the lake front, stopping to look at the activities on the lake eg jet boats, para-sailing, paddle boats etc. as well as para-gliders gliding off the top of Bob’s Peak.  We walked along Marine Parade and climbed up the steep hill through a section of the gardens and back along Frankton Road to our beautiful hotel after a wonderful morning out on the lake!

This evening, we went on a Gondola ride up to the top of Bob’s Peak for dinner at the Skyline Restaurant.  We walked out onto the observation deck and were amazed at the stunning views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, which was the most beautiful shade of blue.  The Top Station of the Gondola is 790 metres above sea level and the total length is 730 metres.

At dinner, we had a table next to the windows, overlooking Queenstown, the lake and The Remarkables in the background.  The buffet dinner, set over five different areas, was very tasty and was presented beautifully.  The four of us thoroughly enjoyed our dinner together, with the magnificent view as our backdrop.  We watched the changing colours of the lake and The Remarkables as the sun started to go behind the mountains.

The four of us have had a wonderful time in Queenstown and we are heading off to bed early tonight as we are having a very early start tomorrow morning.

Day 11 Tuesday 25 February – Haast JetBoat, Queenstown

We woke this morning hoping that it was going to be a fine, clear and crisp morning as Maria and the two of us had arranged to do a helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. This had been originally organized for yesterday afternoon but as it was raining when we arrived, it was postponed until this morning.  Unfortunately, because of low cloud we were not able to go, even although it wasn’t actually raining.

We left Fox Glacier just before 8.00am and headed south along the coast in the mist, passing beside various rivers that were shrouded with mist and we stopped at Paringa Salmon Farm for a comfort stop.  We crossed the Moeraki River, which was beautifully mirrored and made our way to the Haast River for our Scenic Jetboat adventure. By now the sun was out and the skies were blue and it had turned into a perfect day! We loaded up two jetboats with 15 people each (some of our tour group decided not to come) and put on our life jackets, ready for our 1½ safari up the Haast River. These jet boats are enclosed, with glass sliding windows and a glass roof but we still got the adrenalin pumping sensation of riding a jet boat, skimming across the water, close to the banks, making spectacular manouvres to negotiate objects, shallows, and the natural curves of the river. Our driver, Vicki, stopped several times so that we could get good photos of the incredibly beautiful scenery and to explain some of the history of the river.  One of the things she explained was that the river used to be further over, but the huge amounts of gravel that had come down in the last glacial melt/flood caused the river to change direction, cutting a new path and undermining some of the trees along the new banks.

We travelled at speeds up to 45 miles per hour passing Mark’s Range and the Harris waterfall and stopped along the banks of the river and we got off the jetboat to take in the stunning scenery, before boarding the boat again for our final run to a place called Roaring Billy, including several 360 degree spins, which were exhilarating – everybody loved it and were surprised at how quickly the time had disappeared!!

We boarded the coach at about 11.30 and continued our journey, following the Haast River up the Haast Pass and down the other side, thoroughly enjoying the scenery along the way – rivers, bridges, deep gorges and areas where massive avalanches had occurred.

We stopped at Makarora for lunch, with the snow capped Mt Aspiring in the background, before continuing our journey past the beautiful Lake Wanaka and the picturesque Lake Hawea, where we had a photo stop.

We crossed the Cluha River at Albert Town – the Cluha is the 2nd longest river in New Zealand – and we also passed the world famous Wanaka Airbirds Exhibition centre where they hold the “Warbirds Over Wanaka Air Show” every 2 years (Patrick would love all these aeroplanes!)

We stopped at Cromwell at Jones Fruit Shop for a comfort stop – we were very impressed with the huge arrangement of fresh fruit, vegetables, packaged nuts of all varieties, specialty chocolate covered things – ginger, strawberries, kiwi fruit etc, as well as yoghurt covered cranberries (an Ella delight) and every imaginable dried fruit.

Our next stop was at Arrowtown, where we had the opportunity to wander around the streets looking at the old buildings of this former gold mining town, before continuing our journey to Queenstown.  We passed over the famous Shotover River and could see the beautiful Remarkable Mountain Range.

We were taken for an orientation tour of Queenstown and then settled into our very impressive hotel, The Copthorne Hotel and Apartments, overlooking Lake Wakatipu.

The four of us decided to have a light dinner here at the hotel in the bar lounge, which we all thoroughly enjoyed,

What a great day we have had!!!

Day 10 Monday 24 February – Tranz Alpine Train, Franz Josef Glacier

When we arrived at breakfast this morning, we found that our “twister” from yesterday was on the front page of the newspaper – “Tornado Strikes”. So, what we thought was a twister turned out to be a tornado and it damaged several homes including taking the whole roof off one lady’s house. The hail also did quite a bit of damage. We are very lucky that the tornado didn’t hit us and also that Malcolm is such a good driver that he was able to drive us safely through the storm/hail/lightning that was referred to in the paper as a “super cell”!

After breakfast, we left Ashburton and travelled through part of the Canterbury Plains.  We crossed the Rakai River, which is the largest river in the Region and is a salmon and trout fishing area. We passed the Sinlait Milk Factory, which is the second largest in New Zealand and interestingly, they have done an experiment to ascertain the best time to milk cows to obtain the most milk.  The experiment found that if cows are milked between 1.00am and 3.00am, the milk contains melatonin, which helps people sleep.

We arrived at Darfield, an extremely small railway station, where we boarded the TranzAlpine train, which is a passenger train operated by KiwiRail and is regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys because of the scenery it passes through.

The modern train had two diesel electric locomotives and very comfortable carriages that had panoramic windows.  The train also had a buffet carriage and an observation carriage, that Richard spent some time in, taking lots of photos of the magnificent views.

We travelled through the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury Plains and crossed the wide braids of the Waimakariri River – the braids are formed by large volumes of water scouring wide tracks to the ocean while depositing/moving rock and silt from high in the mountains.  We climbed into the alpine region with its beautiful scenery on a series of spectacular viaducts.  From there we passed through the Southern Alps along the stunning Waimakirri River Gorge to Arthur’s Pass, which is at the top of the range. We got off the train there after experiencing a wonderful journey and rejoined the coach for the trip down the other side of the mountain range.  We saw some avalanche shelters over the road to protect against rock and snow avalanches.

As we approached Kumara, we were told that over to the right was where the Pyke River Mine disaster had taken place. We travelled through to Hokitika with the Tasman Sea just to our right as well as green fields and alps to our left.  We had lunch at Hokitika, went to the Chemist as Dennis has caught a head cold from one of several people on the bus with colds. While we were doing this, Richard went for a wander to take photos and Dennis wandered through the Jade Factory, where he was lucky enough to see them actually cutting the jade and polishing it.

We left Hokitika and crossed the Hokitika River, through a region that is mainly beef and deer farming.  We also saw some rivers that were hugely contrasting in colour eg the Waitaha River with its murky white colour and the Wanganui River with its brilliant turquoise.

By the time we had arrived at Franz Josef, it was quite overcast with low clouds.  We had a 15 minute walk to reach an observation area from which we could get a glimpse of Franz Josef Glacier peeking out from under the low clouds.  It would have taken another hour to reach the base of the glacier, but we needed to continue our journey to Fox Glacier where we are staying for the night.

We had a lovely dinner with our new Scottish friends, Ian and Pat and our new Orkney friends, Evelyn and Jim – good food and lots of laughter.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our day today!

Day 9 Sunday 23 February – Wellington, Cook Strait, Ashburton

After an early breakfast, the coach took us down to the Ferry Terminal and we boarded the Inter-Islander Ferry, the Kaitaki, for our journey across the Cook Strait to the South Island. The Cook Strait separates the North and South Islands, is 22 kilometres wide at its narrowest point and was named after Captain James Cook, who was the first European commander to sail across in 1770.

Kaitaki, meaning Challenger in Maori, is the largest ferry in New Zealand waters with room for up to 1,650 passengers and 600 cars as well as 1,780 metres of trailer capacity (this is where our coach was). Her gross tonnage is 22,365 and she is 181.6 metres long, 23.4 metres wide, her maximum speed is 20.5 knots and there are 10 decks.  It costs $54 per person one-way and $1,200 for our coach.

When we boarded the ferry, we made our way straight up to Deck 8 and settled ourselves into the Ocean View Lounge – we managed to get a table with four chairs right in the middle at the front, with a magnificent view out over the bow of the boat!!  We were 45 minutes late leaving Wellington because the another inter-islander ferry was late arriving and had to be unloaded before our ferry could be loaded – and we had a full boat, with lots of heavy vehicles.

We cruised through Wellington Harbour, out around Pencarrow Head, where we saw the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand (built in 1859), past Sinclair Head and out into the stronger currents of the Cook Strait. We saw several pods of dolphins, playing in the bow wave as the ferry made its way across Cook Strait. We entered the South Island and into Whekenui Bay, travelled along the Tory Channel, rounded Dieffenbach Point and into Queen Charlotte Sound, eventually making our way to Picton.

We thoroughly enjoyed this scenic voyage, crossing the Cook Strait through the Marlborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds to Picton. The 92 kilometre, three-hour journey aboard the Kaitaki was spectacular, especially with it being such a beautiful sunny day!!

When we were close to Picton, an announcement was made for us to go down to Level 3 to board our coach to be driven off the ferry.  We left Picton at 12.50pm and headed south on Highway 1, driving through Blenheim, which is recorded as being the sunniest place in New Zealand. This area is the Marlborough Region, which is a well-known wine making region and we saw lots and lots of vineyards, including many new plantings.

Just outside Clifford Bay, we saw a salt farm with big pinkish colour ponds – the pink colour is from the chemical used to aid in the process of drying out the salt.  The salt is used for table salt and salt lick blocks for cattle.

As we continued our journey, we came out to the coast and drove along beside the Pacific Ocean for some time, watching some clouds rolling in, as well as the magnificent views.  It was interesting that on one side there was the ocean and on the other side there were mountains.  We crossed the Clarence River and saw some seals basking in the sun. At Half Moon Bay, Malcolm/Laurie made a photo stop for us at a seal colony and we were delighted that the sun had come out!!  We saw lots of seals basking in the sun and there were even some new seal pups.

We stopped at Kaikoura, a seaside whale watching settlement for afternoon tea at The Craypot Café and Bar.  We went for a wander across the road to the pebble beach with great views of the Kaikoura Peninsula and also views back along the coast that we had just travelled.

As we continued our journey, we watched some very black clouds getting closer to us.  It was strange that to the east were dark clouds and to the west was brilliant sunshine!

After a comfort stop at Amberley, we saw a twister off to the west and then it started to rain very heavily and then we experience very heavy hail, which luckily, only lasted about 5 minutes – but there was lots of hail piled up on the edges of the road.  Shortly after that, we were back into bright sunshine again.

We continued down the east coast, bypassing Christchurch and made our way to Ashburton, which is a large town, that serves the surrounding farming district, for our overnight stop. Ashburton sits between two major rivers – the Rakaia and Rangitata – so fly-fishing is the local obsession.

Once again, we have had a very unusual, but wonderful day!

Day 8 Saturday 22 February – Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington

We left Rotorua this morning in the light misty rain, travelling through a region that is abundant with geothermal activity – the cooler weather meant there was more steam visible.  We headed south, and dropped down off the volcanic plateau, past the Kaingaroa Forest, filled with beautiful Douglas Fir trees and Radiata Pine trees.

We crossed the Waikato River and saw the hydro-electricity cooling tower through the mist and further on, we saw the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station.  Interestingly, because of the warm thermal water, huge tropical prawns are harvested from this area.

The Waikato developed into one of New Zealand’s major electricity producing rivers, supporting 8 hydroelectric stations and providing cooling water for 3 other stations, 2 of them geothermal and 1 thermal.  The Waikato River System produces about 15 per cent of New Zealand’s power but the North Island still has to get an extra 30% of its electricity needs from the South Island – big poles carry the power up to Auckland.

We stopped at the Huka Falls, which is on the thinnest part of the Waikato River.  Huka means white, which is very apt because the water thundering over this small area of the river was indeed very white.  Although they are referred to as “falls”, they are long rather than high falls.

While we were there, we experienced fine misty rain, which followed us on to Lake Taupo. At 613 square kilometres, Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand and is a great trout and fly-fishing area.  We stopped here for morning tea and by the time we were ready to head back to the coach, the sun had started to come out and we were able to get a few reasonable photos of this beautiful lake.

As we drove back out onto the highway, we met several hundred people running around the lake for charity – they spread out over several kilometres.

We continued our journey, travelling south across the vast volcanic plateau of World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park – 36,000 hectares – stopping to take photos of Mt Ruaphehu – 797 metres, Mt Ngauruhoe and the Kiamanaiwa Mountain Ranges.  This section of road is referred to as “the Desert Road” because of the very harsh conditions – hot and dry in summer, snow and ice covered and extremely windy in winter – very few plants can survive these extreme conditions. The Desert Road is often closed in winter because it is too dangerous.

We had lunch at Taihape and wandered through the shops in the sunshine, before continuing our journey south passing through a town called Bulls.  As we approached the town, we saw a sign saying “Bulls – a town like no udder” and then within the town there were more “tongue in cheek” type signs:  Pharmacy – Indispens-a-bull; the RSL – Socia-bull; the bank – Bank-a-bull; the toilets – Relieve-a-bull and even the police station got into the act with Const-a-bull.

We continued our journey to Wellington, the national capital, with a population of 395,600 people.  It is located on the southwestern tip of the North Island between Cook Strait and the Rimatuka Range.

We arrived in Wellington at about 4.30pm after Malcolm had taken us for a drive around the city, pointing out many interesting landmarks.  We checked into our hotel and discovered that they could not fit the four of us into the restaurant for dinner, so we went for a walk and found an interesting looking Belgian Beer Café, called the Leuven, and decided to have dinner there.  We had a delicious meal and went for a wander around the harbour area before coming back to the hotel.

We travelled through very diverse terrain today – geothermal, volcanic, lush forests, flat farming areas, arid “desert”, lakeside areas and rivers.

We have experienced a strange day weather-wise – we started off in quite cool misty rain, then warm sunshine, more misty rain and then when we arrived in “Windy Wellington” it was fine, clear, cool and windy.

After a busy but enjoyable day today and the prospect of an early start tomorrow, we are having an early night tonight.

Day 7 Friday 21 February – Rotorua

Today was our sightseeing tour of Rotorua, a city on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua, which captures the essence of New Zealand with its geothermal geysers, hot mud pools and rich heritage.

Today, we visited the Agrodome, which is set on 640 hectares and is a sheep and beef farm.

We watched the Agrodome Sheep Show, where we were introduced to 19 different breeds of sheep, watched a sheep shearing demonstration and some members from the audience milking a cow.  We took part in a hilarious live sheep auction and watched a working dog herding some ducks around the stage – they use ducks because sheep tended to jump off the stage into the audience.  After the show we went outside to watch a real demonstration of a dog herding sheep, just like in the sheepdog trials – through some posts, over a bridge and into a pen.

Then, we continued to Te Puia Thermal Reserve for a guided tour of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where we learnt more about the Maori culture and also about the famous geysers.

We entered the gateway (Waharoa), where we walked through the five portals to the sacred Maori place of Te Heketanga-a-Rangi (the Heavenly Origins).

The geothermal valley has over 500 bubbling mud pools and 65 geyser vents.  The Pohutu Geyser, meaning Big Splash, is the world famous active geyser, which erupts up to 30 metres high and we were lucky enough to see it erupting.

We visited the Nga Mokai-a-Koko Mud Pool, which is a large pool of boiling mud, that the Europeans called The Frog Pool because the plopping sound of the mud reminded them of leaping frogs.

We were taken to the Nga Manu Ahurei – the Kiwi House – and were lucky enough to see two kiwis.  Inside the building was very dark to emulate their nocturnal habitat and we were not able to take photos.  There are now only 80,000 kiwis left in New Zealand and most of those are in the North Island.  Kiwis can live for 47 years and the female can lay 3 eggs per season.

We visited the Pikirangi Maori Village, showing what village life would have been like.  We saw the Rotowhio Marae, which was the centre of their cultural life and saw the hangi, where their traditional food is cooked.

We also visited the Te Wananga Whakairo Rakau – the National Carving School, where the young people study carving from the master carvers for 3 years before earning their degree.  We walked through the carving school building and were able to watch three young men doing some carving.

From there we went to the Te Rito – the National Weaving School, where the students learn the art and skills of traditional weaving.  We watched a demonstration of fibre being taken from the flax leaves in the traditional way, with a mussel shell and we wandered through the weaving display area.

We enjoyed our visit to Te Puia, seeing the geysers, mud pools, kiwis and learning more about the Maori culture.

We came back to the hotel and had a light lunch before heading off for our next adventure.

The four of us caught a taxi from the hotel down to the Tourist Information Centre for our Rotorua Duck Tour of the spectacular Rotorua Lakes.  Our “conducktor” was Paul and our mode of transport was a World War II Amphibious Landing Craft that had been renovated to carry tourists on land and in the water. We were all given a duck-bill shaped whistle to hang around our neck and at appropriate times, like when we were passing tourists, we all had to blow the whistle, sounding like various breeds of ducks – sounds ridiculous but it was a lot fun, getting everyone in the mood for a fun afternoon!

Our first “splashdown” was at Lake Okareka where Paul drove the Duck straight into the lake, turning it into a boat.  This lake is mostly recreational and was quite dark in colour.  There are 250 homes on the lakeside and a lodge – the Lake Okareka Lodge, which costs $15,800 per night, but then, your maid and butler look after everything for you! When we got back onto dry land, Paul got out to check the wheels and also under the duck to ensure that there were no weeds attached to the duck that could be transferred to the next lake.

Our second Splashdown was at Lake Tikitapu – the Blue Lake, which was indeed very blue. There were no houses, no weeds and because of its calm waters, it was very conducive to water sports and fishing.

We drove past the Green Lake, Lake Rotokakahi, the Sacred Burial Ground for Maoris of past generations.

We also drove past Te Wairoa – the Buried Village, which was buried by the last eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886.

Our third Splashdown was at Lake Tarawera, which is a good fishing lake.  We saw the majestic volcanic domes of Mt Tarewara at the far end of the lake. On 9 June 1886, the area was disturbed by an earthquake and in the early hours of the following morning, 10 June 1886, Mt Tarawera volcano erupted unexpectedly and 120 people were killed. When we got back to the shore, we had a famous New Zealand hokey-pokey ice cream.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon out in the sunshine, with a lovely cool breeze coming off the lakes, learning more about this beautiful region and we were so glad that we decided to do this optional extra tour!

When we got back to the hotel our next unexpected adventure began!  Prior to going on the duck, Dennis discovered that he didn’t have their camera and thought that he had left it in the hotel lobby and we rung the hotel to get them to hold it for us.  So, when we arrived back at the hotel, we found that they didn’t have it and that Dennis had actually left it in the taxi that took us down to catch the duck and that the lovely taxi driver had handed it in to the Police Station and left a message for us at the hotel.

We caught another taxi down to the Police Station to discover that it had closed at 5.00pm and wouldn’t reopen until Monday morning, but unfortunately, we are leaving here tomorrow morning at 8.00am.  The sign told us that for enquiries, we could go across the road to the “Lock Up”, which we did.  The policeman we spoke to was lovely, but said that they were extremely busy and asked us to come back in an hour as someone would have to go across the road to open the Police Station to retrieve the camera.  We went for a wander down to Lake Rotorua and Richard was delighted to get some photos of Lake Rotorua and also Mokoia Island.  When we returned to the Lock Up, we were buzzed in through the first door and after Maria had signed her life away with triplicate copies of forms, she was reunited with the said camera!!!  We then caught another taxi back to the hotel, with everyone ensuring they had all their belongings before exiting the taxi and heading in to the restaurant for a snack dinner, with a much-relieved Dennis!!

So, all in all, a very adventurous day in Roturua!!!

Day 6 Thursday 20 February – Waitomo, Rotorua

This morning was slightly overcast but mainly sunny and warm.  We left Auckland at 8.00am and headed south through the Waikato Region. As we drove along, Laurie and Malcolm gave us a brief history of New Zealand, including the political history.   We passed part of the Manakau Harbour, which was at low tide.

We drove along beside the Waikato River for some time – the river is 420 kilometres long and has 8 Hydro-electric power stations along it.  The Waikato Region is a rich farming area, mainly with Jersey and Fresian cattle – the average farm having only 400 cows.

We stopped at Huntly for morning tea at River Haven.  Huntly, with a population of approximately 8,000 people, has its own Power Station and a brickworks.

As we left Huntly, Sandy was delighted to see several Belted Galloway cows – the most common variety is black with a perfect white band around the middle.  We also saw some brown ones with the white band around the middle.  Sandy had seen one many years ago just outside Canberra on one of our trips to Leeton, but hasn’t seen one since!

We continued our journey to the Waitomo district, which is also predominantly a dairy farming region and arrived at the Waitomo Caves at about 11.15am.The underground limestone Waitomo Caves, formed over 30 million years ago, are famous for their stalactite displays ,as well as thousands of glowworms, which are tiny creatures that radiate a light to attract food.

We were taken by a guide into the caves, stopping at a Tomo (hole) that is a 16 metre vertical limestone shaft, and then we walked down several flights of stairs to a chamber called the Cathedral, where many famous people have sung, including our tour group, who sang “You are my sunshine”, and were thrilled at how good the acoustics in the chamber made our voices sound.  The temperature inside the caves had dropped from 26 degrees outside to a mere 14 degrees inside the caves. From there we made our way slowly down several more stairs to the entrance to the Glowworn Grotto, where several boats were waiting for us.  We boarded a boat and were asked to be perfectly quiet, while our boat glided silently through the Grotto.  Our guide manually pulled us along via a series of ropes/wires, while we watched the thousands of small lights glittering above.

We were not allowed to take photos inside the caves, but we have purchased a photo pack.

We stopped at Otoronanga for lunch and had a wander through the shops close by.

We continued our journey towards Rotorua, passing through Kihikihi and back to the Waikato River at Arapuni, where the first dam construction for a Hydro Electric system took place. Maria and Sandy hjad a chuckle about a sign at the butcher shop in Arapuni, which said “Moos, Baas and Oinks – Arapuni Bucher”.

We climbed up the Kaimai Mamaku Range, along the Mamaku Plateau, where we saw some Riolite Domes, and down into the Rotorua caldera.

Before going to our hotel, we drove beside the lake and stopped at the Government Gardens for a walk and the opportunity to see the Bath House Museum (formerly Tudor Towers), the Tea Rooms, the Bowling greens, lavendar gardens, parsley gardens and Rachel Spring – Whangapipiro (Evil Smelling Place), which was a hot spring that, as its name implies, had a strong sulphur smell and was 212 degrees.

We were taken to the Copthorne Hotel, where we caught up with our blog and relaxed before our special dinner.

Tonight, we enjoyed a Maori Hangi-style feast, where the food was cooked slowly beneath the ground in Maori ovens and we were treated to traditional performances of song and dance.
  John, one of our tour group members was invited up on stage to be the Chief and was greeted with a special welcome ceremony, the Powhiri, wishing him friendship and peace.  We were treated to some beautiful Maori singing as well as performances by 3 Maori men doing the traditional Haka and 4 Maori women doing Poi dancing/displays.

Maria was among several women from our group who were invited up onto the stage to learn some Poi moves and perform a special Poi dance.  Dennis and several of the men from our group were invited up to learn how to do the Haka.  There was much laughter and encouragement as they all did a great job!!

The four of us have had a wonderful day and we are looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures.

We have put some photos in the gallery and have added three photos to the Day 5 Gallery.

Day 5 Wednesday 19 February – Bay of Islands, Auckland

We woke this morning to the sound of gentle rain on our cabin windows – disappointing! It is Sandy’s birthday today and so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, while she opened her presents.

We were hoping the Captain would take us further out into the bay and up to Cape Brett to see the Hole in the Rock, but because of the rainy and windy conditions and the heavy swell, he wasn’t prepared to go out in open water, so we slowly headed back through the islands to Opua.  The Captain brought the Ipipiri close in to Russell and gave us some interesting information about the township.  The four of us visited him in the bridge and had photos taken with him.

Despite the rainy, misty weather, we have enjoyed our overnight Bay of Island cruise.

The shuttle bus dropped us back at Paihia late morning and we went for a walk through the town, exploring some of the souvenir shops and little back alleys filled with interesting little shops.  We had an early lunch in a café at the Maritime Centre and waited for the rest of our group to arrive back from their morning excursion.

We left Paihia on our tour coach at approximately 1.00pm and drove back to Auckland in the rain.  We passed through Hikurangi where we saw some interesting limestone formations and then through Whangerai (pronounced Fong-a- ray), the main city of the Northlands.

We stopped for afternoon tea at Kaiwaka at The Coffee Pot, which was a lovely clean café, with quick friendly service and delicious food. We passed through Dome Valley, which was very misty, but with lovely lush landscape including lots of ferns.

As we drove through Wellsford, we were shocked to see the sign for petrol showing $2.159 per litre, which is the usual price here in New Zealand at this time!

As we got closer to Auckland we saw the Satellite Dishes that help keep Auckland in touch with the rest of the world via satellite links.

We drove over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and our driver took us through the multi-million dollar yacht marinas, home to thousands of yachts, and through the Viaduct Harbour area. We saw New Zealand’s yacht that they took over to America for the America’s cup.

We drove along Quay Street and then to our hotel, the Copthorne City Hotel, which is the same hotel we stayed on Saturday and Sunday nights. We had a lovely dinner and Maria had organized for the waiter brought Sandy’s dessert out with a candle on it and everyone at our table sang Happy Birthday to her.