Archive for February, 2014

Day 4 Tuesday 18 February – Bay of Islands, Overnight cruise

This morning the four of us walked up to the harbour and put our hand luggage in lockers, ready for our overnight cruise on the Ipipiri this afternoon.   We caught a taxi to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is also referred to as The Birth of the Nation. We took our time, wandering through the grounds and looking at the Treaty House, the Maori Meeting House and the Ceremonial War Canoe.

The Treaty House is next to the spot marked by the flagstaff, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 by Queen Victoria’s representative, William Hobson, who was the only European signatory on the document.  There were several hundred signatures from the tribal leader chiefs from each region on this 40 feet long document.  Maria and Sandy were lucky enough to be able to talk to Emma, who is the great-great-grandddaughter of the Chief of Waitangi, Te Kemara, who signed the treated on behalf of Waitangi.

We also visited the Maori Meeting House, Te Whare Runanga.  We were impressed with the ornate carvings and the decorative weaving on the walls and ceiling.

We walked down the hill to Hobson’s Beach, where Captain William Hobson landed on 5 & 6 February 18409 and walked up to the Treaty Grounds to negotiate the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori chiefs.  Near the shore were several war conoes including the Ngatokimatawhaorua, which is the world’s largest ceremonial conoe, housed in a waka house.  The canoe is 35 metres long and needs a minimum of 76 paddlers to handle it safely on the water.  The canoe is launched every year on 6 February as part of the Waitangi Day celebrations.

The four of us were so pleased that we had decided to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds because we learnt so much about the culture and early days of the settlement.  The grounds were beautiful and well looked after we enjoyed exploring them.

As there was a fine misty shower of rain, we decided to ring the taxi to come and collect us and deliver us back to the harbour, where we had a lovely leisurely lunch.

At 1.00pm we boarded a coach bus that took us to Opua Marina to board the Ipipiri for our overnight cruise through the Bay Islands, which is home to 144 islands. At 150 feet (44 metres), the Ipipiri is the largest cruising ship permanently based in New Zealand. She has four levels, which includes 30 ocean view cabins, a sundeck with 360 degree views and a 70-seat restaurant and bar.

After a safety briefing, the four of us went down to explore our cabins, which are opposite each other and each have a king size bed and our own ensuite, as well as large windows.

We left Opua and cruised through the Veronica Channel, past Russell and around Tapeka Point, where we were exposed to the swell from the Pacific Ocean and it was a bit rough for a short period.  As we were cruising along, we saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming past.

The captain took us to a sheltered area, Otehei Bay, where some people went ashore on a tender boat to take part in various activities like snorkeling, swimming, kayaking and beach or bush walks.  As it was raining, we decided to stay onboard and have a cuppa instead.  Where we had anchored, we were surrounded by several small islands and this would have been an absolutely stunning location had the sun been out.

After the adventurers came back on board, the captain took us to Jack’s Bay, which is a sheltered bay that we would be staying in for the night.  At 5.30pm we were served pre-dinner drinks and nibbles, but unfortunately there was no sun to watch setting over the islands.

The four of us enjoyed a lovely dinner with the other four people from our tour group – Ian & Pat, from Scotland and Peter & Judy, from Adelaide.  There was lots of chatter and laughter, and we went off to bed feeling happy with our lovely afternoon and evening in the Bay of Islands, despite the rain!

Day 3 Monday 17 February – Auckland, Kauri Forest, Bay of Islands

We woke to another beautiful day – blue skies and sunshine.  After a leisurely breakfast, we boarded our APT TravelMarvel coach and left Auckland, heading north just before 8.30am.  Our Tour Director is Laurie and our coach driver is Malcolm, both of whom are lovely and have great senses of humour.  We have a full coach of 48 adventurers, from several different countries including Australia, Malta, England , Scotland, Ireland and Canada.

We headed over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which is still referred to as the “Nipon Clipon” because a Japanese company won the tender to extend the 4 lane bridge to 8 lanes and this was achieved by adding two lanes to each side of the existing bridge.

We headed north though a variety of scenery and were surprised to find that a place called Te Hana, which is 70 kilometres from the Auckland City Centre, is still actually part of Auckland.  From relatively flat farming areas, to rolling hills, forests, mountain ranges and coastal beaches, we made our way north, then west, skirting the western coast to the Kauri Forest. Along the way we saw lots of native vegetation growing beside the road – New Zealand Cabbage trees, Manuka Honey trees, small Kauri trees, native Palm trees and some noxious weeds, although beautiful – wild ginger and gorse.

We stopped for morning tea at Matakohe at the Gumdiggers Café and bought wraps/sandwiches for our lunch to be eaten later and noticed that some clouds had started to roll in.

The interesting and beautiful drive through the Kauri Forest Reserve was on a fairly steep, winding road where the forest was encroaching on the roadway.  We saw various types of ferns, palms and Kauri trees of varying ages. The young Kauri trees, called Ricker, are measured in the 100s of years old.  The Reserve is one of the few areas of Kauri Forest left in New Zealand and is only 2.5 thousand hectares.  As a result of this, New Zealand has passed a law that no-one is allowed to chop down native trees, even on their own property. Radiata Pine is now being used as a fast growing alternative for the timber industry.

We stopped at the giant Kauri tree, called Tane Mahuta or ‘Lord of the Forest’, the largest Kauri tree known to stand today.  Tane Mahuta is believed to be around 2 000 years old and its trunk height is 17.7 metres, total height is 51.5 metres, trunk girth is 13.8 metres, with the trunk volume being 244.5 cubic metres.  After a short walk into the forest, there were two vantage points where we could see the magnificent tree – one up close and the other a bit further away so that, with some difficulty, we could get the whole tree in a photograph.

Kauri trees have been popular from the days of first settlement because the foliage is predominately at the top of a very tall straight trunk, making it perfect for ships’ masts and ships’ spars and also because the country was covered with Kauri trees.  We had our lunch there before continuing our journey.

As we came up a hill, Laurie told us all to close our eyes until he said we could open them and be prepared for a “Wow” view.  He certainly was correct!  We stopped at Pakia Hill overlooking Hokianga Harbour and the view was spectacular!!!  The harbour is 56 kilometres long from the Tasman Sea and the sand-dunes continued for quite some way.

We passed through Kaikohe, where we saw some volcanic cones and continued on to Paihia at the Bay of Islands, which is in the Northland Region of the North Island and is on the east coast.  The Bay is a natural harbor and is an irregular 16km-wide inlet that is most popular for fishing and sailing. This area symbolises the birthplace of the nation with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 in the Waitangi Reserve.

We were taken to our hotel, the Paihia Pacific Resort Hotel and checked into our rooms, started our blog before freshening up for our first dinner together as a tour group.  We sat with some lovely people from Scotland on one side and some lovely people from Ireland on the other side of us.  We enjoyed a lovely meal and chatting with much laughter.

Today, we have seen such beautiful scenery and have all enjoyed our journey to the Northland.

New Zealand – Day 1 Saturday 15 February 2014

Katharine picked us up at 6.15am and drove us to Brisbane International Airport for our QANTAS 3 hour flight to Auckland. Meanwhile, Maria (Sandy’s sister) and Dennis made their way to Sydney for their flight to Auckland after staying in Wollongong overnight with their friends, Celia and Tom.

Both flights arrived within minutes of each other and we were delighted to see them.  Because our flights came from different cities, we were picked up by two different airport transfers and delivered to our hotel, The Copthorne Auckland City Hotel, set high above the harbour.  The hotel is completely booked out because of a big NRL event being held this weekend – all 16 clubs are going head to head in this big two day event being held at Eden Park, which is not far from the hotel.

Auckland, known as “The City of Sails”, is located in the North Island and is the largest and most populated urban area in the country, with a population of 1.5 million. There are two harbours in Auckland – Waitemata Harbour and Manukau Harbour.   This area of New Zealand is only 11 kilometres wide.

The weather in Auckland today was sunny and quite warm, with just the hint of a cool breeze.

After settling into our hotel and catching up over a cuppa, the four of us had a leisurely 15 minute stroll down the hill and through the city to the harbour area.  We walked along Quay Street to the restaurant, Tactics, overlooking the Waitemata Harbour, to celebrate Maria’s birthday.  We had a lovely dinner followed by dessert – the chef wrote “Happy B’Day” in chocolate on Maria’s plate and put a little candle on the plate too – a very nice touch!

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel, stopping at the ferry terminal to gather some information for tomorrow’s adventures. We walked past one of the areas of the Auckland Lantern Festival, which celebrates Chinese New Year.

We have all enjoyed our first day in New Zealand!

Day 2 Sunday 16 February – Auckland

Weather – clear blue skies – warm in the sun, gentle breeze off the harbour – perfect day.

After breakfast at the hotel, the four of us walked down to the harbour to the Ferry Building, which was built in 1912, and boarded the Hop On and Off Bus for our narrated tour of Auckland City.

Our first stop was Bastion Point Lookout, where we got off to take in the beautiful views over the Hauraki Gulf and the Waitemata Harboour, as well as the lovely Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Gardens and Obelisk dedicated to the first Prime Minister. We spent ½hr wandering around the gardens, taking photos of the beautiful scenery and enjoying the tranquility of this area.

We hopped on another Hop On and Off Bus, which then took us past the Kelly Tarltons Sea Life Aquarium, the Parnell Rose Gardens, the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Auckland Museum, where we changed buses to a big double decker bus.  We continued on past the Parnell Village, Civic Theatre Corner and Sky City and Sky Tower, where we got off the bus to go up into the tower.

Sky Tower, 328 metres high is the tallest man made structure in New Zealand and is reported to be taller than Sydney’s Centre Point.  We went up in the lift to the 51st level, 186 metres high and all of us were overwhelmed by the spectacular views.  We saw some people Sky Jumping off the top of the tower and some other people that we saw told us they were going to SkyWalk around the outside of the Sky Deck on the 60th level.  Part of the flooring on the 51st level is glass so you can see that you are actually walking way above street level!!

After taking copious amounts of photos, we caught the lift up to the 60th level, which is 220 metres, to the Sky Deck and once again took lots of photos of the 360 degree view – we could see approximately 80 kilometres in every direction.

We were all delighted with our visit to the Sky Tower and the incredibly beautiful, clear, sunny day, which allowed for brilliant views of this amazing city, harbours and islands.

We continued on our Hop On and Off Bus past the Americas Cup Viaduct Harobur, which was built to accommodate the America’s Cup challenge in 2000.

When we got back to the dock area, we left the bus and decided to catch the ferry across the harbour to Devenport, a historic seaside village, for lunch.  We sat out on the deck of the fast catamaran ferry for its 15 minute trip on this perfect day. We had lunch at the Seven Stars café, which was alfresco style and Maria, Dennis and Sandy enjoyed their fish and chips and Richard enjoyed his spring rolls and chips.  Richard has acquired a taste for the New Zealand beer, Mac’s Gold!  After lunch, we walked along the harbour for a while and then back through this lovely little seaside village, taking in some of the Victorian style houses and shops and walked back down Victoria Road to the jetty to catch the ferry back to Downtown Auckland.

We took our time walking back up to the hotel, past the large ship docks, where the Holland America Line’s Oosterdam was docked and we watched another large cruise ship coming in to berth.

This evening we will be meeting with our Tour Manager, who will talk to us about our tour, which starts tomorrow morning.

Day 2 has been an absolutely perfect day!!