Monday 5th March
We didn't need to check in for the ferry until 12pm so we had a bit of a lie in. When we got up the sun was shining and we had our first cup of tea at a picnic bench by the motorhome on the lakeside. Leaving the campsite around 11am Martin drove us back down the incredibly winding road again. The ferry check-in line was practically right at the end of the Queen Charlotte Drive and we queued up with other motorhomes and campervans to get our boarding pass. The lady at the check in booth handed over the pass and directed us to our boarding lane. (A sign at the check in said the swell was only (!) 2 metres today.) We didn't have long to wait before we were moving again and driving on to the ferry.
We went up to the top deck to see what the view was like and stayed there for the first half hour as the ferry pulled out of Picton and into Queen Charlotte Sound. It wasn't a perfect view as parts of the ferry were in the way; you could see to the left or to the right, but not get a good all-round view. We then wandered around the ferry looking for a good place to spend the next 2 hours and ended up spending half hours on different parts of the decks. It was only when I went inside for something to eat that I noticed the swell; it was difficult to walk steadily as the slight swell made me feel like I was walking up a slope for 3 or 4 steps then down a slope for 3 or 4 steps. For some reason I didn't notice it when I was outside. In any case it wasn't as bad as when we went whale watching!
We arrived in Wellington around 5pm and headed straight for a camp site we had picked out of the guide books we were using. It was about 20 minutes outside Wellington but in a straight line on the motorway out of the centre. We would be back again tomorrow to have a look round.
Tuesday 6th March
A real 'tourist day' today with a few hours at the Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand in the centre of Wellington (free entry and plenty of parking right outside). There were Maori heritage displays and artefacts as well as the story of European settlement of the islands. It also had flora and fauna displays and the '200 years of Wedding Fashion' Exhibition on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum (which we didn't look at as we weren't interested). The local 'Marae' or Maori Meeting Place is in the building and accessible to the public even when it is being used (guidelines are given as to how to observe traditions). Martin thought the museum was lacking in 'exhibits' and that there was a lot of empty space in the building that could be filled with 'something'. If you think about it there is not much 'history' to New Zealand compared to most other countries, only a few hundred years.
After the museum we walked across the town, through the civic centre with its fern leaf ball sculpture suspended in the air, past skyscrapers and multi-storey modern buildings wrapped around the original historic ones, to the cable car. Wellington centre surrounds the harbour, and the suburbs perch on steep hills around it. The cable car is one way of getting from the city to part of the suburbs. It also stops at the university on the way too. It isn't really a cable car but a funicular railway where the carriage is pulled by cable, but runs on tracks. We took in the views from the top of the cable car and then went back down half an hour later $6 (£3) return.
As we walked back to the motorhome we passed a part of the harbour set aside for recreational use. There were four 'long boats' in the water each practicing strokes and moves as dictated by their cox (at the front) or 'rudder man/woman' (at the back). We stayed and watched for a while; it was very entertaining.
The road north out of Wellington was motorway for a good distance and despite it being rush hour when we left, the only delay was when the motorway ended and turned into a State Highway ('A' road) and it suddenly went down to one lane. We drove as far as Foxton and turned off the main road to Foxton Beach and the campsite for tonight.
Wednesday 7th March
We were going straight up through the centre of North Island today to Tongariro National Park. The roads were extremely quiet, scenic and with long distances between villages. We stopped for a short while at Raukawa Falls and made ourselves a 'nice cup of tea'.
We saw the snow covered peaks of Mount Ruapehu suddenly as we turned a corner. The snow looked artificial, as it stopped suddenly halfway down its sides. It is an active volcano; erupting every couple of years. It is unusual in that it has a crater lake which is present all the time unless there is a full blown eruption. The temperature range of the lake is from 0 to 96 degrees Celsius depending on the status of the volcanic activity. Not far away is Mt Ngauruhoe - a perfect conical volcano shape which will be recognised as 'Mount Doom' by those of you who have watched Lord of the Rings (we have passed many film location areas for the trilogy).
We stopped at the information centre in the National Park to ask about a walk we had seen advertised and were interested in doing tomorrow. The (English) counter assistant explained that the walk started at the top of the ski lift (this was a ski area in the winter) which might not be running tomorrow because of the weather conditions. 80km per hour winds were forecast. That didn't mean much to us, so seeking more information (do we need a jacket etc.) we asked exactly how bad that was. With a wry grin she said 'Let me help you…' and showed us a picture chart of varying wind speed effects and pointed to number 9 out of 12 which showed roofs coming off houses and trees blowing over (e.g. a force 9 gale). We decided that we probably wouldn't be walking tomorrow then! With that decision made for us, we drove on up the road to the ski lift area to have a look at the view from there, as that was the nearest we were going to get. The landscape was like a black moonscape as there was no vegetation to speak of and black volcanic rocks covered everything.
We drove back down the mountain and out of Tongariro National Park; we had revised our plans and were now heading for Taupo. We passed along one side of Lake Taupo on the way and settled at the 'Great Lake Holiday Park' in Acacia Bay just outside Taupo for the night.
Thursday 8th March
Another 'tourist day' today - our first attraction was Huka Falls (free) just outside Taupo. Information boards told us it is the most visited attraction in New Zealand. The River Waikato emerges from Lake Taupo at an incredible pace and as it travels downstream and over the 9m (27ft) Falls it collects air bubbles which suspended in the water like foam gives it its ice blue colour and name; Huka is the Maori word for 'foam'. These really were thundering falls, not just at the drop, but a long way beforehand as the water churned through the rock channel to the falls. We walked to viewpoints above and below the falls and at the bottom viewpoint, saw the Huka Falls jetboat as it took its passengers up to the falls to feel the force.
Our second attraction was only a few miles away at a geothermal area called 'Craters of the Moon' (the whole of the North Island is a geothermal area but in some places it is more prevalent than others). We paid our $6 (£3) each and were told in no uncertain terms to 'stay on the path!' We walked through the gate to see a field of steaming ground. For some reason this area increased its production of steam when the nearby Geothermal Power Station was opened in 1958.The air was slightly sulphurous but not badly so. We walked along the paths - mostly boardwalks to keep you off the hot ground and saw steaming craters with brightly coloured interiors, boiling water holes and bubbling mud puddles. A walk up a steep hill gave us a view over the whole field which looked like there were small smokey fires everywhere. Fascinating!
After an ice cream we drove on to Orakei Korako 'The Hidden Valley', but before we got there I spotted a glassblowing studio and gallery on the map and directed Martin right into the car park. After promising him a frothy coffee in the café he got out of the 'van. Once I had looked around the gallery I watched the studio owner Lynden Over do his stuff with the glass. Even though it is something I have seen many times it is still captivating.
Orakei Korako is another geothermal area I had read about as being one of the best in New Zealand and not too crowded. The $36 (£18) each entrance fee included a short watertaxi ride across Lake Ohakuri to get there. With more written instructions everywhere to 'stay on the path' off we went. This geothermal area was more barren and colourful than Craters of the Moon and started with a silica terrace that 'ran' down to the edge of the lake. The top part of it was covered with 'hot springs algae' in different colours. The features of the area were amazing and all had fancy names like 'Rainbow Terrace' - the hot springs algae terrace, 'Hell's Mouth' - a tiny red cave spewing steam and water, 'Golden Fleece' - a huge frozen waterfall of white silica deposits, 'Soda Fountain' - a clear blue boiling pond, and 'The Artist's Palette' - an area with a high viewing platform looking down on several areas of colourful algae, clear ponds and mud pools. There was also a cave with colourful walls and a pool of blue/green water at its base (neither steaming nor bubbling). One of my favourite places was the bubbling mud pools - bigger and more bubbly that at Craters of the Moon! This was a particularly smelly area, but rather than rotten eggs I thought it smelled more like strong smoked bacon or Frazzles crisps. Two geysers stood a few metres apart at the beginning of the walkway; Diamond Geyser - because it spouted water in a fine spray that looked like diamonds in the sun, and Sapphire Geyser (no explanation!). Sapphire Geyser spouted every few hours and as we got back to the beginning of the loop walk we could hear it bubbling loudly - went around the corner in time to see it spout hot water and steam out of its 'mouth' in the cliff, down over the bank like a watery volcano! There was no-one else around to see it and we felt very privileged. It lasted several minutes and when it seemed to have ended we finished the walk, got to the jetty, and rang the bell to call the watertaxi.
Martin's eyes were stinging so we didn't go far to find a campsite called Golden Springs on the road towards Rotorua. When I booked in the owner told me about their woodland walk with a thermal stream and hot plunge pools for visitors' use! After parking up and plugging in we took a quick walk around as it was getting dark. The woodland walk was very pretty and the hot plunge pools were at each end. One of them was not visible as you had to get into the stream and turn a corner into a grotto, but the other one was a small pool formed by a dam across the stream. We may take the plunge in the morning before our showers but it is bit cold at the moment! A deep red sunset through the trees tonight looks promising!
Friday 9th March
It was a lovely sunny morning, but GOG (Grumpy Old Git) didn't want to get in the hot stream so we left the campsite and went off in the direction of Rotorua. Because of the delay with the ferry we were now 3 days behind our 'loose' schedule so we were going to go straight up through the centre of North Island to the Coromandel Peninsula, which was an area we particularly wanted to see. At Rotorua we were going to go up in the Gondola Cable Car (a proper one) and ride the Luge again like we did in Queenstown (run by the same company), looking at the views over Rotorua, which also has big Lake. Well, we were going to…even Martin agreed that the map wasn't very clear…but we ended up at Aorangi Peak Restaurant car park ('Road Ends in 200m!' and 'Patrons only' signs) after a steep drive up 'Mountain Road'. A board outside advertised 'Coffee Tea Muffins and Scones', so as it was 11.30am we treated ourselves. The Restaurant was a fine dining establishment which had seen better times, but was still very nice. It had the most fantastic views over Rotorua from a half an octagon shaped room with big windows, and from the patio garden outside. We were served some lovely warm scones - but Martin was appalled at the squirty cream that came with them, even though he ate it (I swapped my cream for his butter). We drove back down Mountain Road and through Rotorua suburbs, passing the entrance to the Gondola and Luge on the way! We had decided not to do the Gondola and Luge as we had already seen the views over Rotorua. As we went past I spotted the Aorangi Peak Restaurant on the hill above the Gondola; we had just seen better views from the restaurant than we would have got from the Gondola!
From Rotorua we went towards Tauranga, which is New Zealand' quickest growing town. As we approached the town, sure enough there was a whole new road system in place and billboards advertising sections (plots) for sale. As we went out the other side of Tauranga we passed through Judea and Bethlehem!
Travelling north along the Bay of Plenty coast we stopped for a short while in Katikati - The Murals Town. The vacant sides of buildings and sometimes the fronts have been painted with murals starting in the early 1990s. Most of them depicted early settler and historic scenes.
We wanted a nice place to have lunch and kept driving until we got to Waihi Beach, where there was beach! We ate and then went for a stroll on the beautiful, almost empty beach. The tide was coming in low shallow waves and I went for a paddle (Bay of Plenty, Pacific Ocean). The water was quite warm. I had shorts on but still got caught out by that extra big wave that comes in every so often! And Martin got his trainers wet taking photos of me instead of watching the waves.
After drying off we continued on to Whangamata and the Settlers Motor Camp.
I went to sleep wishing I could magic us back home for a few hours to be with my family for my Nanny's funeral. My daughter Laura was going to read 'You meant So Much' by Cassie Mitchell, and my brother Geoff had sung and recorded 'Beyond the Sea (La Mer)' to be played at the end. Good night Nanny x