We arrived in Auckland from Cairns late in the evening, as NZ is three hours ahead of Queensland. (We are now 13 hours ahead of UK time because there is 1hr daylight saving here). Floss and Max were both very proud to be awake still at midnight! Auckland is a lovely city, built on top of a live volcano field (there are over 30 in total, though some are dead). There is also a lot of water here - it is known as the City of Sails. On our first days, here we took a ferry trip across the water as well as going up the 320m SkyTower for amazing (though scary) views across the city and beyond. After the obligatory zoo visit (where there are three tiger cubs) we were able to leave and drive North through Whangarai to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. The scenery here is beautiful - there are few places in NZ that aren't - rolling hills, woodland then beaches and islands. In Paihia we messed around on the beach, walked around at the Waitangi park (practicing boomerang throwing) and took a drive further up the coast to Doubtless Bay, though we didn't get right to the top of the North Island.
After four nights, we made a marathon drive down to Rotorua, to meet Flossie & Max's Grandmother and Uncle, who are in NZ for a month on an organised tour. Rotorua is a really interesting town. There is a lot of geothermal activity in this area: volcanos, hot springs, geysers. The lake is a water-filled crater of an ancient collapsed volcano. We took a walk through the local park and saw bubbling mud pools! One evening we went to a Maori village (Tamaki) for a performance and feast (hangi), where we were treated to theatre, singing and also the famous 'Haka'. Another day we visited a sheep farm, where we saw loads of different breeds of sheep also saw wool being spun and a sheepdog display. We also visited 'Kiwi Encounter' which was brilliant. Kiwis eggs are taken from the wild (where they only have a 5% chance of survival) and are incubated, hatched and fed until the chicks are one kilo in weight when they are released back where they were found. About 40% of these chicks survive to adulthood. We had the chance to see these nocturnal birds in the center - FM loved it!
After leaving Rotorua, we drove to a big thermal reserve: Wai-O-Tapu where there is a famous geyser which erupts (with a little help) every morning (see photos). There were also loads of bubbling pools with multicoloured mineral deposits, sulphur lagged holes, steaming fumeroles and boiling black mud pools. Max lobbed his tooth (yes, another one fell out yesterday) into one of the deepest pools, where we expect it will have dissolved by now. He now has one tooth in Malaysia, one in Australia and one in New Zealand! Fortunately there are no more loose so he should bring the rest home with him.
We stayed the next night at Taupo, another town on a huge crater lake. We had a lovely lake-front hotel. Max and Floss played in the black sand at the edge of the lake: The water was cold, but just inches beneath the surface, the sand was really hot. Max dug out a hot tub for his toes! We took a drive up to Mt Ruapehu, (the highest on North Island). This is a ski area in Winter, but is also an active volcano, which last erupted in 1995, apparently leaving a trail of black mud right down to the chairlifts! The whole mountain is black volcanic rock. Floss felt most uncomfortable and couldn't wait to get off!
From Taupo we went via Napier (famous for its Art Deco architecture after an earthquake destroyed the whole town in 1931 and it was all rebuilt in the style of the time) to Wellington, the capital of NZ. We then took the Inter Islander boat to the South Island through amazing sounds and entered the Marlborough region, land of superlative wine!. One fab lunch and three bottles of wine later (bought, not drunk) we headed on to Kaikoura, home of Crayfish. Just nearby we stopped on the coast at a beach where there was a seal colony. Huge fat monsters that we were strongly advised not to get too close to: We managed to get photos though! Christchurch was the next stop where we enjoyed the museum, art gallery and particularly a couple of amazing breakfasts. There is a historic tram that runs around the centre, which FM enjoyed as it saved walking. It was pretty cold here and raining- about 12 degrees on one day! We also visited the Antarctic Centre (most flights to Antarctica leave from Christchurch), which included a room which simulates an antarctic storm and drops to -18 degrees Celsius plus windchill facor (Luckily they provided us with fleeces).
The next day we set off to the mountains: Aoraki ('cloud piercer' in maori - also known as Mt Cook), at 3755m,it is the highest mountain in NZ. The drive here was stunning, past turquoise lakes and steep scree slopes. There had been recent snowfall at the top of the range so it looked amazing. At the village, was a brilliant view of Aoraki and also Mt Sefton. The snow on the face of this mountain had started to crack and slide off. Just next to the hotel was a mountain stream where Floss and Max made a den and played for hours (planning how to catch and cook a deer). The next day we took a hike further along the valley to see a glacier and get closer to Aoraki. Mountains are just so HUGE!! Next stop Queenstown for Christmas...