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|Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 1|
We flew over with Air New Zealand via Los Angeles for the second year running. Flying via the United States is inconvenient because you are forced to clear customs and immigration even when in transit - at least this time we did not have to take all our luggage off at Los Angeles, only the hand luggage. Security checks are still tight and, for example, all laptops have to be removed from their cases but it was not as bad as last year when my sandals were removed and put through a mass spectrometer. Hand luggage limits have, however, been relaxed a little and one is now allowed a second small personal item or laptop provided the total weight is under 10 kgs. The big advantage of flying through Los Angeles is that you are allowed two items of hold luggage each of which can be up to 32 kgs rather than a maximum of 20 kgs total on most routings. This will enable us to get some of our New Zealand classic and reference books back.
The flight was long and boring as usual - we pick up a few books from charity shops and shed them as we progress! The Air New Zealand food (and wine) is OK but one gets the feeling that non-essential maintenance is being cut to the bone, one of us had no audio and the other no lights. It was however clean and early into Auckland so we could not complain too much. My niece Christine met us at 6 in the morning. We made a quick trip to the bank (BNZ) where we had set up a meeting for 1100 and within a short time we had reopened current accounts collected and set-up new cards - everywhere takes EFTPOS which is a low charge direct debit system. We had even paid the sailing bills and set up a small Term Deposit, as interest rates are much higher in New Zealand than the UK.
The next couple of days were spent recovering round Auckland with a visit downtown to the water-front and Americas Cup area. We took the local ferry to Davenport for lunch, unaware that the well-known fish and chip shop was closed on Mondays - we are normally not into fish and chips but their snapper is out of this world. We had to console ourselves with our first NZ ice-creams, huge scoops at silly prices as usual.
We then spent a while round the old bookshops which Davenport is well known for. Our excuse was we were looking for a cycling book requested by a friend, which we found in Evergreen Books. The owners of such shops seem to have photographic memories and seem to be able to recall every book in stock or, as in this case, in a batch, which had just arrived but had not been catalogued.
Once the excuse had been exhausted there was no choice but to look for a few more of the old books on goldmining and other early settler activities we have been searching for. We ended up with three including a rare but expensive copy of "A History of Goldmining in New Zealand" by J H M Salmon in 1963. This is probably the definitive book on Goldmining throughout New Zealand.
We also found a copy of A H Reeds classic book on the Kauri with an insert signed by himself and Tudor Collins who provided most of the early pictures of the Kauri logging days. I have already covered New Zealand Kauri comprehensively on their own page so will say no more about these magnificent trees so few of which survive after the early logging activities. They still survive in the frames of many early NZ houses and played a major role in the largest wood framed building in the Southern Hemisphere - the government buildings in Wellington cover 2 acres as well as being may stories high.
The last of the books we found was the "The Golden Cobweb - a Saga of the Otago Goldfields" by H A Gleeson which covers the initial Gold Rushes in Otago from 1861 to 1864 based on the newspaper reports of the time. Times of tremendous gains and hardships when the survivors could sometimes find nuggets of more than a pound and bring out 70 pounds of gold after 7 weeks. Many did not survive the harsh conditions and were forced back starving or were killed in the flash floods and harsh winters. The Goldfields are again comprehensively covered on the web site so I will say no more here.
The next morning collected our camper van from Rental Car Village. We have been using them for many years now and they always give us a good deal. This year was no exception and we found that they had upgraded us to a Long wheelbase Toyota Hiace with the big 2.4 litre engine at a favourable price. The only downside is that the "sporty* engine needs higher octane petrol but even so it is under half the UK price. The vehicles are far from new but they have always proved reliable. We have done many tens of thousands of kilometres in their vans over the years with only minor problems, probably no more than we have at home! New Zealand has a different approach to cars and they are maintained in use for far longer than in the UK. Last time we checked the average age for re-registration of cars was eleven years. Little salt is used and with good maintenance it is not exceptional to find vehicles with over 400,000 kilometres on the clock in fleet use. We spent a while talking Grant Thomlinson who spends a lot of his time in more exciting parts of the world and also has comprehensive kit to enable him to keep in touch whilst mobile.
Continuing our preparations for the rest of the holiday we checked the vehicle with a visit to Charterlink to discuss the fortnight charter of the Raven 31 for the end of February. We confirmed that it was booked as a one-way trip up the coast to the Bay of Islands and found that the following charter was also in the Bay. We will have to be less selective about the weather this year to make sure we get there and will also need to clear the Hauraki Gulf quickly because it will be close to the end of the Americas Cup series and there will be many people on the water including visitors who will want to explore as soon as the cup is over. We have been invited back for dinner with Rob and his wife before we go sailing - the last time led to some interesting discussion and we were lent a fascinating video on the early Maori contact.
It was then time to head to Waiheke Island to stay with Jenny and Kev in their Bach. . We went across on the ferry from Auckland to join them for a couple of days. Waiheke is the largest of the Islands in the Hauraki Gulf (other than the Barrier Islands) with a permanent population of about 7000. Frequent passenger ferries serve it from downtown Auckland allowing commuting for work as well as the car ferries from Half Moon Bay, which we used. It is primarily a holiday destination with the population quadrupling in the summer with many baches as well as more conventional accommodation.
Baches (also called cribs in some areas) are a very Kiwi thing. They started as extremely basic holiday accommodation in deserted areas, often coastal, built out of wood, fibrolite and corrugated iron (or whatever came to hand). Many have been in the same family for many generations and progressively extended. The Oxford Dictionary tells us the term Bach is derived from the same root as bachelor - an undomesticated person living alone in simple surroundings. Baches are very much DIY enterprises and are often camouflaged to blend into the surroundings and built by those with empathy for the land.
Jenny and Kev's Bach is rather newer, being built only twenty years ago and somewhat more civilised with an inside shower and toilet but without losing all the character. It is entirely built of wood with wood decking round the outside and is almost hidden by native bush to first floor level. The water still comes from a tank fed from the roof in the traditional way, the floors are still varnished composite board and the bedrooms are only shut off by curtains.
The weather was nor perfect but we got out and about a couple of days with Jenny and looked at the house they are buying. It is set on the hillside above a deserted beach beside a reserve with the most magnificent pohutakawa trees which were in full flower. Kev now has a new job for two days a week in Hamilton and is travelling down by bus and staying overnight until he gets his car provided. We carried all our computer kit over as he was hoping to get a replacement computer and pass us an old one. The machine had not arrived so nothing could be done and Pauline will have to try to do her marking on our venerable Libretto - a superb machine but unable to run the latest generations of bloat-ware.
On the way back from Waiheke Ferry we stopped at the New Zealand National Maritime Museum for a talk with Larry Robbins who is the CEO. The Museum is almost next to the ferry terminal on the Auckland waterfront, which was very convenient as it was tipping with rain! We had been in email contact with Larry Robbins over web sites and it was nice to meet and we gained a lot of useful information and news. We only had time to have a quick look round to see the changes in the museum. We have been several times before and it is one of out favourites with a series of excellent exhibits covering all the major maritime history of New Zealand. The exhibition halls cover everything from the days of the Maori Wakas, voyaging canoes, that reached these shores after they had been discovered by the famous Polynesian explorer Kupe, through the early days of European settlement, whaling and the Kaori trade to today's fishing, shipping, yachting and leisure scene. They have a number of heritage boats still afloat including a steam crane currently under restoration. They recently fired up the boiler and, it is alleged, covered the shiny white new buildings on Princess Quay with black smuts. In this case the pragmatic approach may be to install a small gas fired boiler for normal use and reserve the original for special occasions.
The Museum has exactly the balance we like - it is not a traditional museum full of glass cased exhibits nor has it totally stepped away from reality to artificial artefacts and poor simulations such as many museums have tended to do including, to some extent. Even Te Papa (Our Place - the National Museum in Wellington) has fallen into this trap - see Te Papa in our 1999 travelogue. The National Maritime Museum does not ignore the opportunities provided by modern technology and have a multi-million sound and site theatre where currently one can retrace the voyage of one of the great Waka on it's journey to Aotearoa, "The Land of the Long White Cloud". This is however balanced by their other collections and displays. They, for example have many of the actual small boats that have shaped New Zealand maritime history. They and have also transplanted some of the typical beach features such as a bach and local sea-front store into their exhibition halls. Other exhibitions cover whaling, immigration, the coastal trade, ferries and fishing.
We always find the Maori and Polynesian exhibits fascinating. They contain many smaller canoes as well as a typical Waka and the smaller exhibits are dwarfed by a huge recreation of a Baurua voyaging canoe from the central pacific. This 76 foot canoe was built in 1976 using traditional methods and made 2400 km journey to Fiji.
The museum has an excellent 16 page A4 sized guide that is worth getting for $3 - there is a lot of useful background as well as the museum coverage. It is worth getting and reading in advance if you are spending time in Auckland. There is also a Friends programme and membership at $40 offers unlimited free visits for the member and a guest, so would pay off in a couple of visits - in addition there are newsletters and reciprocal benefits at many other museums world wide. We have joined a number of such organisations in NZ and the UK and they seem to benefit everyone as a large membership is one element in the justification of funding from other bodies. Some give exceptional value such as the NZ Historic Places Trust that provides reciprocal membership of the UK National Trust for little more than the entry to a single property in the UK! The National Maritime Museum also has an excellent web site masterminded by Larry which has lots of maritime history as well as covering the museum itself. Larry Robbin's personal home page also covers all the other maritime museums in New Zealand.
We left Auckland the following day in pouring rain for Rotorua where there is always something of interest even when conditions are unsuitable for camping - we were glad we did not head for the Coromandel campsites when we heard warnings of up to 150mm further rain to swell Coromandel rivers already in flood. We spent the morning round town doing some shopping, Pauline looking for a box and some accessories for her new hobby of watercolour painting whilst Peter spent time looking round shops such as Dick Smiths, a New Zealand equivalent of Tandy or Radio Shack. He found a 150-watt inverter, which should power most of our electrical equipment from the 12 volt van supply. It was in the post Christmas sale at under a hundred dollars (30 pounds) - much less than a single 12-volt supply for a video camera or laptop. It seems to work our existing video and laptop supplies without overheating them or other undesirable effects. It will overall reduce the amount of kit to carry round for one 0.7 kg unit and hopefully power any laptop we obtain.
In the afternoon the weather had improved enough to take a walk through Kuirau Park. At a first glance it is like any other park with play areas and flower borders and lakes - then one sees that there are little piles of rocks in the flower borders which are steaming as are all the lakes. Further inspections show that there are pits full of bubbling mud and it is clear that one is in the middle of a major thermal area although right in the centre of town beside the hospital and almost alongside our favourite Top 10 campsite. In fact a couple of years ago there was a major explosion which covered much of downtown Rotorua in mud and areas of the park are still roped off.
Legend has it that the lakes used to be much cooler and a young maiden called Kuirau used to regularly swim in the lake that was also inhabited by a Taniwha. The Taniwha eventually could not contain himself and dragged her down to his lair - this offended the gods so much that they boiled the lakes that still steam now.
We have been told one of the geysers had been playing for muck longer than usual so it looks as if Rotorua is livening up - Rotorua has been extracting a lot of thermal energy and water for heating houses, pools etc., and the council has been trying to restrict people from drawing out too much private enterprise thermal energy for their hot pools and heating as it was believed that it was causing some of the major attractions to be muted. The results of keeping the thermal power constrained were unexpected to the planners, if perhaps predictable to everyone else in a town where steam comes out of drain covers and holes beside the roads.
We continued our walk on the new path opened up round the edge of the lake. Although the walk is almost in the middle of town but takes you past little beaches, through bush, through thermal areas on board walks and through various nature reserves, all with orientation boards. It is not well publicised, perhaps because it takes you through some interesting thermal areas that are free. It is well worth taking the trip round Kuirau park and the Lakeside walk thermal areas - not just because they are free but because they show thermal activity as part of the Rotorua town environment. They are not a substitute for a trip round they major Thermal areas such as Waimangu, Wai-o-Tapu, Hells Gate or Orakei Korako all of which I have covered previous years and can be found written up under Thermal Areas at http://www.uniquelynz.com/nzthermal.htm so I need to say no more here.
Our path back took us past the Pig and Whistle, our favourite downtown pub, which has a microbrewery and serves huge potions of food - we barely finished a bowl of Kumara chips and a plate of incredibly succulent spare ribs between us even washed down with several glasses of the good, if a little fizzy, Snout Dark Ale. The Pig and Whistle used to be the police station and was built in 1946 very much in Art Deco style but with some addition Maori themes in the decoration. It used to have the brewery on the top floors but it has now moved to another building.
On our way out from Rotorua to Taupo we stopped off at the Waimangu Thermal area. A visit to Waimangu involves a walk down through a long and active valley with huge hot lakes and it took us a little under two hours - there are buses available to bring one back. The walk takes one past Frying Pan Lake and many other features to Lake Rotomahana.One of the lakes is a magnificent pale blue and slowly fills and empties changing its level by many meters over a 17 day cycle. This year it was almost empty. The thermal areas change every year and this year we found that two of the sinter terraces had grown significantly - neither of them were really in evidence on our first visit eight or so years ago. .
We stopped just North of Taupo for a quick look round The Craters of the Moon thermal area. It differs in several ways from the other thermal areas. Firstly it is free and therefore fairly empty as it getsno publicity and there are no incentives for tour buses to come. Secondly it is a new area of activity that only started when the geothermal power stations disturbed the balance in the area. It is very active with vast new craters and is continuously changing. It seemed more active than previous years and one could hardly see into some of the craters this year for the steam - even so some of them looked considerably larger.
There are long sections on slightly raised wooded walkways with the ground too hot to touch and covered in small hissing steaming vents either side. . Often the paths have to be extensively re-routed to avoid new active areas and it is time they move some of them again as there were jets of steam coming through some of the board walk this year. It does not have any geysers at present but currently has some bubbling mud and hot pools. It is well worth visiting but is poorly signed - it is on the main Taupo Rotorua road where the 1 and 5 are merged about 5 kms from Taupo.
We did not stop in Taupo, Taupo is one of the big centres for holidays forming one corner of what is sometimes referred to as the Golden Triangle (Rotorua, Taupo and across to the coast at Tauranga. It tends to be very busy and we have not stayed for some time although when the weather is good you get superb views across the Lake to the central mountains. You can get float plane trips over the mountains and we had one in 1996 just before mount Ruapehu erupted. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand and resulted from a huge volcanic explosion several thousand years ago. It is still a very volcanic area - Mount Ruapehu was the last mountain to erupt which it did in a spectacular manner in 1996 and is now quite a different shape at the top to when we first saw it and flew over it. The eruption closed the Ski fields for several years because they were covered with ash preventing the settling of fresh snow.
We stayed at a camp site we discovered a few years ago towards the South end of the Lake at Motutere Bay. It has a lot of what seem to be semi-permanent caravan sites and prime sites right on the lake edge - almost every one has a boat drawn up on the beach close enough to be tied to the caravan or tent.There are three tourist flats the other side of the road and lots of sheltered space for camping. It is not in any of the standard books (AA, Jason etc) and we struck lucky as they had just had a cancellation - in fact it was turning into a lovely evening and we could have set up tent if tourist flat had not been free. We sat on the beach watching the boats coming and going and the sun setting whilst selecting perfect pieces of pumice to replenish our stocks - it just floats on the surface and sits in piles on the shore line, the result of the many eruptions in the area.
We continued South via the Dessert Road which crosses the high arid plateau beside the central mountains - no dessert however this time with water forming huge pools where normally all you would see would be the odd tuft of parched tussock grass. The cloud lay low so we could only catch glimpses of the mountains with their covering of snow. Dessert Road is mostly above 1000 metres and peaks at 1071 metres, higher than the main mountain passes in South Island. We stopped at the Army Museum at Wairau, we had passed it many times and never stopped as it is was not our normal scene. It, however, proved quite interesting - we had not realised how supportive New Zealand had been in all the major wars. We spent a good couple of hours before returning to find the odd shaft of sunlight breaking through the cloud.
We continued to Ohakune to stay overnight - a ski resort that is very quiet in the summer - we got a basic cabin in the Top Ten campsite and then continued round to the other side of the mountains to Chateau where we looked in the DOC Visitor Centre. We had intended to do a couple of short walks and did one to a magnificent waterfall but then the clouds and heavy rain swept in and we gave the second a miss. We had originally hoped to go up the chair lifts to the plateau which has excellent views but that had been obviously out from the start. We did however take the Mountain road up to the ski fields from Ohakune the following morning. We had hoped that at 1600 metres we might break out of the cloud but it was higher than we hoped and again the longer walks were out. we took a short walk to a waterfall with a great drop on the way down.
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003