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Touring New Zealand 2009 - part 7

Part 7 continues our travels in the North Island after the Art Deco festival in Napier. We returned to Auckland via Wairoa, the backroad past Lake Waikaremoana to Rotorua where we spent a couple of days and Auckland to prepare for sailing from Waiheke.

All too soon it was time to pack the van and leave Napier heading north, thereby ending our only three days this holiday in the comfort of a Motel room. We only had the possibility of the luxury of sailing from Waiheke to look forward to. But meanwhile there were still a few days before the weekend. We hoped that our sailing, on Kev and Jen's Pivar Lodestar, would start at the weekend so that Kev could join us. Last year Pauline drove from Auckland to Napier in one day, taking just 6 hours, and stopping at Lake Taupo for a coffee en route. We planned to spend four days, so we would reach Auckland on the Thursday, and then catch the ferry across to Waiheke at the weekend. We had lots of time so we decided to take it slower and include the road from Wairoa to Rotorua via Lake Waikaremoana. It looks a shortcut, but is not. It is a slow road which is only partly sealed and is very winding. We have driven along it twice before; on the first occasion our family warned us against the road because it was said to lead to divorce. We survived, in spite of the delay due to road works as part of the old gravel was being upgraded and sealed. The second time heading south we were better prepared but then we got a puncture on the gravel in the rain just short of Lake Waikaremoana which spoiled the trip. The tyre could not be repaired and we managed to get to Wairoa without a second puncture, but we still remember the stress of the rest of that journey.

Our first stop was to be Wairoa, just 100 kms from Napier, and so there was enough time to explore some of the DOC Reserves near Lake Tutira. The turnoff is at the Tutira village shop. The first interesting spot was the Opouahi Reserve. When we first explored this area we had identified Lake Opouahi as a nice spot, and in those days camping was permitted there. The lake is small but was popular with canoeists and for picnics - there was a shelter and the usual simple DOC toilet. On our next visit the camping sign had disappeared and there was a major construction project in progress - to build a sanctuary for kiwis. Now it was complete and there was an ugly 3.3km long Predator proof fence which walked up the hillside on both sides of the lake, like a sore thumb, one would expect some sensitivity from the departement of Conservation. It was similar to the fence we had seen in Wellington, at the Korori reserve, a similar eyesore. There are many predators for kiwis - stoats, cats. dogs, weasels and rats. The area is now the PanPac Kiwi creche, and the idea is that kiwi eggs are collected from the Kaweka Forest and hatched. When the chicks are old enough they are transferred into the creche. The entrance to the reserve involved sliding a very heavy door and passing into a small fenced area, from where the same sliding door gave access into the reserve. Work has finished and Lake Opouahi now has a good loop track, just 1.2kms, which was obviously also used by DOC to check their predator traps. We set off and also tried to find the lookout marked on the map. Next time we will wear proper walking boots.

Driving onwards, the day was very clear and there were gorgeous views across the fields and hills, even as far as the coast. We could just see the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers, which must be 50 kms away. The next stop was at Bell Bird Bush Reserve where there is a very short and easy walk through superb trees and with a box for viewing wekas. Then it was onwards just a few kilometres to the information boards and main entrance for Boundary Stream Mainland Island. Yet again, we did not have enough time to do any of the walks, so we drove back to the main road.

Somehow we had never noticed before how closely the railway line follows the road. The track also takes some impressive leaps on wooden and steel trestles over the valleys. Pauline hinted it would be nice to tke the steam train day trip from Napier to Wairoa in future. Arriving at Wairoa we headed straight for the Holiday Park, hoping for a night in a nice cabin. Sadly for us the cabins were all full; they had been booked for Pumpkin Pickers, and we met a few of them cooking in the kitchen in the evening. We chatted to the lady at the reception desk and she indicated her bus, then we all realised we had met there on a previous year. She had come 6 years ago for a day and is still there which is a good advert for the site! We found a nice flat spot for our tent, nestled between two large unoccupied caravans, and with a view of the Wairoa river.

Next morning there was a short trip to Oslers Bakery, before starting the long and winding road to Lake Waikaremoana. To remind us of what was involved, the road sign warned of 105kms of winding unsealed road before Murupara. Most of the road to Lake Waikaremoana is now sealed, but there is a lot of gravel beyond. As we travelled the weather changed and, yet again, as we got into sight of the lake it began raining. There was a gap in the rain while we walked around the site of the old THC Lake Hotel at Whaitiri Point. The large area, some 32 hectares, had been identified in 1895 for the site of a Government Tourist Hotel, which was opened in 1903, expanded over the years and then taken over by the new Tourist Hotel Corporation in 1956. The hotel was closed in 1972 and eventually demolished, but some of the trees and shrubs remain. After sharing a bright pink Boysenberry ripple ice cream in the rain, bought from the Lake Waikaremoana Motel and Holiday Park shop, we were ready to continue on the gravel to Murupara and then to Rotorua.

Our first idea for overnight was the Regent Motel, close to the lake and the shops, where we had stayed before. This year it had changed hands and looked very smart and expensive. Instead we went to the Kiwi Thermal Holiday Park on the Old Taupo Road. It had been recommended by family, although was a long walk from the town centre being by the golf course. We had a choice of kitchen cabin, with the only surprise being the absense of a fridge. There were none in the kitchens either. It was later that we were told there was a Cool Room and we could book one of the lockable cages in there for our food. The reception and shop also had a large chest freezer where people stored bags of proper frozen food. This was not a place to freeze water to make ice, but freezing chilly bin blocks was OK. Pete went and soaked in one of their nice hot pools while Pauline examined the state of her blisters - not something she wanted to put into a communal pool. We booked for one night but stayed for two. Our kitchen cabin was a detached new modern box whereas most were older with lots of bunks. It is a large sheltered site and would be very good for camping, except there was too much shade to dry a tent in the morning. There were also cheaper log cabins, without kitchen, which our family preferred. It is a very nice typically kiwi family holiday park and we will go there again. We spent one day just walking around Rotorua, had a very good value lunch at the Thai restaurant, a place to return to, and then walked along the lakeside to the Polynesian Pools.

From Rotorua we prefer the Pyes Pa Road to Tauranga and then drive through Katikati and Waihi to join the main highway to Auckland. If the timing is right we get to Bethlehem at lunchtime and eat at Mills Reef Winery restaurant. The food, and wine, is always excellent. It was Pete's turn to drive so Pauline chose to try the mixed paddle of wines - reserve pinot gris, chardonnay, merlot/malbec and syrah for $10, each sample was 60ml portions. There was also on offer a white paddle and a red paddle. We had said on a previous visit that a tasting tray of wines would be a good idea and it was nice to see the idea had been implemented. The paddle was a lovely idea with a piece of wood, shaped like a flattened cricket bat, with four neat circular holes and slots into it which the glasses had been slid. We were warned that fish is cooked medium rare by the chef and today the special was Kingfish. We chose different fish mains but wished we had both chosen the kingfish. After bread and dips, then the mains we could only manage one of their 'Ode to a Lemon' desserts and two spoons. We told them that they had provided the best lunch we had had this year in New Zealand. We went in to taste the wines - and Ken talked about the vintage and the various wines available. Unfortunately we had already bought too much syrah in Napier so only purchased Reserve Chardonnay and a bottle of port.

After getting stuck in the rush-hour traffic on the edge of Auckland we were pleased to get to Chris and Ralph and a nice cold beer, followed by an excellent Chinese takeaway from their favourite Chinese restaurant. Weather was foul and Pauline refused to catch the ferry to Waiheke until it got better so it was not until Saturday that we travelled across. That gave a chance to spend a day purchasing bits and pieces for sailing and fishing at chandleries in Auckland.

The next stage in our travels will be about Sailing in the Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island.

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