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Touring New Zealand 2015 - part 1

Introduction

We flew with Cathay Pacific because they fly through Hong Kong rather than the USA and avoids suffering the senseless abuse from American immigration. They were also the cheapest of the major carriers and we had been impressed with them last year when flew with them on a dual coded flight where the first part was on one of their own Boeing 777-200s and the second part was also on an Air New Zealand 777-200. It was interesting to contrast the two airlines and unfortunately Cathay Pacific came out better in almost every respect last year. The Cathay Pacific aircraft was much newer and had a much better audio video system, the service was better as were the meals. It is however worth noting that Air New Zealand are implementing an expensive refurbishment of their fleet of Boeing 777-200s so it may be quite different in the future. This year our perception was that Cathay Pacific were not quite as good as last year as far as food and on the leg from Hong Kong to Auckland the seats barely reclined, certainly not enough to sleep comfortably. The service was however good but the food nothing exciting and one could easily get tired of rice and noodles - in compensation the helpings of wine were huge and drinkable even if the choice was very limited and there was even a 12 year old malt whisky to wash the noodles down. Hand luggage was limited to 7 kgs but a slim laptop bag was allowed in addition and they seemed very flexible with weight in the additional items. We had a choice of an almost impossibly short connection or 8 hours in Hong Kong which meant it was a very long journey. We had lounge passes courtesy of Barclays in Heathrow and we must look into them for Hong Kong if we do the same journey next year.

We landed on time and cleared customs and the MAF inspections in reasonable time. We picked up an airport shuttle to take us to Rental Car Village to collect our van. Grant had previously emailed to say he had picked out a good van with two side doors for us. We have been using Rental Car Village (used to be Thomlinson) for many years and they have always given us excellent service. The vans are not new but are well maintained and we have done huge mileages and taken them everywhere with far less problems than our cars at home doing far less miles. We generally do not actually sleep in them but that is because we have so much kit stored in NZ which includes a tent which is probably big enough to drive the van into! Again we have written a lot in the past so will just keep to repeating than we are very happy to recommend them.

The first three days were spent with my niece Christine in her house near Riverhead – she has a large plot of land with huge possibilities and stunning views through 270 degrees as it is high in the hills. It currently has a workable sized Lockwood house and the land is sufficient to support a few cows or sheep as well as her new geese - last time supper was from one of her own sheep. She has now seen all the seasons so can make informed plans on building. We ended up in doing very little the first day other than a brief shopping trip to the Albany Mall where Pete sorted out the best options for the new Smart Phones with Vodafone NZ as well as a lot of Window Shopping - the sole purchases were calendars to send back home and a new duvet at the high price of $12 (£6.00) in the sale. We also had a look at the nearby town of Kumeu - the area round Kumeu is one of the original wine areas in New Zealand where the wines were largely planted and tended by Dalmatian immigrants. Many of the larger wine firms still have their headquarters and main wineries in the Auckland and Kumeu area.

It was then time to head to my other niece Jenny and Kev, Kerri and Jaz on Waiheke Island. We went across on one of the Sealink ferries from Half Moon Bay. We turned up early just as loading was being completed on an earlier ferry, They changed our tickets to a special deal for rental vehicles which involved a refund and loaded Pete and the van leaving Pauline to run to get onboard just as the ramps were coming up. You do not get that sort of service in the UK. What was even better was it was a drive through ferry whilst all we could afford from the UK was the reverse on freight oriented ferry.

Jenny and Kev's house is set on the hillside above Takirau bay, a deserted beach beside a reserve with the most magnificent Pohutakawa trees. The beach has excellent swimming and the rocks at either end are supposed to be very good for fishing. Kev keeps a canoe down by the beach so one is never short of things to do. The house has a separate flat underneath which was made available to us.

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 or more in the summer with many baches as well as more conventional accommodation. Jenny and Kev now have a series of baches, which are available on short, and long term lets as well as the flat under their house.

Baches (also called cribs in some areas) were, and still are, 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. There was a brief period when there were moves to close some of them down but the import part they have played in the heritage of NZ is now recognised.

Baches were places to get away from it all, for fishing not phones and books not TV. The originals were without electricity and with a long drop hidden nearby. Water came from a tank filled from the roof and the more sophisticated added an outside washtub and mangle. They were a place for lace curtains, candlewick bedspreads and homemade rugs on a varnished floor. Bunks were the norm and curtains closed off doorways. Outside would be a shower on the wall, a smoker for fish and a barbecue or a fire pit. As time went on some gained electricity and a Zip heater with its steam whistle and cutout - many live on. Some baches even gained a huge curved front fridge, more for the fish than anything else and gradually oil lights and candles have been replaced by electric lights, even if the bulbs remain bare. Baches often started out as something else - an old caravan or tram, extended and surrounded till the original disappeared.

Jenny and Kev have a number of baches used as rental properties and they had been good enough to store all our kit in a dry ‘cellar’ under one of those. We keep almost everything in large storage bins which keep out most of the dirt, water and wild life and can be moved straight into the van and we also have a few round totally waterproof containers for more sensitive items and the kit we take sailing. That only leaves big items like fishing rods and folding chairs loose are at risk. We had to wait to collect our kit from under the bach where it is kept secure and dry until a wedding party moved out as we did not want to disturb them on the wedding night or too early the next day!

Waiheke - The Headland Sculpture Trail

We have written in the past about many of the activities possible on Waiheke so we will concentrate on one of the unique activities, the Waiheke Headland Sculpture Trail. This takes place every couple of years but we have only coincided with it once many years ago. This year we were in Waiheke over the Auckland Auckland Anniversary Weekend where the Monday is a holiday and they were expecting around 30,000 visitors to the trail, mostly coming by ferry from Auckland. The ferries were heaving as Christine found when she came over for the day and they had abandoned any schedules and were just turning them all around as fast as possible. The weather was also very dry and hot so we decided to go early and were at the ferry terminal in Matiatia Bay, close to the start of the hour and a half walk at 0830 when there were still free parking spaces up the hill and the temperatures were barely into the twenties. The organisers run buses to the far end so you can just walk one way. We were told that we should not try to park on the road down to the far end which also had points where the trail could be joined - in practice the road had a lot of wide verges, many people had parked but there was still lots of space when we walked back down it and it is free. It is probably an issue with the residents trying to prevent people using free parking down what they perceive to be their road. The sculpture trail is a walk out from Matiatia out round the headland where it turns into a loop and has about 30 sculptures/exhibits laid out on the way. Many are not sculpture in the conventional sense and they seem to get less conventional every year. Most are for sale and the prices are eyewatering, in many cases one wonders if it is all a big joke - who is going to pay thousands for a bunch of cable ties however elegantly tied? Others are more thought provoking. Interestingly the organisers seem to have put little useful information on the exhibits, the artists or the prices on the Internet at the time this was written, one wonders why. They did have a booklet available to purchase but at the time it did not look very useful but in view of the lack of other information we regret not having it now we are doing this write up. We will put a selection of pictures for you to make your own judgments. We could relate to the people emerging from the sea and a few others such as the one we think of a memorial tent and several other were worthy of the pictures but little more.

Having put all our pictures together, Pete has to say that they give a much more favourable impression than he got at the time. Was that a bias or does the camera adjust reality? Or perhaps the pictures have become an art form in themselves. One result is that have more pictures here than we would normally upload as it needs the big block to give the impact.

Having stayed an extra day in Waiheke because our family had the day off for the Auckland Anniversary , we then took the ferry back to the mainland on the Tuesday morning. It was very warm so it seemed better to go south than to head into even warmer weather to the north. The choice was Athenree/Katikati or our favourite motel in Rotorua. A quick phone call showed there were vacancies and we headed down Highway 1 to Cambridge, then along Highway 5 to Rotorua. Having caught the 0900 ferry, we arrived in Rotorua just before 1500.

Rotorua

Rotorua is in the centre of the thermal areas and forms an excellent base for touring. Rotorua and the surrounding thermal areas sit right on the pacific "Ring of Fire". There are often small shakes and on a recent visit there was one whilst we were eating breakfast out side on a picnic bench. They occur two or three times every day although this one was slightly more noticeable and we were told it was about 4 on the Richter scale. There are a number of thermal areas of interest in the town itself as well as plentiful accommodation and economic restaurants. We come every time in New Zealand and often end up staying for two or three days and on one occasion stayed four days - Rotorua and the thermal areas is a must on a first visit to New Zealand.

These days we stay at the Manhattan Motel – we usually get a slight discount to $80 as regulars. The Manhattan is the old style motel that we prefer. It only has a small number of rooms and has the big advantage of being very central – the are always lots of motels seeming to offer good rates up Fenton Street but then you need to drive into town. The Manhattan has large well set up rooms with a big screen TV and Sky if that is your scene. It has its own hot pool which we use, last time it was very hot (46 degrees) and relaxing but beware, do not stay in too long the first time at that temperature or if you have eaten or drunk alcohol. We thoroughly recommend it.

The first afternoon was spent unpacking and re-organising our stuff then looking for a restaurant. We finally decide on the India Star, near to the lakefront, and their $32 Banquet, with a Kingfisher beer to wash it down. It was all excellent and the staff encouraged us to have second helpings – the mains were a good vegetarian curry, lamb rogan josh, butter chicken and beef vindaloo. We had an extra butter chicken but the portions had been such we barely managed it.

The Returning Soldier Sculpture Trail in Rotorua

The next morning the weather was good but but it was supposed to deteriorate in the afternoon. After a morning spent shopping we continued towards the Polynesian pools in search of an icecream, but en route found the Sulphur Lake in Government Gardens. During 2014 there had been a lot of work done in the area. Having walked around the Sculpture Trial in Waiheke we had not expected to find a new sculpture trail “The Returning Soldier” when we arrived in Rotorua. Sulphur Lake has a strong connection to World War 1 because the first Sanatorium Hospital opened in 1886 adjacent to Sulphur Lake and the Bath House opened in 1908. Both were used as part of a holistic treatment regime for soldiers returning from the war. This was all explained in the leaflet which described the Sulphur Lake Sculpture Trail. It is a very recent project. From 29 November to 12 December 2014 Rotorua hosted its first Sculpture Symposium, to create works base on the theme “The Returning Soldier” intended as part of the town's 2015 WW1 Gallipoli commemorations. There are 17 works around the edge of the Sulphur Lake, and a new bridge has been built across the lake.

The sculptures are either wood, metal or stone. There are 8 sculptures of Oamaru stone, and each is a memorable image, ranging from the Ghost Soldier (carved negatively from the stone), to See You Soon (the head of a soldier on 11/11/1915 about to return home), Continuum (a mix of wood and stone in the shape of a boat), Anchor Peace, Pioneer (for the Maori Pioneer Battalion), Breaking Through (3 soldiers emerging from a stone wall), Forever Remembered, and Gallipoli. The two macrocarpa carvings, Bound by Conflict (two soldiers, one half Maori and half Pakeha, the other a child soldier) and We Will Remember Them (a large strong soldier, hands clasped, with wings representing angels) are both very serious and strong images. We hope the local people do not damage them; the sculptures are supposed to be on display until late 2016. Overall it was very good and a complete contrast to the Waiheke Sculpture Trail with a real theme and substance to it. We would recommend anyone visiting Rotorua to go there.

We also had a number of short walks round town and down to the Lake - there is a very good lakeside walk which one enters close to the Polynesian Pools (an area of thermal pools) and it takes one through some interesting (and free) thermal area. This time we concentrated on took Kurai Park which also has a lot of thermal activity as well as some attractive gardens and we made use of the thermal foot baths.


In the morning we went to see The Hanurana Springs Reserve which we had learnt about from the motel owner. Hamurana is at the Northern end of Lake Rotorua and there is a car park which also serves the Golf Club. It is now being controlled by the Ngata Rangiwewehi whose association with the area goes back to the 1300s. The ownership of the springs and other nearby sites of cultural significance was returned to the Ngati Rangiwewehi iwi under the Ngati Rangiwewehi Claims Settlement Bill 2014. They are out to exploit all the work put in by DOC and have started to charge $10 per person for tour groups so it is seldom visited any more but individual visitors are not yet charged. It is a very beautiful area with a 650 metre walk to the area of large springs through a Redwood grove. The Hamurana Redwoods are coastal Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) from the Pacific Coast of America and are the tallest plants on earth today reaching 100 meters The Hamurana redwoods have already reached 55m having been planted in 1919.

The head spring is the largest in North Island and is 15 meters deep and has a steady flow of 4,500,000 litres an hour at a constant temperature of 10 degrees C. There is a viewing platform built by DOC right above it so one can look down into it through crystal clear water. The spring water travels down from the Mamaku Plateau through underground aquifers, taking 70 years to reach Hamurana. Perhaps the most interesting spring in the reserve is the Dancing Sands spring, named because of the effect of the emerging water on the sand on the bottom of the spring. On the return walk we could see many rainbow trout who prefer the cool temperature of the spring water in the summer.

On the way back to Rotorua we went into the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest which covers a much larger area, some 5600 Hectares total with 150 km of walking tracks and mountain biking trails. This is free and much more popular - there were hundreds of cars in the car park and we had a pleasant 3.4 km walk on one of the easy loop tracks through the forest. Pleasant if you like forests but it did not compare to the scenery and overall interest of the Hamurana Springs Reserve - a good indication was that we found we had only taken three pictures of the Redwood Forest and one was of the map at the entry with only one worthy of printing whilst we had 26 of the Springs and 11 marked for printing.

We were back in plenty of time for lunch at The Thai Restaurant, another favourite. We had the mixed starters followed by a main course soup and a Red Curry which we shared. It is very obviously a family run enterprise. Last time Pete requested his Red Curry medium to hot and that was a lip burner so beware! He still wonders what the 4 star 'Thai Hot' is like. Most of the rest of the day was spent by Pauline finishing off some work for her Open University Master of Laws and Pete starting the write up the trip so far.

It was now time to visit one of the major thermal areas which we did in the morning on our way to Taupo - there are several which are musts for a first visit and we have been to them all several times. We however seem to have gained a lifetime pass to Wai-o-tapu (we gave it an excellent write up on the internet in the early days when uniquelynz.com was one of the few web sites covering NZ) and often go there. It is still the one to choose if you are restricted in time. The highlight for us is always the Champagne Pool, which has such wonderful colours and is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see.

We stopped on the loop road to look at the bubbling mud pools which were unusually active with high water levels this year - there was more of the big splashing and less of the little soft eruptions.

We then continued through Taupo town, it is only too easy to take the new fast bypass and miss the town and part of the lake Even so we did not stop until further down the lake where we had the remainder of our coffee from breakfast and some biscuits for lunch whilst we picked up some of the pumice from the lakeside.

Lake Taupo is the biggest inland lake in New Zealand with an area of 238 square miles and lies in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption which occurred approximately 26,500 years ago and there have been a large number of lesser eruptions since then. The initial event was the world's largest known eruption over the past 70,000 years, ejecting an estimated 1170 cubic kilometres of material and causing several hundred square kilometres of surrounding land to collapse and form the caldera which later filled with water. Some people believe that the Lake Taupo event contributed to starting the Last Ice Age. An eruption about 1800 years ago ejected another 100 cubic kilometres of material and was itself one of the largest eruption in the world in the last 5000 years - although the climatic effects would have been largely concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere there was a year of red skies recorded over Rome and China. Underwater hydrothermal activity continues and the volcano is currently considered to be dormant rather than extinct. The lake is famous for its brown and rainbow trout, introduced from Europe and California respectively in the late nineteenth century.

Taumarunui. It was then on to Taumarunui to a favourite campsite we have stayed at many times. Taumaranui is itself an interesting town, it came to prominence at the turn of last century because of the railway and because it was the end of the riverboat service linking to the rail network and because it was at the confluence of the Whanganui and Ongarue Rivers. It's history goes back a lot further - it was the converging point of three Maori tribes, the Maniapoto from the Ongarue, the Hauaroa from downstream on the Whanganui and the Tuwharetoa from upstream. The tribes still exist and can trace their lineage from four of the great migration canoes, Aotea, Tokomaru, Tainui and Te Awawa. There are several interpretations of the name depending on how one splits the syllables. One is Taumaru - shade or shelter and nui - large. Another is that Maru, a great leader defeated local inhabitants and the town is named in honour Tau (you), Maru, nui (great or large). It is in the heart of the King Country and was closed to Pakeha until the 1880s. The town has not only survived, unlike so many towns along the Forgotten World Highway but grown as a regional centre. The rail links are now less important and the station now serves mostly as an information office and few trains other than freight pass through. There is however an excellent working model of the Raurimu spiral which was a fascinating way that the trains were brought up the steep slopes.

Taumarunui Holiday Park: The Taumarunui Holiday Park 4 km outside Taumarunui - we first stayed there in 2003 when we dashed in to see the end of another defeat for Team NZ sailing in the Americas Cup. The site is good and they have the Whanganui River right at the bottom of the grounds, a forest walk at the end of the site and another longer walk along the river to Cherry Grove where the riverboats moored in Taumarunui.The owners have been gradually doing it up since we have been using it. The cabins have been doubled up by enclosing the car ports and turning them into new cabins and we had one of the larger converted carport ends. The kitchen area has a couple of well kept barbeques outside and the surrounding area is full of herb plants in big planters including Rosemary, Mint, Basil, Oregano, Sage and Marjoram. There were also lettuces Tomatoes and everlasting Spinach to help oneself to. They keep chooks, the New Zealand version of a chicken which does not cluck but goes chook chook eh. Fresh eggs are usually available in the mornings. We spent a long time talking to Phil who is a real character and has done a huge number of courageous things in his past before moving to what he expected to be a a quieter life. Unfortunately we were only there for a single evening as there are many things to do in the area as well as the walks from the site.

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Presentation revised: 18th January, 2016