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|Touring New Zealand 2017 - part 1|
We picked up a cheap taxi 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.
After spending time with Chris, and then with Jen and Kev on Waiheke Island and collected all our camping stuff we were ready to explore. This year our visit was later, so there was less chance of tenting because of the cooler and variable weather, and also it was shorter so we had limited our plans to the North Island. After spending time mainly in the South Island in 2016 we were looking forward to visiting our favourite places in the North Island : Rotorua, Napier, Stratford and the Bay of Islands. The first challenge was the weather. There was a serious "weather bomb" on the Sunday in the Auckland area, which made driving south on SH1 a real challenge in heavy rain and also resulted in residential areas of Auckland being flooded. The rain reduced as we reached Hamilton and by the time we went through Cambridge it was almost normal rain.
We were glad to reach Rotorua and settle into our usual motel, Manhattan, which offers good prices for a large traditional unit and is easy walking distance from the hospital and the city. The owner has got to know us well over the years and now calls us Pauline and Peter. The first evening we usually go to The Pig and Whistle for spare ribs and chips, washed down with local beer. The shops in Rotorua enabled us to stock up with food essentials and also browse for material and clothing and other bargains at Kathmandu outdoor clothing shop. This year we bought two long-sleeved insect repellent and bite-proof shirts.
The next day we drove to Lake Okareka, the Blue and Green Lakes, then through Te Wairoa the Buried Village to Lake Tarawera. Lake Okareka was suggested as a good place to visit by the motel and it is a peaceful place not very popular with tourists. It is a pretty lake and on our visit the local model yacht club were sailing. Further around the lake is the main parking and a boardwalk past a bird hide to a little beach which also passes the Remembrance Grove, an arboretum of memorial trees.
In contrast the Blue and Green lakes are famous and there are postcards of the two adjacent lakes taken from the air which show their contrasting colours. The Blue lake is popular for swimming from the beach opposite a Top10 Holiday Park, whereas the Green lake is privately owned. The best views are from a marked viewpoint on the top of a small hill. The road then continues past Te Wairoa the Buried Village, another popular tourist destination which we visited and bought a greenstone tiki on one of our early travels around NZ. The eruption in 1886 of Mount Tarawera destroyed the famous tourist destinations of the pink and white terraces and the tribal villages of Tahourangi killing 153 people. Finally the road ends at the cafe on the edge of Lake Tarawera. The best view of this lake is from the shore but there is also a viewpoint from above. Later we found a new parking area with an ancestral carving which was presented in 2013 and from where there are hiking tracks along the lake.
The following day was fine and we went walking - from the motel through the Kuirau Park then down to the lakefront, along the lake with a short stop at the Polynesian Spa Pools for an ice cream. This is a pleasant and usual walk for us when we visit Rororua.
Instead of returning when we reached the main road we continued to the Redwood forest. We had previously driven to the Redwoods and enjoyed the gentle stroll through one of their easy marked walking paths. There is also a treetop walk, which is charged, and many people enjoy that as a means to view the forest from above. Having been walking for almost 6 hours we were in no mood for an energetic walk so chose one of the easy ones which also allowed us to take a shortcut without returning to the main car park and information centre shop. Overall it was a long walk and had taken most of the day, yet we were always within sight of the centre of Rotorua.
The next morning as we headed away from Rotorua we visited Wai-o-tapu which has now changed hands and so our complimentary ticket would no longer be valid there in future. We always arrive at 1015 so everyone is away watching the geyser eruption and we can walk around the site in peace and quiet. Each time we take far too many photos and here are just a selection of the most colourful from this visit.
The mud pools, signposted from the entry road, are free to visit and have plenty of parking. It is only a 2 minute walk to each of the two viewpoints.
On leaving we bought a pot of rewarewa honey from the Arataki Honey Centre which is next to the fuel station and cafe at the junction where we re-joined the main road. Rewarewa is an unusual reddish honey gathered from the native NZ Honeysuckle and has a mild caramel flavour. Really gorgeous and it also goes well with icecream.
The next part continues with Napier and the Hawkes Bay Wineries