A Travellerspoint blog

Westland, Wanaka and Queenstown

sunny 20 °C
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We flew down to Christchurch from Auckland and picked up our new hire car. This time we have a young Nissan Sunny, a 2002 edition with just under 200000km on the clock. We have named him “Sonny” and he was soon put to the test as we headed west from Christchurch, up over Arthur’s Pass. The road is an impressive feat of engineering, at one point a waterfall flows over the top of a concrete overhang, which the road passes through as it twists its way through Otira Gorge. We stopped off at Otira, just over the western side of the pass. Otira consists of the “Otira Stagecoach Hotel” (where we stayed), an art gallery, a train station and about 15 small houses (not all of them inhabited). Initially I thought it was a one-horse town, as I could only see the one horse, but apparently there were five more horses out of sight somewhere else! The hotel sells itself as being a living museum, as it was built back in the 1800s (ancient for New Zealand standards) and has plenty of interesting features. Charlotte’s favourite feature was a random, very modern, electronic massage chair, which (along with the 60 inch TV) seemed to be the main entertainment for guests aside from the parrots in the lobby. While Charlotte was getting her hour-long massage, we got chatting to a couple of retired dairy farmers who live in Geraldine on the east side of the South Island. They had originally moved from the Netherlands back in the 1970s when apparently it cost a week’s wages to make a 3 minute phone call to Europe. How times have changed with the progress in technology!

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From Otira we drove down the west coast to Franz Josef, stopping at a few scenic points along the way. Once we arrived in Franz Josef we did the walk up to the viewpoint across to the eponymous glacier, with Mount Cook looming largely in the background. In the evening, with the sun shining and the cloud over the mountains fully dispersed, we headed down to Okarito. This is a delightful little settlement down on the coast where we completed the “Okarito Trig Walk”, which has stunning views across to Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. We timed our walk perfectly to make it down to the beach in time for sunset.

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The next morning we stopped at Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, which again had spectacular views across to the mountains. As this is very accessible, on the main tourist trail, there were plenty of other people out to enjoy the views, with clear skies all around. We continued south, then east, over Haast Pass. After stopping for lunch we had a real heartsink moment. Charlotte’s handbag (containing her purse, credit card, passport and drivers licence) had gone missing. We later worked out that the rubber seal around the boot of the car had come loose, meaning the boot doesn’t always close properly, leading to the purse falling out somewhere along the road. Although we retraced our steps, thoroughly checking around where we had eaten lunch and where we had stopped a short distance down the road, we saw no sign of the handbag. Uh oh!

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We were staying in Wanaka for the next two nights, so our first stop was at the police station, where the policewoman said she was fairly confident that we would get it back. Thankfully she proved to be right, as the next morning we were informed that the bag had been handed in to Queenstown police station, with all the contents accounted for. According to the Sinclair Mayne view of the world, approximately 95% of people are good, with about 5% of people being not so good. Thankfully the bag must have been found by one of the “good” 95%, much to our relief!
Wanaka is a beautiful town which sits at the top of the lake of the same name. It has a more relaxed atmosphere than Queenstown and is becoming increasingly popular with tourists such as ourselves. We got dinner while enjoying the live music in Fitzpatricks Irish Pub, which was certainly cashing in on it being St Patrick’s Day! The next two days we did some spectacular walks to different viewpoints in the area. The first climb we did was to Isthmus Peak, which on a clear day supposedly offers views to both Lake Wanaka and the neighbouring Lake Hawea. I say supposedly because unfortunately the 1380m summit was above the cloud-line so we had to make do with using our imaginations instead! The next day, seeing that the sky was clear (and being gluttons for punishment), we decided to climb Roy’s Peak. This is very famous due to the magnificent views over Lake Wanaka, and we weren’t disappointed by the amazing panorama from the viewpoint. It turned out that the track continued upwards from Roy’s Peak, so we thought we would carry on until we reached another, higher summit, the 1830m Iron Peak. From here Lake Wanaka was a long, long way down. We could certainly feel the muscles in the legs by the time we got back to the car!

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Isthmus Peak

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Resting up after lots of walking

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Roy's Peak and Iron Peak

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Next stop for 3 nights was Queenstown, located on beautiful Lake Wakatipu, one of the jewels in the crown of New Zealand tourism. Our first destination was the police station to pick up Charlotte’s handbag. It was definitely a big relief to get it back, and also convenient that it had been left somewhere on our route. We did a walking tour (guided around by one of the few born and bred locals) which was surprisingly good. We took the energetic route up the hill overlooking town, walking instead of choosing the lazy option of the cable car. One of the highlights of our time in Queenstown was wine tasting and a five course dinner at Amisfield Winery with dishes as diverse as Bluff oysters, venison and wild hare. This was certainly more glamorous than our takeaway from the world famous Ferg Burger the night before! The next day we tried some Frisbee golf in Queenstown Gardens, before driving out to Glenorchy at the head of the lake. It is a very scenic drive along the eastern shore of the lake which must be amazing at any time of year.

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The "Big Al" burger from Ferg Burger

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We have also used some of our time in Queenstown preparing for the Milford Track, which we will fill you in about in the next edition of the blog. It is renowned for being a damp part of the world so we have made sure to pack our waterproofs!

Posted by Honeymayning 22:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty and Waikato

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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We left the sunshine of Northland behind as we headed south to the Coromandel Peninsula via Auckland. Unfortunately the rain arrived in ferocity during our journey. The torrential downpours caused quite a bit of disruption, with landslides and floods throughout the region. The relentless pounding rain was far heavier than the calmer drizzle we are used to at home! Despite the difficulties of the weather we were determined to continue with our planned itinerary, adopting the opinion that we would "just crack on with it!" After a bit of a delay in Thames, where we had to wait for the road to reopen after being closed by a few small landslides, we were on our way up the Coromandel Peninsula. In Thames the rugby pitches resembled the river in England which the town is named after. Ironically the irrigation equipment installed on the pitches just a few days before (due to the preceding drought) was washed away by the deluge of water!

We stayed a night in the small town of Coromandel, a nice little place comprising of just a couple of roads. The next morning we departed Coromandel towards the other side of the peninsula, stopping to pick up a French-Canadian hitchhiker called William who was getting thoroughly drenched in the rain. William is a perennial traveler about the same age as us. He was planning to get work picking fruit in the Bay of Plenty, having a good fruit-picking CV from previous experience of fruit-picking in Australia. We dropped William off in Hahei, not far from where we did the walk to Cathedral Cove. This is a natural phenomenon caused by the erosion of the wind and sea on the sandstone cliffs above the beach, forming a high arch which resembles the roof of a cathedral.

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After our walk we headed to Hot Water Beach, where we stayed in a cool little apartment just off the famous beach. Around 10pm we headed out onto the beach, with torches, buckets and spades in hand. No, we weren't purposefully trying to recreate our childhood, we were on our way to bathe in some thermal pools! At a specific point on the beach, around 2 hours either side of low tide, by digging into the sand it allows hot water to bubble up from the thermal springs below. This is why we joined a few other tourists after darkness out on the windswept beach. It is a surreal experience - the water is so hot that you need a bucket to fetch cold water from the sea to cool it down!

The next morning we set off for Tauranga, leaving early to avoid more heavy rain forecast to arrive at midday. We made it to the small town of Paeroa, birthplace of Lemon and Paeora, the lemonade drink marketed as being “world famous in New Zealand.” We decided to get a photo in front of the big bottle of L & P when we realized we had no camera to take the photo… it had been left behind at Hot Water Beach, about 1 hour 30 mins drive away! We therefore had to put our hire car, a 1998 Mazda Capella, (which we have named “Cappy”) through his paces along the steep and winding roads of the Coromandel peninsula for around 5 hours straight! But with over 260000km on the clock Cappy took it all in his stride! Cappy fits right in with the typical New Zealand motor, an old Japanese import. People here are a lot less materialistic and are happy to drive around in cars that would long ago have been consigned to the scrapheap back home!

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We eventually arrived in Tauranga, the fifth largest and fastest growing city in New Zealand, where Katie Richardson (a bridesmaid at our wedding last summer) has now been living for the best part of 3 years. Together we climbed Mount Maunganui, which affords great views over the coastal city and natural harbour, even despite the mist and cloud! The next morning Katie hosted us for brunch and we were glad to get the chance to catch up with her during our visit.

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Next we headed to Rotorua. I had warned Charlotte to expect a nasty smell but it was still a shock when the sulphurous fumes assaulted our nostrils on our arrival to the famous thermal city. We explored the various hot pools and walked along the lake, trying to avoid falling into any sinkholes along the way!

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After spending the night in Rotorua we headed west towards Taupo, stopping at Kerosene Creek along the way. This is an amazing spot accessed by a dirt road, where cold water from a stream is mixed with hot water from thermal springs. Thanks to the recent rainfall the stream was flowing fairly rapidly, meaning we were able to admire a waterfall while bathing in the warm water!

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Near Taupo we paused to break up the journey at Huka Falls, where the Waikato River pours over rocks at a rate of 200000 litres per second. Amazingly we witnessed 3 suicidal kayakers plunge down the torrents, somehow all managing to survive intact. We then continued our journey past Taupo through some beautiful countryside to our destination of Ongarue, a tiny little place in the middle of nowhere. The reason we came to Ongarue was to experience some more mountain biking. The Timber Trail is an amazing route along what was once the railroad used to transport logs from previously inaccessible forest. After the forestry stopped in the 1960s it had been forgotten about until 2011, when it was made into a mountain biking route. We had purchased a package to include accommodation, mountain bikes and transfer to the start of the route. The accommodation was great, but the proprietor (a grey haired, bandana wearing guy called Rem) was a bit of an oddball.

Ongarue was the closest we would come to Wanganui, where Jenny Todd (another bridesmaid from our wedding) is now living and working as a doctor. We therefore decided to meet halfway in a small town called Ohakune, seemingly the only place with any restaurants in this remote part of the country. It was great to catch up with Jenny and hear about her experiences of life in New Zealand.

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The next morning we were ready to go at 9am as arranged, only our friend Rem refused to give us a lift to where we had planned to start the trail. The situation rapidly escalated and became quite heated, but he refused to compromise. Eventually we decided to take the bikes and start the trail in reverse. We ended up cycling over 60km on some tricky terrain, only missing about 12km of trail less than originally planned. It was a spectacular experience, crossing some amazing suspension bridges and enjoying the views over several impressive waterfalls. Thankfully we managed to drop off the bikes and escape from Ongarue, from where we started our journey north, back towards Auckland.

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Before flying out of Auckland we spent a night in Bombay, not far from Hunua Falls, for some reason this dramatic waterfall is not on the main tourist trail, but was well worth the detour. There was evidence of where the floods had been quite destructive, with lots of debris carried away. Thankfully the weather has now dried up and it has been nice to see the sunshine once again over the last couple of days!

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Posted by Honeymayning 18:25 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Auckland & Bay of Islands

sunny 24 °C
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We were happy to finally touch down in Auckland after our lengthy journey to the far side of the planet. We flew with the glamorous "China Eastern Airlines" from Heathrow via Shanghai to Auckland. Each flight was around 12 hours with an 8 hour stopover in Shanghai Airport. Despite having read a few scathing reviews of the China Eastern service before departing, we were pleasantly surprised by the experience. Sometimes things are much better when you expect very little! Both planes were modern with backseat TVs and not too busy with plenty of free seats - obviously everyone else was put off by the harsh reviews!

On arrival in Auckland we had the pleasure of being treated to a free wash of our hiking shoes in sulphuric acid by the customs officials, just to make sure we didn't bring in anything nasty. Charlotte managed to bribe the customs lady into letting her bring in her supply of chocolate which wasn't consumed in transit. If there is an outbreak of deadly chocolatitis in New Zealand thanks to this lapse in border security then we all know who is to blame.

We spent our first full day touring around Auckland, taking in the city centre, Auckland domain and Mount Eden. The magnificent views make the climb up the dormant volcano of Mount Eden worthwhile, and I'm pleased to report it didn't erupt while we were up there. I read in the New Zealand Herald newspaper that there is an eruption expected in the Auckland area in the near future so let's hope nothing happens for another fortnight or so!

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On Saturday morning, despite being in the country for less than 48 hours, Charlotte insisted we take part in a park run. I gamely agreed, finding out that the nearest park run was at Western Springs, beside Auckland Zoo. I managed a time of 19:39 around the 5km, but I'm sure I could have beaten my personal best if they'd released a few lions and rhinos onto the course. Anyway, we can tick that box in South Africa instead!

Having done our exercise for the day we drove up to Paihia, in the Bay of Islands. We stopped off at Kawiti caves to see a few glow worms on the way (having been given a glowing recommendation by William and Christie), a good way to break up the journey. The first afternoon we explored Waitangi, where a famous treaty was signed between the Maori and the British in 1840. The next day we joined Zigzag Charters on their 40ft catamaran for an explore around some of the islands, including where Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand in 1769. In the afternoon on our way back to Paihia we were joined by a pod of showoff dolphins who seemed to be having a good time. The next morning we hired some mountain bikes and went for a spin round Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, which has only really got up and running in the last couple of years. As it was a Monday morning it wasn't too busy, just us and one other person were there the entire morning! This was Charlotte's first experience of mountain biking, and although she was a bit hesitant initially, thanks to some expert tuition she rapidly improved! In the afternoon we took the ferry over to Russell where we climbed up to see the flagstaff that had been cut down on four separate occasions by a disgruntled Maori chief back in the 1840s. Turns out flags are contentious all over the world, not just back home!

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Getting up to the Bay of Islands has been a great start to the trip. The sunny skies and mid 20s temperatures are certainly a great way to get the holiday started!

Posted by Honeymayning 22:42 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Departing


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Currently sitting in Belfast City Airport waiting for our flight to Heathrow. Then onwards, upwards and eastwards to Auckland!

Posted by Honeymayning 04:21 Comments (4)

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