A Travellerspoint blog

Day Eleven

Rotorua (Day 3) to Lake Taupo

semi-overcast 20 °C
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For a change of scenery we spent last night out at Blue Lake. Blue Lake is located 11km south of the city next door to its sister, the Green Lake. Blue Lake is round in shape and has no stream or river feeding into it. The white rhyolite bottom causes the sunlight to make it blue in colour. It is a popular spot for campers and holiday makers. The Green Lake is sacred to the Maori people so there is no access into the lake.

Our first visit of the day was to the nearby (about 4kms down the road) “Buried Village”. The famous volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera on June 10, 1886 was New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster. For 4 hours, rocks, ash and mud came down on the small village of Te Wairoa. More than 150 people perished. The eruption destroyed the eighth wonder of the world – the stunning pink and white terraces and buried the staging post for those who travelled to see the marvels under 2 metres of volcanic material.

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Te Wairoa has been largely excavated and now you can walk around the site and look at a lot of the objects that were recovered from the ruins that are in the museum. The village is located in peaceful and lush surroundings. Wandering through the museum I got to look at the personal belongings, household items and tools of the villagers. A pair of children’s leather shoes that were entombed that are on display are a poignant reminder of the loss of human life. I remember learning of this eruption at school, so I was fascinated during the whole circuit walk of the site. Following the visit, we got in the car and drove a kilometre eastwards to a lookout where you can view the volcano that caused the devastation. It is hard to believe how terrible the landscape would have looked like on the day of the eruption.

After a quick trip into town, we went to visit the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. This village is the home of the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiato people. At present 25 families live here and most work here also. This is where we got to learn more about the Maori culture. The village is located on the southern edge of Rotorua’s geothermal area.

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Our guide took us to see the meeting house, the cooking and bathing pools as well as the cemetery. Most of the homes here do their cooking in steam boxes (they call them their microwaves!) that are buried into the earth. There are bubbling hot water pools that are used for cooking vegetables. Before leaving we brought some corn on the cob. A local Maori Lady walked us over to the pool. Pulled a muslin bag from the waters and took the corn out for us. We had to help ourselves to seasonings. Sam and Pat were quite amazed at this and even more so by the “microwaves”. The corn by the way was delicious.

The cooking pools and steam boxes are shared by all families in the village and food is generally cooked together, side by side. The nearby bathing pools are really baths that have water feed into them at approximately 45 °C. They are open air and are used in all weather conditions. People here often bath together - gossiping or singing songs. The water is lovely and warm and your skin becomes soft to touch once it is immersed. There are also mud pools and geysers.

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The cemetery is tucked away and consists of above ground tombs all painted white. Near the tombs a small steam vent shots out smoke. It looks pretty spooky, but explains the reason why the tombs are above ground - no one is buried in the hot earth here. These villagers have a very interesting backyard.

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A surprising happenstance that we found out, was that the survivors of the Te Wairoa disaster were resettled here at Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. Te Wairoa was set up by an Anglican Missionary, so when the villagers resettled they took the church along with them. By then the Catholic Missionaries had also arrived in the village. The Chief of the tribe was in a quandary (Maoris’ do not have a religion as such). So in the vein of King Solomon, he said that those standing to one side would be Anglicans and those standing on the other would be Catholic. In some circumstances families were split, religion wise. However to the villagers religion is left in the church, in the meeting house it is all about family and community. Today the bell from the old church at Te Wairoa stands outside the village meeting house.

There were lots of unexplored parts of Rotorua. We really needed another 4 to 5 days to do it justice. Unfortunately we had to move on. So late in the afternoon we made the 80km drive south to Lake Taupo. Hopefully we’ll be back again soon.

Posted by petty1912 14:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day Ten

Rotorua

sunny 21 °C
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We woke up this morning after a very cool evening (we had the heater on all night) to clear blue skies. We got an early start as we wanted to visit the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which is 27kms south on the Taupo Road (it is also officially in the Waikato Region). Our timetable was predetermined by the need to be seated for the 10.15am eruption of the Lady Knox Geysher.

We were at the park dead on 9am so after purchasing our tickets we headed off to do walk one which is 1.5km around the park looking at thermal wonders. As we had spent nearly a whole day in Rotorua, we were pretty used to the different smells caused by the volcanic activity – but some of the sights in the park really took your breath way. It really is amazing to see boiling crystal waters, bubbling mud and sulphur mounds when it is something you have never seen before. You don’t realise the distance you are walking as you are to busy, reading our maps, signs, taking photos and taking in the scenery. It was fabulous. As soon as we finished the walk we jumped into the bago for the 2 minute drive to the Lady Knox Geysher. This is also in the park, but like the mud pools, it is a short distance away from the main area, so a short car trip is necessary.

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After that small journey, everyone sits around in a bush amphitheatre while the host gives you abit of background on the geysher. The most interesting fact is that the surrounding areas forest was planted by prison labour and these thermal pools were used by these men to wash their clothes. The soap that they did their washing with caused the surface tension of the upper cold water layer to break – this caused a reaction that eventually caused the geysher to erupt. Now days, the host drops a special chemical substance into the geysher to make it erupt – and boy does it. First it froths and bubbles, then a stream of bubbles pours out, about two to three minutes later you can hear a loud rumbling sound from under the earth and it shots a stream of water skyhigh (sometimes 15m+). Today the eruption lasted 10 – 15 minutes. It was riveting. We stayed until it had finished, most had left after 5 minutes.

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We returned to the park to complete the other two walks so we could say we had seen all the sites. These last walks had a few steep stairs and were a bit more difficult in general. My favourite sight other than the geysher was the Champagne Pool. It is a 65m wide by 62m deep spring (largest in the district) that’s surface is dotted with carbon dioxide bubbles. It has a stunning red/orange lip around the outer ring of the pool. This is called a sinter ledge and is associated with earthquake activity. The pool itself was formed by a thermal eruption over 700 years ago.

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Altogether we spent 5 hours at the park and it was thoroughly entertaining. A definite highlight of the trip so far.

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The afternoon was spent down by Lake Rotorua. The park was jam packed with locals and tourists alike. The balmy weather no doubt is a big drawcard. For the evening we headed out to Blue Lake which is 8km out of town. There is still so much to see here. The kids are exhausted, so we are pretty much having to plan our sights around what they can walk, and what they find interesting. You could stay here a week very easily. It was been a big day, but we had a day of firsts.

Posted by petty1912 21:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Day Nine

Waihai Beach to Rotorua (Bay of Plenty)

rain 15 °C
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Waihai Beach Top 10 Holiday Park definitely had the best facilities for us out of all the parks thus far. Sam loved the heated pool and Pat loved the Jumping Pillow and the Under 5's Room. Paul got to stroll around the beach and I got to do some reading etc, in the well stocked lounge. The place was full, but we were all comfortable. It is a great place for a family holiday by the beach.

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We awoke to grey skies that usually changed to sunshine, but not today. Our trip through the northern area of the Bay of Plenty was a wet one. The Bay of Plenty is mostly farming and forestry. The largest city is Tauranga, which we drove through. It lies on the Tauranga Harbour - chalk up another (harbour!). Originally a flax trading missionary town, Tauranga saw many battles during the New Zealand Wars during the 1860's. These were mostly British Troops trying to stop supplies from reaching the Waikato Maori King Movement. At the mouth of the Tauranga Harbour lies the township of Mt Maunganui named after the nearby cone shaped Mount. Mt Maunganui is the main port for the central North Island timber industry. We saw many more managed forests today.

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Our journey to here took us yet again through fruit and vegetable farming areas. Nearly every farm has a stall by the roadside. Today we decided to stop at one and buy some avocadoes. The signs lead us down a farm road, right to the farmers hidden house. More handpainted signs lead us to the garage where an assortment of pre-packed bags of fruit were for sale, along with a honesty box. For $4 we got half a dozen avocadoes and 2 kilos of oranges (plus a meeting with the friendly Jack Russell guarding the property). While we were there, we got to inspect the kiwifruit trellises up close. The Bay of Plenty is famous for its kiwifruit. It is the kiwifruit capital of the world. There is even a kiwifruit theme park at Te Puke called – Kiwifruit Country. Nearly every farm here grows this fruit, which was introduced to Te Puke in 1918. The first orchard was established in the 1930’s, but good marketing and export s got the industry going in the 60’s. The 70’s saw the biggest boom for kiwifruit farmers. Today due to the rain we weren’t that adventurous to go and have a good look around, but there was plenty to see from the comfort of the van.

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By lunchtime we arrived at Rotorua. It was still raining but not heavy. Just enough to be a nuisance. Our first stop was to the information centre to see what we could do to fill in the afternoon. We had another great lunch in an arty café before driving down to the Government Gardens and the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. This is a lovely area that consists of a soldier’s memorial, the bowls and croquet clubs, the Blue Bathhouse and much more. The museum building is beautiful. You could stare at it for hours. Unfortunately I did not get to do that. We walked around the gardens and looked at some of the nearby thermal pools. The boys were intrigued.

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To finish off the day we decided to take a ride on the Skyline Skyride because the rain had stopped. This is a gondola ride up Mount Ngongotaha which provides great views of the region along which a luge ride back down the mountain. The boys got excited - it is just like the one they tried at Queenstown on our last trip. As they are both too small/young to go by themselves, they had to ride pillion with Dad. Both Sam and Pat enjoyed the trip down as well as the chairlift ride back up to Mum. Both had big smiles for a long time afterwards. When we got back down to the carpark it was almost 5pm, so we were off to find a spot for the night. We decided on Holden Bay. Tomorrow we are set out to explore the thermal areas and Blue Lake for camp. We are hoping the rain stays away for the day at least.

Posted by petty1912 21:01 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Day Eight

Coromandel Town to Waihai Beach

sunny 19 °C
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I could have stayed a week in the small township of Coromandel and still not see everything. The only drawback to living in this little town is the coastal road. Very narrow and very dangerous, but I mentioned that in the last post so I’ll move on. Coromandel had a gold rush like Thames, and likewise it is no longer an industry that exists here. Today it is mostly timber and green lipped mussels. The waters off Coromandel are full of mussel farms. Needless to say the fishing/seafood industry is big business.

Our first activity for the day was a visit to the Driving Creek Railway (and Potteries). This is a small narrow gauge railway that travels 3km up the mountain overlooking town. The trip lasts 1 hour and the highlight is the stop up the hillside at the “Eyefull Tower”. There are zig zags, tunnels with pottery facades and even a dual level bridge. Some of the trees in the forest are named which allows you to be able to start identifying them for yourself. It is an entertaining trip, even when the driver gives you a ribbing about your rugby team.

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We then made our way to The Coromandel Smoking Co. This is an icon of this little village. It has a great range of gourmet seafood from the region and other places in the country. While it stocks fresh produce it is the smoked items that are the attraction. The cabinets are full of the different flavours of mussels and fish. We took home a few samples to enjoy on the rest of the journey. It is hard to know when to stop though.

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After a quick walk around the stores, art and craft shops and having lunch we were back in the bago heading eastwards.

Paul has so far been doing all of the driving and today he hit the wall. Enough already of the winding mountain ranges. Today was a hard afternoon. We shouldn’t complain either, as many people travelling behind us got caught at a traffic accident and didn’t make camp until nightfall. Still, when most of the occupants suffer from car sickness it makes for long day. The views of the bays, coves and inlets to Mercury Bay/Whitianga and Whangamata were stunning.

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As was the aqua blue sea and white beaches. Unfortunately we missed the tide and did not get to try out the Hot Water Beach near Hahei. Two hours either side of the low tide you can dig a hole in the beach and sit in the warm water that seeps up through the sand. It sounds pretty cool, so we are sad to have missed seeing it.

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Whitianga is a popular holiday destination for New Zealanders. A mini Port Douglas. Nearby Cooks Beach was named after James Cook. He visited in 1769 to observe the transit of Mercury across the Sun. Hence the naming of Mercury Bay. That man sure got around!

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Throughout most of the day we drove through working forests. The pine forests here are huge and cover many mountain ranges. One of the things you notice in New Zealand is the amount of timber products or how timber is used. There are large driven timber pile retaining walls on the highways, on the guardrail supports and signposts. Timber water tanks, most homes are made of timber, etc. I guess the absence of a steel industry like we have is a likely reason. Then again we don’t have forests like these. It is an important commodity of the nation and an ever present one.

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By late afternoon we arrived at Waihi Beach on the Bay of Plenty. The campground here is packed. It is wall to wall motorhomes and all the cabins are full of domestic holiday makers, but the facilities are great and Sam was off for a swim in the heated swimming pool as soon as he could. The rest of us were glad to get out to stretch the legs and enjoy the surroundings. Tomorrow we are hoping to make it to Rotorua. Pat is so looking forward to seeing the volcanoes.

Posted by petty1912 18:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day Seven

Matakohe to Coromandel Town (Shelly Beach)

sunny 20 °C
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It was hard to leave our campground at Matakohe. It was scenic and well looked after, and is positioned on the top of a hill overlooking the upper reaches of the Kaipara Harbour. Yes another harbour. We seem to average one per day. The Kaipara Harbour is the country’s largest harbour. It is also the most difficult to sail into due to a dangerous sand bar and enormous sand dunes on the shore. Anyway, the campground was tranquil and very easy to get used to. I want to come back already. We were on the road before 9am heading to Auckland.

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Our van comes with a GPS and we are not ashamed to admit to using it when driving in and out of Auckland. In fact with all the roadworks everywhere it has kept us out of trouble on a handful of occasions. Today’s journey was no different. We found the rental depot easily. The van needed to have the ABS sensors on all four wheels cleaned due to all the dirt etc, from the unsealed roads. Obviously not just from us, as these warning lights came on prior to us driving on any such roads. To kill time the rental company owner lent us his car and we drove to McDonalds for a promised treat for the boys. We lasted a whole week without Maccas – our record is just over two! Paul and I hate McDonalds, but when you have two young children you have to embrace it.

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When we returned from lunch the van was ready so off we went, GPS programmed to get us out of Auckland and we headed for the Waikato Region of the Central North. Again there was more dairy, but also fruit and vegie farming. The variety of vegetables we see everyday is enormous and the prices are so much cheaper in the supermarkets than what we pay. Roadside stalls are everywhere.

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It is much flatter geography than the Northlands as we drive towards the Firth on Thames. To get to Thames you must cross a large one way bridge operated by traffic lights over the Waibon River. Most bridges in New Zealand are single lane. Only on the National Highway or in and around metro areas are they two-way. Most of the time you have to give way to the opposite side and it reminds me of the bridges of my childhood. There are no one-way bridges near where I live anymore. It is quite nostalgic.

Thames was named by Captain James Cook. It is the largest town on the Coromandel Peninsula and is filled with gold mining history. During the gold boom of the 1880’s it population was larger than Aucklands’. There are quite a few buildings from that era that still survive. Alot of the miners cottages are restored and used by the current residents. It is a bustling little town. There are a few museums dedicated to the heady times in Thames that are well worth a look.

We pressed on to Coromandel Town. The drive onwards from Thames spends 90 percent of the time following the coast. Literally! The road is so narrow in places it is only a single lane cut into the shoreline cliffs. This is particularly interesting when you have logging trucks coming from the opposite direction. Thames has a large sawmill and there are alot of managed forests on the peninsula. Paul did recall from our visit to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe that the largest Kauri tree cut down came from the Coromandel Region. Back to the narrow road – while it is scary in places, the views are beautiful. It was an enjoyable, winding and narrow drive. Every beach has a little community and people were out fishing on the rocky points or outcrops. I wanted to go and join them. The boat ramps were full also.

We drove quickly through Coromandel Town to get to our overnight stay at the nearby Shelly Beach about 2km away. We will go into the town in the morning to explore. The campground is right on the shore in lovely green shady surrounds. Much like Matakohe. The little cove and beach is rocky with a shell and pebble shoreline. The sea is calm and the only noise I can hear is the laughter coming from the boys jumping on the giant air pillow in the ground nearby. It has been a long day and they need to play and use some unspent energy. I need to do some washing. Looking forward to the BBQ dinner tonight.

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Posted by petty1912 14:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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