2009 - New Zealand


November 22nd

Arriving from Dubai we landed at around 2.30 p.m., collected a car, and headed north of Auckland to Snells Beach.  Fortunately we had a snack at a service station on the way as there was little at the small settlement and the shop and cafes were shut.


Monday 23rd November

We decided we would go on up the coast.  The scenery became very beautiful.  It is a volcanic area and this produces steep sided hills, often conical, and these are heavily tree covered. We headed for Whangerei but chose to stay a small site of three self contained chalets at Whangaumu Bay on the Tutukaka  coast.


Tuesday 24th November

We visited Whangerei which seems to be as much a service town as a tourist area.  We had considered a Mauri tour but the overcast drizzly weather that had been with us since our arrival in NZ made us think again.  Instead we visited Claphams National Clock Museum in the Information Centre before an Indian lunch and returning to our chalet.


Wednesday 25th November

We woke to blue skies and sunshine and this continued all day.  Therefore we decided that we would go for a walk and drove northwards up the coast towards Whale Bay and Sandy Bay.  In the event, it proved rather too hot to walk so instead we sat and read on the beach before going back to our chalet and reading in its garden for a while.  A visit to our local beach at Whangaumu Bay then followed and we watched a parascending surfboarder ride the waves.


Thursday 26th November

We headed northwards up the coast and then rejoined the main road up to the Bay of Islands.  The sky was again entirely clear.

We were planning to stop for 3 nights at Paihia which we had visited last time we were in NZ.  “Sublime Apartments” was more down market than our last but at $91 it was cheaper.

We spent the afternoon looking round the shops and sitting reading.  The evenings continue cool but fine.


Friday 27th November

After a morning reading, we spent the afternoon and evening at the Waitangi Treaty site where a mutually beneficial treaty was agreed between the British and the Maori.  The latter had been the sole inhabitants for 900 years but in-fighting and the coming of Europeans who also fought with them and with each other, meant that the Maori population of just 4000 wanted the protection of the British.  In addition they needed law and order, Russell being called “The Hell Hole of the Pacific due to convicts and various undesirables having virtually taken total possession of it.  The  Maoris gave up sovereignty but retained all land in NZ until they should choose to sell at which time there was a right of pre-emption in favour of the British crown.  The arrangement seems to have worked well as there seems much greater integration of the 2 communities than occurs between the European and the aborigines in Australia.  Since 1967 all schools have been mixed and all may learn Maori if they wish.  Maoris account for 35% of the population but only 2% are pure Maori  and occupy about 1/3 of the seats in Parliament.  This and other information was gained from a guided tour that we took followed by an historical and musical show.  We completed the evening with a buffet dinner at the Copthorne hotel as part of the package that we had bought


Saturday 28th November

Two days of unbroken sun have lulled us into a false sense of security.  Today was overcast and with a strong wind quite cool.  We took the ferry to Russell which we had visited in 2003.  We took a mini-bus tour around the very small settlement (900 residents) which had been the capital of NZ for a brief time until shortly after the Treaty of Waitangi.  It also saw Christian missions and has the oldest surviving church in NZ, built in 1836.  It was the scene of initial resistance to the assumption of British sovereignty following the 1840 treaty.  In 1845 Hone Heki who had been the first chief to sign the treaty, chopped down the flagpole a total of 4 times in protest at how the arrangements were working out.  There was an uprising and Russell, then known as Kororareka, was sacked.

Now Russell is a quaint small place with clapboard and corrugated buildings a sense of history and spectacular views of the Bay of Islands.

We looked up our 2003 diary to confirm that we had previously stayed in the Duke of Marlborough Hotel and eaten at Sally’s.  This time we just did the latter!

We visited the Catholic mission house, now known as Pompallier House with its printing press and also the museum.  The latter had a 1/5 replica of Cook’s ship Endeavour and some old photos of Russell as well as some early books.

We came back on the ferry with an English widow who had come over in 1975 with her medical husband and who thoroughly loved the Russell Pahia area.


Sunday 29th November

As we planned to visit Cape Reinga via 90 Mile Beach, we headed north to Kerkeri.  This had been the site of the first Christian mission to NZ and a mission house was built in 1822 and a stone store in 1836.  Both are now in the hands of the National Trust as is a neighbouring Pa (basically an earthwork fortification for the protection of a Maori village in times of war.  We visited all 3 and enjoyed a good guided tour of the first two.  One really has to admire these missionaries who came amongst a stone age people given to revenge and cannibalism.  They brought the seeds and tools to work the land and traded with the Maoris and taught them building skills, farming and needlework.

We had lunch in Kerikeri at a small café called Zest and then continued up the coast taking side roads to Matauri Bay, and Tauranga Bay before re-joining the main road to Kaitaia.    Still volcanic the hills are very steep sided, tree clad and quite dramatic, especially close to the sea.  There are still many islands along this coast.

Our home until Tuesday was Kauri Lodge Motel.  Clean and quite smart it was another simple apartment comprising a living/bedroom with a kitchen area.  Kaitaia seems  fairly poor area and at the present time has a number of empty shops.  The general view however, seems to be that the recession is just about at an end in NZ now.

Monday 30th November

Today we took a trip to Cape Reinga (pronounced by our Maori driver/guide as “ringer”).  There were about 21 of us in a normal and somewhat old coach and our trip included a 63km drive along “90 Mile Beach – in fact it is about 64 miles long.

Almost at once we stopped at Ancient Kauri Kingdom where craftsman produce stunning wooden artefacts and furniture using ancient Kauri trees pulled from the bogs in the area.  Apparently much of the present farmland was marsh and bog and has been drained in the 20th century.  In the process ancient trees were found in great numbers.  These are 10-45,000 years old.

After a brief stop at Houhora Heads an attractive bay. At Rarawa we stopped to look at the brilliant white and powder like silica sand. Cape Reinga itself is the meeting place of currents from the Tasman Sea and from the Pacific.  It is also usually thought of as the northernmost point of NZ.  Where the currents meet there are breaking waves and a contrast between the turquoise waters of one sea and the darker waters of the other.  A South African couple in their late 70s strode out as we climbed a steep hill back from the light house on the Cape and also another which afforded a great panoramic view. 

We entered 90 Mile Beach a few miles to the south.  The whole of this large peninsula in the north of NZ comprises some volcanic islands that have been joined together by massive sand dunes some 500 feet high.  Away from the coast these have become grass and tree covered and give a very undulating countryside.  Where we entered the beach the dunes remain as sand and we had great fun tobogganing down them and considerable speed.  Then onto the beach and the drive back almost to Awanui all on the sand.  The sand is remarkably flat (and empty) and we travelled at a steady 100kph, slowly occasionally as we crossed fresh water streams which produce quick sands.

A very enjoyable and unusual day. 

Tuesday 1st December

Our destination today was Dargaville which we had visited in 2007.  We took a coastal route to begin with and then joined the 1.  The route was through wooded mountains and was really beautiful.  We arrived at Kakouhe where we found ourselves lunching at the same café we had used nearly 3 years ago.  That is largely because the choice is almost non-existent.  This time we took the road via Twin Bridges (literally just bridges, we found, and no settlement) on to Dargaville.  This was not quite how we remembered it but was adequate for our overnight stop at Park View motel.  This had a swimming pool of which Adrian made use.  Then we sat in the sun watching a heavy bank of cloud which over the hours remained very close but not affecting us.

Wednesday 2nd December

An early start was required for a journey of 375km via Auckland to Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty. Leaving at 8am we had a good run arriving at Auckland at 10.30, Waihi at around 1pm and Tauranga at 2pm.  On this occasion we had not booked as we were uncertain if we would reach as far as Tauranga.  With the help of the Tourist Information we fixed up Harbour View Motel for 2 nights.  This was a very large unit comprising a large bed-room/sitting room, another bedroom, a kitchen diner and the shower/wc.

Adrian walked into town to look round an in the evening we enjoyed a Thai meal at a restaurant suggested by our helpful and jolly host.


Thursday 3rd December

Being a Thursday, we walked, as we would have done at home.  This time it was at Mount Mauranga, an extinct volcano beside the sea.  It reaches around 700ft and we went to the top.  The view of the islands, sea and town made it very worthwhile.  For good measure we also walked around the base which gives a walk of around 2 miles.  We were keeping an eye on the heavy rain which we could see blanketing nearby areas, but fortunately it did not reach us until we had returned home.  The town of Mount Mauranga is odd being a new development adjacent to the mount but reached via a port and industrial estate.


Friday 4th December

Our next destination was Gisborne.  The 300km took quite a while especially crossing the mountain range which involved a winding road climbing to around 2200ft from sea level at Optiki where we had stopped for lunch.  As with so much of New Zealand the views were stunning as we worked our way through the gorge.  Beautiful tree covered mountains everywhere we looked.

Our motel at Gisborne was the Casa Blanca and was separated from the sea by the properties on the other side of the road. 


Saturday 5th December

This was a bleak day in many ways.  The weather was cold and showery.  We ventured out to the library where Jill accessed the internet as the wi-fi system at the motel had been playing up.  Whilst there Nathan phoned to say he had arrived at our house for the weekend.  It was 10pm there and we had no heat and were also missing lights on the first floor and power on the ground.  The fridge and freezer were off. 

We spent ages on the phone on Skype and guided him on what he should do.  This included contacting Paul our electrician.

Our evening was his morning and by then he had not  been able to reach Paul  and we went to bed knowing that Nathan and Amalia had a problem to cope with and no heat.


Sunday 6th December

When we awoke Jill had a text saying that it had been solved.  We spent 20 minutes on the phone going through things.  But the sun was shining and everything seemed much better. 

We walked and also sat and read for most of the day.  Later we booked on line the last but one 3 nights accommodation at Taupo and looked at the final night.

The accommodation has been very good but unfortunately the sound carries between the units and at times we hear every word.  The first 2 nights proved noisy and gave us a very early start to the day – just as had been the case at Tauranga – so we have been tired!


Monday 7th December

Today a longish drive over the mountains to Napier.  The views and scenery were really good as we wound our way around the narrow twisting main road.  As usual the traffic  was minimal and yet this is a major road access to Napier.

We had a bit of a job finding the motel.  It proved to be out of town overlooking a lagoon on the main road out to Gisborne and to Taupo.  Despite this (“At the Rocks”) proved to be a very good motel and we enjoyed total peace and quiet for 3 nights.

WE had a quick lunch in a slightly strange restaurant in the middle of town . The proprietor had spent 8 years in London many years ago and recognised that we had come from England. It was not a restaurant we would have chosen but the only parking we could find was limited to an hour and we had been unable to find anywhere else to eat.  Funnily enough we had a similar problem of finding a good restaurant the next day as we sought a good value place that had a selection of vegetarian food.

From the motel we walked into the local community and visited an antique shop.


Tuesday  8th December

Napier was largely destroyed by an 7.8 earthquake in 1931 and the job finished off by a devastating resultant fire.  It was rebuilt in the following 2 years adopting the Art Deco style in vogue at that moment.  The result is a very rare example of a town with so much of that architecture.  It was not until the 1980s that the locals began to appreciate the value of what they have and began to protect it and cease pulling down parts of the streetscape.

We very much enjoyed a 2 hour talk and guided tour by a volunteer of the Napier Art Deco Trust who now campaign for retention and improvement of these buildings.  Fascinating.

We ended the day by driving to a lookout point over the sea, port and town.


Wednesday 9th December

After a leisurely morning we went into town and visited the museum.  The best feature was a video giving the personal experiences of 4 survivors of the earthquake.

We had booked a tractor and trailer beach ride to the world’s largest gannet colony (about 17,000 breeding pairs we were told).  The trip depended on the time of the tides and that day was at 4pm.  Prior to that we enjoyed a good piece of carrot cake and some coffee at a simple café adjacent to the remote departure place.   

About 20 of us clambered aboard the trailer behind a pretty elderly farm tractor.   Our destination was Cape Kidnappers, recalling the time that Capt Cook had one of his crew kidnapped by Maoris at that spot in 1769.

We spent about an hour and a quarter bouncing over rocks and in and out of the water below cliffs towering 300 metres above us.  The rock strata were extremely clear and showed the raising of certain sections by earthquakes.  They also had a huge layer of white volcanic ash which had come from eruptions of the volcanoes in the Taupo area.

We first saw the gannets on rocks and on the cliffs before we were dropped off and took a half hour walk to a plateau high up above the sea.  Here there were just thousands of bird and nests.  The area had been roped off but we could get within about 4-5 feet of the nearest birds and they seemed totally indifferent. 

The chicks are full size by 4 months and for their first flights go by themselves to Australia!  This they do individually when they are ready.  When they are about 3 they return to their birthplace, mate and produce young until they die at around 25.  After the birth of their young (it seems to be a single egg), they leave for the winter and live on their own until they join up for the next breeding season.

We watched them for about ¾ of an hour before heading back to the tractor.  As before, the driver commented on the birds and the cliffs and gave us the odd splash!  We again stopped at the rocks where we had first seen the gannets and observed them for perhaps half an hour.

Although it was beginning to get dark when we got back at 8pm, we took a detour to nearby Hastings which had a similar history to Napier but whose Art Deco buildings seemed less significant.  It is reckoned to live in the shadow of its famous neighbour.


Thursday 10th December

Another drive over mountains for about 2 hours to Taupo.  Certainly the scenery of NZ is spectacular.  This is not the rugged soaring peaks of some mountains but gentle wooded slopes and even some agriculture nearer to Taupo.  No real habitation or settlements. 

Lake Taupo is a “new” lake formed by an enormous eruption in this volcanic region in 187AD with the effects being noted on the other side of the world by the Romans. 

There are 3 active volcanoes nearby at the southern end of Lake Taupo, the highest and most active being Mt Ruapeho which erupted in a significant way as recently as 1995 and 1996.  When we arrived we were treated to distant views of this 8000ft snow covered mountain as we looked over the lake.  Quite idyllic.  We remembered having stayed in the area by the lake in 2003 but could not be certain where.  This time we had booked The Anchorage which turned out to be more of a motel than we have stayed in this time as it had a room above us as well as to each side.  However it was spacious and well equipped so really no cause to grumble except that the Wi-fi proved temperamental  and after the first day the weather was cooler and even some brief showers.


Friday 11th December

After a check of the  information centre we visited the Volcanic Activity Centre.  This had videos of the eruptions of Mt Ruapehu as well as having hands-on machines such as seismographs.  There was also a rather spine shaking recreation of a force 6.3 earthquake. 

Nearby was a bee centre where it was possible to see inside a bees nest and to learn more about their lives as well as buy the inevitable soaps, ice creams and, of course, honey.

Finally we called in at Huka Falls where the river Waikato has cut into hard rock and rages through a narrow but relatively shallow channel for perhaps close on 100 yards.


Saturday 12th December

It had obviously rained heavily overnight and we were rather restricted in what to do by a cool and showery morning, but we used the time to read, exchange books and catch up with internet, diary etc.  It cleared up by 3.30 and we decided to investigate the southern end of the Lake and also the area of the 3 volcanoes. 

The town/village itself was of no significance but there was a nearby area of steaming ponds and boiling mud pools – Tokaanu Thermal Pools.

On the way back we stopped at the lakeside a couple of times.  We also picked up some lava to bring back.  Adrian threw some back into the lake to watch it float.


Sunday 13th December

We moved on to Rotorua  for our last night. The town was quite quiet as it was Sunday but long distance coaches brought numerous back-packers.

After lunch we read by Lake Rotorua in very hot sunshine and watched black swans.  Periodically a helicopter took off for very short sightseeing tours.  On the way back to the motel (Capri Court) we stumbled across a huge wrought iron gateway and (being intrigued) drove through it to find Government Gardens.  These were started in the 1890s and contain a huge Tudor style building of about 1908 which formed the thermal baths.  There was also tennis and bowls greens dating from the same period.  A pool of very hot water (212 F) was steaming away and we went over to see it more closely.  It was known as Rachels Pool.

Monday 14th December

Our destination was Auckland Airport where we were to catch the 6.45 Emirates flight to Sydney.  Once more we were amazed by the beautiful green mountains that we passed through.  We couldn’t resist stopping  at Cambridge!  With some fairly elaborate older buildings it was more attractive than some of the towns.  It also had an antiques shop which enabled Jill to achieve her object of buying a portrait miniature from NZ.  Our knowledge is currently very limited so we opted for the cheaper of the two available as we did not feel very confident with either.

On arrival at the car rental depot (which was off-site of the airport) the staff very kindly offered to drive us to the petrol station we were seeking and then to take us to the airport.

Goodbye NZ.  We have very much appreciated the slower, friendly atmosphere and the beautiful open green mountains.  Now Australia.