We had originally planned to be in Taupo by now, and had thought today would have been a good day for the Tongariro Crossing but last week we discovered that we could get tickets for one of the marquee fixtures in the Super XV competition: Hamilton Chiefs versus Canterbury Crusaders.
After a lovely lazy morning we visited the Hamilton Gardens for lunch. The public gardens are owned and managed by the council and attract 600,000 people a year (not surprising given that it’s also free). The gardens were first developed on the city’s waste disposal site in the 1960s and since then they’ve got bigger and better. Continue reading Hamilton Chiefs vs Canterbury Crusaders→
We started the day with breakfast at 3rd Place, which had come highly recommended by the Lonely Planet. Christine had a light breakfast, which was delicious but left her wanting more; I didn’t make such a novice mistake and enjoyed my larger breakfast.
In the morning we drove up and around Lake Tarawera – it was a lovely sunny morning to watch the clouds roll over Mount Tarawera (the volcano that erupted in 1886).
On the way we had stopped at Lake Tikitapu, also known as the Blue Lake.
It is the sister lake to Lake Rotokakahi, or the Green lake. One has a very sandy bottom, so should look very blue and the other doesn’t so looks greener. However, when we stopped at the viewpoint where you can compare them side by side we weren’t really able to see the difference…
Back in Rotorua we had lunch at the amazing Fat Dog Cafe, where Jim made a new friend and spent the rest of our final day in Rotorua doing very little else.
In the morning we visited the community at Whakarewarewa, a Maori village that demonstrates how geothermal energy can be used in daily life. We took a guided tour of the village and saw how steam from the ground is used to cook food in oven-like wooden boxes (hangi), create hot pools used for cooking as well as more temperate pools for washing and relaxation.
We started the day being picked up by the Rotorua Canopy Tour minibus. The canopy tour was a relatively new addition to the line up of things to do in Rotorua but it wasn’t hard to see why it had been so well received. After we arrived at the head office we got briefed, kitted out and introduced to each other.
The canopy tour involves exploring a section of forest near Rotorua by six zipwires and three swing bridges. Whilst that might sound fairly sedate we needed all those ropes and harnesses because the zip wires range in length from 40 metres to 220 metres at heights of up to 22 metres off the ground! Think Go Ape, but better!
The town is situated on the banks of Lake Rotorua, a volcanic caldera and although the volcano is dormant there is plenty of geothermal activity in the area. The most obvious of which was the incredibly strong smell of sulphur that hit us as we arrived.
We were staying at the Crash Palace Hostel, right in the heart of Rotorua and so we were well placed to get used to the smell (eventually). Our stay at Crash Palace didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts – we were charged for the room despite having already paid via Booking.com. At the same time we were told that because we were staying several nights we could have one night free. Brilliant we thought, everybody loves free nights. Except that we had to make it an additional night on top of our booking. So we rearranged our plans and ended up staying in Rotorua for five nights.
Most importantly however was internet access . The 2012/13 season was remarkable for our beloved football club – one trip to Wembley had already been the stuff of history and when we’d booked our trip we’d done so knowing that we might miss the playoffs. We hadn’t thought it likely, even less so after watching us lose the first leg from our hotel room in Tokyo and had been flying into Auckland when we’d overcome the deficit to book that second trip to Wembley. And so, in the middle of the New Zealand night we watched Bradford City make a winning return to Wembley and promotion to League One.
After a day of rest on Friday with rellies in Hamilton we were back on the road today. We started at a football match where Connor was goalkeeper (it finished 1-1) and then joined in with the post-game bakery run. We said goodbye to the Shands for now and headed off towards Rotorua.
But first, the little Waikato town of Matamata.
Matamata used to be a rural farming town that wouldn’t have been on anyone’s itinerary. It’s still a rural farming town but since the Lord of the Rings films it has become an integral part of any trip to New Zealand, because it’s home to the set of Hobbiton. Ben and I love the books and films, but it’s not the main reason we came to NZ. We came for the beautiful landscapes that the films showcase! There are a number of different ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed activities you can do in NZ, and this seemed to be one that we should definitely do.
Of all those activities this was the one we feared might be the most disappointing: it wasn’t cheap ($80 each) and there’s too much scope for gimmicks and merchandise. But we were delighted to find that far from having costumed hobbits or any other tacky gimmicks the whole Matamata experience was absolutely wonderful. Continue reading Matamata – here be Hobbits→
Tonight we were going to spend our first night with relatives in Hamilton, Waikato but before descending on Christine’s cousin John and his family we added a significant detour to our journey. We hadn’t set aside any time to visit the Coromandel Peninsula and so our only option was to do a driving tour round it in one day.
After an absolutely superb breakfast at the Palm House we set off and managed to get to Thames (at the base of the Peninsula) in about 3 hours. After stopping for some supplies we set off on State Highway 25, a wonderful road that hugs the coast all the way round. A gorgeous sunny morning made for perfect driving weather.
We set off from Opononi to drive down to our next destination – Pahi. As we wound our way along the coast south of Opononi we spotted an inviting sign saying ‘Scenic Lookout’. With time on our side, and plenty of curiosity we followed it and came across the Arai te Uru Reserve with beautiful views out to sea.
Today was another early start as we needed to travel from Mangonui to Kaitaia (30 minutes away) by 0830 to join Harrison’s Cape Runner for a day out to Cape Reinga/Te Rerenga Wairuathe not-quite-northern-most point of New Zealand (that distinction belongs to Surville Cliffs 30 miles east of the Cape).
We had originally planned to drive ourselves up to the Cape and whilst doing all of this in the day under our own steam was definitely doable it would have meant missing out 90 mile beach, a stretch of New Zealand coastline that is not in fact 90 miles long but is a state highway in its own right (our car hire insurance was explicit about not driving on sand). So instead we plumped for this very reasonably priced ($50 pp) trip. Continue reading On top of New Zealand at Cape Reinga | Te Rerenga Wairua→