Having been woken up by the sound of crashing crockery as the first water skier of the day dashed past, we decided to move somewhere quieter. After an hour we turned right (I mean to starboard) and cruised up the Colo River where the skiers aren’t allowed to go. We found a quiet spot to moor and stayed here for the afternoon swimming and reading. Jo and Hamish took the small dinghy further up the river where it was too shallow for the house boat to go.
Hamish had cooked a lamb shank stew on Friday which we had squeezed into the front of the car on Friday and we savoured that with a bottle of Watershed red wine left over from the wedding. What a pleasure and privilege to be relaxing on a boat on a river a short distance outside the city.
It was a very early start for everyone as we had an 8.30am flight to catch back to Sydney. Leith got up to say goodbye to us and Ron led us to the airport in his BMW adorned with his special number plate ‘STEAM’ (he is big into trains!). It was a pretty uneventful flight, except that we both managed to get exit row seats which meant that I had extra leg room again – I have been very lucky on this trip with only one flight where I had to sit with my legs squashed against the seat in front.
We had hired a car from Sydney airport for the week before we fly back to the UK so that we could be flexible in our transport arrangements and didn’t have to drag suitcases through the public transport system. It was a lovely bright green Hyundai i20 – no trouble finding that in a car park! We have hired several of these cars and they compare well with our Kia C’eed at home.
And then, no peace for the wicked…Jo and Hamish had organised a trip away for us on a boat house from Wiseman Ferry on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney. After collecting Hamish, luggage (Chris and I were only allowed two plastic bags each as the car was so full!) and food for the weekend, we picked up Jo from her work at the House of Welcome and drove the two hours north. We collected the craft and loaded up and set off up the river, slowly (no large wash waves behind us!). We managed one swim in the river as it was so hot we needed to cool off.
We stopped for the night in the main river which was reasonably quiet after the sun had gone down and the water skiers had stopped rushing up and down the river rocking the boat (sometimes deliberately). They don’t just use skis, the equipment they use include rubber dinghies and even a blow-up sofa which gets towed behind a boat at very high speed. The day ended with fish cooked on the BBQ that Hamish had caught in Perth earlier in the year and had travelled to its final resting place frozen.
In the spirit of adventure and seeing something different about Auckland, we had booked a tour to Tiri Tiri Matangi, an island 90 minutes boat ride from Auckland Harbour which is a rodent-free bird sanctuary. I always enjoy a boat journey, so long as it is big enough to ride the waves of passing boats (I know I wouldn’t enjoy kayaking as much). Surprisingly, New Zealand doesn’t have any animals, whereas Australia has many. They have birds and lizards as well as 70 million possums (which are vermin as they strip vegetation and are not welcome in the country, in comparison to being protected in Australia). We were keen to see some more birds and the island tour seemed a good way of achieving this.
First thing, Ron kindly drove us down to the wharf with the packed lunch Leith had made for us. Once we had landed on Tiri Tiri, we started with a guided tour along some of the tracks up to the Visitors’ Centre to view plant and bird life. The guides are all volunteers who are committed to developing and keeping the island in its pristine condition and they do a wonderful job. Sadly ours was not very confident or particularly well informed and so we had to do most of the identification of birds ourselves. We did see some lovely small birds including Robins, Fantails, Whiteheads, Riflemen, Saddlebacks and Fernbirds as well as one example of the rarer Kokako. However, sadly no sightings of the Little Spotted Kiwi or Takahe. It was a lovely walk but we were getting quite hot and were glad when we eventually we arrived at the lighthouse and visitors’ centre.
When we had finished our sandwiches and checked out the range of merchandise in the shop – great to see possum socks which are warm and give you a chance to get your own back on the little critters! We went down a shorter track towards the ferry pier and saw many more birds, particularly at the water spots where the birds came down to bathe. Then it was our chance to take a dip in the lovely clear water at a small beach where sailing boats came in for the day from Auckland. It was warm and cold at the same time but so refreshing. It was a great experience and what a day to spend the day.
It was our final night with Ron and Leith so we had a very pleasant evening chatting about all sorts of things over a lovely supper and I took the opportunity to make some more Dom Pedros with left over whiskey and ice cream!
As I had arranged a lunchtime meet at TEAR Fund in Mount Roskill, a nearby suburb, we had the morning to see something of Auckland. Instead of travelling to the city to see the sights we decided to pop into Kelly Tarton’s Sea Life, an unusual aquarium which was close to where we were staying. Kelly was a visionary who worked closely with sea creatures all his life which sadly ended early at age 47. Before then he built the aquarium which has a series of glass tunnels through which you can walk surrounded by sharks and many varieties of fish (apparently you can also scuba dive in there!). There is also a colony of penguins including Emperors and Kings with a successful breeding programme. We were not too happy about seeing so many beautiful creatures outside their normal habitat but they seemed happy enough and you could get up pretty close to them through the glass.
With the help of Ron’s satnav we managed to find our way to TEAR Fund’s offices. Jon Horne gave us a guided tour and we met most of the 35 staff who worked there. Their focus is primarily on child sponsorship through another organisation called Compassion but their approach to relief and development is very similar to that of their sister organisations in the UK and Australia. It was lovely to spend time with like-minded people and we went out to lunch with them to share our stories and experiences of working in the development field.
As we were quite close to town we drove into Queen Street (the Oxford Street of Auckland) where most of the building are apparently built with poor quality lime and wouldn’t survive many earthquakes. We parked near the Art Gallery as we wanted to visit a new exhibition called “Who Shot Rock ‘n Roll”. It was a series of photographs from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s of famous musicians with commentary from the perspective of the person taking the photograph. Some great back-stories and a stunning picture of Mick Jagger overlain on a tiger’s heard (all done in the era before digital photography and Photoshop).
By now we were tiring and so made our way back to Ron and Leith’s. We managed to get down to their local beach for a windy swim and snooze on the sand with the rest of Auckland’s holidaymakers before buying dinner for our hosts at the Riva Café (also accompanied by a following wind!).
We have been travelling in New Zealand for three weeks now and we needed to make a decision about which route we should take to Auckland where we were staying with friends Ron and Leith. We sought advice from several people and there were two scenic routes which were possible which avoided a lot of State Highway 1. However, we have seen a lot of NZ farmland scenery and so we opted for the most direct and quickest route.
We stopped for lunch at Cambridge which is the centre of things equine in New Zealand, hence the statues of horses next to the town hall. However, we didn’t see too many saddle shops but the surrounding area is apparently full of stud farms and stables.
Our entry to Auckland was pretty smooth along some pretty busy roads. We really had no idea where we were going – Ron had assumed we had a satnav and so hadn’t given us detailed directions to navigate the suburbs. However, our road atlas gave us a clue as to where they lived and I had done a Google search on road names. So us two intrepid adventurers eventually found their way to 32B John Rymer Place. As it turned out Ron and Leith weren’t in but had given us instructions as to how to get through the front door and past the burglar alarm.
They had been volunteering as marshals at a tennis tournament being held in Auckland and arrived back an hour later. I first met them when Ron and I were on a Commonwealth training team in Ghana in 1999 and had seen them a couple of times since. So it took a while to catch up over dinner with family news and gossip about mutual friends. They also gave us advice on how we should spend the next few days in Auckland – there is so much we could do but we are nearing the end of our travels and were keen to experience the local sights in a more offbeat way!
As it turned out, today was a hot day for a number of reasons. Not as hot as Australia where they have had serious fires and over 42 degrees. In Taupo it wasn’t that hot but we decided to visit a couple of the local geothermal sites (of which there are many). In this area the earth’s crust allows water to seep or gush out at very high temperatures in the form of hot springs. In many places this has been harnessed to create pools of warm water where you can bathe and let all the stress out of your body!
We visited two sites: one which was small and based around a small campsite and café; the other more organised with an small ferry ride across to a self-guided two hour walk through some amazing landscapes. The pictures will tell some of the story. However, the bubbles of boiling water and hot mud can’t really be captured in two dimensions, so we have taken some video clips which I will post to YouTube.
We had thought we would go to Rotarua for lunch afterwards. However, it was very hot and we had been walking around the hot springs in the sun. So we decided to go back to Taupo to a café called the Replete Food Ccmpany which had been around for many years and sold wonderful good value food which the owner of many years had extended into a kitchenware shop next door.
We took it easy for the rest of the day apart from going to the lake to have a swim in rather windy conditions (didn’t put me off, but Chris wasn’t too keen) and watching “The Constant Gardener” from the motels DVD collection (we had watched Jude Law’s version of “Alfie” the previous night).
Having missed the only sight worth seeing in Taihape, the only thing left for us to do was to leave! It wouldn’t take us long to get to Taupo so we took it at a leisurely pace. First we had to negotiate the Desert Road; not as bad as it sounds, it is just like Dartmoor on a sunny day. We passed three huge volcanoes which sit on army training grounds and for 30kms we drove across a volcanic wasteland which had only grass tussocks to cover it. Apparently the traffic police are often seen in the area but we managed to avoid them.
Arriving in Taupo we found Scenic Cellars where we were going to have lunch with Chris Jones, his wife Charlotte, and two young boys Daniel and Owen. I know Chris from Oxford rowing days and he has helped us with some of the African Pulse work over the years when he lived in London. It was lovely to spend an hour or so with them before they journeyed back home to Wellington and we went to find our accommodation. We were staying in The Lake which is described as a ‘retro motel’. Apparently the original designers loved 60s and 70s furniture and our rooms were in the 70s style. Our hosts Helen and Brian showed us round the other rooms – quite unique and brought back a few memories.
As we had the afternoon to visit we avoided the crowds in the centre of Taupo and put on our walking shoes for a trip to Huka Falls. If you are into waterfalls or extreme kayaking, this is the place for you. There is an hour long walk alongside the river Waikato (NZ’s longest river) which passes a very old, elegant and expensive lodge, a large campsite, and a (very crowded) bathing place where people sit and enjoy a warm spring that enters the river (odd to see strangers so crowded together in one place). Eventually you hear the sound of rushing water as 220,000 litres pass through a narrow gorge with an 11m drop every second and carry on downstream. The aqua coloured pool that is thus created is a popular place for tourist groups in a powerboat. The force is so great that the local eels are unable to cope and so aren’t found upstream of the falls. It is difficult to capture the force of the water on a photograph so we have taken short video clips and I will post the link to YouTube at a later date. The walk back was punctuated with saying hello to passersby and watching some young lads do some grass skateboarding on the slopes next to the river (and fall off at high speed!). Back at The Lake we were treated to an amazing sunset over Lake Taupo (largest lake in NZ with a perimeter of 193km) with the three volcanoes in the distance. Stunning!
I don’t know why we ended up staying in Taihape for the night – I think it was Chris Jones who suggested we had lunch there on Sunday and then suggested we meet in Taupo instead (where we were booked in for Monday night). Either way, we didn’t want to drive the 400km from Wellington to Taupo in one go and so a stopover in Taihape actually made sense. The only thing was that the only reason you would go to Taihape was for the annual gumboot throwing competition (which wasn’t even on when we were there). We even managed to miss seeing the giant gumboot that someone had made in celebration of this event (I had to borrow a picture from the www).
So we got on our way out of Wellington. But not before a final drive up another hill. Chris had suggested a great view and a short walk could be had up at the wind turbine at the back of their house. So we drove up another windy road to the highest point around for a view over the city, a final look at South Island and an insight into how NZ is using renewable sources to provide electricity to its population: wind farms are becoming more popular and easier to construct than hydro schemes (and there is a lot of wind and fast flowing water around the place to harness).
We had a leg stretch at a place called Foxton which the Rough Guide to NZ suggested was one of the few places of interest en route. Strangely everyone we have since spoken to has said, not only have they never been to Foxton, but also they have never met anyone who has. Still we found it quite quaint, informative and a bit crazy! Quaint because the town still seems to be living in the 1950s and the Dutch have stamped their mark here by restoring a windmill; informative because the local community have created a Maori workshop for artisans to show their traditional skills to visitors; and a bit crazy because locals and visitors take their cars onto the beach when they go there for the day. We had lunch in the nearby café which comprised a toasted sandwich (we could have had spaghetti in it if we had wanted) and an awful cup of flat white coffee (which usually are very good).
Eventually we found our motel in Taihape which was probably the best equipped place we had stayed in including a good kitchen, ground coffee, a king size bed and a cable to access the free high speed internet. Motels are a completely different concept in NZ compared to what we are used to in the UK and US (Alfred Hitchcock needs to take the blame for that one!). As the sun went down we supped our beers on the grass and read the local newspaper.
We had decided to stay two nights at Chris Jones’s house in Brooklyn rather than three to allow ourselves more time travelling to Lake Taupo, so today was the only time we could get to see Wellington city – which incidentally is built on a steep hill. The journey out was downhill all the way but how do people cope with so much uphill? As the house was close to a bus stop (and after our bad experience of driving in Melbourne) we decided to take public transport. Good move! The number 8 bus took us close to the cable car station where we experienced an updated version of how the locals travelled up and down the hills between suburbs.
The views of Wellington from the top were stunning. The guides encourage you to walk back down into the city through the botanical gardens which proved to be wise advice, although it was quite hard on the knees and we decided not to look round the rose garden given the number of tourist coaches parked nearby. The route took us down to ‘Old St Paul’s’ which was the original cathedral made out of wood – a remarkable 19th century construction which has been wonderfully maintained.
We had heard a lot about the waterfront area and found our way to the converted docks area. It felt a bit like Cape Town but with a lot more room and less busy (where is everyone – perhaps they have left the city for a holiday by the beach?). We settled on Shed 4 for a fish lunch and one of our ‘wait persons’ gave us some useful advice on where to find a shop we were looking for. Afterwards we saw the Sea Shepherd boat which is going to the Antartic to demonstrate against the Japanese whaling industry – brave people. There is also a diving board where kids can safely jump into the water around the quay.
Our final stop on our tour was the Te Papa museum. I have never seen anything like it! I thought the Science Museum in London was an amazing (free) place for kids to visit: it has nothing on this. The amount of activity and how they have managed to focus on different ways that young people experience nature and history is wonderful. As we only had an hour, we went for the sections which explained the geology and human history behind New Zealand – I would have liked to have spent a couple of hours in the games zone, but it was not to be.
Before heading back to the house we had time to squeeze in a movie. Brooklyn has its own 3 cinema complex which is still housed in the wonderful retro style building. Like our experience in Arrowtown, they are wonderfully equipped (with lots of legroom and a café) and show up to 10 different films in a day. We saw “The Life of Pi” which was a wonderfully photographed and partially animated film. Back to the house to feed the cat (Ben) and the two chickens.
Simon from NZ Rentacar was coming to meet us at our B&B between 9am and 10am to hand over the replacement car (a Subaru station wagon) and drive the Nissan back to Christchurch. So after breakfast we just had time to fit in a walk to the nearby seal colony and admire the sleek males who were sunning themselves on the rocks close to the road. Not quite so windy today and the sun was shining – thank goodness for that as ferries are not a lot of fun in rough weather. When we returned at 9am Simon was there and we could take off in good time to reach Picton by 1pm. The car seemed to be ok – only 132,000 kilometres on the clock!
We had a coffee stop at Blenheim at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre of which Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings director fame) is Chairman. Sadly we didn’t have time to visit the museum but took some pictures of the planes outside for Joe. The ferry wasn’t going to wait for anyone and the next one was at 7pm, so we journeyed on to Picton and joined the queue for the ferry. The trip was three and a half hours and proved to be very blustery on deck. Still not too choppy and we managed to find a comfy sofa to read and fall asleep on. As we neared Wellington harbour we braved the wind and took a look at the capital of NZ and our home for a couple of nights.
A friend of mine from Oxford University, Chris Jones (the stroke in the boat I rowed in for a couple of years), lives in Wellington with his wife Charlotte and two sons. They kindly offered us a place to say when we were in town, the downside being that they would be in the north of North Island at a beach house for the holiday period. So we were given the chance to feed the cat, Ben, and two chickens (no names provided) as well as make sure the house was still standing when we left. Wellington is built on the side of a hill and so it was a bit like driving in San Francisco trying to find Brooklyn where they live (thank goodness we didn’t have to do this in the dark). They don’t have a driveway to their house and so we parked at the front and walked up the steep steps. What an amazing view of the city. Thank you the Jones family for sharing your house with us – everything we needed to know was included in the 8 page briefing Chris had left for us.