John and Paula go touring New Zealand

2 January 14th 2010; we commenced our land tour of New Zealand by driving south from Auckland to the Waitomo Caves. As soon as we could, we moved off the main roads onto the scenic route and this was the way we operated for the next three weeks; we kept our exposure to traffic low; cruising sedately down the back roads. We elected to do a combination tour at Waitomo, first visiting the Aranui Cave, where we knew we’d be allowed to take photographs of the fine, needle like, stalactites hanging down from the roof. Then we moved on to the world famous Glow-worm Cave, where photography is discouraged and that is probably just as well because flash photography of glow-worms reveals nothing, you have to make a time exposure! The tour consists of a boat ride and takes place in almost complete darkness and the result is that you get to view the millions of tiny lights (produced by the Glow-worms), much resembling a fine display of stars on an exceptionally clear night. It was very beautiful and the tour was very well executed. Waitomo was also our first visit to a “Top Ten” holiday park and we were very impressed with the facilities which were first rate; in fact this was such a good site it would be nice to return there and do some of the many other walks that are in the area.

From Waitomo, we drove east to Rotorua doing a southerly sweep and entering via the Waikite Thermal Valley and the Mud Pools at Wai-O-Tapu. Our camp site was the Top Ten at the Blue Lake (Blue Lake Holiday Park), which whilst quite good, was not a patch on the previous one, we soon discovered that you pay a premium for lakeside camps and unless you are going afloat or swimming, they are best avoided. We did however, have good access to Rotorua and spent a day in town visiting the fascinating Museum. Moving south we visited Orakei Korako, a thermal area reputed to be one of the finest in the world. A small boat carries you across a lake to where a path takes you around the large, colourful silica terraces to some geysers and a fantastic natural cave with a pool of jade-green water.

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Not far south from Orakei Korako are the ‘Craters of the Moon’, another Thermal Area run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and thus quite ‘unexploited’ when compared to most of the Thermal Areas available to view; we had a good wander around and very much enjoyed our visit.

Across the main road from ‘Craters of the Moon’ is the Huka Falls, where the waters of Lake Taupo crash through a very narrow gorge on their way down to the Aratiatia Rapids. Here one can get a good sense of all the ‘water power’ that New Zealand has available to power its Hydro Electric plants; it is an awe inspiring sight. We camped at Taurangi Cabins, a site we’d used on our last visit when doing the Alpine Crossing, it was cheap, cheerful and in the right place at the southern end of Lake Taupo. The next morning it was raining and we almost changed our route, fortunately we didn’t and we discovered that New Zealand was just as appealing and just as photogenic in the rain as it was in sunshine. We headed into the Tongariro Nation Park and visited the Wakapapa Village where we took in two short movies which gave us some insight into the park’s formation. The i-centre also has some very descriptive and interactive displays that give lots of information on this volcanic centre and volcanic New Zealand in general; its well worth a visit but I’m not going to recommend it for camping as the elevation causes it to be much cooler than down in Taurangi and brings it into the clouds on a regular basis, this makes it cold and wet for the most part and not my favourite camping conditions! We had been able to spend time in this area on our last visit and walked most of the tracks, the weather had been better then and we had more time to linger; this visit was restricted by the weather however, it was still well worth the visit as there is always something to do or see here.

4 From the i-centre we drove up the mountain to the Ski Lifts and were immediately ‘socked in’ by the heavy clouds and occasional heavy rain; it was dark, damp and foreboding, on top of which, the lunar landscape looked like it would be somewhat more appealing were it to be covered in snow! We didn’t hang around as the cool and damp breeze cut through our clothing, thus we were glad to descend into a little warmth and sunshine on the main highway around Raetihi. Luckily there were a couple of breaks in the clouds and we were just able to discern the outline of Mount Ruapehu, with its snow covered peak, before leaving the area altogether. Moving south once more we took the more scenic of two scenic routes to Wanganui, our route was the Wanganui River Road and it was somewhat of an adventure as the surface turned to gravel and then to something else which was not quite gravel. It also became quite narrow and as we encountered a few heavy showers, there was a requirement for concentration which outweighed any scenic beauty we may have passed. Part way down the road the weather cleared and we were rewarded with some fine vistas; a nice but basic camp site was found at Ranana, it was a beautiful if somewhat remote place.

The next day we continued to follow the Wanganui River south but had not gone very far when we came across “The Kawana Flour Mill”. This was the longest running and most successful flour mill that operated in this valley at the turn of the last century. The mill has been lovingly restored and is left open for visitors who wish to stop by for a look. It was fascinating and filled us in on the history of the valley, its communities and river transport system that was in full operation around the time that my Mum was born (not that long ago really!). Shortly after leaving the Mill we regained the sealed road surface, for which we were most grateful; however we continued with the twists and turns, inch by beautiful inch, all the way to the bottom. It was indeed a very picturesque gorge!

5 We stopped off in Wanganui, a delightful little town and then drove east once again, working as many back roads as possible, our campsite for the night was at Ekutahura and despite the fact that no one could possibly pronounce the place, it was very pleasant and had great facilities for a very modest price. From Ekutahura we went south once again as we had a scheduled crossing to South Island from Wellington and there was no way to get re-booked. Fortunately, on route, we had time to stop at the Mount Bruce Conservation Park which is run by the DOC, it is a bird and wildlife refuge where they rear endangered species before returning them to the wild. The park was interesting but unfortunately there was not a lot going on at the time of our visit and what animals there were, were hard to spot in their large enclosures. The drive over the Southern Ranges was quite pleasant and we had some fine views before descending into Lower Hutt where we were booked in at the Wellington Top Ten camp site, this was quite a nice spot, both handy to the city and the ferry; it also had some nice facilities. We pitched our tent and went into Wellington where we managed to find an extortionate car park which saw us off for $15 and only a two hour stay….not one of our finest moments, however we did spend the two hours in the Wellington Museum which was ‘Free’ and well worth the visit. The next morning we were booked on the Blueridge Ferry for the 0800hrs sailing and had to arrive about an hour before departure, we were very lucky that it wasn’t raining when we packed up our tent at 0600hrs but it was damp just the same. The rain started soon after we got on the ferry and continued for the rest of the day, giving way to showers in the evening. We didn’t get much of a view of the Marlborough Sounds on the way in and our time spent in Picton on arrival was mostly rushing about with both an umbrella and a full set of oilskins. Moving out of Picton we decided to make some miles and headed south on Route 1; there was no point in waiting as we had a lot of distance to cover and could only hope for better weather later.

6 Once clear of Blenheim and the flatter wine producing areas of the lower Wairau Valley, the road tends back towards the east coast and there are some fine views. We were soon impressed with the scenery which continued to improve around every headland of the journey; more impressive still was the appearance of many seals basking on the rocky foreshore along the way. We thought we would have to wait till Kaikoura before seeing seals but they were already thick in number by the time we reached Clarence! The rain cleared away completely as we approached Kaikoura so we went directly to the Seal Colony at Point Keean and managed a few ‘closer encounters’ with some of these Animals. I walked some ways around the coastal track to the Gull Colony but it transpired later that the Cliff top Walk was better value, giving stunning views both seaward and towards the snow capped mountain ranges inland. Whilst there are many things to do in Kaikoura, such as Whale watching, swimming with the sharks and seals, tramping the trails or just eating the seafood at the many restaurants in town, we decided to push on south some ways before camping for the night at Goose Bay. At the crack of dawn the next morning, there was a thick fog rolling in from a very uninviting, grey sea just yards from our tent; it was decidedly damp and cold. We sat at a picnic table watching the first sunlight breaking through the mist to pick out the peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. By the time breakfast was over, most of the fog was dispersed and it was warming up; the tent was still wet, as usual, when we packed it away but, as usual, we got it dried out sometime in the day by draping it over the car during a coffee break when the sun was shining, which it did between the troughs and rainy periods!

7 We had a fairly dry run down to Christchurch; however rain was scheduled so I wanted to get our tent up before it arrived. We found a neat campsite just outside of town and having pitched the tent we moved off into the centre to make the most of it before the rain arrived. There was a Buskers Festival taking place but as the rain started in earnest there were few performers around; we took in a show at Cathedral Square, wandered around the Central City and the High Street, crossed the Bridge of Remembrance and spent an hour in the Botanical Gardens. We walked the banks of the River Avon in Hagley Park and despite the rain, managed to enjoy the atmosphere, taking a few nice photos along the way. We returned to our tent in the late evening and it rained heavily all night whilst the wind blew our pegs out and threatened to send us rolling down the campsite. We would have spent longer in Christchurch had it not been for the weather but it was still raining heavily in the morning and not very inviting. By keeping a careful watch on www.metvuw.com we were aware that it was clearing from the south and that if we were to get going in that direction we’d soon run into better conditions. So the wet tent got packed away once more and we hit the road early; by lunchtime we were at Lake Tekapo, the sun was shining and the tent was drying on the car. The lake was very beautiful but there were some low clouds obscuring the mountain peaks that would otherwise have graced our photos, this may have been the reason we missed the very picturesque ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’……. got to leave something for next time around!

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It was most fortunate that the clouds cleared away as we moved on towards Mt Cook and we had the most excellent conditions to view Lake Pukaki and the mountains of the Westland National Park and the Southern Alps. This was a truly memorable drive through some awe inspiring scenery and at the end of it we found a very pretty DOC campsite at the foot of the mountains; once our tent was pitched we sat out in our chairs and revelled in the majestic beauty of our surrounds till the long shadows of evening, a creeping coolness and those pesky little black fly’s drove us into our sleeping bag. The next morning we were up early to take in the dawn, as the sun rose in the east it first illuminated the peaks and slowly worked its way down to our campsite; it was beautiful but we knew there were a few showers moving in with a fast moving front, so we got the tent packed up whilst it was still relatively dry and embarked on a walk to the Tasman Glacier. The light rain moved in as we were half way up the track but it still didn’t detract from the beauty of the place. We tramped over the rough terrain, where eons of ice had flowed down this valley cutting away the surface and carving a path to the sea. Now many miles inland the glacier feeds Lake Pukaki and this in turn feeds other lakes on its way to the sea; Kiwi ingenuity however, has harnessed this water movement to drive some of the many powerful turbines of its massive hydro-electric scheme. Suddenly, over a rocky and desolate outcrop we came into view of the foot of the Glacier where in a small glacial lake there were freshly carved ‘ice bergs’ surrounded by ‘bergy bits’. The enterprising locals were running boat trips out into the lake so that tourists could reach out and touch a berg…… not my cup of tea but the operation was anyway dwarfed by the magnificent beauty of the setting and nothing could detract from this rugged and startling scenery.

9 By the time we were ready to leave, the showers had passed through and the sun was chasing away the clouds giving us a perfect driving day with great views as we moved along to Lake Wanaka where we camped at the Top Ten, this was another well run and impeccably clean campsite. We spent a little time in the attractive tourist town with its lovely views across the lake to Mount Aspiring National Park for which this is the gateway. Next day we climbed Mount Iron (549m) and were rewarded by some stunning views, in truth it was not a hard climb, more a gentle slope to the top; none the less it was well worth the effort. The shortest route to Queenstown from Wanaka takes you across the Crown Range via Cardrona, the road twists and turns up a gorge till it crests at a vantage point overlooking the Queenstown area, we stopped and took a short walk towards Rocky Peak picking up some great views along the way. Arriving in Queenstown we stopped for lunch along the waterfront and enjoyed the lakeside views, after which, we moved on to the Skyline Gondola Ride which took us high above Queenstown allowing incredible views over the town and towards ‘The Remarkables’ and the Eyre Mountains which form a breathtaking backdrop to the town. Walking further up the hill we came to the launch pad for the Para gliders we had seen souring high over the town since we had arrived’ it was fun to watch them take off and sour away from the cliff top. Back in town we wandered around the high street, taking in all the tourist dives and nicknack shops; there was little that was cheap and even the excursions on offer all came with a hefty price tag. I got the impression that this was a rather ‘Yuppy’ hangout, you certainly couldn’t afford to remain long without deep pockets!

10 We moved on in the late afternoon and found a most agreeable campsite at Kingston, about thirty minutes drive south of Queenstown, here we flopped into bed early, worn out after a couple of full days with nice weather. The weather was still good as we continued our drive, the next day, towards Milford Sound; our first stop was the Manapouri Lakes and then we moved north to Te Anau where we stopped for lunch overlooking the lake and a good look around the town. This is the gateway to the Milford Sound and a place to take both provisions and fuel if headed that way. In the afternoon we drove north following Lake Te Anau until the road curved off into the National Park and we found a campsite at Totara. This was a basic DOC site with little in the way of amenities however we were now situated strategically where we wanted to be with a fairly good weather window for our next leg. We did manage to explore a little around our campground, there was a nice river running close by, however the black fly’s and mosquitoes were quite active so we took the opportunity of another early night. Despite our good weather forecast and an almost dry night, morning revealed some cloud over the surrounding peaks, this area is notoriously difficult to forecast and more often than not, it’s raining! After breaking camp we drove up to ‘The Divide’ where there is a large car-park and some facilities marking the start of The Routeburn Track, one of the most popular tracks in South Island. As it would take a couple of days to do this track we chose for the easier option of climbing to Key Summit and although it was a damp start, moving quickly into the clouds, as the day wore on there was some clearing and some nice views availed themselves.

11 There was a surprising little Nature Walk at the top of Key Summit where there were some scattered pools (tarns) and some lush vegetation in places; the DOC had thoughtfully provided explanatory guide maps which you could take with you as you walked around. It was decidedly cool up on the top and one was acutely aware of how far south we were at this stage; there wasn’t much land south of here between us and the South Pole! Moving on we soon arrived at the Hommer Tunnel where there are traffic lights that operate only during the day at fifteen minute intervals, this gives you a good reason to get out and check out the local scenery. The local wildlife has adapted to this procedure sensing an opportunity for a free meal from the passing tourists and a couple of the local Kea’s are usually on hand; parading up and down the line of vehicles. It seems somewhat odd to find a member of the Parrot family that was at home in the snow and these cold, bleak surroundings. Also, near the entrance to the Hommer Tunnel, was a natural Ice Bridge where the compressed snow had been eroded away underneath by the melting waters, it was a fascinating bit of natural architecture!

12 When the lights went green we vanished into the Hommer Tunnel, a very eerie place…. It is a testimony to the pioneering spirit of the men who toiled with picks and shovels through 1.2 km of mountain from 1935 to 1953; there are no props and the surface is rough-hewn….. I reckon the guys who made it must have been rough-hewn also! On the other side of the Tunnel we stopped at The Chasm, where the Cleddau River plunges through eroded boulders in a very narrow chasm; passing below a natural rock bridge to a waterfall….it was very pretty and our pictures could never do it justice. On our way into Milford Sound we were lucky to spot the Milford Lodge and call in to book our camping site for the night, this is the only place to camp in the Milford Sound area and it fills up quickly by late afternoon. Once our position was assured we went on down to the waterfront to check out our boat ride, which had been booked for the next morning and to take pictures of the scenery. It was rather spectacular however we were a little taken aback by the Milford Sound Village which had very few amenities amounting to a few huts, a small and expensive café, a runway (masquerading as an airport) and a marine terminal where about a dozen ferries jostled together in a competition to ‘put bums on seats’ for a tour around the bay.

The Milford Lodge was quite nice and had good amenities for the campers, caravans and those that wanted more solid accommodation; on felt however that this was the subtotal of what was here at night, you were either here or you were headed back the other side of the tunnel, looking for a place to camp. We didn’t get much in way of rain during the night but the low cloud rolled in bringing a wet and clammy drizzle so our expectations were somewhat low in the morning as we drove down to the terminal for our 0900hr scenic cruise. We were lucky that the weather cleared somewhat and the rain stopped as we moved out, there was a buffet breakfast and this also provided some ‘take away’ fruit… there were only a few on this early ferry, things start to get busy when the tour buses doing the day trips from Queenstown arrive just before midday.

13 It was a nice cruise but after all the scenery that we’d already seen, it was not as awe inspiring as it might otherwise have been….. we were however blessed with a very good display from the Dolphins and the seals put on a small show.

We headed back up the long road to Queenstown with a couple of stops along the way; the Mirror Lakes were interesting, the mountain range opposite reflecting in its surface and some neat vegetation …… There were also a few places where Deer were roaming close by the road and Paula managed to get few pictures; New Zealand is a big supplier of venison to the Far East and Japan so there are many herds of ‘wild’ Deer to be found in South Island. That evening we found a little gem of a campsite, it was the Lakeland Christian Campsite (just south of Frankton) and was set in a great location with a great view; the amenities were all sparkling clean and there was a huge fully equipped kitchen at our disposal. We were also blessed with continuing good weather.

14 The next morning our friends who were travelling in a large Camper Van, had to take their unit in for a service as there was an increasing problem with the steering. This turned out to be a deformed front tire; the inner belting was giving way and this lead to a ‘square wheel’, a condition that could have been exceedingly dangerous had they proceeded further with it. Fortunately the local mechanics got it sorted out quickly and checked the rest of the van over for good measure. We were back up to speed when we left Frankton and headed east through the very pretty towns of Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra and Ranfurly to Palmerston where we turned north before visiting Shag Point, a well known Fur Seal hang-out. We actually did better at Moeraki where we turned off to find Lighthouse Road and took the winding path out to the lighthouse; here there were not only seals but Penguins and enough of them for us to have our fill!

Our next stop, The Moeraki Boulders, was a poor second to our experiences at the lighthouse but we did the tourist thing and got the pictures anyway….. I thought I took the best one of the bunch but Paula insisted I cheated.

15 Our campsite for the night was the Oamaru Top Ten which was a bit over priced but good. We went out in the evening and sampled the local food; the town is ‘old world’ and has numerous Victorian buildings left over from when it was a prosperous sea port.

Unfortunately shipping moved with the times but Oamaru could not as its harbour could not be made deeper and could not accommodate the new vessels, so the trade moved elsewhere and Oamaru went into decline; fortunately the buildings remained and the whole area has now become a tourist attraction. The next morning after a brief look at more of the town and the discovery of a Penguin making its home near the railway tracks, we moved off to the north. It was another great day for driving and after a stopover in Timaru we made good progress north. There were some magnificent views of the mountains as we drove across the lush farmlands of the Canterbury Plains and then, in the late afternoon we made our way up to Arthur’s Pass and made camp opposite the Visitor Centre. We were back in the cool, mountainous terrain again and the cheeky Kea were keen to see if they could beg, borrow or steal just about anything from us. As we ate dinner in our friend’s camper, they bounced about on the roof and attempted to pry the ventilation hatch off with their strong beaks. Their landings on the slippery rooftop were far from graceful and I should imagine they left a few ruts in the gel coat!

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The next morning we moved off early into Arthur’s Pass, probably too early as the sun had not managed to penetrate the valley’s; still it was very beautiful and we could not help but marvel at some of the road construction that had taken place. We took a detour to Lake Brunner and Moana through very lush dairy farmland passing through Stillwater before arriving in Greymouth. This was an interesting little town but we were unfortunate that it was Sunday and there wasn’t much open; we did however have the good fortune to meet up with some other old yachting friends, they somehow spotted and recognised Paula as they were driving down the main street…. it was good to meet them as there own boat “Baraka” was in Queensland (AUS) and they had flown over to do a camping tour. We exchanged data and blew the breeze for an hour then parted company once more…… the world is small and we are sure to see them again before we get too far. Back on the road we headed north towards Westport, it was a fantastic drive with some unbelievable scenery; such was the beauty that we were stopping to take photos at nearly every turn in the road! We stopped off in Punakaiki and the strange Pancake Rocks where the DOC have made an excellent walkway and viewing platforms. From here, it was so clear that we could see right down the coast to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers and the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps…. it was a really magnificent vista! From Charleston the road swung inland towards Murchison but it still remained very pretty as it followed up the Buller Gorge whilst shouldering the Victoria Forest Park to the south. It had been a great day with the temperature reaching 26 degrees (maybe a little hot for driving); again we’d seen an awful lot of beautiful scenery and we were wondering how we’d ever remember it all! At Murchinson we pulled into the Riverview Campground, which was quite a nice spot however there were a few blighters bighting where ever they could. There was no rain overnight but again we had a heavy dew, the day cleared as we went along and we were soon back in the burning sunshine. We stopped in at Nelson and then Havelock before taking the coast road (Queen Charlotte Drive) to Picton. This was a lovely, though twisty, road following the coast all the way, there were some great views of the Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Sound.

17 On arrival at Picton we went to Alexandria’s Campground and found quite a good spot for the night with quite good facilities. The rest of the day was spent exploring Picton and was completed with a sample of the local Fish and Chips We were up early again the next morning, it was Tuesday 2nd Feb and time for us to return to North Island on the Blueridge Ferry; it was another 0800hrs sailing but we had to be there an hour before. Conditions were better than when we had come the other way however, even though there was no rain until we stood out into the bay, the cloud was low and the Marlborough Sounds did not look inviting. We were ashore in Wellington for Noon but decided to push on north as we were now on the return leg and it was somewhat of an anticlimax. We camped the night at Motuoapa Motor Camp on the banks of Lake Taupo and just had enough time for an evening walk down to the small yacht basin where we came face to face with a large gathering of Canada Geese (looking a bit lost and a long way from home). We had a few hours in Taupo the next morning and had a nice walk around the town; it was also a place to check our emails and weather forecasts. It was also nice to see the coaches arriving and departing with what seemed like mainly European youngsters, if there is any shortage of British (due to the ever falling pound) this is made up for by the increasing amount of eastern Europeans who have discovered new found wealth (or who always had wealth but no means to spend it before?); the Scandinavian girls still stand out in the crowd and New Zealand is a bit short in anything in way of competition!

18 We drove along to the quaint little town of Cambridge and the Cambridge Motor Park which was really first rate. Once we had the tent pitched we all piled in the car and I drove to Hamilton Gardens which was just twenty clicks down the road. I guess we were just unlucky but it seemed like we hit the Gardens at a bad time. Flowers seemed to be in short supply and we were anyway not impressed with some of the ‘theme gardens’ as they were “flowerless”…… The Japanese and the Chinese seem to like looking at strategically placed rocks amongst sparse foliage and the traditional Kiwi garden seemed to resemble an old Indian Burial Ground. The English Country Garden was of the rambling type but it looked like it had recently been flattened by heavy rain…. I wasn’t impressed; there was only the Italian Renaissance Garden that appealed! We returned to Cambridge to explore the town and look for a nice restaurant, that didn’t work either as we could find no middle ground between the ridiculously expensive and the Burger King thing…… In the end we gave up and went to the supermarket and bought sufficient material to make a nice BBQ back at the campground. It turned out to be a very pleasant evening. Next day was the last of this tour, we got on Route 1 and went warp speed back to Auckland, our friends had to return their Camper to the depot close by the airport and we made haste to “Mr John”, waiting for us with surprisingly dry bilges, in the Westhaven Marina. It had been a great trip and we’d seen an awful lot…. perhaps we could have done with a little more time and there were a few things we missed that we have some regrets about. We did however, form some opinions on where we would go should we be ever fortunate enough to return. South Island is a unique experience and no one should come to New Zealand and not see it; we will treasure the memories of those beautiful vistas for the rest of our lives. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The day after our return to Auckland we took our Canadian friends out in the Hauraki Gulf and covered some of the highlights of this fantastic cruising ground; it was a good way to relax and chill out following our rapid schedule, camping in South Island.

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When we finally got them to the airport, they had hundreds of photos and half a lifetime of memories which they would have to put into some sort of logical order once they arrived home. It had been a whirlwind tour and we had all seen an awful lot in a very short time. We however, we were ‘up and running’ with both car and tent, so we stepped up the pace and took off once more in search of more New Zealand.

20 Our first stop on the road south from Auckland, was the Pirongia Forest Park and took the walking track to Mt Pirongia going to the summit of Mt Ruapane from where we had fantastic views over the Waikato and “King Country”; the Waikato is one of the worlds richest dairy and agricultural areas with miles of fertile plains which stretch as far as the eye can see. We returned to the area of the Waitomo Caves which we had enjoyed on our previous venture but had inadequate time to cover all that was on offer. Spending the night at the superb ‘Waitomo Top Ten’ campsite we were in an excellent position to visit the Ruakuri Reserve and Natural Bridge early the next morning; this turned out to be a beautiful walking track following the path of a river which runs, in places, below ground. There are many caves on the route and some form part of the walkway; it is possible to do the last section of this walk at night, getting a great display of the Glowworms. Following our morning walk, we took the Te Anga Road which runs westward to the coast; it’s a very scenic route winding through some most interesting countryside with a couple of stopovers along the way. The first was the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, a very impressive natural structure which was on such a massive scale it was difficult to capture in a picture.

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Further down the road we found the Marokopa Falls, there was a ‘pull in’ and a short walk through some dense native bush, then suddenly; a really beautiful waterfall. Whilst not the biggest of falls in New Zealand it was certainly one of the best proportioned and photogenic!

The road continued to the coast at Marokopa, a small fishing village with a number of holiday homes which no doubt fill up during vacation periods. From here we turned south along the Wild West Coast, the road became a ‘slightly gravelled track’ with some major ruts in places; it was however, enjoyably scenic and we lapped it up. There was also the chance to encounter some of the locals and Paula made a concerted effort to make new friends……

22 After about sixty kilometres of gravel we were very glad to get back on proper road again, I don’t mind driving on these back roads, even though they can be ‘slippery’ at times; however our experience has shown that some of the locals, particularly the younger locals, tend to drive too fast on these roads and we have had two close calls with teenagers going faster than their brains or pockets could cope with. It wasn’t long before Mt Taranaki (formally Mt. Egmont) hove into sight; this is one of the more perfect volcanic cones in New Zealand and is often compared with the more famous Mt Fuji in Japan. As we got closer we could see more and more, we were very lucky to have a settled weather period which gave us some great views of the mountain. We stopped the night at a campsite within walking distance of New Plymouth, a lovely town with lots of character; the next morning we were ready for an assault on Taranaki. We were blessed with the best of weather and a beautiful day when we drove up to the North Egmont Visitor Centre; the sun was hot but at this altitude the conditions were cool enough to make for some very pleasant walking. We elected to go strait up and the Summit Track was the only way to go…….

23 It was a great trek; a little hard at times as we went up the ‘Puffers Track’, which was aptly named, we were certainly puffing by the time we reached the top……The views were magnificent all the way up, below the sparse clouds we could see across miles of fertile plain and above the cloud we could see across a fluffy white blanket to the solitary peak of Mt Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park which, like Taranaki speared the clouds reaching for the sky; it was a very impressive sight! After another night in New Plymouth, resting our sore muscles, we found our way to Pukekura Park (which is almost ‘down town’). Apart from this being a great park with over twenty kilometres of walking tracks and lots of beautiful features, it is also home to the Brooklands Zoo; a small but impressive enclosure where one can get up close to a selection of wild animals. We particularly liked the Avery, which allowed visitors to wander inside and have the many varieties of birds fly around them. From New Plymouth we took the “Forgotten World Highway”, which is Route 43 and winds its way through some spectacular scenery. Along the way it passes through the ‘Republic of Whangamomona’ and in the town of this name we found an ‘old world’ Kiwi Pub where we stopped to refresh ourselves……. unfortunately, due to the driving, I was unable to sample the beer but the ice-cream was good (if a little expensive!); it was well worth the experience though. Further up the road, having passed over a few saddle’s, all blessed with panoramic views; we passed through the Moki Tunnel and the Tangerakau Gorge where the road turns to gravel for about twenty kilometres. Again we were faced with a situation where photos

24 would never do the subject any justice and we will just have to rely on our memories to paint the picture; this is a ‘must do’ drive for anyone passing through eastern north island. The road ends at Taumarunui but we found a DOC campsite just a few miles short of town and spent a peaceful night camped on the banks of the Whanganui River.

After visiting Taumarunui we headed south on Route 4, taking time out for the Piraka Lookout where there must have once been a settlement of some sort, all that remained now were the apple trees of the abandoned orchard and these grow temptingly close to where the lookout is located. A little further down the road we did a detour to Kakahi and on to another gravel road that took us through three scenic reserves. Once down at National Park we had some stunning views of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro where we had walked the previous year “across The Plains of Gorgoroth” and the Alpine Crossing. On our way back from South Island these mountains all had their ‘hats on’ (heads in the clouds), but now they were in the clear and we could at last get some of the pictures we’d been looking for.

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We called by Raetihi, a historic logging town which still looks like something out of the ‘wild west’. Nothing much happens here at the best of times these days but there is a little more life when the winter skiers arrive…. or so I would hope. We checked in at the Ohakune ‘Top Ten’ for the night as this was pleasant little town on the southern face of Ruapehu, which we had yet to climb. The mountain dominates the skyline from this quaint little town and the surrounding countryside so our charge up the Ohakune Mountain Road the next morning wasn’t without direction. Unfortunately, it transpired that the DOC had decided to replace a bridge about three quarters of the way up and this put paid to our attempt on the summit; there just wouldn’t have been enough time in the day to complete our walk from the point at which we’d got bogged down. We did however get some quite good pictures of the summit! As a consolation we took a hike out to Lake Rotokura and the Karioi Lakes where we had a nice little picnic before moving on. Just south of Waiouru we found the Erewhon Road which runs east from Taihape to Napier; this is no expressway and for most rented vehicles it’s off-limits! It is however a most scenic drive through some fantastic countryside; not quite a road in many places but a ‘work in progress’ as the Kiwi’s try hard to move their roadway system into the twenty-first century. There were some ‘trying bits’ but it was more than worth it for some of the very rewarding views.

26

We camped outside Napier and spent the next morning looking around this famous “Art Deco” city. Maybe it was the weather, which became showery; or maybe it was just us, however we were not too impressed with “Art Deco” and moved off northwards following the coast to Wairoa where we stopped for the night at a small but delightful caravan park. The next morning we left early and made our way to Lake Waikaremoana (which means something like ‘Sea of Rippling Waves’…… due to the fact that the wind whistles across it and rarely stops!). It’s a magical place and the drive up is also very pretty; on the negative side, it’s quite high up and noticeably colder than on the coast, also the altitude gives cause to some rather unpredictable weather…. most of which is wet! We were lucky to get an early walk in to Lou’s lookout, the trek takes you through an area that suffered an earth quake some time back in history and gave way to many caves, nooks and crannies due to fallen boulders. From the lookout there was a great view across the lake which has one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” around its perimeter…… this is a five or six day walk and we certainly did not have time to participate. Instead we trundled along to the Visitors Centre and then hiked up to Papakorito Falls, which would have been so much better had the sun not vanished! We drove around to the Mokau Falls and the campsite of the same name, we went up to the Bluffs where we could get a view along the Whanganui Inlet, a narrow and scenic arm of the lake. Unfortunately the weather was going downhill fast and we

27 were now getting heavy, almost continuous, rain showers; a situation that seemed likely to get worse rather than better. We checked out the not so impressive DOC campsite and watched the rain getting driven up the lake whilst deciding whether to pitch our tent or not……The situation didn’t improve and we moved on. We stopped a night in Gisborn and were very impressed with the town, its wide open streets were well decorated with flowers and there were a multitude of shops along a very reasonable High Street. From here we followed the Pacific Coast Highway north along one of New Zealand’s most memorable drives. Along the way we stopped to do the scenic walkway to Cooks Cove and then checked out the Longest Pier in New Zealand at Tolaga Bay. Only the imbedded railway lines in the concrete surface, tell of the network of lines that converged on this jetty from the surrounding countryside where farmers were determined to get their produce to market and beyond.

Further north we detoured down to Anaura Bay, which had a magnificent setting and another ‘walkway’… however the walkway was somewhat of a disappointment. We made another detour down to Waipiro Bay where we discovered more remains of this coasts wonderful heritage, the old Waipiro Bay Trading Company was no doubt once a fine establishment and during its time would have experienced some of the riches this area at one time produced. Now in ruins; it is a testimony to the pioneering spirit that dominated this country not so very long ago. That night we camped almost at sea level, at the Te Araroa Holiday Park to the west of East Cape; it was a park which had seen better days! Around 0445 hrs the next morning we were awoken to the sound of rushing footsteps and someone outside our tent telling us to wake up as there was a Tsunami coming! We were not impressed but gathered what we could from the tent and threw it quickly into the car before taking off for higher ground. We spent the next four hours in the company of many other ‘evacuees’ at a scenic overlook on the hillside above the campground.

28 We all listened to our radios for news and considered our selves lucky we were not in Chile, where they had experienced a massive and devastating earthquake; we were not alone in our evacuation, people had moved or were moving to higher ground all around the Pacific Basin as the Tsunami warning was passed on. When the local policeman gave us the all clear we were free to return for our tent however the warnings were to avoid the beaches and areas of low land….. We packed the tent away rather quickly and vacated the campsite just as soon as we could! We were on our way back to Auckland now but had time to explore along the way, we called in Whitianga, a nice little sea side resort; then Whakatane which was a most impressive town. From here we went inland to the northern shores of Lake Rotorua where we again camped for the night, the good weather was back again but rain was already moving up South Island in our direction. The next day we took the most scenic route we could back to Aukland, the best bit of which took us along the Old Te Aroha Road past the Wairere Falls. We were pretty much ‘camped out’ by the time we got back to the boat which seemed quite palatial and luxurious after what we’d been doing. It had been well worth the effort however, as we’d certainly collected some more unforgettable memories and covered some parts which we had really wanted to see. Just a few days after our return, I put a ‘For Sale’ notice on the car in the morning and by the end of the day we had a buyer. It was all a bit quick but I think it was for the better that way, we do of course miss not having transport but now we are able to concentrate on getting the boat ready for heading north…… before we get frozen in and before we fall so much in love with the place we cannot leave!!!!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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