We continue on our adventure in New Zealand’s North Island for the second and final week. To read part one, click here.
Day 7 New Plymouth – Hamilton
I had enough time to tackle the river walk before we had to leave One Burgess Hill. While the loop walk is a clearly marked path with steps and gravel and boundaries, once you step out over the fence, you are in uncharted territory (OK, not really, but that’s how it feels). I was on a high hillside, looking down a steep slope to the river. A slightly worn path showed where others had made the trek, so gave me some guidance to start, but quickly disappeared.
Making my way down to the river’s edge saw me climbing over and through fences, slipping and sliding and balancing and clambering and ducking under trees. That was more adventurous than I’d been for a long time! There was only one small place by the river where I could reach the water, so I sat for a little while enjoying the rush of it over rocks. When it came time to return up the hill, I saw a far simpler route that was invisible from where I started. I zipped up in no time at all. I’m sure there’s a lesson on perspective in there somewhere.
State Highway 3
On leaving, we took State Highway 3 to Hamilton. This was the best stretch of scenery on the trip. We saw crags and gorges; sheep dotting impossibly steep mountain sides; running rivers ranging from crystal clear blue to muted greens and browns, glistening over rocks and black sand; and fences like the black dots of sutures, binding the edges of a wound together. At one point I did find myself contrasting the vibrant living green of the hills bordered by the sparkling blue energy of waves in the sea, to my windowless, drab, artificially lit office. It’s really no way to live. I had to let that thinking go, though, to return to living in the moment and appreciating the experience.
We stopped in the little town of Mokau where we looked at the historical society’s museum and art gallery. After continuing on our drive, we stopped at Piopio for a late lunch, but then decided to head straight to Hamilton. We were finding all the driving tiring. This may have been because we were doing quite a bit under a hot Autumn sun. Arriving at the Camelot on Ulster Motel was a relief. I headed out to grab some dumplings at a local Chinese place, which we ate back in our room before an early bed.
Day 8 Rotorua
We booked a steam box lunch tour at Te Puia. Because we didn’t have a lot of time to spend, we wanted an activity that would give us a good sampling of what Rotorua had to offer.
We began by packing lunches that would be cooked over a natural steam vent while we did our tour. You can choose from chicken, pumpkin, kumara, stuffing, greens, potato and corn, which are packed into foil trays. We were then shown around some traditionally carved meeting houses, while the guide explained the cultural aspects of the buildings. The whole of Te Puia paused for the welcoming ceremony, featuring traditional dancers. We got to see some carvers in action, as well as some weavers. Te Puia is the national school for traditional carving and weaving. They only take about four students each year, so entry is highly competitive. We had the chance to make a woven flower out of flax that grows on site.
Mud Pools & Geysers
We then got to see one of my favourite natural phenomena – a boiling mud pool, which is really composed of silica and kaolin clay. The temperature is just below 100 degrees. The more sulphuric acid, the darker the pool. The one we saw had so much sulphuric acid that it was 1 pH! In some places, the pool is too hot, so little mud volcanoes form. In others, it is too wet, so the clay is liquid. The middle was a just right combination of heat and liquid. The pool is expected to double in size over the next 600 years, so the hotel next door could be in trouble.
The geysers were amazing on their silica terraces, looking like what I imagine the surface of other planets might look like. The pool behind was an almost unreal bright blue and green. Our tour guide had learned to swim in that pool, as the steaming water from the geyser dissipates to a safe temperature not far from where it runs into the pool.
We finally got to see a kiwi bird in the dim light! She was on her own, as she is too immature to breed yet, so they have moved the male out. This is for her own safety, as eggs take up 20% of the mother’s insides; being too young, she could die. They artificially manipulate the environment so lights are on in our nighttime, and they make it extremely dim during our daytime so she is active when we want to see her, as she is nocturnal. This made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
Next, we headed to eat our lunch seated next to the main geyser. We watched it being removed from the steam box, then devoured it happily. While talking to other people on our tour, we discovered a family that lives in a suburb 20 minutes away from us! Also, our tour guide had lived in our suburb for a while, as she has family in Australia. NZ and Australia really are buddies.
Yet again by the end of the day, the afternoon sun was too much, so we decided to head home. On the way, we’d seen a sign for blueberry pancakes at the Mamaku Blue blueberry farm. Mr. ETT loves blueberries and pancakes, so it was something he had looked forward to all day. He indulged, while we picked up some blueberry wine and small liqueurs. We drank the wine there (it was OK), but haven’t cracked open the liqueurs yet.
Day 9 Waitomo Caves
The Caves were amazing! We got there early, so began with a walk to a lookout over the valley. The walk goes through working farmland – for a short distance we were walking alongside a paddock with cows grazing. At the top of the hill there was a step over a fence, then we were walking along a cow path (with cow poo!) to reach a wooden rotunda. The cow path went all the way up to and around the lookout – it made me laugh to think of the cows stepping up to survey their home.
The tour proper lead us into the cave system, which was easily traversed. The guide stopped at various points to talk about the formations. The rock is limestone and naturally layered. Each layer represents about 6000 years of compaction, with lines of sand or sediment separating them. So difficult to comprehend.
We saw stalactites and stalagmites, along with a few columns. There is an acoustic chamber which opens up high into a dome. They hold Christmas carols in the cave every year. There was water dripping from the ceiling, and the guide said that only a few months ago the river had risen enough to flood the chamber. We could see the tide line. At the end, we boarded a boat, and slid silently into the glow-worm cave. It was magical to glide along the river, the only light coming from thousands of glow worms on the ceiling. It was a green or white bioluminescence, and my eyes played tricks, as they seemed to slowly waver the dark. The tour was pricey, and didn’t last very long, but it was well worth it.
Dinner that night was at Speight’s Alehouse. We got there at 4:30 and started with some bread, and beers made at their brewery. I had to ask the barman what to call the different beer sizes when ordering. In Sydney, you ask for a middie or a schooner. In NZ (or Hamilton, at least), you buy a half or a full, referring to pints. We just sat and chatted, I read the local papers, we watched sport on the TV. I really loved having the time to just spend with Mr. ETT. This happens so rarely in our everyday life at home, because I’m constantly looking around at everything that still needs doing. There’s always multiple things that need doing.
About 6pm we moved to the restaurant. Mr. ETT ordered a steak, medium rare. Every time he has ordered this, it has come too rare. In the future, ordering medium is probably the way to go. I at smoky ribs, which were delicious, but we both had too much food..
Day 10 Hobbiton
This was all I wanted it to be, and more. The tour guides were phenomenal – they really made the experience something special. (Shout-out to Sonny – thanks so much, you rock!)
We booked the dusk tour with dinner in the Green Dragon Inn. We ate dinner and toured with people from York in England, Japan, Tucson Arizona, New York, LA, Germany, France, Melbourne, China and Bundaberg Australia. The dinner was just like the Internet – but IN REAL LIFE!
Honestly, I can’t write about this. Instead of attempting to use a vocabulary that is far too limited, all I can do is show you the photographs, and recommend you go to experience it yourself. Even if you aren’t a fan of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Even if you’ve never heard of the books or movies. You’ll come out planning ways to build your own hobbit hole, followed quickly by a hobbit community. Hobbits are totally frugal.
Day 11 Hamilton – Auckland
Today we left Hamilton, heading back north to Auckland. On the way, we stopped off in Pokeno, the home of NZ ice cream. Ice cream is Mr. ETT’s weakness, so ice cream for brunch is perfectly acceptable in his book! Pokeno is essentially a one street town, and the ice cream shop/s look like any corner store, just with a lot of different flavours. There were, however, a few things that made them stand out:
- A single scoop cone cost $2. I can’t remember the last time ice creams only cost $2.
- They offer a 14 scoop cone. For reals. Google if you want to see images.
- Their single scoop was really almost the equivalent of 4 scoops. Seriously, instead of putting the scoop in, then twisting the ice cream out, they scoop, partial twist, scoop more, partial twist, scoop more, partial twist, scoop more! Luckily there was a line up, so I witnessed this and could prepare before I got to the front of the line. When I asked for a 2 scoop cone, but with much less ice cream, the response was “oh, you want a kiddie cone?” Well, sure, whatever it takes to moderate the amount of frozen sugary cream I’m about to indulge in.
Arriving in Auckland
Satisfied by our mid-morning break, we set back off to Auckland. Because we would be arriving earlier than check-in time at our hotel, we thought we would spend some time at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOMAT). Boy, were we wrong. It was a beautiful, sunny ANZAC Day, and everyone was taking advantage of the fact. Parking was horrendous. Traffic was horrendous. Driving was stressful. We decided to give up and head to our hotel anyway. Even this was awful, because the middle of Auckland is undergoing massive, major infrastructure upgrades, so entire streets are blocked or changed or boarded, all in the middle of a major city that reminds me far too much of Sydney. Thankfully, our room was ready when we got there, so we retired to huddle and hide from life for the afternoon.
I did head out for a walk later on, but I’m afraid my first impressions weren’t that great. Auckland is such a confusing city. The massive works that are going on make it difficult to walk as a pedestrian, as well as drive. Many of the street side businesses are blocked off by hoarding, so you can’t look for things as you go. Then they also have streets that are paved like walkways, or pedestrian malls, but cars are allowed to drive down them one-way. I found what I needed, headed back to the hotel, then ducked out a bit later to grab some takeaway Pad Thai for dinner.
Day 12 – Auckland
Today we took ourselves on a walking tour of Auckland’s city centre, loosely following the suggested route from a tourist magazine. We didn’t stick to it entirely, but it got us around. We started near the Britomart Transport Centre, where I popped into Tiffany & Co. for a look. I love Tiffany & Co., but as a lapsed jewellery maker, I can never bring myself to pay for the brand name (because I know what the raw materials are worth, and the price is certainly not reflective of that). It doesn’t mean I can’t look and admire, though!
Then we headed along the waterfront until it ran out at Silo Park. We saw a seaplane land on the water, before returning to the shops on Queen Street. Shortland Street elicited some chuckles as we passed (I was familiar with the soapie from home, I didn’t realise it was a real street!). We wandered down lanes and into bookshops, past the Art Gallery (next time) and into Albert Park, then past the Civic Centre to finish at the Sky Tower, which was great. There was a bungee jumper going down as we went up, so we had a quick glimpse. Unfortunately no one else decided to go while we were up there.
We got a better feel for Auckland as a city. It’s still a bit confusing, but it’s a lot like Sydney, really. We aren’t fans of big cities, but it turned out to be OK to walk around in. I was feeling more kindly towards the city by the end of the day. Dinner that night was at the Grasshopper Thai restaurant. Delicious!
Day 13 – Auckland
Breakfast was at a gorgeous french café named L’Assiette. I’ve mentioned before that Mr. ETT and I value spending time in cafés, eating delicious food. I indulged in the French toast with salted caramel, cinnamon crème fraîche & poached pear, and added bacon. Mr. ETT enjoyed cured salmon with potato & herb hash, poached egg, and hollandaise sauce. Of course, the meals were complemented with fragrant coffee.
After having filled our bellies, we drove to the Auckland War Memorial Museum to spend the day. The War Memorial Museum incorporates a floor for the War Memorial, a floor dedicated to natural history, and a floor about the history and culture of the Pacific Islander people. As I’m sure you know yourselves, places like this are easy to spend an entire day in, while still not seeing everything. Mr. ETT’s favourite floor was the War Memorial, whereas mine was natural history. In hindsight, we should have split up, but half of the joy of new discoveries is sharing it with someone. Even if they aren’t really into it as much as you (I’m looking at AwP indulging Poopsie at the Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.)
As this was the final night of our holiday, we decided on one last splurge. We dined at Fish Restaurant on the Princes Wharf. Our seats were directly against the window, looking out over the harbour. We were able to watch the sun setting, then the lights of ferries and ships zipping through the darkened waters.
We hope you enjoyed a glimpse of New Zealand’s North Island through our eyes. There was way, way more that we could have experienced. We’d like to revisit one day, with a lot more time on our hands, to get to know the North Island even better.