After a year travelling we are back in England. I write this blog watching the rain fall outside my window. It is odd to be home after being on the road for a year. Our last few weeks in India went smoothly and we visited Udaipur and then back to Delhi. We flew out to Dubai for a few days and then hit the ground running when we got back to our empty house. I am hoping to finish a few more blogs in the next few weeks about our last weeks in India and three-day stopover in Dubai. Thanks to everyone that has followed the blog and I do intend to keep blogging and happy to answer any questions about our travels or for anyone looking for any tips. A few photos below from our wonderful year of travel in the USA, New Zealand, Asia and a few other places.
A visit to Wellington
After saying farewell to my brother and his wife Yvonne in Auckland we flew on Jetstar to Wellington. It cost NZ$157 one way and included our 50 kilos of luggage. In Wellington we met up with my old flatmate Joanne at the airport and headed for her house in Ngaio a suburb of Wellington. We spent a great week with Joanne and managed to have a barbecue on a windy day catching up with old friends. During the week we managed to visit Zealandia twice, see a movie at the Embassy theatre, visit the Museum Te Papa and ate at some nice restaurants.
Zealandia the place to see native birds or a kiwi
One of the attractions to New Zealand is its unique native wildlife. Thanks to the hard work of mostly volunteers and a fence you too can enjoy seeing what New Zealand used to look and sound like near the centre of Wellington. There is a wildlife sanctuary called Zealandia with rare native birds and tuatara. It is easy to get to via the Wellington cable car where at the top a free shuttle van takes you to the sanctuary. It cost NZ$17.50 which covers you for two days. We went twice. There are free guided tours and you get to see Kaka, Stitchbird, saddleback and takahe as well as other rare native birds. There is also an interesting exhibition and lovely cafe. If you want to see a kiwi at night in the bush then this is the place to do it, you can book an evening visit at the attraction. There are some lovely bush walks in the sanctuary up to the dam and several spots along the way to enjoy views of native birds feeding on bird feeders.
Other places to visit in Wellington
You have to visit Te Papa the Museum of New Zealand and arguably the best museum in New Zealand. A walk along the waterfront will be rewarded with lots of places to eat and some nice views of the harbour. The best view is from Mt Victoria or take the cable car up to the Wellington Botanic Gardens which also has great views. Cuba street has some nice cafes but is looking a bit run down these days. Peter Jackson fans can visit the Embassy theatre, Weta studios or do a tour of some of the Lord of the Ring film locations in and around Wellington.
The best part in visiting Wellington was catching up with old friends. I also wish I had taken more flaming photos. Our next stop is Tasmania.
Tokaanu Hot Springs and Huka Falls
Our next stop after walking the Tongariro Crossing was a place to ease the aches in our muscles. The Tokaanu Hot Pools are near Turangi and an ideal place to relax for a few hours. We had a lovely hot soak in a private pool. The cost for a private pool is NZ$10 each for a generous 30 minutes. There are also cooling showers outside the private pools. There also is a lovely free leisurely 15 minute walk around the back seeing bubbling mud, hot springs and the thermal area where the hot springs originate. There also is a public pool included in the price of admission for the private pool. I like this hot springs as it is not trying to overcharge you like some of the hot springs around Taupo and Rotorua. We stopped here on our way to Rotorua at the Huka Falls. The Huka Falls are the beginning of the Waikato River which originates from Lake Taupo. Around 220,000 litres of litre go by every second at the base of the falls. The Falls are free to see by taking a short walk over the bridge and channel of thundering water, along a path, for a few minutes to get a view and photo of the falls. The best view is a few minutes away by car up the road from a lookout overlooking the falls.
We spent three days at Rotorua exploring the area from nearby Blue Lake. We camped at the Blue Lake Top 10 Camping and motel site for two nights. The camp is beside Blue Lake where you can do a lovely walk around the lake or go for a kayak or swim. Facilities at the campsite are excellent with hot showers, kitchen (you can get cutlery, pots and pans as well if you ask), recreation room and a small shop. It cost us NZ$42 per night for a non powered tent site. If you have a camper van then this is the ideal place to stopover. We had a lovely leisurely hour and a half walk around the lake in the morning listening to the bellbirds and watching the water skiers on the lake practicing.
If you go to Rotorua make sure you visit the stand of Californian Redwoods. We went twice during our visit to Rotorua. In 1901, a 6 hectare stand of Californian Redwoods was planted and is called the Redwood Memorial Grove. It is a magical experience walking among these giants of the forest listening to the chorus of cicada’s. Unlike every other experience in Rotorua this one is completely free. There is nowhere to eat at the Redwoods, however, nearby on the main road before you turn into the road leading to the Redwoods is the Office Cafe. We stopped here before visiting the Redwoods. The barista won a prize in 2014 and made an excellent flat white. I decided to have porridge and enjoyed it. My wife had the full works. It was also nice to have good free wi-fi.
We had previously visited the thermal pools and a Maori Hangi Concert so did not do those this time. Instead we wandered around the beautiful Government Gardens and went for a swim at the Blue Baths. We went to the Polynesian Spa first but the long queues put us off. So a short walk to the Blue Baths and wow. We paid NZ$11 each and had the baths to ourselves. The two side pools were the hottest I have ever experienced in NZ. We had a very relaxing few hours enjoying the pool.
Our next stop was Tauranga where we spent a lovely few days with some friends and enjoyed a walk around Mount Manganui. Our friends took us to Phils Place, one of only two restaurant actually beside the water in Tauranga. There is a great view of the marina and of planes landing at the airport. We ate on a balcony outside. I had mussels for a starter and for a main the pork belly. Both delicious. Service was good and a highlight was seeing a large stingray swim alongside the restaurant.
I only wished we could have stayed longer at Al and Julia’s and the two days went to quickly. We also introduced Debbie to the wonderful Australian film ‘The Castle’. Then it was back to Auckland before flying down to Wellington for a week.
What is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best one day walks in the world through volcanic landscape. Mt Nguarahoe is also famous as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The hike is in New Zealand’s oldest National Park and in the centre of the North Island. Over the years the walk has gotten more and more popular. Last week we walked in glorious weather the 19.4 kilometre Tongariro Crossings. Considering up to 3000 people walk the crossing on some days we were lucky to share it with a mere thousand other hikers. My wife has wanted to walk the Tongariro Crossing for years, since I told her about it. I have walked it several times in all seasons. I remember during the 1980’s when I camped up at the Blue Lake Crater how quiet and magical it was to wake up in the morning and see Mount Nguarahoe and Emerald lakes. I was curious how the experience would be with so many people, in the end, it was still a magical walk and the only thing I did not like was the periodic flying planes above doing scenic flights.
Where we stayed?
I decided we should stay at National Park as it is not too far from the kick off point at Mangatepopo car park. We stayed at the Ski Haus at National Park for two nights. It was perfect. It is a hostel and not luxury accommodation. The room was clean as were the bathrooms, lounge and kitchen. Our room cost NZ$68 per night. It is a lot cheaper if you share one of the bunk rooms. The kitchen had cutlery and pots and pans so you can cook meals during your stay. The hostel was not busy unlike the nearby Youth Hostel which was packed with people and where we picked up the next morning on the bus 20 people for the crossing. My only niggle was having to pay for wi-fi at the hostel although we found a nearby cafe with good free wi-fi.
Getting to the mountain
The hostel organised transport to and from the crossing for a cost of NZ$30 each. The bus was on time at 7am and after picking up a few other hikers at other accommodation had us at the start of the track by 7.45am. We immediately started the walk and had till 4pm to get to the end and be picked up by the bus. The driver also gave us a card for emergencies with a number to ring if your delayed.
Since I last walked the crossing the track has improved. There are board walks in places up to Soda Springs from Mangatepopo car park. The devils staircase now actually has steps which it never had in the old days and was a scramble up. Now, it is more like the angels staircase. At the top, you have the choice of climbing Mt Nguarahoe but you need to give yourself at least 2-3 hours. We walked across the plateau then climbed up to Red Crater. To assist people there is now a steel cable in one place which is worn away a bit. We enjoyed the views of Red Crater, Emerald lakes and Blue lake crater from the top and had lunch near one of the Emerald Lakes.
After a small climb up to Blue Lake Crater it is a downhill track to Ketahihi shelter. The hut deceptively looks closer than it is when you see it and before arriving you must embark on a switch back hell. Walking down from Blue Lake Crater you get views of the steam arising from the Te Maari crater which erupted a few years ago. From the shelter you walk for a couple of hours to the car park with views of Lake Taupo along the way.
As long as you are reasonably fit the walk is fine. Take at least 2 litres of water, decent boots, suntan lotion, snacks for energy and enjoy the scenery. We paced the walk to turn up at the car park at 3.40pm. I am glad we did as the car park resembled Dunkirk in 1940 with everyone waiting for their ride. There are lots of people but the scenery is still incredible, volcano’s, red crater, plateau, emerald lakes and the desolate landscape is spectacular.
What is Tiritiri Matangi?
Tiritiri Matangi is a wildlife project established in 1980s thanks to the hard work of thousands of volunteers still working for the benefit of the island today. The island is 30 km east of central Auckland and there are great views of the city from near the bunk house and visitor centre on the island. Tiritiri Matangi was once farmland and now the 220 hectare island is 60% bush and 40% grassland. The Island is home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered bird species such as the Takahe which number only 250 in the world, the North Island Kokako, stitchbirds, Saddleback and kiwi which are seen only at night.
If you are like me and check tripadvisor then you will know the top rated attraction to visit in Auckland is Tiritiri Matangi in the Hauraki Gulf. The Island is around 5 miles from Whangaparoa Peninsula. The only way to get there if you do not have your own boat is by a ferry operated by 360 Degrees a subsidiary of Fullers. On our arrival in Auckland one of our first stop was the Viaduct Tourist Information Office in downtown Auckland. There also is a Department of Conservation (DOC) office where you can book Great Walks and an overnight stay on Tiritiri Matangi.
How do you book an overnight stay?
Another option is to book an overnight stay on the island through the DOC website. However, they seem to have a lot of problems with it as when I tried to book an overnight stay it was impossible to work. On the off-chance there was a place free I asked the DOC officer and there was a week later so I immediately booked it. The price to stay overnight is NZ$30 each in a bunk house which houses 15 people a night in three rooms. There are also volunteers at the bunk house who have their own room. After booking the overnight stay you need to immediately book your ferry ticket. There is a limit of 160 visitors each day on the island. The booking office is a few minutes down from the Tourism office. It cost us NZ$70 for a return ticket. Later we found a coupon that would have saved us 10% off the ticket in the A-Z Auckland book handed out by the tourism office.
You do have to fill out a biosecurity form on the DOC website for collection at arrival and be aware that any food must be in rodent free sealed boxes or in your pack. There are no fires on Tiritiri Matangi and the weather can cause ferry cancellations. The list of other things to do can be seen at the link above on book an overnight stay.
What do you bring?
We packed light. In the end we brought with us a couple of sleeping bags, towel, change of clothes, a good torch (imperative if you want to see kiwi at night), food for the dinner, breakfast and lunch as there is no food to be bought on the island. The bunk house has cutlery, plates, fridge and freezer for food, a gas barbecue in the courtyard, pillow and mattress on the bunks, hot showers, flush toilets and everything you would need for an overnight stay or longer. I wish we had stayed an extra night.
Staying on the Island
On arrival you are met by the ranger and volunteer guides. The ranger briefs you on the do’s and don’ts of visiting the island. He also transports your pack up to the bunk house and down again when you leave. This allows you the opportunity to do a guided walk with the guides, well worth doing. There are several tracks on the island and the most difficult bird to find was the North Island Kokako. We managed to find one a few hours before we left in one of their territories near the Kawerau track. The bunk house was in my view brilliant. We spent hours walking the many tracks of the island just looking and listening at the birds and at night we easily found kiwi as they rustle in the leaves looking for dinner. The Takahe were around the lighthouse and easy to find. The dawn chorus is not worth doing unless it is sunny as we found out on an overcast morning and no dawn chorus. The great thing about the island is at 3.30 you have it to yourself as the day visitors return on the 75 minute ferry ride back to Auckland.
I hope you get a chance to visit this wonderful bird paradise and enjoy the chorus of native birds.
Another busy week in Auckland. We left my brother’s place to stay with my niece and her partner in Howick a suburb of Auckland.
Howick Historical Village
The first day we visited the Howick Historical Village and met one of Auckland’s celebrities the Mad Butcher who was doing some filming for a documentary at the village. The village itself is charming and like stepping back into the past without the smells of people living in tents and using outdoor latrines.
Howick Historical Village was established in 1980 as a recreated colonial village in New Zealand. The era it recreates is between 1840-1880 and covers 7 acres. It cost $15 each entry, however we had a 2 for 1 coupon from a book we picked up at tourist information. They have lots of original restored kauri buildings. On the day we visited their was filming for a documentary. If you have small children there are lots of things for them to do. It was interesting finding out the history of Auckland and how Britain feared France may try to take over New Zealand. The Government of the day made all sorts of Pollyanna promises to 2500 ex-miltary men and their families if they moved to New Zealand, such as new houses awaiting them. The settlers were known as the Royal NZ Fencible Corps. Boy, did they get a surprise on arriving at their new home! The houses promised turned out to be just tents. You can spend a pleasant few hours here exploring the village and about the history and day-to-day activities of a New Zealand colonial village.
In the afternoon we drove around the bays of Auckland. We spent some time visiting Michael Savage’s Memorial near Bastion Point and drove up to the summit of Mt Eden to enjoy some more views of the Auckland city skyline and surrounding countryside.
A visit to Hunua Falls, a Black Sand Beach and a farm
The next day we drove out to Hunua Ranges to look at Hunua Falls. It was a bit odd as there was a group of surveyors there mapping the bottom of the falls. They were doing this as people sometimes jump off the falls and get sucked down under the falls and the police divers have problems finding the bodies. This is due to the muddiness of the water. Afterwards we drove to Daniel’s parents farm where Debbie got to do a bit of chicken whispering and see some pigs. We then drove to Karioitahi beach which is a black sand beach and enjoyed a walk along it. Then a drive back through the countryside and a stop at Waiuki for a nice meat pie.
A trip to Rangitoto Island
Rangitoto Island is 700 years old and a result of a volcanic eruption. The island is circular with the summit 260 metres high and covers 2311 hectares. The island has the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world and if you visit between November till the end of January you can see the tree’s in bloom. It is known as the New Zealand Xmas tree. To get to Rangitoto we took the metro into Auckland’s Britomart Station. From there it is a short walk to the ferry terminal. The cost of an adult ticket to Rangitoto Island is NZ$30 return, we did have a coupon from the tourist A-Z of Auckland which saved NZ$3 for one adult. The ferry goes first to Devonport to pick up other passengers and then to the island. It takes around 45 minutes. We left at 9.15 am enjoying a nice ride across the harbour.
On arrival we immediately headed up to the summit of the volcano. There are some lovely views going up to the top and the track is easy. It takes a leisurely hour to reach the summit. From the summit there are views of Auckland and you can also do a short walk around the rim of the volcano. Afterwards we took a detour on our way back to the wharf to explore the lava caves which you can walk through one and scramble through the other. Well worth the detour. We also were lucky in seeing a saddleback bird near the summit. There is no food or drink on the island so we brought a picnic which we ate at the wharf while waiting for the 2.30 ferry back to Auckland. It is a great day out and a nice way to spend four and a half hours.
The next day we went to Tiritiri Matangi which I am going to write in a separate blog explaining how to book an overnight stay on this Bird Sanctuary and the only place in Auckland where you can see a wild kiwi in its natural habitat plus a plethora of other wild New Zealand native birds.