A visit to the Tokaanu Thermal Springs and Rotorua with a short trip to Tauranga

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.

Rotorua

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.

Swam past the restaurant verandah

Swam past the restaurant verandah

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.

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In search of Hobbits Part 2: A journey around the North Island

New Zealand is geographically around the same side as the United Kingdom without the 65 million people. We left the South Island and its 1.5 million people to the crowded North Island of 2.5 million. The Cook Strait crossing is a lovely boat trip on a nice day with some lovely scenery coming out of Picton. Next stop was Wellington one of my favourite cities in the world and where I lived for a decade. The harbour is brilliant for just walking around and Te Papa the best museum in New Zealand is located on the seafront. In addition, the best restaurants in NZ are in Wellington. The only downside is all the politicians living in Wellington as parliament is located here. I booked a house in Ngaio the suburb I used to live for our time in Wellington. It is ideally located for getting the train in to central Wellington. I like Ngaio as it has great birdlife and a good café scene. Talking of bird life I love birds and below are some of the birds we saw on our travel. If you want to see some birds in Wellington the place to go is the Karori Sanctuary or Zealandia in Wellington, the website address is:

http://www.visitzealandia.com/

Things to do in Wellington

Walk around the city. Take the cable car up for a great view or walk up to Mt Victoria which overlooks Wellington. The bushwalk up to the summit also was used for some of the filming of Lord of the Rings, alas no hobbits seen the day we went up. You can go into parliament and see the politicians lie to each other when it is in session and where King John rules. The parliament was refurbished a few years ago and an interesting building where you can see how the building was made earthquake proof. I would recommend exploring Cuba Street, see the Beehive where the Prime Minister allegedly works, go and see the Karori Sanctuary for birdlife. Enjoy the restaurants and visit the Weka studio where Peter Jackson created the Lord of the Rings. One bit of advice is if you have the time to climb Mt Kau Kau from Ngaio. It takes around a hour and on a fine day it has spectacular views of the harbour, city and on a good day you can see the South Island.

View of Wellington from Mt Kau Kau

View of Wellington from Mt Kau Kau

We had a wonderful week in Wellington catching up with friends and seeing the sights.

Then drove to Rotorua via Lake Taupo. We spent a couple of days there exploring the hot pools, mud and Maori culture. Unhappily we were not able to do any tramping due to time constraints. I am hoping in February 2015 to do the Tongariro Crossing with my wife and camp up on the Plateau or near the crater as I used to do.


After Rotorua we went up to Auckland and stayed with my brother Neil and his wife Yvonne. I grew up in Manurewa and knew the city before it became a traffic nightmare and over developed due to the corruption of all the councils. Cheap, tacky housing built in central Auckland is evident to see and urban sprawl is like a cancer ever spreading. There are some nice places in Auckland though and it has two wonderful harbours. It also was good to catch up with my niece Courtney and nephew Sean.

My nephew and niece

My nephew and niece

My brother took my in-laws and wife on a trip to see a secret Kauri tree near Auckland which they really enjoyed. In 2015 I plan to spend a bit more time in Auckland and show my wife Rangitoto the dormant volcano in the harbour and a few other sights around Auckland. After my in-laws departed for Canada we hired a car and drove slowly up to the Bay of Islands stopping at the giant Kauri’s in Northland.

We spent several days at the lovely Copthorne Hotel Resort at Paihia. My review is below:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g580539-d257077-r90202629-Copthorne_Hotel_Resort_Bay_of_Islands-Waitangi_Bay_of_Islands_Northland_Region_Nor.html

My wife fulfilled her dream of swimming with dolphins in the Bay of Islands. We also enjoyed some delicious fish meals including some lovely groper and oysters. We explored historic Russell which is opposite Paihia and a short ferry ride away. It was also nice to visit Waitangi, see the meeting house and grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. On our return to Auckland, Neil and Yvonne took us to Raglan for a brilliant weekend of staying in a Teepee and exploring the area. Alas no hobbits were seen on the entire trip, next time perhaps.