Friday 18th March Falls and rapids with a balloon ending 156 km
It rained really hard in the night. We were glad to be in our motorhome, and not in a little tent or 'camping car' like all the young people here. There was a lot of people activity in this lovely free but sodden campsite when we left at 9.30. Some campers had been 'revelling' quite late last night, when the weather was pleasant.
We made our way to the Aratiatia Rapids, where 4 times a day, water from the hydro electric plant is released to pour through the rocky gorge. The first time is at 10 am. We found the parking area then set off on the supposed 5 minute walk to the lookout. In fact it was much longer than 5 minutes, on a rough path with several large boulders in the way. There were only a couple of other people here on this damp morning. It seemed like an eternity waiting for the water to flow, although the gorge itself was attractive. When the water did flow, with a great whoosh, it was quite impressive, and interesting to see the difference from a few moments before.
We walked more slowly back to the parking area, then watched as a jet boat left on its ‘cruise’.
Now we could relax a bit, as we made our way to Huka Falls, which had impressed us in 1995. By now crowds of tourists were arriving. The falls were quite spectacular with the intense turquoise blue water of the Waikato River rushing through the gorge sides. However, avoiding the many puddles and the crowds of Chinese tourists was too much!
‘Before and after’ at Aratiatia Rapids
We left to shop in 'Countdown', getting the goods we wanted and being very aware of not buying too much for our last little while here. We then got diesel and Adrian pumped up the front tyre again before we drove down to Lake Taupo to have lunch.
The weather had deteriorated again. We parked right by the lake, amused at the sea gulls lined up on the posts. Next to us was a golf driving range - people were whamming the balls into the lake to try and get a 'hole in one' on the pontoon moored on the lake - even in the rain!
Gushing Huka Falls
We left here at 1.30, having driven no further than yesterday lunchtime!
We headed for Te Kuiti through pleasant country on quiet roads. We got there at 4 o'clock. Apparently it's a town known for sheep shearing, and the first thing we saw was a giant statue of a shearer with sheep, which young children were scrambling over.
Seagulls on posts at wet Lake Taupo
There were almost no campsites in this area, so we headed for 'Domain camping ground' - a site with lots of cabins, a few ancient white and green static caravans, and a few camping spots. The man in charge seemed the most miserable soul, with a constant fag in his mouth. We'd come into a site, needing to use a washing machine - yes, they had one, but no drier (it was broken). As I went to the machine, the bloke came over 'takes a long time' he said ‘has to fill up with water twice'. We wondered at the wisdom of doing the washing now, with damp weather and no drier!
Opposite was a large school playing field, where something was being set up. Then a vehicle went by, with a hot air balloon on the back. 'Going to watch the balloons tonight' said the campsite man to Adrian. 'What time' asked Adrian. "I don't know, just saw what it said in the paper'.
Well, the hot air balloons did come, but the weather was against them. Two of them were inflated, one doing a tethered flight, others just got the flames going. We walked across to take in some of the atmosphere. Hundreds of people were happily enjoying themselves - families with babies and toddlers, elderly people sitting in wheelchairs, dozens of children scampering about. There were a few stalls selling food. It was just a lovely village happening that could have been almost anywhere.
We came back and got our own supper.
Children on the sheep shearer, Te Kuiti
Community balloon fun, Te Kuiti
Saturday 19th March Testing my claustrophobia and vertigo! 76km
Waitomo glow worm caves, Ruakuri bush walk and more limestone delights
I was pleased to have coped with my claustrophobia and lack of balance. It was an excellent visit. We rewarded ourselves with an icecream afterwards (mine hokey pokey), even if we had to wait ages for the girl to serve us.
Leaving Waitomo Glowworm caves - no photos allowed inside
Next we stopped at Ruakuri Bush Walk. This was said to be a 30 minute easy walk. It was a fantastic walk - one of the best in NZ according to Rough Guide. Much of it was on a boardwalk or steps, high above the river, but coming down to the river too. The different part was that we went through 3 natural rock tunnels - luckily Adrian had his head torch!
With hokey pokey icecream
I wouldn't have called it an 'easy' walk - we hadn't remembered our hiking sticks - but we were very surprised to pass a young German woman carrying a baby, and with two small girls! At one point, we passed a group who were busy abseiling down to the river below - not for me. We chatted to a pleasant young Dutch chap. With dense forest and tree ferns all around it was something special.
When we left it was 2.45 and we had travelled just 22km!
We drove now on a constantly winding road through dense, verdant forest with tree ferns, until we came to the next 'stop' - Mangapohue Natural Bridge. This walk was said to be 5 minutes, but of course was more! We went along beside a stream on a vast boardwalk to an immense bridge formed in the limestone.
The three rock tunnels on the Ruakuri Bush Walk
The return walk across rough farmland, scattered with rocks where fossilised oysters could be seen, was longer, and often steep.
Mangapohue Natural Bridge
A few miles on we came to Piripiri cave, again said to be 5 minutes, but I think the New Zealanders must measure things differently, or be very speedy! Nothing was said about the 70 or so steps up, and then down, to get to the cave mouth! We hadn't got a torch this time, so didn't go down further, where again you were supposed to see fossilised oysters.
Another couple arrived, and said that we could walk down with them, but we'd done enough steps already!
Fossilised oysters on the return walk
We had another stop just a bit further on, to see Marakopa Falls - '10 minutes', but it was all downhill, so the return was longer! We walked down through dense forest to view the splendid wide 'tiered' falls.
The entrance to Piripiri Cave
When we got back to the van, it was 4.50. We wound on 20km to the coast through green hills with many trees and tree ferns. At 5.20 we reached the wide, muddy estuary of Kawhia Harbour, and after a while found a grassy place beside it where we could pull off. There was a solid picnic table, but sandflies got the better of Adrian again.
Later we spoke to Simon on the phone, then started the next website.
Sunday 20th March Another Bridal Veil Falls 122km
It was a lovely morning as we enjoyed our view over the estuary. We phoned Emma, Paul and Tom while we were still in bed. A couple came in to sit at the picnic table, so we sat inside, with the back doors open, to eat our fried breakfast. We didn't leave until after 10 o'clock.
After setting off again, we had quite a bit of rain. We continued past Raglan Harbour to Ngaruawahia, where there was a free camping spot above the Waikato River, where the Waipa River joins it at a place called 'The Point'. This is the same Waikato River which we'd seen flowing dramatically through the Huka Falls two days ago.
Bridal veil falls
It was a pleasant spot, the only drawback being the railway crossing the river, with long goods trains which supposedly run all night.
It was still early, but after a cup of tea sitting at a picnic table above the river, we decided to stay for the night. Another couple from Taunton had arrived just after us.
Nice overnighter by the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia
The road soon left the estuary. We'd seen no more parking places, so were glad that we'd stopped when we did at our nice spot. The road did come back down to the north of the estuary, where we stopped for coffee just before leaving it again on a road northwards which turned out to be unsurfaced for 22km! We drove through some lovely lush scenery with tree ferns and a lot of land slips. The road was really quiet, but we did pass another motorhome.
We stopped beside Aotea Harbour, an inlet looking similar to Kawhia, to have lunch. The weather was now hot, and the land drier, with grassy slopes and pampas growing.
It was nice to reach the tarmac - a little bit sooner than we were expecting.
We then came to the sign for 'Bridal veil falls', and thought about all the other falls of this name that we'd visited!
This was a very popular walk, with lots of visitors on this early Sunday afternoon. We walked through thick forest to the upper viewpoints, not needing to traipse right down to the bottom and back. The falls were very pretty as they plunged 55m down into a pool.
Looking out to Kawhia Harbour at breakfast
Monday 21st March The former gold mining area of Karangahake 112km
We weren't disturbed by the trains. It was lovely looking down to the sun shining on the river as we woke up.
Early morning on the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia
We drove on to Waihi, where gold had been discovered in 1878. The town became known for a miners strike in 1912, which initiated the Labour Party in New Zealand. There was a Cornish style pumphouse dating from 1904, next to the vast pit, 260m deep. Once again, it unkindly rained on us.
The Waikino Memorial Footbridge to Victoria battery with its tramway
We headed for Waihi Beach, a few miles on, where there were free camping places. We pulled into a parking area called Island View, but there was no view from the parking area!
While Adrian tried to solve the water situation (there was water here but the tap didn't fit our hose), I walked across the dunes to view the long sandy, windswept beach, devoid of people, and with a misty view to the marine reserve of Mayor Island. Later Adrian walked over to the beach. He had made a 'Bower conversion' from a large water bottle, so that it formed a funnel, which was sort of successful!
Wild Waihi Beach
Tuesday 22nd March To the Coromandel 119km
We left at 10 o'clock on a fine morning, having 'dumped'. As Adrian perused our route still parked at the 'dump station', a disagreeable motorhome driver who'd just arrived, crossly asked him if we were going to be all day, as he wanted to dump!
We drove back to Waihi and then towards the Coromandel on an extremely winding road through an unexpected gorge to Whiritoa. We stopped here to have tea/coffee above the wild sandy beach. There was a nice children's play area, a barbecue, picnic tables and changing rooms, so the place must get busy in summer.
Just as we were about to leave, a service vehicle came in and the driver filled a large water tank on his trailer from a tap which we'd not noticed. This meant a wait, so that we could fill our tank! I sat on the seat above the beach while waiting - it was warm but windy.
Our road continued to constantly wind through hilly, densely forested country to Tairua. We stopped beside the water at Mary Beach to have lunch. It was very quiet, but there were signs of activity, with small boats on the water.
We were heading for Hot Water Beach, which we'd enjoyed in 1995. It was a sandy beach, where you could dig pools near the sea, and warm water bubbled up. We were very aware that you shouldn't ever go back anywhere that you really liked! We had stayed then at a very low-key campsite, where we walked out to the almost deserted beach, borrowing a spade from the site. We knew that now it was busy - up to 500 people at a time our Rough Guide said. There were now 'pay and display' carparks, and a set walkway to the beach. Hundreds of people were on the beach and the pools appeared cool - we only found one or two hot spots. Some people were out in the rough waves, as the tide came in, sometimes with an erratic wave which sent people flying!
Mary Beach, Tairua
We left here at 2.45, driving on a little way to where we thought that we'd camped last time before driving on to Cook's Beach, where there was a free camping spot. We stopped by the stone commemorating Cook's visit in November 1769. He'd stayed for 12 days, plotting the transit of Mercury across the sun, and claiming New Zealand for Britain (from this transit he was able to accurately plot the longitude of New Zealand).
Hot Water Beach
The free camping spot was just a bit further on, beside a sandy estuary, which we had a little walk along. There was a band of shells set into the sandy bank. We sat outside with our cup of tea as several other campers arrived.
Four little girls from neighbouring campers played outside our van until it was dark.
Where Cook landed in 1769
From our camping spot at Cook’s Beach
Wednesday 23rd March A brilliant narrow gauge railway 100km
The morning was grey and damp and very windy, as it had been in the night. We didn't leave until 10 o'clock.
It took us 45 minutes to drive round the bay to Whitianga - there was a passenger ferry which would take a few minutes!
We had coffee by the 'marina' before shopping in New World for bread and milk.
We drove on past long, sandy Buffalo Beach which was lovely but not looking its best today.
The drive across the peninsula to Kuaotunu entailed driving through dense forest and over a pass, unlike the 'farmland' described in Rough Guide. There was a lovely sandy/rocky beach at Kuaotunu, but it was extremely windy as we sat to have lunch in the van, after a quick 'blow'.
Buffalo Beach, Whitianga
Just north of the town, we pulled into Driving Creek Railway, a narrow gauge railway which we wanted to visit. We'd thought of going tomorrow, but when the girl said that there would be a train in 20 minutes, and tomorrow's weather forecast sounded even worse than today, we opted for it. It was one of the best things we've ever come across! It had been built by a wonderfully eccentric man called Barry Brickell, who'd sadly died in January aged 80.
He'd started adult life as a science teacher, which didn't last long. He then set up a pottery, and to get clay for that, he began building the railway. There were kilns and all the paraphernalia of the pottery at the station, and everything had a crazy but wonderful ramshackled appearance.
Our driver was a chap called Paul, from Stoke on Trent. He'd come to New Zealand 10 years ago, and had been working here for six years, 6 days a week, and loved it, particularly meeting visitors from all over the world. As we went along, he told us some interesting facts about the building of the railway, and of its eccentric creator. He said that Brickell had no interest in money at all. Brickell had never married - all his interest was in the railway and the pottery.
It was a mad project, which Brickell had surveyed himself, starting it in 1973. It was set on an extremely steep hill, rising 105 metres in 3 km. There were 10 bridges, 3 tunnels and 4 'reverses', when the train had to zigzag back. We travelled up through forests of kauri and rimu and other native trees, many named and all planted since 1973. These were dotted with interesting pottery pieces. There were retaining walls of bricks made at the pottery and others made of glass bottles. We ascended to wooden 'Eyefull Tower', which we climbed up, and where Paul gave us a bit more chat before we descended again for the return journey. This had the added excitement of 'something on the line' - a tree branch which had fallen down, and which Paul got out to clear! All in all, a fantastic trip - a definite 'Top Spot'.
It was now 4.30, so we wanted to head to our campsite, hoping to return tomorrow to see more of the pottery.
Adrian had looked out a 'small family camspite' 11 km up the coast, so we made our way there. The weather had deteriorated, so when we pulled into Papa Aroha Holiday Park it didn't look very enticing! The location beside the sea and looking out to islands couldn't be better, but you couldn't see much today, and the site was mostly made up of static holiday cabins and caravans. We found ourselves a recommended spot, but with no wifi, coin operated showers, and the laundry not close, we wondered why we'd bothered!
The crazily mad but fantastic Driving Creek Railway
Thursday 24th March A wet day in the Coromandel 85km
At least it wasn't cold! The wind blew and the rain rained in the night and most of the day! The campsite was particularly sodden! Even so, I traipsed over to locate the washing machine, and having done so, took over the washing and later put it in the drier. Even then, it hung damp all day, and we had to resort to a 'knicker line' (actually mostly T shirts) in the van.
Adrian did the 'filling and emptying', also in the rain, so we didn't leave very early.
We drove north to Colville past a lovely bit of coast but with poor visibility.
We drove on a bit further into the hills, until the tarmac ran out, which was further than we'd thought - 18km from last night's stop. Our hire company had specifically stated that we mustn't drive on the unsurfaced roads in the north of the Coromandel. We had been upset to find that the road around the north wasn't surfaced all the way.
The wet beach at Papa Aroha
The small stream by us was swollen and brown, and there were rock falls beside the road, which were being cleared up.
We drove a little way further on the coast road round a bay of mangroves towards Otautu before beginning our return journey.
The end of the road for us!
We stopped to have lunch by the sea. It was lovely, but very grey. We drove back down beside the beautiful but soggy west coast of the Coromandel, known as the Pohutukawa coast because of the number of these trees, which must be beautiful when all in flower.
We stopped again at Driving Creek Railway, as we hadn't had time to look around yesterday. We watched an excellently made video about Barry Brickell, this amazingly talented but eccentric potter, writer and engineer. Everything around looked so attractive and 'right', it made us think of Willliam Rickets place in the Dandenongs, Australia with sculptures in natural settings.
Mangroves in Colville Bay
We stop for lunch beside the wet Pohutukawa coast
We stopped in Coromandel Town at the bakers, but they'd sold out of Hot Cross Buns, so we popped into '4Square' next door and bought a freshly baked pack.
We drove on to McGregors beach to try one.
We now continued south on what looked a straight road beside the sea on the atlas. In fact the road wiggled constantly, sometimes high up and sometimes very narrow, especially as cars came almost non-stop in the other direction, many towing boats. We were very aware that this is the start of the Easter weekend.
At 4.30 we reached the first of the 'free camping spots' at Waikawau, beside a very misty beach. Other people were obviously setting up for the weekend.
Cars continued to go past all evening and more campers arrived.
Some of the pottery at Driving Creek Railway
Friday 25th March Beautiful butterflies and goodbye to Coromandel 68km
Even more campers had come in last night and in the morning, most with boats of some sort and all to fish! Apparently snapper was good here.
We spoke on the phone to Nicky and the girls, who were excited about going on holiday to Ilfracombe for Easter. Nicky had sent a photo of them in their Easter bonnets. We wished them all Happy Easter.
The ranger came round, checking on vehicle permits. He was a pleasant chap, and stopped for a chat.
The sky was still grey, but we could now see across the Firth of Thames towards the Seabird Coast south of Auckland.
We toasted more of our hot cross buns for breakfast before walking along the beach and then leaving at 9.30. There were still plenty of cars coming up the peninsular.
As we drove south, we looked in at other 'freedom camping' places where we could have stayed. At one we photographed a massive tree with what appeared to be long aerial roots. Although the ground was very wet, it all looked much better in the sun!
Morning walk along the beach at Waikawau
We stopped to have coffee at Toraru. The ground was sodden as I walked across to look at a large group of shags. A genial local man talked to me. He had been amused yesterday when some Americans had been photographing the shags, convinced that they were penguins!
Aerial roots or what?
Just opposite here was a butterfly/orchid garden. It was like many others we have visited, but was unusual for New Zealand. It was lovely wandering through the large greenhouse full of exotic plants, with butterflies fluttering all around. Our favourites were the gorgeous blue morpho butterflies, which chased each other constantly, but never settled, so were impossible to photograph. I liked seeing the owl butterflies too. Some of the butterflies came from abroad, but many were raised here in the greenhouse. There were some wonderful plants too, including pitcher plants as well as the orchids.
Pied shags (not penguins)!
After our visit, we drove through pleasant Thames, with its long main street. Adrian stopped to get diesel before we drove up into the Kauaerango Valley. The road became unsurfaced before we reached the Visitors Centre. We were planning to do a short walk, down to a 'swimming hole' in the river. The ranger advised us that the water was still a bit violent after the rain. I bought a New Zealand cap before we drove on to the walk. The onward road was very potholed, which didn't please Adrian. We drove the couple more kilometres, then drove on a bit further to the second path which just descended down many steps, instead of the 30 minute rough terrain walk through the rainforest.
We ate lunch before walking down to Hoffman's Pool and back, not being enticed to swim!
Some of the beautiful butterflies and flowers at Thames Butterfly Garden
As we drove back along the greatly potholed road, a car and caravan with a lone lady driver passed us!
Back by the Visitors Centre we now walked on a trail through the rainforest to view a model dam, much of it on a boardwalk.
It was called a 'model dam' as it was a 1/3 scale replica of a dam which had been used to bring kauri logs down from the hills in the early 20th century. The idea was that a dam was built on a small river, which was not deep enough to float logs down, and allowed to fill up with water. Logs were hauled into the dam water. When it was full, a sluice was opened and all the water rushed out taking the logs many kilometres down the river to where they could be hauled to boats or to the sawmills. The biggest dam in the region once took 28,000 logs down!
Hoffman’s Pool in the Kauaerango Valley
Just as we were about to leave the dam, we were entertained by a little fantail bird acrobating in front of us.
Now 2.15, we drove back to Thames, then left it and the Coromandel. The country was flat as we crossed the wide Waihou River where Adrian preferred the old wooden bridge beside the newer one.
The ’model dam’ with its sluice gate
We stopped to sort out a place to stay for the night. We toyed with driving further, but the spot we had in mind was said to be very busy, particularly being Easter, so we drove back to Thames, pulling into Rhodes Park, where we could stay.
A chap called Dave from the other camper here asked if we'd mind keeping an eye on his small trailer while he went for a drive to charge his newly mended house battery. He thanked us profusely on his return an hour or so later. After much discussion on our last day 'on the road' tomorrow, Adrian booked a campsite near Auckland, then we had a little walk through a newly planted First World War Memorial Grove beside us which will look good when it's grown.
Old and new bridges over the Waihou River
Saturday 26th March Another hot tub and lots of birds 117km
It was a fine but cloudy morning. We left just after 9 o'clock - the designated time for leaving here.
Our first stop was at Miranda Hot Pools. It was still early, so we were able to get a private spa pool again. This one didn't have the nice view of Morere Hot Springs but it did have a jacuzzi - lots of bubbles. It took me a long time to get used to the water temperature, but we both had a soak in what looked like a giant beer barrel!
Outside was an Olympic size warm swimming pool, which families were arriving for as we left. Adrian was now dripping from the heat of the pool. We ate our last hot cross buns before driving a short way to the Shorebird Centre. Adrian noticed a parking area just before the Visitors Centre called the Robert Findlay reserve. This was a good move, as it was only a fairly short walk to the hide, whereas from the centre it was over 2 kilometres.
At the hide Adrian tried talking to the young lady ranger, who'd been chatting quite enthusiastically to a couple as we arrived. She was most unresponsive, and only seemed interested in ticking boxes of where we came from etc. There were a lot of birds a distance away - bar tailed godwits, pied stilts, royal spoonbills and wrybills. The wrybills had been flying up in a great cloud as we arrived.
In our steamy ‘beer barrel‘ hot tub
We drove on to the visitors centre, where the male assistant was similarly disinterested.
We continued along the Seabird Coast to Kaiuia, which Rough Guide described as being like New Zealand 50 years ago - small and with little there. It did mention a fish and chip shop, so for our last day on the road we enjoyed flounder and chips for lunch. We ate this beside the shore opposite, sitting out at our table and chairs. The fish was extremely good, once we'd mastered dealing with the bones. We could watch the birds on the water - oyster catchers and herons, and of course the red billed gulls hassling around us.
On the way to the bird hide at Miranda
A flock of wrybills in flight
We continued around the coast as far as Clevedon. The tide was out, so there were just sand/mud flats. Annoyingly this page of our tatty road atlas from the van was missing.
We now left the coast, and drove west to Manukau. After all the countryside, we came abruptly to the outer urban sprawl of southern Auckland. We were heading for the Botanic Gardens, but first we arrived at an entrance where there was just parkland - good for doggy walks! We located another entrance, where the car park was packed. We then realised that a wedding had just finished.
The gardens were vast, and free - a bit like Kew in days of old, but not so grand. We had a short wander around - the day had become really hot. We liked the rock garden best, particularly a gorgeous large pink flowering tree called Chorisia.
Flounder and chips - wrapped in paper
We left here at 4.50 and 10 minutes later we arrived at Manukau Holiday Park, which we'd booked yesterday. For being in a city, it was remarkably pleasant, with a lot of trees.
Then along came Hamish, with his wife, who he called 'Babe', and their 3 children, who all just played roundabout happily. Hamish asked where we came from - then said that he had lived in Andover Road, Newbury! He was a bit of a 'wise guy', and could certainly chat – his wife said people thought that she could talk until they met him! She was from South Africa, so we had plenty to talk about. Unfortunately by the time we came in, Adrian had been bitten to pieces!
He opened the wine, and we tucked into our beans on toast!
Sculpture outside Auckland’s Botanic Gardens
Chorisia Speciosa - silk floss tree
Sunday 27th March Auckland's west coast beaches 26 km
We meet up with Jeff and Pat after 20 years
The first beach we stopped at was Karekare beach, an enormous and glorious sandy beach.
View from Arataki Visitors Centre
Nearby Piha beach was equally attractive, with a little stream coming out to it, which we had to wade through on the way back.
Wonderful Karekare beach
We arrived back at their house in New Windsor at 7.30, enjoying a lovely meal and more chat with them and Rowan before coming out to the van for the night.
Equally lovely Piha beach
Monday 28th March Rangitoto Island
Jeff had booked for us to go on a trip to Rangitoto Island today, which meant that we had to be up early!
After a delicious pancake breakfast, we set off by car to catch the 9.15 ferry. The crossing took 25 minutes, stopping at Devonport on the way. Rangitoto is a volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf, and our trip was to travel in a 'train' pulled by tractor along the bumpy roads through the lava. Despite having no soil, pohutukawa trees flourish here - apparently the largest forest of them anywhere. Our driver told us interesting facts about the island as we went along.
Half way through our journey, we stopped to climb the 340 steps to the summit of the volcano. From here the views all around were great - all greenery and black lava, with no habitation or sign of human activity. Mangroves grew around the shore.
Our train tractor ride through the lava of Rangitoto
We climbed back down again, to be driven on round the island to the ferry jetty. We looked in at a 'batch' - a simple thirties 'shack' now used as a holiday home. Just before we caught the ferry back, a rescue helicopter landed on the rocks. We watched it land, wondering what it was all about. Later a young girl told us that a woman had broken her ankle near the summit, and had to be rescued.
From the summit of Rangitoto
After arriving back in Auckland, we found a seat to eat our cheese sandwich before having a wander around the redeveloped area known as the Wynyard Quarter. It was a busy and affluent area, with a lot of people sitting at the many cafes. We stopped to have icecreams/drinks. While walking back to the car, we had to wait while the bridge opened to let a large yacht through. Jeff then drove us back home, passing the 'pop-up' Globe Theatre on the way.
A ‘batch’ on Rangitoto A rescue helicopter arrives
Arriving back in Auckland
The bridge opens to let a boat through
Tuesday 29th March Our last day in New Zealand 22 km
It was a beautiful day for our last day in New Zealand!
We said goodbye to Pat, when she left for work at 8 o'clock. We went in to have breakfast with Jeff, who'd stayed home a bit longer. We said our goodbyes and got packed up.
I even had a quick swim in their pleasant pool before we had tea/coffee sitting beside it.
We left just before midday, finding a nice place by the Manukau harbour edge to eat the enchiladas I'd made for lunch.
It was a fine morning and we heard birds singing. We both had showers/hairwash and Adrian did all the emptying and filling. The washing was more or less dry by the time we left at 9.30. We had been watched all the time by the eagle-eyed, 'misery guts' camp manager, and both felt like naughty schoolchildren with an unpleasant teacher! There were signs up saying things like 'use a bag before putting rubbish in this bin. Persons not doing so will be fined $10'. He rescinded himself though, because as we left, he called after us - Adrian had left the water cap on the back running board! Just afterwards we had to go through a long section of roadworks, where the equally miserable workers, instead of waving, just hurried us on! We soon arrived at Waitomo Caves, first discovered in 1887 and famous for its glow worms. I had wanted to go there on our previous visit, and we deliberated about it this time, with its high cost - but again there was a small discount for 'oldies'. It went straight to the top of the list though! It was already busy with tourists when we arrived at 10.15, and were put on the 10.30 tour. There were other large groups apart from ours, but we had a really pleasant Maori lady guide for our 45 minute tour. At first it was much like any other cave with its stalagmites, stalactites and columns. We saw a few glow worms, but the really different and exciting part came when we got into a small boat and were moved along by a guide pulling a rope. We had all been asked to be silent, and no photography was allowed. Adrian was cross at this, but lots of people all with their cameras and phones would certainly have spoilt the magic. Above us were myriads of glow worms, so it felt like looking up to a dark sky with all the constellations. I felt quite overcome. We had been surprised that there was no provision for those not so 'nimble' - no questions were asked, and although we wore our walking shoes, some people were in flip flops.
Dozens of shags skimmed across the water then came back to swim and feed, along with a group of ducks. We tore ourselves away at 10 o'clock. We drove across flat, farming country for an hour, with no pull-offs at all until just before we came to Paetoa, where we managed to stop just beside the road. At the bright town of Paetoa we shopped in Countdown, buying a few essentials, although we are trying to run down our food supplies. Adrian got more fuel and checked the tyres before we set off to the Karangahake Gorge. We'd mistakenly driven part of this road on our previous trip before driving on to Opotiki completing 324km that day! It was very busy when we pulled into the car park in the gorge to have lunch. There were walks that you could do from here - an attractive area which had incongruously been the site of the Gold Rush in New Zealand. One 3km walk went through a tunnel for 1 km, so wasn't for me. Also, the fine day developed one of several heavy showers, and then Adrian encountered the sandflies, so we drove on, stopping soon afterwards to cross newly built Waikino Memorial Footbridge and walk to the ruins of a nearby Victorian battery, used to grind down and extract the gold from the crude ore from the nearby goldmine. This wooden suspension bridge commemorated the bridge and village which had been washed away in floods of 1981. The battery area had a small tramway which ran twice a week. It rained again as we got back to the van.
Despite being not far from the airport, and in outer Auckland, it was really quiet in the night. We exchanged our Easter Eggs, and ate boiled eggs for breakfast before having showers. We phoned Emma and at last were able to wish her a happy Easter. We spent the rest of the morning getting organised for the next part of our trip and getting rid of a lot of the rubbish we'd accumulated. We did the emptying and filling and left at 10.30. Half an hour later we arrived at Jeff & Pat's. Jeff, a New Zealander, had worked with Adrian in the nineties. He and his wife Pat had come to live in Auckland with their two children in 1998. We met Rhiannon again, who was 3 years old when we last saw her and later we met Rowan, now 19. There was much to chat about while Jeff prepared us a lovely lunch.
Now 4 o'clock, we relaxed a bit in their lovely home, and talking a bit to Rhiannon and her boyfriend Connor. We'd had the idea of having fish and chips on the beach for supper, but it didn't quite work like that! We set off in the car with Jeff, Pat and Rowan to get fish and chips from the shop just down the road - but - it was closed! We chased around after that, trying one place after another - all closed. Like in England, Monday isn't 'fish and chip' day! We did finally find 'The best chip shop 2008', where we put in our order - and then of course had to wait quite a while. By now it was much too late for 'sunset on the beach', so it was back to Jeff and Pat's to eat supper there. The meal was OK, but not 'the best 2016'! We chatted more before coming out to spend our last night in the camper.
Goodbye New Zealand!
We then stopped at a petrol station to refill the tank, as it had to be left full. The air pump Adrian needed to check the front tyre wasn't working! Luckily we found a nearby garage where a chap checked it. Now 2 o'clock, it was off to nearby Heartland Hotel which we'd booked into. We took our luggage up to our room, enjoying all the space! We drove the short way to Apollo Campers to check the van in. All was OK. I tried to use the water fountain, but could see no cups. On asking, the assistant said, no there weren't any, and went off, coming back with a wine glass! We'd intended walking the half mile back to our hotel , but weren't sure how we'd get across the fast road. Luckily we were offered a shuttle bus, so after a short wait, we were back at our hotel. There was a swimming pool out the front of the hotel, making us think of America! We made our way there, where we both had a swim, my second of the day. There was also a jacuzzi which we used before coming back to our room where we enjoyed the 'facilities', and the extras like a kettle for tea and a spabath!
Taupo to Auckland, New Zealand
Some Favourite places and things
Abel Tasman National Park & Cape Farewell Akaroa & Banks Peninsula at the start of our travels Takerie Gorge railway, Dunedin – fabulous scenery Stewart Island – lovely day when all went well Peter's lookout to Mt Cook Catlin Lake – our own idyll Haynes Hardware Store – 'museum' in a shop Hinds – chap with old cars and 'bits' Milford Sound- amazing waterfalls in the rain: observatory Oraka on Mahia Peninsula – quiet lagoon overnighter Wanganui – paddle steamer on Whanganui River East Coast beaches near Gisborne – Tolaga Bay, Tokomani Bay, Waipiro Bay East Cape road and around Te Araroa Otaki – meeting up with Mary & Roger Waitomo glow worm caves Ruaturi Bush walk Driving Creek Narrow Gauge railway Forgotten World Highway – remote and isolated Natural Hot Springs – Kerosene and Waiotapu
From here our trip went to Japan - please follow this link to continue
The road westward wound constantly up through thick forest to another pass, but there were no good views today. We wound down again to pretty little Coromandel Town, full of cafes and fishing tackle shops. We had a walk around, but I was still feeling giddy from the winding roads.