New Zealand - part 1, part 2


Active Member
I said I'd post eventually. It's late here, I should be heading for bed - but at least I have to give you the first instalment of our trip.

Travelling with a easy child and a much younger difficult child - definitely interesting. Plus easy child's BF1 can't cope if anyone vomits. So ANY risk that difficult child 3 was going to get carsick - easy child would panic. She wouldn't let him play his Nintendo DS in the car, which caused a lot of friction.

Anyway, to begin - we landed in Auckland and finally got out of the airport after dark. We got to the hire car and loaded it up, then sat there in the car park while husband tried to find the hand brake in the dark. It took about fifteen minutes or more - turned out to be a foot hand brake (what the...?)

We hadn't book accommodation - it would only have meant we would be scrutinising a map in the dark, trying to find a place which could turn out to be not what we needed. So we drove into Auckland, in the dark, trying to find something. Finally booked into a nice-looking place, unloaded our FIVE huge bags plus our FIVE lots of hand luggage, then walked to a nearby takeaway for our first meal - fish & chips (big fat fries). The best fish & chips on the North Island, they claimed. They could be right - it was great. Never had kumara chips before, though. Very sweet.

Next day, Tuesday - we'd planned to explore Auckland, but after getting essential stuff done (such as organising mobile phone cards) we decided to head out into the country. The car was loaded - we had a van (Tarago) but the 'middle' seat had easy child, BF1 & difficult child 3 across it, the back being full of luggage. We drove east along the coast, couldn't believe how amazingly emerald green the fields are there. Loads of fat-looking sheep, the fields surrounded by dry stone walls and hedges. Very hilly, very English-looking, absolutely beautiful. Ended up in a small seaside village called Thames, saw our first sign for hot springs. difficult child 3 beginning to panic about hot springs - vulcanism! Weather very cold, some faint drizzle and news of snow on South Island. Lots of feral brushtail possum road kill. Good. But so much is a worry - it indicates far too many still alive in willderness that can't cope.

Wednesday morning - we 'bugged out' early. difficult child 3 & I had done a science experiment on sedimentation (borrowed a glass jar from the landlady) and he did some science write-up. We got about 1 km down the road and found a BUTTERFLY FARM! Of course we had to explore it. Then by late morning we drove on, following the Coromandel Peninsula. Windy roads, sheer cliffs, windswept sea full of mussel beds (the famous NZ green-lipped mussels). One beach was too beautiful to pass, so we stopped and went for a walk. The beach was strewn with mussel shells and we saw a sign - "no more than 25 mussels per person per day". They were washing ashore, perfectly fresh. We collected huge handfuls then threw them back into the water - living like gypsies, we had no means to cook them. There was amber washing up on the beach, we met a lovely lady who told us a great deal about the area. Then we piled back into the car to warm up (it was about 6 degrees C on the beach) and drove on. We got to the village of Coromandel in time for a late lunch then discovered a train trip there which goes right up into the mountain top. We just made it onto the last train and spent a fabulous afternoon immersed in NZ wilderness.

We stayed the night there, after buying some smoked mussels and smoked fish. BF1 was enthusiastic about sharing the mussels with me - nobody else was. We noticed that in Coromandel, they seem to smoke EVERYTHING.

Oh yes, and they decorate shops with corrugated iron. Everywhere. At least on North Island.

Thursday - we drove the rest of the way round the Coromandel Peninsula. Incredibly winding road but impossibly beautiful country. Every turn of the road had us stopping to take more photos. We detoured to see Hot Water Beach but it was high tide and the hot water seemed to be underwater. We found out later that we COULD have dug down to it, it's always there. But we had to keep moving.

We paused for a picnic lunch at a truck stop and almost got mugged by a feral brushtail possum. I think it smelt my smoked mussel sandwiches. BF1 was no longer eating the smoked mussels and I was getting very sick of them.
One thing we were finding - it would get dark earlier than we expected. By about 3.30 pm we had to start planning on where to stay the night. By 4.30 it would be almost too dark to navigate and we were in unfamiliar territory. Maybe we needed to get up earlier in the mornings... we stayed in Tauranga, a large town, very cold this night, a large volcano (Mt Maunganui) to one side of the harbour...

Friday - the day we had to check in to our time share. We left the coast and headed south in search of Lord of the Rings territory. The town of Mata Mata, where Hobbiton had been built. Only it's since been mostly removed. The tourist information centre is made to look like a hobbit hole so we took lots of photos. We found that there is a bus tour to the green fields that once housed Hobbiton - little is left there. We bought a postcard to show us what it looks like now. The postcard was much cheaper than the bus tour, which was $80 a head, for two hours in the cold, about half that time at a farm watching sheep being shorn. Seen THAT before. So we skipped it. Sorry, Robby. But the countryside we drove through, with those amazingly green fields, huge crags of rocks and wide glacial valleys - Middle Earth.

We drove to Waitomo Caves instead - to see the famous glow worms. An amazing place. We took the short tour plus the boat ride. The light these glow worms cast is unbelievable.

Then another roadside picnic - more smoked mussel sandwiches. The others were making me eat downwind. The oil would drip through my fingers and I had to be thorough about cleaning up before I touched ANYTHING.
We finally got back on the road and were soon seeing steam in the fields and beside the road as we entered some very active volcanic areas. It was after dark when we arrived in our destination - Taupo. On the NZ map, you can see a lake in the centre, which is where you'd put a drawing pin if you wanted to spin North Island round its own centre of gravity - use a glass-headed pin and the glass head is the size of Lake Taupo, an absolutely huge caldera lake, still volcanically active. And we were staying right on the lake edge! We carefully said as little as possible to difficult child 3...

More news next instalment...

OK, you got me hooked! Can't wait till next installment. The way you described it all, I could actually visualize it! Great writing!! I am soooooo jealous, never been to your part of the world, someday...



Active Member
Next instalment - our week in Taupo.

We arrived on Friday night but the supermarket was still open so we went shopping. I love exploring the food of new places and New Zealand was no different. More kumara, more yams and the kiwi fruit were amazingly cheap. BF1 & I especially love kiwi fruit. husband likes them but can't eat them - they have a similar digestive enzyme in their juice, like pineapple, which makes your tongue tingle if you eat too much. In husband's case, it gives him mouth ulcers.

We bought breakfast cereal - they sell muesli in bulk plastic containers so you can scoop out as much as you want into a plastic bag - and other staples.

Next morning - Saturday - was the "meet & greet" that a lot of these places do. We went to the office and collected loads of brochures on what places to see, but were still discussing it when we went to the morning tea. There we met a lovely Maori couple with their granddaughter. Grandma reminded me of my mother, while her husband was a lot like my mother's cousin. We talked to them a lot. An announcement was made - Wairakei Terraces was free today, there was a Maori cultural expo there. Hey, it's free - let's go.

The place is a reconstruction but owned by the traditional tribal owners of the area. They use it to teach and to illustrate a culture and way of life. It was a fascinating walk through the grounds also walking beside the creek and the geyser overflow, now partly tamed by the nearby geothermal power station. The electricity people have diverted some of the thermal spring back to the park, to illustrate the way it works and to also allow the park to use the hot mineral water in more traditional ways. I took my ugg boots off and paddled in the warm water. Further along the path was an old, deep bathing pool where I surprised a tourist swimming in her underwear - the afternoon was closing in, the air was about 3 degrees C (no more than 40 F) but the water was like a hot bath - about 40 C, over 100F. It was the first day where we really felt immersed in Maori culture.
All of us wanted to experience a hangi, or traditional feast baked over hot stones, so husband booked it for the Wednesday night - my birthday. Something to look forward to - I wouldn't be cooking dinner on my birthday!
It was cold and windy but difficult child 3 wanted to play mini-golf. It seemed early enough at 4pm so we stopped at a small mini-golf place on the lake edge for a game. The wind seemed to go straight through us from the south and when we looked to the other side of the lake, we could see three white-capped mountains, suspiciously conical. We were told these were Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro. All active volcanoes, Ruapehu the most active. And the one with a ski field on it.

Next day, Sunday, was misty cold rain. The car had a thermometer in it which told us the outside temperature - as we drove to Rotarua it hit zero C. Our first appointment was with some model railway contacts of husband's. The little railway was almost deserted, they welcomed us with hot coffee and rides on their little train through rainforest. OK, it was cold and wet but we didn't care. It was a public open day but the weather was so gloomy the men packed up and left as we did.
We'd been told that the best boiling mud pools, geysers and stuff were back towards Taupo, even though we'd always thought Rotarua was famous for it all. So we began the drive back. But stopped at a big place called Te Puia.

We couldn't visit Rotarua and leave with no sight of a geyser!

Te Puia was big. Commercial, like Wairakei, but still culturally and ecologically sensitive. The large entrance building took us through the Maori legends of their people coming to New Zealand, and the bringing of fire to the mountains. Very well donw, difficult child 3 was even enthralled.
By now there was a constant drizzle but we put up with it and walked through the grounds. husband had loaded me into a wheelchair, it really was a long walk and he didn't want me to slow them down. We saw our first kiwi and our first boiling mud pools. And yes, you could smell the sulphur although it wasn't as bad as we'd been told - it smelt more like scrambled eggs, than rotten ones.
Because it was a cold day, steam was everywhere. It was condensing fast as it came out of the ground and it rose around us. The ground was warm in places too. At an open area there were stone terraces overlooking a flat, wet, steamy area where the geysers were due to erupt. We sat to watch it and found the terraces were hot! And sure enough, when we checked, despite the rain the terraces were dry! They were not dangerously hot, but comfortably warm like an electric blanket turned to 'high', but as you sat there you could feel the underside of your thighs begin to get prickly-hot and uncomfortable. easy child's hands were cold and she warmed them by placing them flat on the stone terraces. A tourist lay full-length on the warm ground, sighing in luxury.
Then all was forgotten as Pohuto erupted - it's a twin geyser! We watched in amazement, easy child & BF1 frustrated because there was so much steam they could barely discern the geysers themselves. The sound was incredible - a loud whooshing, like a hundred skyrockets firing off but held in place. I wanted to stay and watch until it stopped, but it just kept going. half an hour later, it was still going and we moved on. easy child & BF1 stayed, they said another small geyser then fired off for a short while, on a lower area. Pohuto was still going when they too left.
An amazing place.
Back at the gate there was a Maori meeting house where we were invited in for a cultural show, part of our entrance fee. As the rain was getting heavier, we agreed. difficult child 3 was going into full anxiety mode by now because it was all strange. We were getting the rocking, the hands over ears, the noises - we told him to cover his ears less obviously so he wouldn't offend people. We were visitors, he had to show respect to our hosts. I reluctantly let him play his Nintendo DS because it helped to calm him.
The show began - they took us through the basics. Rubbing noses as a greeting - to share the breath of life as a gesture of lifelong friendship. The haka - scary to watch if you don't know what to expect. We've seen it before, the NZ footballers always do a haka before every match against our teams. The poi dance, other dances, songs - we loved it. difficult child 3 began to come out of his shell a bit and at least watch. When he realised that he wasn't going to be asked to do anything, he relaxed more.
As we left we found the teaching centre of the place. The carving school and the weaving school. I had a long talk with a woman who turned out to be the head teacher of weaving and traditional skirt-making, about how it was done. We talked about vegetable dyes, the strength of the flax and how they scrape it with a mussel shell.

It was almost dark as we left, with an hour to drive back to Taupo. Too late to go to the other places we'd been told about. But now more aware, plus on such a cold night, we could see steam vents at various places along the side of the road. In a farmer's paddock, steam rose from a rocky vent which he'd fenced off to keep his sheep out of it. We were later told that sometimes these block up (a pebble rolls in, maybe) and the steam build up until the vent explodes into a crater. Or the hot spot moves, and a once-safe area is now dangerous.

Monday - what do you do on a cold, damp day? easy child & husband went to explore the shops and information centre while difficult child 3 & I did schoolwork and BF1 did some work. While difficult child 3 was working I noticed that from our bathroom window, I could look along the lake shore and see steam rising from the edge. Then the others returned and told us they had booked us on a boat trip. Most of these are extremely expensive but this was only $30 a head. It was a small replica steamboat and it couldn't tour the whole lake - it's the size of Singapore - but it took us to a fascinating spot, where some Maori carvings are etched into layers of pumice cliffs. The skipper told us about the late and how it's one of the most volcanically active places in the world. The explosion that formed the lake was ten times bigger than Krakatoa, he told us. There's more information here, as well as a photo of the carvings.

After hearing so much about the volcanic activity we felt it was time to get up close and personal with a volcano. Next day, we determined - we were going to drive to Mt Ruapehu. We were going to walk on an active volcano. We explained to difficult child 3 (somewhat falsely, but the end justified the means in this case) that Mt Ruapehu was hardly going to erupt wildly, if it was covered in snow. We also pointed out (truthfully) that scientists are monitoring the volcanic activity all the time, and that New Zealand scientists know more about volcanoes than just about any others in the world, and if it wasn't likely to be safe then the roads would be closed and there would be warnings. And there weren't any warnings.

I think the final clincher in getting him to go, was the snow we could still see, on the mountain. He wanted to get close to the snow...

More later.



Going Green
Wow........I've always wanted to go to Australia and other places around the world. Would you adopt me??? I'm not a difficult child and I'm self supporting!!! I won't be much trouble, I promise!! Sounds like an incredible trip! The most "exotic" place I've ever been was up Abner Mountain in Skull Holler in Kentucky.


Active Member
I know this makes us sound wealthy but we're not. Definitely not! We bought time share some years ago (yes, we're gullible fools) but it forces us to take holidays. Most times we wait two years then go away for two weeks. We cut costs where we can, but still try to see places. This was our first time overseas for fifteen years! So much more we wanted to do, too... but I'm glad we could take easy child & BF1. easy child has missed the last few holidays with us and BF1 has never been away with us before.

It's too late tonight but I'm hoping to update tomorrow. Should I update here, or begin a new thread? Or are you fed up already with tales of New Zealand?