Category Archives: New Zealand

The long journey home

I have a couple of days in Auckland before my very long flight back home, and I put these days to good use, catching up with backpacker friends and buying souvenirs. I find Auckland very busy compared to the rest of New Zealand, and worse this weekend as New Zealand celebrates Labour Day with a long weekend. In town a lot of the streets are cordoned off for a three day world triathlon event. On my second last night a group of us had down to Viaduct Harbour and along the coast to where a piano sits in shelter waiting for passersby to play it. It’s a magical evening of music, with the beautiful vista of the city in the background, the sky tower lit purple and dominating the scene.

The Skycam

All to soon it’s time to catch my flight home, and a fellow backpacker kindly offers me a lift to the airport – at 5.20am! My first flight goes without incident and I arrive at Sydney airport ready for a 6 hour long gap between flights! Just as I get comfy for a bit of shut-eye, I hear my name on the loudspeaker – this has never happened to me before at an airport. I head for the relative desk in a panic, getting a little lost in the huge airport. Turns out my flight has been cancelled! I almost for a minute dare to believe that I’m going to have to stay in Sydney for a bit – you can tell just how eager I am to get back home! Unfortunately they manage to fit me on the next flight which is only one hour behind the original, and on an airbus A380!

I board the flight and find it suprisingly empty. I have a window seat, the seat next to me is empty, and a women sits in the aisle seat. Throughout the flight we are extremely well fed with 4 meals, numerous snacks and constant offers of drinks, and the time dedicated to sleeping is about right for adjusting my body clock back to UK time. Unfortunately we are woken at 4am UK time for Breakfast before arriving slightly late into Heathrow.

After a quick shower I head into London for the last leg of my travels, a train journey back to Edinburgh.

The Blue Baths

I wake up stiff and sore after yesterdays tramping to a glorious sunny day. Not suprisingly, all I can be bothered to do today is visit the Blue Baths. These Victorian baths are famous in Rotorua and occupy a lovely Victorian building in the middle of the Government Gardens. The old fashioned outdoor pool is a perfect temperature for cooling down on a hot day, without being too cold. They also have a deliciously hot spa pool where I bathe my weary muscles. I’m quite suprised to find the place completely empty, me the only swimmer in sight, but it’s still quite early in the day.

After my swim and spa I laze about in the gardens reading a book before catching the afternoon bus back to Auckland from where I will be flying home soon.

The Redwoods

Blue Lake

For my last full day in Rotorua, I head to the Redwoods for a full days tramp in the forest. I take the bus there, as I know the walk I want to do is 34km or 8 hours, and I don’t fancy making it any longer. At the Redwoods Visitor Centre, they slightly doubt my ability to do this walk as I don’t arrive particularly early (I had to catch the bank to close my account, as today is my last day in New Zealand with the banks open). Undeterred, I agree on a plan to hitchhike back from the blue lake car park if I find myself short on time.

The walk starts easy enough with a tramp through the forest along rather busy trails. Soon I leave the crowds behind as I climb up a rather long punishing ascent (I’m determined to walk quickly so that I finish the full loop track), with views through the trees to Rotorua and the corresponding lake of the same name. It’s a relief when I start the downhill. A couple of hours later I am horrified to feel blisters developing on my foot – I shouldn’t be getting them in these walking boots after almost a year of tramping in New Zealand! Turns out it’s my socks which have developed a hole in them. I opt for switching the holey sock over to the opposite foot which seems to solve the problem.

Green Lake

After several hours of walking I reach the Blue Lake. Yes it’s blue, so they called it Blue Lake. I find the path is a little flooded by the lake in places – must be all that recent rain – but the going is easy enough and I soon leave the hitchhiking point far behind. I had hoped to maybe go swimming in the lake, but the weather isn’t really that hot.

Further on I pass Green Lake and I’m rather suprised to find that it’s actually more blue than green, though the surrounding vegetation is very green. After a long walk along the side of the lake, the track starts the long journey back to Rotorua, mainly on forest tracks. As I near my destination I find the track getting busy again, this time with cyclists instead of walkers. I pick up my pace in the hopes that I might just catch the last bus back to Rotorua, but fail miserably. Having walked 34km in a little over 7 hours, I now have to walk another 4km back into town.

A desert pizza

I take these last few kilometers at a rather slow pace, feeling very stiff, and stop at the first takeaway I come to for a sit down and a feed. This so happens to be Hell’s Pizza, a New Zealand based pizza chain, and they do excellent pizzas. After eating my pizza I go up and order another one: a desert pizza. Somehow I manage to hobble back to my hostel for a very welcome hot shower and sleep.

Hell’s Gate

A thermal waterfall - the perfect temperature for a shower.

I wake up to a heavy rainstorm and consequently decide it’s time for a lie-in and go back to sleep. After a very lazy morning I set about seeing what I can do in the afternoon. A visit to Hell’s Gate seems to be the logical choice.

Hell’s Gate is yet another thermal reserve, however this one is famous for it’s mud baths and healing sulphur spa pool. After a quick walk round the reserve – all the thermal reserves are starting to look the same for me – I head into the spa area for my mud bath. Surprisingly the mud baths are mainly hot water, with a layer of mud from one of the thermal pools at the bottom. The mud is silky smooth,  but it still feels weird to be rubbing it all over my body. Caked in mud from the eyes down, I sit out my 20 minutes before being asked to take a cold shower! The mud apparently overheats you without you noticing so I either have to have a cold shower, or sign a form saying I accept the risks of not taking a cold shower!

Mud Volcano

Feeling a lot cleaner now all the mud is off me, I enter into the spa pools, which are now rather too hot as the sun has just decided to make a rather sudden appearance! Still I sit it out by drinking copious amounts of cold water. As the time for my shuttle back into Rotorua nears, I exit the spa pool for a shower, but still manage to go back to Rotorua stinking of Sulphur – a smell that seems to stay with me for several days!

Mitai Maori Village

Our Hangi is uncovered

With time running out, I figure it’s high time I did one of the cultural evenings in Rotorua – there are several. I am ashamed to have not had a traditional Hangi dinner yet – I did have a hangi in Maketu but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t cooked in a hole in the ground, the traditional way.

I get picked up by John, who as well as the being the shuttle bus driver, is also our guide for the night. We go round a few hostels and some more posh accommodation, picking up a different nationality each time. On arriving we are allocated our tables, and John proceeds to find out how many nationalities are represented in the group. There are 16 nationalities in total – I’m the only one from Scotland – so we are therefore named the tribe of 16 nations. Our next task is to pick a group leader, which falls to a reluctant French guy on his honeymoon. Next we need someone willing to sing a song, a traditional part of the welcoming ceremony. An English guy volunteers with a rather unusual choice of an old but popular love song. We then procede out for the cultural part of our evening.

Firstly we go to unearth our feast, the traditional hangi, which consists of lamb, chicken, potatos and sweet potatos, all cooked in an earth oven. This is the real thing!

Next we are lead down a path through native bush. Through the trees we see Moari men dressed in traditional outfits, yelling and sticking their tongues out at us. The leader observes us through the trees before they head down to the river. They come into site, rowing down the river on their Waka (traditional Maori canoe), with a traditional song to keep the beat. They all have tattoos on display for the occasion.

We next procede to the village where we sit down for a cultural show. The show starts with an official welcome, where the leader of the Maori challenges our leader before offering up a piece offering. Our leader accepts and we get an official welcome from the tribe, followed by a speech from our leader – in French! The English man then sings his love song much to the amusement of the tribe. We are now officially welcomed to their village.

Demonstration of the Poi

The show they put on next is fantastic! They talk us through the traditional instruments, the significance of the tattoos, some of the training exercises and games they play, and of course a lot of the songs and dance, including modern ones. The Poi dance (balls on the end of string) is particularly impressive and complex. They finish with the Haka, or war dance, before we head in for dinner.

It’s so good to eat good food! After several weeks on a backpackers diet, this is a welcome feast. You can really taste the earthy hints in the hangi food – which is enough to convince me that the previous hangi I had was definately not cooked traditionally. Alongside the Hangi are several other traditional dishes including seafood chowder and kiwi pavolova.

After dinner I join the group headed for Rainbow Springs to see the kiwi’s at night! On route we stop to look at Mitai village’s spring, welling up out of the sand, surrounded by glowworms.

White Island

Today I set off on a full day trip to White Island, New Zealand’s only marine volcano. Getting there involves a shuttle bus out to Whakatane, followed by a 2 hour boat trip out at sea. I sit outside on the back of the boat for most of the trip, but as the sea gets rougher as we get further from the coast, the outside of the boat becomes a dumping ground for all the water flying over the top! Feeling a little damp I move inside.

Approaching the island I’m struck by how volcanic looking it is. It has the classic volcano characteristic of smoke coming out of it’s cone – though I learn later that it’s actually only steam. It’s rather a rough landing onto the island by tender boat, with a lot of shouting to get off the boat quickly! It’s good to be on stable ground, though the ground here probably isn’t as stable as the mainland.

We start our walk with a brief saftey talk, mainly about keeping our hard hats on, and on how to use the gas masks which are essential equipment for anyone visiting the island. The gas masks are to be used on an as required basis, as the sulpher in the air can make it difficult to breathe. If the volcano erupts we are to take cover as best we can behind a rock and not run for the boat, as the boat will leave us behind and go out to sea until it’s safe to return.

We start our tour heading up towards the crator, passed fumeroles and barren landscapes. Our guide hands out sweets to suck, the purpose of them being to lubricate our throats so that the sulpher doesn’t make us cough as much. It doesn’t really work, and I find myself using the gas mask quite a bit, though the guides don’t seem to use theirs at all.

We reach the rim of the crator. All we can see is a mass of steam coming from the crator lake, obliterating any view of the lake itself. A small green pool to the side of the main lake is dark green in colour, displaying the vivid colour which the crator lake would have.

Moving on, we hear about the sulpher factory that used to operate on the island. The first was destroyed by a landslide in the middle of the night killing all the workers who lived there. The second still remains, though in ruins. The workers for this factory lived further round the island out of the danger zone, and the torturous track they had to walk to get to work when the sea was too rough is still visible.

On route to the factory we are invited to try some White Island Spring water. At a pleasant 38C it would be a nice temperature for a bath, but it tastes pretty disgusting! After we have all tried it, they then procede to tell us that there are among other things, small quantities of Arsenic in the water!

We reach the factory and explore the ruins, badly rusted machinery and strangely preserved wood. Nothing lasts long in this environment – the workers used to wear woolen clothes as wool was the clothing that lasted the longest.

We return to the boat, and have a quick cruise round the side of the island, admiring the fur seals and line of vegetation which suddenly springs up just outside the crator. Pack lunches are handed out and the return journey begins.

New Plymouth

On my way to the bus stop in Palmerston North, I notice the beggars on the street who set themselves on me asking if I can spare some money for a pie! I am so glad to leave this town and gratefully jump on the bus to New Plymouth.

I have 48 hours in New Plymouth which isn’t much time to see everything, however I’m so unlucky with the weather that I there are some things I just end up not being able to do anyway. My one full day is the only opportunity to do a walk in Egmont National Park, but the weather on the mountain is atrocious so I decide not to pay for the expensive shuttle bus there. The sea is very rough as well, meaning I can’t do the boat tour round the Sugar Loaf Islands as they just aren’t running. Fortunately there is still plenty to do in New Plymouth, which I can now do at a more relaxed pace.

The local museum is fascinating with wide ranging topics, but all with the key theme of the local area. There is some history of shocking Maori wars in the area, local wildlife displays, Maori artifacts and information on the oil industry which is strong in the area. The Maori wars are shocking because they were caused by the white people stealing the Maori’s land. As punishment for the uprising the rest of the Maori’s land was taken leaving them homeless and forced to migrate elsewhere. It’s only recently that their land has in part been returned to the tribe.

The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, is the best art gallery I’ve seen in New Zealand, and houses a lot of interactive art and film art. One video has it’s sound distorted so you hear the quiet things clearly while the usually louder sounds are muffled. They also have an archive of short films, adverts and cartoons that you could spend days browsing through. One piece of interactive art takes your silhouette and puts it into a moving picture so that you feel like things are sticking to you or falling down on you and burying you.

The coastline is spectacular, with the sea crashing in, and the Sugar Loaf Islands out at sea. There is a coastal walkway right along the coast here, which I follow South as far as the Port, then follow North far out of town. Not long after passing a bay filled with kite-surfers I am forced to turn back as heavy rain kicks in. Luckily it’s short lived and 10 minutes later I’m pulling all my layers off again as I overheat in the sun.

On my last day in New Plymouth I visit the gardens, Pukekura Park and Brooklands Park. They are so tranquil and beautiful I’m really glad I didn’t miss them. On finding the lake, I finally get my first close up glimpse of Mount Taranaki, a white dome poking above the rainforest. The gardens are in full flower now that we are into late Spring.

In Brooklands Park I find the Brooklands Zoo, a place I’m told is free to visit. Expecting more of a farm park I am surprised by the variety of animals on display – for free! I spend some time watching a merecat, who is on guard while the family sleep visible in a small house behind, looking rather cute.

Before leaving the gardens I visit the hot and cold houses, which are set up rather interestingly with tunnels between the different houses. The smell is amazing and complemented by a colourful display of flowers.

Palmerston North

Palmerston North Village Green

After a very early morning bus from Wellington, I arrive in Palmerston North, a stop off on the inevitable journey back up to Auckland for my flight home. I’ve not heard anything good about Palmy. In fact John Cleese came here once and described it as a good place to go if you wanted to kill yourself but lacked the courage (a compost heap at the local dump is now named after him).

The city is completely flat, the streets laid out in a strict grid-pattern, and the weather has turned atrocious. Not a good start. The city is based round a rather nice village square though, and has an excellent museum which includes tonnes of rugby paraphernalia. Unfortunately I seem to have visited the day they are having a Harvest Festival about town. This means the museum is over-run with kids, and the art galleries are filled with stalls with people selling things (and no art). I end up spending most of the day in the library.

Weta Works

Leaving the South Island behind.

Caught the ferry back across to the North Island today, but travelled with a different ferry company to the one I came over with. There are 2 ferry companies, both similarly priced and this time I find that travelling with the Interislander is cheaper.

While boarding the ferry, I can’t believe my eyes when I see a train driving off the ferry. Turns out this boat has a railway deck as well as a car deck so trains can travel from the North island to the South Island just byfollowing the tracks onto the ferry! Apart from this small but impressive difference, both ferry companies seem to offer an almost identical service.


Gollum at the Weta Works

Arriving back in Wellington, I have an afternoon in the capital to see what I missed the first time round. There’s not much left to see except the Weta Works, a New Zealand based special effects company which helped with a few famous films including Lord of the Rings and Avatar. They have a mini museum showcasing various film props, miniatures and weapons from some of the films they have helped out with. They also show a short film which gives you a guided tour of the studios, the closest you will get to going inside.

I stay at a rather large hostel near the transport hub for convenience, and being on the 5th floor, really notice how windy Wellington is. The whole building seems to sway up here!

Baby Seals

Seal Pup

Caught the stray bus to Picton today, my last full day on the South Island. On route we stopped on the coast to look at another seal colony, before doing a short walk to a waterfall. The waterfall in itself is not spectacular, however, the pool it flows down into is used by baby seals as a kind of nursery. When young, there mums go off to feed for days at a time, while the baby seals swim up the river to this pool to play. In the middle of winter you can get up to 200 baby seals playing here, though now its well into spring the number is dramatically reduced to about 10.