14th June, 2013
15th June, 2013
16th June, 2013
17th June, 2013
18th June, 2013
19th June, 2013
20th June, 2013
21st June, 2013

Friday 14th June, 2013

Mt. Ngaurahoe photograph

Mt. Ngaurahoe from The Chateau

Drop Cap fter a not very comfortable night because of my knee and the heat in the room, we awoke to clear blue skies and freezing frosty ground. The view from our windows was clear and spectacular, Mount Ngaurahoe, the perfect cone shaped volcano was covered in new snow and Mt. Ruapehu, which yesterday only had a few streaky patches of snow, was coated in a new layer of pristine white. Against the clear blue it was breathtaking.

New Snow photograph

New Snow Ruapehu

Snowfields photograph

Tongariro Snowfield from the Highway

Drop Cap fter our yummy buffet breakfast we went out to take some photos. Unfortunately the sun was directly in front of Mt. Ngaurahoe and the ground which had been in shade was slippery with ice and I was very worried about slipping. That would really put the tin lid on my knee! However, we took some photos in the spectacular lounge of the Chateau, before checking out and heading off for New Plymouth. For miles we kept stopping to view the snow draped volcanoes before we finally lost sight of them.

Forgotten World photograph

On the Forgotten World Highway

Drop Cap fter stopping in Taumarunui for Geoff to have morning tea at Maccas we took what is probably the most spectacular and exciting road we have taken on this trip full of spectacular and exciting drives. The Forgotten World Highway. No petrol, no shops, precious little in the way of civilisation, this road is supposed to be New Zealand's oldest touring route and boy! it is amazing! Another "O for Awesome" experience as it twisted and squiggled over mountainous saddles between gorges and valleys of wonderful beauty.

Whanga Hotel photograph

Whangamomona Hotel

Drop Cap e stopped for lunch at the first place we had seen that sold food, Whangamomona Hotel. This semi-ghost town claims to be the capital of the Republic of Whanga which was declared in 1989 as a result of dissatisfaction with new proposed boundaries, and is celebrated on Republic Day every year.

We had a good lunch here then went back to the snake-like squiggles of the Forgotten World. There was a 12 km stretch of gravel, several places where you can see the outside verges have been built up from below (a bit worrying) and a one lane tunnel known locally as the Hobbit Hole. We hadn't known it was a tourist road, we took it because it seemed the only road which went more or less directly where we wanted to go. So the spectacular beauty was serendipitous.

Pink Cottage photograph

Lounge Room, Pink Cottage, New Plymouth

Drop Cap nce off the road we arrived in Stratford, where we had a glimpse of snow covered Mt. Egmont, or Taranaki before turning towards tonight's accommodation in New Plymouth. We found the address without too much difficulty but actually locating the house was more difficult - it was up a side street where three different addresses were clustered on a sort of battleaxe block.

Pink Cottage photograph

Kitchen, Pink Cottage, New Plymouth

Drop Cap ut we did find it, and Lynne, the owner. The Pink Cottage is really lovely. Clean, spacious, nicely decorated and furnished with a view over the port from the front rooms. There is even a piano in the lounge and Lynne had put a vase of fresh carnations in there, as well.

Pink Cottage photograph

Our Bedroom, Pink Cottage, New Plymouth

Pink Cottage photograph

Geoff's Bedroom, Pink Cottage, New Plymouth

Drop Cap e are well pleased with this, our second last holiday home. Don't know quite what to do here but we want to go to Mt. Taranaki, another perfect cone, Fuji style volcanic peak covered with snow. We'll visit the I-site and work something out. We also want to get a couple of post boxes to send paperwork and surplus clothes home (to lighten our luggage) as we usually do in Britain. Tomorrow is Saturday, so may be our last chance.

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Saturday 15th June, 2013

Drop Cap to a very busy day today as it dawned grey and windy. We took our time getting up and breakfasting, then Mac and Geoff went into town to find the Post Office. They came back with four large boxes for posting home. I have the usual pile of brochures, leaflets, tickets etc plus four large books, two of which I bought here. Geoff has a smaller than usual stash of souvenir T-shirts and caps which he want to carry home himself so plans to send home his dirty washing in a post pack. Mac also wants to do that because he only wants to carry one hand luggage (if not none at all) because of my stick problems.

Breakwater photograph

Along the Breakwater, New Plymouth

Sugarloaf Islands photograph

Sugarloaf Islands, New Plymouth

Drop Cap e went out to find the Coastal Walkway to see if we could get a better view of the peculiar islets (called the Sugarloaf Islands, I think) which we can see from our patio. We walked, even me! along the breakwater to where we could see the port which obscures quite a lot of the coastal scene and were able to get a bit more of a close-up. Then we walked back, by this time I was flagging a bit, this is the furthest I have walked since my knee, I think.

Bridges photograph

Bridges on the Coastal Walkway, New Plymouth

Drop Cap e then drove out to the end of the Walkway, 11 km away to see the iconic modern bridge. Our photographs of the Bridge do not show its really unique shape because we could not get to a reasonable angle but it looks somewhat like a fish skeleton.

By this time it was raining and getting quite cold, so we headed back to our little shopping centre and picked up a takeaway lunch (burger for Geoff, BLT for me and toasted cheese and tomato for Mac) and came home. We all nodded off this afternoon, then did one last load of washing. Not a vastly exciting day but, at least, somewhat restful.

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Sunday 16th June, 2013

Drop Cap t was quite a wild night last night, windy and lots of rain. Day dawned grey and wet, you could see waves breaking on the breakwater where we walked yesterday even over the top of the large port building in front of it.

View photograph

View from Pink Cottage (on a fine day!)

Drop Cap fter breakfast I went back to bed for a while, then when I got up we had morning tea and played Trivial Pursuit until lunch time. Mac and Geoff went out to see if the chippy was open, which it was, and also a useful supermarket and hot bread shop so they got all the things we needed.

We finished the game - I won! - and the rain carried on without stopping all day. We packed and sealed three of the post packs and will post them first thing tomorrow at the local post office. We had cajun chicken again for dinner with baked potatoes, stir fry vegies and one of Geoff's super salads. Then settled in for a night of TV.

Drop Cap e are off tomorrow for the Waitomo area, our last base. Then back to Auckland and home. My leg does seem to be on the mend a bit, after more than two weeks!

Monday 17th June, 2013

Drop Cap ajor disappointment today as we drove off for Waitomo. We arrived at the caves after driving through rain drenched but lovely scenery only to be told that the rain meant that the river was rising rapidly and it would not be possible to do the boat trip ending to the cave through the glow worm tunnel area. This would mean returning up the 100 or more "quite steep" steps. I would have tried to make it one way as I really would like to see the glow worms again but I don't think I could make it both ways. So, major upset since this is really the only reason we came here!

Otorohanga Motel Kitchenette photograph

Otorohanga Motel Kitchenette

Drop Cap hen we moved on to our accommodation, the Otorohanga and Waitomo Motels, to find it nothing like the Internet showed, in fact it is probably the most "basic" (i.e a dump) that we have had. Very disappointing since we are here four nights! I didn't want to be but nothing I could say cut any ice with Mac who was adamant about staying longer. When I think of the really lovely places we would have liked to stay longer and didn't, I get depressed.

Otorohanga Motel Lounge photograph

Lounge Otorohanga Motel

Drop Cap nyway, we are here now and have to make the best of it so Mac and I went out to shop for food for the next four days and we will look around for something to interest us as well. See what the weather brings.

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Tuesday 18th June, 2013

Drop Cap oday was great. Despite the grey and blue skies which seemed to pelt rain every time we thought it was clearing, we headed off up the road to "Hobbiton".

Hobbiton photograph


Drop Cap s the name implies this is the site of the village of the Hobbits in the films of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit". Geoff really wanted to see Hobbiton so we decided to go and see what eventuated when we got there. It was about an hour's drive and as it happened, by the time we arrived at about 11:30 after stopping for morning tea at Karitopo (?) the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing up some.

Hobbiton photograph

Geoff and Rosemary at Hobbiton

Drop Cap e enquired about the tour of the film set village which was mostly constructed for Lord of the Rings and, although being told that the tour was mostly on foot and there were some steep inclines we all (even me) decided to do it. $75 each and it was worth it! We booked in for the 1 p.m tour and went to the Shire's Rest Cafe for lunch before the tour.

Hobbiton photograph


Drop Cap he first part of the tour was by bus, through the rolling green farm country so like Tolkien's Shire to where the village was laid out. This is quite incredible, even if you don't know much about LOTR or the H. Funnily enough, we had seen most of the first LOTR film and half of the second last week in Wanganui, where we found the DVDs in the house, so it was more or less familiar.

Hobbiton photograph

The Mill at Hobbiton

Hobbiton photograph

Bilbo's House, Bag End, Hobbiton

Drop Cap here are about 40 different and individual hobbit holes, spread across the scene, with gardens, a mill, bridges and the Green Dragon Inn. Much of it is fairly new, having been built when Peter Jackson decided to make The Hobbit. After LOTR the production company were contracted to remove the village set but the weather slowed them down and so many curious locals wanted to see around the site that they decided to keep what was left and open it up for tourism. A good decision, since I'll bet the farmer who owns the land makes a damn sight more from Hobbiton than from farming.

Hobbiton photograph

Distant View of Green Dragon Inn, Hobbiton

Drop Cap e saw lots of hobbit holes, including Sam's house and of course Bag End, Bilbo and Frodo's house. They are only facades, all the interior scenes were filmed at the studios in Wellington, but they are set into the hillside and look really good. We saw the "party tree", a huge 90 year old radiata pine, where they celebrated Bilbo's 111th birthday in the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, and we had a delicious and slightly alcoholic cider at the Green Dragon Inn, a marvellous reproduction of an ancient English inn, all low beams and huge open fire.

Hobbiton photograph

Interior of Green Dragon Inn, Hobbiton

Matamata photograph

I-Site at Matamata

Drop Cap was really pleased that I had decided to try it - I was able to keep up, it was a very small group, and did not do too much damage to my knees. It must be getting better!

All in all, a lovely day. After we left we stopped in Matamata, the local town to Hobbiton for afternoon tea and photographed their I-site. It is built in the shape of a Hobbit hole. Cute!!

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Wednesday 19th June, 2013

Drop Cap t rained all night and went on through the day, such a pain. I was semi-recovering from the exertions of yesterday so we just went out to do some shopping and enquiries at the I-site, an interesting building next to the library, decorated with statues of giant kiwis and totem poles representing the local tribes. Mac wanted to know the condition of some backroads for a round trip to some obscure beauty spots, but it seemed there would be about 60km of dirt roads and after all the rain we gave the idea away.

Kiwi House photograph

Interior of Kiwi House

Drop Cap e had lunch at home then went off to visit the Otorohanga Kiwi House, reasoning that some of it at least would be undercover. It is quite a large aviary and wetland area for native birds (which would have been a lovely stroll in dry weather) but the kiwi enclosure was undercover. It was very good, quite realistic in that it has an earth floor so the kiwis can rootle about in the leaf litter for worms, etc. But they feed them as well.

They have a unique display in that they have two shifts of kiwis, one lot is asleep while one lot is awake and active so there is always a kiwi for visitors to see in reasonable light. The enclosure was divided into two separate areas, each holding only one kiwi because they are apparently fiercely territorial (which we have heard before) and if there were more, they would fight. The first was a Greater Spotted Kiwi, a 12 year old female, and she was very active, racing around the area, digging through logs and leaf litter and looking curiously at us looking curiously at her. The other one was a 4 year old male Brown Kiwi, somewhat smaller than the spotted one, but just as active. The keeper came in at 1:30 with a revolting looking mush of sliced boar heart, tofu, porridge, peas and sultanas but the birds certainly seemed enthusiastic about it.

Duck Pond photograph

Ducks Outside the Kiwi House, Otorohanga

Drop Cap hen we left them we went out into the elements and viewed enclosures with various reptiles, lots of different geckos and the tuatara, the small iguana which is older than the dinosaurs. There were lots of different birds from the native morepork owls and falcons to the latest fluffy ducklings of some of the water birds. New Zealand has an extremely rare native flightless duck.

Drop Cap nyway, we trailed around in the rain until I got sick of it and suggested that we go back to a bakery and choose something naughty for afternoon tea, to cheer us up. So we did. Lovely big blueberry muffins which we warmed in the microwave and had with coffee.

After this I lay down and dozed until nearly 6 p.m then we got dinner as a co-operative effort - angus burgers and fried onions (me) baked potatoes and beans (Mac) and salad (Geoff). We were falling over each other in the miniscule kitchen area with no bench work space but it all worked. Good stuff. Only one more day.

Thursday 20th June, 2013

Waitomo Caves Cafe photograph

Cafe at Waitomo Caves

Drop Cap ay actually dawned fairly bright this morning with the sun trying to break through and quite a lot of blue sky.

We decided to take a drive which took in a couple of scenic areas, starting with Waitomo where the caves were still not running the boats. This was not surprising, the amount of flood water in the fields was growing daily and by the time we returned from our drive they had closed the cave down.

As it was morning tea time we stopped at their café for coffee and a large bun for Geoff, then he bought (hopefully) his last batch of souvenirs. He is buying something for everyone at work and doesn't want to leave anyone out.

Bridge photograph

Bridge to the Natural Bridge

Drop Cap fter this we headed up the road as the rain reappeared heavily until we reached the first of our objectives, the Mangapohne Natural Bridge. This involved a ten minute walk over well-maintained tracks, rain forest and one jungly suspension bridge, to what was essentially a collapsed cave with a river running through it. When we reached it we thought initially that the bridge was the loop of vines and other foliage which spanned the river.

Suspension Bridge photograph

Suspension Bridge near Natural Bridge

Drop Cap owever, on taking a long view backing away, we saw that the roof of the cave high above us was actually the Natural Bridge. It was spectacular! The way was well marked, with bridges and fences and was amazingly picturesque (as well as wet).

Natural Bridge photograph

Natural Bridge

Drop Cap e all got soaked in spite of our raincoats but the tin lid was put on it when it started to hail! We were walking back to the car through this shower of small (luckily) hail. Still, we were all pleased that we had gone and my knee did not give me any real trouble - no more than bushwalking at home, normally.

So on we went. The road was very twisty with quite a lot of cliff faces, many showing signs of recent rockfalls, some with traffic cones, some not. In one place quite a large wedge shaped section of the road had actually collapsed.

Marokopa Falls photograph

Marokopa Falls

Drop Cap ur next point of interest was Marakopa Falls. Another ten minute walk through dripping rain forest led to the roaring and spectacular waterfall. We could hear it all the way along the track but by the time we got there it was very loud indeed. It was a very spectacular and accessible waterfall. The view was truly magnificent and well worth the wet walk.

Drop Cap s we regained the car it started hailing again, larger hail this time, we were pushing quite a lot of ice around with the windscreen wipers. However, we went on, hoping to find a café at Marakopa for lunch but it turned out to be little but a summertime fishing camp. The store and snack bar closed at 1 p.m so we missed it by 15 minutes.

Since Geoff had had quite a large morning tea this was not a disaster. We fed him a couple of muffin bars and pushed on back to Waitomo. He had had a hypo at 3 a.m. so I didn't want to risk anything. We pulled in to the Hu Hu Cafe at Waitomo, a rather classy place with a young chef. Mac and I had spiced kumara soup with cream and toasted seeds and lovely bread and Geoff had rabbit hotpot pie with mashed potato. It was all delicious. We are going out to dinner tonight so I didn't want a heavy meal and the soup was just what I wanted.

Drop Cap e came back to Otorohanga and checked that the post office would be open to send another box home and made a reservation at "The Thirsty Weta" bar and bistro for dinner tonight. A weta is a large NZ bug, about the size of the palm of your hand, Yuk. Off tomorrow for Auckland and the Airport Hotel before our flight home on Saturday.

I think we have had more bad weather than good this trip, but it didn't stop much. The one I am disappointed about is the caves tour here with the boat through the glow worm grotto. Geoff hadn't seen it although Mac and I have. Mac was sorry not to circumnavigate Mt. Taranaki too.

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Friday 21st June, 2013

Drop Cap ff and away today through blue skies with a bitter wind driving the clouds. I saw on the news last night that a storm in Antarctica had put NZ into the deep freeze. I am not surprised.

We made very good time into Auckland which is a good thing since the GPS let us down. It didn't help that we had given Geoff the wrong address for the hotel. He took us to Airport Road instead of Air Park Drive, about 35kms away on the other side of the airport. However, once the address was sorted out he navigated us around brilliantly until we got to the Bella Vista Airport Hotel.

Drop Cap ella Vista is a large chain of budget motels and I don't know how the rest of them are but we are not impressed with this one. We arrived at 2 p.m when most hotel rooms worldwide will be available. Ours weren't. We waited in the draughty lobby until 3 p.m. when Mac and Geoff thought they had better return the car to Budget as it was due by 4 p.m. So they told us then that the rooms were ready and Mac and Geoff pushed the luggage trolley halfway around the ground floor, only to be stopped by the supervisor saying they weren't ready after all. Mac was not amused and threw a tantrum, then he and Geoff went to return the car. As soon as they had left I was given the keys but stayed in the lobby with the luggage until the shuttle bus driver offered to take it in for me (I think they probably wanted the trolley freed up) Anyway I got the luggage into the room and went back to wait for the guys.

Drop Cap his hotel does not have a restaurant as such, there is a bar with light meals available in the lobby, which lets in freezing blasts of air every time anyone goes anywhere near the automatic doors. So we have booked dinner at the restaurant of the Sudima Hotel next door. Breakfast too, probably. We had afternoon coffee in our room and discussed the various accommodation choices we had had and rated them on location , amenities, general ambience etc. The list follows this journal.

Drop Cap e had a wonderful dinner at the Sudima for our last supper, expensive but worth it. We decided to have breakfast at Bella Vista as we discovered they open a dining room for breakfast with a continental buffet but cooked to order hot stuff as well. So that was OK, and included in the rate.

Drop Cap e discovered that a massive electrical storm in Auckland on Thursday had shut down the airport and there had been chaos with a lot of people having to stop over longer. That is probably one of the reasons the hotel was not coping very well. Despite this, we had no problems at all checking in at the airport and were in time for a relaxed lunch in one of the airport cafes, a little last minute shopping in the duty free and into the plane. We discovered that a massive electrical storm in Auckland on Thursday had shut down the airport and there had been chaos with a lot of people having to stop over longer. That is probably one of the reasons the hotel was not coping very well. Despite this, we had no problems at all checking in at the airport and were in time for a relaxed lunch in one of the airport cafes, a little last minute shopping in the duty free and into the plane.

Drop Cap ack in Sydney my walking stick scored me a trolley ride to baggage pickup and we whizzed through customs well before any of the other passengers had arrived. It was pouring rain in Sydney but we found where the hotel shuttles went and picked up the bus to the Holiday Inn. A good dinner, sleep and complimentary breakfast and our shuttle picked us up right on time to bring us home.

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