NZ part 4 The North Island: Volcanoes and hobbits!

Trip Start Aug 08, 2011
Trip End Jul 22, 2013

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Friday, December 14, 2012

As we waved a sad goodbye to the South Island it was onward we went into the North Island. A very different place but somewhere we have enjoyed just as much. The scenery changes rapidly from rolling hills and countryside to rugged volcanic landscapes that look like  a scene out of a movie! 

Our 1st day, we got up early and drove straight to Tongariro. We would have loved to explore Wellington but we really only had time to do a whistle stop trip of the north island so we decided to compromise by omitting the cities. We had hoped to do some of the Tongario crossing (whats open of it) but we arrived a little later than expected and the walk was an hour or 2 more than we thought so sadly we were unable to do it. Determined still to see some of the stunning landscape we decided to take a flight which was fantastic. We got a really good overview of the area (and with a lot less effort although we were still slightly disappointed not to have done it on foot!) One day we may return...! Our flight took us past the mountain which was Mt Doom in LOTR. Also, the volcano which erupted 3 weeks ago was still smoking so that was pretty impressive to see! The Emerald Lakes were stunning - I bet it must be amazing to sit by them after the long climb up the crossing! From the air we spotted some impressive waterfalls which we went to investigate afterwards and then it was onto Waiotapu. By now we were in the midst of one of the most active geothermal areas in the world and Waiotapu was an amazing demonstration of this! We saw huge craters formed by volcanic gases. The smell of sulphur was pungent but eventually you got used to it and it was worth it to see the bright coloured lakes coloured by the minerals within them and to see steam arising from craters and mud bubbling. The Champagne Pools were a highlight. You will probably recognise the pictures as its pretty iconic of this area. A Huge crater filled with bubbling water stained red by minerals at the edges and steam billowing out from it! Stunning! 

We returned the next day to see a geyser erupt. Every morning they put some soap powder in the natural geyser to make it erupt with 20ft of water and steam. it naturally erupts anyway but they put on a bit of a display for the tourists. After that we headed for Rotorua, a city that stinks of rotten eggs but has a certain charm about it regardless! We didn't stay long but we did have time to fit in a trip to the museum (mostly about the beneficial effects of the natural springs and the hospital which was erected here in the late 19th century to make the most of this.) We also went to Whakawarea a geothermal maori village where life still centres around the geothermal activity in their back gardens. The hot water is used for communal bathing and for cooking food called hangi where certain pools were set aside for the cooking of different foods and an oven was a hot wooden box where food is cooked slowly like a slow cooker so that it is very tender. We learnt a lot about maori life that day and even got to try a hang pie ourselves which was delicious! Then we were treated to a display of songs and dances including our favourite - the Haka! 

After Rotorua we headed out of the volcanic strip and back into the rolling countryside this time headed for Matamata where the Hobbiton scenes were filmed for LOTR and the Hobbit. We were lucky to have gone at this time as only 18months ago the set was mostly dismantled and fans only got to see a couple of hobbit holes left in the side of the hills. But since they filmed the Hobbit, the set was left up and lots of houses and buildings added which made for a fantastic tour. We got lots of pictures outside the Hobbit holes and then headed to 'The green dragon pub' for a hobbit sized mug of cider! After our tour and an infamous '2nd breakfast' at The Shires rest, we headed for Raglan. Raglan is a seaside village with famous surfing waves and reminded us a lot of Lennox Head - just down the road from Byron. We spent the night in Raglan visiting my friend from uni days, Sam and her boyfriend Matt, it was great to catch up as it has been a while! After they finished work we went to the sea for a surf (well I body boarded!) and then headed back to their house where Sam cooked a fantastic veggie lasagne and homemade chocolate mousse! It was nice to eat some home cooked food as eating non stop pasta sausages and fajitas can get boring at times but with only 2 hobs my recipes in a camper are slightly limited! We camped on their drive that night and then headed up to the Bay of Islands the next day. 

Our first evening in the bay of islands was spent booking up a few trips for our last few days. We then went for fish and chips in this awesome restaurant that was inside an old boat with fab views through the window. It was very quirky and my fish and chips were served in newspaper at the table! It was a bargain at about 5 quid and was very tasty. After that we headed for KeriKeri to see 'The Hobbit' inspired by our trip to Hobbiton. t was released the day before our tour so its big news out here at the moment. We really enjoyed the film but I won't tell you what happens! 

The next day we went on our boat trip out to the islands. The weather was on our side and we were on a great boat - a spacious modern catamaran. We spotted some dolphins pretty quickly and took our opportunity to swim with them. However I didn't get very close as I was having snorkel issues. One did swim a few metres in front of me at one point but Wyn had a much closer encounter. Wyn consoled me by volunteering to take me out to deeper waters in Byron on his surf board where he often sees dolphins. But that said there has been several great white sightings in the bay lately so I might put that off a while! After our dolphin swimming, we headed to an island where I did a little walk to a fabulous viewpoint whilst Wyn chilled on the beach. We then swam back to the boat for a BBQ lunch before sailing back to Paihia. It was a lovely relaxing day. A shame I didn't get a very close encounter with the dolphins but we saw lots from the boat! 

Our last day and a half was pretty cloudy so after a quick look around a town called Russell, we headed to Auckland where mostly we spent our time packing and getting ready to leave the camper van. We did have time for a quick wander around the city centre and we also dropped by Wyns great aunt who moved to New Zealand more than 50 years ago who he had never met so it was interesting for him to puts a face to the name and to talk about their family history. Sadly we did not have long as we had a flight to catch but Im sure it will not be the last time we go to New Zealand as we have both loved it! 

There is now 1 week to go before xmas. Not feeling hugely christmassy  - its 38 degrees in Byron! And barely started organising things and have night shifts between now and then! But Im sure it'll all come together at the last minute as usual! Last xmas turned out to be really fun so hopefully we'll have another fun one! Aside from Christmas and new year (which we are spending in Byron this year) I also have my GP entrance exam and then a trip to the UK end Jan for my interview (with any luck) so theres a few things coming up! 

So all thats left is to wish you all a very happy christmas and new year! x

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