A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand - Tourist Attraction Day!

Saturday 26 November

sunny 20 °C

After yesterday's wash-out, there was ground to be made up today.

My campsite was just a few miles from my first objective, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, "NZ's most colourful and diverse volcanic area". It was always going to be a losing battle for anyone who has visited Yellowstone (which contains half of the world's geothermal features) and this was perfectly illustrated by the local version of Yellowstone's Old Faithful - which erupts naturally every hour or two to a height of 30-60metres. Here, audience-seating is within a few yards of Lady Knox geyser, while a ranger stood on it to add a surfactant to activate it briefly to a height of max 10 metres. However, the big plus to this site is that it takes only an hour or so to walk around, compared with at least two days to tour Yellowstone properly. All the heat, boiling water, mud and minerals being pushed out of the ground are a good reminder not to take for granted the earth beneath our feet - not for nothing is New Zealand also known as "the shaky isles".

Objective Two: head back 97km north to Hobbiton Movie Set, where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed. Problem = have to be booked on a tour and it is a very popular destination. Discussion with Tom resulted in him booking me on to the 1315, arrival at 1300 please - I just had to get there in time... Of course it took longer than hoped, so I was cutting it very fine, only to find it so busy, there was apparently no parking available... Managed to squeeze in next to some building work and ran to the ticket-office. Long queue...then the system froze... No choice(?!) but to go the front and say I'm supposed to be on the 1.15 and it's now 1.14... Super girl checked list, thrust a ticket at me and said "Run!" All's well that ends well - made it as the door was closing. First impression of Hobbiton was that it could have been built within Bodenham Arboretum and Farm near Kiderminster! It's a relatively small area in the middle of a working farm located within rolling countryside and the village was created for external shots only, so the hobbit-houses are merely facades - very attractive (had there not been hordes of tourists!) and I would have been disappointed not to have visited, but I'm not the biggest fan of the films, so perhaps it was a little wasted on me. Also building work detracted from the overall vista (new toilets and an extension to the Green Dragon pub, which is not just a facade).

Objective Three: time to dash back the way I'd come via Rotorua and the ticket office for the Tamaki Maori Village = "NZ's most awarded Cultural Tourism Attraction". I was booked in for the 5.00 show, but had been told I had to visit the office to exchange a voucher from the motorhome hire company for my ticket. Seems I could have saved myself some stress and not done that, but anyway I made it in time and self-drove (most guests arrive on coaches from Rotorua, included in the ticket) to the venue just a few miles from last night's campsite! Actually very entertaining set-up, demonstrations and show, although the temperature had plummeted and it was impossible not to to feel for the cast, who were barefoot and relatively undressed! They did a great job and we were served the best meal I've ever had at a themed event.

Yay, three tourist attractions separated by a total of 200km in one day! Time to hit the road again to head a further 70km south to Lake Taupo and be back on my itinerary. No campsite booked, so spotting a sign for one Tom had mentioned, I turned off the main road into a forest a few km before the lake. Arrived to a very small site with several peacocks strutting around, while alpacas and many breeds of rabbits in pens observed all activity. So I've 'camped' and am hoping the peacocks sleep well - handsome but noisy creatures! And I didn't know they roost high up in trees - wish I'd seen them get there. Time to do nothing for the first time today.

Lake and waterfall exploration tomorrow, before driving to Napier - "a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent English seaside resort and a unique concentration of art-deco buildings" - to meet up with Tom for a quieter day in Hawke's Bay on Monday exploring wineries, before heading to Wellington on Tuesday to be joined by Jess to cross to South Island on Thursday.

Posted by SueJWardell 00:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Kiwi Motorhome Adventures so far

23- 25 November 2016

rain 15 °C

Happy birthday Ben (25th Nov) 😊 It's 9pm here, 8am UK, and I'm already in my PJs, having lobstered myself in the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools south of Rotorua. Boiling water emerges from the Te Manaroa spring and is cooled across rock before filling 10 pools, the hottest approx 42° which became too hot for me, while 37° in the 'swimming-pool' wasn't optimum for lengths! It's chucking it down outside, as it has most of the day, but I quite like hearing rain on a motorhome when I'm cosy inside.

Quick mention for an omission from Northland trip - small town of Kawakawa has probably the most artistic public toilets in the world! Designed by Austrian-born artist and eco-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who lived nearby in an isolated house without electricity. Really colourful and eye-catching, apparently typical of his work - organic wavy lines decorated with ceramic mosaics and brightly coloured inset bottles, grass and plants on the roof. Jess had studied him at school, but new to me. We loved how the town has continued the theme in other shopfronts, street signs etc. When Tom joins me on Sunday, I'll see if he can help me with uploading photos...

Motorhome Day One, Wednesday 23rd: Auckland pick-up not without its moments... Really glad I have motorhome experience, as handover was pitiful, mainly consisting of "Here's your tablet (large TomTom+) with all the info you need - you should take some time to go through it all this evening"... Overkill with 6-berth vehicle because I wanted a fixed bed, plus there is a bed over the cab for Tom/Jess when he/they join me at various points. Completely different from Dulcie, my UK motorhome, although not so very much bigger - a metre longer, a little higher - just utterly different in layout and designed to sleep up to 6, whereas I have chosen comfort for just me in Dulcie! Followed Tom home to collect my stuff and do a quick supermarket shop, so underway with perfect timing for city Friday-rush-hour... Actually pretty easy to drive and clear of heavy traffic within an hour. Open road to the Coromandel Peninsula and a simply stunning drive snaking along the coast past lovely little bays and beaches and twisting up and down hills and valleys. Easy to understand Tom's comment that holidays and travel cannot be sold to Kiwis (as New Zealanders call themselves) on the basis of great/lovely beaches - they have so many, invariably pretty much deserted because there is so much choice. Happy to reach beachside campsite north of Coromandel Town, two-thirds way up Penisula, before dark. Time to unpack.

Motorhome Day Two, Thursday 24th: Tom's itinerary had me turning east across the peninsula, but my Lonely Planet guide said it's worth continuing north: "supremely isolated and gobsmackingly beautiful, the rugged tip is well worth the effort required to reach it". Yes, I knew it would be gravel roads and had already travelled some with Tom, who explained they are quite usual... I didn't bank on roadworks on said gravel roads, particularly on incredibly steep, twisting inclines after flood-damage, quite apart from the fact I'm driving a hired motorhome... I did check with the workmen that I should be okay... 5km in with no other vehicles to be seen and distinctly dodgy surfaces at many points, I decided discretion was the better part of valour (quite apart from the time the journey was obviously going to take) and gave up my pressonitis - unusual for me, but all too raw memories of a recent dirt-track incident (painful and damaging cycle crash!) helped with the decision. However, rather than go back the way I came, I headed across the peninsula on more gravel roads...up and down and around much bigger mountains.... Still virtually no other vehicles to be seen, quite challenging but with spectacular scenery and views, progressing ever closer to the point where I would be back where I'd started in the morning....when the Satnav came up with that wonderful phrase, "Make a u-turn when possible"... 55km to destination.... Thus I arrived in the isolated and seemingly deserted village of Kennedy Bay to find the last mountain-road closed every day for more flood-damage repairs, then restrictions on vehicle-size. I really didn't want to drive the whole way back, so knocked on a random door and was relieved to be reassured I'd make it through - just wait out the two hours on the beach. Hence the previous blog was written, after I drove my hired RV on to yet another huge, stunning, deserted beach. The last part of the drive on the re-opened road was probably the toughest yet, but with incredibly stunning views - when I dared to look at them. Finally reaching 'sealed' roads to return to my itinerary, I had to laugh at their Scenic Viewpoints - not a patch on what I had seen, and I suspect very few other tourists, especially in large motorhomes (very dusty ones) are likely to see!

Enough adventure for one day. Stick to the main roads. Next stop Cathedral Cove - another beautiful beach but with the addition of a gigantic stone arch. Another problem with a large motorhome is parking when space is tight, but I created a space at the carpark entrance, hoping to keep my visit short. The signs said 40mins walk to the Cove... Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound... There in 20 mins, helped by having convinced myself I hadn't locked the motorhome, having left everything in it - money, cards, phone, iPad, passport etc etc... Worth the walk anyway! Back in similar time to find of course I'd locked up and happily hadn't been towed or damaged. On to my pre-booked-by-Tom campsite at Hot Water Beach - excellent camp if you happen to travel this way. Enjoyed the company of several young English backpackers for fish and chips before heading to the beach - as night fell... Low tide is when hot water oozes up from beneath the sand and visitors hire spades to dig spa pools, and low tide happened to be at 9pm... Oh well, probably never be there again, have to go. Quite a long, dark walk on a cool evening to end up on (another long and lovely) beach with probably 200+ other people digging holes in the wet sand, where it wasn't simply too hot underfoot to stand. No I'm not stupid enough to lie in a sandy pool at night, however warm the water, but I did paddle! Then escorted a young light-less German girl back to camp - most people were without torches and the path was unlit - the things we do!

Motorhome Day Three, Friday 25th: Awoke to gloomy day - weather had been perfect for six days, so quite a shock. Wetter and wetter as day progressed, some pleasant scenery but anything would be an anti-climax after previous day. Headed to Tauranga, location of NZ's largest harbour, for next itinerary-item = climb Mount Manganui = single hill punctuating a peninsula. Half cloud-covered when I arrived. While weighing up whether or not worth getting wet and trying walk up, realised my phone might need rebooting, as no signal since previous day and now in a big city. Startled to see 8 missed calls from Tom... I'd messaged him from the previous day's beach to update him on my adventure, but struggled with signal after that, so received no reply. Poor chap feared I might be still stuck on the beach/wrong side of the mountains! While we spoke, cloud completely hid Mount M - good hint not to attempt the ascent. Supposed to be going to Hobbiton next, but T concerned I'd arrive too late, so decided to head for Rotorua for night and unleash my inner Tolkien tomorrow. Which brings me back to the thermal pools with which I started this entry.

Busy day tomorrow, starting with Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, then north to Hobbiton, before returning to Rotorua for Tamaki Maori experience, then on to Lake Taupo overnight to get back on my itinerary - thanks Tom! Sorry if this seems a little waffly, but it's serving as my diary as well as a blog. Not actually planning another Kiwi Adventure (as Tom called it), but who knows?!?

Posted by SueJWardell 02:22 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

New Zealand!

Days 1- 6

sunny 23 °C

The days are rushing by, I'm struggling to upload photos, internet signal has been very intermittent - and being with company seems to mean I'm just haven't settled not to writing anything...!

So, clock back a week.... Definite feeling of something like astonishment "I'm in New Zealand!" as we landed - clear recollection of childhood knowledge of that furthest away place on the opposite side of the world, not a country we'd be likely to ever visit. Arrived to blue sky and sunshine. Lovely to see Tom waiting for me, and quite funny that he did the classic, "That woman looks just like Mum... Duh, of course she does because she is because that's who I'm here to meet!" Anyway, it certainly didn't feel like almost 2 years since seen each other - the marvel of FaceTime/Skype etc 😊

Day One: Tom and Jessica (long-term English girlfriend with whom Tom moved to NZ) rent an apartment in Onehunga to the south of Auckland, where they both work in the travel industry. Only 10 minutes from airport. Light, spacious, 2 bedrooms, fantastic view, very close to park and local amenities. Local exploration, then into Auckland. Strolled around harbour and main shopping area - didn't strike me as expensive as I'd expected, and fast-food is astonishingly cheap eg Dominoes Pizza from $5 = just over £3. Met up with Jess in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Sky a Tower for excellent arrival-dinner and fantastic views. Postponed dessert to walk to Giapo's Ice Cream Parlour = 'legendary' (much used word here!) venue with permanent queues for ornately decorated and scrumptious cones and tubs. Great arrival day, but now oh-so tired!

Day Two: Heavy rain, very low cloud. Happy to have quiet day - and delighted to have arrived on a clear day. Tom took me on an exploratory drive, before we visited Jess at work - manager of busiest STA = travel agents - in Auckland's largest shopping mall, which was heaving, being both Saturday and very wet out! Again pleasantly surprised by choice and prices after T&J's comments during their residence. The Warehouse does the job of Wilkos in UK. Apparently supermarket prices are where I will really see the difference.

Day Three: Off on first road-trip, all three of us in their 4x4 heading to Northland - I love that the north of the island is so-named, and there is also Eastland. Drive on left, but road-layout, systems and signage more American, while speed and distance are in km. Stunning weather and lovely, ever-changing drive through Birkenhead, Torbay, Silverdale and many other recognisable names; however, more Maori names and struggle with pronunciation - main lesson is 'Wh' = 'F'. Picnic-stop on long, deserted beach, first of many, and first experience of power of sun to burn in short time...! On to Bay of Islands, ferry from small resort of Paihia adjacent to Waitangi Treaty Grounds, NZ's most historic site, where in 1840 the first 43 (eventually over 500) Maori chiefs signed the Treaty with the British Crown. Nearby horseshoe Hararu Falls. Across to historic small town of Russell, previously called Kororareka, scene of early Maori/British conflicts; stunning views from Flagstaff Hill, where Tom also thought he glimpsed his first Kiwi, elusive, secretive, generally nocturnal birds. Overnight superb 'cottage' and fantastic stars - first time of seeing constellations 'upside-down' from British point of view!

Day Four: Leisurely breakfast by the beach/harbour. On to Kawiti Glow Worm Caves - one of several in NZ. Looks like fibre-optics embedded in cave-roof, but close inspection reveals matchstick-like creatures. Next Puketi Forest and walk amongst Kauri trees = NZ equivalent of giant redwoods/sequoias, up to 60m height, 8m diameter, once extensive across the north, mostly felled across the centuries. On to Mangonui in Doubtless Bay (named from an entry in Captain Cook's logbook: "It's doubtless a bay"!). Small historic centre of whaling industry, now holiday area with 'legendary' fish and chip shop, where our meal included battered mussels and oysters! Beach-and-bay-view apartment, first Pacific swim of the trip - yes, it was quite cold, but very gentle waves. T&J also twin-kayaked.

Day Five: Tom's big objective - Ninety Mile Beach, also a highway when the tide is out, so timing obviously crucial! 4WD highly recommended, most visitors take official coach-tours, many warnings against driving it... Actually 90km; huge, mostly deserted beach, although we were surprised to see more walkers than vehicles (pretty boring challenge on foot?), bordered by dunes and clear evidence it is completely covered at high tide; only real challenges were entering beach through soft sand and leaving it by driving some way along a (not sign-posted!) stream. Jess and I did become a little nervous watching the tide come closer, but Tom enjoyed churning up a few 'donuts' and we didn't encounter any quicksand or catch sight of any of the submerged vehicles apparently occasionally visible! Exit to Te Paki giant sand dunes - great fun on body boards.

On to almost the northernmost point of NZ = Cape Reinga with its lighthouse above the meeting of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. Slim promontory visible below is the most sacred Maori site, with a single 800-yr-old pohutukawa tree, down the roots of which the spirits of the departed slide to begin their journey back to their final resting place in the ancestral homeland.

New Zealand seems to have done a much better job than most countries of combining the culture of the original inhabitants with later arrivals and Maori still constitute approximately 40% of the population.

Day Six: Northland expedition over - great to have seen and done things also new for T&J. Time to head straight back to Auckland to collect motorhome, my home for the next three weeks, often accompanied by Tom and briefly by Jess for the change from North to South Island.

Well, I'm chuffed I manage to copy the above from Notes, having lost so much to dodgy Internet. Now I just have to work out how to upload some photos....

Posted by SueJWardell 16:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Singapore Day Three, also Last Day!

Thursday 17 November

Hooray, the rain stayed away for the evening and I managed to keep the walking down to 6 more miles. I still struggle to equate the distances involved with what I can see from my balcony - everything looks so close. Back to the lovely Gardens By The Bay - enjoyed a daylight visit, followed by the music and lights show - although still a bit bemused by Mariah Carey belting out All I Want For Christmas, followed by The First Noel in Asia's humid heat with a predominately Asian audience...! Walked back the long way round the Marina - the circuit is approximately 2 miles - everywhere so busy and lively, open aerobics classes taking place, Christmas decorations being added daily. Back on my balcony in time for the laser show from the top of the Marina Bay Sands = the hotel with the ship atop - lasers actually better from this point, although the fountains were lacking from this distance.

Earlier breakfast - having sussed the better menu-items! - to be at the Sky Park, the afore-mentioned ship on hotel, at opening at 0930. Apparently average 2000 visitors daily, although it doesn't look any busier now. Is it worth S$23 admission? Access is only to the 'prow', the remainder understandably being for guests only, so it's a large viewing deck with a souvenir/refreshments shop, plus a smaller second tier with a restaurant also available. The views are obviously fairly spectacular, although haze doesn't help the seaward direction, but not much more than can be seen from plenty of other places in the city. If money isn't tight, do it - if it is, save the $ for something else! Overall it is a greater attraction to admire from a distance than to visit.

Museum of Singapore wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped - perhaps we're just so spoilt with London's fantastic museums, we fail to understand just how exceptional they are. Just departed to visit the recommended Urban Regeneration plans display, as the heavens opened with one of those deluges like buckets of water being thrown at you! Having reached thankfully quite nearby shelter, jet lag overcame me and I couldn't keep my eyes open! Mission abandoned post-deluge and returned to hotel for luggage pick-up. Only 7 miles today - I'm slipping, bug my feet are grateful. Not sure they'll be resting on arrival in Auckland - the city to see before the touring commences. At least it won't be hot and humid, tho quite possibly wet!

I know I've only scratched the surface of Singapore, but still managed to see quite a lot. Definitely worth a visit and the Marina is the place if you're only passing through. Strong recommendation for a high floor in a taller hotel with Marina view. If you'd consider splashing out on Raffles, bear in mind it's low-rise completely surrounded by much bigger buildings... Marina Bay Sands infinity-pool-in-the-sky looks great, but I'd still want to be able to look at the hotel on the skyline.

Now enjoying Business Lounge at Changi Airport - dramatically better than Manchester, but some of the staff staff have strange attitudes and I've heard two people say 'Etihad was better'. It seems Singapore Airline may have some work to do... Anyway, a lot of people fly Business Class! I'd better start doing the lottery again... Boarding soon, next stop New Zealand 😄

Posted by SueJWardell 03:15 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Singapore Day Two

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Back in my room for a rest - only 19000 steps = 9+miles so far today, but there's still the evening to come... Happy it's stayed dry all day so far. Tactical decision to unpack walking shoes today not very elegant in a city, but definitely practical - and I can always take refuge in the eccentric Brit label!

The Breakfast Buffet is often my favourite aspect of a hotel - regrettably not here... Lots of choice, just not very tasty. River walk, then on to Chinatown first. Distinct lack of white faces as I wandered around the market in the People's Park - okay, only me! Perhaps tourists don't visit until later. Tested the very efficient MRT (Mass Rapid Transport ie their Underground) to Little India - much more atmospheric and interesting than Chinatown, especially in the Tekka Food Centre and Market. Then found a convoluted way through a park and residential area to Orchard Road - thought I should at least see the famed shopping street, but quite quickly defeated by my lack of interest in shops! Incongruous being surrounded by Christmas trees, reindeer and snowflakes in the humid heat... MRT again back to hotel to visit next door - I'm no more renowned for visiting bars solo than I am for loving shopping, but had to fulfil duty to partake of a Singapore Sling in Raffles! And I don't even drink gin... They even have special printed glasses (and a striking price!) for the purpose and I'd love to attach a photo, but at the moment can't work out why photos taken on my phone aren't coming up on my iPad.... Also impossible not to register in Raffles being completely surrounded by western tourists, having seen very few until returning to the Marina area.

Must be nearly time to head out again, hoping the rain holds off for the evening. Good luck, feet! I don't plan to go so far tomorrow - well (before Tom corrects me!) on foot at least, as back to the airport tomorrow evening and on to Auckland 😊

Posted by SueJWardell 00:35 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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