Lady Knox our Sox off in Geothermal Wonderland!

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June 27th 2009
Published: July 3rd 2009
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North Island Travels

Wellington --> Martinborough --> Hastings --> Napier --> Taupo --> Ohakune --> Rotorua --> Matamata --> Auckland

The Champagne PoolThe Champagne PoolThe Champagne Pool

at Wai-O-Tapu, New Zealand's most colourful geothermal area, Rotorua
After enjoying a 3-hour cruise through the stunning scenery of the Marlborough Sounds and across Cook Strait, we arrived in Wellington on the North Island. Windy Welly certainly lived up to its name when we were there, treating us to a mixture of rain, hail, snow & strong gales. Despite the weather though, we managed to catch the cable car from Lambton Quay up to the Botanic Gardens where we had some great views of the city. We also strolled around some of the trendy downtown shopping areas such as the beautiful Edwardian Old Bank shopping arcade and the pedestrianised shops and cafes on Cuba Street. It was definitely weather to be indoors and fortunately for us, New Zealand's best museum (Te Papa) is located right in the heart of the city. And better still, it's free! So we spent 2 days exploring the various exhibits there. Te Papa is not your average museum... it makes fantastic use of technology in many of its exhibits - there are lots of touch screens, videos and animations aswell as virtual reality and simulations. One exhibit even has an interactive floor that projects images on the wall as you walk upon certain hotspots, cool!
Lady Knox geyserLady Knox geyserLady Knox geyser

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua
We saw an excellent exhibit on the Awesome Forces that have shaped New Zealand's landscape, a Maori marae along with a huge collection of Maori treasures, an exhibit telling the story of the Pacific people in New Zealand and the world's only intact Colossal Squid specimen!


We would return to Welly 3 weeks later but for the moment, we decided to move on and followed State Highway 2 to Martinborough in the Wairarapa region. Martinborough is home to more than 30 family-run wineries (some are no bigger than a back garden!) but despite the small production volumes, some of New Zealand's best pinot noir is created here. It's a real wine village with only 1400 people living here and the village square at the heart of everything. An interesting feature is the fact that the streets are laid out in the shape of a Union Jack with each one named after a place the town's founder (an Irish immigrant named John Martin) visited on his world travels. We were staying on Dublin Street West and around the square the street names included Cork street, Strasbourg street, Ohio street, Naples street and Texas street. The weather had improved somewhat
Maori carving at Te PuiaMaori carving at Te PuiaMaori carving at Te Puia

This carving represents one of the 12 celestial guardians of the Te Arawa people of Rotorua
by the time we arrived, so we hired some bikes and spent the day cycling around the beautiful countryside in the sunshine. Among the wineries we visited were Tirohana Estate, Alana Estate and Te Kairanga. We also paid a visit to the Martinborough Wine Centre where we tasted a pinot noir produced by the winery across the road from where we were staying named Big Sky.


After leaving the wineries of the Wairarapa behind us, we made our way to Napier in Hawke's Bay on the east coast of the North Island. Napier was the scene of New Zealand's worst natural disaster in 1931 when pressure between the Pacific and the Indo-Australian plates was released through the Napier fault. New Zealand lies on the edge of these two colliding tectonic plates and beneath the North Island, the Pacific plate is being pushed downward under the Indo-Australian plate. This causes huge pressure beneath the earth's surface - earthquakes, volcanoes and geothermal fields are common in New Zealand as a result. The earthquake that devastated Napier was a magnitude 7.8 quake and the epicentre was just 15-20 km north of Napier. It took only 2.5 minutes for Napier to be
The Devils BathThe Devils BathThe Devils Bath

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua
shaken to the ground. When it was rebuilt two years later, the popular architectural styles of the 1930s - Art Deco and Spanish Mission - were used in an effort to construct a new modern city. Many of these buildings still stand today and are now an attraction in their own right, as there is hardly anywhere else in the world where a town has been built entirely in the Art Deco style.

We paid a visit to the Hawkes Bay Museum to learn more about the 1931 earthquake and then headed over to the Art Deco Shop on Tennyson Street to watch a DVD presentation on Art Deco architecture before exploring the streetscapes on foot with a self-guided walking tour. We were surprised at how different each of the buildings were and really enjoyed the Art Deco features. At times, it was hard to believe we weren't in Miami with all of the palm trees, pastel colours and views of the Pacific Ocean! After our walking tour, we drove over to the port to see the jewel in the crown of Napier's Art Deco architecture - the National Tobacco Company building. This building is so brash and tasteless
Tongariro National Park and Lake TaupoTongariro National Park and Lake TaupoTongariro National Park and Lake Taupo

as seen from the town of Taupo, North Island, New Zealand
that it's actually kinda cool! We also found it odd that a tobacco company should have such elegantly carved roses framing the doorway. Definitely unique!


Our next destination would take us right into the heart of the Volcanic Zone. The town of Taupo lies in the Central Plateau and is named after New Zealand's largest lake. Lake Taupo is more than just a lake though, it's actually the crater lake of a huge volcano that produced the world's most violent eruption in the last 5000 years. The volcano is still active today and along the lake shores, there are hot water beaches where underwater hot springs escape to the surface. The township of Taupo is situated at the northen end of the lake and from it there are stunning views of the Tongariro National Park to the south.

One of the main attractions in Taupo is the Huka Falls where NZ's longest river, the Waikato (originating from Lake Taupo), gets squeezed into a narrow gorge and then drops into a surge pool beyond. We went up to have a quick look before heading over to Craters of the Moon, our first introduction to a geothermal area. Craters of the Moon was named for its unearthly atmostphere and is a steamfield where volcanic gases and geothermal steam escape from beneath the earth's surface. It has a variety of geothermal features including large craters, steam vents, coloured soils and boiling mud pools. It was an amazing experience walking around such a volatile area, but the next geothermal area we visited was even more impressive...

Orakei Korako is known as the Hidden Valley due to its isolation from the outside world. It lies between Taupo and Rotorua and has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Our journey began with a ferry trip across Lake Ohakuri towards the stunning silica terraces that make this area unique. Nearly 20 million litres of hot water flow across the terraces every day and the algae that grow in these high temperatures create a rainbow of colours. It's an incredible sight! We followed a walking track around the terraces which also passed several other features including geysers, boiling mud pools and fault scarps that date back to an eruption in 131AD. Another feature of Orakei Korako is an extremely rare geothermal cave named Ruatapu Cave. It's a huge cavernous hole, at the bottom of
View from Bag EndView from Bag EndView from Bag End

Bilbo Baggins' hobbit hole in Hobbiton, Matamata
which is a shallow pool of jade green water that is warm to the touch. At the entrance to the cave, we also spotted several Silver Ferns (NZ's national emblem).

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and was used as the setting for Mordor in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe are the three massive peaks that make up Tongariro National Park and all three are active volcanoes. In fact, Mt Ruapehu's last eruption was as recently as 2007 when a breach of the crater lake resulted in a volcanic mudflow sweeping down the mountain (we'd seen footage of this eruption as well as the 1995/1996 eruption at the Volcanic Activity Centre in Taupo). Despite this, however, Mt Ruapehu is New Zealand's largest ski area with two separate ski resorts to choose from; Whakapapa and Turoa. We'd heard in Taupo that the Turoa ski field had been opened just 3 days previously. So naturally, we both jumped at the opportunity to go volcanic-cone skiing!

We headed off to Ohakune at the southern end of Tongariro via the dreaded Desert Road. Thankfully though, the weather
Lake NgakoroLake NgakoroLake Ngakoro

Wai-O-Tapu geothermal reserve, Rotorua
was kind to us and we had no problems getting there. As it had been 10 years since Dee had last been skiing and Lorna was starting from scratch, we decided to book ourselves in for a lesson when collecting our lift pass. Dee took to the slopes as if no time had passed and was delighted that all the practice on the French Alps 10 years ago hadn't gone to waste! Lorna on the other hand fell over a few times but thoroughly enjoyed her first experience of skiing and is looking forward to her next outing on the snow!


From Ohakune, we followed the Volcanic Loop highway around the other side of Tongariro National Park and then made our way up to Rotorua.

The first site we visited in Rotorua was the Buried Village of Te Wairoa where we saw the remains of a settlement that was buried by the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera. This eruption killed over 150 people and also destroyed the nearby Pink and White Terraces, a famous landmark here in New Zealand that had attracted visitors from all over the world. It also gave rise to a new geothermal system
A rainbow of colours on Frying Pan FlatA rainbow of colours on Frying Pan FlatA rainbow of colours on Frying Pan Flat

Wai-O-Tapu geothermal reserve, Rotorua
at Waimangu Valley. We followed a hiking trail around the valley and passed several volcanic features, the highlights of which were Inferno Crater (where overflowing water can reach 80C) and Frying Pan Lake (the largest hot spring in the world). The end of the trail lead us to the shores of Lake Rotomahana, the former site of the Pink and White Terraces.

New Zealand's most colourful and diverse volcanic area, Wai-O-Tapu, is also located in Rotorua. We arrived early in time to see the Lady Knox geyser erupt 20 metres into the air, which was an amazing experience! After that, we followed walking trails around the reserve that took us on a journey through some stunning geothermal activity. We saw hot pools of the most incredible colours, such as the Champagne Pool and the Devil's Bath, as well as rainbow-coloured silica flats, alum cliffs, a bright yellow sulphur cave, bubbling mud and an unearthly green-coloured crater lake. Definitely the most spectacular geothermal area yet!

Feeling a bit geo-thermalled out, the following day we decided to check out some Maori culture at Te Puia, the home of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. There, we learned about some of the customs and traditions of the Maori people, including traditional weaving and carving methods and also attended a cultural performance at the Rotowhio Marae, where we enjoyed some traditional Maori songs & dancing along with the famous war dance, the haka. Pikirangi Maori village gave us an opportunity to see what everyday life was like in early Maori culture and at the Kiwi house, we were lucky enough to see New Zealand's national bird, the endangered kiwi. It's impossible to entirely escape volcanic activity in Rotorua and Te Puia is set in the Whakarewarewa geothermal valley. So, we couldn't leave without seeing the mighty Pohutu geyser which erupts 30 metres into the air up to 20 times a day.

On our last day in Rotorua, we visited Ohinemutu, a Maori village on the shores of Lake Rotorua. There are two churches in Ohinemutu; one Catholic and one Anglican and both are unusual in that they blend traditional Maori art and mythology with Christian beliefs. Inside St Faith's Anglican church, there are Maori wood carvings at the base of the pulpit, wall panels incorporating various Maori tribal designs and a lectern in the form of a kea (native New Zealand
Dee skiing on Mordor!Dee skiing on Mordor!Dee skiing on Mordor!

It's real name is Mt Ruapehu and it's an active volcano in the world heritage listed Tongariro National Park
eagle). Another fascinating feature is the Galilee Chapel Window, where the figure of Christ is depicted walking on Lake Rotorua wearing a cloak adorned with kiwi feathers that is normally worn by a Maori chief. The rest of the day was spent go-karting on New Zealand's slippiest track (great fun!) and enjoying a soak in the outdoor hot pools at the Polynesian Spa while watching the sun set over Lake Rotorua.


After leaving Rotorua, we spent a couple of days in Matamata in the Waikato region. We'd seen some Lord of the Rings film locations in Tongariro National Park, but one of the main movie sets - Hobbiton - was shot on a sheep farm in Matamata. So we took a tour around it to see what was left of the hobbit holes and hear some behind the scenes production details. Due to copyright, most of the LOTR film sets around New Zealand had to be destroyed, but Hobbiton's owners managed to successfully keep the hobbit holes, albeit without the wonderful exteriors they had in the film. Despite this though, it was still instantly recognisable and well worth visiting. We both really enjoyed it even though we're not massive Ring geeks (unlike others on the tour!).

While in Matamata, we also took the opportunity to visit Wairere Falls, the highest waterfall in the North Island. We followed a walking track through native bush, across numerous wooden bridges and up 121 steep steps to the top of the gorge, where we were rewarded with some nice views of the base of the Falls. Unfortunately, as it was late in the afternoon, we didn't have enough time to climb to the summt but it was a good bit of exercise nonetheless!

Return to Welly

When we first booked our Round the World trip, one of Dee's dreams was to try and see an All Blacks match in New Zealand. We'd found out that the Iveco series would be taking place while we were there, so while travelling through Australia she'd been eagerly watching the website for news on tickets. There were three games in the series; two in the South Island and one in the North just a week before we were due to fly out to South America. At first, we didn't think we'd be able to make it, as the match in the North Island was
The All Blacks HakaThe All Blacks HakaThe All Blacks Haka

New Zealand v France @ the Westpac stadium in Wellington, June 20th 2009
on in Wellington on 20th June and we were due to fly out of Auckland on June 27th. But thankfully, Air New Zealand came to our rescue and we managed to find cheap return flights from Auckland to Wellington on the day of the game! So, having driven to Auckland on the morning of June 19th, we flew down to Welly again the following morning to see the All Blacks take on France at the Westpac stadium.

Returning to Wellington also gave us an opportunity to meet up with friends that we'd missed the first time around. So after landing in Welly bright and early at 9.30am on Saturday morning, we headed over to Deluxe expresso bar to meet up with an Australian friend, Jen Crothers, that we'd met in Dublin 7 years earlier. After that, we met up with Una, one of Dee's college mates, for a lovely homemade lunch in her townhouse. One of the great things about this trip has been meeting up with friends along the way and it was great to catch up with Una while we were in Wellington! She also made us some lovely homemade scones with jam & cream - a
Pohutu geyser, Te PuiaPohutu geyser, Te PuiaPohutu geyser, Te Puia

It erupts 30 metres into the air up to 20 times a day
real treat

After lunch, the 3 of us went for a beer at D4 on Featherston, a swanky Irish-owned bar in the heart of the city. The pre-match atmosphere was building fast and before long, it was time to make our way over to the stadium to watch the action take place. The previous weekend, New Zealand had played France in Dunedin and France had won 27-22, causing national hysteria! So for this 2nd test, the All Blacks had a lot to prove. After watching both teams line up for the national anthems, a funny incident happened when a rooster painted in red, white and blue was released onto the pitch, sparking off a hilarious chase by frantic yellow-vested security personnel. After that, it was time for the famous All Blacks Haka, which was amazing to see in the flesh. Match conditions were horrible - it was a cold and rainy night in Welly - and as the match wore on the rain got even heavier, making for some fairly scrappy rugby. Nevertheless, we enjoyed every minute of it! It was incredibly exciting to see the All Blacks play at home and we couldn't believe how close to
Dee & Lorna at Bag EndDee & Lorna at Bag EndDee & Lorna at Bag End

Hobbiton, Matamata
the pitch our seats were. In the end, the All Blacks won 14-10 but failed to retain the trophy taking the shine off the victory somewhat.


After flying back to Auckland the following day, we dumped off the campervan and then spent a few days in a hostel on Queen St preparing ourselves for the next leg of the journey in South America. Among our chores was a booster shot of Hep B (I'm happy to report that we're now vaccinated for life!) and we also managed to get ourselves some nice Korean haircuts for the princely sum of NZD$25!

We had been really looking forward to meeting up with Joy while in Auckland and luckily for us, she had taken a few days off to coincide with our visit. So, we met up for dinner the first two nights and she showed us around some of the nightlife on Karangahape Road (nicknamed "K" Road) and Ponsonby. We drove over the harbour bridge one night and got some incredible views of the city lit up at night. Another highlight was the fabulous Dorothy's Sister bar with homemade mulled wine and views of the Sky Tower from our window seats upstairs!

On Friday, Joy took us on a sightseeing tour around Auckland starting with the Waitakere Ranges, where there's rainforest just 30 minutes from the city centre. After that, we drove to Mount Eden, Auckland's highest point. The city of Auckland is built on 50 volcanoes and from the crater at Mount Eden, there are some great views out over the city and its surrounding islands. After leaving Mount Eden, we stopped into Galbraith's Alehouse where we sampled the 8.7% home-brewed Resurrection beer (fitting, as the news of Michael Jackson's death had just broken a couple of hours earlier!). Later that night, we met up in Naval bar on K-road where we caught a colourful and entertaining drag show by three Samoan drag queens and then ended the night in Family bar across the road where the costumes were even more outrageous. After 7 weeks in the campervan, it was a much-needed release and the perfect send off from New Zealand.

Additional photos below
Photos: 71, Displayed: 34


Maori carvingsMaori carvings
Maori carvings

at Te Papa museum in Wellington
Our Place, Te PapaOur Place, Te Papa
Our Place, Te Papa

An exhibit with an interactive floor projecting images on the wall
Inside a Maori meeting houseInside a Maori meeting house
Inside a Maori meeting house

at Te Papa museum, Wellington

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