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Published: January 1st 2014
Our first night in New Zealand was spent in a gorgeous YHA with only 3 rooms, in Te Aroha, Waikato country. It was refreshing, after the dry Australian bush, to see lush green grass and trees, but it took us some getting used to all the buttercups, daisies and blackbirds; only the towering tree ferns reminded us that we weren't at home.
We enjoyed our first week in Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty in balmy temperatures and sunshine. We hit the tourist spots in Rotorua, dipping in thermal pools and touring the geysers, but our highlight was a morning spent with mountain bikes in Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest, a forest of over 90 km of graded mountain biking trails. Mountain Biking in Rotorua, by Eve The Redwoods Forest (Whakarewarewa forest) is one of the oldest and largest mountain bike networks in the country. It has more than 90 km of tracks that can only be used by mountain bikes. There are two kinds of tracks that we did, the Dippers and Tahi. We enjoyed the Dippers so much that we did it twice, it felt like an exciting roller coaster ride, cycling up and down the bumps, across
narrow bridges and in between the trees. My bottom felt very sore at the end ! The Redwood trees were huge, we felt like ants in a giant forest.
It was not yet high season in the Bay of Plenty and we had the campsite at Ohope almost to ourselves. The campsite backed on to a typical North Island beach, wild and windswept, and scattered with driftwood. No crocodiles or jellyfish to worry about here, only the freezing temperature of the water! We hired mountain bikes to cycle a section of the Motu Trails, a brilliant network of dedicated cycle trails exploring the area. We cycled 19km along the coastal dune trail towards Opotiki, before treating ourselves to PYO fruit at Julian's Berry's Fruit Farm; a feast of strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, tayberries and ranuiberries!
Our luck with the New Zealand weather ran out soon after Rotorua, and the last two weeks of our time in the country were largely spent frustratingly dodging showers and thunderstorms.
We drove down from Opotiki to the civilised town of Gisborne on the East Cape, where we had our fill of all things Captain James Cook, tramping around Tolaga
Bay where the explorer and the crew of the Endeavour came ashore to stock up on supplies in October 1769. Captain James Cook, by Eve James Cook was born on October 27 1728 in England. His father was a farmer, but as James grew older he began to feel the lure of the sea. At the age of 18 he trained to be a seaman. The English government put him incharge of the sailing ship known as The a Endeavour to explore the world. C Cook became a famous navigator and explorer who sailed and mapped much of the South Pacific including New Zealand.
Next we headed down to the beautiful Mahia Peninsula where we became WWOOFers once again for 4 nights on a lovely organic mixed farm called Bremdale. Strangely enough our stay here was one of the highlights of our travels around North Island. The weather was briefly dry and warm and the physical work made us realise how incredibly unfit we have become, as we dug spuds, planted watermelons and picked barrowloads of Zucchinis. Of course Eve was the fittest of us all, and did more than her fair share of the work, pushing
the wheelbarrow and collecting the spuds (we argued she was closer to the ground!). We were rewarded with a cosy stay in a caravan at the foot of a huge and nationally famous garden (see www.bremdale.co.nz), with delicious home cooking and friendly hosts in Roger and Rosemarie and rag doll cats too many to count ! Anyone thinking of WWOOFing in the East Cape region should definitely look this farm up.
On our free afternoons we explored the Mahia Peninsula, mostly by car to save our weary legs, but we managed a rewarding 2 hour tramp through one of the most extensive areas of coastal rainforest on North Island, in the Mahia Peninsula scenic reserve. To our mind the beaches on the Mahia Peninsula rival any of those that we visited elsewhere in North Island, and we had them all to ourselves. Our stay at Bremdale WWOOFIng, by Eve When we arrived we got to know a little dog called Foodle, he had very curly hair and barked loudly whenever anyone came to the house. About 20 cats and six kittens they were cute, cuddly and fragile. The next day we event outside and picked some zucchini
(courgettes) and after breakfast mummy and I went to work in the garden whilst daddy helped move the washing machine. Lastly we had lunch and went on the beach and made a picture that said happy Xmas.
Napier was, in a word, wet. We were relieved not to be camping and happy to rest our still aching limbs, but still it was frustrating not being able to explore Napier further. Only on the last day did the weather clear enough for us to walk along the front before heading from east to west across North Island through Taupo, to Waitomo.
The heart of the action in Waitomo is underground, where everything from tubing to potholing is on offer. But we bypassed the main attraction, Waitomo cave, and joined a small group tour to a privately owned cave, run by Spellbound. Whilst we can't compare the two, we were certainly treated to an intimate glow worm experience, just 6 of us floating on a raft in the low cave just inches way from the silky threads of the glow worms, under the seemingly starlit sky. My trip to the glow worm caves by Eve The scientific name
of the New Zealand glow worm is 'Arachnocampa luminosa'. They are the larval stage in the life of an insect called the fungus gnat, which is similar in appearance to the mosquito. Four fun facts about glow worms:
• Glow worms are carnivores
• They catch their dinner by laying a long line of sticky mucus to catch. Idles, mosquitoes and flies. The glow worm can go withou food for weeks and even months. The tail glows veavause of bioluminescence. This is a reaction between chemicals given off by the blow worm and oxygen. This chemical reaction produces the blue glow.
• We visited two caves on our trip, we entered a huge archway made out of limestone we walked a long way seeing lots of stalactites and stalagmites. In the second cave we floated down the river in an inflatable boat with all the lights of all we could see was tiny little stars glow worms sparkling little blue lights.
By the time we reached the Coromandel Peninsula thankfully the rain had cleared and for the last few days of our time In New Zealand we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine. We were a bit too early
to see the Pohutukawa trees, or Christmas trees showing their bright red blooms, but it is so easy to appreciate why the Coromandel is so popular amongst tourists and locals. Stunning scenery, great tramping, miles of beaches and even hot water springs in the sand. Our home for a few days was Te Mata Lodge, hidden in the hills above Thames, and we loved it here. Peaceful, on the banks of the river Te Mata, apparently a good spot to hunt for gemstones, although 3 hours spent wading through the freezing water proved fruitless for us. We joined the tourists on Hot Water Beach, digging our own hot bath in the sand, tramping to the famous Cathedral Cove and eating lots of ice creams.
So how does North Island compare to South Island, which we explored a few years ago? Sorry North Islanders, but South Island wins hands down.
Next stop, back to Indonesia, to Sulawesi, Ternate and Halmahera for Christmas - sun, sea and pressies !
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