As capital cities go, Wellington isn't a bad place to spend a day or so, even for a couple of metropophobes like us! We spent a long time in Te Papa, the national museum on the waterfront with really interesting displays and interactive stuff on natural and cultural history (sadly the 'shear a blow-up sheep using bar codes' feature had been removed since 2001. The sheep may have popped!). We had also got tickets for the Super 14 rugby match between the Hurricanes (Wellingtons team) and the Crusaders. A great match and a good atmosphere in the 35000 seater stadium. Even though the 'Canes lost 20-13 everyone was very good natured about it as we poured back into the city centre pubs.
Heading north, wet weather and low cloud put us off walking in the Tararua Mountains, so instead we continued on to Tongariro, the volcanic heart of the North Island. Walking in this area is a real sensory experience- red and black rocks, emerald lakes, the smell of hydrogen sulphide, and on our visit, soaking rain! We beat a retreat to Tokaanu where we stayed in a cabin and made full use of the thermal pools whilst the rain hammered
down outside all night. It was very nice not to be camping!
The rain eventually cleared and we had a great day on Mount Ruapehu, at over 9000ft the highest mountain on the North Island. Sitting on one of the summit peaks, above the blue bubbling and highly toxic crater lake, with a blanket of cloud below us we could seen the cone of Taranaki way off to the west. That evening we discovered Waikite Thermal Pools, halfway between Taupo and Rotorua; a small complex of hot pools (at 39-45 degrees centigrade) with a cafe and campsite set next to a boiling river!
We spend as little time as possible in Rotorua- apart from the smell of rotten eggs, the place is just awful (unless you are into Polynesian spa therapies, volcano safaris, skydiving or.....the smell of rotten eggs!)- and headed once more to the coast for swimming and some pretty extreme body surfing.
The beaches on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula are amongst the best in NZ, and one of the very best is Cathedral Cove. We spent a week on the Coromandel, walking in the forest park and swimming from the beaches. Despite its proximity to
Auckland, it is still a pretty special place.
Our last stop was Miranda on the Firth of Thames. There is a fantastic shorebird sancturay here which hosts thousands of wrybills, pied stilts, bar tailed godwits and NZ dotterel amongst other stuff. We had excellent views of closely packed flocks of these at high tide, together with royal spoonbill and white heron.
At last, just as the autumn really kicked in and the rains came, it was time to say cheerio to NZ and head east to the USA.
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