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New Zealand Top 10

Opononi Sand Dune Photograph of Opononi sand dune by Ian Marshall

We are in Auckland Sky City hotel prior to transferring to the airport tomorrow morning.

We have been reviewing our journey so far and come up with a New Zealand Top 10.

For the South Island we recommend: the 185 Empty Chairs in Christchurch, Mount Cook, the Moeraki boulders, the glacier hot pools at Franz Josef and the Treetop Walkway.

For the North Island we suggest visiting: the Te Papa museum in Wellington, the Wairakei Tourist Park in Taupo, the geo-thermal attractions between Taupo and Rotorua (such as Orakei Korako and Wai-O-Tapu), the giant redwoods at Rotorua and/or the giant Kauri trees in the Waipoua forest, and last but not least Hobbiton.

If you only have time to visit one of the islands, we preferred the quieter roads and general scenery of the South Island, which was much easier to navigate around.

We set out on this journey with the aim of seeing what we missed when we decided not to emigrate 30 years ago.

At the end of the tour we have concluded that we have seen more of the country in the last 30  days than we would have seen if we had lived and worked here for the same length of time.

We have spent many hours on the road, covered about 4000km and would love to do it all again – at a snail’s pace!


Magical morning at Hobbiton

Hobbit Hole

We set the alarm for 6a.m. and spent a magical morning at Hobbiton. En route I was inspired to write:

Smaug’s breath veils the trees,

trails across the road,

day breaks in a coral sky

as we travel to Middle Earth,

through brown fern glades

and fields of maize,

to turn at Tirau

corrugated town.

Sun spreads an ochre glow

over 44 Hobbit Holes

as we drop into the Shire’s Rest

in time for second breakfast.

Sadly, there was no time for 10 o’clocks or elevenses as the tour took two hours – every second of it enthralling.

It is amazing how much effort and attention to detail went into making the set.

All I can say is if you ever get the chance to visit, make sure you book in advance. The tour before ours was oversubscribed and other members of our group were turned away later in the day as every tour was fully booked.

Hobbiton was not on my original list of things to see and do in the North Island but the exquisite elf costumes at the Te Papa museum in Wellington persuaded us to add it to the agenda.

I’m so glad we went. We will be able to review the films in a different light when we get back home.

If only we could also visit Rivendell!

Geo-thermal Explorers

Orakei korakoDevil's bath                              We have spent the last few days being geo-thermal explorers. This has included visiting the devil’s home, bath, kitchen and ink pots at Wai-o-tape and Orakei Korako.

According to Maori legend these are two of the geo-thermal features created by the fire demons who came to rescue their brother Ngatoroirangi from hypothermia on top of Mount Tongariro, where he was standing to claim the surrounding land for the Te Arawa tribe.

The other areas created by them were White Island and Rotorua where we are joining the Maori for dinner in Tamaki village this evening.

What the photos do not convey is the bad egg smell which pervades this area. Definitely feel sulphured out.

When the rains came …

Waipangu Falls Maori rock carvings, lake Taupo

We arrived in Napier just before the rains came, or cyclone Pam to be more precise.

The rain started around 8p.m.  on Sunday and continued relentlessly from 10p.m. that evening until about 10p.m. the following day.

We ventured out twice to visit different parts of the art deco city. The rains were a challenge for our waterproofs and Ian was not able to take any photographs as his camera does not like getting wet.

However it did mean that we were able to see the Waipangu falls in full flow on our way to Taupo today, and I was inspired to complete the following poem about the two sets of extreme rainfall that we have experienced so far in New Zealand.

‘When the rains came …’

… in the South (Island)

the Alps became a giant sieve.

Water gushed from above, below,

either side, across the road.

A year’s rainfall thundered

through gorges and gulleys,

swirled into the Tasman Sea,

crashed ashore with wood, stone and bone.

… in the North (Island)

cyclone Pam sluiced the streets

with wave after wae guzzled

by a maze of zigzag gutters.

Drains splattered and spluttered

like the hot springs and mud pools

of Taupo and Rotorua

spewing geysers of raw sewage.

Keeping to the watery theme we booked a boat trip to the modern Maori rock carvings at Lake Taupo this afternoon.

All was well until the south-westerly winds blew up, creating white horses and lots of swell for the boat to rock and roll through as the skipper put it.

The weather certainly challenged my constitution again but the trip was well worth it.

Te Papa museum in Wellington

Origins house Te Papa museum

We are now in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, and home to the superb Te Papa museum.

The exhibits are spread over six levels and include elf costumes from the Lord of the Rings film set as well as displays about nature, the environment, migrants and maoris.

Our favourite section included this modern origins house called Te Hono Ki Hawaiki, which was commissioned to retell the creation myth of Papatuanuku and Ranguini who were separated by their 70 sons to become Earth Mother and Sky Father.

Tawhiri-matea, the only son who objected to the separation created the wind and the storms.

It seems that he is active out in the Pacific at the moment where four storms are converging. Two of them are due to hit Australia and we may suffer the effects of the backlash from Hurricane Pam, the strongest of the storms, as we travel to Napier tomorrow.

Last day on South Island

SealKaikoura peninsulaWhalebone archesFyffe houseIan found an unusual subject to photograph on our last day in the South Island – a seal taking up two spaces in the peninsula car park at Seal Point. He did not seem to mind the tourists.

We walked along the peninsula in search of seals, dolphins and whales, and were fortunate enough to spot the first two.

We then used my English Heritage pass to visit Fyffe house, which is the only house in the world to be built on whale bones. It is painted a shade of pink created by mixing red and white lead with whale oil.

Our final walk of the day was through the whalebone arches in the garden of Memories. Quite unusual but much smaller in size than the whalebone arch in Whitby.

All that remains now is for us to drive the last 100kms or so to catch the ferry at Picton to start the second leg of our journey around the North Isand. Am looking forward to the geothermal sites of interest.

Steps back in time

Treetop Wak    Punakaiki                                        Punakaiki rocks

This morning we stopped at the Treetop Walkway near Hokitika, stepping back in time to view giant podocarp trees which originated in New Zealand about 65 million years ago.

While the trees are ancient, the steel walkway is roughly 3 years old. It was prefabricated in Australia and shipped across to create a giant viewing platform 20 metres up in the canopy.

Stepping onto it I realised why I had not heard much birdsong in New Zealand up to now. The birds are obviously higher up in the branches than at home.

Not being a great one for heights I completed the track at a brisk pace, trying not to look down or panic too much when the walkway moved.

When it came to climbing the spiral stairs of the 47 metre high tower I left that one to Ian so he could photograph the views from higher up.

I prefer to keep my feet on the ground so this afternoon’s trip was much more to my liking.

We visited the Punakaiki or pancake rocks which formed from skeletons and seashells about 30 million years ago.

The rocks are made of alternate layers of sand and limestone which have been sculpted over time into pancake like stacks by the wind, rain and sea water. The sea booms against the rocks and blows out again through the holes worn away below the cliffs.

As I write this post the Tasman sea is booming onto the rocky shore of our beachside campsite and there is a spectacular coral sunset across a feathered sky.

Ian has dashed out  to try to capture the scene with his digital camera.



Frank Joseph glacier walk

Frank Joseph glacier faceGlacier pathFrank Josef glacierWaterfall rainbowA selection of photos taken by Ian during yesterday’s walk to the face of Franz Josef glacier.

The New Zealanders describe their weather as being “4 seasons in one day”. We completed the walk in baking sunshine. By the afternoon it was raining again and that on a day when no precipitation was forecast.

Fortunately by then we were steaming in the heated glacial pools and had decided to stay on a camp site in franz josef overnight rather than trek back over the mountain to join the rest of the group at Fox Glacier.


And the rains came …

Mountain rainsAs predicted the rains came at 3a.m. today and poured until 12 noon. You can see the outcome of so much rain on this photo taken by the roadside when we stopped to change drivers.

The white lines are all water falls.

Thinking that the Glacial highway further on would be the trickier part of the day’s drive, I opted for the first stint. What a misconception!

We left Wanaka at 9.30a.m. The rain had been falling since the early hours and drumming so hard on the motorhome roof that we got up at 6a.m. and watched day break over the mountains. Not that we could see the mountains for the mist but we knew they were there as we had seen them the previous day.

As soon as we left the town and were out in the countryside I realised my mistake.Mountain view from Lake Mattheson                                        Tasman Sea from Knight's Point

There was water, water everywhere. Above me, below me, to either side and streaming across the road.

I ruched along the shore of Lake Hawea, cinched through a series of one lane bridges, ran the gauntlet of rock and waterfalls, steering clear of recent landslides and hugging the centre line where the road had been washed away while Ian exclaimed about the fantastic waterfalls and volumes of water gushing through steep gorges below.

Two and a half hours of hairpin bends later we pulled into the side of the road to take this photo to give you an idea of the conditions.

We changed drivers and took this photo on the  approach to the village of Haast.

Just before 12 noon the sun came out and the roads started to steam but the Glacial highway was a doddle by comparison.

We stopped at Knight’s Point to take a photo of the Tasman Sea crashing into the rocks and cliffs, and finally reached Fox Glacier at 4p.m.

Due to the weather the journey had taken us over 6 hours instead on the estimated 3 and a half.

Upon arrival at Fox Glacier we discovered that the walks to the foot of the glacier were closed due to the rains so we ended up completing a circular route of Lake Mattheson.

Ian had hoped to capture a reflection of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook in the mirror lake but the cloud had come down over the mountains again.

The photos above are a few of the many he took today.

The plan tomorrow is to head to Franz Josef Glacier and enjoy a dip in the heated glacial pools.



Half way round South Island

Kea Motorhome Kea Motorhome parked at Queenstown campsite. Photo by Ian Marshall.

Today we arrived in Wanaka, half way round New Zealand’s South Island.

We did not stop to join the bungee jumpers at Kawarau bridge but I have completed my second stint of driving our 7.5m long motorhome, which is more than twice the size of my car.

It took a while to get used to it, especially as I’ve never driven an automatic vehicle before. Once I grasped that it’s like operating a giant treadle sewing machine I stitched a neat hem using road markings as my tack lines for a few hundred kilometres.

We have now covered 1253 km, mostly on straight, long roads that the Romans would have been proud of and I have this poem to offer about the South Island:

Hard to believe that flightless birds

taller than our campervan

once roamed these ancient hills.

The land is dry, barren,

punctuated by linear stands

of poplar, beech and pine.

Parched rivers filter jade,

teal, turquoise and lime

into a labyrinth of lakes.

Everywhere an undercurrent

of calm, peace and stillness

permeates the vast silence

broken by a sudden scream.

Not a kea, kakapo or takahe

but a kiwi paragliding into town.

Hope you like the sense of humour. There’s a definite wryness in the road signs e.g. upon approaching one town we read:

‘No doctor,

no hospital,

one cemetry.’

… at the same time as a ‘health shuttle’ or local ambulance drove by on the opposite side of the road!

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