Once back in the marina at Whangarei, we again began to work our way through the seemingly never ending task list! First was to retrieve the car that we had left in the swimming pool car park a month earlier. Fortunately it still had all four wheels with tyres and started first time – what a trusty stead! Second, naturally, was to tackle laundry and stock up with food for a few days, and then we were off, this time by car, heading south towards Wellington at the extreme south of North Island.
Our first stop was Cambridge, a very attractive town in the midst of prosperous farming land and ‘horsey’ country. There is a beautiful river to the south of the town, with a splendid suspension bridge above it. The town hall provides an indication of the wealth in the region: we were impressed by our short stay here.
We travelled on south and were soon in breathtakingly beautiful scenery, and for several miles we were able to see Mt. Ruapehu at 2797 metres.
Our route took us down the west of North Island through Wanganui and then to Palmerston North where we stayed for one night and had an evening stroll through the Dugald Mackensie Rose Gardens with their magnificent blooms. They are used as international rose trial grounds with over 100 different types laid out in a formal design. However, it was in Wellington that we found numerous award winning (British) David Austin varieties!
Upper Hutt was our next destination, which we used as a transit point to visit Wellington, some 25kms away by train each day.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is built around a large natural harbour, with volcanic hills immediately behind it. Local businessmen realised that if a cable car were constructed, housing could then be developed along the sides and tops of the hills. The cable car runs through a number of tunnels before emerging in what are now the Botanical Gardens. The carriage is very different from and safer than the original car and trailer, which was phased out in the 1970s.
The city is modern and attractive, with a number of museums along the waterfront, some of which are excellent, and hours could be spent enjoying the exhibits, notably at the Te Papa. Dotted along the promenade are also sculptures and modern art. We also found the old St Paul’s Cathedral with its kauri interior a very attractive example of early NZ architecture, though now it is solely a national monument, and unfortunately no longer used for services. Its modern successor is not nearly as appealing.
The railway station is also a building worthy of note, as is the modern ‘Beehive’ which is part of the Parliament buildings.
We met up with Barry and Christine, the sister and brother-in-law of Mo Cuthbert, who live on the other side of the harbour and were most generous in showing us around, and taking us to the top of Mount Victoria and to the Weta Cave, studios and workshops where the Hobbit characters were created. Among others, we came face to face with Gollum – how precious!
We also stayed the night with Laura and David who Bob met in Musket Cove last year when he was Pipistrelle-sitting in Fiji. They have a house with commanding views across the Cook Strait in one direction, the airport far below, and the harbour to the north; a memorable evening.
We then headed north along the eastern side of North Island towards Masterton, another famous wine growing area. Quite by chance we came across Poppies Winery, near Martinborough whose wine we had enjoyed on Elaine’s birthday in Auckland. It is only sold direct to restaurants, so we were delighted to be able to buy a bottle to put down. Seen in almost all the vineyards is netting to keep birds away. We travelled on to Havelock North and not only visited the Arataki honey factory which was fascinating watching the behaviour of the different types of bees, but also more vineyards. The Craggy Range was most impressive, and lunch beside its lake memorable. A wine tour by bike was also on offer in Havelock North, something that was undertaken by our predecessors Stephen and Katherine. We decided to utilise four wheels….! From the ridge above Craggy Range, we could see with dramatic effect the parched landscape caused by the drought, which lasted almost 3 months.
From Napier we went north west to Lake Taupo and Turangi, where we stayed in a beautiful fishing lodge (Creel Lodge), and spent 3 days there hiking in the Tongariro National Park. Here we breathed in fresh, clean mountain air and marvelled at spectacular scenery. After long days in boots we relaxed with a BBQ each night outside our ‘cabin’ at the lodge. The smoking Mt. Tongariro volcano was most impressive, a flavour of more to come later this year in Vanuatu.
We then drove north east for Tauranga, and found ourselves having a lunch stop at the Okere Falls on the Kaituna River near Lake Rotorua, where we also watched white water rafting. The scene and shrieks all seemed rather familiar… we had enjoyed the thrill of descending the very same waterfalls in early 2004. Here’s some of the action from 9 years ago!