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New Zealand's North Island:
29-Day Motorhome Tour Photojournal
Page 2 - Days 11-20

Photographs and narration by Murray Lundberg

North Island Photojournal - Page 1 (Days 1-10)
North Island Photojournal - Page 3 (Days 21-29)

Click on each image in the journal to greatly enlarge it.

Day 11 - Monday, Feb 25: in Rotorua

It rained heavily most of the night, but under clearing skies this morning, Cathy and I took a walk to the city park (Kuirau Park) next door to see what initially made Rotorua famous - the hot water in its many forms. It’s quite a sight to see steam coming out of everything from ponds to storm drains and people’s back yards! There is no admission charge to the park.

Then I went back into crazy mode with the folks from Wet & Wild, this time running the Class 5 Kaituna River with its 7-meter-high Tutea Falls, the world's highest commercially rafted waterfall. This photo shows us in mid-drop - although I have the photos (by Adrenalin Shotz again, but I got a large discount for my 2nd purchase), I’ll leave it your imagination to see what the raft looked like a second later at the bottom, upside-down. With the crystal-clear water at about 20°C, going swimming is part of the fun, though - even if “the ‘Tuna” does have lots of big eels in it (Kaituna means "eel food")!

Behind and around the waterfall are caves that were used to hide women and children during Maori wars (they're now home to millions of glow worms), and when Chief Tutea died his body was placed at the bottom of the falls.

Not quite finished with silliness, we then drove a few miles out to town to try one of New Zealand’s signature adrenalin attractions - zorbing. You simply slide yourself into a large inflated plastic ball with a few gallons of water in it, and roll down a big hill. The price is as ridiculous as the sport ($42 pp for one roll down the hill), but we both loved it!

The Polynesian Spa was the scene of our “final event” of the day (a particularly decadent one and $140 pp) - a long soak in the hot pools and then a hot stone massage for Cathy and a mud detoxifying body wrap for me. Aaaaaah...

Dinner was at historic Hennesey’s pub - very good dory (a local white fish) and chips for $14.90 pp.

Day 12 - Tuesday, Feb 26: day in Rotorua, to Ohope Beach late (85 km, 1.25 hr)

Our first stop today was the famous Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland ($27.50 pp admission), and our arrival was timed to get a good seat for the assisted eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser at 10:15. Here the ranger is about to get out of the way after pouring soap into the geyser's mouth.

There is a wide variety of geothermal features at Wai-O-Tapu - we hiked all of the trails, and spent just over 3 hours total there.

After leaving Wai-O-Tapu, we got to enjoy the beauty of State Highway 5 (SH5) between there and Rotorua again, before heading for Whakatane on SH30.

We made another stop near Rotorua, at Tikitere (more commonly known as Hell's Gate), a 50 acre park with a large variety of geothermal features. The basic park admission is normally $25 pp, but we got free admission with our tickets for the Mitai cultural performance. We spent a little over an hour taking the long walk, but there are many other things to do at Tikitere that could make it a longer (and more expensive) visit. This photo shows Murray looking over The Devil's Cauldron.

Day 13 - Wednesday, Feb 27: tour to White Island

A walk on Ohope Beach was a superb way to start the day (this photo was taken just after 8:00 a.m.).

Driving the 7 km back to Whakatane, we checked in at the tour office, then walked across the road and boarded the PeeJay V for the trip to White Island, a privately owned active volcano (6 hours total, $160 pp). It was astounding, totally blowing away anything that much more famous Rotorua has to offer.

Day 14 - Thursday, Feb 28: Ohope Beach to Oruaiti Beach
For the Pacific Coast Highway from here around East Cape and down to Napier, there is an excellent guide available. The 62-page booklet, called "Pacific Coast Highway, Free Traveller's Guide 2008", has far more information than any other we saw. You can pick it up at iSites in the area, or it's online at the Opotiki iSite Web site.

Oruaiti Beach, New Zealand We stopped for the night at the Waihau Bay Holiday Park. Though in a good location right across the road from Oruaiti Beach, this was the roughest, and at $38 the most expensive holiday park we stayed at on our entire journey - Cathy wouldn't even use the showers. The path from Oruaiti Beach to the park runs beside a large pohutukawa tree.

Oruaiti Beach, New Zealand
Day 15 - Friday, Feb 29: Oruaiti Beach to Gisborne

A morning dip in the surf at Oruaiti Beach.

Hicks Bay is described in our Lonely Planet guidebook as "...a real middle-of-nowhere town with a fabulous beach." Like almost all small New Zealand communities, we found it charming, but other than a general store, and a horse trekking operation for beach riding, there are no services. This 2-photo stitched panorama was shot from a viewpoint on SH35.

It's supposed to be very cool to see the sun rise at East Cape, the most eastern point of land in New Zealand, but we were happy to just see the cape, and I wanted to climb up to the lighthouse. It's 21 km from Te Araroa to the lighthouse trail parking area on a road that is mostly gravel, and takes about half an hour. The views along the road are stunning.

Although there's a sign asking hikers to respect the private land that the track to the lighthouse crosses, the start of the track is very poorly marked. Once you do find it, another sign warning that it's a steep climb turns away some people, we found. Cathy stayed in the campervan while I made the trek up the 755 steps (yes, I counted them on the way down).

East Cape Lighthouse and East Island (known to the Maori as Whangaokena). A lighthouse began operation on East Island in 1900 (it took 2 years to build it due to harsh conditions), but earthquakes and landslides caused it to be moved to the mainland in 1922. To the Maori, the island is tapu (sacred), and some believe that the earthquakes occurred to drive the invaders away (earthquakes and landslides on the island have apparently stopped).

In the 22 years that the lighthouse on the island operated, 3 lighthouse keepers and their families lived there. Three of their children and 5 victims of shipwrecks were buried on the island during those years.

The current cast-iron tower is 14 meters high (shorter than the original) and 154 meters above sea level. It was fully automated in 1985.

Waipiro Beach was reached by a narrow side road a few miles long, and made a superb lunch stop. The prompt to taking this detour was a single comment in our Lonely Planet guidebook: "...nearby Waipiro Bay is an absolute stunner" - and indeed it is. A rough track along the beach that appeared to go to a sheep station was very tempting, but time was short as always so we continued on after Murray had a dip in the heavy surf. The steep road we took back to the highway, through Te Puia Springs, offered spectacular views of Waipiro Bay.

The Tolaga Bay Wharf, 60 kilometers NE of Gisborne, is an impressive structure, the longest wharf on the East Coast of New Zealand. The wharf was opened in 1929 - its interesting history is online, with lots of historic photographs, including some of it being battered by heavy surf. We would have liked to walk out to the end of the wharf, but very strong winds made that unreasonable.

Gisborne was one of the places we had really been looking forward to seeing, and we were open to the possibility of staying an extra day, but that thought soon vanished. We both had an uncomfortable feeling, perhaps triggered by the high barbed-wire fence that surrounded the Waikanae Beach Holiday Park. Although we had a beachfront campsite, it was a long way to the "prison" gate. The holiday park, as always, though, was beautiful and immaculate.

Waikanae Beach is a lovely, peaceful place, and the adjoining park and beyond provided walks that were both pleasant and interesting, with old warehouses and new condos, freighters and sportfishers and outrigger canoes to watch.

The highlight of our visit to Gisborne was certainly dinner at The Wharf, "Gisborne's world renowned restaurant and Cafe". I'm sure that this photo of our table will show you why - the food was as wonderful as the location. Even this was marred somewhat, however, by more sirens screaming by than we heard anywhere in New Zealand - overhearing our comment about it, a local at the next table just said "it's Friday".

Day 16 - Saturday March 1: Gisborne to Waipukurau

Don't be put off by the look of some of the little roadside takeaways - places like the Nuhaka Fish Shop offer excellent food at very low prices. This shop on SH2 where the road to the Mahia Peninsual intersects is where we discovered that 2 can eat a hearty fish-and-chip lunch for $10 total. The free guide to the Pacific Coast Highway says about it: "Well famous to travellers, surfers & locals for the best fish and chips".

This view of the road (looking back towards Nuhaka) was shot just east of Black's Beach, apparently well-known by surfers for its right-hand break. Four kilometers further east is Opoutama Lookout, with spectacular views of the peninsula from the top of a sheet cliff.

Even in dismal weather, Mahia Beach (and indeed the entire peninsula) is stunningly beautiful.

I think we drove every back road on the peninsula, hoping that it would quit pouring so we could enjoy this place. But, that never happened - it kept raining so hard that just getting a photo put my camera at risk from water damage.

We had hoped to get to Te Urewera National Park for a look at the North Island's finest wilderness, and an overnight stay was on the dream list. The distant views of the peaks in the park were tantalizing, but there just was no time.

This is SH2 just southwest of Wairoa.

At Lake Tutira, we found hundreds of black swans, and stopped a few times along the lake to watch and photograph them. Lake Tutira was declared a bird sanctuary in 1929 (at the instigation of Scottish farmer/author/ornithologist William Herbert Guthrie-Smith, who once farmed neighbouring Tutira Station) and has a popular DoC campground.

We had planned on spending the night at Napier, famous for its Art Deco architecture, but every space in town was filled due to the fact that Tom Jones was performing that night at the Mission Estate Winery Concert. After much discussion with the friendly folks at the Kennedy Park Top 10, we continued on another hour to Waipukurau, where we got a space at the Waipukurau Holiday Park - very basic but neat and clean.

Day 17 - Sunday, March 2: Waipukurau to Wellington

We awoke early this morning to the cackling of some truly ignorant women on their way to a dog show - there were lots of dog show folks staying at the park, and a few noisy dogs, but those 2 made more noise than all the dogs combined.

The best thing about the park (other than the fact that it was far better than "freedom camping" on the side of the highway) was this red deer who showed up in the morning. This white variety is apparently very unusual.

The Tararua Wind Farm is New Zealand’s largest wind farm, both in terms of number of turbines and output, with its 134 turbines having a capacity of 160 MW. This view of the facility is from Mangatainoka.

This WWII North American Harvard Mk II training plane (NZ918) has been made into a children's slide at Pahiatua.

We made a stop at Pukaha Mount Bruce, the National Wildlife Centre for conservation of some of the country's most endangered wildlife. We had expected this to be a fairly short stop, as 45 minutes is the stated time to tour the property, but we doubled that. While the articial-night kiwi habitat was the most fascinating, the whole preserve was extremely interesting. This photo shows a stuffed kiwi and egg.

Heading down the Rimutaka Hill on SH2 west of Featherston, just past the 555 meter summit. Though heavy rain limited the views and almost eliminated photo stops, it was a memorable piece of road! You can see an aerial image of this impressive section of highway (from Google Earth) here. The first road through the Rimutaka Range opened in 1856 - that access was crucial for transport of agricultural goods from the fertile Wairarapa plains to the Wellington market.

Soon after arriving in Wellington and getting settled in at the lovely home of friends in the historic Seatoun district, we we went on tour. As we had decent weather, an early stop was Mt. Victoria. Although only 196 meters high, it offers superb views of the downtown core and the airport in particular.

Day 18 - Monday, March 3: in Wellington

Wellington is a charming city - shrinking San Franciso and then scattering it around a rugged and complex piece of coastline will give you a bit of an idea what it looks like. The spot shown here is just a few minutes from the office towers of downtown.

The legislative offices of the New Zealand Parliament are housed in the building to the left in this photo. It's known as "the beehive" for obvious reasons - it's a name that's caught on to the point that even the government Web site is beehive.govt.nz. Designed by British architect Sir Basil Spence, it opened in 1981.

Every guide book, and every visitor who has been there, says that a visit to Te Papa is a must, but we still weren't prepared for this massive, stunning museum. It would take days to see it in any depth, but our brief look lasted only 3 hours. And admission is free!

Day 19 - Tuesday, March 4: Wellington to Taupo

Heading north from Wellington on Highway 1, we had hoped to take a boat trip to the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve (9:00am-4:00pm, $54 pp), but it didn’t work out, so stopped at a charming roadside cafe (The Red House, at Te Horo) for a breakfast that included free range eggs with bright orange yolks and other ingredients that all tasted like they were harvested in the back yard of the place.

The weather started to clear, so we headed west a few miles to Waitarere Beach, where we had to share the 8 kilometers of beach with about 6 other people. A sign at the ramp onto the beach said that the beach is a road, so we drove 4 or 5 k down it - the fine sand packs down like concrete.

One of the attractions of Waitarere Beach is the wreckage of the sailing ship Hydrabad. She was hit by a heavy storm in the winter of 1878, and Captain Holmwood eventually drove her onto the beach in a successful attempt to save his crew and passengers. Although it's not too impressive now, a 1909 photograph shows an impressive sight that drew many visitors. In 1905, the steel hull still offered interesting exploring. Note that the location of the shoreline has changed by hundreds of meters in the past century.

We tried to get some sun at Waitarere, but the wind was still howling so that didn’t last long, and we decided to go inland to Taupo, one of the most popular holiday destinations for Kiwis. The weather turned sour again and the scenery along the highway (SH1) is seldom anything worth writing home about, though there are some impressive railway trestles.

A sign along SH1 outside Mangaweka that simply said "HOT COFFEE, COOL PLANE" caught my attention, and this cool plane got me to stop for photos and a tank of diesel for the campervan. A Douglas C-47B-DK (c/n 34227), she began service with the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1945, had a varied career including being configured as a DC-3D passenger liner (ZK-APK), finally being converted to a cafe a few years ago - you can see historic and current photos of her at JetPhotos.net.

The section of SH1 known as The Desert Road was a surprise, coming from the lush heavily-populated coast into a dry, high and empty desert, the Rangipo Desert. The summit here is at 1074 meters, the highest point on the country's State Highway network. A vast area is set aside as a military practice zone, and we saw some tanks heading cross-country. Unfortunately the clouds were too low to permit the great views of volcanic peaks Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu that we had read about.

We pulled into the Taupo Top 10 Holiday Park and went for a dip in the 39-degree hot tub, a great way to end the day. This was the nicest park we’d stayed at yet in terms of facilities, for $32NZ with our Top 10 membership discount, but the weather was so dreay that I didn't get any decent photos of it.

Day 20 - Wednesday, March 5: Taupo to Waitomo

It rained buckets overnight, and in the morning the camper was sitting in quite a little pond. Cathy wanted to take a run with one of the jetboat operators, but the only trip would have required us to commit to another night at Taupo so we just went to the Aratiatia Dam to watch the famous water release and then to beautiful Huka Falls (the country’s highest-volume waterfall - seen in this photo) before pointing the van in the direction of Waitomo and its Glowworm Caves.

The majority of the route to Waitomo is extremely pretty and some of it is Lord-of-the-Rings dramatic. Along the way we met these wanderers happily trotting down the empty road toward us - meeting the locals is always fun!

We’d read many times online that the Waitomo caves should be on everyone’s “must-see” list, but we almost decided not to make the lengthy detour. We’re now very glad that we didn’t blow it off - there’s a very good reason that this town of 41 permanent residents is able to attract 500,000 visitors a year. As always in New Zealand, there are lots of ways to see the caves (there are over 100 surveyed cave systems) - we opted for the “Spellbound” tour, and it was superb. We first rafted into a cave with millions of glowworms, then walked into the dry cave seen here. Our guide, Norm, was professional, very knowledgeable, and friendly. When a couple of stupid Belgians guys in our group of 12 took off on their own, however, he made his displeasure abundantly clear.

The weather tonight was cool but clear - the forecast was looking very good, so we decided to head for the beaches at the northern end of the island in the morning.

North Island Photojournal - Page 3 (Days 21-29)