The final stop of our road trip was in Warkworth where we visited our good friends Russ & Florence and spent two wonderful days just hanging out and catching up. On Saturday afternoon we pulled into the parking lot at Opua Marina, having driven 7,264 kilometers (4,513 miles) in two months. We can now say that we've been from one end of New Zealand to the other. We've seen so many wonderful places and things, met up with some old friends and made some new ones. It's going to be very hard to top this!
We stopped in Auckland on our way back home, specifically to see the exhibit "Blue Water, Black Magic" at the Maritime Museum. The exhibit opened at the end of last year and is a tribute to Sir Peter Blake and all things related to Kiwi sailing. The boat that won the "auld mug" in 1995, Black Magic, is the centerpiece of the exhibit. It's suspended from the ceiling and can be viewed from above and below. It's very impressive to see up close, so large that it's hard to get a decent picture.
Tom was dwarfed by the keel alone!
Here's a replica of the America's Cup
There are several videos of Sir Peter's sailing accomplishments which were wonderful to watch. Tom and I have been Sir Peter Blake fans for years and were saddened by his senseless murder in 2001 so it was very heartwarming to see the City of Sails give such a wonderful tribute to this wonderful man.
Our drive out to the Coromandel Peninsula was one of the two
real nail-biters of our road trip, driving on very narrow, winding roads with
no shoulder. The scenery was, of course, drop dead beautiful, but the road made
the trip a bit nerve-wracking. Our holiday park was right on the beach and
after a nice dinner in town we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the bay.
On Tuesday we took a train ride the Driving Creek Railway, on
a narrow-gauge train that chugged up the mountain to a lookout called the
Eye-Full Tower (yuck yuck).
The view out into the Hauraki Gulf from the Tower was spectacular and along
the route we were treated to various pottery sculptures done by the railway
We spent the afternoon at Waterworks – an amusing park that
had all kinds of artwork and stuff that was powered by or related to water. We
rode bicycles that powered water guns, Tom rode two mini-zip lines and we had a water fight. I was on the
losing side and got thoroughly drenched!
This sculpture was not water-related, but I loved it! Well, the one guy is taking a leak, so maybe it is water-related, sort of...
There's a lot more to see and do on the Peninsula, but we're running out of time and need to think about heading back to Warm Rain in the next few days. Our adventures here made us feel like kids again.
We had a nice, leisurely drive to Rotorua with a stop at
Lake Taupo. I’m not sure but I think that Lake Taupo is one of New Zealand’s
largest lakes and is a favorite summertime Kiwi destination. We only stopped
long enough for lunch and a picture at Lake Taupo, then continued on to
Rotorua. The highway to Rotorua is called the Thermal Explorer Highway and you
can see steam rising from the ground all along the route.
On Sunday we visited the Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) Thermal
Wonderland. It’s considered New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse volcanic
area. Our walk through the park took us through stunning geothermal activity in
the forms of colorful pools, lakes, craters, steam vents and mineral terraces.
Some of our favorites were:
The Artist’s Palette – a panorama of hot and cold pools, and
steaming, hissing fumeroles. The colors of the pool changed constantly – very
The Champagne Pool – a large pool of bubbling, hissing water
with a beautiful bright orange-colored petrified edge. The bubbles really
looked like champagne bubbles!
The Devil’s Bath – a small pool that was a shocking lime
green in color. It looked liked something out of a sci-fi movie.
The Mud Pools – New Zealand’s largest pools of gurgling,
boiling mud. Hard to capture with a camera but noisy and ever-changing.
The Devil’s Ink Pots – Steaming black holes of God only
When we finished at the Thermal Wonderland we treated ourselves to an afternoon at the Polynesian Spa, where we lounged in mineral pools overlooking Lake Rotorua - pure bliss!
When we were planning our route north, back to Opua, we knew
that we wanted to visit the city of Napier, the Art Deco capital of New
Zealand. The city was leveled during New Zealand’s largest natural disaster, an
earthquake in 1931. When the city was rebuilt architects designed the buildings
in art deco style. While calling around to book a place to stay we discovered
that this weekend is their Art Deco Festival, the city’s biggest weekend. We
had already planned to move onto Rotorua on Saturday so we missed the actual
festival, but drove into town today (Friday) to see their famous art deco
When we arrived we thought that we’d been transported back
into the early 20th century. Vintage cars were everywhere and people
were dressed in vintage clothing. What a treat! As we walked around we spent
more time taking pictures of the cars and people than of the buildings. Here
are some of our favorites:
On Tuesday we got up at o’dark hundred and made our way to
the Picton Ferry dock for the 6:15am sailing to Wellington. We were the fourth
car in line to get on the ferry and got to watch them drive a 10-car train onto
the boat. When they got the train situated they found that they had room in
that area for cars, so I was told to back the car onto the ferry alongside the
train. I asked the guy directing traffic ifhe was kidding and he calmly said “no, please back your car onto the
ferry.”Luck was with me and I
maneuvered the car just fine, but I was pretty nervous. Luck was on our side
once again for the ferry ride as the weather was calm (thank goodness) and we
had an uneventful 3-hour crossing to the North Island.
When we got to Wellington we headed downtown to ride the
cable car. The ride up the hill was fun and the cable car museum was wonderful.
After lunch we found a Starbuck’s Coffee Shop and treated ourselves to our
favorite lattes before heading for our friends’ house for the night.
We spent Tuesday and Wednesday with friends Kevin,
Heather and their three children – Ben, Britany and Megan. We met them in
Stratford at the beginning of our road trip, spent New Year’s Eve together and
hit it off. We accepted their invitation to come for a stay when back in
Wellington and had a wonderful time just hanging out with this great family.
We reluctantly left our nice studio apartment in Blenheim
this morning bound for Picton. It’s less than a ½ hour’s drive so when we got
to Picton we had time to kill before we could check into our room at the
Tombstone Backpackers. Picton has a small aquarium and they advertised that
they had blue penguins so we went in for a look.
The aquarium is quite small but we enjoyed looking at the
sealife. One of the employees took us around with her while she fed breakfast
to the fish, turtles and other creatures. They currently only have 2 blue
penguins and they’re not on display but for a small fee they’ll take you ‘in
the back room’ to see them.
Blue Penguins are the smallest of the penguin family,
weighing only a kilo (2.2 lbs.) when fully grown. The penguins at the aquarium
are Burt & Ernie and they were very cute. They had been rescued when it was
found that their parents had died. They will stay at the aquarium until they’re
old enough to be let back into the wild. The employee let them loose onto the
floor of a small room and let them run around. They took quite a liking to Tom
and kept coming over to him to inspect his sandals. It was wonderful to be able
to have an almost one-on-one encounter with these little creatures – well worth
the price of admission.
We checked into the Tombstone Backpackers at the
recommendation of friends Jan & Dave. It’s situated up on top of a hill
adjacent to a cemetery and is only 3 minutes from the ferry dock. That’s a good
thing because we’re booked on the 6:15am ferry tomorrow morning and have to be
at the ferry terminal no later than 5:15am!
So, as I mentioned above, the Tombstone Backpackers in across the street from a cemetery on Graves End Place. I just loved the street sign and the no exit sign. They're right, once you're in the cemetery there's no exit!
And, I really loved the entrance into the Backpackers. The door is shaped like a coffin lid - unique!
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time on the South Island and
are sad to be heading back across the Strait to the North Island. But, our road
trip isn’t over yet. We still have things to see on the North Island as we work
our way back to the Bay of Island and Warm Rain.
We had a great time at the Marlborough Wine Festival yesterday. We waited until early afternoon to attend because we had wind and rain in the morning, but the afternoon was beautiful and warm. There were lots of people there, some dressed beautifully and others dressed crazily, to participate in the fashion show.
We tasted our share of wine and ate some good food. One of my favorite things at the festival was the wine glass holder that you wear around your neck - good for keeping your hands free for eating food, etc. as Tom demonstrates below.
On Sunday we continued with the wine theme and drove to Highfield Winery for a Valentine's Day lunch. The view from the winery was fantastic and there were several vintage cars parked among the grape vines. The cars were available for rent (or 'hire' as they say here).
Happy Valentine's Day to all of our friends and family. We hope that your day is as special as ours was.
We’ve spent the past three nights at a bach (pronounced
“batch”) – the Kiwi name for a summer or vacation home. Paul, the great guy
that manages the rigging shop in Opua, gave us the key to his family’s bach in
Kaikoura. Paul grew up in Christchurch and his father built the bach several
The house is situated across the highway from the ocean.
There’s no landline telephone, sketchy cell phone coverage and no wi-fi
coverage. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed just hanging out.
We arrived on Tuesday and wandered down to the black sand
beach in the late afternoon. The waves rolling into the bay were pretty big and
there were several surfers bobbing in the water like seagulls. We sat on a log
and watched them surf until our goosebumps from the cool evening breeze made us
head back to the bach.
It started raining on Tuesday night and the rain continued
off and on (mostly on) for the next 24 hours. Tom was feeling punky so he
stayed in out of the cold on Wednesday but I went into town and walked through
some of the art galleries then drove out to a lavender farm. The rows of
lavender smelled so sweet and were beautiful!
This morning we had breakfast with Canadian friends Tim
& Susan who we haven’t seen since we left Mazatlan, Mexico in 2008. They
are on a 2-month visit to New Zealand, seeing the country in a rented camper
van. We hope to meet up with them again somewhere on the North Island to
continue our visit.
After breakfast Tom and I drove out to the seal colony.
You’re able to walk out on the flat rocks to where the surf is breaking onto
the shore – very beautiful.
The rocks weren’t slippery at all and there was
what I call “pop bead” seaweed in the crevasses between the rocks. To me the
seaweed looks like hundreds of beautiful necklaces.
We didn’t see any seals until we were on our way back to the
car. There were two big seals sleeping at the base on the hill – as far away
from the water as they could get. We walked right past them on our way out to
the water and didn’t even see them!
We drove the scenic route around the bay and had a glass of
wine at the Kaikoura Winery (the wine wasn’t very good) before heading back to
the bach for the day. Tomorrow we continue our trek north – destination
Blenheim – where we’ll attend the Marlborough Wine Festival on Saturday.
Hanmer Springs is an area of natural hot springs situated in
a beautiful alpine setting. It’s a ski destination in the winter and in the
summer people come not only to enjoy the hot springs, but to partake in jet
boating, bungy jumping, horseback riding, trekking and other outdoor adventure
Due to Tom’s bad back and our short stay,
we only spent time in the natural hot pools. There are 12 pools of varying
temperatures to try so you’re sure to find one to suit your personal internal
After our morning dip in the pools we went wine tasting at
the local winery. Surprising we’re finding that we like the white wines of the
region. We have been staunch red wine drinkers for years but friends Jan &
Dave turned us on to the local Sauvignon Blanc wines when we were with them in
Akaroa and so we’re enjoying trying the different blends. You can, however,
still keep your chardonnay – it tastes like paint thinner to me!
We drove to the local thrill seekers adventure headquarters
to watch people bungy jump but no jumps happened during our time there. We only
saw the jetboat roaring through the river below.
We went back to the pools in the evening for another dip
before retiring for the evening. Heaven!