I dont know where Im a gonna go
When the volcano blow
January 28, 2006
We checked out of our hotel in Auckland this morning and headed south. Our first stop was the airport - due to the cracks in the windscreen, we wanted to exchange the vehicle at Avis. Mark had to complete a short form on the "accident", but basically there were no questions asked. We were once again on our way, this time in a Mitsubishi Lancer.
We arrived in Rotorua just before 3:00 and found our way to our accommodation. It is a "Lake Front Lodge" - kind of a cross between a B&B and self-catering. There are 3 rooms (all ensuite) with a shared common area, including lounge, full kitchen and lake view deck. The refrigerator is stocked for breakfast with bread, milk, eggs, butter, cereal and yogurt and there is a fully stocked fruit bowl as well.
There is a lot of thermal activity near Rotorua. Mount Tarawera, which last erupted in 1886, can be seen across the lake. There are also steam vents all along the lake shore - you definitely don't want to be down wind of one of those! All of these sights are best seen from the air, so there is frequent seaplane and helicopter activity just down the shore from the lodge.
This afternoon, we sat out on the deck, enjoying the beautiful weather and reading our guidebooks about the local area. There is a couple in the upstairs room that came to join us for a while. They are from England (very well traveled), and we enjoyed talking with them about our various adventures. They also recommended a restaurant, that is within walking distance of the lodge.
We took the restaurant recommendation for dinner and had a really unique meal. The restaurant is called a "stonegrill" restaurant - their specialty is serving your food (uncooked) on a sizzling volcanic granite stone. It's a bit like the Melting Pot fondue restaurants, where you cook your own food, but with a different twist. The "stone" is heated for 12 hours at 750 degrees and supposedly will stay hot for up to 2 hours after it is removed from the oven. We each had a mixed grill with a small portion of beef, chicken, lamb and pork. The meat is served on the stone and is literally sizzling (cooking) when it is brought to the table. You slice off a bite-size portion and sear it on the stone before you eat it. The whole experience was really nice! The concept originated in Australia - you can check it out at http://www.stonegrill.com/.
January 29, 2006
Since we had to make our own breakfast this morning, we settled for toast and fruit with coffee - we are so lazy! After our quick meal, we set out for the Orakei Korako Thermal Park. There is thermal activity everywhere around Rotorua, but we chose this one, which is about an hour's drive away. Orakei Korako translates in English to "the place of adorning". According to the brochure, 20 million litres of hot water flow over silica terraces to Lake Ohakuri every day. That figure is astounding when you get there and see this trickle of water running off the Emerald Terrace.
Upon arrival, a ferry shuttles you across the lake to the thermal area. It is a self-guided, go at your own pace "tour" - the walkway is well-marked and you are given a guide map to follow along. Highlights are 1) the geysers, several of which we saw erupting; 2) the thermal pools, around which hot water algae thrives, creating a rainbow of colors; 3) the sacred cave (more about that below) and 4) the mud pools of literally boiling clay.
The Ruatapu Cave with the Waiwhakaata (pool of mirrors) at the bottom was truly magnificent. The pool is aptly named as the water is crystal clear and so reflective as a result that we could not tell where the surface was. Even as I was about to step into the pool, I was unsure until my feet were wet! Legend has it that if you put your left hand in the water and make a wish, it is guaranteed to come true, provided that no one but yourself ever knows what you have wished for. Markus and I both tried this - I don't know his wish and he doesn't know mine!
We returned to Rotorua in the afternoon and once again, relaxed on the deck. It appears as if we will have the lodge to ourselves tonight. That's great!!
January 30, 2006
We weren't really all that enamored with Rotorua (it's quite commercial), so we decided to cut our 3-night stay to 2 nights. As such, today we drove south across the Ruahine Mountains to the Hawke's Bay region. We stopped at the Crab Farm winery near Esk for a tasting and for lunch. It was fantastic!! The owner, Hamish Jardine, conducted the tasting for us - he was such a character. Full of funny little stories. It made you want to buy his wines just because he was so much fun and made the whole experience so enjoyable! We selected a sauvignon blanc to go with our lunch and also bought a bottle of Merlot Malbec. For lunch, I had a nibblers plate and Markus had a "cassoulet" (a delicious stew with garden-fresh vegetables and beef and sausage). My nibblers plate was huge, with fruit and cheese with crackers and yummy bread - there was also homemade pate - not normally something I enjoy all that much, but this pate was fantastic and I ate nearly all of it!
After our lunch, we really felt like a nap (and we only drank half of the bottle of wine!), but we managed to haul ourselves back to the car and continued to drive along the coast. We didn't have a reservation for accommodations, so we stopped at a motor lodge on the bay. They had a room available, but we decided to go a little further along the coast. We were really glad that we did! We drove into the town of Napier - with its Art Deco buildings, it is New Zealand's version of South Beach! Napier was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and when it was rebuilt, many of the buildings in the main business area were rebuilt in Art Deco style.
It really is a beautiful seaside town and we knew we were going to enjoy our stay. We drove down the Marine Parade looking for accommodations and came across a nice-looking motel. We know what you are all thinking - motel? like Motel 6?, but motels and motor lodges here in NZ are typically of a much higher standard than in the U.S. The Motel de la Mer (which is the place we stopped) had a room available for 2 nights and we have to admit, it was a lovely room. It had a large living area with 2 double-size glass doors opening onto two separate private balconies (one at the front overlooking the bay and one at the side), a separate bedroom with king-size bed, a huge spa tub, a kitchenette and a small bathroom with shower.
We got settled in and went in search of a nearby market. After shopping, we relaxed on our front balcony, enjoying the view. Just across the street and about 1/2 block up the street is Marineland (like a miniature Sea World with seals, sea lions and dolphins). The seals and sea lions were barking quite a bit throughout the evening - they really made us laugh!
January 31, 2006
Our first stop this morning was the National Aquarium of New Zealand. The architectural design of the building was inspired by the wings of a stingray. There were some very nice displays and we finally saw our first kiwis (the birds). The aquarium has simulated night time in the kiwi display, as they are nocturnal - you can barely make them out in the dim light. They are fairly large birds - about the size of a chicken, but with a really long beak that is well suited to foraging in the ground for food (remember that they are flightless).
We left the aquarium and walked along the beach front path, stopping to take a couple of pictures of the Art Deco buildings. We walked through the main business district and stopped for lunch at the Governor's Inn. It was a beautiful, sunny, cloudless, blue-sky day so we sat outside and people-watched. After lunch, we went searching for an internet cafe and spent quite a bit of time researching the South Island. We returned to our room and relaxed for the balance of the evening.
February 1, 2006
We were once again on the road today - this time to Wellington. The sky was very overcast all day today and the views along the coastline were very hazy as a result. Despite the low visibility, we stopped along the way at the lookout at Te Mata Peak. The views were pretty good, but on a clear day, I'm sure they are magnificent!
We arrived in Wellington at 3:30, luckily well ahead of rush hour. We found a serviced apartment to stay at on The Terraces and went out for a glass of wine and then to the supermarket. We spent the evening in, mostly on the Internet, booking our travel for the next few days.
This morning we returned our rental car and walked a few blocks to the Te Papa Museum - New Zealand's national museum. It was really fantastic. There are so many varying exhibits - everything from the Maori (NZ's native people) to NZ's immigrants to the Waitanga Treaty and from art to an outdoor exhibit of NZ's forest and bush area. One exhibit we found particularly fascinating was an Earthquake Catcher. This seismograph is a half-size replica of the instrument made by Zhang Chang in China in 132 AD. It was designed to work out the direction in which waves from earthquakes are traveling. How it works: Earthquake waves shake the ground and the instrument. The instrument knocks against the freestanding pendulum on the inside, which moves a rod attached to one of the dragon's mouths. The rod opens the mouth and a ball drops from the dragon's mouth into the open mouth of the toad below. The eight toads are lined up with the points of the compass.
Another interesting display was a series of colorful glass panels on the 7th floor terrace. Several of the panels had postcard size clear glass openings to look through. It was really interesting the way the view changed depending on where you stood and whether you were looking up or down or to the right or to the left. I took several snaps of the harbour this way. We took a lunch time break at Mac's brewery, conveniently located on the harbour, beside the museum. The food was excellent and you couldn't beat the setting, right on the water. After lunch, we went back to the museum to see the exhibits on the formation of New Zealand and its native wildlife.
We left the museum and walked along the quay, stopping to watch several people jumping and diving off of the quay. By all accounts, the water was incredibly cold, but they looked to be having a good time and I'm sure they were headed to the pub afterward!
Next, we took the cable car up to the top of the hill and visited the Carter Observatory. It was okay - we were a little disappointed as they were supposed to have a telescope set up to look at the sun, but as there were no sun spots to be viewed (according to them), it was not operating. From the observatory, we walked all the way back down the hill through the Botanic Gardens. The gardens were stunning and we really enjoyed the 2-mile stroll. Unfortunately, the pictures don't begin to do it justice.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the post office to buy a box, as once again, we have accumulated more stuff to ship home!
This morning, we took the Interislander Ferry across Cook Strait from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. The 92 kilometer journey took just about exactly 3 hours. We splurged a bit and upgraded to Club Class to have access to the private lounge. At first, we didn't think it was that great (it can accommodate only 24 people), but it was only half full and we really enjoyed the comfort and the quiet. I walked out to the deck at one point to look for seals. Wouldn't you know it that not 30 seconds after I left, a group of 6-7 dolphins was swimming along side the boat. Markus had a great view!
We arrived at the ferry terminal in Picton and Markus went to get the car while I waited for the bags. He returned about 5 minutes later and said that the car would be brought up in about 15 minutes. In the meantime, we waited for our luggage, and had a close encounter with a disaster! My bag arrived with no problem and Mark thought he spotted his bag a bit further along on the belt, but it never got around to us. So, he went looking to make sure that somebody else hadn't taken it mistakenly. After another few minutes, Mark thought, once again, that his bag was coming around - he took the bag off of the belt - I looked at it and said "that's not your bag." Mark looked at it a second time and agreed that it was an identical bag, but not his, so he put it back on the belt. About the same time, it dawned on us that somebody really had taken Mark's bag! I was cursing and looked up momentarily to see Mark's bag just disappearing through the exit door. Markus took off running after it, but by the time he got outside, he couldn't locate it. Fortunately, he looked back through the doors to where I was standing and motioning him to go across the street to the car park. He caught up with the culprits - three women as it turned out! The lady who owned the identical bag immediately realized her mistake when Markus asked her to verify that she had the correct bag. What a sight that would have been to see Markus in her thong bikini panties and pretty little tank tops!
After that episode (all's well that ends well!), we headed south south on Highway 1. The drive to Kaikoura normally takes 2 - 2 1/2 hours, but we took a bit longer because we stopped off a few times to admire the coast and to see the seal colonies. The seals are really amazing - they are so lazy and completely unbothered by us tourists!
We finally got to our hotel at 5:30. We are staying at the Fyffe Country Lodge, a really nice B&B along the coast road just south of Kaikoura. For dinner, we decided to stay in and eat in the lodge restaurant. The seafood chowder was probably the best we have ever had!