The Land of The Lord Of The Rings
Trip Start Nov 15, 2012
22Trip End Jul 10, 2013
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Arrived in Auckland on 14th Feb, all loved up after three days of being married :-) and met up with Emma and her friend Nigel, who very kindly let us stay at his place for the night. Had a couple of vinos and crashed for the night as an early start the next day, collecting our hire car and driving to the Coromandel.
Stunning drive up the coast, and crazy roads - not far off Balinese roads but better drivers, well mostly! We had booked accommodation in a little place called Hahei, in a bach called Wigmore Bach - tres simple but lovely. A lot of the kiwis seem to have these baches around the country, i guess it's like their holiday homes and an easy lock up and go type vibe. Hahei is a 10 minute drive to the famous Hot Water Beach. Here, for two hours either side of low tide, you can access an area of sand in front of a rocky outcrop in the middle of the beach and hot water oozes up beneath the surface. Bring along a spade, start digging and soon enough you have you very own spa pool, it's pretty cool.
Also close by is the incredibly beautiful Cathedral Cove, possibly the most beautiful piece of beach that Chris and I have ever had the privilege of visiting. Famous for its massive stone arch and natural waterfall shower, accessed either by boat (which we didn't do) or a long trek down steep pathways, which I'm proud to say we all managed to do, both there and back. Unfortunately we were heading south on the day we visited so we didn't stay too long but long enough to have a swim in the clear blue ocean and take some pics...check out dropbox.
On the road again, this time heading south towards Tauranga where we met Emma's cousin Paula and her two children. Stayed the night here and Chris and I then made our way a little further south to Rotarua, the rotten egg smelling place! Rotten egg smells overwhelm you as you enter Rotarua due to the sulphur rich thermal area, with spurting geysers and thermal hot springs in their abundance.
We headed straight to the famous Polynesian Spa, complete with seven different hot spa pools in varying temperatures of between 38 and 42 Degrees Celsius. The pools overlook Lake Rotarua, a geothermal hot spring created by a volcanic eruption. No wildlife live in the lake due to it being so hot, but there a million birds that arrive every day to sit on the shores and soak up the heat, it's pretty incredible sitting in the pools and seeing the steam rising off the lake in front of you.
Rotorua is steeped in Maori history and 35%25 of the population are in fact Maori. It's the perfect place to experience the beautiful culture of the indigenous people of New Zealand and what better way to do this than to visit a traditional Maori village, complete with haka dances, a walk through the forrest, checking out s few glowworms along the way and a hungi- a hungi being the traditional Maori braai where they cook the meat underground in massive sheets for about for hours, making for deliciously tender and succulent meat. A truly spectacular evening was had.
Next morning, up early to visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. There are a couple of options here to get around the valley but its mainly walking and boats. We opted for the 3.5km walk and were in awe of the 80 Degree Celsius Inferno Crater Lake and the Frying Pan Lake, the largest hot water spring in the world! Seriously, the colour of the water was turquoise and like nothing we had ever seen before....stunning!
Feeling all hot water springed, hungied and haka(ed) out, we met up with Emma in town and made our way towards Whaketane, The Bay Of Plenty, where we spent the night in a little village called Opotiki, it was teeny tiny. We had views of White Island Volcano and the ocean drive in and out of the village was breath taking. Emma caught up with her friend Sarah and Chris and I chilled for the evening in a great little cabin at a holiday park.The place had a massive trampoline and we had great fun pretending we were kids again, seeing who could outsmart the other with double bouncing. Sometimes these things just have to be done :-)
Whakatane ticked off the list it was time to go meet Illya's folks (Illya is Emma's man) who live in Hastings...or so we thought. New Zealand is a little backward when it comes to their roads (sorry no offence to any of you kiwis reading this) and the sat nav/GPS that we had did not have the updated road maps. This meant that after five hours of driving through seriously bendy gravel roads, entering into a national Forrest where a sign of "No Entry, Permit Holders Only" hung clearly in our view, reaching a locked gate and having to backtrack 40 odd km, we eventually arrived in...no not Hastings, we arrived in some place called Marupa, or some such..which not even half of New Zealanders have heard of.
What proceeded was a typical travellers delight. We happened upon a little old lady who owned and ran probably the only cafe/coffee shop in a 100km radius (ok slight exaggeration). She took one look at us, haggered, confused and sick to death of being in the car and getting nowhere, sat us down at her outside table, fed and watered us, explained the history of the local area, including the fertility of the land, random, and suggested we forget about getting to Hastings for the day and head instead to Taupo for the night, a quick 90km odd down the drag. We dually thanked her, hopped back into the Blue Thunder (the unbelievably crap rental car we had) and made our way to Taupo.
Lake Taupo, the size of Singapore, and the city surrounding it is a very vibey place, hundreds of tourists and a million adrenalin filled things to do from skiing, bungee jumping, sky diving to jet boating down the Huka Falls...none of which we did but had we spent more time here we may have, and possibly if we were slightly younger and had balls ;-). We checked into a cool little hostel called X Base, which Emma had stayed in years before, and had a great evening accompanied by our friends Tequila and Jaeger...need I say more! Next morning we made our way to the Huka Falls, these falls mark the spot where New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato, is slammed into a narrow chasm, creating a dramatic and magnificent clear turquoise blue drop. Before departing Taupo we had the pleasure of hanging out in one of the natural hot springs...the water was super warm in some areas and freezing in others, surreal.
Eventually we arrived in Hastings and were greeted by Illya's family...what a lovely, kind and warm family they are. They put us up for the night in Hastings and Emma had a great catch up with them before departing on our longest drive, the furthest south we would be going, Wellington.
We spent a wonderful four days with the Lienert (Donna's family) family in Wellington and got to meet Emma's mama which has been a long time coming. Hooked up with friends from the past and reminisced a plenty. Donna, whom Emma and I lived and travelled with in Ireland, the USA and Mexico ten year ago, is currently pregnant and we were there for her baby shower, which was perfect timing. Chris got to play some golf much to his delight and we were treated like family for our entire stay, thank you!
A sad goodbye to all our NZ friends: Emma and her mama, all the Lienerts, Rich and Michael...amazing to catch up in your home town and hope we can do the same some day in ours.
On our own again for the first time, probably since we started travelling almost four months ago, Chris and I made our way north and stopped over for a night in Waitomo. I was determined to see these glow worms in action...just not so sure about the method that Chris insisted we see them...Black Water Rafting, or Tubing. They say, do one thing every day that scares you! Well take pitch black darkness (don't like it), water you have to wade in and can't see where you are walking (don't like it), and being underground (claustrophobia hello my old friend) oh and add to that Chris thinking that its really funny to start telling us all about the movie The Cave, where some or other man eating creatures in the water start attacking everybody....WTF!
I have to admit though, despite all this, it was a pretty incredible experience and the glow worms were phenomenal little creatures and so pretty. I would highly recommend the adventure. Unfortunately we couldn't get any pics though as don't own an underwater/underground whatever camera.
On to Auckland for a night to catch up with Hails before we embarked on the 7th and most scary (for me anyway) leg of our trip. The flight from Auckland to Santiago was the one flight out of about 17 odd flights that I've been dreading the most...and yet, very thankfully, it was possibly the best we have had, smooth as...bring on more flights like this please. We stayed in a beautiful home in Auckland right on the bay, north shore and we have to thank Duncan for taking us in for the night at such last minute. We had been trying to change our flight out of Auckland for weeks and so this really was a last minute pulling together of peeps around the globe to organise us accommodation, thank you Peter Beck for organising, mucho appreciado!
Awesome to catch up with Hails, who I did Playball with in London about a year and a half ago. We spent the evening at a pub quiz, that was pretty much completed single handedly by Duncan, with a little input from ourselves, coming in at third place. Caught up for a quick brunch the next day and said our goodbyes before dropping off the piece of rubbish car at Auckland airport.
11 hours later, 14 hours behind Aukland, and jet lagged beyond belief we arrived at our hostel in Santiago Chile.
Check out our next blog for what's to come on our South America leg, if you so fancy...