Tuesday, 24 April 2007

The North Island

Wellington is a lovely city and we enjoyed spending a few days exploring New Zealand's capital- We went to Te Papa(Our Place) New Zealand's National Museum and then we walked around the city for a while. It was freezing so we decided to go into the parliament buildings and take their free tour just for a heat! The parliament buildings include a strange section known as the Beehive or the Turbine. The tour was very informative and even involved taking everyone down to the basement to show us the 'base isolators' which prevent the building collapsing in the event of an earthquake.


The Beehive


New Zealand Parliament

We managed to get along to a service at Wellington Calvary where after the service we were given some more travel tips as well as some tea and tasty cakes. On our way out of Wellington we stopped at Mt Victoria, the site of a few Lord of the Rings scenes and we drove by the Camperdown Studios(Weta Workshop) where Peter Jackson's creative team did most of the work for the movies. We weren't able to get very close, as it was a Sunday and it was all locked up, but we could still make out a giant Orc statue and some Gollum figurines in the reception area.

LOTRo

We had lunch at the very cool Chocolate Fish Cafe. The best seats in this cafe are actually across a road alongside the beach and the waiters wear reflective vests as they cross the road to bring you your meal!

Chocolate Fish Cafe



Our table across the road- and a waiter in his reflective vest

We headed north out of Wellington and went to visit another LOTR location and then stayed the night in Upper Hutt.
No prizes for this one


Two Hobbits in Rivendell

From here we travelled towards Napier and a little place called Havelock North. There wasn't much to do here and when we asked the women at the holiday park if there were any local attractions she said "the shop that sells honey is nice and the cheese factory is worth a visit!" We didn't make it to either of these undoubtedly fascinating attractions and headed pretty quickly to Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo is a really nice little town on the edge of the lake and it has loads of things you can do nearby(no cheese factory though!). Many of these activities involve throwing yourself off of or out of something very high. Our family will be glad to hear we decided against any of these rather expensive pursuits and instead spent some time walking around town and visiting some free local attractions. One such attraction was the 'Craters of the Moon' thermal activity area.

The Craters of the Moon thermal area in Wairakei Tourist Park sprang up in the 1950s, when the nearby power station lowered underground water levels. The 30 minute walk visits bubbling craters, mud pools and steam vents. You can also see a lot of interesting plants that have adapted to thrive in the hot, steamy conditions. This was a strange place and it was rather smelly. This was also where America filmed the moon landing.


The Craters of the Moon

Bubbling mud


The largest and smelliest crater

Back in Taupo for the night we wandered down to the lakeside and Ryan had a go at the Great Lake Hole in One. A floating platform has three different sized golf holes with corresponding prizes. Needless to say it's virtually impossible and short of slam dunking the ball right in the hole, you aren't going to win the $5000 top prize. This crazy logic didn't get in the way of Ryan having a few goes!


I hit the platform twice!


From Taupo we drove to Tongariro National Park while discussing setting up a 'floating hole in one challenge' in Strathclyde Park when we get home. Tongariro National Park is one of the 24 World Heritage sites and is home to three active volcanoes. The scenery here was outstanding, and as you probably guessed, it was used for a number of Lord of the Rings locations.



The Chateau- where we had lunch


LOTRp


LOTRq

LOTRr- this Mountain isn't quite as scary with the golf course in the foreground!

From here it was onto the incredibly smelly town of Rotorua. Due to the geothermal activity, the Hydrogen Sulphide in the area makes the whole town smells like eggs. It's rough. Rotorua is well known for it's Mauri culture and it's hot springs but the smell was seriously that bad that we didn't hang around long. Before leaving we did have time to indulge in some Zorbing!


Ryan in a huge hamster ball...

Where am I?

Soaked and a bit dazed!

You get taken to the top of a hill, squeezed into a huge water-filled ball and then rolled down the hill! It feels a bit like being trapped in a giant washing machine. Despite landing on my neck at one point it was a strangely enjoyable experience.

From Rotorua we journeyed to the LOTR location that easily beat all the others. We arrived at Matamata also known as Hobbiton and booked in for the tour of Bagend and The Shire. The location is on private farm land and can't be accessed unless you take the official tour. The tour wasn't that expensive and as it was the last tour of the day it turned out that Pamela and I were the only ones on it! We were shown around the hobbit holes just before sunset and had the whole place to ourselves. It was very cool.


One seriously chuffed hobbit


The Shire- Bilbo's party took place next to the big tree


Standing in the party field


We'll take it... when's the closing date?


The view from Bilbo's house


"I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire with the kettle just beginning to sing!"- Bilbo

The tour of the hobbit holes was amazing and although New Line have removed loads of the original set it still really feels like you are in the shire. All we needed was a pipe and some fireworks and the day would have been perfect!
After the Shire it was off to the Coromandel Peninsula and the North of New Zealand's North Island. We visited the Coromandel township and took a little train trip into the hills.





Sitting behind Napoleon Dynamite!


The view from the top

Above another train on a scary bridge
We also managed to visit some of the lovely beaches in the Coromandel area.

After relaxing on the beach we parked the Spaceship at our campground for the night and realised that we couldn't find our diary in the van. After emptying the whole van out we still couldn't find it so we retraced our steps and discovered that the last time we had seen it was when we were calling our travel agent from Havelock North to confirm some flight and ticket details. At this point we also realised that our tickets and a number of other documents were equally misplaced. Havelock North, the home of the famous honey and cheese was five hours drive away. We called and someone had handed them in so we got up early the next morning and drove across the country in the wrong direction!
Thankfully we got our stuff and started heading back up towards Auckland. We had time to stop in again at Lake Taupo and have another go at the Hole in One Challenge!
Another popular location in the North Island is the Bay of Islands. We spent a night there and took the ferry across to visit Russell- an old village that was used as a whaling port for many years. The village has New Zealand's oldest church complete with gravestones from the 1800s and musket holes in the side of the building.
The Bay of Islands


New Zealand's oldest church


Real musket holes(or woodworm maybe)






We had lunch at the front in Russell and were joined by a couple of cheeky ducks

Our time with the spaceship was nearly over so we headed to Auckland to hand Ming back in.


Driving over Auckland Bridge

please don't leave me...

We had four days to explore Auckland on foot and we checked back into a hostel for the first time in five weeks. We loved the little van, but it was little, so it was nice to be back in a decent sized room with a real bed. We checked out some museums and galleries, we walked around the city and harbour and we went to cinema. Auckland is a nice city and although the skyline isn't as nice as Sydney, the views from the Skytower were still pretty impressive.

Auckland's harbour

This 'work of art' had a bloke inside it.

Beneath the Skytower

Someone jumping from the tower.
Scary glass floor


Auckland at night

As you will have worked out by the comments it was both of our birthdays in the last few days. Thanks to everyone for the comments, emails and texts, we really appreciate them. We miss everyone and it's great to hear from you all.

We will no longer be using the temporary NZ mobile number we had so if you were texting us then you can delete that and just use Pamela's UK number. We've heard that some folk are finding logging in and posting comments a bit tricky- if people have tried and failed you can always just post anonomously and put your name at the end of the message. Or like Uncle Daniel you can leave your name off and compliment yourself!

We are heading to Hawaii tomorrow and our trip will involve some time travel. We cross the date line and are officially on our way home. We leave Auckland in the evening on the 29th, stop over in Fiji on the 30th for a few hours and then arrive in Hawaii on the morning of the 29th. Confused? Us too. Instead of being 11 hours ahead of the UK we will be roughly 8 hours behind. We hope we don't learn too much about our future selves or there may be a rip in the space time continuum.