A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 22 & 23: Picton – Wellington - Featherston

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Small Port, Marlborough Sounds

Small Port, Marlborough Sounds


After a cold night we woke to clear skies and the first sunshine we have had for days giving us some stunning views over Malborough Sounds. We headed to board the ferry and enjoyed a scenic, slightly choppy, crossing watching the clouds over Wellington getting closer and closer! Aboard the ferry we bumped into some of the only people we know in New Zealand (Lou and Mike - some friends from Christchurch) which was extremely random but very welcome!
Picton - Wellington Ferry 5

Picton - Wellington Ferry 5


Windy Wellington lived up to it’s name – it was blowing a hoolie on arrival! However we set off for a small explore to get our bearings around the city, stopping to listen to a random percussion band who were very good and then managed to find ourselves some free tastings of Fair Trade Coffee – excellent! (Joe has a unique ability to hunt out free tastings of any sort of food or drink!) We drove up a very steep and windy road through a very pleasant area of Wellington to reach the Mount Victoria Lookout. Residents of this area where clearly more accustomed to the hairpin bends and single lane roads which meant they were allowed to drive like loonies – this made it even an even more exciting journey! We passed some huge houses seemingly perched on the hills, with car ports literally hanging over the edge. With Wellington being on a huge fault line, and after spending time in Christchurch it does make you wonder how all these areas would hold up in an earthquake – quite literally! Anyway, the views from Mount Victoria over the city and the sea were great – we could see for miles – well worth the little trip!
Wellington Beach

Wellington Beach


From here we headed out of the city towards Porirua where we had planned to camp for the night. We made a huge error of doing our shopping on a Saturday afternoon and found the busiest supermarket filled with a huge number of trolley-bashing chavs! As we have every other day of the week free to do shopping we are unsure why we picked this day and we vowed never to go shopping on a Saturday again! Our campsite was adequate for powering up Queenie and doing the weekly washing (of clothes and us!)

We planned an early start to head back into Wellington to see the sites. We visited the huge Te Papa museum which was a mix of all the big museums in London filled with NZ history – very good! We also managed to sample some Wellington Coffee which was very pleasing and then did a rather intellectual tour around the Parliament Buildings. This was really interesting although we had a rather stern guide who stopped talking if anyone made any noise and stared at them until they stopped which lead to some awkward moments of Joe and I stifling giggles! It was really informative though and great to see inside the Lower House, which is pretty much the same as the Lower House in the London Houses of Parliament, where all the debates take place. Wellington appeared to be a really nice city – although very windy indeed!

Driving out of Wellington to our free campsite near Featherston we drove a very exciting road! Not only was it steep and windy, but the winds were blowing at such a strength Queenie almost flirted off the edge – the edge being the edge to a huge drop / gorge! We did an excellent job of being annoying Campervan Drivers and built up a substantial trail of cars behind us as Queenie struggled up the hills! We arrived at our middle-of-nowhere campsite to find most of the camping area inaccessible due to enormous puddles and muddiness – but it is free! Not wanting to risk taking Queenie through any mud we have perched ourselves on the edge of the track, and are enjoying the tranquillity after two days of people and traffic in Wellington!

Posted by Joe and Sarah 17:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Days 24 & 25: Featherstone – Dannevirke – Napier

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We awoke in the middle of nowhere and took a little stroll down to a nearby river – a mighty river as it turned out, flowing very heavily and dark brown with mud. The rest of the morning consisted of driving through very similar scenery to all we have seen in the north island so far – fields, sheep and a few hills! Quite a contrast to the previous few weeks amongst the southern alps, but scenic in it’s own right. We stopped for lunch outside of Masterton and walked lunch off with a brisk walk through a little forest. A very flat and easy walk apart from one section with 2 twigs placed as a makeshift walking bridge over a narrow but deep and fast flowing stream. Accidents avoided, we headed inland from Dannevirke to a free camp spot once again in the middle of nowhere. We arrived early so had a games evening before dinner... Joe triumphed 3-2 but remained his usual gracious self in victory.
Tararua Forest Park, Featherston

Tararua Forest Park, Featherston


The next morning we drove on through more fields and more sheep into the world famous wine region of Hawkes Bay. En route we were getting a little low on petrol and so pulled off the main highway into a small town called Norsewood. Petrol here was a whole 2 cents cheaper than any we have found elsewhere else in New Zealand and a suitable celebration took place in the form of purchasing some sweets (or lollys as the Kiwi-folk call them).

As Joe was filling Queenie up, Sarah embarked on a mission to find a place in Norsewood where we could fill up our depleting water tank. A lady in the shop overheard Sarah’s water queries and invited us back to her place to use her hose. Sarah has a knack of getting us invited into strangers houses and this one once again was a delight! Heather, as she became known to us after telling us her name, and her hubby Graham then fed us coffee, biscuit and date and walnut cake in their warm log-fire-heated kitchen, whilst chatting away to us like we were their best friends. They run a dairy farm (yet drink supermarket milk as it is less rich and cheaper than their own!), own 160 acres of local land and around 80 jersey cows. Graham showed Joe his collection of old Ford cars which he has stripped down and re-built (as pictures show, they are impressive), whilst Heather took Sarah to meet (and feed) their pet sheep!
Sarah feeding sheep

Sarah feeding sheep


The sheep produce lambs which they then eat, but they are very attached to the adult sheep and so no mutton consumption takes place in this part of Norsewood. Graham then showed Joe around the dairy farm and taught him a bit about the modern practices (very high tec!), whilst Sarah was shown around the vegetable garden by Heather. Suitably impressed we were then handed an unbelievable parting gift of the following... freshly harvested carrots, parsnips, silver beet, parsley, Lebanese cucumber, lemons, and feijoas from their own vegetable patch, joined by 1 lamb’s liver and 2 lamb chops from their pets offspring!!.. And of course a tank full of water! Another very generous Kiwi couple!!
Food Parcel from Heather and Graham Cheer

Food Parcel from Heather and Graham Cheer

We drove on and stopped in a small town just up the road, paying a very competitive $4 each for a swim in the local swimming pool (with a large interest on the hot showers on offer at the end of said swim). 130 lengths swam between us and 2 long hot showers later we continued on towards Napier, stopping at Hastings en route to ask about Wine tours. We were suitably unimpressed with Hastings – paid parking everywhere and the first library where it cost money to use the internet. The lady in the information centre was also a bit annoying! We continued on past and through Napier towards another free campsite. Napier is back on the coast and looks lovely, but was dark when we drove through – we will be returning in the next day or so for a proper look and a wine tour!

Arriving at our campsite (next to a lake) in the dark, we encountered some old tape which looked as though it used to say no entrance but was no longer meant to be there. We drove beyond it, only to discover 10 metres later that there was water 2 metres either side of us and we were close to driving into a large pond of flooded lake water!!! Cue emergency reversing with Sarah outside directing in the dark! We parked up by the side of a car park nearby and cooked an absolute feast of lamb chops, mashed potato, fresh vegetables and gravy. Our first meat for over 2 weeks and words cannot describe how good the lamb tasted, it was just unbelievable!!!
Chef Joe cooking Lamb Chops 2

Chef Joe cooking Lamb Chops 2


Lamb Chops and Fresh Veg, in Queenie

Lamb Chops and Fresh Veg, in Queenie


Empty Plates, in Queenie

Empty Plates, in Queenie


Graham & Heather are now on our postcard list!

Posted by Joe and Sarah 15:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Days 26 & 27: Hawkes Bay region

We stayed at the close-to-flooding campsite for the day as we were booked onto a wine tour the next day and it was the only free campsite in closeish proximity. It was a beautiful sunny morning and so we went for a walk up to the summit of ‘Table Mountain’... not quite as impressive as it’s South African namesake. The walk carried a warning of ‘for people of high level of fitness’ which was exciting for us. It turned out to be quite steep in places, but not exactly Everest as advertised!
Views from Table Mountain Walkway, nr Lake Tutira

Views from Table Mountain Walkway, nr Lake Tutira

The highlight of the walk was when we realised we had gone wrong and were headed in the entirely wrong direction, but then stumbled across a flock of Turkey-like birds which have the most hilariously awkward-looking flying technique. Back on track we reached the top of the table to see good views of the surrounding area.
When we got back to Queenie, it had started raining and didn’t stop until sometime in the middle of the night. We therefore spent the rest of the day in the campervan reading, drinking tea, eating soup and cooking (and eating) some of the Lamb’s liver from Graham & Heather – nice but not a patch on yesterdays Lamb chops. Joe was asleep by 8.30pm!

We awoke the next morning to arctic conditions. For the second time on our trip we had camped somewhere where they had experienced the first snowfall of the year overnight! Snowfall was on the mountain tops and so not around us, but it was visually impressive and extremely cold nonetheless!

We drove back in to Napier to check into our powered campsite in preparation for the wine tour in the afternoon - Joe was fully expecting to be suitably inebriated and so unable to drive there later. The tour we were originally booked onto was cancelled due to lack of numbers, but we were placed onto a different tour instead which didn’t include the ‘gourmet platter’ of our planned trip, but was slightly cheaper. We sampled 29 wines each in total, meticulously noted in progressively poor handwriting by Joe. This blog is not large enough to detail them all but a summary of the finest wines tasted is below:

Mission Estate Winery:
A popular destination amongst most tourists and with good reason – this was home to our favourite wines of the day. Established by Monks and located in a very picturesque setting. Sarah’s preference was for the Chardonnay, whilst Joe’s taste buds favoured the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mission Estate Winery, Napier

Mission Estate Winery, Napier

Ngatarawa Wines:
A smaller winery, formerly home to stables. Sarah once again enjoyed the Chardonnay, whilst Joe was more taken with the Merlot on offer. We then enjoyed a ‘cheese platter’ provided by our tour guide Greg, which was actually 2 small packets of cheese possibly purchased from the supermarket with some red grapes and some Ritz crackers. To be fair, the blue cheese was very nice but to be fairer we were already a little drunk and so anything would have tasted lovely.

Ash Ridge Wines:
A very new winery in the area, run by an English chap. Our least favourite of the wines tasted. Informative owner but not as great tasting wines. Sarah once again found herself favouring the Chardonnay, whilst Joe preferred the Merlot Cabernet on offer.
Sileni Estates Winery:

A very nice winery, which was elevated to the levels of an extremely nice winery once the free cheese and olive oil tastings were discovered. The wine was also very nice, this time Sarah broke her trend and found the Sauvignon Blanc the tastiest, whilst Joe’s favourite was the ‘Redmetal’ Merlot/Cabernet. At this point, alcohol got the better of Sarah as she demanded we purchase 2 small delicatessen chocolates for a total of $3, a small fortune compared to our normal shopping budget... extremely tasty however.

All in all, it was a very pleasant trip, with a highly agreeable number of wines tasted. Predictably Sarah favoured the whites, but not so predictably seemed to have an allegiance to Chardonnay – a trend which the owner of Ash Ridge confirmed a lot of New Zealanders are following (Sarah being the trend-setter). Also predictably, Joe preferred his reds, but there seems no obvious pattern in the reds Joe enjoys. Complex tastes for a complex man still trying to find a wine equal to the Argentinian Malbec sampled at Vinopolis in London.
This evening we are relaxing in our lovely hostel. Free tea and coffee have sobered us up enough to enjoy the free table tennis, warm fireplace and comfortable sofas.

Posted by Joe and Sarah 15:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 28 & 29: Napier – Lake Taupo

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After making full use of hot showers and complimentary tea and coffee at the lovely hostel we set out for an explore of Napier. A really lovely coastal city famous for it’s Art Deco Buildings and also the huge earthquake which hit the city in 1931 causing a complete change of the landscape – sea became land and the river moved! We were fortunate to have some sunshine so it was nice to have a wander along the coast, however the city centre itself wasn’t anything too exciting. We left Napier, heading North West towards Taupo, and as newly confident wine tasters we felt we should pop into another winery we passed en route! Esk Valley Wines were very lovely (lovely Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot) and are widely available in the UK which is pleasing to hear!

The journey to our camp spot was really picturesque, the nicest scenery we have seen in the North Island with hills aplenty and lots of forests. We had an amazing camp spot well off the beaten track next to a big river. As we arrived in just had the sun which we really enjoyed; then as soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountains the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees! Some fishermen at the spot warned us it was going to be a cold night – we informed them we had camped in freezing temperatures in the South Island and so were well conditioned for this sort of weather!
Glenfalls camp spot

Glenfalls camp spot


Misty view in the hills between Napier & Taupo

Misty view in the hills between Napier & Taupo


After a very misty start on Saturday the sun eventually broke through and we had our first glimpses of the huge volcanoes in Tongariro National Park (Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings apparently...). We arrived in a very windy Taupo and asked advice on visiting Tonagriro to do a walk – it was strongly recommended to us that we didn’t venture that way due to freezing temperatures, strong winds and low level snow, We took their advice and stayed around sunny Taupo completing an excellent hike up Mount Tarawea from which the views over the huge Lake Taupo and the volcanoes was stunning! Lake Taupo is so huge you can’t quite take it all in – being so windy it actually had waves on it! Also, did you know that Singapore could fit into Lake Taupo – and the population of Singapore is larger than that of New Zealand! A little fact there for you!
Joe on Mt Tarawea

Joe on Mt Tarawea

Split land from Mt Tarawea

Split land from Mt Tarawea

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After our hike we headed to Huka Falls – New Zealand’s most visited tourist attraction! This is where the River from Lake Taupo flows through a narrow chasm before heading down the river. The falls are only 9 metres high but are super impressive simply because of the huge amount of water passing through – 200,000 litres a second! Well worth a visit.
Huka Falls

Huka Falls


We then sought out some free honey and mead tastings at the Honey Hive Museum, and also sampled some honey whiskey which was very pleasant! We stumbled upon a free campsite for the night which was an excellent find; a lovely spot by the river albeit with some rather dubious neighbours who are playing disco music through loud speakers! Sarah is adamant she wants to see at least the second half of the Champions League Final so we have an early start tomorrow....

Posted by Joe and Sarah 15:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Days 30 & 31: Lake Taupo – Rotorua – Matata (Bay of Plenty)

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6.45am... Joe’s alarm signals the earliest rise of the trip so far in order to catch the eagerly anticipated Champions League Final. The less said about that the better as it was not the result we wanted. Sarah & Queenie consoled Joe by providing a steaming mug of coffee on the shore of Lake Taupo, overlooking the Tongariro Mountain range in the distance. Not a bad place to recover from a poor football result!
Tongariro (Mt Doom)

Tongariro (Mt Doom)


The road to Rotorua is full of hot springs, with steam rising from the ground right next to the road at various intermissions. We stopped en route at a place called Kerosene Creek, a free to enter hot springs area which coincidentally smells like petrol. The creek runs through some trees and waterfalls into a pool where we went for a little dip. The water temperature is somewhere in the 30s, and on a sunny but chilly day is a lovely spot for a morning bath.
Kerosene Creek

Kerosene Creek

Rotorua itself is the most touristy of all New Zealand tourist destinations. The town/city is famous for its Maori culture and is built amongst a geothermal wonderland of hot springs, geysers and tourists.
Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua


We had lunch by the lake before driving to the home of Zorbing, the all important art of rolling down a hill in a giant bubble-like ball which was possibly not practiced by Maori elders. After much consideration we decided not to participate (Joe having Zorbed before and Sarah claiming they roll too slowly). We continued to a place called Agroventures, a kind of mini theme park where you can try Bungy jumping, simulated skydiving, jetboating, giant swinging and Schweebing. A Schweeb is a recumbent cycle you can pedal around a monorail. Again we decided not to participate but we did indulge in an adrenaline-fuelled entrance to the car park when an assortment of ducks and chickens ran under our wheels during a complicated parking manoeuvre. Sarah proved very adept at chasing the little blighters out of harms way before they insanely wandered back into the danger zone. Some pointing and laughing from some French tourists was very helpful during the event but we did manage to park without squashing any birds or French.
Lake Okareka camp spot

Lake Okareka camp spot


We camped just out of Rotorua at a place called Lake Okareka which once again was a lovely spot overlooking a very tranquil lake. We had a bit of a lie in the next morning, before taking Queenie to car hospital again. She required a new house battery to power our lights, water pump and fridge. The mechanic noted that our hire company had put in an ordinary car battery instead of the correct one to save them some money - at the expense of our torch batteries, the cheeky monkeys!

Battery replaced, we drove towards the Bay of Plenty, a large coastline between the Coramandel and East Cape areas of New Zealand. We arrived in the afternoon at our camping spot, a nice little campsite near the beach.
Joe's washing line, Matata

Joe's washing line, Matata


A lazy afternoon washing our undies (and then drying them on a cleverly engineered washing line invented by Joe) and reading on the beach followed (dressed in many layers as there is Southerly breeze from Antarctica amongst us). Sarah carefully placed her camping chair in the sea so she could read with her feet submerged in the ocean. From the beach we can see an island around 40km from shore called Whakaari (White Island). The island is actually New Zealands most recently active volcano, having last erupted in 2000. We can see steam climbing high into the air from the shore which is a very impressive sight!! Also impressive is Queenie’s new battery – we are sat inside and with it being dark outside have opted for the luxury of turning on a light switch. Sarah has recently returned from the toilet and uttered the sentence, ‘that light is as bright as the sun’.

Posted by Joe and Sarah 17:14 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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