A Travellerspoint blog

Auckland, New Zealand

…and back again.

sunny 24 °C
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Up early the next morning and deciding not to shower in the horrible bathrooms, we set off for Auckland. The drive again was short and after a quick stop in Hamilton, to use the loo’s we arrived at the Bianco off Queen Serviced Apartments. Luckily we managed to park Vanessa outside, Nick popped in to dump our bags and ask if they knew where Apollo was to drop off the van. The staff were really helpful and printed off Google directions, using these we headed back out of town to the airport and said goodbye to Vanessa.

Again as we were nearing the end of our Honeymoon World Tour we treated ourselves to the luxury of an apartment for our last two nights. It wasn’t as good as the one in Sydney but was good enough and it was nice to not have to drive anywhere.

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I’m sorry to say we didn’t really do much in Auckland on our last few days it was mostly, eating, drinking and sunbathing all in preparation for our 26 hour flight.

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One clapped out car, one camper-van, two extremely tired (yet beautifully tanned) people, 3488km/2167miles, 34 days - New Zealand - DONE!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 31.01.2014 17:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Matamata, Waikato, New Zealand

Small people with hairy feet...

sunny 24 °C
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“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats - the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill (The Hill, as the people for many miles round called it) and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river”

JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

Peter Jackson managed to make the above come alive in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, as if Tolkien had written it with New Zealand in mind and as we have driven around this amazing country we keep seeing scenery which could quiet easily be in the films. We are already big fans the films (hence all of the references throughout the NZ blogs) so a trip to the The Hobbiton Movie Set was always going to be on the cards.

We left Taupo about 10:00 and after only about a hour and a half had made it to the small town of Matamata. The actual set was built on a small sheep farm just 6km outside of the town, where Peter Jackson had spotted an old tree which would be perfect for the “Party Tree” during a helicopter trip to scout out locations. When Peter and some of the artists went to visit the farm with it’s rolling hills and secluded valley, they soon realised this would be the perfect spot to create The Shire and Hobbiton. For The Lord of th Rings trilogy, the sets were built out of temporary materials in less than a month for mere 3 months of filming and were dismantled afterwards, however the films were such a success the farm became a tourist destination in it’s own right with flocks of visitors wanting to see it. So when they decided to make the next set of movies for the Hobbit they rebuilt all of the sets, this time taking two years with the intention of them becoming a permanent attraction. with the aim of it lasting 50 years (even though it was only used for filming for 12 days in total over a 6 month period!).

As we were nearing the end of our adventures, we had decided to treat ourselves to lunch (making a nice change from ham sandwiches). In the heart of the farm is the Shire’s Rest cafe serving homemade food using fruit and vegetables grown in the gardens within Hobbiton. Deciding to go for a very reasonably priced lamb burger we sat in the baking heat chilling out and enjoying the view of the rolling hills and sheep grazing waiting for out tour time (Tours leave every 30 minutes from 9am - 5pm and cost $74).

We hopped on board Thorin; a clapped out 1980’s bus with no air-con and sounded like some of the ones we had been on in South East Asia! Luckily we were not on this for long, it simply was a way of getting onto the set which was a good 10 min’s drive up a steep winding road which had been built especially by the NZ army who were sworn to secrecy about why it was being put in.

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Our two hour tour started at Gandalf’s Cutting a small path between two hills which is used in the opening scenes of both sets of films and which opened out into a small garden.

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The garden was a real working garden and there was a small army of workers tending to a large variety of fruit and veg all being grown for the cafe. Around us set into the hills were Hobbit Holes with their distinctive round, brightly coloured doors, all unique, all different sizes for filming purposes and all with small tools, washing lines, stools and fences outside. They were so cool to see!

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Unfortunately you couldn’t go inside any of them as most of them were empty or simply facades, but it was so much fun to weave through the paths and see them all.

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Eventually we climbed the small hill to Bag End and Bilbo and Frodo’s house with it’s immaculate front garden and famous “No Admittance” sign on the gate. Bag End does have a small interior they used for filming, but sadly we were not allowed in.

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After taking lots of photos we descended the other side of the hill to the Party Field, a clearing in the centre of Hobbiton which was used for the scenes for Biblo’s one hundred and eleventh birthday party.

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Passing Sam and Rosie’s house with it’s yellow front door and beautiful flower garden, we followed a wooded path to a lovely stone bridge and out final stop the Green Dragon Pub.

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The pub was constructed deliberately at an angle with one end slightly higher than the other, so they could film the actors in perspective. Gandalf, who is supposed to be of normal height would stand at the small end, making the pub seem way too small for him, while Frodo, who was supposed to be 3 feet high, would stand at the tall end making the pub seem the correct height.

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All the interior shots of the pub were filmed in a studio so the pub had to matched to the set when it was opened as a tourist site. Now it serves a small selection of food, ale, cider and ginger beer for people on the tour. Included in the price of the ticket is one free drink and as the ale and cider was brewed only for this pub we had to try it.

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Finishing our rather nice drinks we went back out into the glorious sunshine and walked back through the garden to our coach.

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Having had a fantastic time we now had to find our campsite for the night. Driving into town we stopped at the i-Site which had been built to resemble a hobbit hole, to get directions to Opal Hot Spa Campsite.

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Another short drive out of town and we had arrived at our site for the night, the only campsite in town. It was a dump, with horrible looking showers, a TV room which needed ripping out and a pool which was filthy. Being late we settled into our van and plonked on the TV to chill out.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 31.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Lake Taupō, Waikato, New Zealand

An Unexpected Journey...

sunny 24 °C
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Chirstchurch - via Picton - Taupo (809km/503m)

We had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up from our hotel in Christchurch and take us to the Apollo depot as it was 2km away from the airport and we had no other way of getting there. It was only $30 (£15) though so wasn’t too bad. We got to Apollo around 08:00 and went through all of the usual rigmarole when picking up a rental car before getting to see our new home for the next 6 days. The campervan Vanessa was very similar to the Maui one we had to drive across the Nullabor in Australia last month, but just not quite as higher quality sadly. Lots of the little extras that our “Marlene” had were missing from this one and it was slightly disappointing. Equally as it was a relocation deal, it was really cheap ($1 a day!) so we couldn’t complain too much!

We hit the road heading north and pretty much trucked straight up SH1 along the east coast of the South Island all the way to Picton where we were planning on Freedom Camping for the night so we would be ready for our early ferry back to the North Island the next morning. We arrived about 14:00 and had lunch by the waterfront in beautiful sunshine (although the winds were really strong so it felt a little chilly!).

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We then drove 10 minutes back out of town to our Freedom Camping site just off the highway. New Zealand knows that many of it’s tourists want to be outside in it’s most scenic places where you normally won’t find any hotels, so they promote Freedom Camping where you can literally just turn up and either park your campervan or pitch a tent in a carpark, or field and stay the night for free. Some of these are nicer than others and we saw some amazing ones right on the shores of rivers or lakes and most have a small toilet block (no showers) and drinking water. Ours was a car park next to the highway so was not the nicest spot to stop, but it was free and was only for one night.

It was flipping freezing that night though and with no electric hookup we were not able to have any heating on so we had an early night snuggled up under the duvet to stay warm. The alarm sounded at 06:00 the next morning and we opened our curtains to a blanket of fog surrounding us, but after a quick breakfast we were on the road and thankfully the weather cleared as we approached the ferry port. We checked in and got to board almost straight away, so found some seats near the coffee shop and settled in for the 3.5 hour trip back across the Cook Strait.

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However after the first hour we had left the calm and sheltered waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound. The wind picked up, the waves got larger and before we knew it the ferry was rocking dramatically from side to side. We couldn’t handle it, both fighting the urge to throw up (with others around us not doing so well!) and we dashed outside to get some fresh air. We ended up staying out there for the rest of the crossing even though it was freezing cold to try and calm our sea sickness. Nick ended up lying down flat on a bench and somehow managed to drift off, but I just sat and beared it with lots of deep breathing until we finally reached Wellington and things started to calm down.

Back on SH1 and back heading north it took us another 6 hours (with a couple of toilet stops and a break for lunch in a park) before we reached our destination for the next 3 nights; Taupo. Our plan had been to stay inside the Tongariro National Park; the first and arguably one of the most impressive in the country thinking we would be staying close to the lake and to the mountains. Sounded perfect, but as we drove past the National Park we knew we had gone wrong. Nick had realised that he had made a serious error and that we did not actually want to be staying in Taupo after all. He had mis-read, or mis-understood the guidebook when he read it a few weeks previously and when we booked our campsite and we did not think to recheck it. Taupo sits on the northern tip of it’s name sake Lake Taupo and is a good 100km (62m) away from the National Park - bugger!!

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We arrived at All Season Holiday Park in the suburbs of Taupo with Nick in a foul mood. He was so annoyed at himself for not realising sooner, but sadly it was too late and we were just going to have make the most of it. The campsite was good though, a fairly standard small holiday park with everything we needed it was just a little too far from town to be able to just go for a wander, but too close to take the campervan. At least the sun was shining and we sat on our picnic bench soaking it up with a beer while I tired to reassure Nick that it was all ok.

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After a good nights sleep, we were up and about by about 10:30 and had already decided to spend the day in and around Taupo. Our campsite was actually really close to the start of a walking track which went through the Rangatira Reserve and along the Waikato River. After about 20 minutes we heard lots of people and rounded a corner to see them all swimming in the river. As we drew closer we realised that their is a hot water stream which runs into the main river at this point making the water a beautiful bath-water temperature. Sadly we did not have out bathers with us so had to settle for dipping in our feet.

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The walk carried on for another 45 minutes weaving it’s way in and out of the bush and following the river as it got faster and we could see more rapids until we reached the Huka Falls which are one of Taupo’s main attractions. These falls have been created by the sheer force of the river breaking it's way through the rocks carving a 15 metre wide, 10 metres deep gap which is continuing to grow. It's at this point the whole river bottle necks with 220,000 litres per second gushing through with a deafening roar.

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We decided to walk back on a different track, not realising until we were a fair way along that it was really a cycle track (which explained why it twisted and turned so much!). Luckily we only came across one bike who was going slow. The track also weaved it’s way through the bush and was very beautiful, although by now we were walking in the peak of the suns heat (again!).

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We made it back to campsite about 13:30 and grabbed our bathers, towels and picnic and set off for the lake. The walk was slightly further than we thought and it took us almost an hour before we actually reached the small and very disappointing man-made beach on the lakeside. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in Australasia and is actually an enormous crater lake atop a super volcano - unfortunately it really is not that pretty, certainly compared to elsewhere we have been and we were again feeling pangs of disappointment. The sun was baking down on though, so we made the most of it and spent the afternoon swimming and sun-bathing.

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The next day after a lazy start and a visit to the i-Site, we decided to explore another area along the lake, Kinloch. This time we were not disappointed, only 20km from the Taupo on the western bank we were greeted with a quiet, sleepy, port town with lovely views of the lake. The i-Site said there was a walking trail we could do towards Whakaipo, another nice bay along the lake, however this walk was 26km round trip so we thought we would start it and turn round when we got tired or it the walk was boring. Unfortunately the walk was in the bush and after an half a hour we still couldn’t see the lakeside. Both of us secretly not enjoying the walk, we kept going, eventually coming to a slight clearing with ok views, but not spectacular as we have had in so many other places.

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We finally both revealed to each other that we weren’t enjoying the walk however there was promise of a lookout just over half way so both agreed that we would keep going till there then turn back. Again walking as fast as we could in the heat (yet again we walking in the height of the sun, doh!) we eventually came to a sign post for the lookout just 1.4km away. Taking the path we walked for a few minutes before we were inundated and attacked by Cicada’s about an inch long. The woods were deafening with their chirping and as we sped past they jumped out at us getting stuck in my hair and flying at Nick’s face. They continued to do this for the whole 1.4km until the noise suddenly stopped and the lookout opened up in front of us. Ummm! This wasn’t what we were expecting, there was a lonely bench looking out to the water which you could only see if you stood it, as trees blocked the view. The view wasn’t any better then the one when we stopped earlier either poo!

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Taking a deep breath and plucking up the courage to go back in to the cicada infested woods, we ran the 1.4km back to the signpost. Out of breath but glad to be rid of the cicadas and their creepy skeletons clinging to all the trees, we walked as fast as we could to get back to Vanessa and the bay.

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We ended up walking a total of 15km (9 miles) in 2.5hrs in the baking heat, so when we arrived back we slipped in to swimwear and ran straight into the ice cold water. The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the sun, reading, eating and just chillin’ by the beautiful bay which made a great end to what had been a lightly disappointing couple of days.

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That evening we enjoyed dinner sat in the still warm sun (it stays hot and sunny till 9pm in New Zealand) with a cool beer packed ready for our adventure the next day.

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 30.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

A city re-born...

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Aoraki/Mt Cook Village - Christchurch (332km / 206m)

It was with a great deal of reluctance that we left Aoraki / Mt Cook. The clouds from the previous day had completely shifted and the mountains were looking spectacular, but after managing to squeeze in a bit of hiking to make up for the missed opportunities the previous day, we had to hit the road and make our way northwards to Christchurch.

The drive only took about 4 hours, but the road kept teasing us with views back towards the mountains every so often. We arrived at the Thomas Hotel at 15:30 which only reopened at the beginning of the year after being rebuilt from the devastating earthquake in 2011. Checking in and dumping our bags we had just enough time to drive to the New Zealand Airforce Museum before it closed.

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The museum was small but housed several NZRAF planes through years from early biplanes to more recent fighters. Dad you will be very proud of me as I managed to name one or two of them from a distance! It was great fun to look around them all and I even think Nick enjoyed it too. We got to sit in a cockpit and pretend to fly until a small child came along looking rather confused at finding us in there making plane noises so we thought we better get out and leave him to it! There was even a flight simulator where you could pretend to be a Mosquito pilot but there was a waiting list to play and very dedicated man who seemed to have been there for some time! All this for free!

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The museum closing, it was time to drive to the airport and drop off our trusty car, Nora, at Juicy Car Rentals. It was sad to say goodbye to the car that reluctantly went up all the hills and had so many bumps and chips the rental agency didn’t even check her when she was returned. I suspect she was drawing to the end of her life as a rental car, but she did us proud for the past 3 weeks! Returning back to Christchurch and our hostel by bus we popped to the supermarket for some dinner before having an early night in our private room (no more dorms for us!!) as we were knackered from doing two walks and a long drive.

The next morning we treated ourselves to a bit of a lie-in, not making it out and about until 10:00 and set of to explore. Chirstchurch was hit by 3 huge earthquakes between September 2010 and June 2011, the most devastating registering 6.3 on the Richter Scale in February 2011 almost right under the CBD and tragically killing 185 people, virtually destroying the city. Over half of the buildings have been demolished with the rest cordoned off waiting for insurance companies to decide what to be done making the city feel very much like a ghost-town.

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However things are rapidly improving with the New York Times voting Chirstchurch the top city to visit in 2014.

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The government and local communities have introduced Gap Filler; a serious of temporary art installations, public spaces and simply places to relax and have fun in the city on empty sites where buildings once stood. These include portable art galleries, events stages made out of pallets, huge armchairs covered in astroturf, an outdoor disco where you can plug your i-Pod into a speaker system and numerous other fantastic ideas. We followed a walking trail around the city visiting as many of these as we could showing our support for such a great initiative.

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We also visited the Re:Start shopping mall which has been built out of shipping containers ingeniously converted into shops and cafes and creating a new centre for the city helping attract money from tourists and it forms a great socialising space for it’s locals.

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After a coffee stop and a spot of shopping (a pair of earrings for me and a ceramic, origami dinosaur for Nick - don’t ask!) We then visited Cathedral Square, the historic heart of Christchurch, and the most noticeably altered. The majority of the beautiful Victorian buildings which surrounded the square were destroyed and have since been knocked down, however the fate Christchurch Cathedral is uncertain while debate rages about whether it should be demolished. During the February 2011 quake the 63m high spire fell and the iconic rose stained glass window was lost. The church now half stands in the centre of the square a shadow of it’s former self apparently too unstable to be saved. It was deconsecrated in later the same year and the government continues to face fierce opposition from protestors who want to see it saved in some form. After being there you can see it can never be completely restored to it’s former state but surely something could be done by way of a memorial?

Cathedral Square Today

Cathedral Square Today


Cathedral Square Before 2010

Cathedral Square Before 2010


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We then decided to visit the Cardboard Cathedral, the $5million temporary replacement which has become a tourist attraction in it’s own right. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban it is constructed almost entirely out of cardboard even including the pulpit and the cross above the altar. It is very impressive and ingenious, but again debate continues about whether it should remain permanently.

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Across the road is a moving memorial called 185 Chairs which pays tribute to the 185 people who lost their lives during the quake. It is simply made up of 185 chairs in different styles and shapes painted white and lined up in neat rows. The memorial is used for informal Sunday church services and as a meeting place for people needing to talk about their experiences.

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After a bit more mooching around we stopped to soak up the sunshine back in Cathedral Square where we got talking to an elderly man who was in the CBD on the day of the quake. We got the feeling he was not at all over it and needed to talk, so listened to his story for almost half an hour. It was very interesting to hear his experiences and life afterwards but in the end we had to make our excuses as he would have stayed talking to us all evening.

The sun still shinning and this being one of the first days we haven’t had to buy petrol or drive we took the opportunity and extra money to go for a drink. Asking at the hostel for the best area to head, we came across some really funky bars and settled for Revival Bar a small pub with furniture made out of reclaimed items. Paying for our very high priced beer and cider (330ml bottle of cider $9/£4.50) we settled down on an old suitcase, now converted into a comfy sofa. Unfortunately due the cost we could only stay for one and had to return back to our hostel to make a late dinner of not very nice soup and a late night of crap British telly.

Another layin, this time not making it out until almost 12:00! The weather had turned, so we were in no rush to go outside. As we walked to the Botanic Gardens and the clouds started to look ominous, we decided to detour to the museum next to the garden entrance instead. We didn’t think the museum would show us anything new as each one seems to have the same Mouri and British history, just expressed in different ways. However this one, after the usual exhibit, had an exhibition on street art featuring an extensive collection of Bansky and the Kiwi graffiti history. It was really interesting to see how it’s gone from mindless vandalism to expressive, political and controversial art. The thing I thought was really interesting is that to make the art accessible to all it’s produced on canvas, somehow conforming to the “classical art rules” and therefore contradicting the reason and form the art was originally created. After searching to no avail in the gift shop for a pencil we went back outside to see if it was raining.

Luckily the rain had not started, but the temperature had plummeted so to warm up we headed back to the Re:Start Mall for a coffee. By the time we had our coffee and sat on the only free chairs outside the sun had started to shine and it was feeling positively balmy. Our decision of wether to punt or not to punt was now made easy and we headed to the Tram shop to by our combo tickets for the Historic Tram and Punt $30 (£15) each.

The rain still holding off, we jumped onto the tram which runs through the city to the Botanic Gardens. It only runs for about a mile and is now solely for a tourists but it was good fun and our driver gave a running commentary. We arrived at our last stop as the heavens opened just in time for our punt on the River Avon poo!

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Thanks to the rain (just a heavy shower) we ended up with the punt to ourselves, wrapped in a blanket with a large umbrella we set off for a gentile float along the river. Our guide, Barry, gave us some history of the river along with some interesting facts about the wildlife.

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Arriving back at the beautiful boat house having enjoyed our punting and thinking we should to it again in Oxford.

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We retreated back to the hostel to watch a film (Lord of the Rings of course) just in time for the rain to start getting heavy. It was then another early night as we had to pick up our relocation camper early the next day.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 26.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged christchurch Comments (1)

Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Canterbury, New Zealand

It's Cookie Time!

all seasons in one day 13 °C
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Queenstown - Aoraki / Mt Cook Village (264km / 164m)

The sun was shining in Queenstown and it was looking to be another great day, so we reluctantly said goodbye knowing the weather near the mountain wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. Nora full of petrol (we were told the petrol would be very expensive at our next stop) we set off for the highest mountain in New Zealand. This time the drive through the Southern Alps was more spectacular with no clouds in the way and rolling hills slowly turning into huge snowcapped mountains.

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As we turned off the highway about 2 hours later Aoraki / Mt Cook loomed on the horizon getting larger. We could not resist pulling over at a lookout to get some photos over Lake Pukaki which was a bright electric blue.. Nick was so determined as usual to get that perfect photo he ran off down a rough track in his flip flops and ended up stubbing his toe and got back to the car with blood all over his foot but a big cheesy grin and his picture!

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Another hour later and we had arrived at the Aoraki / Mt Cook Village. This is a tiny place with only one circular road, two hostels, two motels, a four star hotel (The Hermitage), DOC site, school and about 5 houses. The only place to buy food was at the hostel or The Hermitage, which is also the, post office, cafe, tour desk and a museum. We dumped our things in our rather smelly 8 bed dorm at the YHA Mt Cook and went off for a walk to the Tasman Valley and Blue pools while the clouds were still holding off.

After driving down an 8km unsealed track of loose rocks and stones we arrived at the car park with the sun still shining and stopped for a spot of lunch in some very epic scenery.

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The walk was a short, steady climb but gave you spectacular views of Aoraki / Mt Cook and the surrounding glaciers. As with the other glaciers we have been to, this too is retreating with the glacial lake growing at an alarming rate. What started as a small sink hole resembling a puddle in 2006 is now a 5km lake which is eroding the ice at the terminal face of the glacier. They say in only 30 years the lake will grow so big it’ll completely take over.

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By the time we had reached the top however the clouds started to come in and the wind had picked up, it was time to put our walking jackets on (our days of singlets and thongs looked to be coming to an end). Back down the path and we took the small detour to the Blue Pools which look more green then blue now due to algae growth. Up close however these pools are crystal clear.

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Back at the car park and began to rain so we were very glad to get back to the hostel, have some yummy pumpkin soup and settle down in the TV room to watch The Hobbit with our fellow travellers.

After a fairly goodnights sleep (no snores yeah!) we had a later start than usual knowing the weather wouldn’t get better until the afternoon. While sat eating our breakfast we could hear the winds whipping around the building and see the rain in horizontal sheets. We therefore decided to stay indoors with a warm drink, a blanket and a book.

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By 10:30 the rain had slowed and the clouds looked to be clearing, so we braved the outdoors to visit the DOC site and it’s small museum on Aoraki / Mt Cook. This was really informative as this is where a lot of hiking and mountaineering started and where the first ski plane was invented. We also got to watch a short film on the area and how the environment is ever changing. Although it is one of the newest mountain ranges in the world and is still growing at a rate of 1cm a year, the weather is extreme with between 7 - 9 metres of rain, snow, and gale force winds the natural erosion of the limestone is sped up, meaning they are decaying at the same rate they are growing. Experts say that without this level of erosion, they would be 3 times higher than the Himalayas!! An hour or so later and the rain still around and the clouds sill covering any views we may have so we went back to the hostel for more warm drinks and lunch, hoping we may be able to hike later in the day.

By 15:30 we realised the weather wasn’t going to get any better and both of us were getting cabin fever so we decided to go for the Hooker Valley walk despite the rain. The walk started 2km from the town so we donned the warmest and most water proof clothes we had and set off across the bush toward Aoraki / Mt Cook with the rain drizzling, the clouds growing darker and the wind howling (why do we enjoy this again???). An hour in and we reached the Alpine Memorial to remember the hikers/mountaineers who have died tackling the Southern Alps. There is a surprisingly large amount dating back from 1875 up 2004, just proving how unpredictable and region can be.

The walk is easy and flat taking you across two swing bridges and should have slowly given great views of Aoraki / Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains as you progressed. However the further we walked the heavier the rain got and the more the clouds covered the mountains.

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So by the time we arrived at the second bridge we were soaked and couldn’t see any sign there were magnificent views around us! This was getting pointless and we were getting cold, so only a third of the walk done we called it a day and turned around. The walk should take three hours in total but for some silly reason we decided to do it from the village adding an extra hour, so by the time we got back to the car park drenched we could see the village still over a mile away! We were kicking ourselves for not driving!

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Back at the hostel, looking like drowned rats, we made yet more hot drinks and enjoyed a much needed warm meal waiting for the rain to eventually stop and the clouds to clear as promised. Sure enough, about 20:00 the rain stopped, the clouds vanished and we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the sun setting on the mountains.

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Aoraki / Mt Cook region is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to see the night sky as there is no light pollution with the village even having a light curfew switching all unnecessary lights off at 23:00. Earlier that day we had tried to get on a star-gazing tour but unfortunately it was fully booked. We therefore decided to drive a little out of the village and wait for the sky to get dark and the stars to shine. It was amazing! This was not like the night sky you see at home where you are lucky to see one or two stars. The sky was covered and you could even see the huge clusters of them together where it looks like someone has thrown a handful of glitter into the air. Wishing we could stay out longer we drove back to town a little after 23:00 as we had another early start the next day.

It was 05:00 the next morning when the alarm went off (much to the delight of our sleeping roommates) but the good weather had returned and we were desperate to get some hiking in before having to leave for Christchurch. We packed the car with our bags and set off for the two hour hike up the Red Tarn track with promises of great views of the village and the surrounding mountains. This hike was not so easy (especially at that time of the morning) and was mostly made up of steep stairs climbing slowly up a large hill. Red faced (me not Nick) and out of breath we reached the top with the sun shining and hardly a cloud in the sky. We were greeted with fantastic views across the valley surrounded by snow-covered peaks and even a few Kea birds for company (one of them we think wanted to be a model as it posed for ages while we took pictures). Many, many photos later we made the steep descent back down to the car.

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We surprisingly finished the walk in only an hour and a half and had time to head back to the Hooker Valley Trail to get the views we had missed the day before. Our original plan was simply to go back to the Alpine Memorial to at least see Aoraki / Mt Cook up close, but it was just too tempting being and Nick was desperate to try the hike again. This time the walk was far more enjoyable and the scenery was truly spectacular!

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Again we took a ridiculous amount of photos (Aoraki / Mt Cook had become Nick’s new Petronas Towers!) and after another two hours of walking decided we really did have to turn back (not managing to finish the hike) and head back to Nora for our four hour drive north to Christchurch which still rewarded with more amazing views!

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 23.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Queenstown, Southland, New Zealand

A most excellent few days

sunny 23 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Franz Josef - Queenstown (352km / 219m)

What should have been a 6 - 7 hour drive through some of New Zealand's most stunning scenery from Franz Josef to Queenstown actually turned into 7 hours of driving through a low cloud bank. You would not have even known the Southern Alps were all around us as visibility was so poor (not helped by the torrential rain) making the incredibly steep and winding roads interesting.

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After a couple of pit stops along the way though, including lunch and a mooch around Wanaka on the shores of the lake we finally made it to Queenstown around 14:30.

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We checked into Haka Lodge and were instantly impressed. It looked brand new and was flash-packing at its best. Nick was also very impressed with the "contract" all guests had to sign promising to be quiet after 22:30 (no ear plugs needed in this one!). After a quick supermarket stop we strolled the 2 minutes into town to come up with a plan for our short time here.

As usual though we had too many choices and too little budget. The weather forecast was promising sunshine for the next day and we had already talked about going to the legendary Milford Sound (legendary because of it's beauty and it's incredibly fickle weather!). After looking at a number of options including driving the 10 hour round trip ourselves, and lots of umming and ahhing we finally decided on a tour company Mitre Peak Cruises. Unfortunately we had totally forgotten it was a Sunday and when the i-SITE tried to call them at 17:30 (it had taken us that long to decide) no one was answering the phone! Bollocks! Had we missed our best shot with the weather? Should we make the drive ourselves? After more umming and ahhing we decided to try ringing them ourselves from a payphone. They picked up! They had seats available on the cruise we wanted! Hurrah! Now we just had to keep our fingers crossed the weather forecast was right and we had not just spent a lot of money on a trip to see some clouds!

We then had just enough time for Nick to book something else for the following day (but more about that later) before taking a wander around. Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is surround by mountains and has a lively centre. It really felt like being in Windemere or Kendel in The Lake District, back home, with its swanky cafes, boutique shops and abundance of hiking shops! If you had the money and metabolism, you could spend the day just eating and drinking.

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By now the weather had already started to clear (a promising sign for tomorrow) and it was really nice to stroll around town and the Queenstown Gardens in the evening sunshine even if it was a little chilly.

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We had the best nights sleep in a long time thanks to our custom build bunks with privacy curtains and when our alarm beeped at 05:30 (much to the delight of our roommates) we really didn't want to leave the warmth and comfort of our beds. As good hostel etiquette dictates we had already got all of things out ready the night before to sneak out as quickly and quietly as possible. Annoyingly we had totally forgotten that the main kitchen where our breakfast and lunch were waiting for us did not open until 07:00, 30 minutes after our tour bus left, Poo!

After a quick look round town in the vain hope of finding somewhere open we nearly missed our bus and had a mad dash to make it! It was freezing cold but there wasn't a cloud in sight so it was looking good although we still had a 5 hour drive before reaching Milford Sound. We lasted about 20 minutes on the bus before both of us were fast asleep, waking up only when the driver announced we had reached Te Anau, our half way stop and the last town before entering the Fiordland National Park. We had just enough time to buy some food and get a few snaps of mountain fringed by a huge lake before hitting the road again.

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The scenery on this second leg was stunning as we weaved our way through the deep, granite, glacier valleys and thick beech forests. Our driver, Kevin, was great and gave us a running commentary and pulled over a few times for photo stops. We even got to taste some fresh glacier water out of one of the mountain streams!

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As we drove through The Divide the cliffs got steeper and the mountains got higher and we got some great views out of the window before entering the Homer Tunnel. This and the road leading to Milford Sound, was built between 1935 - 1954 and is carved straight through the mountain. It's over a kilometre long and is pitch black inside (even with headlights on!). When we emerged out of the other side the skies were postcard blue - amazing! You may be thinking why are they harping on about the weather so much in this entry? Has Nick's sun obsession finally rubbed off on me? Well, Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in not only New Zealand but the world averaging an annual rainfall of 7 - 9 metres! Getting to see it on a clear day is rare, really rare and we were incredibly lucky. Nick says his 7 months of sun worshiping around the globe are to thank! Hmmm.

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We managed to get seats outside on the top deck which was freezing (well, for me!) but meant we had great views. Milford Sound is also not actually a sound, but a fiord, as it has been carved out by ice from the glaciers rather than a river carving out the landscape to reach the sea. This means the land masses are much larger and you can visibly see areas of landslides where the ice has eroded it away. Popular thought believes that when British and Welsh explorers named it during the 19th century they had never seen a fiord, instead concluding it must be a sound like those in Britain. There are 13 'sounds' in New Zealand all apparently mis-named for this reason.

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We sailed around for two hours in breathtaking scenery and even got to see some fur seals up close, so FLUFFY! As with other blogs words, and even our photos, don't do this beautiful place any justice, so enjoy!

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Our last day in Queenstown was set to be a chilled out one, which was great as the sun was still shinning. However the day started off with some extreme activity, well on Nick's part, as it was this morning he had decided to book his Bungy Jump from a whopping 43 metres at the spiritual home of Bungy; the Kawarau Bridge which became the worlds first commercial Bungy site in 1988. So it is here I'll pass the blog over to Nick as it's his adventure and I only spectated.

Surprisingly I slept really well the night before (with the exception of our new roommates loud snoring) and it was not until we were sat eating breakfast that the first pang of nerves started to kick in and I only managed one of my two slices of toast and Nutella (shocking!). We arrived at the A J Hackett offices in the centre of town with plenty of time to spare so made the most of their free wifi! At 11:20 though they rounded us all up and we hopped onto their bus to take us to the jump sites. As Charlie says I had opted to do the "Classic Bungy" from the Kewarau Bridge, but others on the bus were carrying on up the mountain to do one that was 134m high! I decided for my first one I should play it a little safe, but also thought there was something kind of cool about doing the original jump, where it all began.

We were all checked in separately, weighed and made to sign a disclaimer before heading out onto the bridge to wait our turn to jump. Charlie was allowed to come with me up onto the bridge and watched while I stepped into my harness and was strapped in. She said that she was a little tempted to try and book one herself and we originally talked about doing a tandem jump, but she soon changed her mind after watching some people take the plunge.

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It took about 10 minutes for the people in front of me to jump but while we were all queuing we started chatting and it was really cool that everyone I was with had never jumped before either. Then it was my turn, I climbed under the barrier and onto a small platform where I was told to sit down while they wrapped a towel (yes a towel - 25 years and this is as high-tech as it gets!) around my calves and then strapped me in good and tight with layer upon layer of straps. I opted to get a dunking in the river thinking it had to be done and then stood up and shuffled my way towards the edge of the platform. It was a long way down, a really long way and I could see the river rushing beneath me. I even had to wait until the swell calmed down! After a few waves to the cameras it was 3…2…1…bungy!!

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I remembered to jump out and tried my best to get that perfect swan dive (not quite managing it!), and as I fell through the air felt the rush of free falling, it was amazing. As I reached the water's surface my arms went up ready to get wet, but unfortunately I was not heavy enough to make the water and I bounced back up - it was such a great feeling. There was no sharp snap back up, it was almost quite relaxing in a strange way. After a couple more bounces I was lowered down into the waiting raft and un-hooked before running up the stairs to meet a very proud Charlie.

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I had always said I wanted to a Bungy Jump but that the first time had to be in New Zealand and I am so, so glad that I did it. It was the most amazing experience and totally worth the price. I'm already thinking about where I can do my next one - maybe a little higher next time?

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By 14:00 we back in town sitting by the lake enjoying our lunch, in the very hot sun, while Nick was still buzzing and excitedly explaining the feeling of his jump. We had already decided that today would be a slow one so after lunch we chilled sunbathing for a few hours before going to the park to have a go at Frisbee Golf.

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Basically it's like golf with 18 holes, in this case metal baskets and you have to go from tee to tee aiming to get your frisbee into the baskets. This sounds easy but it's really not, in most cases you couldn't even see the holes/baskets as they were blocked by trees and people picnicking.

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We gave it a go however, taking ages to get the frisbees anywhere near the holes and after watching some skilled people throw their frisbees really far and actuate decided to give up and go for a pint in the sun instead.

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This was the perfect end to our time in Queenstown and if we were ever to come again would stay here for a week as there is so much to see and do.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 21.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown milford_sound aj_hackett mitre_peak_tour Comments (2)

Franz Josef, West Coast, New Zealand

Ice, ice baby...

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

St Arnaud - Franz Josef (394km/245m)

We knew we had one of our longest journeys ahead of us so it was another early start to the day getting on the road by 08:00. We had really enjoyed our time in the Nelson Lakes, hiking and relaxing by the lake, but it was time for some larger mountains!

The roads were long and winding having to do a lot of them in 2nd gear, getting stuck behind really terrible Kiwi drivers and camper vans as well as an encounter of some of the wildlife.

Our 4 hour journey (so said Google) was looking less and less likely so to take a break we stopped for a picnic lunch on the shores of Lake Mapourika. It was beautiful and although the sun was shining down on us the wind was quite strong making it a little chilly. Nick of course was back in his singlet determined not to miss out on any tanning opportunity!

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Back on the road and another 2.5 hours later we had made it to Franz Josef Village. I say village but it is basically a strip of development on the highway totally geared for tourists with cafes, souvenir shops, 4 separate booking agents for helicopter flights and the most expensive petrol we have seen yet!! We checked into Chateau Franz Backpackers which was definitely a “grower”. Although the owner was lovely the place needed a really good refurb and our room was very tired and fusty smelling (thanks for the perfume Gemma - made great air freshener!). By day two however we were both more relaxed and could see past some of the issues.

It was still early in the afternoon, so we jumped back in the car to head straight for the Franz Josef Glacier on the outskirts of town. It, along with Fox Glacier (20km up the road), are the two lowest lying glaciers in the world at only 300m above sea-level. Sadly the weather was not brilliant with very grey and stormy looking clouds overhead and Nick was his usual glum self at the lack of blue skies.

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We walked along the glacial track to the terminal face and we have to be honest we were both a little underwhelmed. The ice is slowly retreating thanks to global warming and the future of the glacier is uncertain. Sadly this means it is a shadow of it’s former self and nowhere near as impressive as it was as little as 3 years ago. Today the only way to see it up close is to take a helicopter and do a guided hike, paying a minimum of $299 (£150) each for the privilege! It also didn’t come close to our last glacier experience at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.

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Feeling a little disappointed we decided to cheer ourselves up back in town with a pint at Happy Hour, by which time the sun was starting to shine again and we got to enjoy some late afternoon warmth (Nick was back in the singlet!). Later that evening whilst making dinner (more yummy pasta!) the view out of the kitchen window started to clear giving us amazing views of the snowcapped mountains. Maybe we had been too quick to judge the cloud covered glacier?

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Nick decided that we had to head back to the viewing platform to try and get some better photos so making me wolf down dinner we jumped back in the car. Once we got to the car park, Nick started to panic that the clouds were coming back and the sun was getting too low to get a good photo so he practically ran up the hill (with me trying to keep up) to get his perfect shot.

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The following morning and the sun was shining. There was not a cloud in the sky and the view from our hostel was quite incredible looking up towards the peaks. We had already decided that we would head to Lake Matheson, famed for having a near perfect reflective view of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in it’s waters on a clear day. Our luck was in!

The walk around the lake takes about 1.5 hours (add at least 30 minutes for photo stops) in total with a number of view points along the way. It is stunning, there are no other words for it! Mount Cook and Mount Tasman are the two largest peaks in New Zealand and we were so lucky to get such a good view of them, even though we did not quite get the perfect reflection in the water.

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Our next stop was Fox Glacier where we were hoping to do a 1.5 hour hike to a viewpoint however annoyingly due to flooding the track was closed. We took one of the other shorter paths instead which also offered some great views across the valley towards the ice and ended at a historic suspension bridge which Nick had great fun jumping up and down on, while I worried it may break!

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We then headed to the glacier terminal face which was about an hours walk from the car park. You trek along a gravel path up a very steep hill but are rewarded with the most wonderful views of the ice from only 200m away! Fox Glacier was far more impressive than it’s neighbour Franz Josef even though it is also in retreat and our faith had been restored. Again the best way to get up close is to take a helicopter flight or a guided walk on the ice, but again both were sadly way out of our price ranges, but we were seriously tempted!

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Back down we decided to stop off in Fox Glacier Village, again a tourist trap on the main highway but much smaller in scale, where we ate our snap and had a drink at a cafe in the sunshine.

By now the skies had completely clouded over again and we had be so lucky we had gotten everything we wanted done while the sun was still shining. We headed back to Franz Josef Village for a mooch around the shops (the only 2 in town) before a lazy afternoon back at the hostel drinking tea and hot chocolate and sorting through the near 300 photos we had somehow managed to take in less than 48 hours!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 18.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

St Arnaud, Tasman, New Zealand

Cloudy with a chance of Mountains

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Wellington - St Arnaud (227km/141m)

It was time to say goodbye to both Wellington and the North Island (well, for now) when we were up at 06:00 to make sure we got to the Interislander Ferry in plenty of time as we had been told that traffic would be chaos. There are two ferry companies that operate over the Cook Strait linking Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island; Interislander and Bluebridge (both seem to be the same and both are horrendously expensive!!). As we had done a reckie the day before we knew where we were heading and typical there was no traffic at all, so we joined the queue with plenty of time to spare! Better safe than sorry though I guess.

We had also been warned that the ferry crossing was notoriously rough and not having the most stable of sea-legs I was a little concerned when I saw the black storm clouds over head as we waited to board.

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Luckily though, these soon cleared and it was quite literally clear sailing for the next 3.5 hours with barely a wave felt. We pretty much just read, slept and tried to keep each other entertained. Nick even saw two dolphins whilst taking the photo below, but was not quick enough to get them on camera sadly!

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We had made it to the South Island!! It is much larger than the North Island yet only 23% of New Zealand's total population actually live there -famously having more sheep than people. It is home to Mt. Cook; Australasia's highest peak, Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers; the most low-lying in the world, the birthplace of the Bungee Jump, slowly recovering Christchurch and some truly epic and awe inspiring scenery - coincidentally all of which are on our itinerary!

A relatively short drive in comparison to some of our trips so far past yet more amazing scenery, and stopping for photo-stop by a beautiful river surrounded by mountains and forests which Nick is convinced was in one of the Lord of the Rings movies!

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Roughly 2 hours later we had made it to the tiny town of St Arnaud in the heart of the Lake Nelson National Park. As the town is pretty much just one road we really didn't need to bother about our directions for finding the Travers-Sabine Lodge. It was a really small, almost alpine themed backpackers and was cheap enough we were able to afford a private double - hurrah! The weather was amazing, and not at all what we had been expecting so we dumped our stuff and walked through the lodges garden and straight onto a footpath that led down to shore of Lake Rotoiti - stunning!

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We sat by the lake for the rest of the afternoon enjoying a picnic dinner (Nick even braved the eels and chilly water for a swim) until the sun was gone and the sand-flies were no longer phased by our bug spray - ouch!

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After a brilliant nights sleep we were up at the crack of dawn (literally) as we wanted to go for a hike up nearby Mt Roberts. The DOC weather forecast was not looking too promising (typical after it had been so beautiful the previous day) but it looked like our best shot at some views was by being up early and back down before the rain hit in the afternoon. As we trudged up the very steep first part of the hike we were in and out of a layer of cloud, but still managed to get some great views down on the lake and could make out the surrounding mountains.

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We continued to climb steeply up, but were surprised when after only a hour we had reached the summit of our planned walk, with our route turning back down around the mountain. Not satisfied, we took an off-shoot onto the Robert's Ridge track and continued to climb, eventually coming out of the cloud and being rewarded for our hard work by some incredible and breathtaking scenery with peaks erupting out of clouds all around us.

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Back on solid ground about 4 hours later it was back to the hostel for lunch and much needed showers, just as the heavens opened - perfect timing! After our efforts in the morning and due to the now appalling weather - we couldn't even see the mountain we had just climbed anymore!

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We spent the rest of the afternoon snuggling up in the warmth of the hostel, reading, snoozing and getting some important things done like booking more hostels, oh and writing this for you good people!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 16.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Wellington, New Zealand

One City to Rule Them All

semi-overcast 19 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

New Plymouth - Wellington (353km/219m)

Annoyingly the library didn’t open till 9am so had to set off later then normal heading there first to see if our laptop charger was still there from the day before. Unfortunately after waiting for it to open and searching everywhere for the charger we did not find it and was now late for getting on the road. Very irritated by the ditzy staff and the fact we would have to fork out for a new one (this is when having an apple product sucks as all the shinny, pretty white parts are expensive) we drove Nora to the Kiwi capital.

We made it to Wellington by 14:00ish finding our hostel, Worldwide Backpackers, easier then expected. Wellington is tiny I think Nottingham is larger so driving around is quiet easy. Dumping our stuff and finally figuring out the parking charges, we went in search for electrical store which would stock a charger and a park to sit and have lunch. We finally managed to purchase a charger at the third shop we tried and the hit on our bank account wasn’t too bad but would have paid for accommodation for two nights, poo! Now less stressed we went off to find a cheap coffee and plan our next day in the capital.

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Up not so early after deciding that there wasn’t too much to do in Wellington, we ate our included breakfast (toast and cereal for a change haha!) and head out into a surprisingly hot capital.

We started off by heading to the Interislander Ferry Terminal to get an idea of what we needed to do for our departure. This actually turned out to be a waste of time as we didn’t find out anything we didn’t already know. However we got to do a nice 5km walk seeing the revitalised docklands (that is till we had to go under the highway).

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Back in the CBD and at the waterfront we went to Ta Papa, a huge 6 storey museum and gallery, a must see in Wellington. It’s free and brilliant as it’s really interactive, great for big kids like Nick and I. We got to; go into a model house which shook to simulate an earthquake, see a 3D movie of a Giant Squid, jump on an interactive floor map to get extra info, walk round a bush garden over a very wobbly bridge, see cityscapes from the roof and best of all brought a pencil.

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We only did 2 floors in the end spending 2 hours but we could have easily spent the day in there. Feeling hungry we decided to frequent another park, Wellington’s Botanic Gardens. This time we arrived in style going in the city cable car (well more of a funicular really) which for $4 (£2) takes you up the very steep hill in a red vintage carriage (similar to Hong Kong’s) to the viewing platform at the peak of the gardens. Finding a lovely spot in the sun looking out on to trees and pretty flowers we stopped for lunch and a spot of sunbathing, bliss!

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We decided not to take the cable car back down, but instead follow the scenic walk down the hill through the gardens which was lovely and made us realise not only how large they were, but how steep a hill they are on!

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Back at the CBD, we walked past Wellington’s famous Houses of Parliament which are nick-named the “beehive”.

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A quick stop at the Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centre to get some information about the South Island, and we were both in need of some caffeine so returned to a bar we had seen on the waterfront earlier in the day called The Crab Shack. It was really cool as it was housed in a former boat shed and all of the staff wore t-shirts saying “Have you got Crabs? Well, we have!’ Haha!

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We strolled along bohemian Cuba Street with it’s vintage clothes shops, secondhand book stores and funky cafes and it’s famous Bucket Fountain which Elijah Wood reportedly pee’d in on a drunken night out while filming The Lord of the Rings! The rest of the afternoon was spent being generally lazy, mooching and chilling in the sunshine (it’s a hard life we know!).

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It was early to bed as we had a very, very early start to catch our ferry across the Cook’s Strait to the South Island.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 14.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

New Plymouth, Tarranaki, New Zealand

In search of the Lonely Mountain

overcast 20 °C
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Rotorua - New Plymouth (297km/185m)

Getting up early was becoming less and less of a chore, who knows maybe we will be able to keep this up when we get back to the UK and have to go to work (Hmmm, haha!). All packed up and on the road by 08:30, it was another straight forward 4 hour drive (along more winding roads through more incredible scenery) to New Plymouth.

Our (my) usual organisation had gone wrong (largely because we are having to survive without wifi) and we arrived in town with no clue where our hostel was and not really remembering the name! After a quick stop at the i-SITE who thankfully knew “Ducks & Downs” was actually Ducks & Drakes Motel we were back on track. The motel/hostel was really cool and quirky with loads of vintage furniture which had been painted in funky colours.

Dumping our bags we decided to go off to explore Pukekura Park, the towns Botanical Gardens/Cricket pitch. The town is currently celebrating their Festival of Lights which runs from December - January, so our picnic lunch in the sun was interrupted by Mr. Fungus, allegedly a children’s entertainer with the tagline New Zealand’s Loudest Mime (yeah, that is what we thought too!). He was crap and not at all meant for kids with no one in the audience laughing. We made a swift exit to explore the Coastal Walkway along the foreshore which was housing an art exhibition of stone rock carvings. This was great as we got to see the artists actually at work using angle-grinders and what looked like a dentist’s drill to carve out really intricate details. As it turned out most of the sculptors were staying in our hostel and came back covered in rock dust each night.

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From here, after a quick stop back at the i-SITE to make the most of their free wifi, we treated ourselves to a much needed coffee (something we have not done in weeks!). Feeling rejuvenated, we decided to explore the Puke Akiri Museum, which had a really cool exhibit about the history of surfing in the area. We had not realised when we booked to stay here that New Plymouth is one the top surfing destinations in the world, so it was really interesting - we even got to play at riding a surf board simulator - although we were both terrible, major wipe out each time!

By 21:30 it had finally turned dark enough for us to go back to Pukekura Park and explore the Festival of Lights. We arrived to a very packed park which was beautifully lit up with ever changing colours. They also had a variety of entertainment on from music to performances, so while we walked around following the light trail we had the sounds of the band in the background. The trail started with an area painted using UV paint and black-lighting, so when you walked under wearing white you got to shine too. As we weaved our way round the two lakes we saw fountains, waterfalls and even rowing boats lit up. By the time we finished it was time for the Highly Flammable, we squeezed as close to the front as possible (along with all the kids) so I could see and watched an entertaining fire show.

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Up at our now usual time of 07:00 we had a large breakfast (cereal and toast) ready for our hike up Mt Taranaki. It was only a short, but very steep twisting drive to the DOC visitors centre. We popped in to ask which walk was best, especially as we haven’t got all our usual walking gear with us. We opted for the 4 hour hike which would take us half way up, as the summit walk would take 8 - 10 hours and wasn’t worth it in the cloud and drizzly weather (we couldn’t even see the mountain).

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After a very steep but enjoyable climb (apart from the part where had to walk up a 4WD track, which I swear was at a 90° angle) we stopped for lunch.

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Luckily as we stopped the sun came out and the clouds parted for a few minutes so we were able to see the peak.

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Deciding we were feeling fit we joined three walks together and descended it warmer weather to reach the bottom, as the clouds were again starting to clear from the peak.

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Thinking that maybe we would be luckily and get that the must have shot of the lonely mountain, we stayed at the bottom watching the clouds move around the peak giving us occasional glimpses of the top.

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After a hour of waiting (I know that sounds crazy but the sun was shining so we didn’t realise) we drove into town.

New Zealand isn’t as good as South East Asia (believe it or not) at offering free wifi. Most hostels charge and at $2 for 30 minutes or $5 for 100mb we normally go without. However we needed to book some accommodation and catch up with emails so we headed to the library, this is the best discovery we have made, it’s free to use the wifi (unlimited) they have places to charge your laptop (some hostels struggle with this too, often have one socket for 8 people) and it’s comfortable. Now I wouldn’t normally bore you with this but it was here I lost something very important. The charger to my laptop! Which I didn’t discover till I was back at the hostel and the library was closed. Nick very kindly ran back down hoping to find someone still there and the hostel rang them leaving our details in case they found it. Thinking we shouldn’t panic as we can go first thing in the morning before driving to Wellington we settled in the TV room watching Despicable Me.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 12.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Rotorua, New Zealand

What's that Smell?

semi-overcast 22 °C
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Coromandal Town - Rotorua (308km/191m)

Another early start, to get another 4 hour drive out of the way by lunch time and we arrived at Rotorua - the geothermal capital of New Zealand. To be blunt, Rotorua stinks!! Quite literally it smells of rotten eggs because of the sulphur and steam rising out of the ground. You simply have to go for a short walk around town to see plumes of steam coming out of rocks and the smell is quite overpowering at first!

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Because we had made it in such good time we had the afternoon to play with so sat on the shores of Lake Rotorua eating our sandwiches before the heavens opened! Dashing for our trusty umbrella we headed over to the i-SITE in the centre of town to pick up some leaflets on both tramping (hiking) and some of the best places to see nature doing her thing - all of which you annoyingly had to pay a lot to see!!

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Fully armed with info, we checked into Astray Motel & Backpackers right in the centre of town, which was really cosy, but definitely more of a motel than backpackers! It was still early in the afternoon (getting up early pays off!), so we headed for the Rotorua Museum which got a great write up in Lonely Planet. Built as a former Bathhouse and Wellness Centre in the 19th Century it was a beautiful Tudor fronted building set in manicured English gardens (complete with Bowling Green!).

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The museum was $20 (£10) each to enter and we decided it was worth the price. We started by watching a 20 minute documentary (with the Temuera Morrison who used to be in Shortland Street and is now really famous!) which explained the history of the bathhouse as well as a detailed account of the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera complete with sound effects and vibrating seats!! It even had an age limit!

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One wing still housing some of the original features of the Bathhouse and you got to go down into the basements (donning hardhats) to see the maze of pipework and mud baths. The rest of the museum housed two art galleries and an exhibit on Maori history and culture.

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After a really good nights sleep in our very small, but cosy, 4 bed dorm we headed to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Village where you can get up close to some of the bubbling mud pools, vividly coloured sulphurous lakes and steaming geysers - although the famous Lady Knox geyser was pretty pathetic and has to be “induced” with washing powder (natural of course) to erupt at 10:15 every morning.

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Thankfully the rest of the park was very cool and we saw some amazing things although it was very, very overpriced for what you got at $32.50 (£16) each!!

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Leaving the steam and smells behind, we drove up the road to Rainbow Mountain for a 1.5 hour hike to the summit. This was hard work, with both us being out of shape from not doing any hiking since Poland back in August!!

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We made it though through some very steep forested tracks to be rewarded with amazing 360° views of the surrounding region.

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The really nice Fire Warden Barry invited us into his tower to give us even better views above the tree line. He explained about the region and what his job entails (basically keeping an eye out for bush fires and people’s farmland). We even got to pose for a photo for his Facebook page!

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It had been a great day and we had managed to squeeze loads into our short time in Rotorua, but our fast paced schedule around New Zealand was no where near slowing down and the next morning we were off again, this time heading south west to New Plymouth and the Lonely Mountain of Mount Taranaki.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 10.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Coromandel Town, Coromandel Peninsular, New Zealand

Feelin' hot, Hot, HOT

sunny 25 °C
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Orewa - Cathedral Cove - Coromandel Town (308km/191m)

Wanting to make the most of our one day in Coromandel we decided we would try and get a small walk in on our way to Coromandel Town. Stopping in Thames, the first i-Site we came to, a mere 3 hours drive from Orewa, we asked for info on a short walk and visiting Hot Water Beach. Leaflets in hand we went back onto the highway towards Hahei and a costal walk to Cathedral Cove, one of the regions most famous beaches. We were hoping for a costal walk similar to one we had done in St Ives (UK) a few years ago, but once we were on the track and saw the crowds of people in Jandles (Flip Flops) we realised this was going to be an easy hour and half stroll to a very packed beach.

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Upon arriving we soon saw the reason it was called Cathedral Cove, a huge limestone arch eroded in the rock by powerful waves looking like a Gothic Cathedral arch.

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Taking off the walking boots and putting on the swimwear we settled in the sun for a few hours before walking back to car. By now it was low tide and the perfect time to visit Hot Water beach a short 20 minute drive away. For two hours either side of low tide a natural phenomenon causes boiling hot water (40 - 80 °) to rise up through the sand. Meaning it’s perfect to dig yourself a huge hole making your very own hot spa.

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We sadly didn’t have a spade like everyone else but did manage to dig a tiny hole for our feet, however it was so hot you couldn’t stand in it long.

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Back in Nora and an hour and a half later we were checking into Anchor Lodge Hotel, and for once a private room. The evening was spent eating fish and chips (which is pronounced by the locals as “fush & chups” and actually came wrapped in newspaper) on our deck and watching telly.

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 08.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Orewa, Auckland, New Zealand

Tree Hugging Maori Style

sunny 30 °C
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Apihra - Waipoua Ancient Forest - Orewa (375km/233)

Knowing we had a five drive ahead of us we were up early as we were taking a slightly longer route to avoid a $20 ferry crossing and to take in an ancient Kauri forest with yet more amazing lookouts along the way.

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Two hours into our journey and along some very winding roads (some with maximum speeds of 15km/h), we arrived at the Waipoua carpark. Seconds from the road we walked along the boardwalk to see Tane Mahuta, the oldest Kauri Tree in New Zealand with a trunk diameter of 4.4 metres and girth of 15 metres.

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Just a 1km down the highway and we stopped again to see the Four Sisters, four Kauri trees which have joined together at the base, this was ok and in a nice woodland but not as spectacular as we expected.

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Down some more winding roads and due to the very bad Kiwi drivers a lot of it was done in SECOND gear! We finally got to Orewa at 17:00 and checked into Orewa Backpackers, a small hostel on the outskirts of town with a slightly strange owner and a regular guest “who does not need to travel abroad but simply move from hostel to hostel around New Zealand meeting foreigners - it’s just the same - really?!?”.

Even though the sun was setting we decided we would make the most of being near the beach and donned our swimwear for freezing cold dip in the sea.

The next morning and after little sleep due to multiple loud snorers we were back on the road heading towards the Coromandel Peninsular.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 07.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Ahipara, Northland, New Zealand

The Top of New Zealand

sunny 30 °C
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Paihia - Cape Reinga - Ahipara (337km/209m)

Up early the day and we had a long drive a head of us to "The Top of New Zealand at Cape Reinga This is the furtherest north point of New Zealand and the place where Maori believe their souls go to leave the Earth. The drive was long and amazing, but with some more incredible scenery along the way.

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Once we arrived at the very full carpark, we took the 20 minute walk to the lighthouse marking the furthest point you can walk and could see where the Pacific meets the Tasman Sea - it was really cool to see!

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A quick lunch stop in a lay-by (surprisingly not ham and cheese but the cheaper option of tuna sandwiches) with more amazing views.

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We drove to the Sand Dunes at the North end of 90 mile beach. These were amazing and not what we had expected at all, we have been to some in Wales but these are supersized. At 100 metres high and covering 7 sq/km you feel like you are in the Sahara, it just keeps on going and with it being a lovely hot day (much to Nick’s delight) we had beautiful blue skies contrasting against the bright yellow sands. For $15 (£7.50) you could hire a body board and go down the huge slops.

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Taking many photos, Nick taking a sun-bathing stop (not really!) and racing each other down the huge hills.

Nick Searching for Wi-Fi

Nick Searching for Wi-Fi


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We got back in the car and drove to the other end of 90 mile beach. Sadly we couldn’t drive along the beach like so many others, as we didn’t have a 4WD and later we were glad we didn’t try as we saw someone being towed out driving a hatchback. The beach was good to see though as it just didn’t end and had tyre marks where everyone had driven, this is actually a registered highway (you do have to be careful though as many people get caught out in high tide and have to abandon their car).

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Just 30 minutes down the winding roads and we were at our next stop for the night Ahipara and the Ahipara Holiday Park. A lovely little campsite/youth hostel/motel and at $56 (£28) a night exactly what we needed. It was a short stroll to Shipwreck Beach from the hostel and even though it was 16:00 the sun was still hot and shining so we stopped for a spot of sunbathing and a paddle before dinner and the next part of our trip.

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 06.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Paihia, Northland, New Zealand

The Road North

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Auckland - Paihia (232 km/144m)

Annoyingly, Jucy (our car rental company) did not have anything available for collection from their city centre offices, so it meant we had to make our way back out to the airport to collect it.

We had opted for the car they called El Cheapo which is basically their cheapest car, not because it is small, but because they are normally over 5 years old with more than 200,000kms on the clock, but needs must! It would have been great to have hired a campervan for the whole time, but they were SO expensive, so we had to settle for our Nora instead!

After a mountain of paperwork, we were on the road heading north to Northland and an area called the Bay of Islands were we were planning on spending two nights.

We stopped for lunch after about 3 hours in Whangarai - we ate in the car park - the glamour! The drive went through some incredible scenery from rugged coastline and pristine beaches to rolling hill and forest covered mountains.

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We made it to Paihia about 16:00, checking into Peppertree Lodge Backpackers which seemed nice enough and was only a 2 minute walk to the beach. I was shattered due to driving most of the way and not getting any sleep the night before so while I had a quick nap, Nick hit the beach for a tan-top-up in the surprisingly warm evening sunshine.

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Once I woke up, I found Nick sprawled on the beach and after a quick TI stop (or i-SITE) we went for a beer at a really nice bar on the jetty in the last of the days sunshine.

After a brilliant nights sleep (hurrah!), we had a bit of a lay-in (until 10:00), knowing we were not in a rush to get anywhere. We had decided at the TI the previous day that all of the tour / cruise options to actually get out into the Bay of Islands were just too expensive (the cheapest being NZ$99 / £50 each!) - the weather had also clouded over too, so we were quite glad we hadn’t booked anything!

We did however jump on the ferry over to Russell on the opposite site of the bay. It was really pretty and much smaller than Paihia and had a really nice atmosphere to it.

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We had already read that there was some mini hikes to some lookout points so in only our flip-flops we did the very steep 20 minute climb to the top of Flagstaff Hill to be rewarded with some amazing views over the bay!

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Strangely the weather seemed to be completely different on this side and we were in bright sunshine again - being unprepared Nick’s nose went pink!! We walked down a different way, passing an elderly couple (80 and 73!) who were taking their daily hike up the hill and putting us to shame, before taking a detour down to Waithia Bay. This would have been a tiny deserted sandy beach, however we had not realised it was high tide! A quick scramble over the rocks though and we at least got to stand on it! Haha!

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Walking back along the bush walk to Russell beach we stopped for a much needed cold drink and sat on a bench watching people jump off the pier. It was now time to leave this small sleepy town and head back to Paihia.

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We arrived back just in time to see a free show in the park and the sand castle competition.

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Both were really good and a great way to end our day before heading back to make dinner and do more research.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 05.01.2014 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged jucy_rentals Comments (1)

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