We took off from San Francisco on sunday afternoon and landed in Auckland on Tuesday! Another day lost to the international date line.
Auckland was shrouded in cloud and it was raining. It felt like home from home! We stayed in the Formula One Hotel right in the city centre. A modern hotel, that contained bed, shower and kitchen all in about 5 sq ft.
During the three days we had in Auckland we visited the museum, walked up extinct volcanoes in Devonport and played slot machines in the casino of the Auckland Sky Tower (tallest building in the southern hemisphere).
It was then time to pick up our hire car, what would it be this time? The answer a 1992 toyota corrola. First stop, the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland. The North Island is not a big place but it took several hours to cover only a few hundred kilometers because of the winding roads. The views were fantastic but we are on a tight time schedule so we only stayed the one night. Whilst there we visited the largest tree in New Zealand, 6 meters wide and about 30 meters tall, it was HUGE!
Whitianga was next. A place famous for the Hot Water Beach. We arrived about four hours before low tide and started digging. The hot water is heated by geothermal energy and can be found just a few inches below the surface. Two hours and twenty holes later we were still digging! Thankfully, we were told the best time to dig was 2 hours either side of low tide. With the low tide came hundreds of people armed with spades. There was us with a childs spade that we found on the beach. It only took a few minutes for people to find the hot water. However, it became really crowded and we realised there would be no chance of a relaxing dip in our own pool.
Mt. Manganui near Turanga, was our next destination. We walked to the top in the evening (300m above sea level) and took in the great views of the bay, rewarding ourselves with a hot spa in the natural hot pool complex next to our campsite that was right by the sea. The next morning we decided to run around the base. Not a good idea!!
Just 80km south of Turanga is Rotorua. You can tell when you are getting close as there is an overwhelming smell of rotten eggs (sulphur) as it is one of the main volanic areas in the North Island. We stayed at a great campsite in Ngongataha, a small village just outside Rotorua. We had a plot right next to a stream and they offered free kayak hire and cheap fly fishing tuition. We decided to stay at the site for four days and used it as a base to visit all the fab places nearby.
We went and saw the geysers and mud pools at Te Puia. The entrance fee included a traditional Maori welcome ceremony durng which they performed the Haka which was amazing. Just up the road was Skypark where you catch a cable car to the top of an extinct volcano and then luge back down it. Good, wholesome, childish fun!!
Right, we are in New Zealand, the extreme sports capital of the world, so it was time to indulge. White water rafting was the chosen activity. Not just on any river, but one which included the worlds highest commercially rafted waterfall (7m). (Steve's choice). What a fabulous experience, but there were casulties. Lucy decided to smack herself in the head with her paddle, resulting in a shinner to be proud of. (see next entry for great rafting photos).
Previously, whilst in Fiji earlier on our travels we were lucky enough to meet a fab family from NZ who lived in Turanga. So we just had to go and see them whilst we are here. Little did we know that It would be a evening that i don't think we will ever forget. We had a fab time with the guys, were treated to a great meal, recieved presents and even some homemade christmas cake. (Lucy was pleased with that). When suddenly the earth moved (not the first time for Lucy if you know what i mean!!). It was 9pm and there was an earthquake registering 6.8 on the richter scale. The 'quake' was centered around Gisbourne, a place suggested we visit by mummy Sue just a few days earlier. Did she know something we didn't?
The dinning table rocked from side to side for several seconds. We were all stunned. We turned on the news and there it was, we couldn't believe it. It felt so surreal. Gisbourne had been hit hard with several buildings collasped but luckily no fatalities. We were offered a place to stay by Ruthie and Pete as it was getting late. A decision easily made after spending the last 6 nights in the tent. The next morning we said our goodbyes and with arms loaded with goodies headed back to our campsite.
That morning we had a fly fishing lesson by J. R. Hartley, sorry Harvey. We spent an hour on the grass learning to cast and then were ready for the river. Unfortunatley we drew a blank, something Steve is very much used to. To be frank Lucy had had enough after about ten minutes, made clear by the comment - 'right i learnt how to fish whats next!!'.
We loved the whole Rotorua experience and were sad to leave the campsite in Ngongataha. Next stop xmas in Lake Taupo.