Tales of {NZ} Travel: Central North Island

Tales of NZ TravelMy first journey through this part of New Zealand was back in 1997, when I travelled by campervan from Dunedin to Northland, with my then-boyfriend and his parents. While we drove almost constantly on the way there, we took the time to stay in Rotorua for a couple of days on the way home. I returned to Rotorua in 2006, when Tall and I visited friends living in Hamilton, and we spent a day in Taupo on our way back down the country after our New Year in Gisborne.

Rotorua
Once you get past the sulphuric smell, it’s actually a really nice city. Famous for it’s geothermal parks and pools, Rotorua is definitely the place to go if you want to learn more about Maori culture. Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland is home to some amazing geysers and mud pools of remarkable colours; Hells Gate Geothermal Park, and the Polynesian Spa are also worth visiting. While I haven’t been, the Buried Village of Te Wairoa is apparently quite interesting.

Waiotapu1 Waiotapu2Taupo
Also known for it’s hot pools, Taupo is the kind of town that people flock to during the summer months. Then, the lake teems with water- and jet-skiers, swimmers and lake golfers (who try to hit a hole-in-one onto a little “island”). Taupo is an attractive town, and would be a great place for a family holiday. One of the biggest and best attractions is Huka Falls, the thundering waterfalls that are sure to wow even the hardest-to-impress visitor.

Huka FallsHamilton
At the risk of offending some people….I find Hamilton an incredibly soul-less place. After a weekend there with friends, we all concluded that you go to Hamilton to then travel out of Hamilton – to Auckland, Rotorua, Raglan…anywhere else. We did wander through a pretty garden which had some interesting sculptures in it, but I can’t tell you the name of it. Otherwise, we spent two days out of the city, which means my knowledge of what to do there is basically non-existent. However, if you are looking at visiting Hamilton, you can find a list of attractions here. Ha, that feels like such a cop-out….oh well.

(Photos from 1997)

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Tales of {NZ} Travel: the West Coast

Tales of NZ TravelWhile pregnant with Pickle, we decided to take a road trip around the West and East Coasts of the South Island. Tiny was 21-months-old, and a brilliant traveller, and even though I was suffering from severe morning sickness, we hoped it would subside during our trip (it didn’t). Despite feeling rubbish, I loved our trip; the memories of the beauty of the West Coast is enough to distract from the memories of spending a lot of time visiting public conveniences ūüėČ

Haast Pass

Haast and the Haast Pass
I have memories of taking a day trip to Haast from Wanaka when I was a child; I was too small and a very poor swimmer, and I watched as my brother and our cousins swam in The Blue Pools. I was terrified of crossing the swing bridge; my brother thought it would be hilarious to jump and may the bridge sway when I finally took a few tentative steps. Despite this, I have very fond memories of this area, and can vividly recall the stunning, rugged landscape.

The Twin Glaciers
Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are not to be missed if you’re travelling through this part of New Zealand. These frozen rivers are spectacular sights; from memory, Fox is slightly more impressive that Franz Josef…which is saying a lot, because Franz Josef is pretty awesome! Sadly, the glaciers have been slowly receding thanks to climate change, but they are still breathtaking.

Hokitika
As a town, Hokitika isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a good place to be based for exploring Westland, and visiting Shantytown. Located about 40 minutes north of Hokitika, Shantytown is a recreated, interactive gold mining village. Tiny loved it. L-O-V-E-D-loved it. Riding on the steam train was an obvious highlight, but he was really intrigued by the gold panning too. Also worth a visit is Lake Kaniere, a lovely spot for a picnic lunch. However – sandflies and mosquitoes will be out in force, and if you visit while pregnant…well, let’s just say I cut our lunch short after being attacked by the wee biters!

ShantytownShantytownShantytownLake KaniereLake Kaniere
Punakaiki

The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki are one of my favourite places in New Zealand. These limestone stacks of stones are millions of years old, and they are amazing to behold. There is a walkway between the rocks and the blowholes, and as the ocean crashes into the cliffs, the pressure creates huge “explosions” of water to erupt through the naturally-formed gaps. The short bush walk to the main pathway is pretty, and full of birdlife.

Punakaiki Punakaiki

Tales of {NZ} Travel: Fiordland

Tales of NZ TravelEvery time I visit Fiordland, its untouched beauty and seeming isolation takes my breath away. Even when there are countless tourist buses at each scenic spot, there is something wild and desolate about this place.

Te Anau
My family used to spend every summer holiday camping in Te Anau; I have memories of my brother getting drenched after sleeping under the caravan awning, and of hoardes of kids jumping on the camping ground’s trampoline.

1983 Te Anau

1983!

As an adult, I have been back twice. Tall and I camped there at Easter, 2008; it was a wild and wintery time and our little tent didn’t hold up too well under the strong gales. We took a boat to see the glow worms which was fun – also fun was listening to the two (American) tourists in the boat behind us who were convinced that the cave and the worms weren’t real. “This is a clever set,” they said. “Polystyrene,” they said.

There are lots of lovely walks around Te Anau, and the slow-paced little town is nice for a short visit.

Milford Sound
Any trip to the South Island will not be complete until you have been to Milford Sound. This seemingly isolated wilderness is like no other part of New Zealand, and its reputation for beauty is well-deserved.

1990

1990

The Homer Tunnel, dug by hand, is an experience, and it is definitely worth stopping at the Mirror Lakes to admire the stunning views and reflections.

The most impressive of the waterfalls are best enjoyed by boat; my favourite has always been Lady Bowen Falls. Due to the rainfall, there are always new, temporary waterfalls cascading down into the sound, so the landscape is ever-changing.

1990

1990

Snow-capped Mitre Peak looms above the sound, and offers another gorgeous aspect to this beautiful area.

(Click photo for original source)

(Click photo for original source)

The only downfall? Sand flies and mosquitoes. Lots of ’em!

(Ancient photos provided by my dad – too good bad good not to share)

Tales of {NZ} Travel: The Catlins

Tales of NZ TravelThe Catlins is an area just over an hour south of Dunedin, and is somewhere I have been a number of times. We took Tiny there when he was one, and it was¬† great – he wasn’t walking at that stage, but strapping him in to the Ergo made it a really easy place to visit.

The ever-changing landscape is simply stunning – the rugged and wild coast, deserted beaches and dense forest make for a dramatic journey, regardless of the time of year.

The biggest town in the area is Owaka…which isn’t very big at all! We stayed in the town last year, while on our last family-of-just-three holiday, and can highly recommend Catlins Retreat B&B as a wonderful place to stay. There isn’t much to see in the town itself, although Teapot Land is worth stopping at for a giggle.

Teapotland (1)

Highlights of The Catlins include:

Cathedral Caves
Situated on Waipati Beach, the two main caves join together within the cliff; the ceilings have a distinct cathedral shape, and are more than 30 metres high. The caves are only accessible at low tide, and there is a 30 minute forest walk to the beach.

Cathedral Caves (6)

Nugget Point
The “nuggets” are chunks of rock that have eroded over time and resemble nuggets of gold submerged in the ocean. The wild views from the lighthouse are breathtaking, and the semi-steep walk back to the car is certainly worth it!

Nugget Point (7)

Nugget Point (23)

Nugget Point (26)

Purakaunui Falls
These beautiful falls are best seen following a few days of rain – in the height of a dry summer, they aren’t as spectacular as I know they can be! They cascade down from around 20 metres, and fall over three tiers of rock, and the short walk through a beech forest provides the perfect “secluded” feel.

Purakaunui Falls (5)

Curio Bay
This area is of significance because of its fossilised forest dating back around 160 million years. If you’re lucky, and pick the right time, you might also see little yellow-eyed penguins coming up the beach.

Cathedral Caves (3)

Tales of Travel: Puerto Varas

The bus ride from Villa la Angostura to Puerto Varas took us across the Andes, into Chile. We left Angostura on a sunny morning, and were suddenly driving through snow-covered ranges as we ascended across the border. As the road wound down again, the snow melted away, and it was as though we’d had a trip through the wardrobe into Narnia and back.

Lago Llanquihue

Long before you arrive in Puerto Varas, you’re hit by the sight of the two inactive volcanoes (Osorno and Calbuco), at the northern end of Lago Llanquihue. Puerto Varas is situated on the southern shore, so no matter where you are in the town, you can almost always see the mountains. The evening we arrived, we wandered around the town and up to a nice, very Germanic, church. In front of the church was a small public garden with a whole lot of decorated and sponsored christmas trees – it was the first sign of the coming holiday that we’d seen, and it made me excited about our pending return to New Zealand.

Eek! T’was the season…

We hadn’t organised any tours or any sort of itinerary before we arrived (that’s the way we tend to travel; we wing it when it comes to what we’ll do, where we’ll go and where we’ll stay), and the one tour we wanted to do – around Lago Llanquihue, with stops at various towns and at the bottom of Volcano Osorno – was full.

Instead, we (okay…mostly I) decided to take a bus tour to Lago Todos los Santos (“All Saints’ Lake”) and take a catamaran to Peulla. We didn’t know much about the tour, but figured it would be good to do something, and that the boat trip would be good anyway.

Early the next morning, a big tour bus pulls up, and the guide starts talking about crossing into Argentina and needing our passports. Tall and I were looking at each other thinking, “Huh? what’s going on?”. It turned out that the tour company runs day excursions (phew) as well as full transport from Puerto Montt, in Chile, back to Bariloche, which is a popular way for people to cross from Chile to Argentina.

Petrohue waterfall

The first stop was to admire the rushing Cascada Petrohue, then it was back on the bus to meet the catamaran. The views of Volcano Osorno and Cascada Yefi (not my misheard Jeffrey, which I think is a much better name for a waterfall!) from the boat were nice, but other than that, it was a very sedate journey across the lake. The tour company were all about pushing their activities to do for the three hours is Peulla – Tall was put off the canopying (flying-fox styles) by the old ladies on the video, and the “jet boating” for “adrenalin seekers” was also suitable for the whole family, and looked decidedly unexciting. We figured that we’d have lunch and wander round Peulla, maybe buy some souvenirs, write postcards while sipping coffee in a caf√© overlooking the lake…….

Peulla consists of two hotels, one restaurant (and I use that word very loosely here), one tour company, one school, and a handful of houses. No shops. No postcards. No cafés.

[insert three hours of crickets chirping and tumbleweed rolling by here]

22 weeks pregnant with Tiny, at a little waterfall in Peulla

After an excruciatingly long three hours (during which we s-l-o-w-l-y ate our cafeteria lunch, wandered to a little waterfall, and sat down to write a list of what we were looking for in a house when we got home), we got the boat back across the lake, saw Yefi and Osorno again, and then back on the bus for the two-hour ride back to Puerto Varas.

It was an unexciting place for us to visit due to the unavailability of the tour we hoped to do, but it was nice to do something different…and to realise that sometimes, winging it just doesn’t work out the way you hope it will.

(December 2009)