North Island road trip

Wednesday morning we headed to the airport by cab to pick up our hire car. It was a bit of a faff at the airport as the car wasn’t ready – despite the online booking – but eventually we drove off in our RAV4 around 11.30 am.

On the road, once we cleared the outskirts of Auckland itself, we enjoyed deserted roads with very little traffic.

Our first stop was Hobbiton, the movie set for both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit Trilogies which was originally built as a temporary site, but is now a permanent fixture in a sheep station set amongst the beautiful rolling hills. We hadn’t pre-booked a tour and found out we had to wait almost two hours for the first available one which was a bit of a surprise. Should have pre-planned it really. Anyway, as we sat down with a bottle of water to wait an announcement came over that they had a few spare seats on the tour going now. So we rushed over and got the last three.

We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around amongst the little houses and even visited the Green Dragon pub and had a cold ginger beer. Was fun….

Moving on we headed further south to Okere Falls. We went to the first look out point and it was interesting to see where they had, many years ago, diverted the water to run the hydroelectric turbines.

Walking back to the main path we came across this sign:

and decided to do the loop. Well, they lied about the distance, and their definition on the main board into the area said all walks were ‘easy’. Hmmm….. We walked miles….and miles….through the woodland and couldn’t see much at all through the foliage. And of course we had to climb like mountain goats. Absolutely shattered at the end of it, having trekked for almost two hours!

Moving on we headed towards Rotoroa where we booked into the Sudimo Hotel and enjoyed our first sniff of sulphur as we were now in New Zealand’s thermal activity zone. We got ourselves cleaned up and walked towards Eat Street where many restaurants are based in the town, enjoying the sight of the full moon along the way.

We all fancied Indian food so settled down to a lovely meal. Afterwards we had a few more beers before returning to the hotel – this time, via taxi, as I really could not walk another step.

Thursday morning we headed to the Third Place Cafe and enjoyed breakfast whilst admiring the views over the thermals on the edge of Rotoroa lake.

After breakfast we headed to our first venue of the day, the Te Puia thermal / cultural reserve. We wandered through and enjoyed the view of some of the Maori carvings and the meeting house. There was also some silliness.

We then encountered the bubbling mud….

followed by the geysers themselves. Pohutu is the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere and erupts once or twice an hour and reaches heights of up to 100 feet. Apparently the sign it was about to blow was that the Prince of Wales geyser adjacent to it would start spouting first. So we sat down and waited…. And it was worth every minute. Absolutely fantastic sight.

We then checked out both the cooking pool and the steam vent cooker – both of which are still in use for those guests who book lunch – and also went to see the elusive nocturnal kiwi in his enclosure. Photos were not allowed in there but we did see him wandering around. He looked a bit daft to be fair and so plump, I can understand why the early settlers used to kill them for food to vary their diet. All in all a very enjoyable visit despite more hours of walking.

Moving on we arrived at our second thermal wonderland, Wai-O-Tapu. This was different as it had no active geysers but it did have champagne lakes of very hot water which constantly steamed and, because of the minerals, they create a rainbow effect of colours in the water. Check some of them out.

This was, again, another long walk so felt pretty tired at the end of the trip and it was time to move on but not before more silliness in the gift shop.

We had already booked a Haku Falls river trip on the Waikoto River for Friday morning so decided to check out the location on the way to our overnight destination, Taurangi. We drove through Taupo, marvelled at the beautiful scenery en route, and ended up at our motel, the Taurangi Bridge Motel. We had gone shopping for some beer along the way so we sat on our motel balcony and had a few cold ones and chilled for a while.

Later on we headed into the motel’s restaurant and bar and were pleasantly surprised – lovely place – and to top it off fantastic food.

Friday morning we had breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and retraced our steps back to the Waikato River Dam. We watched the dam open, filling the space behind, which caused rapids through the rocks. Huge amount of water passes through at a tremendous pace.

We boarded our river boat and cruised down the Waikato River towards the Haku Falls enjoying the serenity and bird life along the way. Made a real nice change from walking LOL.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at Haku Falls and, again, the rush of water caused the surface to boil and we did 360s in the foam so everyone got a chance to stand up the front and admire the water.

We then headed back up the river to pick up our car. Afterwards we drove towards Waitomo where we had a two cave combination ticket for later in the afternoon. We should have arrived around 2pm but resurfacing roadworks thwarted us a few times – although Richard managed to direct Clive onto a workaround route – and pulled into our hotel car park around 3pm. This hotel looked a bit like the Bates Hotel and, allegedly, it is haunted.

We quickly checked in, dropped off our bags, and headed back down to the caves having first admired the Maori portraits that lined the staircase.

First stop was Aranui Cave which was discovered by a Maori chief when he was out hunting pigs with his dog: the pig and the dog disappeared in a hole and, on rescuing them, spotted the interior. We met our Maori guide Missy and she pointed out a few plants along the way having already pointed out the preying mantis on the gatepost. As we arrived at the cave entrance we were joined by a number of fantails who tweeted along to Missy having a huge conversation. They clearly like her a lot as they even came into the cave with us and had to be shooed away!

I really didn’t like the grass-hopper creatures inside the entrance – they look like spiders and jump up to 3m. Glad they didn’t seem interested in us…..

Inside the cave we were treated to the sights of many stalactites and stalagmites (tites come down and mites go up) along with pillars where the two had joined. Was really cool in there and we enjoyed the 45 minute walk through.

Leaving the Aranui Cave behind we headed to the Glowworm Caves. These were discovered by an English guy and a Maori chief a few hundred years ago. They were returned to their original Maori tribes back in 1990 and many of the original family work in the caves, so are very knowledgeable. We met our tour guide and headed in. Then the lights were turned off and the ceiling glowed with little lights. These aren’t actually worms, they are flies in their larvae stage who drop spindly pieces of string (like a spider’s web) to catch bugs (or each other) and devour them.

Having walked through the cave we then boarded a boat to meander along on the underground river (which brings in the bugs that the glowworms eat) and marvelled at the natural spectacle of seeing them twinkling. It was like looking at the most fabulous night sky you have ever seen. Was amazing!

After this cave we drove the car back to the hotel car park, walked down the hill, and had a nice evening in The Tomo Bar and Eatery. Surprisingly they were doing roast dinners so we all chose that (beef with yorkshire pudding yum) and had a nice time chatting to people on other tables around us. The bar offered a complimentary lift back to our hotel which, as it was straight up the hill, we were pretty happy about. Thankfully no ghosts visited us in the night.

Saturday morning we did a scenic drive through the clouds up and down hills into the mist and eventually arrived back on Morphie in the early afternoon. I spent time blogging while Richard did the laundry for all of us and Clive packed.

We had planned to go into Auckland for a night on the town. However, we misread the ferry timetable and realised that we had missed the opportunity. So headed in the car to Devonport and had supper in the Patriot pub. Sadly no live music playing – instead, it was a rugby match. So we bailed out and had another beer on the seafront before returning to the marina via the liquor store for cold supplies. We then enjoyed a nice evening in Morpheus’ salon, finally retiring to bed around 1am.

This morning, Sunday, we drove back to Auckland Airport and returned the car. We then waited for Val to arrive before getting the shuttle to our apartment. Tonight we are dining at the top of the Sky Tower and on Monday we fly to Christchurch to start our tour of South Island.

So more adventures await….bye for now.