Sunday, 29 May 2011

Rotorua and Taupo

We have had a hugely enjoyable and action-packed week. We were very sad to leave the Coromandel and Jae last Monday, but we have had a pretty busy schedule this week. After leaving Ann and Brian’s we headed south to Rotorua, which lies on a large thermal area, meaning that it stinks of rotten eggs! The sulphur rich smell lingers everywhere and the town is quite weird to walk around as it has spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mud pools on every street. There is also a large Maori population in Rotorua (around 35%), so there was a lot to keep us busy for a few days!
We stayed in the sulphur city (also known as Rottenrua) for 3 nights. On our first full day there (Tuesday) we hired mountain bikes and went for a hell-bent ride through the Redwood forests. They have a great set-up for mountain biking with heaps of great tracks which are colour coded depending on distance, severity, their difficulty etc. We had the bikes for around 3 hours and it was real proof of how unfit we are! We were seriously exhausted by the time we handed them back. However, it was great fun and a wonderful first experience of proper mountain biking.
That evening (after resting our weary muscles in the hot pools) we went to a cultural Maori evening. There was a performance by the local people, which included dancing and singing in their traditional costume, and we also had a meal cooked in the hangi style (in the ground). The best part of the evening however, was when Phil was called on stage to perform the Haka! He did really well and provided me with a lot of laughs! (see facebook for the video)
On Wednesday we went Zorbing, which is essentially being pushed down a hill in a hamster ball full of water. AWESOME! It was sooo much fun and we couldn’t stop laughing. Afterwards we went to the wildlife centre as we had been given free tickets, so we walked around the park and saw lions and other cool animals. It was a bit tame, but pretty good for a freebie!
On Thursday we continued south to Taupo, which sits on the north-eastern shores of Lake Taupo, NZ’s biggest lake. The lake sits in the caldera of a volcano which began erupting about 300,000 years ago. Today it is a spectacular place to drive around! Unfortunately the weather was bad and it rained a lot on our first day there. We didn’t let it stop us though, and we visited many a waterfall, damn and even a ‘honey hive’ where we saw lots of bees and ate lots of honey! We did a ‘craters of the moon’ walk which was great as it really showed the effect of the thermal area bubbling beneath the ground. We were also highly cultured and went to the cinema to see the Hangover 2...great film!!
Yesterday morning we left Taupo and drove around the lake and into the Tongariro National Park (NZ’s first national park). It is high in the mountains and shadowed by active volcanoes and show covered peaks. It is probably best known for being ‘Mordor’ and other locations in Lord of the Rings. We stayed in the village of Whakapappa, which was near the ski-fields. It absolutely POURED when we arrived at lunchtime so we couldn’t see much of the surrounding area. Nonetheless, we put our waterproofs on and went for a 2 hour stomp through the forests to see a waterfall. Luckily, there was a large chateau in the village so there was a warm drinking waiting for us on our return!
This morning we woke up to a gloriously sunny day. We stepped out of our van and were met with the sight of a snow covered mountain and a large river tumbling its way through the forest beneath us. We couldn’t believe that we hadn’t seen it yesterday!
 We had a spectacular drive back towards Taupo this morning, and then we headed east towards Napier, which is on the east coast of the north island. I was interested to come here because it is the art-deco capital of the world. Following a devastating earthquake in 1931 the town had to be rebuilt and was done so in the art deco style. We were keen to do a tour around the place and check out some cool architecture but it became obvious after a while that art-deco really isn’t my thing. Oh win some, you lose some! Anyway, we had a nice walk in the sun this afternoon and planned our day tomorrow- we are hiring bikes and cycling around the Hawkes Bay wine region (hopefully incorporating the vineyards and doing some tasting). I will let you know how we get on in due course.
So...that has been our exciting and busy week! We absolutely love NZ and are enjoying every second, despite the occasional downpour! It has now turned very cold, especially at night. We are making our way towards the depths of winter!
I hope everything at home is well. Please stay in touch.
Loads of love,
Hana and Phil xxx

Saturday, 21 May 2011

"House Sitting"

Hello all,

I hope everybody is well and enjoying the weekend. We have had a fab two weeks on the Coromandel. Our humble abode (!) has served us well, and we shall be extremely sad to leave on Monday. Jae has been a delight to look after, amusing us everyday and keeping us fit! We haven't seen much of the cat, but she does like to join us in the evening when we light the fire.
There isn't much news to report in this blog really, as we have been mainly chilling out and enjoying having a house for the past two weeks. We have done plenty of reading, I have been writing and Phil has done more photo editing, we have walked 3 times a day and made daily trips to the beach. We went into the local town, Whitianga, a few times but didn't spend long there as we couldn't leave Jae for more than a few hours.
On Thursday we drove to Hot Water Beach....the name says it all! We took a spade and dug ourselves a hole in the sand, which provided us with a very warm bath! The water was BOILING! We had to dig a channel into the sea so that cold water filtered into our pool and cooled us down! It was an interesting and enjoyable experience. I think New Zealand is bubbling under the surface....any hole in the ground either smokes or boils!
Ann and Brian will return tomorrow to claim their house and dog back. We are cooking them dinner and then leaving on Monday morning. We will head to the middle of the North Island and spend around a week in Rotaroua and Taupo.

We hope to update you soon. We are still absolutely loving New Zealand. It is stunning.

Please keep in touch and send us your news.

Love Hana and Phil xxx

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Coromandel Peninsula

Hi all!

We have been having the most incredible time since my last blog. After our week in the Northland, we drove South past Auckland and then East to the Coromandel Peninsula. I didn't come here during my last visit to New Zealand but my Auntie highly recommended it, so we decided to check it out. WOW! It is absolutely gorgeous. I have never seen such fantastic views. We snaked our way up the West coast past inlets and bays and islands, and then over the mountains to Coromandel town. The town was small but very charming and full of colonial buildings. The peninsula is full of hippies and vegetarians so we had some gorgeous food in 'eco-warrier' type cafe's and restaurants.
We decided that it was time to get our hands dirty again so I took the WWOOF book out (it was beginning to collect dust) and contacted some people about doing some farm work for them. A lady called Ann responded, asking whether we would be interested in house-sitting for her, so we replied straight away and said that we would be with her on Friday. Great result!

We arrived safely at Ann and Brian's yesterday. They are really great people and the place is amazing! The house is on a hill at the top of a steep drive and it is built out of wood. It is a U shape that centres around a sunny courtyard. We have an incredible room with its own bathroom and the views are to die for. The house is on 50 acres with smashing views from the top of the peak behind the main building. We walked up there with the collie this morning and saw islands, bays, cliffs, dense forest, mountains. It is one of the best views I have ever seen! They have also insured us on their 4x4 and given us permission to ride their quad bikes and motorbike on the property. They have a big TV, a very well stocked fridge and pantry, roaring log fire and internet access...and they gave us $200!!! I'm waiting for the catch...surely it can't be this good?!! 
Over the next 2 weeks all we have to do is feed the dog, take her for a few walks a day and keep an eye on the power (they have solar and wind power that provide electricity but it can also be topped up with a generator). They haven't left us any jobs to do at all so we have a completely free schedule. There are some wonderful beaches and great coastal walks around so we are going to try some of them whilst we are here. I am looking forward to doing lots of writing and Phil is already out with his camera. He has just been out chopping wood with an axe for our fire this evening!

Well, I'm sure you all hate us now so I will stop bragging. Please send us your news as we love hearing from everyone. We have internet access readily available for the next few weeks so please ring on skype if we are online at the same time. 

Lots of love,
Hana and Phil xx

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

More to come (slow internet!)

Photos of the Northland, NZ

Kia Ora!

Hello from New Zealand! We have thoroughly enjoyed our first week here, despite the heavy rain and howling winds! We arrived from Sydney last Sunday and spent 3 nights in a hotel in Auckland, which seemed like absolute luxury compared to our campervan in Australia. We took in the main city sights, but seeing as Auckland is a small city and it was pouring for the duration of our stay, we did quite a lot of cafe hopping and went to the cinema twice! The best thing we did in the city was to visit the ice bar. The bar is made completely from ice (even our glasses were ice) and was minus 5.4 degrees while we were in there. You are only allowed to spend half an hour inside the room, so we had one drink, played air hockey and had our photograph taken. It was a wonderful experience and a great start to our trip.
On Wednesday we picked our new campervan up. We have a much larger and well designed van now. It has been painted with green and brown Maori designs and is called Darryl. Luckily he is warm and snugly and has room for 3 people, so there is plenty of room for us and space for our bags and pots and pans etc. Once we left Auckland we headed north to the coastal town of Wairea where we spent the first night in our van. On Thursday, we went to the hot springs in Wairea. The thermal water bubbles up from under the ground and has created various pools, some of which reach temperatures up to 48 degrees! We spent the morning swimming and relaxing in the eggy smelling hot tubs and baths and also enjoying the awesome water slides which spiralled and twisted from great heights, eventually spitting us out into the warm water below. Philip and I were the only adults continually queuing for the 3 different slides!
As I said earlier, the rain this week has been torrential (I think it’s following us around the world). Villages and towns have been cut off, there has been a deadly tornado in Auckland and a state of emergency declared. However, we are British and used to this sort of weather, so we continued north and into the gales and downpours. The upside to this is that it gives me a wonderful excuse to nip into cafes and, on occasion, vineyards. We visited ‘Ransom Wines’ after our hot pool experience and shared a gorgeous platter lunch in stunning surroundings. New Zealand has some fantastic wines and everything here is much cheaper than in we have to give all the food and wine a try! That evening we stayed in a campsite near a sailing club, so I did my Dad proud and went into the club for a drink. We were met by lots of elderly men who were very kind to us and gave us a free dinner. The Kiwi’s seem to be as nice as the Aussies.
On Friday we continued our pursuit of rain and followed the road north again to the Bay of Islands. There are 144 islands around Pahia and Russell, which are the main villages in the area. We stayed in Pahia and managed to find the only place in town showing the royal wedding..the RSL club (royal servicemen legion). The TV had no volume and we were thrown out just after they said ‘I will’ (I thought it was ‘I do’?) but we walked back to our campsite in the rain feeling patriotic. On Saturday we were lucky enough for there to be a slight break in the weather so that we could get out on a boat. We took a 3 hour cruise around the Islands and were given heaps of cultural, historical and geographical information about them. The highlight though was seeing masses of bottlenose dolphins. I couldn’t believe my luck! They were surrounding our boat and came right up to us to say hello. Philip has some great shots of them showing off in the water.
On Sunday we left the Bay of Islands and drove just south of Cape Reinga. We were hoping to see the top of NZ but the roads have been closed as bridges have collapsed. However we found a wonderful spot at the end of 90 mile beach and a campsite that had immense facilities with a roaring fire and TV. We planned to stay there for one night but fell in love with it so stayed there last night too. Yesterday we had a break in the weather and enjoyed some sunshine, allowing us to walk on the long beach and play lots of table tennis!
Today we enjoyed a very speccy drive from Aphiri through the Karri forests and along the coastline. We were extremely lucky as our original plan was to drive to Auckland today, but we kept stopping to gawp at the views, so we only made it half way down the coast. We are so grateful as it means that we missed the tornado that hit the Northern suburbs this afternoon. Instead, we loved taking the vehicle ferry across to Rawene and eating our lunch outdoors in the sunshine, walking deep into the forest and playing on the zip wire in our campsite this evening!
We aren’t too sure what are plans are for the next week yet. We are hoping to go to the Coromandel Peninsula but we may just stay put for a while and see what the weather does.
So our first week in New Zealand has been exciting, eventful and wet! The Kiwi’s are great and the prices here agree with us. The landscape is absolutely stunning and has already beaten Australia hands down! Sorry Oz...
We will try to update the blog again soon. I hope everyone has had a lovely long Easter and bank holiday break.
Loads of love to all xx