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New Zealand – North Island

Wellington

The ferry ride to Wellington was, in a word; horrific.

“Better than Milford Sound” they said. “Incredible scenery” they said. “One of the best boat journeys on earth” they said. What they didn’t mention is, that’s only on a good weather day, and unfortunately we had a bad weather day, very bad.

It had rained relentlessly all night, and wasn’t showing any signs of stopping on the morning of the boat, we drove to Picton, boarded the HUGE ferry ship with the car, alongside a few hundred others and set off in to the bay. We’d heard all the superlatives about the Marlborough Sound and how beautiful they were, we just couldn’t see more than about 50 metres away because of the rain and fog.

As soon as we left the Marlborough Sound, and got in to the ocean, we were thrown around like rag dolls for the next two hours. You know it’s not going to be a good morning, when one hour in to your three and a half hour boat ride they’re already coming round with cups of ice and more sick bags.

Everybody handles it differently, and for the first hour, whilst half of the people were smiling and getting on with life, others were already emptying their breakfast in to paper bags, whilst being propelled up and down like a repetitive rollercoaster.

By hour two or three, almost everybody on the boat was looking green and everybody just wanted it to end. John disappeared to an outdoor deck away from people, I sat in the cafe with my headphones in, doing my best not to throw up, Stac ran backwards and forwards to the toilet but managed to keep her breakfast in, Judy spent a full two hours in the toilets. Let’s just say I don’t fancy the job as cleaner on an Interislander Ferry in New Zealand.

Thankfully, it ended as we pulled in to the bay in Wellington, but the rain hadn’t, no, that was staying for the day.

In the afternoon, John and Judy went to WETA Cave, the workshop where models and props are made for numerous movies and exhibits, including the Hobbit, we went to a viewpoint, but inevitably saw little because of the rain and gale-force winds, then we all visited the fantastic Te Papa Museum. This museum has multiple exhibits, but by the time we’d done two of them we were all exhausted (Stac actually suggested that we take her to the vets to have her put down, she was that exhausted) from the boat and just wanted to get back and relax.

 

Hawkes Bay

We only stayed the one night in Wellington, we all had takeaway pizza in the house, and the rain never did stop, there had even been landslips which had closed roads because of it. The next morning we drove up to the Hawkes Bay area, around Napier.

We stopped at a nice cafe for lunch, called Jarks, ate some fantastic food and had a bottle of wine, before going in to Napier town centre to have a look around. Napier is lovely, in an art-deco architecture kind of way, but also has little to do and is similar to any other high street, for one cold-winter-afternoon here, it wasn’t the most interesting place and soon headed back to the house.

The next day, on our way to drive towards lake Taupo, we stopped by a couple of the Hawkes Bay wineries, Trinity Hill and Unison wineries, both had some fantastic wines, and gave free tastings, but prices were a little over what we were willing to pay.

 

Lake Taupo

We arrived in Taupo in the afternoon to a house we had booked on AirBnB, which had been described by the owners, and over 130 reviews, as “retro-style”. It wasn’t retro style at all, it was furniture and fittings from the 1960’s and it had just never been updated, it was old, dirty, worn, cold and generally crap. None of us could wait to get out of there.

The town was a typical tourist town, over-priced restaurants and not much else, but I think our opinion might be clouded, literally, by the bad weather, which was cold and overcast, like it had been for all of the North Island so far, the whole time we were there.

Hobbiton

We survived the one night in the awful house and drove up towards Rotorua, but not before stopping by the famous Hobbiton, to see the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film set.

Stac has no interest in the films, and the $80 price tag to look around the set, put her off enough that she waited in the cafe for us, whilst us three went for the tour.

It was the typical cheesy tourist attraction, with film geeks alongside people who are only there because their friends are, but it was interesting to see and hear the stories about, the tour around the Hobbiton Shire ended with a mug of beer in the pub and the rain stayed away for the hour we did the tour, so I was happy.

John, on the other hand, was like a kid on Christmas day, he LOVED it.

One thing is for sure, the production company, and the original land and farm owners, are making an absolute killing by selling this tour around the set for $80 each, even in the middle of winter, there are hundreds of people queueing up to see it.

 

Rotorua

In the afternoon we drove to Rotorua, where we had rented a house in a Ramada Resort just outside of town, it was a bargain for some reason, and we got a three bedroom house on the lakeside, so we were all happy. We went for a walk around the town centre and immediately we were greeted by the famous Rotorua smell.

Because this is a volcanic hotspot, with Geysers, Volcanoes and Thermal Pools all around, the smell of sulphur lingers in the air at all times, you get used to it after a couple of days, but you still notice it. The town centre was nice and clean, set right on the lake edge and we called by a nice bakery for lunch there a couple of times, but the real attractions of Rotorua are set away from the centre a little.

The first was the Redwoods, the huge trees famous in California, are also found here in the small forest close to the centre, there are lots of walks to do, and the weather had improved so we managed to do one of them. Unfortunately the longer ones were water-logged, but even the short walk around these magnificent trees was a great way to spend a morning.

The hot springs are famous around here, with everything from natural streams in the woods where you can go an bathe in the volcanic waters to full resort-style spas. We picked something in the middle, similar to a spa, but with multiple public pools at different temperatures and styles alongside a couple of private pools that could be hired for a short time.

We did the private pool first where you could set your own temperature than lounged around in the public pools for a while, one of them was over 40 degrees celsius and too hot for me, but Stac loved it. It was a fantastic, relaxing afternoon in beautiful weather, enjoying the thermal pools with great company, one of the highlights of NZ.

The next day, our last in Rotorua, we went to the Skyline adventure park, famous for all kinds of adventure activities, but the one I wanted to do was the Luge. Ever since we did the fixed track luge on the Great Wall of China, I’ve wanted to do this one, which is karts that you actually steer and brake on a gravity track down the hill, before getting the ski-lift back up.

Judy wasn’t even liking the idea of the cable car (Gondola) to the top of the hill, but we talked her in to it, and she actually enjoyed it, then it was her turn to sit in the cafe, while us three raced each other, and strangers, down a hill-side repeatedly. I’m sure you’ve already guessed this, but I LOVED it, as did John and Stac.

There was several different tracks to do, including an advanced one where you could fully jump the kart in the air if you were brave enough to keep enough speed, by the end of the morning, even Stac was racing at full speed down the track with me and jumping the kart, it was amazing and we couldn’t get enough of it.

Every time you got to the bottom, the ski lift carries you and the karts back up to the top again in a few minutes and you can go again for as many times as you’re willing to pay for. Considering how expensive this country can be at times ($200 for a three-second bungee), the $45 spent on the fun of racing down a hill-side here seemed like an absolute bargain, and if we were in Rotorua the following day, I’ve no doubt I would have gone back and done it again.

 

Auckland

Finally, it was back to Auckland, the final stop of the epic NZ road trip, Judy was going to meet a friend she hadn’t seen for over a decade, who now lived in Auckland, and we would go back and see our friends Rich and Fay again before flying out.

We spent a day walking up to the top of Mount Eden, one of Auckland’s many Volcanoes, and going to the cinema, which, because of a deal, was cheaper than the parking in Auckland centre. It’s a special place Auckland, how a city of 1.5 million people can feel this busy is beyond me, and guess what, the traffic hasn’t improved any either.

By the time we drove the final few kilometers for lunch before going to the airport, we had covered more than 5,000km in this car in 24 days. This road trip has been one hell of an adventure, a memory of a lifetime, and a great experience to share it with others.

There has been so many highlights of New Zealand; spectacular scenery everywhere, Milford Sound, Marlborough, seeing the All Blacks, Penguins, Seals and the wine to name just a few.

But now, John and Judy are flying home, and we are off to South America, the third continent of the trip, and we couldn’t be more excited to see Argentina, another new place…

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