We left Opua at dawn, traveling up to Cape Reinga with our friends Martin and Angela of sv Katie-M II. There wasn't much traffic on the road, and we made good time to the northern most light house in New Zealand. There's a lot of Maori influence in the area, and many of the rocks and promontories are annotated in informational placards along the trail to the lighthouse. North Cape, a few miles to the east, is actually the northern most point of land in NZ, but the Cape Reinga lighthouse has been around a long time, is now automated, and the view is where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. We then went to the Te Paki 'Giant' Sand Dunes, which are natural mountains of sand stretching over a large area. You bring or rent a boogie board that has been fiberglassed on the bottom, and then start the arduous climb up a 50 degree hill that is, at least the dune we rode down, 62 meters high. It doesn't sound like much until you finally get up there, but looking down the slope, using your feet as rudders to surf down the dune face, and taking off with the sand blowing past you as you realize you're gaining speed, is an exhilarating rush. After eating lunch at Tapotupotu Bay, we drove over to 90 Mile Beach, where you can drive your car the 90 mile length of sand, but you had better pay close attention to the tide; many cars have been stranded as the tide rose and the sand became too soft to drive thru. As an alternative, we chose to park nearby and walk a bit of the beach to do some shelling. After, we started back to Opua, but stopped at Manganui for a fish and chips dinner. OK now, who else wants to go sand surfing?
Pic: Michael is heading down...you can't see the finish, but it's at the bottom by a sm. creek. There was a tour bus there when we did our slides. Angela took the pictures of us-Thanks!
The Northland has been getting inundated with very heavy rains for days now, and flooding has occurred in many of the surrounding districts. High winds and gale warnings have lashed the area, and a friend of ours at anchor nearby recorded 47 knots of wind the other night. Not too much fun for being outdoors, but we've been busy down below and even managed one short trip to Pahia to drop off Webb Chiles (who we met several years ago at Shelter Bay Marina in Panama) at a hotel there while he awaits to see if his flight from Keri Keri to Aukland is still on or cancelled due to adverse weather. Webb's told us he's bought a 24' Moore 24 and intends to set her up for long distance cruising, so The Hawke of Tounela, his present boat on a mooring in front of the Opua Cruising Club, is for sale. Btw, for all us dreamers out there, Webb's completed five circumnavigations, has written extensively, and you can enjoy his web site at http://www.inthepresentsea.com/the_actual_site/webbchiles.html
The water color gets the most uninviting shades of brown with all the runoff.
We drove from Tauranga to Aukland, stopping there to see the Gromiteers. Mike, Cornelia and the Gromiteers (their kids Zoe, Maia and Liam) live aboard Gromit, and we hadn't seen them since Suwarrow Atoll. Again, briefly catching up with their lives and discussing future travels is so much fun. Peggy (sv Rhythm) surprised us by stopping by, making it an even better reunion. In the afternoon we drove to Whangarei to see Dennis and Mary Lee (sv Lardo). They had just returned from Aukland, so our collective timing was spot on! We all enjoyed a nice take-out Thai dinner at our Top 10 Holiday Park cabin, which turned out to be a really deluxe unit; appropriate for the last night of our road tour of NZ.
We stopped in Tauranga to see our good friend Roger (sv Ballerina), who we've known a long time. It was so much fun spending the day with him and catching up with each others lives and events. It was also great to have a local's inside view of Tauranga and its surrounds, and we enjoyed our walk around Mt. Maunganui, our dinner at a local Indian restaurant, and were sorry to finally have to say g'night and call it a day.
We hiked a bit around Huka Falls, which is where the Waikato River goes thru a very narrow area and falls into a maelstrom of water. Lots of hydroelectric power is generated in various parts of NZ by this enormous outflow. We then drove to a geothermal area called Craters of the Moon. It's a very short (45 min) walk around thermal steam vents and mud pools. There are lots of posted signs reminding folks to watch after their children and stay on the path....The late afternoon found us in Rotorua, and a heavy sulfur smell was prevalent. Of interest, there's a large Maori influence in Rotorua, and the area is also thought to have healing properties found in its many hot springs and mud pools. That night we attended, by pure happenstance, the 12th annual Lakeside Music Festival. Another example of being in the right place at the right time! Several thousand people brought their blankets and chairs, iceboxes, food, and children to a small park area by Lake Rotorua, and enjoyed a wonderful semi and professional performance of a variety of musical venues, with singers backed by a small orchestra. There were soloists as well as group acts, highlighted by several operatic numbers (!), which brought loud applause from the crowd. The concert was concluded by a fireworks display; it was an awesome evening.
(Pic is of the 'Craters of the Moon' area from the ridge walk.)
We drove to Picton, walked around the town in blustery weather, and relaxed and got ready for the ferry ride to Wellington the next morning. It's time we headed back to Infini, and our road trip is soon ending. We traveled via the Bluebridge Ferry, the same one we used for the ride south, and enjoyed a beautiful crossing, seeing dolphins and albatross as an added benefit. We also had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman who lived in Picton, and enjoyed sharing her views over the three hour ferry passage. Once off the ferry, we drove to Lake Taupo, a beautiful area of the North Island, very scenic, and another playground for many visitors. It's considered another adrenalin pumping area, and all sorts of tourist attractions are offered at NZ's largest lake. As an aside, trout fishing is also a huge sport in the area.
Each small town we pass through is unique, and they all seem to claim a 'theme'. One such picturesque town is Taihape, which lies on the southern edge of the Central Volcanic Plateau, and claims to be the ‘Gumboot Capital of New Zealand’. They, like many take pride in their parks and gardens, making it a delightful drive through, and inviting to stop for a break, or longer!
We started the day by driving to the Mt. Cook Visitor's Center and enjoyed walking thru the museum, looking at the pictures, artifacts, and videos. Knowing the weather was forecast to become gale force conditions, we left early for Christchurch, becoming lost there in the maze of one way streets and mega traffic. We had hoped to see some of the older buildings and to kind of pay our respects in general, but it was not to be. For any who aren't aware, Christchurch has been victim of severe earthquakes during 2010-2011, but 185 people were killed by the violence of the Feb 22, 2011 quake. Rebuilding efforts are underway, but aftershocks continue, and the city has suffered an emotional and financial crisis unparalleled in its long history. Just this past week it was determined that ChristChurch Cathedral, famous historic landmark and NZ National Treasure, would not be rebuilt; it was more economically viable and safer to build a new Cathedral altogether. We finally wound our way back to Hwy 1, and made our way to Cheviot, where we stayed at an upscale apartment motel. This morning, we departed, stopping in Kaikoura to do the Fyffe Trail Bush Walk. It seemed straight uphill, but the dozens of switchbacks thru the forest made it manageable. After, we stopped at the Ohau Point Seal Colony car park, and enjoyed taking pictures of the resident fur seal pups and large adults. The fur seals have been protected in NZ since 1978, and flourish here in this part of NZ. Back on Hwy 1 to Blenheim, we stopped at The Store at Kekerengu for a muffin and coffee; an interesting cafe set on a dramatic bluff overlooking the ocean.
(Picture is of the fur seals....how many can you count?)
We checked into the Glentanner Holiday Park, drove up to Mt. Cook village and walked the Hooker Valley Track in the late afternoon sunshine and blue skies. Mt. Cook was awesome! The glacial lakes and icebergs of Lake Hooker (in Hooker Valley) were our reward after a 1.5 hr walk over semi-rough trail and rocks, including two wonderful swing bridges, and we gazed upon the same scenery that the early explorers saw as they looked up at Mt. Cook towering 3754 meters above them. We gave silent homage to Aoraki, the Maori name for Mt. Cook, knowing that frequently the window for viewing and enjoying the experience as we did was a short one; indeed, clouds and rain were forecast for the next day. The wind was howling; stronger the closer we got to the glacier face. Our legs felt pretty spongy upon our return, which just goes to prove how out of shape we really are! But...we've reviewed our pictures (we'll post them when able)...and you'll agree that the scenery is some of the most amazing in the South Island.
(The picture is the view of Mt. Cook from our cabin.)
We stopped for coffee at Omarama, and by chance met our friends Fred & Cinda of sv Songline. (The chances of unexpectedly meeting someone a long way from home at a roadside cafe can't be that great...) They had decided to stay at the Top 10 Holiday Park also, so we made arrangements to cook and have dinner together, and go in the early evening to view the blue penguins at the Oamaru Penguin Center. Before that, Sue and I drove out to see the yellow-eyed penguins, and did actually see one, but he (she?) was so far away we couldn't see it's eyes! At the Center, the paying customers sat in bleachers and waited for the first "raft" of penguins to show up, and the naturalist educated everyone as to the habits and lifestyles of the blue penguin. It was dark before the first of many rafts came ashore, and these guys are SO CUTE!! They're the world's smallest penguin, weighing in at about 1 kg, and stand 30 cm high. They waddle/jump up the rocky beach, then go thru to their nesting places on the other side of a fence. And, are they noisy! They only sleep for about 10 minutes, then socialize or whatever, until taking off in the early morning to go feed again. We all enjoyed a unique experience, and we sure hope the penguins enjoyed it as much as we did!
For a real treat and something different, we took a tour bus from Q-town to Milford Sound, where we took a boat tour out on the Sound, and returned by coach to the front door of our campground. In that fashion, neither of us had to drive, and we could both enjoy the scenery, which approached sensory overload with each turn of the road! The coach tour was with Milford Sound Select, and our driver, Lester, was an amateur naturalist as well as an all around nice guy. He pointed out many things we would have had no way of knowing about, and made many stops we would, no doubt, have driven right by. The bus itself was deluxe, and we had the front seats on both sides of the aisle - talk about being spoiled! The scenery was stunning as well as varied, from mountains to pastures and from tropical forest to small towns, and we were both very busy taking pictures. Once at the Sound, we were ticketed to the Real Journeys Line, and enjoyed a roomy, multi-decked vessel that was purposefully built for tourists. We circled Milford Sound in about two hours, and had a running commentary by the Captain of the ship about the area. The weather was fantastic; blue skies, little wind, and warm sun...it just couldn't have been better...and then we were chauffeured back home! The entire day was about 13 hours, pick-up to drop-off, and was tremendous value for the money. What a fantastic way to see the dramatic scenery of Fjordland.
The picture is from our tour boat; we are just taking off and need to thread the channel you see. Mitre Peak is 1,692 metres high (just over a mile), named after the mitre headwear of Christian bishops. It was named by a survey crew from the HMS Acheron.
The ride from Franz Joseph Glacier to Wanaka is very beautiful. The weather was clear and we stopped by Lake Wanaka to picnic and check the internet. In the late afternoon we walked down to Waterfall Creek (at Roy's Bay) and admired some small sailboats sailing on the lake. In the morning we drove to Queenstown, again enjoying beautiful scenery along Lake Wakatipu. We walked around the town, and noted we were two of many, many travelers enjoying the area. We could see hang gliders nearby the gondola that goes up one of the nearby hills. Q-town is known for its extreme sports; hang gliding, river rafting, bungy jumping, parachuting, jet boat riding, and other forms of adrenalin pumping activities. We just enjoyed the scenery, harbor front, and local treks, as well as the coffee shops!