So here we are, the final couple of days in NZ (sad face.) We have had the most amazing time here and the past week has been absolutely brilliant. After leaving the Coromandel coast, we drove over to Miranda, to hike in the Kauerangi Valley. It was really pretty here, and we’d anticipated that it would take around 5-6 hours to walk. It ended up taking only 3 hours- DOC guidelines are extremely conservative, but we keep forgetting this! So although not much in the way of exercise, it was really lovely to be out in the sun.
We then drove to the spectacular Karanghake Gorge, where we discovered part of the rail trail- guess who perked up again! This was a good 6 hour walk through abandoned mines and tunnels, and even I found it interesting! Sam was, predictably, engrossed in every info sign we came across- had to drag him away.
We stayed next to the beautiful Papamoa Beach and had the most amazing view from the back of Vanatar, One of the big pluses of living in him was the view every morning when we woke up- incredible! We then drove onto Mt Manganui, where we did our final challenging walk of the NZ leg. It only took about 30 mins to get to the top but it was bloody difficult!
Next, it was onto Hamilton to see my lovely friend Hilary. We used to work together in London and haven’t seen each other for about 4 and a half years- was so lovely to see her, can’t believe it’s taken so long. We had a great catch up- far too short though. Having laid off the booze for a week now, it was then time to head on upto Waiheke Island (or wine island as it’s also known,) about 40 mins by ferry away from Auckland. We met my awesome schoolfriend Nicola and her friend Penny for an absolutely fab weekend of vineyards, cycling and eating. Bliss! Waiheke is probably one of our favourite parts of NZ- could easily envisage us living there. It’s a small island with only about 8000 permanent residents, with a lot of batches, which the Auckland set and tourists jet off to on a weekend. Some people commute over to Auckland and it is super tempting to do it, as the island is just perfect.
We fly out of NZ on Thursday, and we are ready to hit diving and the beaches. Vanatar has gone back, which was very sad but it is nice to sleep in a proper bed again. We’re staying at Nicola’s where there’s excellent water pressure, comfy sofas and free wifi. Fantastic stuff. Bring on the sunshine!
We may/may not have good wifi in Fiji, so hopefully we can continue to regularly update the blog with all our news. This has definitely been the best decision we have ever made- incredibly excited for the next 7 months.
It’s been a great week for me, as we’ve done almost zero walking! I think when I said to Laura that I was “done with walking” she thought I’d finally cracked, so instead we’ve had a rather relaxing time of late, in preparation for a lot of relaxing whilst we’re in Fiji.
After the very enjoyable Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach we headed all the way up to the peninsula’s main town, Coromandel Town. We thought there’d be more there, but to be honest it was just an average small town (although I did get an exceptionally good Hot Chocolate, made with hot milk and a stick of chocolate in it melting. Yum.) There really isn’t much in the Coromandel at all in the way of towns and stuff, but there’s lots of nice views and beaches.
We’d originally planned to stay up there for a night but as there didn’t seem to be much there we decided to head back down to Whitianga, but not before visiting The Waterworks, a weird but very fun activity water park (that’s the best I can describe it). It had a ton of interactive things, normally made of recycled car parts, which usually involved playing with water. There were bicycle water guns, trick showers that soaked whoever was pumping the water (me!), boat racing and much more. It’s really hard to describe, but we had a lot of fun.
As if the day wasn’t already fun enough, Laura then suggested we go play mini golf! She knows I love mini golf, and this is only the second time in the trip we’ve gone. It was an absolutely excellent course. For those wondering, Laura was leading in the 9th but I came back with gusto to win by about 4 shots (although I almost bottled it on the last hole).
After these antics were complete, we headed to Whitianga, a lovely little seaside town on the east coast of the Coromandel. On the first night we went for a lovely meal by the docks with lots of wine and beer and just had a really nice night.
The next day we wanted to find a beach. Whitianga isn’t actually that far from Hot Water Beach (10km), there’s just a lot of water in the way which means to drive involves going the long way round and Vanatar guzzling extra fuel. There’s a local passenger ferry that continually goes from one side of the estuary to the other which we’d heard about, so decided to take as there were meant to be nice beaches on the other side. We were ecstatic to discover that the cost of the ferry ($12 total, about 5 quid) included a free coffee or tea at a local coffee shop on the other side! Worth it for that alone. The coffee shop was about a 20 minute walk but was a really nice, locally run shop which served excellent chocolate Baileys cake. A little beyond that we found Cooks Beach, a beautiful long sandy beach which had about 4 other people on it for the whole length. There were nice big waves to jump around in and we brought lunch and kindles and made a really nice day of it.
We enjoyed it so much that the next day we caught the ferry again, got another free coffee, before this time heading past the beach to Mecury Bay Estate- that’s right, we were back on the vineyards! Well, vineyard singular, as it’s the only one in the region. Although it was an hour walk from the ferry it was worth it, as the wine was lovely and the platter delicious. The walk back seemed much quicker after tasting 5 wines and drinking 2 bottles :).
Before calling it a day in Whitianga there was only one thing left to do; “The Lost Springs”. Not quite as dramatic as it sounds, it’s another set of thermal hot pools. Although a tad on the pricey side, we got a day pass and got to spend the day sitting in nice hot geothermal water of different temperatures and sunbathing (I managed to burn. Oops.) Exceptionally relaxing and a great way to cap off a few lovely days.
Unsurprisingly we’re now back on the walking, but I’ll let Laura tell you about that in the next post
So here we are on the North Island again and on the whole, the weather from Marlborough seems to have come with us (touch wood.)
Since arriving in Wellington last week, we’ve travelled up to Martinborough for some excellent wine and a not so excellent hangover, then over to the Whanganui National Park, where we took a jet boat up the river and then canoed back down it. We debated doing the full 3-5 day river trip but decided for our own sanity to just do 1 day- we learnt long ago we don’t do well in a kayak or canoe together. It was stunningly beatufiul on the river and the weather was perfect. From here, we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, described to us as one of the best day hikes in the world. Now, there was no denying it was amazing in terms of different terrains and a mixture of challenging ascents and descents, but I think we’ve been spoilt with some of the other walks we’ve done- both of us agreed it wasn’t our favourite hike but we’re glad to have done it.
The next day, we drove upto Raglan on the west coast- a really cool surfing town full of arty craft shops and many many surfers. The weather was fairly terrible so we couldn’t really do too much however I did manage to buy new clothes (result for me, but not for Sam’s carefully crafted budget!) My three tops had basically given up and I was in desperate need of new ones. After trying (and failing) to find the surf beaches, we gave up and drove towards a teeny tiny town called Te Aroha, over towards the Coromandel Peninsula. We stumbled upon a tramways walk and Sam suddenly perked up, despite telling me a couple of days earlier that he was “done with walking. If you want to walk, that’s fine, I’ll see you at the bottom.” He was in his element here- everytime we saw an info sign, he was all over it. For me, it was like being in a museum only much worse because there were buzzy things buzzing all around me. Not my kind of walk at all. Sam said he wished he could have swapped me with Dad for this. Would have suited me just fine.
After a week or so in some ok-but-not-too-great campsites, we really wanted somewhere with good facilities and so we found a new Top 10, fancy pants holiday park right next to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel. This place is so amazing it even has a fish and chip shop on site, with nice big grassy bays to park in, great showers and decent OVENS (something of a rarity in campsites.)Yes, it’s fairly pricey compared to others we’ve stayed in but it’s so worth it. Hot Water Beach is really unusual because there is geothermal activity that heats the water under the sand and so you can create your own hot pools. You can only access this part of the beach around low tide- when we went down last night it was like Blackpool beach on the first day of summer. No thanks. So this morning we woke up at 5.45am to go down to the beach (excellent idea, only 10 other people there) and dig- with some success. In some parts the water was boiling which made it hard stand on, but in others you had to dig really far down (well Sam did) to find it. We banded together with another 4/5 people to create a massive hot pool- was good until a massive wave came in and ruined everything.
Since we were already up, we then decided to head out early to Cathedral Cove and see why everyone we know from NZ had recommended it. These photos might give you an indication:
The beaches were pristine and the water was so clear. Unfortunately we left all of our swim stuff and towels drying on our washing line, otherwise we could’ve spent the whole day there. We wanted to Kayak to the cove but the swell was too big and all the trips have been called off so we might come back and do it next week.
We’re planning to spend most of the next week in this area- there’s quite a lot to do and if the weather holds out we fancy some decent beach time to work on the Fiji base tan. 2 weeks left- where’d the time go?!
Well it’s been fun week or so!
As the gallery Laura put up shows, we finally got to see Dolphins! We spent 4 nights (our longest stay anywhere) in Kaikoura, mostly because the weather was so beautiful and we had a great spot in the park for kicking back and relaxing. The town had lots of cafes and restaurants (all of which are shut on Monday, which we had selected for date night. Managed to get Fish and Chips at least). The main purpose for our visit was to go whale watching; the area is famous for it’s marine life, due to a steep continental shelf only 3 nautical miles out.
After about half an hour of searching (co-ordinated with the other whale watching boat and a helicopter) we finally found a Sperm whale. They can hold their breath for 2 hours and dive really deep, then they come to the surface to reoxygenate before heading back down. It was really amazing to see something so massive in real life, even though in reality we only got to see a small fraction on the surface.
We’d managed to find the whale so quickly that it meant we then had time to find a pod of dusky dolphins, which I think both of us enjoyed even more than the whale. They were showboating for us, diving in and out of the water together and just having good fun. We even got to see a couple of baby dolphins to top it all off.
We still had more time after this, so they then took us to a bird watching area where we got to see, amongst other things, an Albatross. They’re very rare, and pretty massive. Fortunately Laura kept hold of her sunglasses this time.
We were sad to say goodbye to Kaikoura but the call of wine was strong; we got to go back to Marlborough, but the east coast side. As the Sauvignon Blanc capital of NZ we were both very excited. Unlike the previous places we’d done our cycle-and-wine combo, there’s no dedicated cycle paths there which means that we were cycling on the roads. This was mitigated by the fact that most of the cellar doors are within close proximity, but it meant that we didn’t enjoy the cycling. We made up for it with more wine of course.
This was our record haul, with about 7 vineyards covered in the day including Cloudy Bay which is one of our favourite wines from when we were in HK. Although all the wine was very nice, there weren’t really any standout places. It was still a lovely day of cycling and wine though.
We moved our ferry up as we’d been progressing through the island quicker than expected, so the next day we chilled out in Picton before boarding the ferry up to the north island and driving onto Martinborough, yet another wine region. Famed for it’s pinot noirs I wasn’t expecting much as I’m not a big fan of the reds but by the end we both agree it’s the best wine area we’ve been too. The vineyards are close enough together that you can walk between them, and the quality of wine was consistently amazing. All the people running the cellar doors were really passionate and not just reading a script, and we had our best meat and cheese platter to date at a vineyard which sells exclusively on-site; unavailable at the shop and run by a husband and wife team. I can confirm that it was the best day of all by how hungover we both were in the evening!
We’ve got an action packed couple of days ahead filled with canoeing in Whanganui National Park and hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I’ll be ready to drink again by the end of it!
Having finally recovered from my encounter with ‘the bird,’ we moved onto Arthur’s Pass, which was fantastic. Such great driving and hiking (even though the weather was crappy.)
From here, we drove to Christchurch. We weren’t really sure what to expect, we’d heard differing opinions about the city but we really, really liked it. Such cool architecture, cafes, gardens and even though the reminders of the earthquakes are everywhere to see, it doesn’t feel run down or eerie. Instead, there’s a lot of building work going on showing how the city is getting back on its feet and regenerating. I found an awesome yoga studio to go to for a few days and so Sam worked on….well, I’m not entirely sure, but it was bound to some something tech related!
We then headed east through the Banks Peninsula, to a teeny town called Akaroa. Again, the weather wasn’t great and this kind of limited what we could do.However, the drive there was spectacular- stunning views everywhere we looked.
Yes, admittedly the weather is great in this particular shot but this was on the way out!
We then made our way over to Hanmer Springs, somewhere I’d heard lots of great things about. It’s basically a small village inland, with lots of hiking and biking tracks as well as there famous Hanmer Springs Thermal Spa (guess which part Sam was excited about?!) The weather finally played ball and it was beautiful the whole time we were there. We hiked, spent hours in the thermal spas and had an awesome date night- if you’re ever there, I’d recommend No. 31 bar and restaurant, worth the splurge. Annoyingly, our camera ran out of battery so we couldn’t take many photos.
This morning, we’ve scooted along to Kaikoura- a great little coastal town, where we’ll hopefully see whales and dolphins on Sunday (not particularly optimistic.) We plan to spend a few days here and then off to Blenheim for more wine!
We realised that we’ve been in NZ almost 10 weeks now- time has FLOWN! We’re feeling strangely attached to Vanatar and are kind of dreading giving him up because then it’ll be back to packing up our bags every couple of days and having to get buses and boats to places. Although these boats will be in Fiji so I guess I can’t complain. Life right now is pretty good for the Atkinsons!