Through the magic (or the horror) of the international dateline we flew from Auckland to Chicago Friday Apr 14th 8:10pm. We then flew from Chicago to TO on Friday Apr 14th at 8:10pm 😵💫
And thanks to our Apple AirTags we knew immediately that our luggage was still at T1 in Chicago so were able to file a missing luggage report and get on with getting to our hotel and its bar! This morning we can “see” our bags have made it to T2 at Chicago O’Hare, Air Canada’s terminal.
After the the Waitomo Caves we set off cross country to Napier on the east coast of the north island, passing over several small mountain ranges. The first dropped us out in Lake Taupo, a well known tourist spot. We drove into the town for coffee and found it to be very touristy and not to our liking despite the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains. We continued on across a plain before entering the mountain range that separates the plain from the east coast.
There we saw some of the damage caused by Cyclone Gabriel in mid February of this year. It was the costliest cyclone in the southern hemisphere causing more $11B in damages and 11 people died. The highway was not completely open and there were many traffic light controlled single lane sections with washed out bridges. The amount of mud was just astounding. Poking up from the mud were cars, trucks, homes, vineyards, and train tracks. Where the tracks weren’t covered in mud they were wildly bent in strange shapes. This took upwards of an hour before we reached the east coast. We’ve never seen anything like it.
Napier, which had been flattened by an earthquake in 1931, was our destination. It was rebuilt from fresh plans and in the fashion of the day which was art deco. So today there is this fabulous small city with the core of the town all in art deco architecture with street signs in art deco font. Our hotel was the Art Deco Masonic in the centre of town overlooking the South Pacific Ocean. We were so happy with our hotel and the surrounds that we stayed three nights rather two as planned. We took a walking tour that gave a great history of the town and some of the more prominent structures.
Art Déco Architecture
The next day we did small group wine tour that was tons of fun and included meeting a retired All Blacks rugby player who now owns a small winery. Happily we were provided with some food. We saw some more cyclone damage during the drive to the wineries. We had a long drive back to Auckland on Friday to catch our flight home that evening.
On Easter Monday, still a holiday here, we drove from Auckland to Te Kuiti, a small town near the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. We were booked into a motor hotel that we at first thought might be another Bates Hotel! It was very run down and we were the only guests until late evening 😳. It was a short drive from the main drag and of course the motel restaurant was closed because it was a holiday. The hotel manager suggested picking up something from the supermarket as probably the few other restaurants in town would also be closed. We had what we’d call an efficiency room, with a mini fridge, microwave, hot plate and a few dishes. Our microwave dinner tasted fine washed down with some wine.
View from Bates Hotel
We were booked for the 9:20am tour of the glow worm caves in Waitomo. The caves were worth the drive from Auckland and staying in the throwback in time motel. The Maori discovered a river entrance to the caves in the late 1800s, that is now the tourist exit. The upper entrance was discovered sometime later and is now the tourist entrance. We were guided through the quite dark cave down to river level where we boarded small boats for the part of the cave that had the largest number of the glow worms – it was like hundreds of very small lights going on and off the in the dark. Bob surmised that the “glow worms” were really just LEDs to humour the tourists.
We left Rotorua on Saturday morning to go back to Auckland and our favourite hotel, MSocial where we got upgraded to the top (12th) floor and also got a drinks voucher. All the rooms face the harbour and the large windows provide a great panorama. There was a cruise ship in the harbour when we arrived and its departure that evening provided some entertainment as it slowly backed out. Looking out our window on Sunday morning a bit before 8am, another cruise ship was pulling in, again providing some entertainment watching it and the tugs maneuvering to the dock. On our QM2 voyage it would have been great if all our ports of call had been right downtown.
M Social Hotel
We explored more of the harbour area where there are a lot of very expensive boats, a few large sailboats but mostly motor yachts, many appear to be available for charter. We also saw the New Zealand Americas Cup building/HQ. New Zealand are the current Cup holders.
We stopped for a drink and snack in the harbour and were very surprised to see a number of places with signs beside their menus saying 15% holiday surcharge! One place had a sign that said ‘we do not have a surcharge’. Many shops & restaurants always add a % surcharge if you use a credit card, it’s very irritating but unless you carry a wad of cash, unavoidable. Not exactly a tourist friendly practice.
It was partly overcast when we left for the 8 minute ferry ride across the harbour to Devonport, a suburb of Auckland. Driving there takes 25 minutes. We walked to the summit of North Head on Torpedo Bay. It contains old fortifications from the 1800s that had been updated for use in WW I and II. We enjoyed the fabulous views as the promised rain clouds came rolling in. Luckily the rain held off until we got off the hill and even more luckily, we had packed our raincoats – they came in very handy. Once the rain arrived, it was not a short little shower.
We left Auckland on Wednesday morning and took an uber to the airport car rental to pick up our car. We picked it up there as we’ll drop it off there the day we fly home. Our driver said things would be very slow for him after Thursday as Auckland would be dead on the weekend, everyone would be leaving the city for the four day Easter weekend. They were going to exactly to the places we wanted to stay but we hadn’t booked anything thinking it would be no problem finding place this late in the season.
It was a beautiful drive south over a small mountain range, across a valley floor and through a gorge. We stopped for morning coffee at the Woodturners Cafe which had some off the wall features.
We stayed at a friend’s place in Tauranga, south of Auckland, on Wednesday night. We went to a great dinner at Fish Face in a funky area near Tauranga called Mt Maunganui.
We realized after the uber driver’s comment that we better hustle to find places to stay. Jocelyn helped put together an itinerary of places to visit while Bob was trying to book rooms. We got booked into Rotaroa for Thu and Fri but after that nada until Monday night unless we were interested in paying $500+ for rooms. We even had a local tourist office try to help us on Thursday morning but no luck whether it was hotels or B&Bs. That’s when we decided to go back to Auckland for Sat & Sun night – no problem getting a room, we’re going to back to the same hotel where we stayed earlier. We’re actually ok with doing this as Auckland is a pretty big city and we certainly didn’t see all it has to offer. And we are now booked from Monday until we fly home on Friday. The distances are not bad, it’s a 3 hour drive from here back to Auckland.
Rotorua is in an area with a lot of geothermal activity and has strong ties to Maori culture. We visited a “living Maori village” which sits in an area full of bubbling mud pools, geysers and hot water pools. Twenty Maori families live in the village, which even has a school. We did a walk around the periphery of the area and then a guided tour. The smell there wasn’t as sulphurous as Radium Hot Springs in BC. On Friday we went for a lovely walk in the Redwood Forest.
Maori Village on a Hot Springs / Redwood Forest
Interestingly, we ended up having dinner at a restaurant that Leyla worked in during her gap year about 15 years ago. Today we went for a walk in a red wood forest just on the outskirts of the city, tomorrow, back to Auckland for two nights.
Had a great time doing a wine tour on Waiheke Island, which is a 45 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. It is a beautiful island with 30 wineries in very rolling country side. We had tastings at 4 wineries and got an excellent tour of the island, which has a population of 10,000.
Chasing Wine on Waiheke Island
NZ is very much a sailing community. We saw many sailboats during our ferry ride, either out for a sail, or anchored in coves. Auckland is a big sailing centre having hosted two America’s Cups. The downtown harbour had some lovely old sailing boats, an America’s Cup boat – KZ1, and New Zealand Lion, designed for a mid 80s Whitbread around the world race, it came in second.
On Monday, we went for a long walk, with the Auckland Domain Park as our destination. On the way, we walked through several small parks and the University of Auckland campus.
The campus was an interesting mix of old and new buildings. The Domain park was full of odd looking trees we had never seen before. We found out from a park worker that the tree is called Pohutukawa, and is found only in NZ. It is referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree as it is full of red blooms in December, which is early summer in NZ.
We had a slightly exciting 2 1/2 hr drive on Saturday to our final camp ground in Christchurch. It was another day of driving along winding roads on the coast but we did go inland about halfway through the drive where there were still a lot of curves but a more sedate up and down. We stupidly chose not to fuel up in Kaikoura before we left, we had 1/4 tank and thought we’d get fuel along the way. There were a couple of small gas stations that looked awkward to get into with the camper so we carried on as we knew there were bigger stations further ahead. We started to get a bit nervous when the ‘low fuel’ light came on. Bob put the cruise control at a little over 80kph. There were lots of places along the road where Bob could pull over and let any cars stuck behind us pass. Luckily we did get fuel before the van ground to a halt – as Wordle says, phew.
3 Tunnels: Cars north & south plus a train
Our campground was our second least favourite, it was cheek to jowl sites but the facilities were good. It was in the suburbs of Christchurch, we chose it as it was a short drive to drop off the van, we had to have it back by 10am as we needed to get to our flight to Auckland. We had quite a bit of food left over so I offered it to a German family in the next campsite, they had three kids and were very happy to take it. They said with three kids the food would be gone in no time.
No room sat the inn
As we left the south island the weather turned warmer. We were lucky with sunny days, just not the temperatures.
Flight to Auckland was fine. Our hotel is on the waterfront and we love our room, very funky and we we have a large window overlooking the harbour. The room feels palatial after two weeks in the camper van.
What a day. Beautiful sunshine, mountain views and a lovely 6k hike around the Kaikoura Peninsula. The path for the latter started off with paving stones but quickly devolved to a dirt path that took us to 100m cliff tops and through meadows with a background of snow capped mountains. We passed seal rocks and even saw (we believe) blue penguins. Given the high gusts of yesterday and the forecasted rain tomorrow we lucked out (or chose wisely).
We obviously didn’t take a close look at a map as we thought today’s drive would be fairly flat and not exciting compared to some of the drives we’ve done throught the West Coast Alps. We first had to drive over the Weld Pass – more climbs, twists, turns. It did include some lovely sheep and cattle pastures, reminiscent of the Calgary foothills, and some small vineyards.
Over Weld Pass
Two of Tarja’s Favourite Things: (soon to be) wine and sheep
This dumped us out on a Pacific coastal road at the foot of a range of mountains, almost all the way to Kaikura. The winds were very high to the point where Bob had to be really careful of huge gusts that buffeted the car. Always fun on a narrow two lane road with no shoulders. However, the winds also produced an amazing show of waves crashing to the shore.
Drive along the Pacific Coast
Our campground is a total contrast to Blenheim – good news as we’ll be spending two nights here.