26 Mar 2012

New Zealand - Northland - part 2

After a brilliant week in Taupo we moved north to Rotorua - or smelly town as it is affectionately known - which is geyser/boiling mud central and as good a place as any to see a Maori show. 

The geysers performed admirably and the locals welcomed us in the traditional manner - tongue to one side means welcome, we believe you come in peace, tongue straight out down the middle is a challenge, do you want to leave in pieces? 

The traditional Maori cooking method - the hangi - heated stones then all the food into the hole then covered and left to cook underground.

When the time came we were relieved to see that the captain was the last person out of the boat.

And they did the haka for us, we now totally understand why NZ wins at rugby.

Still further north is the Coromandel Peninsula, the only place where we had difficulty finding accommodation the whole trip due to a bank holiday and a Doobie Brothers concert, oh yes. Beautiful coastline, gorgeous beaches, impressive mountains and stunning forests.

One of the must see sights is 'hot water beach' where hot springs surface on the beach between high and low tide points. Tips for enjoying such an extraordinary thing; don't go on a bank holiday weekend, get there early (tide dependent), take your own spade and hope for a sunny day.

There are lots of other beautiful beaches right around the peninsula...

We tramped for a day up to the Pinnacles (from Thames) where from the top you can see both sides of the peninsula.

And once again we were walking in gorgeous forest with incredible ferns and beech trees.

and a little rock climbing to reach the top!

Coromandel conclusion - if you ever get the chance to drive around the coast of the peninsula then do so, as many times as possible, it is gorgeous!

A couple of hours south east from Thames (past Rotorua again) is Lake Waikaremoana and a 3 to 4 day trek which is one of the ‘great walks’ of NZ and quite rightly so, the scenery (if you get to see it through the cloud) is stunning.

We were lucky enough to see the view, fleetingly for ten minutes or so, from the very top of the bluff. That first day of walking is basically a climb of 700 metres up to the ridge through the forest along 9 kilometres, and for us it rained pretty much the whole time - this area sees over 3 metres of rain a year. Maybe that is why we only saw one other walker during the 6 hours it took us to arrive at the hut where we would spend the night, and she was heading in the other direction.
the view most of the time!

Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by Mike and his wife who had been there for a week as volunteer wardens. They were remarkably welcoming and cheerful despite having not seen the view in all that time and running low on firewood.  Along with the other occupants (a party of four) there followed a brilliant evening where we shared travel stories and learnt much more about the actualities of life in New Zealand in 2012, in only the way that being stuck at the top of a mountain as the weather closes in can induce.

The following morning it was still raining as we set off for the next hut 19 kilometres away, mostly downhill :) By lunch it had stopped precipitating and the full beauty of our surroundings visually assaulted us, relentlessly.

Much of the flora of NZ is unique to the two islands, NZ having split from the Australasian land mass some 80 million years ago and gone its own evolutionary way. There are countless varieties of fern of all shapes and sizes that you will never have seen before, all of them very beautiful.

We reached the hut some 7 hours after departure having not seen another human being, and then another happy evening was spent with a fishing group of kiwis, none of whom had caught anything apart from a little sun.

These two evenings in the company of 6 farmers, a teacher, a vet, a nurse and a walking guide (all kiwis) again reinforced our already very positive views on the local populace. Due perhaps to the remoteness of NZ + the fact that they have all travelled extensively, if not lived abroad for some time, they are extremely open-minded and international in their thinking. They also care deeply about their country and its natural resources, they fully appreciate its unique qualities and work hard to educate anyone who is interested to help protect what they have, and best of all it is all conducted with a glint in the eye, a good story and a cheeky sense of humour.

NB on NZ farming that we learnt over these two nights - with a national population of only 4.5 million, NZ punches well above its weight where agriculture is concerned with approx 40 million sheep nationwide - down from an estimated 70 million at its height in the early 1980’s - and a booming dairy industry that supplies an estimated 100 million people with NZ product, much of it to China where the guarantee of quality commands high prices to the ever expanding middle classes - only the best will do for their one child. Wherever you drive in NZ you are surrounded by fields of sheep and cattle, or grass growing to feed the sheep and cattle, or more sheep and cattle.

The final day of this tramp was a relatively easy 15 kilometres following the lake shore, the weather was glorious and a very very welcome swim was had as we waited for the boat to pick us up. 

We then drove 2.5 hours to Napier on the east coast.

Napier is warmer and much drier in comparison to Waikaremoana - but hey it rained whilst we were there - which is why they can grow some excellent wine.

And where we know there is wine, a tour must be realised. If you are in the locale Vince’s wine tours do an excellent job. Our conclusion was that the local Syrah’s are excellent but go further south for Pinot Noir and product from the Salvare, Teawa and Moana Park wineries are worth a look.

We also enjoyed the second of our most excellent NZ dining experiences at a restaurant called Pacifica. The ingenuity of the chef should be celebrated the world over, just brilliant – highly recommended.

Napier is also famous for its art deco architecture. Due to a massive earth quake (7.9 on richter) in 1931 the whole town was rebuilt in the early 30’s when very little building was going on anywhere else due to the global depression, which meant that architects from all over the planet flocked to Napier for the work and the freedom to do something different. The results, for a small seaside town of 55k people, are impressive.

Then further south to Martinborough for a night and another mini wine tour. If you ever get the chance go and visit Lance at the Cambridge Road winery then do so! A more enthusiastic poet on his favourite subject of making spectacular wines you will not meet. To boot the town is a delightfully picturesque mecca for pinot noir, great restaurants and all things foodie - most of its clientèle seem to be from Wellington which is only an hour or so away.

Apparently we were lucky with the weather in Wellington, we saw none of the rain and gales which frequently blow in, it seemed hard not to be immediately seduced by the spectacular city setting of harbours and hills and botanical gardens and dockside cafés and another brilliant museum, the renowned Te Papa where you can learn everything you need to know about NZ’s natural, social, political, economical and to a lesser extent artistic history.

We also did a night tour of Zealandia, a 250 hectare forest site on the outskirts of town that has been returned to natural forest/habitat and securely fenced off against all non-indigenous killers such as rats (introduced by the Maori as a food source when they arrived in circa 1200) possums (introduced from Australia to establish a fur trade in the early 19 century) stoats (introduced to deal with the runaway rabbit population in the 1970’s!) and anything else that might eat the indigenous wildlife and their eggs. In NZ indigenous means the kiwi, which are now endangered in the wild due to the explosion in numbers of the aforementioned ‘pests’ as they are absolutely seen in NZ ‘the only good possum is a dead possum’, whereas in Australia possums are ‘cute’ and protected.

The night tour meant a small group of us (9) being taken round the park after dark by two guides (again volunteers). We were lucky enough to see 4 kiwis – our guides were hugely excited by a 4 kiwi night as only true enthusiasts could be – which are nocturnal, noisy and flightless birds, so easy prey, in the bush.

We then caught the ferry to the south island at dusk which is in itself a spectacular trip.

1 comment:

  1. ahhh.. memories...
    Living my life through the 2 of you.
    Train delays this morning in London - NOT THAT YOU CARE!

    Paul Cluskey.