One year honeymoon around the world...17th April 2007 to 9th March 2008! Yes we're home!!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Week Two! Rotorua to… Picton, South Island

Sat 29th – Must have needed the sleep as we woke up at 11am. By the time we got moving it was 2pm. Day pretty much written off as whilst there is lots to do, most things carry a hefty price tag so you want to have a full day to get your monies worth. Instead we drove round the various attractions and planned the next day buying tickets for the Kiwi Encounter and finding a cheaper alternative to the Government-run Maori experience Te Puia which at 50 NZD seemed very steep as the LP put it at 20 NZD. On asking the parking attendant if this was actually the same thing we were told yes, but you could enter through the locally-run charitable trust entrance around the corner for 23 NZD. Seemed since Ben was here last the government wanted in on the cash cow and commandeered half the land.

Driving back to the campground we came across Kuirau Park: The result of localized volcanic activity in 2001. For free (!!) I saw my first mud pools, steaming hissing craters and a large lake of boiling water. It was cool to see the geothermal effects in relatively natural surroundings; dotted around the park with varying states of barricades depending on how long they had been there. Some had large wooden barriers, others orange temporary plastic fencing and a few just a few rocks to mark the steam rising from the ground. And the sounds were incredible – the boiling water sounded just like a kettle.

Rainbow Springs Night Tour. For an extra 5 dollars on the Kiwi Encounter entry which we’re going to do tomorrow we got to go to Rainbow Springs Nature Park at night and see the Kiwi’s in their outdoor enclosure along with most of the other exhibits. The Kiwi enclosure had 4 individual pens as North Island Brown Kiwis are territorial birds who live alone. We spent about half hour there and managed to see 3 out of the 4. There are a lot of plants in the enclosures which made it very difficult to spot the kiwi as they were naturally burrowing around under most of the plants – we managed to locate them by the rustling leafs or when they scarpered across the pen. They did a lot of to-ing and fro-ing similar to most caged animals but I don’t know if this was due to captivity or the nature of their scavenge. Desperately tried to take a photo without the flash but the birds just wouldn’t stay still for long enough: we would have needed at least an 8 second exposure. We also saw HUGE trout, eels, reptiles and birds. It was an enjoyable way to spend the evening as most nights (actually all since Auckland) are spent in our campervan with dinner, wine, books and the laptop.

Sun 30th – Up sharpish today. Lots to do after our non-starter yesterday. Clocks went forward last night so had an hour’s less sleep and after laying in yesterday couldn’t get to sleep last night so getting up was hard. We were at Whakerewarewa Thermal Village for the first guided tour at 9am. See what I mean about funny place names – nearly as bad as Wales! Also ‘wh’ is pronounced as ’F’. More giggles.

Whakerewarewa Thermal Village in Roturua is a traditional village with people living there despite the daily influx of tourists. They make practical use of the hot water and geysers to cook and bathe. Our guide showed us around the village including the Hangi boxes – holes in the ground, now lined with wood, that uses the steam to cook the food over a couple of hours. They also cook vegetables in another hot pool. We also saw the bathing area where they allow pools to fill up during the day with the hot thermal water. We sat on the floor and you can feel the heat coming up through the rocks. There were several places in the village where more recent geothermal activity had happened – geysers suddenly springing from the earth – and now cornered by a few large rocks. The village was under a near-constant mist as it was a fairly windy day. Out the back of the village along a walking track were mud pools and the larger geysers.

We watched a Maori show: singing and shouting, eye bulging and tongues sticking out. Good entertainment. The traditional haka dance was performed in an attempt to scare off enemies in the hope it would prevent a war: this included sticking out the tongue and the bulging eyes. Sticking the tongue out to the side of the mouth means welcome. We’re going to send a package home from Oz so I bought a souvenir: a wooden Maori face like the ones I’ve taken lots of photos of.

Kiwi Encounter: I had spotted a leaflet for this and really wanted to go so we tracked it down in Rotorua. Kiwi’s are only found in New Zealand and are thought to have been around since dinosaurs. They adapted to the previously predator-less NZ and as such can’t fly so are often attacked by possums and other animals.

Kiwi Encounter shows how Operation Nest Egg operates and we got to see real-life Kiwis. But unfortunately couldn’t take any photos so you’ll have to be happy with a photo of a stuffed one.

The Centre takes eggs from the wild after they have been incubated by the male for approx 30 days. They remove the eggs when the male leaves the nest to feed at night. The eggs are then put into incubators until they show signs of hatching. They “candled” the eggs to check on development throughout the process: simply put they hold a light up to the egg and expect to see masses in certain parts of the egg. Once the egg hatched they were trained to find worms and bugs and once a large enough size to not be bothered by certain animals, who previously stole eggs and babies, they are released back into the wild close to where the eggs were taken from. Males especially will be electronically and radio tagged so once they mate and are incubating the next round of eggs the Centre knows exactly where to find them to start the process again! The program had a very good success rate.

Amanda & Rob’s wedding present was next on the day’s agenda: Zorb. For those who have not heard of this before check out The basic principle is a person gets inside a giant clear plastic ball and gets pushed down a 200m hill. You can choose between being strapped in or unstrapped with water. Then you can be pushed down a straight hill or a zigzag one. We both chose to go unstrapped with water down the Zigzag hill. Ben went first whilst I took piccies and then vice versa so lots of photographic evidence of this one – we didn’t chicken out!

We rented the special clothes – not special really but didn’t want to get our own ones wet. Actually they ended up being free as we confused the guy by giving him two $5 vouchers we had come by and got a 14 dollar discount instead J Back to the story, oh I do get sidetracked (might be the half bottle of white wine I have consumed this evening in the campervan as it’s banging it down outside so we’re confined to our van) oops I did it again :-)

Got changed into the Zorbonaunt shorts and tee and we were ready to go. A minibus drove you 30 secs up the hill. At the top the guy put lovely warm water into the Zorb. Sorry guys, we are not wusses – it’s raining and cold here so we were pushing ourselves to get wet anyways! Then you superman-dive into the Zorb and sit in the lovely warm water while you wait to be pushed off the edge. It was quite relaxing those few minutes.

As I began my Zorb-Experience I thought I would sit up with my feet roughly in the downhill direction but oh no! The first bend or two were good and I could make out the track through the frosty Zorb but after hitting a bend quite fast I was thrown and spent the rest of the ride squealing as I was thoroughly soaked in a washing-machine style cycle going backwards and downhill inside the Zorb. Hilarious! Great fun and didn’t feel sick at all. A must-do if you get the opportunity. And a real mood-booster. Despite the English-summer style rain we were grinning and giggling for a good hour after. Thanks Rob & Amanda! A great idea for a gift as we would never have done it otherwise.

Ben’s Zorb-Experience: I remember being inspired by Rob’s account of Zorbing on his trip to NZ so I was looking forward to taking a look at the real thing in action. The day before we had driven out to watch the huge plastic spheres rolling down the hill and now we were back again to take on the Zorb challenge ourselves. I watched a few people coming down the zig zag track and actually thought it looked rather tame….but appearances can be deceiving!!! There was a lull in the proceedings when I climbed into the van which took me up to the top of the hill….it seemed nobody else was crazy enough to throw themselves down a hill inside a big plastic ball. At the top of the hill it now started to dawn on me what I was about to do. The Zorb looked pretty big close up and as the guy sprayed some warm water inside the Zorb I was wondering whether this was actually such a good idea after all! Well there was no looking back now….I was instructed to get inside which involved taking a run up and then diving superman style through the narrow opening which then got zipped up behind me….not recommended for claustrophobics! I then heard the fateful three taps on the outside which was my instruction to push forward and then in an almost slow motion style the Zorb started it’s zig-zag course down the hill! At first I thought this is fine but then things started to speed up and I completely lost my orientation as I spun helplessly in all directions round the inside of the Zorb. At one point it felt like I was spinning around on a wall-of-death with no chance of ever coming to a stop again. Although the ride is probably no longer than a minute it felt like an eternity and I thought surely it’s going to stop now...I think I may even have said one or two bad words about Mr Speake (Rob) at the time but luckily only the Zorb was there to hear me :o) Finally the Zorb came to a stop and through the opaque walls I saw the staff maneuvering the Zorb to allow me to escape it’s rubber clutches. The zipper was opened and in a cascade of water I was deposited rather abruptly onto the grass outside….kind of looks like some sort of giant alien spheroid giving birth….I think there is a scene in “The Matrix” which is conceptually very similar. I stood up with a big grin on my face happy to have now added “zorbing” to my list of crazy adventure sports!

We jumped in our campervan and headed for our next destination: a lovely mere 40 mins away – Waikite Thermal Valley Campground. A reasonably basic campground, but with the added bonus of free use of the thermal pools for only 16 NZ$ a person. Only a dollar or two more than we’ve been paying so far. After a wet and dreary day we sat (albeit in the continuing drizzle) in lovely hot pools of soft thermal water for a couple of hours. Delightful. And even after 2 hours my fingers weren’t wrinkly at all!

And that brings us to now, in our campervan having just eaten a lovely Indian dinner cooked by Ben. We are loving our campervan. It’s great not to have to pack & unpack at all and cooking our own food is still a novelty a week in. The washing up isn’t but I will confess Ben does most of it (okay all of it – I might dry occasionally) Thanks Ben!! I’m in charge of the power cable , sweeping the van, laundry and making the bed. I thought that would be a bind but it’s actually okay. It takes up half the van so you can’t leave it out, but the rental company provided pillows, sheets and duvet! The first couple of nights up north were warm but now we need to have a sleeping bag over the top of us too and occasionally the heater. Very glad we got a campervan and didn’t try and camp in the tent! Budget wise we’re doing good. Nights in campgrounds are cheaper than I expected and we haven’t eaten out since Auckland for any meal. Meat in the supermarket is reasonably priced and of exceedingly better quality than UK meat. We have a small but big enough fridge, a microwave, 2 ring gas hob and a grill all in our mini-campervan...ooh and a pump-action sink too. We are almost the smallest van you can get. We can stand up in ours (it’s a Hi-Top) which makes us marginally larger than the regular Toyota Hiaces. Will take some photos when we’re a bit tidier so I can show you. Night.

Mon 1st Oct – Waikite Campground was round the corner from our next planned stop so 10 mins in the van and we were at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. We got there for the 10am Lady Knox geyser-launching which was a tad disappointed mainly because it was staged, cornered off and had rows of seats. The water got to about 20m. Because the geysers in the park have no identifiable schedule this one is set off at 10am each morning by sticking 300g of soap powder into the top of it. Within 10 mins the geyser was spewing soapy water before it spurted serious jets up into the air.
We went back to the van for breakfast (hadn’t quite got moving early enough that morning; one downside of staying so near to the park, no motivation to get up early) and then went into the main area of the Park to check out the Craters, Lakes & other geothermal activity. Fantastic colours. The mud pools were great, am sure I have said this before but I could watch the mud cheekily plopping and spitting all day. Couldn’t quite get the photo I would have liked as the mud pools are much wetter in the winter/spring and dry out more in the summer to get the effect you can see on postcards.

Late afternoon drove to Lake Taupo. Pretty sea views but think it’s more of a summer town than a winter/spring one. Moving on tomorrow. Ben showed me where he did his bungee 13 years ago.

Tues 2nd Oct – Today was a bit of a non-starter. We left Lake Taupo for Turangi: the town where we would be able to get permits to hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit. The plan then being to spend the night at the trailhead at a camperpark and start the 2 or 3 day trek tomorrow. However the weather forecast was even worse than we anticipated and we were even discouraged from doing the one day Tongaririo Crossing. So instead we are booked on the 1o’clock ferry from Wellington to Picton tomorrow and we have spent the afternoon driving in torrential rain 4 hours south to Wellington. Looking forward to South Island. We now have 3 days more than expected so hoping to squeeze in some sea kayaking in Abel Tasman. Maybe on my birthday.

Wed 3rd Oct – Torrential rains when we woke up so rather than pummel the streets of Wellington we decided to stay in bed. The wind and rain were so strong our little campervan was rocking in the wind. By the time we’d dragged our lazy bums out of bed, showered, breakfasted and packed up we had time for a quick driving tour of downtown Wellington before joining the ferry queue. Due to the dire weather our ferry was running late and wouldn’t arrive in Wellington until after our scheduled departure time so we spent a few hours reading in the van. The crossing took 5 hours and the first 2 hours weren’t particularly pleasant so I adopted my lie-down-on-a-seat-and-read approach to travel sickness. As long as I’m lying down and don’t move I seem to be okay; not great but not vomiting either.
That was the excitement for today. Arrived on South Island in Picton gone 7pm so parked up in the nearest Top10 Holiday Park.

Thurs 4th Oct – Hit the local I-Site (tourist information). We first discovered I-Site in Turangi and the lady was awfully helpful and the man in Picton was too. You get pretty good advice, all the leaflets are there and they’ll even book stuff for you: easy peasy! So we decided to do the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds but this time on mountain bikes rather than hiking. Starting on Friday, finishing on Sunday. More on that later.

We also booked onto a Wine Tour departing that afternoon at 1.30pm. Our driver/tour guide Sarah arrived to pick us up from our campsite and after collecting the other passengers drove towards Blenheim, the wine area. There were an incredible number of vineyards. We visited 3 wineries and a chocolate makers. Our first stop was Forrest Estate and we sampled a delicious Sauvignon Blanc. SB is apparently what Marlborough and New Zealand are famous for so next time you’re purchasing a bottle of white why not try an NZ SB :-) Two young guys, (one from Brum) told us all about the estate, the wine, and the precautions all vineyards have to take if they get late frost… apparently earlier in the week the helicopters were called out to fly over the vines to disperse the cold air to ensure the frost didn’t settle and ruin the crop. They have to have NZ$40,000 (approx 15K GBP) available each season for frost backup!

This winery was very relaxed and after the first tasting we were given a paper with 15 different wines and advised to choose 4 to 5 more to sample: they didn’t recommend we try all 15 as this was the first stop on the tour! Ben’s favourite of the whole afternoon was the very first Sauvignon Blanc: Forrest Estate 2006 SB. I liked the Cornerstone Red. This was my favourite winery.

Second stop was Grove Mill. Here we were greeted by a moody older lady who wasn’t happy unless she had the entire group’s attention and we could only taste the wines in order, and all the group at the same time. The wines were very good also but the woman spoilt the experience somewhat but by now I was nattering away to another lady and enjoying the wine and paying little attention to the winery woman, as were the rest of the group…aahh I see why she might have felt unappreciated. She probably just thought we’d come to see her for the samples… oh but we had!

Each winery Ben and I would say to each other…. Shall we buy a bottle? The cheapest were around the NZ$20 mark, marginally more than supermarket prices, but we’d already agreed we’re going back to G&T’s once our last bottle in the campervan is gone :-) Several Australian woman in our group bought cases and had them shipped back to Oz at NZ$100 a box plus the cost of the wine and they reckoned that was cheaper than buying it retail in Oz! I hope not!

Last but not least Winery 3: Cloudy Bay. Please, if anyone else has heard of this brand let me know. Others on the tour were raving about it but I’ve never heard of it: maybe because I’m more of a red drinker. Nat? The tasting area here was divine and we took photos so hopefully one day we can build a house with a beautiful living area like that. The wine was good too. We started off with a sparkling wine, Pelorus, and went on to taste their special, again apparently large export wine: Te Koko. Anyone heard of it in UK? It’s a Sauvignon Blanc to start but rather than being made in stainless steel as all SB’s are (I just learnt this), it’s aged in Oak and becomes ‘Te Koko’ and is ready at least 3 years after harvest. Sauvignon Blanc by the way should be drunk within 5 years of the year on the bottle and is best around 12 months.

The chocolate shop gave us some very yummy samples but the prices were daft so we ended our trip happily giddy managing to part with no extra cash. Result!

Friday 5th Oct - Whilst Friday is strictly speaking part of Week 2 I am going to make you wait until Week 3 as we started a 3 day trip so easier to write about it all together.
Bye! Sam x

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Sam & Ben,
Just a quick hi! enjoying looking at your travelblog. I will send you a link for ours later when we're at home. hope you made it to the glaciers and are having fun.

Kyle and I (""Team Australia"") are currently in Marlborough enjoying much too much delicious wine. Off to do some more tastings today!

Keep in touch!
Steph & Kyle