Road Trip: Day 5 - Taranaki-Whangarei

on December 31, 2014

It's been a BUSY day with lots of driving. We started the morning with a visit to an ancient Pa site. A Pa is the kind of fortified village the Maori used to build to live in and to find shelter from enemies. This Pa site was special because it is one of the few known ones that date back to the time before European settlers arrived. There wasn't much to see, but it is quite interesting to know that where you stand now people lived, ate, fought and died many centuries ago.

The name Tututuru Mokai means "place where heads where speared" which tells you a lot about the history.

Next we climbed up the Hawera water tower. Maybe not the best idea as we could both REALLY feel our calf muscles from 2 days ago when we hiked up to the summit of Kapiti Island. It was some 200 steps to the top, small and narrow.

I went up the water tower ($2.50, just enquire around the corner with the local tourism information) mostly hoping to get a better glimpse of Mount Taranaki. But the view was actually worse than yesterday ;-/ And it was so windy that you could barely stand let alone walk on the viewing deck at the top of the water tower. A bit disappointed :-(

From Hawera we had several options. We chose to follow the Surf Highway 45 along the coast. There's many scenic beaches with good rollers, ideal for surfers. We stopped at the little seaside town of Opunake and had a stroll along the former wharf and jetty. Beautiful scenery, now clear blue skies and lots of sunshine.

On the western most part of Taranaki stands Cape Egmont Lighthouse. I love lighthouses and Matt and I have already been to the one situated on the East Cape and up north at Cape Reinga. So we couldn't get past this one. Unfortunately it stands on private land so we had to look at it from the distance.

Lucky for us there is a replica which functions as a museum not too far away from the original lighthouse.

Entry is by gold coin donation. It's quite worthwhile. You make your way along several stories to the top and can read a lot of about the history of the lighthouse, ships that sunk in the area and about the region in general. The middle picture shows you a magnificent view of Mount Taranaki in the back of the original lighthouse. Maybe next time we come he will be a bit less shy.

This time, however, we got actually warned the weather was going to get worse rather than improve. And the locals were right. As we made our way further along the coast towards New Plymouth we stopped for lunch at the Stony River Hotel. We had just walked through the door when the power went off. The waitress told us it had been doing that for a while and at first she wasn't too sure whether she could actually serve us. But we were lucky, despite the power coming and going and eventually not returning at all the chefs were able to cook us up a delicious meal. I had the best ever seafood chowder *yummy*

While we were eating the owner of the hotel/restaurant came in - and fancy that, he's from Austria! Heimo and his wife run the place, they've been in the country for years and have travelled quite a bit. We had a good chat, got some travel advice and were made welcome and at home. Lovely atmosphere! If you are in the area you HAVE to stop and try it out!

After finishing our meal we were once again lucky I now own a smartphone... with the power gone the Eftpos machine was out, too, and I don't quite trust manual credit card machines. So I paid via online banking! First time ever in hospitality... The waitress also warned us to be aware of a hurricane that was building up in the region. I got quite excited, have never seen one... wouldn't see one today, either. As we progressed to New Plymouth the weather did pack up, but we didn't get more than strong winds and dark clouds somewhere in the distance.

We finally arrived in New Plymouth early afternoon. Matt really wanted to go to Paritutu Hill right on the coast.

In August 2012 three people died when rockclimbing in rough conditions. 2 teenagers, one of them an exchange student from Brazil, got swept off the rock. One of the instructors jumped into the sea to safe them but he was never to be found, either.

The rock is indeed quite impressive. It's more than 100m straight up. First you climbed numerous sets of stairs until you get to a little platform. From there on it's rocky terrain and only a chain to hold on to. Matt made his way to the top despite the fact we were both in jandals. I decided not to risk it. My feet were slippery as and with the strong winds it was hard enough to stand where I was. I love a good view, but I don't need to risk my life to get them.

After having a quick drive around New Plymouth we decided to head back to Whangarei tonight. Would have loved to stay in the area another day or 2 but with the weather not showing any signs of improvement it just wasn't worth it. After 5 days we were actually getting a bit tired and were ready to head back home. So instead of spending New Year's Eve in the bush we started the long journey back up north and made it to Whangarei just before midnight.

It's been a fantastic road trip and I hope that there will be lots more in the future =D

Road Trip: Day 4 - Wellington-Taranaki

on December 30, 2014

Today we finally got to go what sparked this whole trip - New Zealand's National Museum in Wellington, Te Papa. I've already been here when I first explored the North Island in 2011. Also my phone had a flat battery due to the fact we weren't driving anywhere yesterday and I couldn't charge it. So no pictures. Matt quite enjoyed the museum, but being an outdoorsy person he had enough after a few hours.

With rumbling tummies we went for a stroll through the city centre in the search for food. We ended up at a lovely steakhouse up on the second floor. They offered lunch including a free soft drink for $12.90 and the options sounded really tasty, too. We weren't disappointed. The Steer and Beer is a cozy place with some nice views off the main street. Service was a bit slow though it wasn't busy at all. But friendly staff and good sized portions for a lunch deal. Matt went for the pork ribs with salad and I had the seafood basket. It was more than enough to fill us up.

I would have liked to walk along the waterfront a bit but Matt was keen to get out of the city so we left Wellington just after lunch time. We had a long way to drive - our destination for today was the Taranaki region. It is pretty much the only area I haven't even been close to yet in the North Island. Unfortunately Mount Taranaki (or Egmont) was a little shy. The picture above is the best view I could get off it all day...

After a little shopping trip we found a wonderful beach just out of Hawera where we decided to camp for the night. It seemed to be a busy spot with lots of cars coming and going.

Road Trip: Day 3 - Kapiti Island

on December 29, 2014

Today's post will be mostly pictures. There simply won't be enough words to describe the beauty of what we saw today. As mentioned yesterday Kapiti Island is a bird sanctuary. Here you can find kiwi, weka, kaka, fantails and many more rare and common native birds of New Zealand. There is also a group of 7 Takahe on the island, a flightless bird similar to the Pukeko.

We were among the few lucky ones today who actually got to see a Takahe! We were just about to get back to the beach and hop on the boat back to the mainland when a rather big specimen suddenly appeared in the bush! Unfortunately it was too fast for our cameras. It was feeding hard out, but before we managed to get a good shot it ran back into the bush. Great experience anyway :-)

To get to Kapiti Island you can chose between 3 companies to take you over. They all have the same price (currently $75 per adult). We managed to get a short-notice ticket with Kapiti Tours. Not only were they really friendly and gave us some good discounts - it is actually a family business run by descendants of Ngati Toa Chief Te Rauparaha who once conquered the island and made it is home before the Europeans arrived! Our tour guide Hohepa knew heaps about the history of the Maori, showed us the best spots for birds, knew exactly which ones to look for and what sounds they made... it was an unforgettable experience. Matt and I both got a student discount ($65) for the ferry ticket and also half price for the hourly tour around the base of the island (usually $20 per person).

Hohepa also took us half way up the island and kept pointing out interesting trees, rare birds and told us one story after the other. For those of you who didn't know - Maori used to be cannibals. Instead of taking prisoners they used to eat their enemies. They would dig a hole and start a fire with hot stones at the bottom (hangi style), then bury the bodies (alive) of their captives upright with only the head looking out. When the head fell off it would be ready to eat. Quite gruesome, but when you think about what used to go on in the Middle Ages in Europe... not too much different, really, with the witch hunts and the Romans spearing heads on stakes etc...

Anyway... back to Kapiti Island. If you don't stop on the way it takes 2 hours to make it all the way to the top. It's quite steep, but a proper track and we had no trouble getting up there in our jandals. The view from the top is breath-taking! But see for yourself...

Road Trip: Day 2 - Turangi-Waiouru-Kapiti

on December 28, 2014

After a good night's sleep we didn't have to go far to our first destination: the National Trout Centre in Turangi just south of where we camped. We had a yummy breakfast which Matt cooked right in the car park before the first visitors arrived.

The Trout Centre is a Mekka for anyone who loves fly-fishing. It's right by the Tongariro River which also runs through Tongariro National Park where I once did the Tongariro Crossing. It's $10 to get in and for an additional $3 you can buy a container full of food to feed the trout. Really worth it. Make your way to the children's pond and WOAH you get to see some action!
There's also a nice walkway which leads you along the Tongariro River. There was a guy on the other side fishing and he got lucky several times. Even we could see LOTS and lots of trout swimming in the river in broad daylight. Definitely coming back here for a fish. Matt was quite gutted he had left his rod behind at home...
Our next stop was the Army Museum in Waiouru. Some interesting history in there and if you're into guns and all that - go for it! You can even research some of your own family history if you know the name and possibly rank of any family members who at some stage served in the New Zealand army. Entrance fee is $15 but students get a discount ($10).

On the way down south I was reading my Lonely Planet tour guide to see what else there would be in the area worthwhile seeing. When I came to the chapter about Kapiti Island Matt was instantly excited. He'd always wanted to go there. We have been watching lots about the New Zealand wars between Maori and Pakeha and Kapiti Island was a major spot for one of those battles. It was once home to the tribe Ngati Toa and their Chief Te Rauparaha. It is now a bird sanctuary and nature reserve, no predators at all.

In order to get to the island you need to book a ferry and get a permit from DOC (Department of Conservation). With the season being in full swing and only a few people being admitted on the island each day we didn't think we'd be lucky in making it there but I gave the companies a call anyway. And WOOHOO - there is an opening for tomorrow!!! So all we had to do was find a spot to stay overnight and then hop on board in the morning. We parked right along the water front at Paraparaumu which is where the boats run from. It was a bit weird this time with people - tourists and locals alike - walking past and watching us cook and eat in the middle of the car park. But it was all good. We had the beach right next to us and at went for a lovely night walk along the water front.

Can't wait about the tour tomorrow! Will tell you about it as soon as possible... Meanwhile here is more pictures from today's adventures... Good night :-)

Road trip: Day 1 - Whangarei-Rotorua-Taupo

on December 27, 2014

Last night Matt was itching to go fishing. He was all ready and set to go, but I managed to convince him that it would be better to leave early the next morning and then get a whole day AND night fish out of it. Luckily he agreed and we packed our bags.

However, after waking up this morning somehow Matt had decided to instead of going fishing as usual he finally wanted to see Te Papa, New Zealand's National Museum in Wellington. We'd been talking about this a few times over the last couple of weeks and now with both of us having some time off seemed to be the perfect timing. So we added a few things to our bags, stuffed a matress in the back of our truck and off we went. ROAD trip *woohoo*

Since Wellington is quite a way away from Whangarei we decided to do a few stops in between.First we headed down to Rotorua and Matt showed me around the areas he grew up in. Our first main stop was Lake Tarawera just outside Rotorua.

Mount Tarawera made the area famous when the volcano erupted in 1886 and destroyed lots of settlements, burnt villages and the Pink and White Terraces - once considered the 8th Wonder of the World.

I have been to Lake Tarawera before when I travelled the North Island in 2011 with Johanna, a Swiss Au Pair, and some Couchsurfers we had picked up in Auckland. Matt knows heaps about the area, though, so I got to see ancient Maori Rock Carvings and we found a tree by the lake loaded with plums. It had already been there when Matt was a child so that's pretty cool. We filled our bags with vitamins for the road and carried on.

Scenic photo stop with view over Lake Tarawera and the Mountain.

In Rotorua we went to the Redwood Forest where I haven't been before. Matt recalls there being a Flying Fox and we drove everywhere to find it. But it seems to have closed down as there was no sign of it anywhere:-( So I hugged the trees instead *lol*


We kept driving until dark and found a lovely picnic site right on the shores of Lake Taupo. Fell asleep to the sound of the waves. Lovely :-)

Here's our album with heaps of pictures from the trip...

Mom is the best!

on December 22, 2014

Got an early birthday present from Germany today! Too excited and simply couldn't wait another 2 days so we went ahead and opened it. Thank you, mom, for those lovely prezzies!!!
Can you tell that my mom loves owls *heehee* What a cool little treasure box!

A visit to New Zealand's oldest settlement

on December 21, 2014

The current weather is up and down, dry and wet... Today we were lucky - the sun was shining and it promised to be a beautiful day. So we decided to go for a drive to Russell, which is New Zealand's oldest settlement and once used to be the country's first capital. It's in the heart of the Bay of Islands, right across from Paihia. We took the long drive along the coast this time, which was very scenic :-)

If you have enough money, there is lots to do in Russell. Hop aboard a boat to go dolphin-watching or see the Hole in the Rocks, go kayaking, fishing, diving, parasailing, ... the options are endless.

We opted for a walk along the wharf and beach and then stopped for lunch at The Gables. I'd been there before back in 2011 when my mom and brother were here for a visit. Matt and I both ordered something with seafood - go figure *lol*

Matt had citrus infused kingfish with a salad - it tasted delicious! But it simply wasn't enough to fill up a grown man. A bit disappointing for $23. Was more like an appetizer. My choice was a lot better. I had garlic seared scallops with double-glazed bacon and pea risotto. I've never been a big fan of risotto, but WOAH was this one yummy. Quite filling, too. I can definitely recommend that dish!

After lunch we thought we'd better walk it off. We turned off towards Rawhiti where we'd once hiked to an old Whaling Station and this time came across a short walk to Oke Bay. It's pretty much the start of the Cape Brett hike which is 16km long and takes 8h one way. At the end you get to the lighthouse where you can camp and stay the night.

Want to do that one day, but today we oped for the short hike over the hill and ended up at Oke Bay - a lovely white sand beach which we pretty much had all to ourselves...

There's some pictures of our day trip right here :-)

Soaking in the mud

on December 20, 2014

The weather really hasn't been too flash in the last few days/weeks. Though it's not as bad as earlier this week there still isn't a lot of summery feeling happening. It's fairly hot and sticky, but also pretty wet. So today we thought it's the perfect time for a soak at Ngawha Springs. It was a good day out. We had hangi for lunch from the butcher in Kawakawa (awesome kai - lots of flavour, big portion and less than $10), then off to the mud pools.

There was barely anyone there and we had a whole section of pools just t ourselves. Felt great to sit in the hot water while the rain was cooling us from above. Now back home with a bunch of movies and popcorn. What a relaxing start into the holidays :-)

Early Christmas prezzies!

on December 18, 2014

Last week at the centre before the Christmas holidays. We're getting lots and lots of presents from our children, families and whanau. I'll have to do LOTS of walking to justify eating all that chocolate, fudge, cookies and lollies *yum* Got some lovely cards, too, and some hand-made gifts. This one here is a portrait of me by a 3.5 year old :-) Trying to find a very special place to put it up...

My job is definitely the best thing that has happened to me in 2014. Working with children is so rewarding! Thank you to my team and all our tamariki and their families for such a great year! Looking forward to seeing you all again next year!

The cheapest petrol nationwide!

on December 17, 2014

Nowhere in New Zealand is petrol as cheap as in Whangarei. We are truly blessed. I couldn't believe my eyes this morning!!! Prices have decreased significantly over the past few weeks from an all-time high of more than $2.20. I remember when I first came to New Zealand we had an average of $1.74 per litre for petrol. So this is the lowest EVER! Thank you Gull and Mobil for dropping the price by another 10cents for 24hours each month :-) Pebbles is very happy about a full tank!

Rough times

on December 15, 2014

So much for a hot and dry as summer. The last few days we've had the worst weather in months! Took a trip out to the coast today and barely managed to get out of the truck. Felt like it was about to take off! Where's the sun gone to?
Here's a few more pictures and some videos...

Fennel, anyone?

on December 14, 2014

Matt got inspired earlier this year when I said I wanted to start growing a herb garden. One of the plants he chose to put in his garden was fennel. I have never grown fennel, but I like the tea, but BOY was I surprised to see how MASSIVE those plants can get!!! They finally had to come out today to make room for our summer crop. The roots were in quite deep so it took a lot of strength to get them out.
Look more like little trees, rather than a small herb *lol*
Not seeds and leaves are drying in the hot water cupboard. Should have taken the bulb, too. Apparently that's really nice in soups. Maybe next time. Hopefully the drying works out, then I can use the seeds to plant another fennel in MY garden :-)