From Wellington we picked up another hire car (Nissan Sunny, nicknamed ‘Jim’) and set off on a nostalgic tour of the North Island. We had a rough itinerary planned, but made lots of changes as we went along, depending on the weather and our inclinations! From Wellington, we drove across the Rimutakas to Martinborough in the Wairarapa; north to Taupo and then on to Rotorua; on to Whakatane and the Bay of Plenty, stopping at a number of beaches and sites of interest; overnight at Mount Maunganui and then on to Hamilton; from there to New Plymouth and then Wanganui, before returning to Wellington. Altogether we covered 1876 kilometres (about 1170 miles).
Here are some highlights from our tour.
This little town in the heart of the Wairarapa is one of our favourites. We did a driving and then a walking tour of some of the little wineries that surround the town, sampling the produce and ending up going off with four bottles of good stuff. We spent the night in an upmarket ‘tin shack’ (interesting design, with a mini-tower and brightly painted) on a vineyard, and had dinner at another vineyard. We’d been there before and it was wonderful, so we were keen to go again, but this time it was rather disappointing.
Hot water adventures
Between Taupo and Rotorua we visited Orakei Korako geothermal park. You get shuttled across a lake by small boat and then there are about 1½ miles of boardwalks and footpaths to explore the thermal area, with an enormous silica terrace, mudpools and a cave.
Later we followed a footpath on the shore of Lake Rotorua, with more geothermal activity right next to the town. That evening we stayed in a motel with our own outdoor spa bath, and were able to get into our very own hot water. A few days later, at Mount Maunganui, we went in the public hot pools and relaxed in the drizzle right under the (cloud-covered) mountain.
We spent a couple of days exploring the Bay of Plenty, staying overnight in the town of Katikati, famous for its murals and its Haiku pathway (a path dotted with boulders on which cryptic Japanese-style poems are inscribed). We did a number of walks to beaches, and along beaches, including Orokawa Bay – a remote beach surrounded by pohutokawa trees, which would be really beautiful when they’re in bloom. We also went to Shelly Beach, lovely and sheltered with calm clear water, where Ian was even inspired to have a swim.
Heading back to Wellington, we did a coastal walk at Titahi Bay, though we weren’t inspired to swim.
They laid on a wedding for us
When exploring the pa site (ancient Maori defended village) at Bowentown, during one of our Bay of Plenty walks, we found preparations being made for an outdoor wedding, so we sat down and waited for the bride to arrive. The bridal party finally turned up in a fleet of old red sports cars, and we watched the brief but interesting ceremony from the hillside. It was really good of them to lay on a wedding just for us!
Drinking with hobbits
While in the Waikato region we went to visit Hobbiton, and saw Bag End, the party field, Bywater and the Green Dragon. Not the real things of course, but the set where parts of ‘Lord of the Rings’ (and more recently ‘The Hobbit’) were filmed. Apparently, the sets were almost completely destroyed after the filming of the first trilogy, but then rebuilt because of the demand from tourists (and because of the second trilogy). So we were privileged to down some best Southfarthing ale or cider when we ended our tour in the Green Dragon.
Gardens of Paradise
We visited Hamilton Gardens, and were impressed by their selection of ‘Paradise Gardens’, showing off garden designs from different countries and ages. Our favourites were the Italian and Indian gardens, with honourable mentions to the English and Chinese gardens, and the new Tropical garden. The experience was capped by a contemporary dance show put on in the Italian garden, with six women moving and gyrating around the garden, with the audience following them along the paths. It wasn’t dancing as we know it, but certainly an interesting experience. They wouldn’t let us take photos, so unfortunately we can’t show you what it was like.
Finishing a walk, after six years
In 2008 we started doing a walk from the Whanganui River Road up to the Skyline Viewpoint. We got 50 yards in and the path was blocked by a fallen tree, so we had to give up. This year we returned to the Whanganui River Road and finally completed the walk, with some great views from the top, as well as a panorama of the Whanganui valley from the pass at the start of the road.