Sunday, 16 August 2009

Exploring New Zealand

Stuart and I came to New Zealand with a sight seeing plan plus a number of activities to undertake. We would like to share these with you.

The accommodation we choose, all done over the internet, was all wonderful as was the generosity and friendliness of all the proprietors. We made Evans Bay Homestay and Leisha in Wellington our “base camp” for exploring the North and South Islands. Our car hire worked out well and the two ferry crossings on lovely calm days were wonderful. We travelled some 1,200kms on the South Island and a further 1,000kms on the North Island. Our scenic air travel was 225kms, our tramping 220kms and our two ferry crossings a further 184kms, making a total of 629kms. All along the way we saw some wonderful scenery as we travelled on some 13 State Highways. We had sunshine everywhere we went. We saw very little rain and experienced a fresh fall of snow on the high mountains in Torgariro National Park, which only added to the unique beauty of this stunning area which had a massive impact on us.

The kindness, friendliness, helpfulness and honesty of all the people were tremendous and everyone is so proud of their country/adopted country.

We did ever so much and here I am only recording our main activities and sight seeing and putting these in my order of preference; which I want to say was very difficult to do. Perhaps on another day I might well change the order!!

Activities/Sight Seeing

1 – The Tongariro Alpine Crossing ("TAC")
The TAC is known widely as “The Best One Day Walk” in NZ and is a world-renowned trek. The 18.5 kilometre track starts from Mangatefipo car park 6kms off the SH47 and from here it is a gentle introduction up the Mangatepopo valley and then it is a steep climb to the saddle with Mt. Ngauruhoe 2,387m to your right.

The Crossing is a superb full-day walk, taking in spectacular volcantic terrain – an active crater, lava flows, steam vents, and emerald lakes. The route traverses rough ground and a harsh environment for colonising plants.

It is so difficult to describe the beauty and great inspiration of this alpine crossing. Hundreds of people accompanied us on the crossing and two full busses left the National Park Backpackers on the morning of 10th April 2009. This is described as one of the best one day alpine treks in the world from alpine meadow to mountain summit with stunning volcanic features along the way. We did it in 6hrs. 40 minutes, starting the walk at 7.50am and finishing at 2.30pm. Along the way we chatted to people from all over the world who were here, like us to do this famous tramp. A bus took us to the start of the walk and at 3pm took us back.
It is a challenge, an adventure and an unforgettable experience. The vivid memories of these magic vistas will remain with me always and will be cherished.
2. – Scenic flight around Mt Cook and Mt Tasman and over the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers It was on a lovely sunny, clear and calm day on Monday 20th April that we were fortunate to do this trip with an experienced and skilful pilot, Murray Bowes. We left Hokitika at10am and we soon rose to11,500 feet on this 140 mile journey at speeds of between 80/100mph. We were back at 11.30am. The views were staggering to say the least as was the experience. It will never be forgotten.
3 – Abel Tasman Coastal Track Here we took a jet boat from Kaiteriteri to Medlands Beach (Bark Bay) and then walked back on the Abel Tasman Coastal Path to Marahau taking us four and a half hours to walk some 25kms. The views were magic all the way along.
4 – Day’s Fishing on Ngongotana Stream, in Rotorua With Graham Butcher as our guide we fished for some six hours on this wonderful stream on Tuesday 14th April which was full of big trout but as Graham said, “very difficult to catch.” Four were pulled out between 2.5lbs and 4lbs. It was a beautiful day and we had a packed lunch and beers cooling in the water – what more does one need? We were in heaven.
5 - Interisland Ferry between Wellington and Picton and the return journey. This must be one of the most spectacular ferry crossings in the world. We were fortunate to experience the crossing twice with good weather on both occasions. A lovely experience.
6 - Huka Falls A natural phenomenon. The mighty Waikato River, NZ’s largest, gushes through a narrow chasm not long after the outlet from Lake Taupo. 300,000lrs of water per second hurtles through the narrow channel that makes the waterfall the most visited attraction in NZ.
7 – Arthur’s Pass and the two track walks – Devils Punchbowl Track & Bridal Veil Track On a wet morning in Greymouth on Sunday 19th April we crossed Arthur’s Pass to Arthur’s Pass Village and into sunshine where we did two short track walks. The first, the Devils Punchbowl took us to a most beautiful waterfall and the second; the Bridal Veil was through mountain beech forest. Tracks from here can take you as far as Mt.Tasman and Mt. Cook. The grandeur of this vast and austere mountain and river landscapes holds you in awe.
8 - Drive from Wellington to Wanganui and then to Tongariro National Park Before Wanganui and after the town we were fascinated by the numbers of small and large glacial mounds we saw; miles and miles of them. Trees were shedding their leaves and lovely autumn colours were in view. Numerous poplars were seen, many planted in straight lines but others having grown wild. We were now on the SH4 by the mighty Whanganui River and this timeless river finds its origin high on Mt Tongariro, starting as an alpine stream and gathering waters from Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. As it descends through the central volcanic plateau it sweeps in a huge northern arc towards Taumaranui, then winding its way to its exit into the Tasman Sea at Wanganui. It is the first big river we see and we are fascinated by it.
9 - Pancake Rocks We pass through the beautiful Paparoa National Park and stop at Punakaiki and here we view the unusual volcanic rock formations known as the “Pancake Rocks” and the blowholes formed by the lava tubes. Shoots of water fly high up into the air from these tubes at high tide and we did see this happening.
10 – Hangi Feast and the Geyser A night at ‘TE PUIA’ in Rotorua where we had an in-depth experience of the customs and traditions of the Maori people, a hangi-cooked feast and contemporary Maori dishes. The evening ended at 9pm after a visit to view POHUTA, the famous geyser on the site.
11 – Wai o Tapu Thermal Park This is NZ’s most colourful and diverse volcanic area and here we walked round the stunning geothermal activity and unforgettable vistas.
12 – Walk to Tama Lakes Due to snow and ice conditions (we did not have winter gear) our attempt to get to the top of Mt Ruapehu (at 2,797metres is the highest point on the North Island) on the morning of 11th April was abandoned and we headed for the Tama Lakes which is a 17kms tramp which we did in 4.45hours. The track takes you between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu and the two lakes, lower and upper, occupy several old explosion craters on the Tama Saddle. The views all around are stunning.
13 - Drive down the Buller River Valley to Westport and the West Coast Highway to Greymouth We pass through vestiges of the Great Southern Rainforest, some wonderful views of mountain tops and deep valleys and gorges. The swift flowing Buller River provides you with superb vistas at every turn. We see large cattle and deer farms along the route. At Tiroroa we marvel at the framed old photographs of the Lower Buller Gorge where it is still the same single track road carved out from the stone cliffs above you and down to the river some 20/30 feet below. When this large river is in full flood the water level can rise to, and above the road level, a sight that must be very frightening to see. You then come to the full beauty of the West Coast which is rugged and storm ravaged. This must rank as one of the best Coastal Drives in the world.
14 – Walk in Redwoods We chose the Tokorangi Pa Track at 11.5kms. We started our walk at 11am and we were finished by 1.45pm. This was ever so enjoyable. The forest is famous for its magnificent stands of towering Californian Coastal Redwoods at around 219ft. They were massive and everywhere through the forest, hence the name "Redwoods". (In America their lifespan is 600 years and they grow as tall as 360ft). Here you are able to experience some of the finest walking and mountain bike trails in the world.
15 – Polynesian Spa, Rotorua This was just a wonderful experience as we tried the four Lakeside Pools at temperatures of 36, 38, 40, and 42c. Yes we were able to stay in the 42c and Stuart had a brief nap in the 38c pool until a bus load of Japanese ladies came along and took over the pool!! We were here for two enjoyable hours on the evening of Tuesday 14th April looking up to the star lit sky.
16 - Drive along the Queen Charlotte Driveway between Picton and Havelock This was our first introduction to the South Island and we found the scenery spectacular. We stop for a quick walk at Cullen Point. We have lunch in Havelock, the green lipped mussel capital of the world. It is a seaport, tucked away in a sheltered cove at the head of the Pelorus Sound. It was once a thriving gold-mining town but now thrives on riches from the sea. We have lunch at The Clansman as it is flying the Scottish flag and the taste of the mussels is superb.
17 - Reefton (Town of Light) A delightful place with such clear visibility of all the mountains that circle in the background.

Food and Drink
Best Beer – Mac’s Black & Monteith’s Hearty Black.
Best white wine – Brightwater Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2008- makes you mouth zing.
Best red wine – As to reds our favourite was Pinot Noir, which exudes freshness, oozing charm with generous cherry and raspberry fruit, a silky mouth-feel and great length of flavour. Here a favourite was Rimu Grove 2005. (We only drank NZ wines and beers as they were all so good.)
Best lunch – Boat Shed Café & Restaurant, Nelson with views to Tasman Sea and Abel Tasman in background. Nelson scallops and blue nose cod was washed down with Sauvignon Blanc on a lovely hot day.
Best Pub – Sprig & Fern Tavern, Nelson
Best Dinner – Hopgoods, Nelson but the Station Café Restaurant at National Park Village takes a lot of beating. We had two meals in both. Bistro 1284 in Rotorua was excellent as were all the other restaurants we visited.

Any Downside
Absolutely none.

27th April 2009

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