In which we visit yet more wineries, see some geothermal activity and get our hobbit groove on in the Shire
04.02.2013 - 11.02.2013 25 °C
The drive up from Wellington to Napier showed us a bit of what the north island is like. Certainly less dramatic than the south island, but still pretty with rolling hills dotted with farms (and therefore sheep, cows, horses, deer and even alpacas). We did stop off a couple of times, once at a boutique chocolate shop and once at Tui HQ, the home of Tui beer.
We arrived at Mike and Sahra's (bearing gifts of chocolate and Tui of course) and spent the evening catching up over a BBQ. They've been having the hottest summer in five years, so you can imagine our disappointment when we woke up the next day to pouring rain... which didn't stop all day! Still we made the most of it, having a little tour around Napier and the area in the morning. Napier is famous for its Art Deco architecture, after the whole town was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in the early thirties. Its really pretty, although most of the Art Deco is seen when you look up, with modern shops and bars at street level.
In the afternoon we did a little wine tour, as Hawke's Bay is also famous for wineries. We visited a couple of the larger wineries, Elephant Hill, Church Road and Mission (which is a winery run by the church), but the highlight had to be Brookfields, a small boutique vineyard. We had a really interesting tasting sat amongst the wine casks with explanations given by the very enthusiastic guy who runs the estate. Apparently you can only buy their wine in the UK if you eat at Gordon Ramsay and pay £120 a bottle, so I doubt we'll get to try it again!
The next day was 'black Wednesday' - also known as the day we had to return our campervan. We drove up to Auckland to return it which is a day's drive. There were almost tears handing over the keys. So for our last few days in NZ we rented a car instead. We've loved staying in campsites and holiday parks so we decided for our first camperless night that we'd stay in a cabin in a caravan site. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Now, I think cabins are normally fine, but we chose the South Auckland Caravan Park, miles from anywhere but on the road back to Taupo which was our next day's destination. But we pulled up in something resembling the twilight zone... a local park for local people if you like. Everyone on the site seemed to live there in their caravans, and despite other sites being fully booked when we called, we were the only ones staying in the cabins. Undeterred, we decided to make the most of it and cook dinner, only to find the kitchen had no utensils or pots... and with no shops for miles we made do with things we could eat raw, with our hands and that we could cut with a penknife! To top it all off, we googled the place and found a newspaper article about a murder that happened there a few months ago. You can imagine how well we slept that night!
The next day we happily set off for Taupo, but with a stopover in Matamata... also known as...
We couldn't resist and paid to tour the Hobbiton set, which was well worth it. The Shire is all one set (although the internal shots were filmed elsewhere) so you can walk from Samwise Ganges house up the road to Bag End, past the vegetable gardens, or visit the party tree where Gandalf made his speech at Bilbo's birthday party. Brilliant.
The tour finished with a cider in the Green Dragon, leaving us very happy little hobbits indeed.
The next day we spent the day in pretty Taupo, a really friendly town with a stunning lake and distant blue mountains. Its also on the 'thermal highway' and has a lot of geothermal activity. We spent the morning meandering along the lake side, which was actually pretty interesting with some geothermal areas. So even though the lake is mainly cold, some bits are warm, with areas of steaming hot water as you walk along. The warm water also seemed to attract the wildlife and we saw loads of birds, including geese with goslings and some tiny ducklings.
In the afternoon we treated ourselves to a trip to some hot mineral pools. The water is heated so much by all that geothermic activity they actually have to cool it down - to 38 and 42 degrees - in the two pools. Bliss.
Yesterday we did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing... but I've got so much to say about that I'm going to leave it for another post!