Archive for the 'North Island Tour' Category

by Jim
on Sep 6th, 2007


Days 7-8

Wellington’s harborMy last stop of this trip was Wellington, which is New Zealand’s capital and is situated on the southern tip of the North Island. The drive from Napier to Wellington was the longest of the trip. I don’t really like marathon drives, even through scenic country, but this one went fine and the time flew by (thank you, iPod). I arrived at the Wellington CBD in the early evening and quickly found the YHA.

The Wellington YHA was fantastic, probably comparable to the Melbourne YHA. The common rooms were buzzing with people and it was easy to meet others. In the TV area the group wisely chose to put on The Sopranos (2 weeks left to the season here), and right across the road was a grocery/liquor store to complement the extensive kitchen areas. If you get a chance to stay in a 4/5 star YHA I’d highly recommend it, as it’s much more enjoyable that a hotel. (On the other hand, some of the dodgy hostels are quite a bit less enjoyable for sure.)

The BoardwalkWellington is a really cool city, and I’d say it’s the highlight of the trip. I cannot really put my finger on why it appealed to me–I think it was just a combination of a lot of little things. For starters, it is situated around harbor which really defines the city. It’s a good sized harbor that accommodates the port traffic but it’s small enough that you can walk from one side to the other is a reasonable time. Many major attractions are located on the water front, most prominent being the New Zealand National Museam “Te Papa”. It seems like no matter were I was heading I wouldn’t be far from the water.

Bustling downtownThe size of Wellington was good too. Larger than Christchurch, it presents an impressive skyline, and the CBD is really bustling with people. I think a lot of that traffic is due to the government activities. But unlike some really huge metropolises, you can walk around most of the city in a reasonable amount of time. Given that there is very limited public parking, that trait was useful.

Ugly Beehive

Most of what I did was fairly studious. I walked over to the parliament building and took the tour of the “Beehive” and parliament house. Good tour. I’m always interested in how stuff does or doesn’t get done in large organizations like that, and our tour guide–who has apparently worked there in some capacity forever–had all sorts of interesting stories about rules, protocol, bizarre conventions, and how legislators really behave. There was a fair bit of building history too since there have been various fires and earthquakes that have done serious damage. The parliament and ugly-as-sin Beehive building are built on special isolators to protect them from earthquakes. So was Te Papa. Evidently these isolators were invented by a Kiwi and are now used worldwide. I found the explanation of how they sliced into the existing founding to insert the isolators fascinating.

I spent a fair bit of time in the Wellington City and Sea museum. Te Papa dwarfs it (and everything else) in size, but I thought the WCS was an excellent museum with a concise set of exhibits you could work through in a couple hours. The focus was on Wellington history and shipping in the area, and the detail was exceptional. I probably read more of the information placards in that museum than I ever have. My favorite had to do with the “Battle of Manners Street”, and incident in 1943 when New Zealand troops fought some US Marines temporarily stationed in Wellington. From the placard:

“… Better paid than the NZ troops, the Americans were often given preference in shops and restaurants. To make matters worse local women were also attracted by the Americans’ courtesy and sophistication, qualities they sometimes found lacking in local men. It was the sight of New Zealand women falling into American arms that was as much the cause of the Batter of Manners St. as any alleged racism. As New Zealanders frequently observed at the time, the Yanks were ‘overpaid, oversexed and over here’.”

Te PapaBy comparison, Te Papa was a bit of a disappointment. There was nothing wrong with it per se, and a number of the exhibits were interesting, but the WCS museum had a real charm, whereas Te Papa felt just like any other huge museum I’d been to.

Cafeteria fareOne highlight was lunch at the museum’s cafe: I ordered a delicious lamb gnocchi with sauteed mushrooms in a blue cheese sauce. Suffice to say, not the type of food I remember getting at the Museum of Science and Industry cafeteria as a kid!
In summary, high marks for Wellington, and high marks for the trip. It was good to take a week off from work, and I’m glad I finally got to see a bit of the North Island.

Me (and Wellington)

by Jim
on Sep 1st, 2007


(I’m writing this on a bright and crisp morning sitting outside of a cafe. I’ve quite enjoyed being able to pick up Telecom NZ hotspots all throughout NZ for free. It’s probably the first and only positive thing I’ll say out their internet service.)

Day 6

It was a nice lazy drive of less than two hours from Taupo to Napier. Along the way I crossed the Aramahima(?) range which offered some stunning views and a fun windy road for my little Mitsubishi Lancer. By noon I was in Napier.

Napier, like Taupo, is a tourist-heavy town along the waterfront (although Napier’s waterfront is the Pacific ocean). Whereas Taupo felt like just a collection of businesses to cater to the holiday crowd, Napier is a proper city with an interesting history. It is a small (55,000 population), compact city chock full of cafes, galleries, posh restaurants and hotels. But the dominant trait that the town will not let you forget is Art Deco.

The town has been called “Deco City” for the large number of original buildings representing the style. I took the two-hour Art Deco walking tour which was extremely interesting. The city was basically destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1931, and from that the town was rebuilt into what it is today. A few young architects from Auckland were in charge of most designs, and they were keen to use the style of the time. When you walk through parts of the town, especially at night, it’s like being in the movie “Metropolis”. Add to that some clothing stores that actually sell fashions from the 20s-30s, and it becomes a tad creepy. One building I took note of was once called the “Kalafat Service Station”, whose parent company was supposedly a US petroleum firm. Maybe I have an unexpected windfall in my future? In addition to lots of architecture tidbits, the tour provided a plenty of earthquake related stories and examples of how the city is now nearly earthquake proof. I took a ton of pictures which I’ll upload to Flickr when I get back to Christchurch.

For dinner I had a very spicy Nasi Goreng at a Dutch-owned Indonesian restaurant that has been in Napier for 20 years. (Sorry Angela, no picture. I took one without flash and it makes the meal look quite disgusting.)

In the evening I saw a movie. I was a bit disappointed when my travels away from Christchurch exactly coincided with the NZ Film Festival that was playing at the time. Fortunately the venue moves around and I caught up with the festival in Napier. I watched an Aussie film called “Romulus, My Father” (Eric Bana & Franke Potenta) which was quite good (4/5). When I left the theater at about 10pm the town was dead so I called it a night.

Next/last stop, Wellington…

Napier beachfront

Art Deco

Art Deco

Kalafat Service Station

by Jim
on Aug 31st, 2007


Days 4-5

I meant Taupo to be a cruisy part of the trip. Taupo is your typical lakeside holiday town filled with all the lakeside stuff. The lake is a reason for a lot of cafes, restaurants and hotels to collect, though there are quite a few adventure activities that are based here as well (skydiving, gliders, dirt bikes and so forth). My interests were R&R, and I booked a decent hotel for two nights instead of the usual YHA. Mission accomplished: a lot of hanging around, reading, and basically chilling out.

I did head out on a hike that was a partial success. Unlike most of the many immaculate Dept. of Conservation trails we’ve been on in NZ, this trail was really just a rough path up a hill that’s on Maori land (not a DOC site). It was a pretty tough hike, and I’m surprised the LP guide was so casual about it–or maybe I’m just that out of shape. You first cross some farmland and then start heading up a steep slope. Once you enter the woods, the trail narrows to a mud path and winds all over the place. After a good hour of solid uphill climbing I was rewarded with immaculate views such as this. I pressed on for a while more, but pretty soon the weather got worse and the trail was reduced to a muddy mess. I might have been 2 minutes or 2 hours from the top–I have no idea. The trail was completely unmarked and no one else was around. Mission aborted. I headed back to the hotel and cleaned up my filthy clothes.

The rest of the day was pretty much spent driving around. There are all sort of little sites just off the road. Huka Falls, Craters on the Moon, the Wairakei geothermal power station, a little shop that sells honey and has beehive in plexiglas, etc. I closed out the night with a fine linguini con scallops dinner and a view of the total lunar eclipse that just happened to be visible in these parts.

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Napier….

(P.S. I’m noticing that my late 2004 edition of Loney Planet is chock full of restaurants that no longer exist. Turnover here must be high. Get a recent book if you visit.)

Huka Falls

Tauhara track

Amazing views from Mt. Tauhara

Bees, up close

by Jim
on Aug 30th, 2007


Day 3

Rotorua is probably the tourist trap/destination on the north island. But that isn’t without good reason. I found the city very interesting and enjoyable, despite the huge number of hotels, resorts, minigolf, souvenir shops, and so forth.

Rotorua is located on a very active geothermal field which is one of it’s main claims to fame. There are steam vents and boiling mud pools scattered around the city. They can burn you so most of these have a little fence surrounding them, but otherwise they’re just left as is. There are even such vents right in the middle of the fairway on a golf course I drove by! The evening I arrived in town, I took a stroll through a city park and marveled at how bizarre it all looked, what with swing sets and billowing steam in the same scene. The downside of all this steam and boiling mud: the city reeks of sulphur, smelling basically like rotten eggs most of the time. Some areas are particularly bad, and at first it can just about drive you nuts when you can’t escape the stench whether in a store, your car, or anywhere else. Thankfully my YHA room was paneled such that the eggs were overpowered by cedar.

(Note: I’ve not been to geothermal areas before, and I was wondering how they’re managed in the States. Are they denoted as hazards? Comments welcome.)

In addition to the geothermal sites, there is a large Maori population (take that both ways) around town, as well as a wealth of Maori cultural attractions. I visited Te Puia for a tour of the Maori museum, famous geysers, and a traditional Maori dance. It was a great time and I quite liked the Maori dance. If I had it to do again I’d sign up for the dance/dinner which I’m sure would be great.

I visited the German-styled Rotorua Museum and Art Gallery. This used to be a bath house in the early 1900s and half of the building has been converted into a museum of the bath facilities. I got a kick out of the large menu of treatments that could be used to solve just about any ailment through various combinations of hot, cold, mud, massage, electricity, etc. I can at least imaging how one’s skin might be helped by a mud bath, but fixing kidney problems or a ‘weak heart’??? I don’t buy it..

Lastly, I went to an attraction which was probably geared a bit more towards kids but was nonetheless really interesting: a show about sheep. Since I would never get this on the agenda if I was traveling with anyone else I decided to seize the opportunity. It was a good show, and now I know all about 19 different types of sheep. I even got to see a dog trial, which is basically commanding a dog to herd sheep through a serious of gates. (I heard this used to be a staple of the Sunday morning agriculture shows here in NZ.) Flame on.

With that I leave Rotorua. A full one day is probably enough IMHO. Off to Taupo…






by Jim
on Aug 27th, 2007

Auckland City

Days 1-2

I departed Christchurch on the first flight to Auckland and landed just after 8am. This was to be my only full day in Auckland so I wanted as much of it as I could get. I picked up my run-of-the mill rental and headed into the city.

I thought I was lost a number of times while following the “City Center” signs as I meandered through the surrounding residential suburbs. The route in from the airport basically wound through little towns that were situated upon rolling hills. It was unlike the typical large city approach on a major freeway with the skyline in the distance. And then after coming around yet another bend… there’s the Sky Tower, the harbor, and I’m about two minutes’ drive from downtown.

img_3190.jpgI didn’t really have much of an agenda for Auckland. Most, if not all, of the Kiwis I know recommended not even entering the city. I couldn’t in good conscience skip it altogether, so I allowed one day. My first to-do was food: I needed a proper breakfast, and Lonely Planet recommended a small pedestrian-only street called Vulcan Place. I was expecting a bit more prominent a plaza and managed to walk right by it twice. There are a couple of blocks worth of little pubs and restaurants, and as LP promised there were a few serving breakfast. My choice was the very hearty Moorish Eggs, served with kefta meatballs and Turkish bread. I’d give it a 6/10, though it suited me fine as I was starving.

Looking through LP there were only a few attractions that stood out for me, and a number of them tended to be museums. I didn’t really want to start on such a slow note and opted for sailing instead. (Auckland is the “City of Sails” after all.) SailNZ runs cruises on the harbor in a real America’s Cup boat. It’s pricey, but the novelty seemed worth it. It was a decent cruise, but it wasn’t a good day for sailing. There was simply no wind. The boat nonetheless went, and we had an informative and entertaining trip. Most of the NZ tourist attractions are very well done in that regard.

img_3195.jpg img_3199.jpg img_3197.jpg

So… this is where the Auckland City portion of my trip starts to fall over a bit. After the cruise, the crew invited us for some beers in a nearby pub. That would have been fine, but I met a couple of amicable guys on the boat (including the COO of Bank of New Zealand who just moved to Auckland from Sydney) and it turned out to be a full night in the pub. Here’s the short version of the next 12 hours: left the car (and accidentally my toiletries) downtown, had a painful night in the mediocre youth hostel, got kicked out in the morning against my will to sleep in, found the car (no damage 🙂 ), found the $40 parking violation 😥 , and finished my sleep in the car down by Viaduct harbor.

Having blown through half of day two, the time and interest in Auckland museums etc. was well and truly gone, so I chose to hit the road and head to Rotorua, which is where this will pick up…

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