New Zealand - North Island January 2015
Day 1 - Auckland
We arrived in Auckland on a brilliant summers days, light wind off the Harbour and the Kiwis were so excited to see us they threw a big Party! Just kidding we arrived during Auckland 175 Anniversary Celebrations. We headed down to Queens Wharf were the Battleship HMAS Otago was in port and the Navy band were in full swing. There were buskers and street performers and market stalls. There were people everywhere and everyone was having a great old time. We were staying at the Sky City Grand Hotel and ventured up Sky City Tower (328m Tall). They even finished off the day for us with a huge fireworks display, which we had the perfect vantage point from our hotel room.
Day 2 - Auckland
We again had a fairly early start, we found a café around the corner to grab some breakfast and coffee on the go, We were picked up by Time Unlimited Tours, our driver Daniel (Swiss) very knowledgeable and took us on a day tour of Auckland and surrounding areas. He was also a keen photographer and was happy to stop and point out great photo opportunities. We visited few extinct volcanoes, including Mount Eden (Auckland’s Highest view point), Tamaki Drive, Mission Bay, out to Devonport (old marine village), Mount Victoria, over the Harbour Bridge, the Museum (Outside) gardens, Arataki Visitor Centre, Titrangi (Fringe of Heaven), Domain & Piha Beach (hot black sand, surf beach). Had lunch with a few Aussies for Australia Day, up in the hills. We were very lucky and escaped most of the crowds, being a public holiday (Auckland 175th BD).
Day 3 - Auckland – Rotorua via Hobbiton
Again an early pick up for the first of our organized tours, Flexi Tours NZ. It was a very pretty, but long drive out to Matamata, where The Shire; movie set for Hobbiton is. On a private sheep farm owned by the Alexanders, 1250 acres. Through some very pretty but very dry country side. They have been suffering a mini drought, no rain for over 2 weeks and it had been very hot. (25 – 30C). It had been a cool, foggy morning, which again turned into a brilliant hot day (25 – 30c) and crystal clear, bright blue skies. NZ put on some sublime weather for us! Hobbiton was amazing, it’s a fully commentated guided tour of the area, I have never seen anything like it, I took so many photos, we were very lucky, we had no crowds again, virtually a private tour only 9 of us! The crowds arrived shortly after we had our tour………bus loads of them. Words cannot quite convey Hobbiton and I will predominantly let the photos speak for themselves. We heard lots of behind the scenes stories of the Hobbit and Lord of The Rings. We had Cider and Ale at the Green Dragon Inn and of course bought a few souvenirs. The original set were not permanent and the Green Dragon Pub was actually burned down for part of the movie. It was re built for the Hobbit and at request of the Alexanders, made permanent. A few hours was just not enough.
We then went on to Rotorua and had lunch at Te Po Cultural Centre, also visited the Pohutu Geyser and Wairewarewa Mud pools, very interesting. Visited the weaving and the carving schools, where students still learn these crafts. We watched as students worked on an enormous carving for Gallipoli 100 year celebration which is to be finished and then sent to Gallipoli.
We were then dropped off for our afternoon at the Polynesian Spa. We spent an hour going from pool to pool in the private spa area (there is also a general public pool) temps ranged from 36C, 38, 40, 42C (Bloody hot!) we then had a luxurious 60 minute relaxation massage. We then went back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before we were collected again for the Tamaki Hangi and Maori Cultural evening. Really very good, the forest and huts symbolizing their village were great, as were the demonstrations of the different crafts and resources, as well as games. Great fun by all. There was also a video of their history and a concert, followed by dinner. Food was relatively plain, but there was plenty of it. I didn’t take my good camera, as I didn’t think we could take shots, so I only had the small one.
We were picked up by our guide for the morning, Blue (no one could pronounce his Maori name!), he drove us to the Mud Pools first, and then onto Lady Knox Geyser. Apparently it was accidentally discovered and long time ago that laundry soap can set off geysers and once the startled would be washers recovered their senses and clothes, they had much fun with the Lady Knox Geyser, and made it even more astonishing by building the sides up with rocks, after decades the sides are totally encrusted with mineral salts and the rocks are no longer seen. However they still set it off with laundry soap! . The Thermal Pools, we only had a small amount of time, but what we saw (about 1/3) was superb and the water color was truly amazing. Weird, alien colors; Green, orange, purple, black, yellow, white and red. Would love to come back and walk the whole 3 trails. Simply superb.
On the way back our driver gave us a personal tour of the Lake and then dropped us off at the Museum Gardens, which were truly amazing. we also did the Sulfur Lake Sculpture Trail, commemorating the 100 years of ANZAC.