This has been a fantastic month. What a place, its got everything, cool cities – Wellington particularly, really easy going people, and incredible lakes and landscape, all in the space of two small islands. If you’re able, I reckon everyone should go to New Zealand. Here are just a few more pics to whet your appetite… See you in LA!
Monthly Archives: March 2012
We didn’t know it when we set off down this west side road, but we were soon to discover that it is a road less travelled. On one hand it was good to be off the tourist track…but on the other, we couldn’t find a place to sleep. Many miles further than I had intended to drive, we arrived at a sea loch ferry crossing. The road ended, and all that was there was a toilet, a seat and an info board with the crossing times on. With nearly an hour to wait we fed some chickens that just seemed to hang out there, and were relieved when some locals arrived to cross. At least we could be sure that the ferry would come, and it did, bang on time. Positive that the town we could see across the water would have a bed for the night we relaxed into the 15 min trip. Bed? not a chance…so on we drove, and just when we thought it would be the car for the night, our luck changed and we found a motel in a place called Opononi. It was half price beer down the pub, due to a fishing competition celebration, and a pool tournament, so all the locals were pissed. Lively as it was, after a bite and a beer we both needed our bed – it had been a long day.
The next day, after stopping in the local cafe for a fantastic breakfast, and a bit craic with the local farming community, we headed off south to a place called Waipoua forest. They have a native tree here called the Kouri, that traditionally the Maori use for carving and treat as a sacred tree. This tree is now protected, so no-one can cut one down, but the maori have found a solution – they now dig up 45,000 year old kouri, that amazingly is perfectly preserved, from an ancient tsunami disaster that felled and covered massive forests. So now the remainig kouri trees are allowed to grow old, and in this forest is one that is over 2000 years. It is one amazing tree. We couldn’t believe it when we saw it, and we have seen some big trees! Photos never do these huge trees justice because you can never get the whole thing in the frame, but heres our best shot….
We drove on through fantastic countryside with endless rolling hills and meadows, and lakes and woodlands. You can never get bored with this place, or think you’ve seen it all. Every now and then you just have to pull in the car and get out and wow at the landscape.
We began to think that we might have the same issue about finding a place to stay, as by mid afternoom we still had not found a place. Every time we did actually find a town with accomodation we got the same line – full up because there was a wedding on. This was over a 50 to 60 mile stretch, so this was one popular couple who were tying the knot. But our luck turned and we found a self contained cabin with its own hot pool, obviously outside the wedding catchment area in a place called Helensville. It was really nice, with loads of space, and a private patio area with a mineral pool. You open a tap, and pressure from the thermal pool below the town pushes hot mineral water up into the spa tub. Once the sulphur smell wears off after you fill it, its pretty cool to relax in, and Jane tells me is very good for the skin. Although you have to put up with smelling of fart for a night… Nice.
The next morning, one day earlier than planned, due to the extra long drives, we arrived in Auckland city, with three days ahead of us to chill and organise ourselves for the flight to the US. Its a big city but we are in a hotel on Queens street, so we don’t have to go far to be in the thick of things. We are a short walk fron the Skytower, the cinemas and restaurants, and only a 15 min stroll from the bay. I spent my 45th birthday doing nothing more than looking around the Weta shop and enjoying TV and a beer or two, or three… getting far too old for anything else 🙂
Our next stop was the Corromandal Peninsular, apparently a ‘must do’, but as we arrived onto the west coast side the sky opened and the rain came down. Now even in the rain this place is pretty amazing. The road hugs the coast all the way looking out over the Hauraki Gulf, until it turns inland to cross over to the Hot Beach. This is a place where a thermal pool sits under the sand, and our intention was to dig a hole, wait for it to fill with hot water, and have a bit of a soak. When we arrived, the faces of people doing just that in the horizontal rain was enough to know we should head for the cafe and enjoy a hot drink. We’ll find other hot springs on sunnier days. Then we headed for the next ‘must do’ which was Cathederal Grove. So there we are on a high headland, and jane is suggesting we get out of the car and go for a walk. I sat in the car, while she fought the horizontal rain, just to check it out. Yup, even Jane came back, the weather was BAD. Anyway she told me that she could see the natural arches way down on the beach below. That’ll do for me. No pictures here the camera didn’t even come out of the glove box.
The rain was easing as we left the peninsular and we headed north past Auckland city, over the massive Harbour Bridge, an impressive bit of engineering, and into the north region. We were diverted here (we heard later that the main route 1 had collapsed, as they had 3 months of rain in just 36 hours) and took a winding rural road through flooded farmland for a lot of miles before re-joining the main road.
Staying the night in the town of Warkworth, we then continued up past the Bay of Islands, making one stop to see some glow worm caves. This was surprisingly impressive. Our guide, who was about 12, took us through the limestone cave, and when the light went out the whole place shone with tiny blue/white luminescent dots. It looked like the train of the milky way. Cool. They use thier ‘lights’ to attract mozzies into dangling “fishing lines” of web (like spiders web only one line) to eat them. Those with really bright lights are hungry, those with dim lights are recently fed, and those whose lights are out, are eating! When we exited the cave we took a walkway over the top through some amazing limestone crevesses. It was quite a place.
A pretty long drive brought us to Kaitaia, the gateway to the ‘far North’, the last strip of land and outer most point of NZ – Cape Reinga. The next morning Jane comes in from packing the car to tell me that we have a couple of guests coming with us. Two Germans, about 20 years old had asked if they could cadge a lift to the cape. No problem, they turned out to be good company. They were a bit broke as they had been ripped off by an employer, and not been paid for a couple of weeks of work. When Jane discovered they were living on boiled rice, it didn’t take long for them to be fed.
Our first stop was a white silica sand beach. Its really huge, but you don’t get a sense of this until further up the road from a height – you can see it stretching for miles, breaking away from the land to make a massive sand bank of pure white.
The next stop was really impressive – an area of giant sand dunes. They were created millenia ago by deposits washed down from the central volcano region that we had passed through days ago. The rivers and sea carry the sand, and then the wind forms the dunes. Climbing up them is knackering, but definatly worth it as the views from the top look down to the ninety mile beach and out to the Tasmin sea. The ninety mile beach is actually 63 miles long and used to be the only way you could get to the cape. Luckily, there is now a road, completed in 2010, or we would have been scuppered – with all the recent rain our car would have sunk in the quick sand that forms in the wet season. Getting down the sand dunes is easy, you can take giant moon strides, or borrow a plastic bag and slide down! Great fun – which would have been better if the dunes had been bone dry as we would have got some speed up!
The next stop was the Cape. This is an amazing place, where the Maori believe the dead exit to the spirit world. It is so slim that you can see down both the east and west coast at the same time. Just off shore the Pacific meets the Tasmin sea in a battle of the waves, creating a wild whirlpool sea. It really is a powerful place, and its fantastic to stand at the very tip of New Zealand and breathe the clean air.
Its a place you could stay for a while, but we had a long road back. We drove off the long finger of the Far North late in the afternoon, and after dropping the lads off at a campsite we headed down the west side of the island looking for a bed for the night.
It is my duty to inform you that what follows is a collection of images (and text) from the Hobbiton film set in Matamata, New Zealand. If you are of a nerd-ous disposition, then look away now or come back next week for a different installment.
We arrived in the small town of MataMata just in time for the first tour of the day with Hobbiton Tours to the movie set of Hobbiton, the place where Bilbo, Frodo and Sam live in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Now, I’ve been to film sets in the UK before and was kinda expecting a dodgy “blowing in the wind” cardboard cut out sort of place. However nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the place looked like the locals (hobbits) had just popped out for something and would be back at any moment… it was so real. It WAS basically a village, with carefully constructed hobbit holes complete with doors and windows, plants, trees, wheel barrows, washing lines, bee hives, wood stores, a lake, a bridge over the lake and a pub.
Bloody amazing and all of it built with ‘real’ materials like bricks and mortar, wood and stone… except for one thing…the tree on top of Bilbos house is completely fake. It’s leaves were all made in Thailand and hand painted on set to make sure it matched the time of year… a truly oustanding feat!
The staff were really good and although they do 11 tours a day they lost none of thier enthusiasm for explaining every aspect of not only the set, but the films and the forthcoming Hobbit film. In fact there was a section we weren’t allowed down because it has just been constructed and recently used for filming in the new movie.
Its our intention to reach the very top tip of the North Island, and, anticipating a long and winding road, we headed out of Wellington on the fast, central road and cleared some miles through hilly farmland. We stopped the night in a great, roomy motel in Levin and then took off towards the countrys largest lake in the Waikato region. As always, the travelling was amazing, great towns – one called Bulls, with its welcome sign claiming it as ‘a town like no udder’ and where the working mens club was called ‘The Soci-a-bull’ – and ever changing landscapes.
One of the most interesting was a volcano region with Mt.Ruapehu (presently dormant, last eruption was the 1990’s) looming above huge vistas of recovering ashfields, scrubland pushing through where massive forests once grew. Millions of trees lie buried under multiple layers of black ash. It reminded us of death valley in the US, bar the colour, grey/black rather than yellow/orange, a fascinating place.
Eventually we arrived at Taupo Lake, the largest freshwater lake in NZ, and a place with lots to see, so we booked two nights here.
The next day we took a hard hike up river to a place called Huka Falls. The water of this big river is so clear you can see every detail of every plant and rock even when you are high on top of the gorge that it cuts through. As you get closer to the falls the wide river narrows into a tight channel of hard volcanic rock, which is what makes it interesting, because its not that the water falls from a great height, its the way it is forced out of this channel at the other end that makes it amazing. On the way there we came across a hot river feeding into the Huka (its a geo thermal area) and Jane had her socks and shoes off in a jiff, and had a foot soak in 40 degree steaming water.
The next day we made our way, through a forested landscape with steam trails rising out of the treeline, to a geo thermal hotspot called Orakei Korako. What a place. You have to take a boat across a lake, then a board walk takes you across the multi-coloured mineral pools, past Geysers, rivers of boiling water, bubbling mud pools and up through a forest of giant tree ferns to a cave. Its a place like no other, the whole hillside steams. Jane could have stayed there all day, but I thought 2 hours of breathing in sulphourous fumes was enough:) so we took the boat back to the other side, and moved further north to Rotorua.
We had planned to stay in the lakeside town of Rotorua, but after a bite of lunch, realising it was still early in the day, we took the road west through strange hills and deep gorges to the small town of Tirau in anticipation of visiting “Hobbiton” the next day.
Wellington is a great city. Not too big, very creative and busy. We arrived during the arts festival so there was a lot to look at and aah over. After a little stress finding the lodge we were to stay in, among the maze of one-way streets, (the city is a like a mini San Francisco, streets line the steep sided hills) we walked out to the main hub of Courtney Lane to find a place to eat. The street was pretty cool. At one end is a War of the Worlds-type public sculpture of a movie camera on tripod legs, made by the people at Weta (the guys who did Lord of the Rings) as a homage to the cities vibrant (and busy) film industry. The waterside is a mix of genuine 1930’s buildings and uber contemporary walkways, seating and chillout areas, and jettys lined with bars, venues and restaurants. You could spend hours there looking out onto the really beautiful bay.
I have to say I’ve a confession to make… it’s been a long time coming and I really do have to get it off my chest. It’s not fair on Jane keeping secrets from her and pretending everything is alright and hiding skeletons in closets, so I have to come out of the closet… I’m a NERD. There I said it. My name is Doug and I’m a nerd. Phew that feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m a nerd there I said it again. Right now that’s out of the way…
Today was a day for satisfying my inner movie nerd. First stop of the day was Weta Workshop… the place where all the special effects (physical effects) is done for movies such as The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Fierce Creatures and the soon to be released The Hobbit. We set off for Miramar (a suburb) and Camperdown Road, where the studio is located. After a few wrong turns we pulled up outside a very unassuming building in the middle of what looked like a housing estate.
The Weta Cave is actually not strictly part of the nuts and bolts of the place. They added it as a way of stopping nerds like me peeking over the fence every day to see how things are made. (we did cheekily have a look through the gateway as it opened to let a truck out, just to grab a look at the real entrance). It worked too. No sooner had I walked through the door, I over-heard a very boring 3-way nerd conversation about trains… yawn… so the nerds have a place all of there own to hang around in… Bless them 🙂 I salute the very professional, patient and tolerant Weta staff. “Errr I think you’ll find that the wood used in the second movie was indeed made from North American balsa… erhum” – Yes very patient. 🙂
Inside the cave are various props from Lord of the Rings (LOTR), a full sized Gollum and Uraki, a Houndog from the movie “The Frighteners” loads of Tin Tin stuff and various prosthetics and models as well as books about ‘movie magic’ and all the usual tourist stuff like key rings, t-shirts and hats (none of which I purchased…I’m an incognito nerd). The Cave itself is very small and I’m amazed it can handle the volume of people going through it. We were there early in the day and shared the space with just a handful of others, but as we left it was packed out. They have a small screening room (with some amazing props on the walls) in which you can watch an insiders view of the workshop – which was pretty cool actually. I could have spent all day there, but I feared Jane might have gnawed her own arms off through boredom, so we decided to head back to town and on to the Embassy Cinema (Theatre). I think I might come back here though one day and peek over the fence, from the inside 🙂
Embassy Theatre (Cinema)
This is the premiere place to go for all your movie hits. It’s where the LOTR films were premiered when they were released and no doubt The Hobbit will be too. If memory serves, this foyer is also where they filmed the “publics arrival” to the theatre in the movie KING KONG for King Kongs’ first (and last) public appearance. The foyer is straight out of the Art Deco period with it’s ornate tiled floors and walls, as well as the two staircases which stand either side of the rather more contemporary entrance to the bar area and screens.
We were there to see the film The Artist, the first black and white, silent movie to be made in decades and the one which won it’s leading actor an Oscar for his portrayal of a washed up silent movie star. I have to say I enjoyed it immensely. In fact The Embassy Theatre was the perfect setting to watch such a stylish film set in the same era. Perfect end to a perfect day… well once we had another steak and a beer it was 🙂
We left the Kaikoura coast to head to the top of the South island as we were booked to cross on the ferry on the 13th. The road hugged the coast until taking us slightly inland to the town of Blenheim, where we stopped for the night. We realised that we had a day to spare before heading for Picton, the ferry port, so we drove to the small village of Havelock. This place is World famous for the Greenlipped mussel which thrives in all of the sounds (sea Lochs), as it is another fijord coastline. It was raining that day, so it was fantastic that Jane managed to negotiate a fantastic apartment for a knockdown price. We got there at 11am and settled in for the day, lounging in our posh living room, watching the sky movie channel (well I did, Jane did the laundry:)), and drinking all the supplied coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Later, about 10 yards from our front door, we legged it into the pub for yet another steak dinner and a beer.
The next day was blue skies, so, after exploring the village and its tiny marina, we headed down the scenic route to Picton. What a drive. We edged Charlotte Sound, rising high above the water in places, and then dropping down to picturesque fishing villages with white boats bobbing on the crystal clear water – and had an impromptu post box judging competition. The locals here must have a bit of a competition going (or just nowt to do), as the mail boxes are all dressed up as….dogs, cats, ducks, campervans, boats, planes, cows…..and the winner was….a hound dog. They were brilliant – sorry no pics as were winging past them in the car, on hairpin bends, with no place to stop.
We arrived in Picton to be very pleasantly surprised – expecting an ugly industrial port – we found a small, cosmopolitan tourist town, nestled among the hills, with lots of cool bars and restaurants. Our accommodation….well we headed to Gravesend road, past the cemetery, and found the Tombstone Backpackers, thier slogan being ‘Rest In Peace’. The entrance was an oversized coffin lid, and the owner was an undersized old lady, you couldn’t make it up. What we found inside was ultra contemporary ensuite rooms, pool table, plasma TV, a labryinth of sitting and internet rooms, a spa bath and…. resident pets, including a big aviary. It turned out to be one of our favourite places to stay.
On the 13th we drove the car onto the enormous ferry for the three and a half hour crossing to the North island, and the capital city of Wellington. Really looking forward to seeing this place!
And finally… Disaster in Picton…