A Travellerspoint blog

Geysers, glow-worms and great walks!

Rotorua, Waitomo and New Plymouth

Hi there everyone, we hope you're okay and that life in the UK is treating you well. Have you remembered to get your expenses claims in on time like those loveable MPs who 'run' our country?!

Anyway, we've been a busy pair of bees here in New Zealand, so we're sending you this update from coastal New Plymouth on a damp Monday afternoon.
We're now sipping mochas on comfy sofas while using the wifi in a coffee shop to send you this - it's a hard life!

Since our last update, we left Hamilton and drove south to the geo-thermal area that surrounds the touristy town of Roturua - the smell of rotten eggs greeting us as we found our accommodation and decided what to see in the district.
Interestingly, the area sits on a volcanic fault-line that stretches all the way to the alps - once there was an eruption in the area that wasn't recorded by New Zealanders, as nobody lived here at the time, but it was recorded in Rome and China due to the huge dust clouds that could be seen!
Luckily, nothing quite so dramatic happened while we were there.

We did however visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, we saw a mini-explosion in the form to the Lady Knox geyser, which erupts with the help of a few soap flakes poured into the top every morning at 10.15am. It's a real sight to behold, first it foams at the mouth then the water really starts to jet out reaching a good 10 metres high!! we stayed down wind and dry thankfully!!
After the excitement we drove back to the park itself to take in the sights and smells that were on offer! As we drove through the bush we could see steam rising around us, it was a cooler morning which made it seem all the more dramatic! We saw so many different brightly coloured pools and heard the hubble-bubble of the mud pools, the Champagne pool was probably the most dramatic with its boiling turquoise waters surrounded by a bright orange encrusted rim steaming in the sun! The finale was the devils pool set in a white ash crater, where even the surrounding trees have been bleached by the fluorescent green waters. We visited the boiling mud pools on the outer road and giggle at the spurting pools and the noises that we're treated to!

The following day we visited Whakarewarewa, a Maori settlement set in some highly active land, we took a guided tour by Paola a former resident whose family still live in the village and where he still enjoys his early morning al fresco bathe in the hot waters. We also got to see a cultural performance which included some really beautiful songs and of course the Haka! It is extremely intimidating when seen up close, you can really understand why the Maori people would use it as a way of discouraging the enemy from battle!

Leaving Rotorua and it's lovely aroma behind us we drove to Waitomo to get a glimpse of the wonderful caves in this area and their curious inhabitants - the Glow Worms, known to most of us as maggots!
Our hostel was a couple of wooden cabins set on the top of a hill, we enjoyed fabulously clear nights and saw so many stars due to the remoteness and lack of any light pollution.

We drove out to see the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, accessible via a boardwalk through a tropical gorge. The bridge is actually an old cave which has gradually eroded over time, leaving a stunning archway which you can walk over and watch the river flow through below.

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Passing through the bridge, we came across a field with large rock formations which held fossils of giant oysters (the size of dinner plates) from when the whole area was actually a sea-bed, around 30 million years ago!
With the afternoon light fading, we jumped back in Sherona and nipped down to the Marokopa Falls, widely regarded as one of the most stunning falls in the country with a multi-tiered fall where waters cascade 30 metres down before thundering into a large pool below - the lush vegetation around these falls shake and sway as the spray from the falls throws them around.

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The next morning we departed early to join our tour guide Norm to begin our 'Spellbound' glow-worm and cave tour in Waitomo.
After being bounced about in the back of our minibus along rugged countryside and rolling hills into a farmers field, we descended a cliff on foot to arrive at the entrance to the first cave to be explored.
Jumping in a large dinghy, all lights were turned off so that we could experience total darkness and our night vision could kick in, meaning that the glow-worms would be much more visible to the naked eye.
We slowly floated through the underground cave, silently gliding along - the drips from overhead the only sound as the glow from above became brighter until it seemed we were staring at a starry night sky.

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The second cave we visited on foot, walking through as sections were beautifully lit by Norm as he talked us through the geology and history of the caves. We arrived in one particularly dark area where the lights were then turned on to reveal a huge cavern called the 'Cathedral', where the ceiling displayed huge stalactites high above our heads and the echo was a fitting tribute to the cavern's name!

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After visiting the local museum of caves we drove out to see the Ruakuri Natural Tunnel, this track and canopy boardwalk takes you on a fantastic bushwalk through some spectacular short tunnels, eventually leading to an impressive and huge cave where the Waitomo Stream appears to gain momentum as it thunders through beneath your feet.

Having exhausted all the attractions in Waitomo, we headed south-west to the city of New Plymouth, situated on the coast and next to the imposing (or so we've been told when the weather is clear!) Mount Taranaki!
We attempted one of the many walks around the mountain this morning, but were put off by the torrential rain and warnings that the little streams on the maps might now be raging torrents but 'probably passable'! Okaaaaay.

Yesterday we walked around the lovely Pukekura Park near our hostel, which even has a well-kept petting zoo including monkeys, tropical birds, alpacas, lemurs and of course a glum-faced donkey!
Wandering onto the waterfront, we watched waves crashing in while taking a look at the 'Wind Wand', a huge work of art by Len Lye which is essentially a ball on the end of huge stick which bends to the wind as it roars in off the Tasman Sea.

We're moving on to Lake Taupo and hoping to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing this week, weather-permitting of course!

Take care for now and hope to hear from you all soon!

Lucy and Richard

PS Better late than never, here are the videos from our sand-sledging adventures up at 90 Mile Beach for your viewing pleasure!

Posted by rioandlucy 20:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

From Endless Rain to Endless Summer

Bay of Islands, 90 Mile Beach and Hokianga

Hi again everyone, hope you're all well. Here's our latest update from the north island of New Zealand!

After leaving Whangarei, we headed north hoping to see some marine life. However, when we were in Paihia in the Bay of Islands, you'll no doubt be happy to hear after all our boasting of glorious sunshine in California, it did nothing but rain and so we missed the best of the area, which was a shame as it would have been nice to snorkle or take a boat-trip but nevermind.

After that the sun came out again as we continued north to the bottom of 90 Mile Beach, staying in a tiny village called Ahipara, just west of Kaitaia. We went to the Endless Summer Backpackers intending on staying for a night and ended up there for 6 days!
The place was gorgeous - right on the sea front, decked out in Kauri wood from top to bottom, big rooms, massive beds (from ours you could lay back and watch/listen to the Tasman Sea rolling onto the sandy beach across the village's only road) and lovely friendly Kiwi hosts.

They lent us some free sledges which we took to the Te Paki dunes, just next to Cape Reinga.
We didn't fancy taking Sherona the 1991 Corona over the 25 miles of incredibly bumpy unsealed road that led to the top of the Cape, so we pulled off early and spent 4 blissful hours cimbing up and zooming down the dunes, which were good and firm after some rain the day before and so were perfect for sledging down.
We'll show you the videos we took when we get back! Unfortunately, the incredible car-crash tv footage of Richard wiping out on the biggest dune of the lot was mysteriously 'lost' shortly after filming!

In the evening at the hostel, we would stroll onto the beach to watch the sun go down or sit on the porch with a coffee and do the same - it was idyllic! We realised that we might never leave after the 6th day there and so bid a fond farewell to it before heading south again.

We caught the cute 24 car ferry across the still waters of the Hokianga Harbour to Omapere, which is beautifully placed across from the Bay of Islands on the west coast - it was a good base to visit the giant Kauri trees in the Waipuoa Forest, and had a stunning coastline where we sat watching the waves crash in from the head of the bay while the sun set over the ocean horizon.

We then stopped overnight in Mangawhei arriving in Hamilton yesterday, which is a small city about 125km south Of Auckland. We've decided to really need to start heading south if we going to see the best of the rest of the north island before getting the ferry over to the south island in a couple of weeks time.

Anyway, we've both decided to become bums and travel the world until we're too old and need to come home for the free healthcare, assuming it's still around. Hope this is okay!!

Love to all as always.

Lucy and Richard.

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Posted by rioandlucy 16:38 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

Arriving in Auckland and exploring Northland

Jet lag recovery and discovering the north island.

We arrived in Auckland at 6am after a sleepless 14 hour flight during which we somehow missed Monday altogether and lept straight from Sunday to Tuesday!
We then somehow managed to stay awake for the whole day (in order to get onto local time), doing a very good impression of the living dead until we finally crashed out at 8pm!
Our first week in Auckland was spent getting over the jet lag and attempting to formulate a plan for the next 3 months in New Zealand!
On Saturday 18th we made the bold move of buying a 1991 Toyota Corona from a couple of backpackers who were leaving the island - we're hoping it will do another trip around the country for us! Renting and insuring cars is really expensive and so it's a gamble worth taking! Check out 'Sharona the Corona' in all her glory below!
On a rainy Monday we left Auckland and travelled North along the scenic and lush east coast to Whangarei.
On Tuesday we walked along the river flowing from the Whangarei Falls to a state park with a treetop canopy walkway, finding some huge Kauri trees (it seems that big trees have been a main feature of our travels so far!) and great views along the way.
Yesterday we drove out to the Whangarei Heads, electing to climb the imposing Manaia mount. This was no mean feat, taking 2 hours to ascend through thick forest and undergrowth to reach the rock formations at the summit which are steeped in Maori history and legend!
It was well worth the effort, the summit offering amazing panoramic views of gorgeous sweeping coastlines and pretty harbours in the Whangarei area.
Take a look at the photos below and the gallery to get a feel for these excursions!
We're planning on heading north again in the next few days to visit the popular and scenic Bay of Islands, before heading to the tip of the north island to see the 90 Mile Beach!
Let's hope it's sunny!
Take care everyone, missing you all (but not the weather!)
Richard and Lucy.
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Posted by rioandlucy 18:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Sequoia to The Grand Canyon via Las Vegas

From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again!

Hi everyone again!

Apologies for taking so long to do another update, we've been seriously clocking up the miles on our last week in the US to try and cram as much in as possible!

We visited the Sequoia National Park about a week ago, leaving the tranquil shores of Morro Bay behind.

As we climbed the 6,500 feet into the park, the windy roads with snow on the sides hinted that perhaps our attire of shorts and t-shirts may not have been entirely appropriate!
Funnily enough, the sun was warm enough to keep us comfortable as we explored the melting winter wonderland of giant Sequoias, including of course the largest tree in the world - the General Sherman.

Following an overnight stay in a quaint lodge-style motel, we hit the road once more towards the Mojave Desert in order to reach the decadance and indulgence of Las Vegas in Arizona!

We attempted to climb the 700-foot Kelso sand-dune in the Mojave during mid-afternoon as the sun beat down mercilessly - we got about a third of the way there before our water supply became depleted and we were both feeling the pace and the heat! So we contented ourselves with running back down some of the bigger dunes and taking some photos of the area.

We then drove through the largest concentration of Joshua Trees in the world en-route to Las Vegas, a surreal sight as it approaches after a long drive through a largely featureless and perfectly straight highway in the desert.

Vegas was everything we expected - an assault on the senses as you wander around in awe of the super-casinos with their themed frontages, water-fountain displays and lights piercing into the Arizona night.

We decided to gamble big-time and tried our hand at the one-arm bandits, raising our stake to a whopping 2 dollars and 80 cents at one point before losing it all on the (not so) Happy Days machine in New York New York - it was a dizzying hour and a half of high-rolling gambling madness!!

After a couple of days, the dubious delights of Vegas began to wear a little thin and so we elected to drive to Flagstaff, which would be our base for 2 days in order to visit the Grand Canyon.

Flagstaff is 6,000 feet above sea level and substantially colder than Vegas, so again we got a shock when we got there! Taking plenty of layers, we headed out to explore the Grand Canyon.
We weren't disappointed by the views when we arrived - the Canyon is beautiful and awe-inspiring in equal measure. At some points you can view ridges 45 miles away as it drifts around corners, while the Colorado River can be seen a mile down and the Canyon itself is 18 miles wide in places.
It's hard to comprehend these distances when you look at the Canyon, and so it's best to walk one of the trails in order to view it from different vantage points. Every corner turned offers a different perspective on one of the wonders of the natural world.

The following day, we chose to drive a whopping 501 miles back to the Californian coast, meaning we had 2 days to chill out by the sea before heading to LA International Airport tonight to fly to Auckland - next stop New Zealand!

Hope you're all well and take care for now!

Posted by rioandlucy 12:45 Archived in USA Comments (2)

From San Fran to Santa Cruz

Highway 1 in the sun!

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Hi everyone, hope you're all okay and life in the UK is treating you well?

We're currently in Salinas, a large town slightly inland from the Californian coast - we're here for 4 nights as the motels on the coast are more expensive at the weekend, and so this is a good base for visiting Big Sur and Monterey over the weekend while staying at a nice motel for the bargain price of $45 a night for both of us. Not bad!

We flew from New York to San Fran last week and were very impressed by both cities, though obviously they're very different.

San Fran is a chilled place as you can imagine, very green and fresh (and expensive) - it would be a great place to live if you could afford the mortgage and high prices!
We sailed under the Golden Gate, visited Alcatraz, watched Sea Lions sun-bathe, road the famous street cars and visited some great museums and aquariums.

We've now got a brand new Ford Focus, which seem a lot bigger in the US, and it's a great way to explore the delights of the coastal road Highway 1. We left Santa Cruz Thursday morning, it's an amusing hippie town with a boardwalk, funfair and big dipper rightby the beach! We stayed there for 2 nights and have seen some huge redwoods in a national park nearby - one of the trees there was around 2000 years old when it fell in the 1930's and the others were breathtaking in their size and form. I hope our photos do them justice! We watched seals rounding up fish near the pier before diving in for dinner and whales coming to shore for a breather, the wildlife is really something!

Highway 1 is just beautiful - difficult to drive down without saying 'wow!' all the time - dramatic waves crashing in from the Pacific on one side, and lush forests and meadows sitting on rolling hills as far as the eye can see on the other. It's largely quiet and wide too, so just a great drive all in all.

This weekend we're going to expore Big Sur and the upper-class delights of Monterey, plus a national forest or two in the area which I'm sure will be fantastic, just like the one near Santa Cruz we visited. We do have pictures to share with you but it's been hard to find PCs which allow us to upload photos, so bear with us on this one!

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Posted by rioandlucy 17:01 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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