“Wow, New Zealand really is mostly rural, isn’t it?” We were driving through small towns in the central North Island somewhere between Wellington and Taupo. More accurately, we were passing through acres and acres of green rolling hills with pastures and trees, where here and there a small concentration of houses and shops congretated to form a village. The downtowns of these little villages seemed bustling and healthy, colorful and full of clothing stores, restaurants and banks, like I imagine the small towns of New England were before strip malls and Walmarts drew commerce away from mainstreet.
I’m not sure what I was expecting of the North Island. Maybe because most of the NZ population lives in the north, I thought it’d be more urban. Maybe because the new David Attenborough documentary is on my mind, with the ballooning trajectory of the global human population, I thought there’d be wall-to-wall humanity out there. But I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t crowded.
We took 3 weeks off at Christmas/New Year, and planned a “tiki tour” of the central part of the North Island. Normally we take two weeks then get back to work, but I remember that when we booked the trip in mid-winter, I was feeling rather dreary about my job, so threw in an extra week of holiday for good measure. This map shows our North Island route, starting in Wellington.
Jeremiah drove the car with all the gear up through the South Island to Picton and across on the ferry to Wellington. The kids and I flew up two days after he left. What a luxury!
We spent an afternoon in Wellington, visiting Te Papa museum and tooling along the waterfront. Lamp posts are decorated with these fantastic crocheted creations, like sea monsters.
We walked through the Capital Building grounds. The “beehive,” as it’s affectionately termed, is in the background. Designed in the 1960s, it would be called “classical” in the sense that it’s so easily recognizable that the term “beehive” has become synonymous with NZ central government…..no Greek pillars here.
Judging from the polished back of the lion, we guessed it was acceptable to ride it.
The next day we drove from Wellington to Taumarunui where we launched on the Whanganui River Journey, a story told in a
I keep thinking Naomi is going to grow out of her carsickness, as Milo has, but it hasn’t happened yet. We were leaving from Taumarunui on our way to New Plymouth after canoeing the Whanganui, when the telltale wretching sound started. She’s quite reliable about getting it neatly into the bucket, and half way through she paused. A perky little voice announced “Hey, there’s a blueberry!” then returned to barfing. She threw up 5 times on that three hour drive, and after that we gave her a sea legs pill before we started out.
We spent 5 nights camping under red pohutikawa trees in a holiday park at Waitara, which is just north of New Plymouth. To my delight, when we moved the tent the outline showed in red needle-like flower petals, fallen from the trees above. It was a wonderful stretch of weather, and the formula was successful. Jeremiah got up early and took his kayak out fishing while mom and the kids slept in, read our books in bed, and generally had a lazy morning breakfasting and beaching. At midday Jeremiah returned, and we spent the afternoon doing something all together.
Tenting in a holiday park is not a wilderness experience, but it has its advantages. This one had fantastic hot showers, and was situated right on the beach, next to a domain with a playground.
I still like building sand sculptures, like this octopus. Milo is into building fortresses in front of the incoming tide to see how long they last before succumbing to the waves. Naomi is into playing in the waves themselves.
One afternoon we went into New Plymouth at low tide to check out the tide pools. They were fantastic, the kind of clear colorful pools where the longer you sit still, the more creatures you see.
Another time the kids and I went to a rocky beach with mountains of driftwood and built a fort. Some sail jellyfish had been pushed up by the waves and dried sticking to rocks. Later we took Jeremiah back to the spot and toasted some marshmallows over a small driftwood fire.
One afternoon we did a short hike on the side of Mt Taranaki, the dormant volcano that presides over New Plymouth (last eruption 1775). Fascinating geology involving several vents and eruptions over thousands of years, wish I could remember it all. We wheedled and commanded the kids to give us a decent smile for just one family photo….this is the closest we got. That’s a marshmallow mustache Milo has.
Mt Taranaki presides over the peninsula.
New Years Eve we went into New Plymouth central park, which is beautiful, brought our lunch and had a play.
That evening was the festival of lights. It is lovely temperature-wise that it’s in the summer, but the catch is that it doesn’t really get dark until 9:30. Naomi wanted glow-in-the-dark face paint, and we told her we’d either pay for the face paint (which, given that it was 8 p.m. already, would get washed off before bed in just a couple hours) or dessert. Our food-loving daughter chose the face paint, without hesitation! The allure of beauty….
Jeremiah has set up a sit-on-top kayak for sea fishing, and he was really looking forward to getting into the water. Unfortunately, the night before he left Christchurch, our garage was burgled, and the thief took his new fish finder, and his dive bag that held his wetsuit, fins, snorkel and other important fishing equipment. So while he did get out on the water, and even got a fish, he didn’t get the full experience he was planning to have…i.e. no kingfish.
Jeremiah managed to slip through the waves at the surf beach, amazingly enough. Milo, Naomi and I spent several satisfying hours redirecting the course of the little creek that entered the ocean at this beach. Fluid dynamics, I think I missed my calling.
Nice colours, huh? No crowds on this beach.
On January 1st we packed up the tent and drove to Palmerston North. This campervan was Plan B, and bigger than we had originally booked.
The owners of Plan A one sold it (to my disgust!) before we got to our planned rental period. But this one wasn’t too shabby! Since the forecast for Taupo/Rotorua was rain, we went east first to Napier/Hastings in the Bay of Plenty.
Jeremiah enjoyed grilling most nights that we had the campervan.
Milo’s choice of activities in Napier was the national aquarium, and he was not disappointed. I’ve been spoiled by Boston aquarium though, so wasn’t as impressed.
Ta dah! Napier beachfront is rocky and not ideal for swimming, but the city has some nice playgrounds. Napier was nearly leveled in an earthquake in the 1930s, and was rebuilt in the “art deco” style of the time. I don’t get excited over architecture, but even I appreciated the vintage look on the evening Jeremiah and I left the kids reading in the campervan and walked downtown for a pint (shhh!). It was raining though, so I didn’t snap any photos.
Next stop Lake Taupo. Te Papa museum in Wellington has a fantastic time lapse of the geological catastrophes that have shaped Lake Taupo, and I watched in fascination as the time lapse started 25,000 years ago with lava and ash erupting in episodes with varying degrees of violence. Lake Taupo itself is a sunken crater filled with water, sunken because so much molten material from underground spewed out of the volcanoes that the shallow lava reservoir holding up the earth’s crust sunk, and eventually filled in with water. I guess Yellowstone is an even bigger disaster waiting to happen, but I was impressed with the hot water and steam that still comes to the surface in the Taupo/Rotorua region.
The central park has a lovely walk along Lake Taupo’s outlet river to Huka Falls. Right at the city side of the park is a stream with geothermally hot water, complete with a cafe and changing rooms.
When we first moved to NZ I was on a quest to experience natural hot pools. They sound so magical. In reality, my South Island experience has been of thick mud and sandflies. This stream far exceeded that low bar–no biting insects or muck! We lived it up with our cafe drinks on a showery afternoon.
We had promised the kids a movie at a theater if we ran into a rainy day, and at Taupo, we ran into a genuinely rainy afternoon. We again left the kids reading in the comfort of the campervan and scouted for the local theatre. I happened to pass a rack of shoes outside a store on the way to the theatre, and these red beauties caught my eye. Lucky for me, my feet are the sample shoe size–I slipped one on and it hugged my foot like a slipper. They are the last impulse purchase I’ll make until I get a job, I promise.
The next day the rain cleared and we paid our tourist fees to walk through the Craters of the Moon. It was well worth it. They had built a wooden walkway over a geothermal hot spot with boiling mud and many steam vents, and they did a great job with the interpretive signs talking about the various plants that could grow with hot roots, and the heavy metals that make the soil turn rainbow colours.
Back in the campervan, we drove north.
I was on a mission to do some you-pick berries with the kids. In Hastings, we had hit the area right at New Years, and the establishments were taking some days off. In Whakatane, we found one.
Jeremiah was hoping to get into the ocean for a dive somewhere on the east side, but the water near the shore was cloudy, and we had left the kayak with the car in Palmerston North because the campervan wasn’t set up to carry it. The kids didn’t mind, sand and water is all they need to be happy. Here they were playing some silly game of turning the wet sand into jelly by bouncing into it with their bums.
We stopped in Rotorua on our way back south, and Jeremiah took the kids to the luge. It wasn’t cheap, but they remember it fondly.
Apparently, Jeremiah was so fast he got air over the top of a rise. Milo was cautious to start but soon sped up. Naomi followed the signs that cautioned “slow” carefully, and never lost control of her vehicle. That’s why girls’ car insurance is cheaper than boys’. I took the time to go biking at the Whakarewarewa forest park. It’s massive, and I biked until I was tired out.
We passed Tongariro in the cloud on our way back south, left the campervan back at Palmerston North, and spent another night in Wellington before taking the Interislander ferry back to Picton.
Through Kaikoura, homeward bound.