We bid farewell to lovely Lollie in Cambridge – our joint longest housesit so far – and hit the road once again for another adventure in our plush camper named Archie. Having explored much of the area over the past three weeks, we headed straight to a campsite on the banks of Lake Taupo. Following a hearty bowl of soup eaten with giant cutlery, we spent much of the evening playing pool and darts, attempting to hit bullseye during a frantic game of round the clock!
Driving on to Wellington: ‘The city of sails’
After a failed attempt to walk a section of the famous Tongariro Crossing in what felt like a tornado, we made our way West to the seaside town of Whanganui. I can’t recall what led us there, although it may have simply been it’s funny name. On the surface there didn’t seem like much to do, but we trusted our cultural senses and soon discovered the impressive glass works, complete with a glowing furnace and shop. Frustratingly both the museum and gallery were closed to strengthen the buildings against earthquakes, so we made do with a temporary art exhibition that had been set up. Having been warned against staying in Levin due to some unruly hockey players, we treated ourselves to beachside coffees as the sun went down, before settling in for a very windy night at Paekakariki campsite.
Although rather basic, staying at a local Motel was a treat for us. Rather than a campsite out of town, we were an easy 15 minute walk from all that Wellington had to offer. After a quick caffeine hit at a student jaunt down on diverse Cuba Street, we made a beeline for New Zealand’s National Museum: ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’. Despite still buzzing from tasty lattes, our mood soon turned sombre while taking in the impressive WW1 exhibition that was on. The horrors of war was brought to life through enormous and intricate models of soldiers, along with narration and chilling sound effects.
Staying true to our ‘traveler’ personas, we then skipped paying to ride in the famous red cable car, and instead walked up the steep slopes toward Wellington’s Botanic gardens.
Having thoroughly stretched our legs and taken in the panoramic views of the city below us, our minds soon turned to drinks and dinner. After scrimping and saving all day, we gave into our tastebuds by sipping some fine porters at Chooky’s pub, before tucking into tasty nosh at Ombra across the road. There we enjoyed Venetian inspired small plates, featuring perfect pizzettes, meatalicious meatballs and lovely lentils. All this tasty grub was washed down with gorgeous pinot, as well as sour cherry vino brilliantly pared with our dark chocolate salami and white chocolate pancakes – yum!
Enjoying the oddities of Golden Bay in NZ’s South Island
Up early to catch the red eye ferry to the New Zealand’s South island, we were understandably bleary eyed, although the incredible scenery en route soon got them wide open in awe of our surroundings! While not oohing and ahhing at the luscious green rolling hills that passed us by, we were umming and urring where our travels should take us next. You see, we had 5 nights ‘to kill’ before our scheduled pick up of our mate Sam in Christchurch, who’d unintentionally found himself with plane tickets to the other side of the World, I’ll explain later…
Eventually settling on the intriguing ‘Golden Bay’, I soon begun to question our decision… The only route was via the ‘Takaka Hill Highway that ominously appears on the ‘Dangerous roads’ website, due to the 320 degree hairpins in amongst it’s steep terrain. Safely arriving at the ‘Top 10’ campsite just before dark, we were immediately relieved with our decision; Robin the owner gave us a warm welcome and we were a few seconds walk from a gorgeous beach looking out onto Golden Bay.
Having used the clever Roadtrippers app to put together our itinerary, we set off on a mornings tour of eclectic natural wonders:
- The Grove – Described perfectly by Robin as “like Jurassic Park, but without dinosaurs”, consisted of an easy half hour walk in amongst trees, limestone formations and ferns.
- Te Waikoropupu – A boardwalk round a natural spring, believed to contain some of the clearest fresh water on Earth and features ‘dancing sands’ caused by vents below.
- Labyrinth rocks – An outcrop of natural limestone originally set up by a British chap, now maintained by volunteers, with children’s toys hidden in amongst the nooks and crannies.
For lunch we fancied a coastal backdrop, so ventured towards Wharakiki beach. After managing to avoid the colourful car park attendant peacocks on arrival, we set off on the hour long walk through luscious green fields, watched on by sheep acting as groundsmen. Sand dunes heralded that our journey was almost over, and soon gave way to the stunning beach that took over our entire horizon. The enormity of our surroundings was further emphasised by the epic rock formations against the deep blue skies, together with our long shadows cast across the smooth sands by the sun. On our way back to the campsite we couldn’t resist a cheeky manuka ale at the quirky Mussel Inn microbrewery, while wondering if it had medicinal qualities like manuka honey…
Out of this world picnic spots and ghostly roads
While driving south from Pohara, we begun to get hungry, so took a pit stop for lunch at Lake Rotura that I’d spotted on Google maps earlier. The scene before us as we arrived in the empty car park completely blew us away. A large lake with water like glass, perfectly framed by hills at the far end, and snow capped mountains beyond. An old wooden jetty stretched into the lake nearby, with a picnic table offering what I’m prepared to say is probably the most beautiful lunch spot on earth. While enjoying our humble tuna sandwiches, struggling to believe our eyes, two swans then gracefully swum past as if to mock our senses further. At this point we looked at one another in disbelief – had we crashed and were now in heaven!?
Despite continued deep talk about the mesmerising scenery of our picnic earlier, Joella’s eagle eyes spotted an intriguing sign up ahead that peaked our interest: ‘The Old Ghost Road’. There we started the 85km trail used by trampers and advanced mountain bikers alike, through the hilly forest not sure of what we’d find… It turned out to be another remnant from the gold mining era of the 1800s. Perched on the steep hillside on which we were walking, were once entire towns built upon wooden stilts, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Western. The information boards helped take us back, to a time when people were prepared to take great risk and hardship, in a bid to find riches beyond their wildest dreams. The end of the gold rush era, together with earthquakes in early to mid 1900s led to the demise of these towns and sadly some of its people.
Pleasantly that evening we found ourselves a picturesque place to park up for the night, in Buller Gorge. There we were treated to a spellbinding sunset atop of the nearby hillside in pre-historic surroundings before a quick nightcap of silky smooth porters to warm our cockles, at the Berlins cafe and bar.