A Travellerspoint blog

Clothes off, jump in

Rapids, fallen trees and a cheeky dip

sunny

We arrive in Taupo just after one o’clock to go to the info centre and ask about walks to Huka Falls. The kind lady there showed us how to get to the path and after a quick lunch we set off. We were lost almost immediately and found ourselves stumbling upon a bungy jump (tempting until we saw the price). Oops! We quickly got back on track and rejoined the scenic pathway.

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The walk followed the line of a beautiful crystal clear and deadly cold river. This last description meant that we were somewhat surprised to see bikini clad bathers jumping into one of the tributaries joining it. Only when we passed across the bridge over it, could we see the steam hovering just above the surface and the faint smell of sulphur, indicating that this tributary came from a hot water thermal spring. It did look amazing but we’d neglected to bring our swimming cozzies and so we passed on by.

As it turned out this was no great loss as the walk was amazing with some stunning views of the river and the cliffs it had formed as it twisted its way through the land. After some time we heard the sound of rushing water and then saw Huka Falls. It was a majestic site, fifteen metres of narrow, rock channel rapids where the water was turned baby blue by the commotion before being hurtled toward the edge and spewed ten metres into the lagoon below. It was so mesmerising that we spent about fifteen minutes just staring at it before realising we still had to trek back.

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We must have been bored traversing the same path twice as the journey back was a little more eventful. We ended up climbing a massive fallen tree, running barefoot up and down its trunk like little kids. A little further on and there were still bathers in the thermal pools and as Oscar Wilde once said, “The only way to defeat temptation is to yield to it.” So we went off in search of a more secluded pool and found the perfect one complete with mini-waterfall. We stripped to our undies and stepped into the blissfully warm waters, perhaps a bit too warm. Five minutes later, with sweat now making up more of the pool than springwater, we headed out but not before Alex took the opportunity for a hot shower!

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Back at the camper we dried off and drove around the edge of Lake Taupo to find a place to stay. Again this drive only added to the long list of beauties we’ve experienced from a car seat in NZ, and luckily for us the views didn’t stop for the evening as we found a picnic spot on a small beach on the lake. Amazing!

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Always carry bathers with you, you never know when you might need them.
  • Read Rach's review of Huka Falls here.

Posted by rexontheroad 13:33 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Semi-naked with Chinese tourists

Thermal springs, waterfalls and a lot of rain

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To give you a glimpse of New Zealand Spring weather, when we left Hobbiton yesterday at one o-clock in the afternoon it started to rain. At one this afternoon, whilst in Rotorua visitor centre it was still raining. And not just any kind of rain. The kind that in the time it takes you to walk the fifteen metres from your campervan to the door of the info centre you are completely soaked through. Our campervan has since become a laundrette with homemade clotheslines tied across in the ceilings in an attempt to dry our clothes.

Back to our day, we’d spent the morning with the tourist information lady going over what there is to do in the Rotorua area. We loved the look of pretty much everywhere she was suggesting although annoyingly none of them gave an indication to price. Why we haven’t become immune to this yet who knows as it does seem to be pretty common practise thus far on our travels through Australasia. When we enquired as to how much they would set us back we were a little disappointed. There were around four different Maori villages and five different spas, all with a hefty price tag and we had no idea as to which were worthwhile. We decided to have a think about it as we made our way around the local park where there was a small thermal activity area.

We hadn’t expected much at all and so we were mightily surprised when we turned up and saw huge plumes of steam rising from the ground. There were many different geysers and vents for us to look at and as we made our way around we came across a small thermal pool. After dipping in our feet and seeing no-one around, as everyone was hiding from the rain, we ran back to the campervan, changed into our swimwear and headed back out to the pool.

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Immersing ourselves into the steamy pools was pure bliss that even the background smell of sulphur could do nothing to dilute. It was made even more perfect by the location. Our sheltered little pool looked out over a picturesque lake complete with a cute wooden bridge and surrounded by resplendent blossoming trees. We were there for over an hour, undisturbed and peacefully watching the rain pour down just feet away.

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Then things got awkward real quick. We’d had a few stray people wander past us but then suddenly a Chinese tourist spotted us and waved over the other twenty or so friends he had with him. Before we knew it we were surrounded by all these people removing their socks and shoes and sticking their feet in the water, still wearing rain macs and hats whilst we were left feeling slightly exposed clad as we were in only our bathers. Slightly too embarrassed to do anything we suffered about ten minutes of slowly getting hotter and hotter before they finally left! Before we could even breathe a sigh of relief and clamber out to ease the heat another busload of tourists came in and sat around us! Admitting defeat we headed back to the campervan and dried off.

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After a brief walk along the lake front we headed off to our rest stop for the night; an actual campsite! Since all our clothes were wet we thought we’d take advantage of the portable heater in the van, so we parked up and are now spending an evening in luxurious warmth watching a film on our tv/dvd player that Jucy provided us with. It has even stopped raining. Win win all round.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Most leaflets in NZ don’t provide prices. Pop into the local tourist info centre and they’ll be able to fill you in.
  • Look around for free options. We managed to get a free thermal spa to ourselves (for an hour at least) with an amazing view. Had we gone to a proper spa this would’ve cost at least $25 each. Read Rach's tripadvisor review of the park here.
  • If you have wet clothes (and there’s nothing worse) it may be worth heading to a campsite to dry them out.

Posted by rexontheroad 22:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Shire brilliance

A lake, a party tree and a dressed up barn

semi-overcast

We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of... Middle Earth! We woke up early and made our way to a place called the Shire’s Rest, just outside of a small town called Matamata. Due to our excitement we did arrive a little early though, about two hours early to be exact.

After twiddling our thumbs for a while the rest of the (obviously not as great) Lord of the Rings fans turned up and we were ready to set off on the tour for Hobbiton, home of the Hobbits (what else?!) in the Lord of the Rings films and the soon to be released Hobbit film trilogy. So we clambered on up into the tour bus and were taken through the sheep farm that surrounds the set. The scenery that composes the sheep farm and the film set is simple yet stunning with small, rounded, rolling, hills covered in the most luscious green grass that is dotted with flecks of white as sheep go about their daily business. Waxing lyrical, imagine if you will a beautifully deformed snooker felt with the balls under the cloth, complete with chalk marks.

We pulled up and just after disembarking were told by our tour guide that it was the only fully fledged outdoor film set left in place by a film studio. As such we sadly couldn’t play on any of the swings, sit on any of the benches, or do our own exploring. Still, we could at least take photos which we did with gusto recording every blade of grass to electronic memory. There is a very simple reason for the volume of photos we took and it is this; Hobbiton is breathtaking. The amount of work and craftsmanship that has gone into each buried Hobbit-hole is mind-boggling, not to mention that this feat has been repeated forty or so times over. Each is made to look like it is over one hundred years old and so each has a faded paint job; some even having fake fungi and it really does look like it could have been there for the last century as opposed to just the last decade.

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The attention to detail doesn’t stop there either; it is supposed to be reminiscent of the English countryside and so each garden is planted with an array of natural English herbs and plants specially shipped over and cared for. Reeds were cut for the two thatched roofs, a pond dug, roads and paths laid, a bridge built, and a variety of animals brought in. Bearing in mind that all of this was done in complete secrecy makes it pretty impressive. All this effort and time spent building and perfecting the set only for about half an hours screen time spread across two films! Even more astounding than this is that all of the time, effort and beauty was to be destroyed after filming due to a clause in the contract stating that any land used had to be returned to its original setting. Luckily for us heavy rain delayed the demolition until after the first film hit the screens and so Hobbiton was saved by mass outcry from all the newly converted Lord of the Rings fans. So with some restoration to the few Hobbit-holes already targeted by the wreckers Hobbiton was laid out for tourists to see.

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Our guide led us around the gently meandering lanes to see the amazing sights, all the while filling us in on facts and titbits about the films. It was a thrilling experience, even for a more passive Lord of the Rings fan like Alex. We’d love to spill all of the film fact gems and funny stories that we heard whilst making our way around the set but that would just ruin it for anyone who is thinking of going (and if you are just go!). Both of our fav parts of the tour were on Bag End with Rach’s highlight being able to peek through the door and see the first two feet of interior. Alex’s was seeing where Bilbo and Gandalf share a pipe and blow smoke rings looking over a view with a secret to hide.

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There really was so much more than we have described above and all packed into two hours. Although having said that, we could’ve quite happily spent the entire day roving around Hobbiton just gawping open mouthed at the set pieces. The location was stunning, the tour amazing, and the sets mind boggling. So it was with heavy hearts that we departed and set out for the hotspot that is Rotorura.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • We saw some tours for $235 for Hobbiton and all they included as extra to the regular $75 tour was lunch! Don’t go through independent operators for this one, the cheapest way to do it is direct through the company Hobbitontours.
  • If you want to dress up, go ahead, you definitely won’t be the first, even if you choose to dress in just your birthday suit.
  • Visit after Dec 2012 as they should have the Green Dragon Inn fully operational and working as an actual pub by then.
  • Rach has done a review of Hobbiton here.

Posted by rexontheroad 22:25 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Meeting Jucy Lucy

Hot springs, a cove and our new home

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We were so excited to wake up this morning as today was the day we were due to meet our new travelling companion, our home for the next four weeks. We quickly packed all our stuff together and said some sad goodbyes to our couchsurfing friends before making our way to the Jucy depot. Once there we had to hang around for a little while and during that time we were bombarded with leaflets and maps and all other sorts of bits of glossy paper.

It was then out of the corner of our eyes that we noticed what could only be described as a vision. We rushed outside and there before our very eyes her sleek lines were revealed, her gorgeous colours, her pristine interior. She was all ours and we were delighted to have her. After a quick reccy we headed straight off out onto the open road. Only to pull straight back off the road into the MacDonalds car park when we realised that we had no idea where we going, no food and that we both needed the loo.

We had a brief pow-wow and decided on our plan of action and that we would at some point need some food so after dropping in and out of Maccas to make use of the facilities we drove off to a nearby supermarket to stock up. We could stock up as we managed to get ourselves, through Rach’s contacts, a proper gem of a camper. She has a little fridge, enough room for four people to sleep, a sofa, several tables, a cooker and for some reason a porta potty. We decided there and then to call her Lucy. Probably not very original but it seemed fitting.

Ready and raring to go, with a route to follow using our brand new New Zealand road map we set off for Coromandel Peninsula and Hot Water Beach a measly 175km drive from Auckland. We both took the opportunity to have a spin behind the wheel and although she has one small failing in Alex’s eyes (she’s an automatic) she does drive beautifully. The roads were a little strange as outside of Auckland there were no motorways and even the major roads were single lane highways. Still the views were absolutely breathtaking and we stared open mouthed at the beauty that surrounded us. Although it was only our first days driving we think that it was quite possibly a better drive than the Great Ocean Road!

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We arrived at Hot Water Beach a little before sundown and realised our mistake immediately. The beach is famous for the hot water that bubbles from the sand between the low and high tide marks. Our problem was that it was almost high tide and still rising so we had no hope of getting to the hot water beneath. Still we mucked around in the surf before deciding to check out another nearby site; Cathedral Cove.

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We followed the signs to the car park and started off down the path, expecting to see the majestic cove open up in front of us. Instead a sign informed us that we still had a forty-five minute trek to get there. The sun was due to go down in twenty but we thought that we would give it our best shot. Fifteen minutes later (timed on a reliable watch!) we arrived puffing and panting on a small strip of sand that led to a massive arch in the cliff that had been formed by sea erosion. It was truly breathtaking to be stood inside such a creation of nature and it was deserving of its name.

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Still our adventures weren’t over as we had to stumble back to the van in the dark and it seemed to take considerably longer as a result. We then had a further 100km to cover to get to our first stop of the night, a free campsite in a little town called Te Aroha. We found the town after a hair-raising drive through the dark, navigating the death defying twists and turns, and then struggled to find the campsite. As a result we are now parked up in a public carpark after having asked some lovely security men if we could stay the night. Time to settle down to our first night in our new home.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Have some form of route planned before you set out. Then when you go, you really can go.
  • If you are going to Hot Water Beach and only have a couple of hours to spare make sure you check the tide times for low tide to ensure you actually get to experience the hot water!
  • We’re not too sure on the rules on freedom camping in New Zealand as every source we have tried (both official and unofficial) has returned different answers. As far as we can tell it’s okay unless there is a sign or somebody asks you to move. For more info check out the government website.

Posted by rexontheroad 22:12 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Awkward Auckland

A museum, drinking games and not much else

semi-overcast

We’ve now been in Auckland for four days and rather sadly not done much. Instead much of our time has been eaten away by Chinese visa applications, an outdated Lonely Planet guidebook and a lack of touristy things to do. We have however had a brilliant time during the evenings thanks in no small part to our couchsurfing hosts and the legend that is Conrad.

One of the days was taken up by our visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. It was brilliant and restored our faith in museums in general after some of the atrocities committed on signs in Aussie museums (Fort Newcastle was better than this!). It served as a general museum as well as a war memorial and they managed to fit so many artefacts into such a small space, including a Japanese Zero and a Spitfire. It was incredible. However in some areas this did leave a problem as items were simply listed as opposed to having an explanation or back story. This aside we loved the museum, especially the National Geographic photo section. After looking in awe at some of the pictures we got to vote for our favourites at the end.

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After the museum we attempted to see the Rugby Hall of Fame listed in our Lonely Planet guide and spent a while looking for it only to find out it had closed. This is probably due to it being a decade and a half out of date. This left time only for one other touristy thing and so we choose to climb Mt. Eden. We’d read the usual spiel about how it has ‘fantastic views of the city’ so we headed on up there not expecting anything much. As we traipsed the top though our first surprise was the gigantic hole in the earth, created by an extinct volcano. After a bit we finally looked around and noticed the views, which were quite possibly the best views we’ve seen of a city. It was a 360° view stretching from one harbour to the next- basically one side of New Zealand to the other. It was truly stunning and if we hadn’t have had gale force winds trying to blow us down the mountain we would have stayed for sunset.

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We did however make up for missing the sundown by playing drinking games with our couchsurfing hosts/fellow couchsurfers. As mentioned before there is one person who stands head and shoulders above all else. Conrad. The mere mention of his name sets our pulses racing! He introduced us to a game called Threeman. All you need is two dice, a group of friends, a silly hat and a healthy supply of booze. Before the game starts each player rolls to decide who is ‘Threeman’. Whoever looses dons the hat and becomes ‘Threeman’. This means that every time one of the dice shows a 3, Threeman drinks. Trust us you don’t want to be Threeman. The behatted player starts the game rolling both dice. Whoever is in control of the dice is 6, to their right is 5 and to their left is 7. Should a total of 5 be rolled number five person drinks, a total of 6 and player six drinks and a total of 7 and the seven drinks. If doubles are rolled, the roller chooses another player who then has to roll one dice and consume the same number of drinks as the number shown (roll 6 means finish it off). Any dice shows 3 at any point during this the Threeman has to drink. Each player keeps rolling the dice until a combination arises where no-one drink (unless it’s the persons first roll and then they have to drink and continue playing). When this is the case the dice are passed left. If a player should roll a 1,2 they become the Threeman and passes the dice on. Should a player who is already Threeman roll a 1,2 they have the power to nominate the next Threeman before passing the dice. Sound complex? It does until about two dice rolls in and then it’s easy as pie. Good luck and safe drinking.

We played this game a couple of nights in a row and ended up going on midnight missions for more alcohol once our beer supply had run out. Our livers sufficiently battered, we’re picking up our campervan tomorrow ready to head off and do some exploring!

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Although it sounds complex give Threeman a go. It’s so simple once you get the hang of it and you will blitz through the alcohol. Check out the facebook page here.
  • If you’re using an old travel guidebook, make sure you check online or at an information centre that they’re still open.
  • Either bring warm clothes or run straight out to an op shop (opportunity/charity shop) to stock up on jumpers. We weren’t the only couchsurfers there who went over to Karangahape Road for more layers.

Posted by rexontheroad 23:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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