Returning to New Zealand after nine long years was both exciting and a little tense. Nine years ago we spent three weeks in New Zealand’s South Island as part of trip celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary – we were airborne for the actual anniversary, so had our bash in Sydney. The highlight was completing the long distance Milford Track hike over four days with the company of people from various parts of the World, including a gentleman who was in his 80s and put us to shame! This blog is not the place to dwell on past happenings nor the nine intervening years. But suffice to say that now we’re retired, living in Cyprus, and travelling the globe slowly, our way.
After our wonderful day in Melbourne, the flight to Auckland was a bit disappointing. Melbourne Terminal 2 for a 6.30AM flight was a disgrace, in the middle of a major refurb, with unfriendly staff, and many shops closed or unable to cope with demand. We flew Virgin Australia and found the crew either frumpy, overweight or miserable. Arriving in Auckland, we had more hassle, when the car hire company rejected Marilyn’s Cypriot driving license but accepted Alf’s, because Alf’s was completely in English and Marilyn’s had a small part in Greek – it had to be translated into English and that privilege cost NZD 50 and the fact that Marilyn had just used the licence in Australia was irrelevant. Then further difficulties over scratches on the vehicle that were not noted. This was the start of a thirty-day adventure, exploring New Zealand’s North Island. In conjunction, with New Zealand friends, we’d planned a massive figure of eight route, with the crossover being Auckland.
After leaving the airport, we headed for the coastal, former gold-mining town, of Thames. We soon has some surprises. Firstly, we were shocked by the density of traffic, compared to the South Island. We soon spotted dairy cattle but surprisingly no sheep! It was about four days before we spotted sheep and were concerned in case there was no New Zealand Lamb in New Zealand anymore!
In the main, we planned to stay in motels, as they are of very high standard and this gave us the opportunity to do self catering in one-horse towns where the options for eating out are limited.
The first six days rushed by, with one night each in Thames and Whakatone, followed by two nights each in Rotorua and Gisborne. As usual, we travelled the long and scenic way. We took a full day going from Thames to Whakatone following the stunningly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula. We also took a full day to reach Gisborne from Rotorua, following the coastal route overlooking the Pacific, with frequently stopping to admire the scenery. By contrast, in Rotorua, we hiked for three hours in the Redwood forest, plus we saw some wonderful geothermal features and beautiful volcanic craters, all of which were truly amazing, including some beautiful birds flying over our heads and singing to us. In Gisborne, we walked the coastal path and watched the many surfers doing their thing on the waves. Gisborne is historically famous because it’s where Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand. The views from the hilltop commemorating Cook’s landing overlooking the Pacific were breathtaking. Afterwards, we went to The Wine Center in Gisborne Harbour, where we enjoyed a glass of local wine – actually, we enjoyed it so much that we returned for dinner and more wine, of course. The New Zealand wineries generally have excellent restaurants and this was no exception, as we had a delicious meal, including giant mussels, cooked in garlic and rosemary, plus oven cooked local white fish baked in grease-proof paper and flavoured with lemon and pepper, plus a selection of fresh crispy vegetables cooked to perfection. We had planned on watching the sunset in the evening from the Captain Cook lookout point, but excellent wine and food took priority.
Tomorrow, we’ve got another three hour coastal drive – this time to Napier, famous for its Art Deco architecture and, of course, its wineries!
[We’ve included a few photos from those in the public domain – ours will follow]