Monday, 26 January 2015

Taranaki Region Day One: Urenui

Driving north from Stratford, we found a campsite that was right by the beach.
 To get to the beach, though, you had to jump down a small cliff that someone had carved makeshift steps into. From frequent use, the steps had worn away to be what is generally regarded as an angle too steep for steps. (The next day we found out that there was an actual path that we just didn't see. How clever of us.)
The area around Urenui is known for its white cliffs, so we went to the start of the White Cliffs Walk. Upon reading the walk map, we found that a lot of it was along the top of the cliffs through paddocks and as it was quickly becoming evening we thought we would just walk along the beach to see them from below instead.

On the beach, we saw that someone had sketched what appeared to be a diagram of a large intestine. That, or it could have just been squiggly lines in the sand. I also found a rock that looked like a rectangular block of holey Swiss cheese but neglected to take a photo. 
Yannick saw a so-called "walking stick" at the waters edge and proceeded to offer it to me, but I graciously declined, saying it would better suit him. He got sandy droplets of water all over himself while posing for this photo. The only person I can see using this as a walking stick would be a wizard, but it would double as a staff.
Here we saw a small...waterfall I guess you would call it. It looked like was from pipe because it was running with some speed and was jettisoned away from the wall rather than trickling down it, but we couldn't see a pipe.  
I then became distracted by collapsing parts of a ledge of sand that I found and didn't notice Yannick taking this picture through the waterfall.

On the walk back I tried to find the cheese rock again, but was unsuccessful and decided that next time I find a rock that looks like a cheese, I will keep it as a souvenir.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway (State Highway 43) runs 155km from Taumarunui to Stratford, winding through unspoilt bush just as it it would have looked thousands of years ago. 
Honestly there wasn't much to see at the starting point of Taumaranui apart from this impressive moa statue made of driftwood.
Driving through the Tangarakau Gorge, we stopped by the side of the road near this very tall tree. Here we ate lunch and Yannick dozed for a while. We had happened to park right next to a sign which told of some of the history of the gorge. Other tourists would pull up right next to us to read the sign (some of them not even getting out of their campervans) and then drive off again, realising that the sign did not lead to an interesting bush walk.

We passed through the town of Whangamomona, which declared itself a Republic in 1989 to protest its shift from the Taranaki Region into the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. Residents hold a Republic Day every two years in January, and apparently people travel from all over New Zealand to attend the festivities.
The Wikipedia article states the following about the elected presidents:

Ian Kjestrup (1989–1999)
After being put on the ballot without his knowledge, he became the first elected President. Served 10 years.

Billy Gumboot the Goat (1999–2001)
First elected animal. He won election by eating the other challengers' ballots. He died in office after serving for 18 months.

Tai the Poodle (2003–2004)
Tai retired after an assassination attempt left him a nervous wreck.

Murt "Murtle the Turtle" Kennard (2005–present)
The local garage owner fought off strong competition from former president Kjestrup and a cross-dresser called "Miriam" to become the 4th President. He was re-elected in 2009 by one vote. He was re-elected again in 2011 by a landslide.

In Stratford, we went to see the glockenspiel clock tower. The town was named Stratford-upon-Patea for the similarity in aesthetic that the Patea River has to the River Avon in the UK. As Stratford-upon-Avon is Shakespeare's hometown, there are many references to the playwright. The clock tower plays out a scene from Romeo and Juliet three times a day, but we missed that. Also, 67 streets are named after characters from his plays.

The Bard of Avon is watching you.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Waitomo Region: Glow, worms, glow!

Waitomo Caves
We took a tour of Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms. It's amazing how many of the little luminescent insects there were, and our guide was friendly (he was also the 8th generation of Waitomo tour guides in his family). It was more expensive than I thought it would be, but it was interesting. You're not allowed any kind of photography in the cave itself, and here they did try to get you to buy a photo - however it wasn't even a photo of you in the cave, they just took it in front of a wall before you went in.

Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve
Near the town of Te Kuiti, where we loaded up on picnic supplies, is the scenic reserve of Mangaokewa. There was plenty of room to relax and have a picnic under a large tree with a view of the river and wooded cliffs beyond. It seems we do have rather a lot of picnics.

Piripiri Caves
On our way to Marokopa (a seaside village that we liked the sound of), we took a short walk to the Piripiri caves. The main reason for this was that the winding road was making me feel ill and I wanted to pull over. It happened that there was a bush walk and Yannick loves caves so we had to go.

Yannick's hayfever had been acting up that day and once we got to the caves and realised we needed a torch, he was overcome with sneezing. I ran back to the car for the torch and he had recovered somewhat by the time I got back. There were parts where you could see beyond into another cave, and I got to shine my torch on it to light it up for this photo. On one part of the rock, I saw a creepy marker of some sort - it looked like someone had made a dream catcher out of human hair and strung it to the rock. I bet it was for a voodoo ritual.

Marokopa Falls
Close by was the walk to the Marokopa falls, which only took about ten minutes. We were surprised by how tall and impressive they were, as we hadn't heard much about them. The surrounding area was dense with foliage and moss, and you could see that the spray from the waterfall drifted all around giving the plants a good misting.

In the small village of Marokopa, we stayed at the campground and visited the beach. This was the first black sand beach we went to on our trip, and it certainly was hot. The sand is black because of the iron content due to the volcanoes that are off the coast as well as Mount Taranaki. The dark colour of the sand helps absorb and hold onto heat.
No one can keep their feet in one place for very long on this sand, even the birds.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Hobbiton: an Expected Journey

Unwashed due to our stay at the DOC campsite, we returned to Tauranga where we ate a breakfast of French toast alongside a mango and blackberry smoothie. You can find these delectable specimens at Cafe 88 in Mount Maunganui. We opted to break our fast in the courtyard, which was strung up with fairy lights.
We spent the day reading under the shade of a tree by Papamoa beach, only breaking from our repose to eat some Monte Gelato. It was okay, but a bit of a disappointing gelato experiecne after the magic that is Charlie's Gelato in Matakana. The blood orange gelato was not up to scratch, tasting artificial, but the vanilla was quite nice, and the lemon sorbet was great. (When I combined the lemon and blood orange flavours, it reminded me exactly of Tip Top popsicle slushies, which is not what an artisinal gelato should taste like.)

That afternoon we set out for our journey to Matamata, where we would undertake a night tour of Hobbiton with two of Yannick's friends, Shinji and Esmé. (Warning: there are a lot of photos to come, I just couldn't cut down any more. Apologies in advance.)

The tour started by taking the bus through a bit of farmland. The first glimpse of Hobbiton was 'Gandalf's Cutting', a little area with a few hobbit holes. 
The first thing that struck me was how detailed each of them were (and how small!).
You could tell that a lot of thought had been put into each one. Many of the hobbit holes had props outside that showed the professions of the hobbit who lived there: among them a painter, a fisherman, and a cheese maker.

This one was a beekeeper's house, and there was even a little stall with honey with an honesty box (bag) by it. Adorable.
It looks so real!
With the sacks of flour outside, this one was a baker's house. That little stall on the left side had loaves of bread that looked so good you wanted to reach out and break a bit off for yourself.

We rounded a corner and saw Bag End. I can just imagine Bilbo scurrying out of that door to go on an adventure. And look, a rare photo of the both of us together! I can't remember the last time we had one of those. I'd say "That's one for the scrapbook" but it seems that this blog is now our scrapbook.

The tree that sits atop Bag End is made from steel and silicone, with individual artificial leaves wired on. It was originally a real tree that had been cut down in Matamata for the filming of the Lord of the Rings, but for the Hobbit they wanted something more permanent.

A beautiful gardener's home. They have several real gardeners on staff to keep everything looking immaculate.

The Party Tree, with a view of the Green Dragon pub and other assorted buildings on the other side of the lake.
The farm's resident cat, Pickles, followed the tour group for much of the way and at one point excitedly attacked a tuft of grass.

Okay, okay, I know it's not attached to a pony or anything and we're obviously not going anywhere on that thing, but isn't it cool! It's a big barrel of ale (not really though, shhh).

As part of the night tour, we got to have a hobbity feast for dinner as well as a complimentary ale or cider. The tables were all laid out in a banquet style, and everyone helped themselves. There were whole roast chickens and pig trotters, as well as sausages (always a favourite of mine) in a tomatoey sauce, a pumpkin barley mash that was served in a pumpkin half, and the softest bread rolls I've ever had. I'm sure I missed trying something on the table because there was so much. I wanted to go back for seconds but I heard dessert was coming so refrained.
After dinner, we got to dress up in hobbit clothes! I got way too excited but isn't it cute! (We did have to wait for children to vacate the clothes - I have a feeling it was mostly for their benefit than for us 'adults'.)
Me as a hobbit barmaid. Flagon of ale, anyone?
The storehouse, with a plethora of salamis and dried herbs. That teacup is ruining the photo and it really bugs me.
For the walk back, we got to hold lanterns and see the hobbit holes lit up. The story goes the owners of the holes that had lights on outside were still at the pub, and the ones that didn't had already gone to bed.

Back in Gandalf's Cutting again, the guides held up lights to better illuminate people and took photos for everyone. I was really pleased that they didn't do as many tourist traps do and charge you for the photos they take - they just used your own camera and even took a couple of photos so you could choose.
I'm sure I talked Yannick's ear off that night recalling all the things I liked about the tour. I suppose I didn't have super high expectations when I went in but I was very impressed and it was one of the highlights of our whole trip.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Nefertenti on the Waitawheta River

Karangahake Gorge
Continuing south from Auckland our way back to Tauranga, we stopped by Karangahake Gorge because we saw a sign for some walks to do. The carpark was packed tight as sardines and when we crossed the bridge we saw why - not only were people going on the historic walks, but they were also swimming in and enjoying the river.

We thought we were just going to walk to the entrance to the tunnel, but we just had to go on and see what was on the other side. It was much longer than I expected, and we had to use the iPhone torch function for parts of it. The ground was moist from all the water dripping down from the walls and ceiling. Yannick stepped in some mud.

Finally we got to the other side, but we didn't want to go all the way back through the tunnel, we wanted to see something new. We went on another trail, this one leading to some mining caverns.

There were little caves by the path which we were warned against going in. They mined gold here from the 1870's to as late as the 1950's.

Some of the tunnels were more well developed with tracks for a cart to go through. Again we needed the torch here to see in the low light. At certain points, holes had been carved out into the sunlight to allow for light and fresh air into the mine.

We spent the rest of the day at Waihi Beach before camping at a charming DOC campsite (with the not-so-charming name of Dickey Flat). We got to put our tent, named "Nefertenti", right by the Waitawheta River!
Though the campsite had no showers, I perched on a rock to bathe my injured feet and reapply new plasters. It was amazing how much sand had got into my plasters at the end of each day at the beach. 
That night, we picnicked beside Nefertenti. We had an exquisite feast of French cider, goat's cheese on crusty bread...and Dunkin Donuts that we had purchased in Auckland that morning.

A Brief Foray into Auckland CBD

Though we didn't explore much of Auckland proper, we did have 2 brief trips. The first was to Parnell, which wasn't as hectic as I thought it would be given its proximity to some of the main roads such as Queen Street. The main road was relatively quiet and people were relaxing on the outdoor seating of cafes enjoying a bevvy on a warm afternoon - absolutely no one was in a rush. (Note I don't have many Auckland photos as I wasn't feeling like taking any. Soz lol.)

We went down a little paved alleyway at the end of which was a waffle shop. For anything that had bread in it on the menu (such as mushrooms on toast), you could swap it for a waffle. They were pretty good, mine loaded up with fresh fruit, berry compote and cream. Yannick's was doused in chocolate in the form of sauce, ice cream and Nutella.

It's also where we found this little guy!
Now, I'm not a dog person. I am very much a cat person. But he was as small as a cat, only barked once the whole time we were there, and wasn't drooly. If I had to have a dog, it would be this dog. It's so fluffy!

Our bellies full, we went through the Parnell rose gardens to get down to an interesting little inlet called Judge's Bay where there were many people out sunbathing and swimming. We sat there for a while biding our time until our movie was going to start. Walking up a little hill, we saw a small but cheerful cemetary with a big tree and had a good view of the docks. Our time up, we went to the IMAX cinema to see Big Hero 6. We didn't see it in IMAX though, or even 3D (my preference is for 2D), and I highly recommend the film.

Upon reemerging into the daylight, we found a carpark by the Viaduct Basin and wandered around for a while. 
The Skytower was lit up in red and green (though the green wasn't very noticeable) for Christmas.

When we were suitably hungry again, we visited Baduzzi for "Italian inspired food and wine". We started with prosecco and a meat platter, followed by a sampling of the lamb meatballs. The meatballs here are delicious, and I want to come back to try out all the flavours. For main I had the saffron gnocchi, which were stuffed with goat's cheese. Stuffed gnocchi is a first for me. The sauce it came with was itself very sweet (perhaps a brandy sauce), but with the sour goat's cheese it was perfect.
For dessert I tried the deconstructed tiramisu, which was interesting but not really my kind of tiramisu. Yannick's chocolate torte was mouthwateringly decadent. It also had raspberries, which is always a bonus!

Several days later as we headed south, we briefly stopped in Auckland again and went to Milse, a patisserie and dessert shop which we had no idea was connected to a dessert restaurant. They keep it well hidden. We each got a handmade ice cream and they were sensational. We will definitely be going back there, and I plan to try out many more of the excellent restaurants and cafes. But it feels intimidating, as Auckland is just too big!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Kayak Story

Kayaking - what better to do on a sunny day with minimal wind? But there can be dangers!
Now these kayaks aren't really meant to hold more than one person, but we had two on each kayak. This may be one of the contributing factors for what happened next. 

We launched with no issues. We paddled for about 50 minutes, enjoying the calm sea and looking at the expensive houses on the hillside, and then landed on a small bay that is blocked off from the main beach by a rocky outcropping. The easiest way to get there is via the water. When we pulled the kayak out of the water, I could barely move it as it was so full of water. We knew that one took on more water than the other, but this was excessive. We tipped it all out and sealed it up, then explored a cave and sat in the sun for a bit. 

When we set off again, we knew that we had to checked how low the nose was dipping in case we had to land again. After all, we didn't want to sink a kayak. After only a few minutes, it was dipping frighteningly and I told Yannick to paddle back to shore. We had only just got back past the rocks when we landed. The kayak was once again full up with water. Knowing we wouldn't be able to paddle it back all the way along the beach as it would just fill up again, we decided to wheel it back along the beach, and someone would paddle the second kayak back in the sea.

I got to paddle back in the perfectly buoyant yellow kayak, and had great fun. We still have to find out why the blue kayak is sick, but we think there must be a leak somewhere.
On the long walk back with the kayak wheels, we ate the blueberries Yannick's mum gave us and it made the walk much more enjoyable. I don't want all this summer fruit and sun to come to an end.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Hibiscus Coast: Beach Love

Apart from Matakana, which is always our favourite day trip when staying in Whangaparaoa, here are a few places we visited on the Hibiscus Coast.

The French Bakery, Silverdale
Let's start with the beginning of all beginnings, shall we? Breakfast. We went back more than once for their delicious pastries for affordable prices: 5 croissants for $10, 5 pains au chocolat for $12! And all baked by a real Frenchman, too. 
Silverdale, along with many other towns near Auckland, has been expanding rapidly and this is just one of the many shops that has popped up alongside the massive supermarkets and housing developments. 

Gulf Harbour
Gulf Harbour was our home while we were here, as Yannick's dad was kind enough to put us up. This was the view from our deck, so you can see why I liked to read out here in the mornings (with a breakfast of Christmas cake oftentimes). Walking around the marina was a nice way to pass some time in the afternoon. 

Stanmore Bay
On Christmas Day, we sat out and read at Stanmore Bay before our excellent Christmas lunch. Though it was a little cloudy, it was still warm and not windy. Looking at you, Wellington! Take note.

Stanmore usually loses some of its sand over the year and gets rocky, but by summer it's always back. This year however, there was a storm which stripped the sand away and it didn't have time to return. When running into the sea one day for a swim, I tripped and skinned the top of my feet. Another travelling foot injury, but this time without an infection. Huzzah!

Tindalls Beach
The great thing about Whangaparaoa Peninsula is that whether the wind is a northerly or a southerly, you can still go the the beach. All you have to do is pick a northerly-facing or southerly-facing beach, whichever will be facing away and you get a calm beach where you can nap to your heart's content. Tindall's is one such beach, and also fit for petanque.
Needing a mention here is the village of Manly. It has two beaches named for it, Big Manly Beach and Little Manly Beach. The village itself has a few shops, many of which are called things like "Manly Bakery" and "Manly Liquor". But my top pick for Manly Village is the Manly Fire Station. Every time we drive past it I giggle.

Though I didn't get any pictures of it, Shakespear Regional Park is a highlight of the Peninsula. It's got a great beach at Te Haruhi Bay and plenty of shaded park for BBQs, a game of cricket or a quiet picnic. Much of the park is a pest-free zone, with a high fence that encloses it to keep out pests such as mammalian predators (possums and cats).

Wenderholm Regional Park
A little way into one of the bushwalks, and you get this view of the river coming from the left leading into the sea. 

The discarded leaves from the Nikau palm make for great sleds. Here Yannick is pulling me down the path as I sit in the spoon-shaped base of the leaf. 

The bushwalk - note the wooden path, which is a mark of a 'fancy' bushwalk. Sure, it was only in some areas, but fancy nonetheless. They normally just chuck some gravel down, or don't bother at all leaving you to trudge through overgrown foliage and mud. 

And me swinging on a vine. Just like Tarzan, apart from the terrified look on my face (despite the fact that I am less than 10cm from the ground). 

We spent the rest of the afternoon under the shade of a tree in the park, reading and eating salami sandwiches and cherries, and then on the beach, where nearby children were having a race. When the sun got too low, and I was shrouded in shadow, we had to depart. How I love spending everyday at the beach.