Saturday 1 April Beacon Hill
A lovely warm sunny day. I did some washing & we prepared for a BBQ round the pool. Keef & I went swimming in the pool & tried to clean up some leaves from the pool after the previous nights storm. At 2pm Chris, Allyson & Laura arrived for the BBQ – burgers in cobs with cheese & bacon, chicken on skewers, green salad, red & yellow salad. Laura had brought along some homemade lamingtons- yummy- & we also had rock melon. Steve arrived later as he had some customers for his eco boat (self-drive electric powered boats for hire). We’d saved some food for Steve. They all left around 8pm in the car to return to Wollstencraft, on the north shore, where Laura & Steve live. K & I went to bed early as a busy travelling day ahead tomorrow.
Sunday 2 April Beacon Hill to Broadmeadow, northern NSW
Got up really early today as off to Newcastle, NSW on the train to meet my cousin Susan & husband John (Browne). I’ve not seen Susan for 45 years ( I was 18 & just returned from Australia with family. We walked to the bus stop at the top of Beacon Hill Road at 7.30am for the bus due at 7.50 to take us to Wynyard Station in Sydney CBD. The bus was 20 mins late so we were worried we would miss our train.
Once at Wynyard we took a train a couple of stops to Central station & then got on a two tier train all the way to Broadmeadow, just south of Newcastle in northern NSW. The train was packed because on a Sunday you can travel on buses & trains in NSW for $2.50 per person – a bargain. The bus journey into Sydney took an hour & the trains took 2½ hours. At 11.45 we arrived at Broadmeadow station & could not see Susan & John so waited for a few minutes. We realised there was another station exit via the tunnel which gave access to a street on the other side of the railway line.
Luckily Susan & John were there with their car & John said “Are you the Hellingers?” We finally met up after all these years & they were very welcoming. John drove us to their triple level duplex apartment a few miles away, just off the main Pacific Highway at Merrywhether Heights where we chatted & then had lunch (chicken thighs, salad, asparagus, giant couscous with peppers & onion & wine. Susan & John were very friendly & both were retired. They had moved to NSW from Perth, WA to be near their daughter Hannah, her husband & children. We took along a box of chocs & some red wine. Unfortunately red wine brings out a rash on their faces & they only drink white wine. The lunch was lovely & we continued catching up the years until 5.20 & then they drove us back to the station. Susan & John had just had my other two cousins Janet & Rob to stay with them for 3 weeks but they left to return to Canada 10 days before we arrived.
Unfortunately we just missed the train & had to wait ¾ hr for the next one to Sydney. Another train went past heading for Brisbane which was an overnight train journey of 6 hrs from Sydney. Susan & John joined us on the platform as they realised we’d missed the train. It was lovely to meet up with them & we invited them to stay if they came to the UK. Their daughter Georgia lives in Glasgow & she is a musician (plays the flute). Keef & I read our Kindles on the return journey to Sydney as it was dark. We had seen the country towns, bush & Hawkesbury River on the journey up this morning.
After arriving in Sydney we caught another train to Circular Quay & then the Manly ferry to Manly. We stopped off at KFC in Manly for a snack & then got a taxi back to our apartment at 10.10pm. A very long day & a lot of travel but worth it to meet up with my cousin.
Monday 3 April Beacon Hill
Did washing & ironing. We packed in the afternoon & the weather was not good enough to swim in the pool. Watched TV & read our Kindles.
Tuesday 4 April Travel from to Sydney airport to Tasmania to stay with John & Diana
Got up at 3.45am, showered & had a quick breakfast. Keef called an Uber taxi at 4.30am to request a pick-up & to take us to Sydney airport. We were annoyed to find a text to us from the Uber taxi driver saying he had cancelled. We had been waiting with our luggage on the pavement in the dark and rain. Keef called Uber again to order another taxi. We were not impressed with Uber – this was the first time we had used them.
This time the Uber guy did turn up & was very friendly (he was a Civil Engineering student from Sri Lanka doing his Masters in Sydney & taxi driving between 5am -12 noon to earn some money). He dropped us at Terminal 2 & the Jet Star flight was ½ hour late departing. The pilot apologised for the delay stating that the plane was “messy” after returning from Tasmania & the cleaners were still cleaning. Not an efficient service. All drinks & snacks on this flight were not free. The plane eventually left at 8am.
At Launceston we collected our hire car (white Toyota Yashi 4 door hatchback) & set off at 9.45am via Evendale & Campbell Town & then took the scenic route to the east coast (as recommended by Diana). Diana is Keef’s 2nd cousin & we had visited her & John twice before in 2008 & 2013 when they lived in Huonville, Tasmania. This time they had had a house built on some land near Swansea which we had not seen before.
We drove to Campbell Town, an old town with a history of convicts & settlers. It had an 1836 red brick bridge built by convicts over the Elizabeth River. We visited the Tourist Info centre & had a pie & coffee in the local bakery as we’d been up for hours. At Evandale a lot of English trees had autumn tints & the air was cooler & fresher than Sydney. It felt a bit like England but the fields were bone dry & the grass was yellow due to drought. Some local Aussies said it was just coming into winter now.
We saw a few Tasmanian Devils dead at the side of the road (killed at night by traffic). The roads were empty & scenery was lovely – lots of mountain ridges but few rivers & streams. We stopped at Bicheno on the coast to buy flowers & chocs for John & Diana. They are both 79 & had bought a 5 acre plot of grassland & had a house built from scratch, with the same floor plan as their previous house in the Huon valley except this time the kitchen was open-plan. Their house was very nice with white & pink roses round the verandah. Diana had given us directions to their house which was a few minutes inland from Swansea, their nearest town on the coast. We arrived at John & Diana’s at 4.30pm – a long journey travelling from 4.30am (although we had stopped for about 1+ ¾ hrs for breaks, including breakfast in Campbell Town). It was nice to see them again & we all had some tea, cake & a catch-up (we had last done a Skype with them before we left England.
We stored our big bags in their garage which had recently been built. They had been busy planting trees & John had done all the internal & external painting of the house himself. Diana cooked Flathead fish fillets (Aussie fish) in breadcrumbs with salad & homemade plum pie for dessert. We went to bed at 10pm as very tired – been awake for 18¼ hours since early this morning.
Wednesday 5 April Tasmania
Diana cooked us a full English breakfast. We all went in the hire car to 9 Mile Beach, Spikey Bridge (built by convicts), Spikey Beach & Rocky Hill Lookout over the bay towards Freycinet National Park. Warm weather today 24c with a gentle breeze.
The beaches we visited were empty, with pristine sand & no parking fees (unlike Sydney). This eastern coast of Tasmania has so many quiet, sandy beaches & small sleepy settlements with hardly any shops, cafes or restaurants. John told us that there were 8 areas on the island where the water was unsafe to drink so people had to boil water or buy bottled water – not very 21st century.
Tasmania does not seem to cater much for tourists compared to mainland Australia & we think it’s behind the times (40 years behind!). I expect a lot of Tasmanians like it this way – sleepy with not much going on. Certainly compared to having just left Sydney where people rushing around the massive city & suburbs must raise stress levels We noticed no wind farms at all on our car journeys & no solar panels on people’s roofs. Even petrol stations are few & far between & public transport was not visible. Wi-fi is not available in some small settlements & our sat-nav kept saying ‘GPS signal lost’ when we were in the country. There is only one road down the east coast by the Tasman Sea– the Tasman Highway- and there’s not much work available with mainly retired people living here. Keef & I like Tassie as it’s so different from the mainland & this is our 3rd visit. Most Aussies we’ve talked to in various States have never been to Tassie.
It takes John & Diana 2 hours by car to reach Hobart or Launceston where they do their main shopping. Swansea does have a school, small library, 2 small IGA supermarkets, petrol station, fish & chip shop, a small museum & tourist info in the old schoolhouse, plus a motel & backpackers hostel. The seafood restaurant & hairdressers had closed down. There were a lot of houses & land for sale. John & Diana live about ½ mile from the main coastal road & near them there some new homes being built on large plots of land. Lots of fields nearby with long tinder dry grass & bush further away.
Keef & I took lots of photos & we all returned back to John & Diana’s for tea & homemade walnut cake (Mary Berry had better watch out!) For dinner John cooked two delicious curries – chicken korma & beef rojan josh, with lentil dahl, poppadoms & naan bread. Watched TV for the rest of the evening.
Thursday 6 April Tasmania
Warm weather again. Diana cooked pancakes & maple syrup for breakfast. I seem to have picked up germs from the plane – have a cold, runny nose & stye on my inner eyelid. This is the second cold I’ve had on this big trip. We went out for the day to Freycinet National park, north of Swansea. We parked at the Visitors Centre & as J & D had an annual parks pass, we checked with the park staff that we could use it on the hire car – normal cost would be $24 per vehicle. This was twice the price of a day pass in other National Parks on the mainland.
Took a photo of a stuffed wombat in the visitors centre – will email it to Charlie & Edie. We did a walk through the trees down to the bay and beach. Beautiful views – boats moored in crystal clear waters & the very large rocky isthmus called The Hazards. The walk to the famous Wineglass Bay takes 2 hours each way & is very arduous as it cuts across the isthmus, so we decided against this.
We drove along a winding mountain road with ravines & bush on one side to Tourville Lighthouse where there was a circular boardwalk from the car park. There were spectacular views of the other side of The Hazards, a bit of Wineglass Bay & looking across the Tasman Sea. Didn’t see any whales or dolphins. We drove to Coles bay, a small settlement with few shops. From Coles Bay it’s 1,000kms to South Island, New Zealand. Had coffee & cake in a café. Lots of wasps around here. There were several holiday homes & a boat launch.
Keef drove back to Swansea pier & jetty where we took some photos. John cooked prawn lasse, a Singapore dish, with soup, noodles, beans & prawns which we’d not had before – will have to do this recipe when we get home. Diana produced a homemade apricot pie with icecream. Waistbands were straining – slumped in front of the TV.
Friday 7 April Tasmania
Drove along the coast in a southerly direction towards Orford. We stopped at Triabunna Marina to look at the boats – fishing & leisure. Crayfish & prawns are fished from here. There’s a ferry to Maria island $50 per person which was a bit expensive. The Parks department are trying to introduce & breed Tasmanian Devils & wombats on the island. There used to be a penal colony there. A 4 hr boat trip with lunch cost $195 per person (or £121 pp)- all far too expensive. Before we left the UK Keef & I had seen a TV series on Australian islands with Martin Clunes as the presenter & Maria Island was one of the episodes.
Whilst walking round the marina we noticed the smell of burning in the air & a smoke haze. Apparently the grass in the Hobart area was being burnt off to prevent bushfires but the wind was spreading the smoke halfway up the island. Apparently the fire brigade do the burning off. Unfortunately the smoke haze ruined the views of Freycinet & the inland mountains today. Just as well we saw Freycinet yesterday.
We drove to Orford along the Tasman Highway & went into a café for coffee & cake. Apart from the café there’s a restaurant, a bridge over a river, a petrol station & some houses. We returned back along the highway a short distance & parked at Raspins Spit beach. This was named after a settler family called Raspins. We walked along the beautiful beach (hardly anyone around) which was full of shells & empty crab shells.
We returned to Swansea & went into the small museum there which was housed in the old school & schoolhouse attached. Interesting history of settlers & convicts in the area. Went back to J & D’s for tea & cake. Diana cooked chicken breasts with mushroom sauce, vegs & potatoes dauphinoise & we ate the last of the apricot pie with homemade vanilla icecream. Went to bed at 10pm as getting up early tomorrow.
Saturday 8 April Tasmania to Sydney
Got up at 4.45am & still dark. Had showers & muesli for breakfast. John & Diana got up too. We said our farewells & thanked them for looking after us so well (the seat belts on the plane might be a little tight going back to Sydney). Yesterday John had kindly given us a painting of Wineglass Bay which he had done & it was carefully wrapped up at the bottom of one of the big bags. It was just beginning to get light outside & a lovely sunrise.
We set off through Swansea north & took the Lake Leake road through the countryside which goes through Campbell Town. The direct journey took 2 hours to the airport. Saw lots of grey wallabies eating grass at the side of the road + a few dead ones too. Stopped on route very briefly at Campbell Town bakery again & bought 2 bacon & egg flans to eat at the airport. Once we hit the Midland Highway at Campbell Town the road was easier to drive as it was straighter.
Keef got stopped by the Police doing 80kms in a 40kms temporary speed limit area where people were just setting up traffic cones in preparation for the Tasmanian speed car race today at Symonds Flat. Two policemen stopped us & one of them had a radar gun. K gave them his driving licence & they saw we were British tourists. Luckily Keef got a warning letter & a telling off (the policeman said he needed a “kick up the bum” & he had “avoided a hefty fine”. They probably let him off because the reduced speed limit signs were not much in evidence apart from one by the main entrance to the racetrack & there was no warning further back the state highway of changed speed restrictions for the day. Relieved we did not get a massive fine.
After that bit of excitement we checked in the hire car at Launceston airport (we had driven 680kms total in Tasmania). We ate our bacon & egg flans & got our flight to Sydney at 9.30am which took 1½ hrs. When we arrived in Sydney we had to wait quite a while for our hotel shuttle bus. Eventually we got into our hotel room at 1pm.
Checked our e-mails & the BBQ invite for later that day from Chris, Allyson, Laura & Steve was cancelled as Steve was renting out his eco boats again. Just as well, because we were tired having got up before dawn & we would have had to get a taxi back to the airport, a train into Sydney, a ferry to Woolwich on the North Shore which would have been a further 2 hrs+ travelling. Also my cold & stye problem in my left eye over the last 3 days was not so good (Diana had given me a soothing eye lotion to use). Hope no one catches my germs.
We booked our hotel in England – Ibis Budget – a compact room with wet room ensuite, TV on wall & kettle for tea etc. We went out for a late lunch to Kentucky Fried Chicken 2 mins walk away. At the hotel reception we booked our hotel shuttle bus for 7.50am the next day to Terminal 1 for the flight to Auckland. Read our Kindles & went down to the lobby seating area to read the newspapers. At 7.45pm we popped out for a coffee & doughnuts at Krispie Kreme Doughnuts (USA company). The coffee was Ok but the doughnuts were dire – sickly- yuk- never eat these again! This was our evening meal too.
Things got even worse. When we got back to the hotel one of the two lifts wasn’t working. E-mail from Leanne to tell us that Keef had received a letter in England saying he had to pay a speeding fine from the police in Portland, Victoria!!!! Oh dear. Fine was $194/ £113.15. He had driven the motorhome 6kms per hr over the 60kms speed limit. To compensate for this additional trauma, Leanne sent a nice photo of Craig holding Edie who was wearing his sunglasses. Keef was in the dog house. Watched TV.
Things got even worse. At midnight the hotel fire alarms went off. The fire brigade arrived with blue lights flashing – turned out to be a false alarm (probably someone smoking in their room set it off). After all that it took me ages to get to sleep & another early start tomorrow as we’re flying to New Zealand.
Sunday 9 April Sydney to Auckland
Got up at at 6.35am & had our showers & tea. Trying to take our bags down in the lift took a while because the other lift was still out of order from yesterday. We got the shuttle bus from our hotel to Terminal 1 at Sydney airport. The airport was very busy as people were travelling because of Easter next week. Queued up for ages at the Quantas desk & took even longer to go through passport control & security. Chaos - the flights were all late & the plane going to Bali changed its departure gate twice. Then the planes by the gates had to change areas & the announcement on the public address system said that the planes & late planes had caused overcrowding on the tarmac. All very confusing for passengers.
A Japanese elderly couple stupidly lost their carry-on bag & were fretting about it to the airport staff & wandering about looking for it! Because of this they held up their plane to Singapore as all the other passengers had already boarded. They never found the bag as they could not retrace their movements & were frogmarched through the departure gate by the airport staff. Goodness knows what became of the ‘unattended baggage’.
Our plane was delayed by 45 minutes. Met up with Chris & Allyson who were sad to leave Laura & Steve. Whilst we were in Tasmania they had gone with L & S to Parkes, inland NSW, to see the radio telescope/ museum there & had stayed at a rented homestead. They went on to the Blue Mountains & did some bush walking near the Three Sisters at Katoomba & also near Wentworth Falls. The plane left Sydney at 12 noon & we got a good view of Botany Bay, the harbour & sandy beaches as we headed for Auckland.
The flight took 2½ hrs & we had to turn our watches forward 2 hours. Had lunch & an icecream on the Quantas plane. It was quite a small plane with 3 seats on either side of the aisle. Watched some films during the journey. When we arrived at Auckland we queued for over an hour waiting to go through the bio-hazard checks on people’s luggage. There are very strict regulations in NZ about not bringing food, soil, honey, insects, plants etc. As Chris & Allyson had done some bush walking in NSW they had to declare this (or $400 NZ fine) & then they had their shoes checked by the bio-hazard staff for soil & backpack checked for insects/food.
We seemed to have spent half the day queuing & hanging around airports. When we were finally waiting for our shuttle bus outside it got dark- it was 6pm by now. We arrived at the Kiwi Motel (shuttle bus cost us $6 each) & checked in which was fairly quick. Keef & I had stayed at this motel on two previous occasions in the past. Our room was spacious with TV & ensuite shower. Had showers & then we all went for dinner at 8pm.
I had Italian chicken with mushrooms & cream sauce & the others all had curry & rice. Another guest gave us a bottle of white Auckland wine & a bottle of beer as they were flying out tomorrow & couldn’t take the drinks with them. The staff at reception & the restaurant were friendly & helpful. In fact the receptionist gave us all some free airport shuttle bus tickets for the next day as we were all aged over 50 – result!!!! Very kind of them.
We all felt tired so returned to our rooms & shared the wine. I spotted a large green praying mantis on the fabric headboard attached to the bed! Keef took some photos & then I scooped it onto a tissue & put it outside on the window ledge. Tomorrow afternoon we’re flying to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
Monday 10 April Auckland to Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Our flight to Rarotonga in the South Pacific was not part of our round the world ticket & Keef had to book this separately in England. The plane left Auckland at 4.30pm ( Virgin Australia) & it took 4 hours. We arrived at 10.30pm & apart from turning our watches forward 2 hours we had crossed the international date line. This meant we gained a day but would lose it on our return to Auckland – found it difficult to get my head round this time travel.
By the time we cleared customs & bio-hazard questions we collected our hire car which we’d booked in England. We were staying in the Raina Beach House, Titikaveka & it proved tricky to find in the dark as not well signposted. Eventually at midnight we found the right house & had a cup of tea as we were so thirsty (we were not allowed to bring any water into the country). Had a cool shower before turning in.
Monday again/ Groundhog Day
We all unpacked our bags. I did some laundry & we went for a dip in the lagoon right outside our holiday house. There was a narrow sandy beach at the bottom of some steps from the garden. Beautiful day. Chris got one of the 2 canoes from the garden & went off paddling. I saw lots of sea cucumbers on the sandy sea bed & had to be careful not to tread on them. The water in the lagoon was warm & the coral reef was some distance away but very loud surf. The wall of water breaking over the reef was visible from the shore. Chris, Allyson & Keef saw some brightly coloured fish.
After swimming we drove into Avarua, the main town in Rarotonga (also the capital of the Cook Islands). We went past the long white bungalow that was the Cook Islands Parliament. The Queen has a representative here although the Cooks became independent in 1967 (50 years ago). The NZ government helps to ‘administer’ & assist when required to do so. There’s also a NZ High Commission here.
We had lunch near the harbour sitting outside a small shack, next to lots of other eateries. The food was excellent – Chris & Allyson had fish of the day with rice & salad, Keef had chicken with peanut butter sauce, salad & rice & I had a toasted cheese & ham sandwich. Keef & I were very thirsty was it was getting very hot so we shared a litre of tropical fruit juice. We walked along to the small harbour with a few small ships moored. One ship was loading cargo to be shipped to one of the other 14 islands in the Cooks. Rarotonga is the main island in the group so has the post office & airport link with New Zealand. There was a cruise ship moored out in the bay.
We went to a supermarket for food shopping. Prices were high as most goods were imported apart from local produce. We returned to the beach house & had another swim in the lagoon. Snorkel equipment was provided @ $5NZ a day. The currency is Kiwi dollars apart from a one, two & three dollar coin. The $2 coin was triangular in shape (decided to keep one as a souvenir). We all sat out on the wooden decking – beautiful view of the lagoon & reef. Later on Chris & Keef had a toast sandwich but Allyson & I weren’t hungry. It gets dark about 6pm here but there was no sunset tonight. Apparently the best sunsets are on the east of the island. Lovely & relaxing listening to the waves lapping on the beach & the distant surf pounding on the reef. Chris did some star gazing when the clouds cleared.
Tuesday 11 April Rarotonga
The big waves crashing on the reef today meant that the sand was churned up in the lagoon. Also the sea came up almost to the top of the narrow beach. Chris, Allyson & Keef went snorkelling whilst I paddled. After breakfast & showers we drove back into Avarua along the west coast. We looked at the shops, including gift & pearl shops & saw the new Court House building. Also walked past Banana Court, which was a hotel built in 1905. In those days there weren’t many shops & houses & a photo board outside the building showed the main street in 1905 with mainly palm trees, vegetation & not much else.
The airport was built in the early 1970s which brought in more tourists, especially from New Zealand. Now the main street has one & two storey buildings, apart from the tall Court House. The people were very friendly & helpful. Went into the tourist info & Allyson looked at the pearl shops. The black pearls are cultured pearls farmed on one of the other islands. The locals all greet everyone with Kia Orana (hello) & many local women wear floral garlands on their heads. The language spoken is similar to Maori. Keef & I thought that Rarotonga looked more prosperous than Vanua Levu (Fiji), Western Samoa and Tonga & the homes looked more sturdily built with well-kept gardens. A lot of the locals use mopeds to get around & to go to work.
We went to Trader Jacks, a bar by the sea, & had some drinks & then drove back through town to a micro brewery run by a local family. On the walls were framed black & white photos of the town in the early days. There were lots of free range chickens wandering round the streets. Cockerels start crowing before dawn at 5am (I was woken up on our first morning). Not seen any pigs wandering about like they do in other Pacific islands.
There is one main road round the island which is 32kms long/20 mls & also an inner road which goes part of the way round. The island was once volcanic & has some tall peaks now covered in rainforest. We saw volcanic black lava remains on our local beach. The island is popular for weddings/ honeymoons & probably a lot of Aussies & Kiwis go there.
We drove back to the beach house & at 5pm started cooking the marinated chicken pieces we’d bought in the supermarket. The gas oven ignited but would not stay on so we had to use the electric oven to pre-cook the chicken before putting it on the BBQ. Had salad & some huge rolls from the local bakery with the chicken. Allyson & I wrote our diaries (I had to catch up since we flew from Auckland) & we read our Kindles. Raining outside so we sat indoors.
During the night there was a massive rain storm with strong winds. The torrential rain woke us up as well as the doors rattling. Keef got back to sleep. At 4 am I wandered round the house checking that the glass louvres on the windows were not letting the rain in. Still awake at 6.45am when the lightning started & then came the thunder at 7.30. Eventually I dropped off to sleep & slept in until 10.45am!! Before we left Auckland we heard about a tropical cyclone forming in the Vanuatu area expected to be Category 3. It was named Cyclone Cook but as it was much further to the north of the Cooks we were not bothered about it reaching us, although the stormy weather meant that we were getting the peripheral wind & rain. Before we booked the Cook Islands part of the trip I checked when the cyclone season started & ended - November- March.
Wednesday 12 April Rarotonga
Had a late breakfast. Chris & Keef went snorkelling but saw no fish as the strong winds had stirred up the sand in the lagoon. I read my Kindle on the chaise longue on the decking (Bill Bryson’s ‘One Summer’ about events in the USA in 1927. We all decided to visit the botanical gardens & walked there as it was near the beach house. Very tropical & well-kept even though the ground was a little soggy in places after last night’s storm. Most of the heavy rain had drained away – no wonder there is dense rainforest in the centre of the island. We took lots of photos then went to the café in the gardens to sample their ‘world famous’ lemon meringue cheesecake pie with two scoops of vanilla icecream & fresh tropical fruit slices – yummy. We all walked back to the beach house for a cup of tea.
At 5pm we set off by car to see a children’s singing & dancing show in Avarua. The lady at the tourist info centre recommended the show to us, as there would be traditional songs & dances by teams of local schoolchildren competing. We went to the second evening of the competition & the event was held in the Cultural Centre arena – a big building with a large stage, & tiered seating around three sides with wooden louvre shutters to let the breeze in & rows of seating in front of the stage. Lots of families were eating snacks from the food stalls outside the arena. The tickets cost $10 per person & although tourist info told us the show started at 6pm it didn’t start until 6.30pm. Chris & Allyson had booked us all in to a local restaurant called Little Polynesian (a small resort as well) at 7.30 so unfortunately we all had to leave after 45 mins during the intermission.
The competition was wonderful as the children of varying ages sang traditional Cook Islands songs & danced accompanied by drums & ukuleles. The boys & girls wore traditional Cook Islands grass skirts with the girls having flower garlands in their hair. A lot of women in the audience also wore floral garlands. We saw two school teams perform & they ranged in age from nursery to teens. The little 3 & 4 year olds looked so sweet in their grass skirts & most of them hadn’t a clue about the singing/dancing but stood near the edge of the stage with their teacher. The teachers & some of the teenagers stood at the back & played the music. The audience were told not to take photos or videos because of the young children performing. It was well worth seeing the performances even though it was cut short by our departure.
Drove back to the Little Polynesian & had a nice two course meal under an open fale with palm thatched roof on the terrace next to the swimming pool. I had smoked marlin fishcakes with a lime hollandaise sauce & homemade chutney as the starter & then chicken breast stuffed with island spinach served with rice & vegetables. We all enjoyed our mneals & then Keef drove us back along the main road to the beach house.
We had a cup of tea & Allyson & I caught up with our diaries. There was wi-fi at the house but there were charges so we didn’t think it was worth doing for 7 days & would probably have been too slow anyway. We could catch up with friends & family when we returned to Auckland. During the night there was more heavy rain drumming on the roof & the wind increased. Don’t think I’ve had a proper nights sleep since I arrived here due to storms, thunder & cockerels. Also I got badly bitten on my arms & legs when we were at the botanical gardens today & they were itchy at night. Keef didn’t sleep that well either.
Thursday 13 April Rarotonga
I was woken at 8.25am by the cockerel crowing in the garden. The chickens are free range & I’m thinking of guiding them towards the oven, especially that cockerel. Had a shower & sat on the decking & read my Kindle. The others all went snorkelling. Chris showed Keef & I some tropical fish on his underwater videocam. Rain showers.
The two guys next door who did the cleaning & changed the towels brought us bananas, coconut & today they brought another coconut & a large chunk of jackfruit. It was overcast & rainy for most of the day with the occasional dry period. Keef & I did some tourist stuff in the car & Chris & Allyson went for a long walk along the coast road & a road up to Wigmore’s Waterfall. It was named after a landowner here.
Keef & I drove along the coast road on the east side of the island through Muri, a tourist area with some small resorts, cafes, burger bar, beach bars etc. We stopped at a church in Matavera but it started raining again. We stopped in Avarua again & saw a very old church c 1834 which had walls 3 feet thick to withstand the annual cyclones. The local chief had a gravestone by the main door & his ‘Palace of Makea’ was a large wooden building opposite the church in a grassy field but this was closed.
We then went to the Museum of the Cook Islands (+library) in Avarua but this was closed for Easter. In the gardens there was an original outrigger canoe on display under cover. Across the road was the small University of the South Pacific which was also closed for Easter (students have to pay tuition fees there). We walked into the main reception area where there were some replicas of traditional wooden canoes & carved wooden statues, plus a board which listed all the graduates for that year. Obviously a very small uni as there were not that many names listed.
We drove to the Takamoa Theological College through impressive large wrought iron gates to a large lawned area by a car park. The white colonial building in the grounds was the original headquarters of the Church Missionary Society in the Cook Islands. On a stone monument at the front of the building was a list of all the missionaries & quite a lot of them were converted local people who were sent out to other islands to preach & convert the people. The monument listed several missionaries who were ‘martyred’ – i.e killed by the locals & eaten. Quite a dangerous career being a missionary in these parts. Sailors used to fear being shipwrecked on these South Pacific islands because they knew they would be killed & eaten – they called the islands the ‘cannibal isles’.
We visited the National Museum in another part of the main town and it was open today – hooray! We were hoping to find out about the people & their culture. Some interesting old black & white photos of local chiefs & missionaries – all in Victorian clothes & suits – how they managed wearing long sleeved heavy serge suits & dresses with jackets in the heat & humidity I don’t know. The Victorians loved to put their own cultural values above those of the locals – would the Cook Islanders be considered to be ‘converted to God’ by dressing the same as the British? Why didn’t the Brits relax their dress & wear loose linen clothes in this climate? Mad dogs & Englishmen phrase comes to mind.
We also saw some wood artifacts – carved statues, weapons, a stool with serrated shell tied on the front for scraping out coconuts (genius design) & some beautiful woven fine straw hats made by local crafts people. A lot of the museum had an exhibition about Cook Islanders who had served in WWI in France, Gallipoli & North Africa. A lot of them died of malaria & some died in the trenches in France. Some came from Rarotonga & a few were from the outlying islands & each soldier had a photo on the wall.
Friday 14 April Good Friday Rarotonga
Weather still overcast & rainy but the sea was clear for snorkelling & kayaking. Chris & Allyson did a walk along the coast road to Muri & K & I drove around the inner road. We visited the same waterfall as C & A & there were people sitting in the pool on a ledge at the bottom of the waterfall, which was not very high. A girl told us that the pool was 8 feet deep & she dived off the ledge as the locals said it was OK to do so.
Along the inner ring road were houses, small fields of taro, papaya, cassava & orange trees. We saw a breadfruit tree with large fruit like melons. Also saw small goats, a couple of cows & some pigs tied to a tree with a long leash of rope. We noticed that so many houses had shipping containers in the front gardens. We thought that these were used as emergency quarters during a cyclone but would not be much good for a tsunami. There is a tsunami escape route on the south side of the island which is a road built especially towards higher ground. There are also tsunami sirens that act as a warning to the population.
We came out at Avarua along the inner ring road and passed a cinema where families were just leaving & tucking into fast food at stalls located outside. We took some photos of the Cook Islands Parliament building.
Drove back along the east coast looking for Chris & Allyson walking back as there were no buses on Good Friday. Didn’t see them, so we returned to the beach house & found they had just got back from their walk. Keef cooked spiced kumara (NZ variety of sweet potato) & omelettes & I made a salad using up the leftovers as we were returning to NZ on Sunday evening.
Saturday 15 April Rarotonga
Much better weather today (we must have caught the far edge of the Vanuatu cyclone to the NW of us. We had an early breakfast & drove into Avarua for the weekly market. Lots of colourful market stalls selling everything from black pearls/ shell jewelry, handmade ukuleles, straw hats, food, smoothies, beach wraps (pareo), clothing etc. There were performers who did a show on the raised stage – adults & older children who sang, danced & played various styles of drum. The drummers had won lots of annual music awards representing the Cook Is in South Pacific competitions, including every year for the past 5 years. There was a voluntary collection of money from the audience which went towards travel expenses of local children doing a school pupil swap in USA, Oz & NZ so they could see other parts of the world.
The entertainment was great, they allowed photos/videos to be taken & in between light drizzle showers the sun came out. Very high U.V & also became extremely humid. Had a lovely fruit smoothie at a market stall. Allyson bought some black pearl gifts for her family & some small artwork prints. We all walked along to the Tourist Info to ask about a music afternoon at the beach from 2.30-9.30 that we’d heard about. She wasn’t clear about it, so sounded a bit hit & miss. Walked on to Trader Jacks bar for a drink but they were closed (why on a Saturday afternoon?) Walked back to Foodland supermarket & bought some cereal & fruit juice, then drove to the lager micro brewery again on the outskirts of town.
Humidity today has been excessive & as we have no internet we’ve no idea of temperatures. Thought we’d return to the beach house & a welcome swim in the lagoon to cool off. Very refreshing having dripped sweat all afternoon.
Chris & Allyson decided to take the car & drive along the inner ring road which we said was worth an explore & told them about the missionary colonial building in Avarua. On the way back they had spotted a popular burger bar in Muri which would be ideal for the evening meal. We all had cup of tea & showers & went to the burger bar. Decided to bring the food back to the house as the wet weather had increased the mosquito population. Very nice burgers. We all did some packing, had showers again & went to bed.
Sunday 16 April Rarotonga to Auckland
Got up at 8am & the phone rang at 8.15. When I answered it was Tanya (the beach house owner) contacting us about our departure. Yesterday Keef had negotiated an extension to 11am for us to stay on longer than 10am as Tanya had told him that new visitors were arriving at 2pm today. She rang today to change this, saying for an additional cost we could stay until 7pm tonight. Our flight back to Auckland was at 11.15pm so it would be much better for us to stay here all day than to load up the hire car with all our bags & spend hours in a bar. C & A thought this was a good idea too, so we agreed to extend the rental until 7pm & then the male cleaners could come in then.
Keef & I went to put some fuel in the car at the local garage & shop. We bought 2 oranges (they were green on the outside but still looked like oranges inside). We heard singing in the local church which was beautiful, so got our camera & Allyson’s camera to take some photos of the locals in the church, one of the oldest in Rarotonga. We looked through the open windows & everyone was in their Sunday best with flower garlands/straw hats worn by the women. Saw some NZ tourists that we’d met on the beach the other day sitting on a pew.
Spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking photos, watching kite surfers, a canoeist on an outrigger canoe, beach walking & reading. For lunch we had smoked marlin slices on toast & leftover nibbles & fruit.
Keef & I had booked the restaurant at the Little Polynesian resort again for 7.15pm. We had showers, completed our last minute packing, then drove along to the restaurant. Had a nice meal & chatted to our waitress who was from Fiji. I had marlin fishcakes again, chicken salad & vanilla bean brulee with alcohol infused pineapple pieces. We set off to the airport. It was 28c & very humid. We’d had rain showers during the meal & at the airport. The plane was delayed an hour – it had come from Sydney via Auckland – so we didn’t leave Rarotonga until 12.15.
The airline was Virgin Australia & not much room in the seats or leg room. I was seated next to the window & as it was dark there was no view at take-off. Tried to sleep after completing the NZ arrival bio-hazard security cards with the long list of what you could not bring into the country. Probably managed about 1½ hrs sleep. The flight took 4 hours to Auckland & as we crossed the international date line again we lost a day – Easter Monday. When we landed it was Tuesday 2.30am.
We got through the bio-security check at Auckland airport very quickly this time & then went to collect our 3rd bag which we had left at Left Luggage for that week. Eventually the guy there found our bag & we got a taxi to the Airport Gateway Hotel at 3.45am. Knackered & went to bed.
17th April - Easter Monday
Missing because of the International dateline
Tuesday 18 April Auckland, North Island
Slept well until 9am & so did Chris & Allyson. It was a good idea to stay at the hotel near the airport as it was open 24/7. The receptionist ordered us a taxi into the city centre, to the Ramada Hotel. We went to the café next door for a coffee & snack & were joined by Chris & Allyson. Then we all walked down towards the harbour & went to the transport centre (Brittomart) to find out about buses. We decided it wasn’t worth getting an electronic bus pass for only 3 days in Auckland. Allyson booked tickets on her phone to see a laser light show with Pink Floyd music. It was held at 7.30pm at the Stardome, One Tree Hill Domain near Newmarket, a suburb of Auckland. We planned on getting a bus to see the show that evening.
Walked to the ferry terminal & looked at the harbour trips/ferry to Rangitoto Island. Keef & I had been to Auckland twice before so Chris & Allyson did some sightseeing round the harbour & city centre & we did a short walk along the harbour front & then returned to our hotel to catch up on our e-mails & online banking as we had no wi-fi in the Cook Islands. I did some laundry as there was a washing machine & dryer in the ensuite bathroom (I picked the hotel because of this & also it was in the city centre so we didn’t need a bus).
At 6pm we all met up in the hotel reception & walked to the bus stop. Caught a bus out to Newmarket, a residential area with a few shops. Had some fast food – I had hoki fish & chips & the others had Turkish kebabs. Walked to the Stardome nearby & had a glass of wine (included in the ticket). The music/laser light show started dead on time at 7.30pm & our seats tilted back so we were gazing at the domed ceiling. It was amazing – music was Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd & the coloured laser lights were brilliant, projecting complicated pattern on the ceiling a bit like a childs kaleidoscope. There was an intermission where we had another glass of wine & some savoury nibbles. Chatted to a bloke who was South African living in Auckland. Part 2 of the show was The Wall with graphics & lasers. We all thoroughly enjoyed the show & then caught a bus back to the city centre at 10.45pm. I have finally got rid of the cold that I caught in Tassie – hooray!
Wednesday 19 April Auckland
Chris & Allyson were keen to do the coast to coast walk 16kms across the city & suburbs (4- 5 hr hike) so Keef & I booked tickets to go to Rangitoto Island on the ferry & do the Volcanic Explorer tour. As we had some time before getting the 12.15am ferry we walked along the harbour towards the marina & fish market. There was a large cruise liner in dock called the Emerald princess which we’d seen in Sydney. Very sunny weather today. Silo Park was the marina area & there was a lift-up vehicle & pedestrian bridge which let large tall yachts through from the harbour to the moorings.
Bumped into Sarah, the daughter of Pete & Sue, who had been back-packing around NZ. Chris & Allyson knew that she was in Auckland & were hoping to meet up with her. We invited her to join us all at a Korean BBQ restaurant around 7pm that evening. She said she would contact Allyson to confirm the meal was arranged.
Keef & I got the ferry to Rangitoto, an island in the Hauraki Gulf beyond Auckland harbour. The island was an extinct volcano which had erupted from the sea bed 600 years ago (in the 14th c) in two massive explosions 10-15 years apart. It’s the largest volcano in the Auckland area with its cone rising 260m (850 ft) high. Apparently local Maori tribes (ini) were present at the time of the eruptions as human footprints were found between layers of volcanic ash.
The island is managed by the Department of Conservation & has a ranger living on it in a small house, although there is no water or electricity available. We got on a tourist road train pulled by a tractor & the ranger took us on a tour around the island & gave an interesting commentary. We saw lava fields – black clinker which was very rocky & would have been extremely difficult to walk across. Prisoners had built the road round the island by flattening the lava rock in the 1920. A lot of the island is forest & shrubs – it was surprising that plants could grow in that environment. The island has NZ’s largest Pohutukawa tree forest (this tree has amazing red flowers at Christmas time).
The road train stopped at the base of the volcano summit & we started to climb the 300 wooden steps towards the crater rim. It was hard work climbing & Keef had to give up halfway through because of his bad knees. I took the camera & carried on & it took me another ½ hour of climbing to reach the top. I took photos of the 360 degree panoramic views of Auckland, the Hauraki Gulf & islands & a container ship.
After a few minutes of catching my breath, I started the descent as the warden on the tour said we had to be back by 2.30 prompt. It took me another 30 minutes to rush back. The steps were each 9” high – so hard work. The rest of the island tour took us past mangroves & views of Auckland across the sea. The ferry returning to Auckland was very packed & the wind made the sea quite choppy.
In the evening we went with C & A to meet Sarah at the Korean BBQ restaurant at 7.10pm. The place was busy & on each table was a wok & gas burner. We selected various meats & vegetables from the buffet to cook in the wok & you could choose various sauces, rice & noodles as well. You could go back to the buffet as much as you liked. Sarah said she liked NZ & had stayed in backpacker hostels. She was flying on to Sydney early the next morning. We had a nice evening & meal.
Thursday 20 April Auckland
Keef & I had never visited Devonport, a Victorian seaside town across the harbour from the city, so we wanted to see it this trip. Took the ferry across (only 15mins) to the small town & wandered around the shops & bought some gifts for the family. There is an extinct volcano behind the town called Mount Victoria, plus two other smaller ones. Mount Victoria looked like a small grassy hill. There is the NZ naval base near Devonport as well. The town seemed laid-back with a relaxed vibe & it had several small beaches. Its painted wooden Victorian villas only cost $1.5 million- $2.5m in the estate agent window. I had my hair cut in a local hairdressers (only $30 - £15.50). Visited several craft shops & we had lunch in a café (beef lasagne, chips & coffee). We caught the ferry back to the city & got a bus to the National Art Gallery.
We spent 1½ hours there. Saw some amazing life-like oil paintings of Maori chiefs & elders, including women. Two people were 102 years old with black facial tattoos. Also the gallery had a Monet & Picasso painting & Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Not impressed with modern NZ art & the video portraits of people. Keef had tummy trouble so we didn’t go out for another meal & just had a sandwich & some salad which we ate back at the hotel.
Chris & Allyson had had a good day – they had got the ferry to Rangitoto & walked to the crater (2hrs return). Keef rang his Mum for 25 mins (Skype call). E-mailed the rest of our family & checked our e-mails.
Friday 21 April Auckland to Orewa
Got up at 7am & had showers & breakfast in our room (no restaurant in this hotel). At 10am we got a taxi to take us to Britz Motorhomes which was near the airport. Having checked that we had all got the right equipment supplied with our two vans, we set off across Auckland to join the A1 motorway to Orewa, north of the city. At 1pm we checked in at the Top 10 campsite first to book our pitches, did the food shopping at Countdown & then returned to the campsite.
Had sandwich/crisps for lunch at 3pm. Then we unpacked our bags & sorted ourselves out. Our motorhome is a Britz 2 person, fairly new looking inside with a Mercedes Benz engine. Chris & Allyson did the dinner – ratatouille & baked kumara with wine. We looked at the map for planning our route.
Saturday 22 April Orewa to Whangarei
We all had a short walk along the beach at Orewa. It brought back happy memories for Keef & I as Craig, Doug & Phoenix started our month’s tour of North Island here in December 2007. Orewa is a lovely coastal town, although there was a notice near the beach stating the safe routes to avoid a tsunami!
We drove the Hibiscus Coast Highway from Orewa to Wellsford, stopping for a break at Puhoi historic village. Lovely scenery – rolling hills, tall tree ferns & pohutukawa trees. We went to Mangawhai Heads for another break from driving. Walked on the sandy beach & watched paragliders jump off a tall hill above the beach. Very warm & sunny, with a sea breeze by the sea. We stopped again further on at Ruakaka Beach & got a view of some islands & coast – again a beautiful white sandy beach.
We stopped the night around 5pm in Whangarei Top 10 campsite. Kiwis call Whangerei (pronounced Fangari) a city, but by English standards it was just a large town. Keef still not well – a dicky tummy which he’s had since the Art Gallery visit in Auckland.
Sunday 23 April Whangerei to Russell
Keef had no dinner last night & no breakfast either as still tummy trouble. Allyson seems to have got over her tummy problems too. We visited the marina (aka town basin by locals) & walked along the boardwalk. We watched a glass blower at work at the back of a craft gallery. He made some lovely coloured vases but they were too heavy to pack & would have got broken. Went into Pac n Save supermarket to get some more milk & bread etc.
We drove the coastal road to Tutukaka & Matapouri. The Tutukaka Coast is rated as one of the top coastal destinations on the planet by National Geographic Traveller. The beaches here are pristine with white sand. We stopped at Kawakawa for a break & to see the famous architect designed toilets in the small town. They were covered everywhere in broken tiles mosaics (not the actual loos though!) There were some other quirky mosaic objects in the town such as a mosaic tile sofa, street lamp & flower containers – took photos.
Lovely scenery on the route. We took the car ferry across the bay to Russell (cost $12.50 for our van) & arrived at the Russell Top 10 campsite. We got two pitches next to each other on the ‘bay view’ tier. The campsite is on the side of a steep hill (we had camped here 4 years ago). Saw a weka walking around our pitches (was he the same bird as last time?). Had spaghetti Bolognese for dinner, although Keef’s stomach still not good so he had nothing to eat.
Monday 24 April Russell
We had booked 2 nights at the campsite. Chris & Allyson went for a walk in the town & Keef& I drove to Rawhiti where we saw a beautiful carved wood Marae. The Marae is where Maori people can get together as a community & the building also has spiritual meaning for them. The wood carvings depicted a war canoe, strange looking faces and dolphins. Took some photos & as no one was around we peeped through the windows. We saw some lovely shrubs in people’s gardens such as hibiscus & bottlebrush trees etc.
We then returned to Russell, a small & attractive town once dubbed the ‘hellhole of the Pacific’ because of the drunken sailors & whalers & general lawlessness. Nowadays the local policeman lives in a lovely wooden heritage building in front of the jetty, complete with white picket fence. The houses in the town looked like white Cape Cod wooden ones with white picket fences in the front gardens & some had verandahs.
Keef was still feeling ill. We met up with Chris & Allyson eating fish & chips by the jetty about 4pm. There was no point in going out to a restaurant in town as we’d planned so instead we had cheese & biscuits back at the motorhomes (but not for K). Later when it was dark Keef & I went looking for kiwi but didn’t see any. We could hear them calling out in the woods. Not many stars out tonight.
Tuesday 25 April Russell to near Cape Reinga ANZAC Day Public Holiday in NZ
Set off at 10am. C & A did not want to go across the bay on the car ferry again, so wanted to drive the 40kms round instead. Took a shorter route along gravel roads, through a forest up a mountain & zig-zagged down again. Beautiful warm day & we only saw a couple of cars going the other way. We saw a few birds of prey & a kingfisher. The route took us 1hr 20 mins but was scenic, although very bumpy. This area of Northland has a lot of Maori communities, & we drove past a few settlements & the Maraes. We stopped briefly in a car park at Paihia, Bay of Islands, for the loo & Chris bought 3 pies. K & I had been to Paihia in 2007 with Craig & Doug & we had gone on a boat trip to see the dolphins. K still unwell.
Stopped again at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds further round the bay & took some photos. In 1840 the British had conned some of the Maori chiefs into signing a treaty which would protect them & assist with ‘governance’. 35 chiefs signed i.e put their mark on the document. The treaty document had been translated into Maori the previous night by Henry Williams, an English missionary. The English version of the treaty stated that the British under Queen Victoria had ‘sovereignty’ of New Zealand i.e it became British owned. The British were desperate to acquire NZ before the French did (the French had visited the country & were very interested in it too).
In modern times the Maori people have lodged around 2,000 claims to date against the NZ government to get their ancestral lands back. In the 19thc Maori people had no concept of selling land or even another country taking them over. Some of the Maori chiefs never even signed the treaty. Some of the claims have been settled by the Waitangi Tribunal & others are still ongoing. Probably a contentious issue especially if Kiwi farmers have to give up their land & presume they would be given compensation by the government. A bit of a historical mess which has had major repercussions.
We continued driving along the scenic Twin Coast Discovery Highway to Whangaroa, the marlin fishing capital of NZ & ate our pies for lunch. No fishermen around but 4 years ago K & I saw two massive marlin being weighed on the jetty & craned onto the fishermen’s ute. Saw Mangonui again (heritage town) & then did a quick detour & stopped to take photos at the iconic Ninety Mile Beach on the shores of the Tasman Sea (west coast of North Island). There were a few cars/utes driving along the beach (officially designated as a road) & only 55 mls long but in the 19thc they didn’t have accurate surveying equipment).
Lovely scenery up to the ‘top end’ of North Island – hilly, volcanic, massive sand dunes. We stayed the night at a DoC campsite (Dept of Conservation) 3kms south of Cape Reinga. It was a very steep descent down a thin twisty gravel road to the bay. The campsite was situated very close to the beach but was very basic in amenities. The overnight fees were cheap - we had to put our cash payment in an envelope with the vehicle reggo & our address & post it into a box. There were quite a few people staying – campers/backpackers & other motorhomes. I went for a walk on the sandy beach which had lava rocks at one end.
Gets dark at 6.15 now. After dinner we looked at the stars & milky way as it was a clear sky. It’s very warm during the day but noticed that the nights are cooler. We’re in Autumn season at the moment & a Kiwi lady told us that winter starts on 1 June, which is when we leave NZ for Singapore. Keef & I went kiwi spotting with a torch as we were in a wilderness area but Keef got bored after 2 mins.
Wednesday 26 April Cape Reinga to Ahipara
At 10am we were about to set off to drive to Cape Reinga but Chris discovered there was a front flat tyre by on the drivers side. He tried to fix it but the jack that came with the motorhome was not tall enough as the van was on grass/soil. Also he discovered that the spare wheel underneath the van had no tread left. Not good. We decided that K & I would drive back to the nearest garage to ring Britz & get breakdown help as no mobile phone signal at the campsite, which was in the middle of no where.
We drove 20kms to the nearest garage & Keef used their phone to ring Britz. They said they would get a breakdown vehicle to change the tyre & then Chris would need to drive to Kaitaia to a tyre replacement garage by 5pm.
We still wanted to carry on to Cape Reinga as we were only 3kms away. We parked in the car park & walked down the path to the lighthouse, seeing spectacular views of the coast all the way. Very sunny. Met a friendly Kiwi family by the lighthouse & they took a group photo of us. The car park & lighthouse were free for tourists unlike lighthouses in Australia which charged fees. Then we went on to Te Paki sand dunes which were MASSIVE. Kids & adults were having a fun time sand surfing down the steep sides & quite entertaining watching them. Took some photos. Left the sand dunes at 3pm & got to the tyre place at 4.30pm.
The garage decided to repair the tear in the tyre rather than replace it & charged the cost to Britz. We decided that to drive to the next Top 10 site Kaihu was too far away as it was already 5pm. Instead K & I suggested we go to the Kiwi Family Park at Ahipara, a few kms away, as we’d stayed there 4 years ago. We arrived at the campsite an hour before it got dark. K & I went to get our van’s water tank filled up & had to unblock the waste water tank as there was sediment in the bottom. We put the hosepipe down the kitchen sink plug hole which made the waste water drainage more free flowing.
Allyson & Keef had stomach upsets still so only Chris & I had dinner. Then we got out the maps to discuss route plans. We wanted to go back to the east coast, Coromandel & Papamoa Beach as there were areas we hadn’t seen & Chris & Allyson wanted to see Rotorua & the glow-worm caves in the central region of the island, which we had visited 10 years ago. Decided to drive our own routes & meet up in the Top 10 campsite at Wellington on 9 May. We gave Allyson our free booking ticket for the Waitomo glow-worm caves so they had two tickets (part of the Britz hire package included 1 person’s free entry to the caves). Once we’d sorted out our plans we checked our e-mails & read our Kindles.
Thursday 27 April Ahipara to Baldrock Farm,between Brynderwyn & Kaiwaka off Highway 1
Left the Kiwi Park campsite at 9.10am hoping to catch the 10am ferry across Hokianga harbour heading south. We passed the most spectacular scenery from Ahipara to Kohukotu along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway on the west coast. It took us past ancient volcanoes, old Maori Pa (fortifications on top of hills), deep valleys, Kauri forests with giant trees & tree ferns, & evidence of ancient tiered farming by Maoris on the sides of steep hills. At Kohukotu we got the 11am small 24 hr vehicle ferry across to Rawene which took 15 minutes. The road to the ferry from Ahipara was very twisty & parts had cracks in the tarmac from earth tremors. There were very low clouds in the hills that we drove through.
Hokianga harbour was where the first Maoris arrived in New Zealand in their large war canoes (waka) from Polynesia, based on their oral traditions. They had crossed the Pacific by using the stars to navigate & came across the massive harbour with its narrow entrance.
From Rawene we followed the road to Opononi which was famous for its friendly dolphin in the bay between 1955-56 which interacted with the local people. There was a statue dedicated to the well-loved dolphin called ‘Opo’.
Another small village called Omapere edged the harbour with views across to giant sand dunes. We drove to the lookout point near the harbour heads & did a short walk to get the views. As we neared the town of Dargaville the land flattened out for farming kumara (NZ sweet potato. In the town we stopped by the Wairoa River near the boat jetty. The river walk was blocked off so we went food shopping in Countdown to get supplies for the Coromandel as we knew there were not many shops/supermarkets on that peninsular.
Saw Chris & Allyson in the car park- they had just been to the local garage to have the brake pads checked on their motorhome as a warning light on the dashboard had been on permanently. The van had to be raised up & all 4 wheels were removed. Apparently everything was OK with the brakes. They thought that they would have to drive back to Britz in Auckland to have the brakes checked, but Britz directed them to a garage in Dargaville instead. C & A were heading towards Rotorua.
We set off again to Brynderwyn & down Highway 1 to near Kaiwaka where we decided to stop for the night at 5pm. We turned off to Baldrock Farm, 100 acres with hilly fields & some cows & lots of hens wandering about. Called in at the bungalow & the female owner was very pleasant. Her great grandfather had been Mayor of Nottingham! We paid a small fee & then drove along a track, up a couple of hills, through some trees & parked on top of another hill with lovely views. The outside dunny/toilet was in a tiny hut which looked like a Swedish sauna. We were the only people there, although there were some other campers (Japanese, Austrian & German) near the bungalow. It was very quiet as we were well away from the bungalow & highway.
Keef was feeling much better today – he had 3 meals so his stomach is OK now. He’d been ill since the previous Thursday when we were in Auckland (7 days ago). Not sure what caused the stomach bug but I had been OK, so a mystery.
Friday 28 April Baldrock Farm to Shelly Beach, Coromandel
Got up at 7am – lovely views from the hill top this morning. Had cereal & drove along the track back to the farm car park where there was a hot shower/loo which we used. The hens were pecking round our van. Drove back to the main highway & saw several wild bush turkeys. Took the scenic route again after Wellesford towards Helensville.
Saw massive sculptures in a farmer’s fields & we stopped at a high lookout with 180 degree views down the valley towards the sea. Bright & sunny again – we’ve had good weather since arriving in NZ. Noticed a sweet honey scent on the breeze – is this from Manuka trees/shrubs? We stopped for a break at Helensville railway station for coffee – it had a café in the old waiting room & a large verandah outside.
After Helensville the countryside flattened out & there were orchards & farms. We skirted round Auckland on Highway 16 so did not need to pass over the harbour bridge. Headed towards Manukau on Highway 1 & then turned off at Pokeno to Thames, on the Coromandel Peninsular. We had done the Coromandel twice before but we love the scenery there & its listed as one of the top areas for New Zealanders to visit. Volcanoes & lava rocks on the beaches on the west side of the Coromandel, with views across the Firth of Thames.
We had lunch at Thames, an old gold rush town c 1880. It retains an aura of a wild west cowboy town with the hotels & buildings & also above the main shops. Gold was found nearby which caused a rush by prospectors eager to make their fortune. We parked the motorhome by the Victorian bandstand & ancient pohutukawa trees. Very sunny so we sat outside on the picnic chairs.
After lunch we drove along the narrow twisty road along the coast. The road edge had a 10 foot drop to the rocky lava beach. There had been earth landslides on one part of the road (caused by either rain or earth tremors) which roadwork teams were clearing away. The road then climbed up a steep mountain with fantastic views at various laybys/ lookouts towards the coast & islands in the sea. We saw Coromandel Town & then went to the Top 10 campsite at Shelly Beach where we filled up the van’s water tank, had tea & went for a beach walk – dark sand with lots of white shells. Keef said he had a dicky stomach again. The toilet/shower facilities here were very good & hardly anyone on this campsite.
Saturday 29 April Shelly Beach, nr Colville to Waihi Beach
Got up at 7am, had showers/ breakfast & left at 9.10 to drive to Port Jackson in Cape Colville, the most northerly point on the Coromandel & off the beaten track. We had not managed to do go further than Colville on our past trips. We had sought advice about whether we could drive to Port Jackson in a motorhome & the lady at the campsite said that although part of the route was gravel it was quite level so not too bumpy for driving. The road was part tarmac/ part gravel but it was rather misty & drizzly so the views were not too good. The route was twisty & passed the Tibetan Buddhist retreat & Colville itself – a few houses, general store & post office.
There were a few ‘wash-outs’ & areas where the earth bank at the side of the road had collapsed. There were lots of very old pohutukawa trees which were so weathered by the sea winds that the trunks had bent & they were growing sideways. Saw some people fishing on rocks at the bottom of a small cliff. Very few cars along the road. At Port Jackson there were just 3 houses & views of a small volcanic island. The trip took us 1½ hours to drive to Port Jackson because of the narrow windy gravel road & at one point we had to cross a ford.
On the return journey we were slightly quicker & returned to Coromandel Town, then took the road which climbed over the Coromandel Range. In the past we’d done the route in sunny weather but today it was still rainy & misty. Drove through Whitianga & Mercury Bay along the Pacific Coast Highway (tourist scenic route). Now the rain had stopped – sunshine! Can’t complain – this was the most rain we have had since we arrived in NZ.
At Tairua we saw houses built up the sides of an extinct volcano (took photos). We arrived at the Top 10 campsite at Waihi Beach at 5pm. Not impressed with the facilities – we were put near the beach. There was a grubby concrete floor in the unisex toilets & 3 showers. It started raining heavily & got quite windy. We stayed in the motorhome & checked our e-mails etc & looked at the CCTV at the front of our house & saw Dave, our nextdoor neighbour doing some gardening – riveting viewing!!! Craig had sent us a photo of himself, Leanne & Edie sitting in our lounge, so glad the house was OK.
Sunday 30 April Waihi Beach to Papamoa Beach
Re-filled our van’s water tank & then K & I went into reception to complain about the quality of the facilities. They were not clean & the campsite was one of the most expensive we’d stayed in – supposed to be 5*, had a pool & gym & was virtually on the beach. Keef complained that we were only given 250mb of wi-fi when we should have been given 500mb. Not impressed with the price they charged at this site too. Left Waihi Beach at 10am & drove along the Pacific Coast Highway through Katikati, the mural town. Lots of huge painted murals on the sides of buildings depicting the town’s history. Keef took some photos, although we had been through the town four years ago. We avoided the toll road round Tauranga & saw the marina there & port. Not very scenic – industrial with oil terminals.
Further along the coast we came to Mount Manganui on the coast & this was a nice town set at the base of a large extinct volcano. The bay was called Pilot Bay & weather was very sunny but quite breezy. Had a walk & bought some boysenberry icecreams – very nice – you can’t get this type of icecream in England. Crossed to the Pacific beach side of Mt Mangonui & sat on a bench with a great view of the long golden sand beach stretching down the Bay of Plenty to Papamoa Beach & beyond. Some expensive looking homes along this coast.
We continued on to Papamoa Beach & did some shopping at Countdown supermarket. Then we checked into the Papamoa Beach Resort, our favourite campsite. It was no longer a Top 10 site which stopped 2 years ago but the resort reception still had our names & address on their computer records from 4 years ago!! We had also stayed there 10 years ago, so this was our 3rd visit as we liked it so much. Arrived at 2.15pm & got a pitch (S5 Beach Road) by the beach with a view of the sea. Keef cooked us a bacon & egg cob for lunch. He chatted to the man in the caravan on the next pitch who was originally from Bucks, UK & had emigrated with his wife & daughter 14 years ago.
I did some laundry & hung it on the washing lines as weather was good, then we went for a walk along the beach. Not many people around as Autumn & no school holidays. I cooked prawns& noodles with satay sauce after Keef had downloaded his photos from the camera to the laptop & checked & paid the credit card bill. We had booked 2 nights at this campsite.