Category Archives: North Island NZ travel

The big smoke – Auckland

It’s a rare treat for me to stay on the 17th floor of a downtown hotel in Auckland. However, my daughter Sarah was visiting Auckland from the USA on business, so I was quick to offer to be her chef and chauffeur so I could spend some precious time with her during her flying visit. Being late to bed and up at the crack of dawn (not because of my duties, but because I take a night or two to settle in a new place) provided some photographic rewards.

city view

city view hand held

city at dawn

harbour view at dawn

 

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Blustery fun on Ninety Mile Beach

Daniel drove us down the Te Pahu stream to the sand dunes at the end of Ninety Mile Beach.

Daniel drove us down the stream to the sand dunes at the end of Ninety Mile Beach.

Ninety Mile Beach is, in fact, about 55 miles long. Stockmen reckoned they drove their animals about 30 miles in a day. As it took them three days to drive the stock along Ninety Mile Beach, by definition (they calculated) the beach must be 90 miles long.

After a lesson on dune boarding the young and the superactive members of the tour trudged up to the top of the dunes.

After Daniel’s lesson on dune boarding the young and the super-active members of the tour trudged up to the top of the dunes. I thought the top of the dunes looked vertical, but sand does not stay put at 90 degrees, the experts tell me. Iggy says the “angle of repose” for sand is 34 degrees, but will go to 45 degrees if it is wet. 34 degrees looked steep enough to me.

Speed fiend Iggy dune boarded right from the top. His reward was sand through every fibre of his being.

Speed fiend Iggy dune boarded right from the top. His reward was sand through every fibre of his being.

The learner slopes were steep enough for me.

The learner slopes were fun enough for me.

We had to wait for the tide to go out so that when the coach drove us down the beach we could get around a rocky headland. In the meantime, we chatted with the fishermen who hauled in this catch, plus some, in the forty five minutes we had been playing on the sand dunes. Notice the mako (shark) in the background.

We had to wait for the tide to go out so that when the coach drove us down the beach we would be able to get around a rocky headland. In the meantime, we chatted with the fishermen who hauled in this catch, plus some, in the forty five minutes we had been playing on the sand dunes. Notice the mako (shark) in the background.

Watching the sand gust along the beach and the waves crash to shore was mesmerising. I stopped, I breathed, I absorbed the utter removal from my life of work and the busy-ness of our lives - and I discovered during these moments the benefits of moving far from life's usual routines.

Watching the sand gust along the beach and the waves crash to shore was mesmerising. I stopped, I breathed, I realised I was far from civilisation and on holiday. I grinned broadly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cape Reinga – where the spirits depart for the homeland

Kupe, the earliest known voyager from Hawaiiki, the homeland of the Maori people, named Cape Reinga Te Rerenga Wairua, the path of the spirits. After the death of a Maori person, the spirit leaves from Cape Reinga, the northern most point of New Zealand. As it reaches the Three Kings Islands, the spirit turns to wave a final farewell and returns to distant Hawaiiki.

Daniel, our driver, instilled in us a respect for the deeply spiritual nature of the area. He made it clear that no food or drink was to be taken beyond the carpark and all rubbish was to be brought back to the coach. To discourage picnicking, there are no rubbish bins. There is something special about a spot like this – a dynamic vista, beautiful plantings, immaculate pathways, tourists galore – and not a pay and display machine, ice-cream vendor, coffee van or merchandise shop in sight. The magnificence of the place was all we needed.

When you look out from Cape Reinga, you can see the waves coming from two opposing directions – from the Tasman Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Sometimes, there is a distinct line where the two oceans meet.

A blustery walk from the bus to the lighthouse.

A blustery walk from the bus to the lighthouse.

Iggy looks out from the Cape Reinga lighthouse.

Iggy looks out from the Cape Reinga lighthouse.

Iggy took a photo similar to this one at Bluff, the southernmost point of the South Island. So here I am at the northernmost point of the North Island.

Iggy took a photo similar to this one at Bluff, the southernmost point of the South Island. So here I am at the northernmost point of the North Island.

 

 

 

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The start of a day on an Explore NZ tour bus

Daniel the driver picked us up from Club Paihia in Dune Rider at an hour of the morning when I am more usually opening one eyelid at a time. Dune Rider is a specially converted vehicle with a truck front and a coach body, purpose built for the day's travels that were ahead of us. The coach seating is sloped to allow all passengers to see out the panoramic front window.

Daniel our driver picked us up from Club Paihia in Dune Rider at a time when I am more usually still snoozing. Dune Rider is a specially converted vehicle with a truck front and a coach body, purpose-built for the Northland tour. 

Before we embark on our travellers’ tales, let me introduce Daniel. I am a generally a bit apprehensive about being a coach passenger – vivid memories of Auckland bus drivers running red lights and jolting to a halt when I was a regular bus passenger commuter. Daniel’s calm and considerate driving quickly quelled any fears. Also, I can be tetchy about tour commentaries – especially about those sparse on fact and overloaded with wisecracks and cheap shots. Daniel, however, provided a most eloquent commentary – knowledgeable, interesting and friendly. His deep spiritual connection with the land added a rich dimension to the tour. We were in the best possible hands for an 11 hour journey.
First stop Taipa. Ahhh! coffee! We picked up our packed lunches and were on our way.

First stop Taipa. Ahhh! coffee!

Our packed lunches were ready to be picked up at Taipa. Once again, Explore NZ got it right – grainy bread sandwich with lots of meat and salad filling, bottled water, a piece of fruit and some slice – pretty much exactly what I would have chosen for myself. (I promise, I have no personal connection in any way with Explore NZ. I am just a happy customer!)

Next stop - the Gumdiggers Park.

Next stop – the Gumdiggers Park.

The English call them Wellingtons or wellies – and we call them gumboots. Why? Because these were the boots that gum diggers wore, of course! How did I reach this age without knowing that before?

Through the manuka bush ...

Through the manuka bush …

...to an ancient kauri log, estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000 years old. The log has a girth of around nine metres.

…to an ancient kauri log, estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000 years old. The log has a girth of around nine metres.

Apparently, in all the buried forests in this area, the trees have fallen in the same direction. Mysterious. The most popular theory is that the kauri forests were felled by tsunami or meteorite strikes. The chemistry of the peat swamps has preserved rather than fossilised the fallen trees.

When kauri trees lose their branches, the sap drips to the ground and hardens, becoming the prized amber coloured kauri gum. The English immigrants dug the peat swamps for buried kauri gum and exported it back their homeland as it was used to make varnish, linoleum and perfumes. The images below show the well ventilated shelters where the gum diggers would have lived.

4 Gumdiggers hut

6 Gumdiggers

The sieves used for washing the peat off the pieces of kauri gum found by the gum diggers.

The sieves used for washing the peat off the pieces of kauri gum found by the gum diggers.

The walk through the trees and past the gum diggers' accommodation comes out at a clearing where there are native kauri, manuka and ferns.

The walk through the trees and past the gum diggers’ accommodation came out at a clearing where there are young kauri, manuka and ferns.

I had not previously heard of Gumdiggers Park. When I asked others on the tour what was the highlight of their day, Gumdiggers Park rated the top mention.

Our next stop was a better known New Zealand landmark – the northern most tip of the country, Cape Reinga.

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A stroll around Paihia

Just a couple of minutes from Club Paihia is a wonderful variety of scenic treats – historic buildings, the sea, and some peculiarly Paihia features.

St Paul's Church, built in 1925 on the site of New Zealand's first mission station. The mission was founded by Englishman, Rev'd Henry Williams.

St Paul’s Church, built in 1925 on the site of New Zealand’s first mission station. The mission was founded by Englishman, Rev’d Henry Williams.

The Paihia public toilets, or - in Maori - wharepaku. Whare means house. It's anyone's guess what paku means! Take a close look at the stylish planter bowls on the building's roof.

The Paihia public toilets, or – in Maori – wharepaku. Whare means house. It’s anyone’s guess what paku means! Take a close look at the stylish planter bowls on the building’s roof and front wall.

The roof of the Paihia public toilets.

The roof of the Paihia public toilets.

The view to the north.

The view to the north.

Along the beach.

Along the beach.

 A cottage garden surrounds the Paihia Library which is housed in the historic Williams homestead.


A cottage garden surrounds the Paihia Library which is housed in the historic Williams homestead.

We weren’t in Paihia to shop – so it was something of a sad relief when a gloriously hued jacket made of handwoven fabrics and felt, displayed in an art gallery window, proved to be the wrong size. Go to Creative Get Up to see Sandra Thompson’s finely handcrafted wearable art.

Couldn't you just see me in this? I swear, I would wear it everywhere I went.

Couldn’t you just see me in this? I swear, I would wear it everywhere I went.

We were happy to fend for ourselves food-wise. However, an advertisement for seafood chowder lured us back to The Pier one evening. The chowder was packed with seafood and served with crispy garlic bread and a generous bowl of steamed fresh mussels. Washed down with a large glass of the house red, it was a most satisfying and economic dinner out (less than $30 for us both for food and drink).

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Club Paihia, Northland

My relationship with Iggy came complete with a timeshare. Previously we stayed in Taupo in winter. This year, yearning for warmth, we chose to have a spring-time holiday at Club Paihia in the north of the North Island. We hit a week of New Zealand-wide extreme wild-weather conditions, with Northland getting the best of a bad deal. We know how to enjoy wild wet days. We settled in with a pile of books and Sky TV, which we don’t have at home. (If you are looking for an engaging read, I recommend “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I went on to a recommendation of Iggy’s, “Red Runs the Vistula” – a gripping autobiographical account of a prisoner of war escapee working for the Polish resistance movement.)

Our unit was spacious, well-equipped – and at the top of a steep hill. We had no trouble ensuring there were five minutes of good hard uphill puffing each day! We were rewarded with privacy and a view over the valley.

This was the first time I had experienced resort hosting. We enjoyed meeting the other guests at a drinks night. Tourist activity providers’ presentations on local activities whetted our appetites and, unusually for us, we did sign up for a tour. On the days when the sun did shine, we ventured far and wide from Club Paihia – the subject of future posts.

Northland's Club Paihia Resort.

Northland’s Club Paihia Resort.

Graceful gardens

Graceful gardens

Crafty totems - must look out for some interesting pots and vases and try this at home.

Crafty totems – must look out for some interesting pots and vases and try this at home.

If the weather had been warmer, the pool would have been most inviting.

If the weather had been warmer, the pool would have been most inviting.

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Brown Sugar in Taihape

We seem to be up and down the road between Hamilton and Palmerston North quite a bit for various reasons – chiefly Iggy’s granddaughter, perhaps :-). I think we’ll have to make a habit of dropping into Brown Sugar up a side street at the northern end of Taihape each time we travel. The menu is different each time we drop in, the food divinely home-made tasting and the décor is fun. I really like the kids’ play area here – the kind of play area that would keep my brothers engaged for hours and hours when they were little boys. It’s not a red and yellow plasticky thing that adults think should be appealing to children, but a genuine play area where kid’s imagination can roam free and parents watch from a discreet distance while they enjoy Brown Sugar’s excellent coffee.

How you know you are at the right place.

How you know you are at the right place.

The threshold gives a hint of what's to come.

The threshold gives a hint of what’s to come.

Charming giftware.

Charming giftware.

Excellent company!

Excellent company!

Eye-catching décor.

Eye-catching décor.

Fun furniture.

Fun furniture.

Cottage garden.

Cottage garden.

Somewhere that kids can be kids - and grown ups can sit back and be grown ups.

Somewhere that kids can be kids – and grown ups can sit back and be grown ups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hamilton Lake in autumn

Hamilton has a reputation for being foggy – a comment that is made as if by way of criticism. I love the way the fog tosses its gauzy throw over the landscape – a flattering soft focus. There will be a post one day soon on Hamilton in the fog, but not today. Today was clear – a soft light where the stillness and reflections were pure and the spirits received a top up to carry them through the bleaker days to come.

reflected reeds

lake 1

walkway

in the distance

autumn colours

It is a flat, scenic and easy walk around the lake – about one hour. There is free parking at and beyond the Verandah Restaurant.

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Waikato Explorer – a river boat breakfast

What a peaceful way to start the day. BNI Legends combined business with pleasure recently, having their weekly meeting aboard Waikato Explorer, skippered by our BNI colleague, Darren Mills.

What a peaceful way to start the day. Members of BNI Legends combined business with pleasure recently, having our weekly breakfast meeting aboard Waikato Explorer, skippered by our BNI colleague, Darren Mills.

Making our way to Waikato Explorer was easy. Park in the main Hamilton Gardens car park and follow the sign down the river path ...

Making our way to Waikato Explorer was easy. There was ample parking in the main Hamilton Gardens car park and we followed the sign down the river path …

...and there she is.

…and there she was.

Adam from Hogs Breath Café, Jethro of JG Landcare and Alan of Coffee News took a seat.

Adam from Hogs Breath Café, Jethro of JG Landcare and Alan of Coffee News took a seat. They didn’t have to wait too long for their yummy Kerr and Ladbrook breakfast – and the coffee was fantastic.

Others enjoyed being able to stretch their legs.

Others enjoyed being able to stretch their legs.

All of us enjoyed such an up-close-and-personal view of the river.

All of us enjoyed the up-close-and-personal view of the river.

Hasn't Darren got the work place with the best view of us all? No wonder he loves going to play - I mean work - each day.

Hasn’t Darren got the work place with the best view of us all? No wonder he loves going to play – I mean work – each day.

Weekend scheduled cruises on Waikato Explorer leave Hamilton Gardens at 12.30pm and 2.30pm every Saturday and Sunday. Charter options can be arranged any day of the week on request. The boat is licensed to take up to 87 passengers and has the capacity for up to 50 seated diners. With a fully-licensed bar and a range of menu items, the Waikato Explorer is well set up as a venue for all kinds of events, from club outings to specialty cruises to major events such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. It was certainly an enjoyable and novel venue for our BNI business networking meeting. With the river filling a little since the autumn rain came to the Waikato, Darren is able to venture further afield these days. He mentioned Narrows Landing today. Looks like we’ll have to explore our beautiful Waikato River again soon!

 

 

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Hamilton holidays for children

Having three year-old Ana and one year-old Rafa with their mother Sarah all here from the USA for two and a half weeks has been an experience in discovering just how much there is to do round here – and we have not needed to extend the mortgage to have all kinds of fun.  In alphabetical order:

Biking in the back yard on a Trade Me purchase. (Alreadycovered and also beginning with "b" were blowing bubbles and balloon watching.)

Biking in the back yard on a Trade Me purchase. (Already covered and also beginning with B were blowing bubbles and balloon watching.)

C is for climbing trees and D is for dressing up in an $8 tutu.

C is for climbing trees and D is for dressing up in an $8 tutu.

E is for Easter Bunny Sarah's visit to the lettuce patch, in imitation of Peter Rabbit.

E is for Easter Bunny Sarah’s visit to the lettuce patch, in imitation of Peter Rabbit.

F is for flying lessons with Great Uncle Rob. Perhaps Ana will be allowed to leave the hangar and try some aerobatics next time.

F is for flying lessons with Great Uncle Rob. Perhaps Ana will be allowed to leave the hangar and try some aerobatics next time.

H is for horsey rides on Iggy's back. This activity, fortunately, did not cost us chiropracter's bills.

H is for horsey rides on Iggy’s back. This activity, fortunately, did not cost us chiropracter’s bills.

P is for playing in the park - we found five within walking distance of Flagstaff...

P is for playing in the park – we found five within walking distance of Flagstaff…

...and P is also for playdough. The Playcentre recipe is beautifully pliable,keeps well in the refrigerator and costs a fraction of the price of shop-sold playdough. Would you like the recipe?

…and P is also for playdough. The Playcentre recipe is beautifully pliable,keeps well in the refrigerator and costs a fraction of the price of shop-sold playdough. Would you like the recipe?

R is for running at Raglan Beach. (The play park there made a fantastic pirate ship, too.)

R is for running at Raglan Beach. (The play park there made a fantastic pirate ship, too.) R is also for raiding the pantry. Spice jars make great rattles.

S is for the steam train rides at Leamington, just out of Cambridge - only $2 for big people and little ones accompanied by a big person are free. Aunty VJ came, too.

S is for many activities. Steam train rides at Leamington, just out of Cambridge, are only $2 for big people and little ones who are accompanied by a big person are free. Aunty VJ came, too.

S is for strawberry picking in the back yard. Cousin Sid led Ana and Rafa on!

S is for strawberry picking in the back yard. Cousin Sid led Ana and Rafa on!

S is also for studying the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. In the time Ana and Rafa were with us, they could see the caterpillars growing fat as they stripped the swan plants. Ana watched a caterpillar form its chrysalis. We could see the nearly-ready butterfly through this chrysalis and later saw the newly emerged butterfly in the garden on the morning of the last day of our holiday. Perfect timing.

S is also for studying the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. In the time Ana and Rafa were with us, they could see the caterpillars growing fat as they stripped the swan plants. Ana watched a caterpillar form its chrysalis. We saw the newly emerged butterfly in the garden on the morning of the last day of our holiday. Perfect timing.

S is for the Sunday market.

S is for the Sunday market – hot coffee and almond croissants for breakfast, live music, bumping into friends, and shopping for Rakaia smoked salmon and ginormous grapes for our family’s visit that evening.

V is for visiting the Hamilton Gardens. We saw about half the themed gardens then stopped for a coffee at the cafe newly taken over by Kerr and Ladbrook. Sarah said her long black was the best she tasted in New Zealand.

V is for visiting the Hamilton Gardens. We saw about half the themed gardens (good to have new gardens to visit next time) then stopped for a coffee at the cafe newly taken over by Kerr and Ladbrook. Sarah said her long black was the best she tasted in New Zealand.

W is for watering the garden. Water restrictions meant that I did need Ana's help with coping with the "hand held hose only" conditions that apply to Hamilton.

W is for watering the garden. Water restrictions meant that I did need Ana’s help with coping with the “hand held hose only” conditions that apply to Hamilton.

Z is for the zoo - excellent value, especially if you use the family voucher from the Entertainment Book.

Z is for the zoo – excellent value, especially if you use the family voucher from the Entertainment Book.

Which brings us to the end of our story and back to the beginning of the alphabet - Adieu, Sarah, Rafa and Ana. We hope your long journey back to the USA went smoothly and you will join us again to discover even more adventures in our region.

Which brings us to the end of our story, with Sarah, Rafa and Ana queuing at Mangere for their flights back home. We have also come back to the beginning of the alphabet, with A for Au Revoir. We hope your long journey back to the USA has gone smoothly and you will join us again to discover even more adventures in our region.

Thank you, Sarah, for providing so many of these photos.