Napier, Rotorua and Hamilton

January 8 - Wellington to Napier

 Sadly leaving our friends and hosts behind us in Wellington, we drove to Napier on the east coast of the North Island. Once again, we drove through some spectacular scenery, but we were getting used to that. What REALLY surprised us were the many small towns we passed through, all of which looked as though they hadn't changed much in fifty years but all adorned with spectacular displays of both hanging baskets and planters throughout the town. This is Carterton, which was typical.

Carterton Main Street

We arrived in Napier fairly late in the afternoon and we had noticed that as the day warmed up, so did the interior of our car ! As we had air conditioning, we suspected we might have a problem. Not wanting to drive a car without A/C, especially in Bay of Islands area where we were planning to go, we looked around for an A/C  repair shop. After a couple of false starts and a call to the car rental company, we finished up at Reid Auto. We left the car with them for about an hour and when we came back, they had re-charged the A/C and called the car rental company directly, so we didn't have to pay anything. Excellent service !

 Reid Auto and Electrix who fixed our car air conditioning

So with our A/C working properly again, we took a quick tour of the town to get our bearings before heading back to our B and B, the Villa Vista.

The Villa Vista B&B

This is the view of the bay and Napier from our bedroom window.

Napier from our bedroom window

 That evening, after a long day of driving, we stayed in and ate snacks in our room and had an early night. A bottle of local wine always helps to put us to sleep !

 Cheers, Dears !

January 9 - Napier

 Napier was almost completely destroyed by a massive earthquake in Feb 1931. The citizens were determined to rebuild and at that time Art Deco was very much in style. As a result, Napier has one of the best collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. In the nineteen seventies, some of these buildings were pulled down and the city took steps to preserve their heritage. Napier is now famous all over the world for all the great buildings that remain. We decided to take a walking tour and these are just few examples of what Napier has to offer.

   Tour Group and Tour Guide admiring Napier's Art Deco buildings

After our tour of Napier and some shopping, we visited the Napier Museum, which had an interesting exhibition about  the great earthquake of 1931.  We then drove about 20 km to Hastings, just north of Napier. Hastings has a famous Art Deco opera house which has recently been restored. Surprisingly, when we found it, it was open, but not to us. There was a very fancy, fancy dress wedding ("weeding" as they say in New Zealand) and we couldn't get in. The town was VERY quiet but like some other small towns, the plants were impressive.

Hawke's Bay Opera House and the pretty hanging baskets both in Hastings

Before driving back to Napier, we drove to the top of a local mountain, Te Mata peak, which gave us a dramatic view of the whole of the Hawke's Bay area.

Hawke's Bay with Napier in the distance from Te Mata Peak

Enjoying the view

That evening, we went to see the movie "Creation" about the personal struggles of Charles Darwin as he wrote and decided to publish his "Origin of Species" against the wishes of his much loved and devoutly religious wife. An interesting subject made rather dull, at least in this film. And that was enough for one day.

January 10 - Napier to Rotorua

 We decided to drive to Rotorua the "long" way round to take in some more towns and some interesting scenery, rather than take the shorter but less interesting route. Our first stop was Gisborne, about 200 km up the coast from Napier.  We stopped for a coffee and a quick drive around. It turned out Captain Cook had been there before us - more than 200 years ago.

Music to drink coffee by.

An earlier tourist from Whitby, Capt. Cook

After leaving Gisborne, we took the long and winding road to Opotiki. which involved a long climb up winding roads and then a dizzying descent down a long gorge, but we were so dizzy with the driving, we forget to take any pictures !

Eventually we arrived in Rotorua and we were happy to grab a bite to eat and a quick drink and call it a night !

Waiting for our food but happy to be in Rotorua

 January 11 - Rotorua

 Rotorua, like Queenstown in the South Island, is well known for all it's activities, but we only knew it because of the all the thermal activity in the area. Unlike Yellowstone National Park, with which it's often compared, the geothermal features are all over the place and in most cases are privately owned, so you can't just pick up a map and drive from place to place. Imagine Yellowstone if it wasn't a National Park and had been developed commercially and you will get the idea. There are some hot springs in Rotorua which are in a city park, so we thought we would start there.

They actually were better than we had expected. Some of the springs were VERY hot and some of the pools were quite muddy. However, they were very badly marked and in many cases were full of trash, which didn't exactly add to the experience, but they were free, so it made a good start.

Thermal features at Kuirau Park in Rotorua

We then went for a walk around the town, which is a real tourist center but started as a spa town.

The main tourist street of Rotorua, leading to the lake and the original Spa, which is now a Visitors Center

In the afternoon, we worked on the blog and in the evening, Kris went to the Polynesian Spa and had some pampering, which I'm pleased to say made up for the less satisfactory experience we both had in Hamner Springs

January 12 - Rotorua

 We headed out early to see Huka Falls, a famous waterfall about 20 kms from Rotorua. The guidebooks said the best view was from a boat, so we dutifully headed to the dam where the boat departed. The Aratiatia dam was built in the 1960's as part of a hydro-electric scheme but diverted water from some dramatic rapids just below the dam. It's now opened several times a day so tourists can see how the rapids looked before the dam was built.

Dam closed - no rapids -

 Then dam opens and the rapids begin to form

 And the rapids appear - at least for a few minutes

Once we had seen the rapids, we jumped on the "Maid of the Falls" tour boat.

The lake was very pretty but really rather boring. The captain seemed to be on first name terms with most of the trout in the lake (and he introduced us to ALL of them) which may give you some idea. The falls themselves were pretty spectacular and we did get the usual "can you take our picture together, please ?" picture, but it was a two hour boat ride for about ten minutes of excitement.

"Maid of the Falls" tour boat on the left and "Bored of the Falls" on the right

Huka Falls from the boat

"Can you take our picture, please ? And make sure you get The Falls in the picture !"

So that was that  EXCEPT on our way out, we stopped at the free viewing area of the falls and we think the view was just as good as from the boat.

Huka Falls from the (free) viewing area

We then took a quick trip to Lake Taupo which is the biggest lake in New Zealand and grabbed a sandwich.

Lunch by Lake Taupo - notice the mountains in the distance - still snow capped.

We then drove to Orakei Korako, a commercially owned area of Geothermal activity and recommended in our guide book. The first stop was a short ferry ride across a river and then we took a self guided tour of what turned out to be quite an impressive area of hot springs, geysers, mud pots and a VERY deep cave.

The Orakei Korako Ferry to the first of many amazing sights

A geyser blowing water 20 feet in the air and a steaming sapphire blue pool

All very impressive with a strong smell of sulpher thrown in. After a couple of hours working our way round the various sights and sounds, we decided we had seen enough geothermal sights for this trip and headed back to Rotorua.

A view of the "Artist's Palette" - a wide range of colors all produced by algae living at different temperatures 

The "Pool of Mirrors" at the the bottom of the "Ruatapu Sacred Cave" and a close up of the colors on the cave wall

That evening, we acted like the tourists we are and went to see the local Maori show - dinner included. Even by their own admission, this was an "adaption" of their own customs but the meal was OK and the show got better as it went along, even if it did end with the tourists being dragged up on stage to learn how to do a Maori dance. Neither of us were involved, I'm happy to say.

 Kris looking a little awkward with a Māori "warrior" and the "traditional hangi" - a gas fired barbeque pit 

As is often the case, our table companions, two young guys from Singapore on one side and an english girl living in New Zealand with her Australian cousin on the other, turned out be very interesting and amusing and helped to make the evening a success.

 January 13 - Rotorua to Hamilton

 We were all ready to leave - packed and on the way out of the door - when we couldn't find the car keys ! Our first thought was that we (Kris actually) had locked them in the car, but we couldn't see them in the car, so we basically unpacked and went through all our luggage and turned the room upside down. Still no keys ! I knew we had to get into the car so I asked the bellman who they used and as I expected, he said the AA and he would call them. HOWEVER, it turned out the local AA man was his father so he had a direct line and dad agreed to come right away. In the meantime, Kris had spotted the keys hidden under a coat on the back seat, so when the AA guy rolled up a few minutes later and popped open the door, all was well. Surprisingly, he refused payment which left me speechless. Fortunately, I managed to press $20 into his hand and did the same for the son, so I felt a little better.

So our next stop were the famous Caves of Waitomo. famous because they are inhabited by glowworms, which everyone says look like stars. Most tourists take a 45 minute boat ride through one of the caves but WE wanted to do something else, something more exciting,  so WE decided to do the "Black Labyrinth Tour"  which promised (and I quote)

Caving and walking

Cave tubing (black water rafting)

Glow worms

A small waterfall jump

but they didn't mention that this would all take place underground (which we had guessed) and in freezing cold water (which we hadn't).

So we donned our cold, already WET wetsuits and got ready for an adventure.

Our fearless group. We are on the right at the back. Kris looks cold already and we haven't started yet.

Oh this water is cold 

 Deep underground it doesn't get any warmer

The team underground 

Making our way through some cold, wet rock passages

  The light at the end of the tunnel (the end of the cave) 

 The official "we survived" photo.

Oh and the glow worms ? Well we did see them and they were quite spectacular - like stars in the sky, but  we didn't have our camera with us, so I'm afraid you will have to take our word !

So once we had a hot shower and some soup (provided by the caving company) we headed for Hamilton, where we relived our adventure over a warming meal of Thai food !