Joe's Travels - Round the World 2003

 Diary - Week 8
Friday 4th April – Wellington to Havelock North then Napier

 Vineyards in Havelock North

Today was a lovely hot and sunny day – the best for at least a week. Rented a car for the next four days to take us across the north island to Auckland.

Set off up the highway through the Hutt Valley, stopping off at Rimutaka Summit (555m) to look at the views. This is a very scenic route northwards, quite different from the south island in that the mountains are less severe and much more forested. Continued via Featherston, Masterton and Eketahuna and stopped to eat our picnic lunch just north of Dannevirke. Continued on to Havelock North, near Hastings, arriving mid-afternoon. Visited a couple of vineyards – first was Te Mata where we sampled three wines then we drove to Clearview Vineyards (on the coast) and tasted about eight wines, deciding to buy two bottles of one we really liked! This afternoon the weather was superb – not a cloud in the sky and beautiful weather for vineyard visiting and wine-tasting.

We then drove up to Te Mata Peak (399m) – fortunately you can drive right to the top! From here there are superb views especially out over the sea to the east and north to Napier and the whole of Hawke Bay. Apart from the numerous vineyards, the Hawkes Bay Region is one of the main New Zealand fruit-growing areas - we saw plenty of orchards full of ripe apples.

Reached Napier, a few miles further north, about 18.00 and checked into the Old Stables Backpackers – a friendly hostel arranged around a small courtyard. In the evening we got a Chinese takeaway, which we took back to the hostel and ate outside in the courtyard with our bottle of Clearview Gewurtztraminer – it was a nice warm evening.

Saturday 5th April – Napier to Rotorua

 Huka Falls near Taupo

Spent the morning in Napier looking at some of the famous Art Deco buildings constructed in 1931-33. Napier was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and the resulting rebuild has left it as one of the best examples in the world of an Art Deco city.

Weather was still warm and partly sunny – set off from Napier at midday and drove to Taupo along Highway 5. This is a remarkable route for its ever-changing scenery in just a two-hour drive. First there are the vineyards and orchards just north of Napier, which soon fade into lush green rolling hills as the road starts to climb. Next there are dramatic mountainous pine forests, then flat open plains, followed by more pine forests and straight roads that run for miles into the distance. About half way along the route we stopped at a scenic lookout – finding a great view over some waterfalls on the mountain opposite.

On arrival in Taupo we had our lunch overlooking the lake (it's New Zealand's largest lake). Then headed north for a couple of miles and visited Huka Falls – there are giant rapids leading to the spectacular, and very blue, falls themselves. Drove a short distance to the “Craters of the Moon” – a fascinating thermal area where steam billows out of craters, and the bush itself. It’s a surprisingly bushy area despite the steam and frequent sulphurous smells. There are also a few areas of boiling mud – an amazing sight, accompanied by wonderful sound effects.

Drove from there to Rotorua (about 50 miles further north) through very pleasant scenery, much of it pine forest. Started raining heavily just as we reached the city. Steam rises from various places in Rotorua and frequently there are very strong sulphurous smells as you drive around. Stayed with the brother of friends from the UK and his family who live about 15 miles from Rotorua in the midst of lovely green farmland - surrounded by sheep, cattle & deer. Had a great welcome and excellent dinner of roast lamb.

Sunday 6th April – Rotorua

 Champagne Pool, Wai-o-Tapu

Having rained all night, it continued to rain heavily all day (about 100mm or 4 inches in the last 24 hours!) Despite this we all went out for a drive, around Lake Rotorua, passing the Green & Blue Lakes to Lake Tarawera. The weather meant that we couldn’t see a great deal, so we drove south about 20 miles along the road towards Taupo to visit Wai-o-Tapu, one of the best thermal areas.

First we stopped at the mud pools, similar to, but much larger than, what we saw yesterday then had lunch at the visitor centre café. Then toured the thermal area in the rain. There is an incredible variety of colours, both in the rock and the pools, ranging from yellow (sulphur) through red/brown (ferrous oxide) to purple (manganese oxide). Some of the craters, such as the Devil’s Home are huge and the most famous pools are the Champagne Pool (formed 900 years ago) with adjacent multi-coloured Artists’ Palette and the Devil’s Bath, an incredible pool of yellow water. A superb place, well worth a visit.

Due to the weather we returned to our friends' place mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day indoors.

Monday 7th April (take 1) – Auckland then flight to Rarotonga

 Skytower, Auckland

Got up early and drove from Rotorua to Auckland. The route passes mainly through lush green farmland with plenty of dairy cattle. Weather was showery, even foggy for a time, but as we approached Auckland it improved substantially and whilst in the city it was hot and sunny – a lovely day. We reached the city in 2½ hours – a journey of about 150 miles.

First we went up the Skytower – a great place to get an idea of the scale of the city. Visibility today was excellent. The Sky Deck is 220m high, so you can see the whole city and far into the distance.

Next we walked down to the harbour, had lunch then walked around the wharves and up Queen Street (the main shopping street).

Drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car and took Air New Zealand flight at 19.00 to Rarotonga (The Cook Islands) - a 3½ hour flight, arriving 00.30 the same day as I have now crossed the International Date Line. Time here is 22 hours behind New Zealand.

The airport has a great atmosphere when an international flight arrives – many locals, including the immigration staff, wear flowers in their hair, and there’s a chap playing typical island-style music through a rather old-fashioned amplifier. A friend of a friend from England had very kindly offered to put me up for my four-day stay and she came and met me at the airport.

Monday 7th April (take 2) - Rarotonga, The Cook Islands

 Beach on Rarotonga

Having crossed the International Date Line, I get to enjoy the 7th April all over again... and it's even hotter and sunnier than yesterday!

Spent the day enjoying the wonderful scenery on this tropical island, just 32 kms (20 miles) around. Beaches are deserted, everyone is friendly and it's the closest to paradise I've been.

Looked around Avarua, the largest town, in the morning, and had lunch at a café by the waterfront – octopus and rice with taro – the latter supposedly being something related to a potato, but I couldn’t quite see the connection between this rubbery grey wedge and my usual spuds!

Went to the police station to get my Cook Islands driving licence – it’s a simple process of swapping $10 for the licence, and they even take the photo for you! Come back in half an hour and it’s ready.

Then rented a scooter for the four days... just need to watch out for dogs and chickens running across the road! Although you can easily ride around the island in less than an hour, I spent the rest of the afternoon doing the full circle whilst enjoying the incredible views of the mountains and beaches, finishing with a great sunset.

Tuesday 8th April - Day trip to Aitutaki, The Cook Islands

 Aerial view of Aitutaki

The day trip of a lifetime. Flew by small plane to the island of Aitutaki, had a tour of the island, then a lagoon cruise. Snorkelling in crystal clear waters with tropical fish, barbecued tuna for lunch, time to explore Moturakau, the island where the UK version of the TV show "Survivor" was filmed, then two hours on Tapuaetai (One Foot Island). A quite incredible day.

The only island in the Cooks where dogs are forbidden.

More details to follow as soon as I have time ...

Wednesday 9th April - Rarotonga, The Cook Islands

 The Needle, Rarotonga

A morning trekking across the island with the famous guide Pa, a wonderful character who knows every inch of the path and walks barefoot the whole way. A great experience.

Afternoon enjoying the scenery and beaches.

More details to follow as soon as I have time ...

Thursday 10th April – Rarotonga

 Aerial view of Rarotonga

Had a 20-minute scenic flight in a light aircraft around, and over, the island in the morning - wonderful views.

Went snorkelling in the afternoon and saw a huge variety of fish.

Really sorry to be leaving the Cook Islands tonight - this has been the best four days of the trip.

More details to follow as soon as I have time ...


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