Have you ever met anyone crazy enough to fly all the way to New Zealand from the other side of the world, for just ten days?! Well, I have. And this post will show you just what can be achieved in Middle Earth in a mere ten days.
I flew to NZ slightly ahead of Aruna in the beginning of April, and managed to bask in the final week of what had been a very long summer. I went swimming and even enjoyed picnics on the beach!
But unfortunately for Aruna, some cold weather from Antarctica decided to appear on the day she arrived. Determined not to let the weather get in the way, her first day was action packed! We began the day with some feijoas, a tangy sub-tropical fruit found in NZ but not many other countries. The only way to know what a feijoa tastes like is to eat one, as they are indescribable. We had brunch along the Auckland waterfront (while watching some very heavy downpours out the window) and drank flat whites (a coffee style invented in New Zealand and/or Australia – depending who you believe). Aruna jumped off the Auckland harbour bridge – with a bungee cord attached of course. We drove to the top of Mt Eden, a dramatic volcanic crater, for breath taking 360° views of the city, and ended the day with a delicious pavlova (definitely invented in NZ), decorated with yellow kiwi fruit!
The second day we were on the road early in the morning, to get to the ‘real’ Middle Earth, Hobbiton in the Waikato. Hobbiton is the beautiful outdoor set of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. The ticket includes a guided walk through the set to view Bagshot Row, the Party Tree, and Bilbo’s Bag End home. The hills were an incredible shade of green and the gardens were teeming with life. We enjoyed a hobbit-sized glass of beer in The Green Dragon pub to conclude the tour.
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After Hobbiton we drove to Rotorua, a town with a distinct sulphur smell. We visited Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park and enjoyed a smelly walk around boiling hot pools, erupting waters, mud volcanos and a hot waterfall. The hottest pool we saw was 140°C, and there was so much steam we could only see the water when the wind blew the steam away. It was the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw who named it “Hellsgate” as he believed he had arrived at the gates to Hell. We ended our tour with a natural sulphur bath in the spa. It’s a shame we couldn’t stay in Rotorua longer as there is a plethora of activities around the area.
Our day ended in Mount Maunganui, with a beautiful walk around the mount during sunset with some friends. Mount Maunganui is a beach city, with an extinct volcano cone that rises above the town – known by the locals as The Mount. It’s a beautiful walk up and down, but as we arrived fairly late we decided to walk around it instead. The views did not disappoint.
Day Three was another early start, driving two hours towards The Buried Village of Te Wairoa – New Zealand’s most visited archaeological site. We visited the on-site museum, saw the buried (and excavated) houses and did a short bush walk. This used to be the site of a small christian missionary, and nearby on the shores of the lake were the Pink and White Terraces. Before Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886 and destroyed them and the landscape forever, the terraces were considered to be the eighth natural wonder of the world. The only images remaining of them today are paintings, and from what I’ve seen I imagine them to be quite similar to the Pools of Pamukkale, Turkey.
Afterwards we had a brief stop in Taupo to put our feet in the cold cold lake, before heading towards Napier, our final stop for the day. We met Alex’s family for lunch by the sea, then enjoyed some wine tasting and scenic tours of the region. We stayed with his Mum that evening and enjoyed some more local wines and lots of chats.
Day Four we had a slower start in the morning, with a stroll through Napier town and a visit to the famous Art Deco store. Napier suffered a catastrophic earthquake in the 1931 then it was completely rebuilt in gorgeous Art Deco style. We tasted some local honey at the Arataki Honey Visitor Centre, then carried on the drive through to Palmerston North. The main gorge road was closed (as usual) due to a large slip, so we drove over the hills and saw up close the huge windmills that provide some of the town with power. We had a leisurely lunch a popular café, Café Cuba – well known for their ginormous desserts which we struggled to finish between the two of us! We spent the evening at Pompei pizza where I used to work, then enjoyed some cocktails.
Friday morning we headed down to Wellington, via Waikanae for a cup of tea with Grandma Jean and a quick view of Kapiti island – one of NZ’s most precious nature reserves, home to many native NZ birds and completely rat-free. Then we arrived at Dad and Ro’s brand new house, to be the first ever guests. They are lucky enough to live at the foot of some excellent bushwalks, and we did a short walk up and down for some great views of Wellington Harbour. Later that evening we had dinner in town where my sister Libby works in a delicious Italian restaurant, Ombre.
On Saturday we visited Te Papa museum, the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand which is free to enter. We experienced an earthquake in the earthquake house, and saw the world’s largest specimen of the rare colossal squid – it weighs 495 kg! We had lunch at Mac Brewery on the waterfront and sampled a selection of their locally brewed beer.
We visited Zealandia, a 225ha bird sanctuary just ten minutes away from central Wellington. Zealandia is the name of the mostly submerged-submerged continent that broke off from Australia 60 – 85 million years ago, of which New Zealand is the largest part above sea level. Before humans arrived in NZ, it was an isolated island rich in bird and plant life. There were no mammalian predators so the remarkable plants, birds and insects evolved in ways found nowhere else in the world. There are stories from when the first settlers arrived who described the bird song as deafening! But it’s certainly not like that anymore, after the introduction of dogs, cats and other predators. Zealandia is a sanctuary dedicated to telling New Zealand’s unique conservation story. The colourful bird in the picture below is a Takahe, just one of the many birds we saw while walking around.
The next day we got an early ferry to Picton. The ferry sails from Wellington Harbour, across the Cook Straight then through the Marlborough Sounds to Picton in about three hours. On a nice day the views are absolutely stunning, but on a not-so-nice day there can be big swells and a lot of sea sickness. Luckily for us it was a calm trip, so very smooth sailing and incredible views.
From Picton we drove the Queen Charlotte Track to Pelorus; a favourite swimming spot of mine when I was younger, and more recently it has been used in one of the Hobbit movies. We picked up a lovely hitchhiker on the way and the three of us did the short walk to the swing bridge, then went down to put our toes in the freezing cold water of the Pelorus river. A lot colder than I remember.
We had lunch in the Greenshell Mussel Capital of the world, Havelock. It is a small town at the top of the south island, a gateway to the Pelorus Sound and the Kenepuru Sound. The green lipped mussels are endemic to NZ and are one of the largest mussel species – so much so that Aruna couldn’t help but compare one to her finger.
Another 45 minutes drive from Havelock to Blenheim. We enjoyed a bit of wine tasting at a couple of my favourite vineyards in Marlborough, Huia and Wither Hills. The autumn colours were starting to paint the entire valley shades of orange and it was a typically Blenheim sunshine-filled day. We spent an enjoyable evening with my Grandparents, then celebrated Grandma’s 83rd birthday in the morning!
We made our way to our final destination of the ten-day trip – Christchurch. It’s a beautiful scenic drive from Blenheim, through the Awatere Valley and the rich Marlborough agricultural region before getting to the winding coastal drive, with the Pacific ocean on your left and foothills of the Inland Kaikoura ranges on your right. And much to our delight, seals everywhere! We could smell the seals before we could see them; they certainly blend in with their surroundings. We managed to get close to a couple for a photo.
Halfway between Blenheim and Christchurch is a small township Kaikoura. ‘Kai’ is the Maori word for food, and ‘koura’ the word for crayfish (NZ rock lobster). Aruna wouldn’t believe me about the size of our crayfish so we had to try one. We visited several restaurants only to find they weren’t serving any (and they were charging $100 for a half!) but we eventually found a pub 5 minutes out of town that not only had fresh crayfish for a mere $35, but also a fresh paua (abalone) platter! We feasted on these seafood delights enjoying the sunshine and views of the mountains and sea.
We reached Christchurch just in time to enjoy dinner with my aunt and uncle. The next day we had a bit of sleep in, then walked around the recovering city centre. The city is still rebuilding from the 2011 February earthquake, but there is still a lot to see! We visited the temporary mall RE:Start made from shipping containers, the Cathedral and the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial to the lives lost during the earthquake.
Our final stop on the trip before Aruna flew back to Auckland was a trip to New Brighton, a small suburb that can’t really be compared to the lively (Old) Brighton in the UK where we live. But we had to do it.