Monday 26 January 2009


We spent our last couple of days with Dan, Fiona and their kids in Rotorua - famous for its rotten egg smell. The campsite we stayed at was right on the lake, but to get to the beach we had to pass through an area of craters, bubbling mud and steam rising from the ground. The beach itself was also covered in craters with steam coming out of them so we stuck to the pools in the campsite after one visit to the lakeside. The campsite had three natural hot water mineral water pools (varying temperatures) in addition to the standard campsite pool.
Rotorua, like much of New Zealand, attracts tourists by offering a range of whacky activities. Did you know that Zorbing was invented in Rotorua?

On our full day in Rotorua we headed out early to the Zorb run. Peter and Dan were keen to have a go, but Peter would only go if I went with him, so we signed up for a Zydro each (as opposed to a Zorbit, which Peter was too young for, obviously). A Zydro involves rolling down the hill in a large plastic ball, sloshing around in a few litres of water. All three of us opted for the longer zig-zag run rather than the shorter straight run down the hill (Peter made his decision only at the last minute as he overcame the nerves which hit him when we reached the top of the hill). See Zorbing photos here.

In the afternoon we headed up on a cable car to the top of a hill just outside of Rotorua to a park operated by the same company as the one in Queenstown. This time we decided to try out the downhill luge - a gravity powered racetrack. Dan was able to take Aaron on his knee whilst Luke and Joseph took turns on mine and Peter rode his own. For me the ride down on the Luge was more fun than zorbing (mainly because I could wear my glasses and had control of my own direction) and at a tenth of the cost I expect we'll be back to do it again.

While we were up on the hill Nicola and Dan also rode a huge 'sky-swing'. The swing drew them up to a height of about 20 or 30 metres above the ground before Nicola pulled a release cord which swung them out over the edge of the hill (peaking at a height of 50m above the ground).

The rest of the day was a little gentler as the kids used up their last energy reserves playing in the McDonalds playpark, before we refueled them up again with a shot of sugar and fat.

The following morning we said goodbye to Dan, Fiona, Aaron and baby Maria - who we will next see when we visit Melbourne in May (where hopefully they will be able to put us up in their six bedroom mansion!).

Thermal Wonderland on the way to Rotorua

The last place we visited with Daniel and Fiona was Rotorua, which is about an hour north of Taupo. It is also famous for its natural geothermal well as the all pervading smell of rotten eggs from the sulphur!

On the way to Rotorua we stopped off at Thermal Wonderland, primarily to see the Lady Knox Geyser which goes off (with a little help from the park staff) at 10.15 each day. We arrived early enough to see the geyser and it was quite an impressive sight (although it did feel very much like a Disney attraction and we couldn't quite shake the feeling it was not actually real!).

After watching the Geyser we headed into the Thermal Wonderland park itself. There were three loops which you could walk around to observe some of the amazing natural phenomenon (such as craters, boiling pools of steam, bubbling mud, coloured mineral deposits). Some of the terrain was so alien to what we are used to looked like a film set and I kept expecting a dinosaur to appear!
We all really enjoyed the walks and the sights, we have scenery fatigue when it comes to views, trees, lakes, mountains etc and so it was great to see something totally different for a change.


After Waitomo the next stop was Taupo, a small town on the edge of the very scenic Lake Taupo. One of the main attractions of Taupo is the hot springs and mineral pools. We were staying at the De Bretts Spa Resort and the first stop was the resort pools where the kids had a good time playing in the warm water.

The next day we headed to "Craters of the Moon" an area of high geothermal activity. We saw steam rising out of the ground, bubbling mud pools and craters formed by collapses of the unstable ground. This was really different to anything else we have seen on the trip and we all enjoyed the sights and the walk.

After a quick visit to the Huka Falls (not very impressive when you have seen Niagara...but maybe we are just becoming too well travelled) we headed to the Taupo Adventure Centre. After some debate we decided to do the maze with the kids, we were expecting it to be really easy as it did not look that big, so we were surprised to find it was actually quite tricky. After lots of circling we found ourselves in the centre, where there was a big slide to go down. We excitedly climbed up to the top of the tower, but when we saw the slide some of the excitement looked like a very small dark hole. The kids all started to mutter about having changed their I volunteered to give it a try. It was awful...small, dark, with impossibly sharp corners...I only went down it once!
After the trauma of the maze Aaron tried out the junior quad bikes, which looked like good fun. Then Dan and David gave the full sized quads a try and had a race round the track, while Peter, Joe, Aaron and Luke shouted encouragement and advice!!

Our last day in Taupo was spent wandering round the shops and relaxing in sunshine the park.


Waitomo Caves

Our second week with Daniel, Fiona, Aaron and Maria flew past. Our first stop was Waitomo, where we stayed for one night. The premier (and only) attraction of Waitomo is the Waitomo Caves, so we got our tickets and headed in to see what all the fuss is about. The caves were fairly impressive with lots of huge stalactites and stalagmites and as the caves were formed in limestone/sandstone/mudstone there were lots of interesting shapes where water erosion had worn away the rocks. Joseph was less impressed as he was a bit scared of the dark and spent most of the walk through the caves clinging tightly to our hands.

After seeing the caves we boarded a small boat on the underground river which took us to see the glowworms within the caves. We had done a bit of reading up on glowworms (which are the larvae of the fungus gnat) and were impressed by the evolutionary ingenuity of a larvae which generates a light to catch insects in sticky threads it weaves and sends down to hang below its light. We were less impressed to learn that when the adult hatches it only lives two days as it does not have a mouth...I guess all the evolutionary genius was used up on the glow in the dark technology!

Our boat had a guide who used ropes to silently pull us through the caves and it was a spectacular experience. In the silence we all looked up to the roof to see millions of tiny lights, like stars above us. It was like gazing into a clear night sky, even Joseph forgot his fear of the dark and marvelled at the tiny dots glowing above us. It was all over too fast and before we knew it the tour was over and we were getting off the boat outside the caves.

No photos this time as there was no photography in the caves.


Friday 23 January 2009

Zorbing in Rotorua (by Peter)

Hi everybody. Today I did zorbing. When we arrived there I decided I would zorb so we got to the top. I decided I would do the zig-zag track on my own!!! When I got in I was a bit scared, but when I got down I didn't think it was scary at all!!!!!!!

Bye see you next time,


Monday 19 January 2009


The day after our Tall Ships adventure we were heading down towards Auckland, then on to the Waitomo Caves, where we were meeting back up with Daniel and Fiona. As we passed about 25kms from Waiuku we decided to go and stay there again, with the hope of maybe seeing Andrew, Sam, Edward and Spencer again.

We stopped off at Pukehohe for lunch at McDonalds and Peter, Joe, Aaron and Luke stretched their legs in the play area. I headed off to have a quick look in the shops and arrived back with a game that Daniel had been looking for (Settlers of Catan) to find that David had spoken to Andy and they were at home.

We excitedly piled back into the van and started the last bit of our journey for the day, the boys were really excited about seeing Edward and Spencer again! We were heading up a big hill about 11km from Waiuku when the van suddenly cut out and we had to cruise to a soon as we stopped David realised what was wrong...we had run out of diesel!! In our excitement we had forgotton to go to the supermarket and the petrol station.

Luckily we were close to help, so I got the boys out the van (which was stopped right in a junction) and we took some toys and books out onto the rug further down the road, while David sheepishly phoned Andy to inform him of how stupid we had been and ask for help!! Andy said he would leave straight away to come and help out.

While we were waiting a passing good samaritan who happened to have a large car and a tow rope helped us to tow the van off the junction into a more safe position (we assured them we had help on the way...and neglected to mention to them that we had only run out of fuel!).

Andy arrived not long after and we got a few litres of fuel in...after a nervous few seconds the engine roared to life and we piled back into the van and headed to the nearest petrol station!

A very stupid mistake, but luckily Andy was at home and able to come to our rescue...I think we will be extra cautious with filling up the tank now!!

Some photos here.


PS - Photos of another excellent stay at Andrew and Sam's are here (they kindly let us park in their drive for another night...probably thought it was safer than letting us back on the road again!).

Sailing on a Tall Ship in the Bay of Islands

While we were in the Bay of Islands we decided to spend a day sailing on a Tall Ship. We had been given "adventure experience" vouchers for Christmas from Chris and Anna and we decided that a day on the water looked like something we would all enjoy. The ship was the R Tucker Thompson and it is a charitable trust which runs day sailing adventures during the summer then provides sailing training to youth groups over the winter.

We were looking after Aaron (our nephew) and he came along with us, so we had our hands full with four excitable boys going on a pirate ship adventure.

It was an early start in the morning and we boarded the ship for the sailing at 10am. The boys were all very excited about being aboard a "real" pirate ship. We set off from Russel and when we were out of port the engines were turned off and the sails went up. Peter and David helped to hoist up the main sail under the instruction of the friendly crew. Once the sails were up Peter got a quick lesson in coiling the ropes for storage.

It was amazing to be sailing along the water using only the power of the wind. It was so quiet and the main noise (other than our children) was the water splashing off the bows. Once the sails were up it was time for morning tea, when we were served with seemingly endless delicious scones and cups of tea.

When morning tea was finished some of the other people on the boat had a shot of climbing the rigging, while Luke had a turn of taking the helm and steering the boat. Just before lunch we stopped off for an hour at Roberton Island, where the children played on the beach and paddled in the sea (Peter even did some swimming in the lagoon). Then it was back on board for lunch, which was a lovely chicken salad with bread.

Before we set sail again there was time to try out the "Tucker Bungee" which was a rope swing from which you could jump into the sea. Peter and David both had a go and said it was great fun!

In the afternoon we had a leisurely sail around the bay, while Luke had a sleep and Peter, Joe and Aaron played with their toys and looked for dolphins (we didn't see any...but saw lots of seaweed!).

We all had a fantastic day and were all exhausted by the time we got to bed that evening!

Photos are here.


Friday 16 January 2009

Action World

Yesterday we spent the day at a place near to Waitangi and Paihia called Action World. It was a fairly small "theme park" which was crammed with a variety of equipment for kids and adults. We went along in the morning ting to spend a couple of hours, but ended up staying until tea time. Fortunately as we had the campervan in the carpark it was easy to nip out and make up a picnic to get us through the day.

One of the activities was a Gladiators style game in which you tried to push your oponent off of a beam using a giant cotton bud. Dan and I had a couple of games and ended level at 1-1. Peter also gave it a go but struggled to hold the weight of the fighting stick and didn't last long against his slightly taller opponent Dan.

Meanwhile over at the giant inflatable kids slide Nicola was supervising the kids when the dad of some other kids started chatting to her. He was tall with a pretty strong build, mid-fifties. Shortly afterwords Dan pointed out that he was in fact Wolf from Gladiators! It turns out he lives in Auckland and moved down to NZ four years ago - best move he ever made apparently. He also spent most of the day at the park with his wife and three kids and some friends, but we didn't manage to catch him up on the gladiators fighting game - that would have made such a good photo.

The highlight of my day was a full sized trapeze. When we saw the trapeze school on the pier in Santa Monica last year I had said to Nicola that I would love to have a go - I finally got my chance. After a couple of practise runs I managed to make my first flying leap and succesful catch onto the other side. With a couple more practises I perfected the forward roll dismount (which I had to repeat a few times just to prove it wasn't beginners luck).

After such a good day it was a shame to wake up with painful hands, arms, shoulders and chest this morning - maybe I slept funny?

Pictures are here


Wednesday 14 January 2009

Motor cruise around the Bay of Islands


Today we rose early and headed off to Paihia (pronounced like Pie-here) to catch a boat on which we would spend the day cruising around the Bay of Islands. This was a Christmas present from Dan and Fiona. The targets for the day were to see and swim with dolphins (except Nicola who volunteered to watch four children while we did it), navigate through a treacherous hole in a rock and generally enjoy the views on offer in the Bay.

After a quick stop across the water at Russell to pick up the rest of the passengers the captain took a call telling him where we could find a pod of dolphins nearby. Whilst Dan, Fiona Peter and I headed down to get snorkeled up for our swim the others stayed on deck looking out for the dolphins. Unfortunately after reaching the dolphins we were told that there was a baby dolphin in the pod and that we weren't allowed to swim if there were any babies there. Nonetheless we enjoyed a great close up view of the dolphins swimming in the wake of the boat.

The boat we were on also provides another service (known as the Cream Route) which involves dropping off and picking up deliveries from properties on the islands (originally picking up dairy products, but now mainly delivering wine and newspapers!). After a few drops we made our way out of the bay towards the open sea and Piercy Island which is home to the "Hole in the rock", a natural cave formed by erosion which reaches right through the island. In the second piece of bad luck for the day the sea conditions were too rough for us to navigate through the hole, but we did reverse in from the wider end to get some idea of what it would be like to motor through it.

Next stop was lunch, on a large island called Urupukapuka at a small bay called Otehei Bay. The bay contained a lovely sandy beach and a single restaurant (which clearly does a great trade as everyone on the boat had to buy lunch there!). Fiona headed off for a quick glass-bottomed boat trip whilst we refueled and headed down for a swim. We managed to find a nice shady spot at the top of the beach so that Maria could emerge from behind her sun-shade for a lie on the rug. Peter, Aaron, Joseph and Luke all had a good clean and cool off in the sea.

After lunch the crew set up a boom at the side of the boat which held a large rope net. Peter, Dan and I got changed into our swimming gear again and headed down for a dunking in the sea. The netting held about 12 people at a time whilst the captain accelerated, braked and turned sharply causing maximum splashing for those riding the nets. Peter and I rode in a quieter group which contained all of the kids giving us more room to splash about. Dan's group was a bit more intimate!

After all the net-riders had finished the captain had another report of a group of dolphins with no babies, so we kept our bathers on and quickly grabbed snorkels and flippers and managed to get to the front of the dolphin swimming queue. As our group (the first group) started loading in the boom netting ready to be released into the open bay another call came over the speakers - unfortunately a baby had been spotted in the pod, it was all off again. This time it was more frustrating as we had been so close to going in.

After visiting a couple more islands in the bay we finally headed for home after 6.5 hours on the water. We had really good weather all day and the rain just started as we got back to the campsite with three out of four boys asleep after a very exciting day.

Photos here.


Tuesday 13 January 2009

Arriving in Kerikeri

After spending a very enjoyable couple of days with Andrew and Sam, we headed on North to Kerikeri where we were meeting up with Dan, Fiona, Aaron and Maria. They made good time with travelling and arrived around lunchtime.

Peter, Joseph and Luke were delighted to see Aaron again and we spent the whole of the first day sitting out in the sun at the campsite, while the kids ran around very excitedly. We also met Maria for the first time and she was very sweet (and very small compared to our made us realise Luke definitely is not a baby any more!). Peter, Joe and Luke behaved like typical boys around a new baby, by showing very little interest other than to say a quick hello...I think they found Aaron infinitely more interesting!!

Today after much debate and consultation with leaflets and guidebooks we decided to head over to Russell on the ferry and to book a boat trip for tomorrow. The sun was shining (something we have not often experienced here) and we arrived in Russell just before lunchtime. We had a nice lunch in a waterfront cafe before spending most of the afternoon relaxing on the beach as Peter, Joe, Luke and Aaron threw stones in the sea and built sandcastles. David and Dan hired kayaks for half an hour and had a little paddle around the bay.

We headed back over late afternoon and on the way back the captain of our boat let Peter, Joe and Aaron into the cabin, then let Peter steer the boat for most of the way back!! The boys thought this was great fun and we took lots of photos of Peter steering the boat. Luke was desperately trying to get in on the act, but we thought that might be a bit too instead he passed the time by waving bye to "Scotland"...I think in all the excitement of Aaron arriving he thought we had been to Scotland for the afternoon!

Photos are here...we are having some internet problems so I have resized the photos hence they are a bit blurry.


Saturday 10 January 2009

Sunshine at last

We drove up the West Coast to Westport, where we experienced more pouring rain and howling winds...but managed a walk at the aptly named "Cape Foulwind" before heading inland and up to Picton, where we were getting the ferry to the North Island. The night before the ferry we wilderness camped about 6km outside Picton at the side of the Queen Charlotte Sound. We spent the whole day on the beach, with the van parked about 5 meters away. The sun was shining at last and we spent a day chilling out on the beach, paddling, swimming, reading and sleeping. The weather had taken a distinct turn for the better, with beautiful sunshine...however we have been later informed that the hole in the ozone layer is directly above this part of New Zealand...still it was worth it for some sun (and we had our inch-thick sunscreen slapped on).

The next day we headed into Picton and browsed the shops and got Joseph a long overdue haircut before boarding the ferry in the early afternoon. After a smooth crossing we arrived in Wellington.

We have been motoring up the North Island and have not done much sightseeing to date (other than sights which are directly giant carrots). We are heading to Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands where we will be meeting up with David's brother Daniel and his family (including our new neice who we have not yet met!). Needless to say we are very excited about this!

We are presently staying near Auckland with David's cousin Andy, his wife Sam and their two boys. The kids are having a great time together and we think that Andy must work for the NZ tourist board when he is not directing traffic, as he is giving us the hard sell on living in Auckland!

PS - Andy doesn't really direct traffic...just a soon to be corrected typo on the internet!

Splendid isolation on the West Coast

After the glaciers we continued our journey up the West Coast of the South Island. Much of the drive hugged the rugged coastline, but rather than being awed by the views we were more surprised by how utterly bleak this part of the world feels. Yet again we had poor weather which made the sea look grey and uninviting as the waves crashed onto the shore. We didn't see anyone on the beaches and the sand was dotted with washed up driftwood bleached white from the sea and the sun. There was a feeling that we were looking at something timeless a true glimpse of the natural world and the power and ferocity of the ocean.

There were a number of small pockets of civilisation, but these were few and far between. I found it hard to imagine a life in one of these locations and found myself longing for shops, cafes and the hustle and bustle of even a small town.

We stopped off at Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks (rock formations which look like stacks of pancakes). As we drove past we were amazed by the volume of cars and campers parked up in the car park, it was one of the busiest tourist attractions we had been to. We excitedly got out the van and headed to look at the rocks...but what a disappointment, to us they looked just like rocks (okay in layers, but nothing special). After wandering around for a bit muttering "Has no-one ever seen the coast before?"...and "What a fuss about nothing"...we headed back to the van and continued north, taking with us an increased admiration of the Kiwi ability to make a tourist attraction out of nothing much.


PS - It looked a bit better in the photos.

Friday 2 January 2009

New Year at the Franz Joseph Glacier

On 30th December we got all our belongings into the van got the bikes strapped on and headed north. We are driving up the West Coast to the top of the South Island, where we are going to get a ferry to the North Island and then drive up to Auckland (to meet up with family in early January).

Before we headed off we had a delicious lunch in the restaurant, where David had possibly the biggest burger I have ever seen...being friends with the chef has definite perks!

First stop was Wanaka, the little town 20km North. We go up here a lot and had a few things to do before we headed off so we planned to race through our shopping list before heading on. As we approached the outskirts of town the traffic was nose to tail and as we drove on there were people literally everywhere. We finally got parked and headed out to the first shop...after a quick chat with the locals we found out that although Wanaka normally has a population of 4,000 between Christmas and New Year this swells to 40,000...suffice to say the shopping was a tad more stressful than anticipated and we were glad to see the back of Wanaka!!

We headed up the side of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka where we took in some spectacular views of the mountains and the lakes. Our first night was spent "wilderness" camping in the Mount Aspiring National Park, where we enjoyed a short walk down to the river before realising that we were being bitten to bits by sand flies...the rest of the evening was spent hiding from flies in the van.

The next day dawned wet, misty and miserable...something we are getting used to in New Zealand. We drove through some scenery which was probably spectacular if you could see it... before arriving at a very wet Fox Glacier. after some debate we headed out to see the Glacier and walked through the driving rain and howling winds to get as close to the face as we could (the walk to the face was closed due to a rockfall). It was impressive to see, but we were all a bit wet, cold and miserable by the time we got back to the van.

The weather continued to deteriorate and we had possibly the quietest Hogmanay ever, as we sheltered in the van from the driving rain, thunderstorms, lightning and howling winds. David and I spent the evening playing puzzles, drinking wine and listening to music from the mid 1990's.

The start of 2009 was a bit brighter and we headed to the Franz Joseph Glacier. This walk was much more interesting as we had to wade through a couple of icy streams, complete with blocks of ice in them. The glacier itself was amazing to see, although again you could not get to the actual face (due to danger of rockfalls etc). There was a constant stream of helicopters doing tours and landing on the glacier and the town of Franz Joseph itself was awash with shops offering tours, trips, flights etc. We are tempted by a day hike onto the glacier...maybe next time we visit!

After our walk and a look around the town of Franz Joseph we headed on up the coast to stop at another "wilderness" camp. This time we stayed on the banks of Lake Mahinapau and the sun came out for a change, so we had a lovely relaxing time.

Photos here


Off roading the Sally Car

The night before we started our journey up to the North Island Dean suggested we go down to the nearby river for half an hour for the boys to play. Rather than walk down Dean decided we would drive over the nearby paddocks. We all piled into our respective cars and we got ready to follow Dean.

The first field we had to drive through was the field of scary cows from Christmas Day. The memory of being stalked by them was obviously still there as Peter wound his window up when we entered the field, just in case!

Dean shot off in his larger (and much higher off the ground) car. David was driving the Sally Car and floored it to give chase. Unfortunately Fiat Unos were not built for off-roading and we couldn't keep up as he sped over the field. At the end of the first paddock it was a steep downhill and through a ditch then up to the next field. The Sally Car coped well...catching up on Dean who had to stop to pull some stray wire out of the underside of the car.

We parked up in the next field and walked down to the riverside, Sally Car was in one piece and we all enjoyed the drive down!

Couple of photos here.


Kid talk

Joseph has become really interested in doing his "homework" while Peter is doing school work. We have bought him a few pre-school exercise books for him to work on and he is racing through them.

Joe finished one of his books one evening and one of the last activities was to discuss farms, why we have them and what they provide.

A long discussion followed about what we get from farms...milk, eggs, bacon, meat, chicken, burgers and cereals were debated and explained. David then asked Joe "What would happen if we didn't have farms?"

Joe replied "The goats would get out and they would scare people"

That made us laugh a lot!!


Getting away for a few days Arrowtown and Glenorchy.

The Lazy DogTM Cafe and Cellar Door opened as planned on Boxing Day 2008 (see pictures of the work involved in getting it opened) so we decided at that stage to get away for a few days and let Dean and Diana get on with running the place.

Our first stop was Arrowtown which we had visited not long before, but we wanted to do a walk along the river (it was raining too heavily last time). We stayed in the same campsite we had had to ourselves on our last visit to find that the Christmas Holiday brought out a lot of campers. The site was crammed with vans and was more like a car-park than a campsite (worse even than Queenstown's battery camping). Overall this is not a nice place to camp at peak times.

We were lucky to have nice weather this time for the walk (which for Peter and Joseph was a cycle ride since it was a fairly easy path walk) and Luke managed to get out of the back carrier to walk almost 2km of the walk (after which he was exhausted).

On day 2 we headed through Queenstown and then up along Lake Wakatipu on the winding road up to Glenorchy. There wasn't really much to Glenorchy: a couple of Cafes, a Post Office and small petrol station (and since this is NZ after all there were jet boating trips on the lake and kite surfing). The main purpose of Glenorchy is as a starting point for a whole host of walks (including several day hikes). We started with a small walk around the lagoon which was very pleasant.

We had originally planned to camp at Glenorchy but after checking out the only campsite in town we decided we would rather wilderness camp at a spot we saw off of the road on the way up there. We drove back to Twelve Mile Delta, a Department of Conservation site down beside the Lake and had a drive round to find a spot to park up. I've never done off-roading before but I imagine that doing it in an agile 4x4 might be preferable to a 3 tonne motorhome, but we made it back onto relatively flat and level ground and decided a more distant lake view would suffice.

On our last day we set off in the morning for a walk north along the lakeside towards a spot called Bob's Cove. We arrived at a small Cove after 40mins walking (we remain unsure whether this was actually Bob's or someone else's cove).

We have finally managed a run of four straight days without rain (including Christmas Day) and four straight days of walking (including Christmas Day when we walked down to the river from the Lazy Dog). Perhaps I can finally start walking off some of the weight I've accumulated on the trip so far, especially when we head North in a few days and the easy access to bacon rolls in the restaurant kitchen ends!

Photos here