Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Day the Rains Came

You will receive this report a little later than written because, and wait for it, rant imminent, the hotel we’re staying in are robbers in terms of how they charge for Internet use. The hotel is fine in other regards but when logging on I discovered that they wanted to charge .75 cents per minute for time on line and that there was a limit to the amount of download at that rate, easily the worst rates met on this tour. The number of motels along the street from here that offer free Wi-Fi only highlights the situation.

Here’s the good news for all our readers, the weather broke today and in between two heavy spells of rain the rest of the day had intermittent lighter showers. This was our first spell of less than good weather since leaving home. We decided to make practical use of the situation and the family underwear got lodged in washing machines for the purposes of improving our social acceptability.

The heavy rain eased at lunchtime so we ventured out, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Craft Institute, Te Puai, our destination. The venue is an absorbing mix of the local thermal pools and geysers, exhibitions and events that reflect the Maori history and experience and the schools of carving and weaving that maintain cultural traditions of the local Maori community. It is difficult to understand the wonderful heritage of the Maori without some sort of immersion in their myths and beliefs but our fleeting contact has been sufficiently impressive in terms of appreciating the deep spiritual dimension to their culture.

Defiance - Maori style

Kauri Carving as Gift to China

The Carving School have been chosen to create a piece from a 2,500 year old Kauri Tree as a gift to the Chinese People. The work will be completed at the World's Fair to be held in Beijing later this year.

I've got my eye on you

Pohutu Geyser

Sheila in Geyser Land

We managed to get round everything, attend the cultural concert before heading for the car park just as the heavens opened for a spectacular downpour. Two very damp people arrived back at the hotel to prepare for the evening meal.

Whangamata to Rotorua

Rotorua, the next destination, was about 145 miles from Whangamata so we decided to stop a time or two on the way and were rewarded by two very different but equally interesting places.

First stop en route was the town of Waihi, known as the Heart of Gold, as a result of the discovery of gold there in 1878 and the subsequent development of the town as the biggest producer of gold and silver in New Zealand. Production still takes place but vast amounts of earth have to be moved to produce small amounts of gold. What is really fascinating about the place is the hole from which this earth is moved, it is a huge pit that is less than 100 yards from the top of the main street. To stand above it is to look into the depths of the earth. A coffee stop after exploring the mine site and we were on our way.

Cornish Pump House Waihi

The Pit - see if you can spot the massive trucks

Sheila shows she's not scared of heights - Hang on to that bench

Bottom of the Pit
Pit Terracing

The next stop was the self styled Mural Town, Katikati. This was originally a settlement of Ulster folk and some where along the line the habit grew of producing murals all over the town reminiscent of the murals seen in modern Ulster cities though not presenting the same sort of subject matter that adorns the walls of Belfast. Interesting galleries and craft shops are to be found in and around the town. Another Sheila find of fat quarters and a fine second hand bookshop that only airline weight limits stopped me from emptying, were particular highlights.

Mural, Katikati

Nice to read the paper

Mural, Katikati

Staircase, Katikati

Arriving in Rotorua we had a pleasant walk and then the search for a restaurant. We headed in the direction of town searching for a place beginning with an ‘E’ ( or so said Sheila) and eventually found it, it was called Capers.

Back to our hotel to meet our first potential disaster of the trip. One of our party, wanting to recharge a camera battery, discovered that there was no camera in the bag. This precipitated a frantic hour where the car was searched and every bag emptied to locate the camera, with no luck at all. What next? A search of yellow pages to try and locate the name of the coffee shop in Waihi, the last place where either of us could remember seeing the camera, with no luck. Down to the hotel reception and an internet search by the receptionist failing to come up with a café name that struck any chord in the failing memory. Then a little bit of inspiration, internet card purchased, tapped into Google Earth and discovered that the town in question had Street View. A simple search produced the picture that solved our problem and having discovered the café name it was easy to find a telephone number to contact the next morning.

A breakfast phone call established that the camera was indeed back in Waihi, so off I went to collect it while Sheila spent some time getting to know Rotorua. A different day.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Quiet Day

After the exertions of yesterday, a quieter day was called for. Fortunately, or so we hoped, the day started off with access in our room to Sky Sports and live football. Eighty minutes of a team I did not recognise and ten of something I could at least cheer about with my totally biased hat on. The whole tenor of one’s day can be ruined by such ineptitude. Slow report about to commence.

Recovering from the viewing we made a tardy start out heading for a visitor centre up in the Kauaeranga Valley. This valley has many pleasant walks, although most are at the end of nine kilometres of gravel road, indeed the last few kilometres to the visitor centre are on gravel. The major interest for us was the relationship between the valley and the mighty Kauri tree. The Kauri is an indigenous conifer that grew to great heights as straight as a die, much like the Giant Redwoods in the States. Here in New Zealand the Kauri has been almost ‘felled out’ such was the rapacious nature of the logging industry in the last two centuries. Mature Kauri and that can mean hundreds of years old are now rare but here in Kauaeranga they have plantings of Kauri saplings and the conservation process is in train.

Kauri close up

Kauri Sapling

A short walk to view the saplings and a replica loggers’ dam and we headed into Thames for a leisurely stroll, coffee, ice cream, dab of watercolour, purchase of fat quarters and then off home to pack for the trip to Rotorua. Thames has some interesting buildings so for the architects amongst you there a few pictures of some of the eye catchers.
Cool Car - Old Hotel (check number plate)

Church 1

Church 2

Who wouldn't want to join this club?

This evening we dined at ‘our club’. No, we haven’t joined the upper classes but each evening as we walked into town we passed a large establishment with signs saying Whangamata Club (Inc) and tonight it was too much for Sheila’s curiosity to pass by without finding out what it was all about. Up to the door to be greeted by Rangi who was in charge of entry to the premises. She was one of the most helpful people you could meet. She took us on a conducted tour of the premises, palatial and chock full of ways to entertain or be entertained after which she signed us in as her guests and left us to enjoy our tasty meal.

Sheila's Diversion

It’s a long haul from Paihia to the Coromandel Peninsula and gives a visitor the opportunity to see the best and worst of New Zealand motoring. Someone had warned me that driving here could be a nightmare, but for the most part it’s been fine with one or two notable exceptions. Driving from North to South on the North Island it is impossible to avoid Auckland and here you see the densest traffic in the islands. The motorway that runs through the city has been widened, most spectacularly by the addition of four extra lanes to the outside of the major bridge just north of the city. Driving this section is an experience with four lanes of quickly moving vehicles dodging from lane to lane. Keeps you on your toes.

On the other hand most of the roads are good with traffic moving at the appropriate speeds. Other than a few would be Italian rally drivers most of the roadsters are fine, but as everywhere there are one or two who deserve a thump. Today’s highlighted deserving are those who, with traffic coming towards them, think it’s okay to turn right immediately in front of the oncoming vehicles expecting them to brake and allow their manoeuvre. Rant over.

The destination we arrived at was a town called Whangamata, a pleasant coastal retreat for sailors and surfers. A short walk, dinner and to bed to face the rigours of a day out sightseeing.

Whangamata Beach

Hills behind Whangamata

Result of Wither Hills cursor control

Up early to Skype and ring home checking on the state of play with the family, we discovered that we have access to footy in time for the Sunderland game that will be televised live. Getting nervous already.

One of the best known landmarks in this part of the world is a place called Cathedral Cove and my interest in sea stacks and cliffs had this firmly on the agenda, even thought it requires a fairly strenuous trek up and down fairly long steep paths.

The view from the car park is fabulous, on one side Hahei beach and on the other a view of the cliffs at the side of a cove called Stingray. The information boards say the route should take 45 minutes, the guidebook says the journey should be shorter for anyone not in need of a ventilator. A challenge for the unfit and overweight members of our party, (me).

Hahei Beach

About fifteen minutes into the walk we met a sign that told us there was 30 minutes to Cathedral Cove and 5 minutes to another cove, Stingray. Sheila, seduced by the only 5 minutes notice, suggested that we take that path. In future this will be known as the Sheila Diversion. What followed was an object lesson in the accuracy of Newton’s observations about falling objects, five minutes being the time that a falling object would take to get to the beach. We arrived weary and some serious sitting was required to prepare for the, yes you’ve guessed, the climb back up to the point where we left the main trail for our now 30 minutes similarly steep journey to our original destination. Sheila has been my main diversion for the last forty years or so but today she excelled herself. I joke of course the two coves visited are well worth the effort and this is clearly the view of many visitors to these parts, lots of fit swimming, surfing, boating and diving people thoroughly enjoying the splendid surroundings.

Stingray Cove

View through the Hole in the Rock
Through the Keyhole

Our climb back to the car was the real challenge, where would we stand in terms of the guide’s verdict that the journey should be completed under the advised 45 minutes? We’ll save the answer to that till we see you all.

Monday, 25 January 2010

White Wine Guru

A few posts ago you were introduced to Geoff and Anne and at the time I related the story about our joint fascination with Wither Hills wine. Geoff promised to let me know about deals to be had and also other suggestions. True to his word he mailed to tell us that Wither Hills was on special at one of the supermarkets, he had even located the nearest branch to where we were staying. So off we scuttled and discovered not only the mighty Wither but another of his recommendations, also on special. Our purchases allowed us to mount a comparative tasting session after the rigours of our day out. For anyone who is interested the second wine stood up well in the test, which is more than can be said for us. It also was a Sauvignon Blanc and if I were to advise on a wine that's a bit better than ordinary for a house wine, this would be it. It's called Stoneleigh. This leaves Wither Hills as the wine for a more special occasion, it has a greater complexity and slightly more refined taste, although the difference isn't massive.

All I can say is that I await Geoff's next advice message with great anticipation. He gets it right every time. Thanks Geoff.

The Master of Sauvignon Blanc

Put that map away

By today Sheila had regained her mastery of the map and we were to have a mixed day.

First up was a short trip to Haruru Falls where once again I was able to unearth the watercolour box. Sitting sketching usually attracts a bit of interest and amongst the passers by who commented on what I was doing was an American lady who was very keen to purchase two pieces from my watercolour sketch book, the trouble was she tried too hard to get the pictures for next to nothing so she went on her way disappointed.

Haruru Falls

Then to Kerikeri for a brief stop to climb the rise and view the Kerikeri Inlet, typical of the irregular nature of the coastline.

Kerikeri Inlet

Next up was a drive to the stunning Matauri Bay, scene of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior amongst the Cavalli Islands. The surf beach is well used by numbers of campers, many of whom arrive with their boats in tow. A lot of the encampments look as if they have been there for the whole summer. Again I got lucky with the sketch book before a pleasant beach side walk.

Matauri Bay

Enjoying the beach

Bluff at Matauri
Matauri - watercolour sketch

Haruru Falls watercolour sketch forgot above

Lone tree overlooking the grave of Rainbow Warrior

Last port of call of the day was the ‘Best Bog’ in New Zealand situated in the township of Kowakowa. The Carney family has something of a history in ‘Bog’ appreciation, being keen advocates of visiting the award winning ‘All Ireland Toilet of the Year’ that is situated in the centre of Galway City. Would this New Zealand usurper come up to scratch, or should I say flush.

The loo was designed by Austrian born artist and ecoarchitect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. From the outside the building fits into the main street and would not be immediately noticeable except for the fact that it sports an unruly hairdo of grasses. From there on in the tile work, design and colouration make for an easence visiting experience that is unlike anything available elsewhere. A true marriage of aesthetics and fundamentals. Sorry Galway.

The Potty with the Fringe on top

Not quite cross legged
Bog Interior
Great tiles

Off to dinner before packing the bags for the trip down to Coromandel.

Bay of Islands

Arrival in this part of the world is spectacular as you catch glimpses of sea and rocky outcrops from some of the highs and lows in the winding road that ends up here. The Bay of Islands area is as beautiful as it can get and there is one way to explore that cannot be ignored. The boat excursion. Deciding against some of the various over active choices, like parascending and swimming with various fauna at sea we plumped for the more sedate, or so we thought, trip out to Cape Brett to experience the ‘Hole in the Rock’ and spend an hour or so on one of the many islands in the bay.

Leaving Paihia

Cape Brett Lighthouse

The only problem with visiting photogenic locations in groups is the reversion to behaviour that Darwin would have readily recognized. Fortunately, being a large and grumpy individual, this does not prevent me from getting into the correct position for the shot that I want but equally I am quick to vacate those positions so that others can get their shot. Not so some folks who attempt to ensconce themselves and all of their immediate and extended family in position and who then require some vigorous prompting to allow others an opportunity. It is fair to day that I don’t always endear myself in over crowded conditions. That’s today’s rant out of the way, sorry but it is becoming something of a feature of this blog.

Look out Big Lad coming through

Hole in the Rock

Coming out the other side

Needless to say the ‘Hole in the Rock’ was a visual treat before some of us were lucky enough to be abandoned for an hour and a half on Urupukapuka, a picturesque island in Otehe Bay. Here I was able to dig out the watercolour box and complete a quick sketch before the boat arrived to deposit us back in Paihia.

Evening consisted of a pleasant meal and numerous applications of After Sun to combat the effects of a day on the ocean in hot conditions. Hope the snow is gone.

Michael's Sketch

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Old Friends

Today’s plan was to head for the Northland, but a phone call a couple of nights ago factored in a diversion on the way.

Years ago, when I arrived in Peterlee to take up a teaching post, I met some wonderful people, none more wonderful than a family that I was to come to know very well. The family that I refer to is the Frains, Pat and Vin and their six children. I taught their children, went camping with Vin and the kids and valued the friendship that developed then and remains to this day. As Sheila and I started our family it was natural for us to go to the Frains for baby sitters. Pat did duty, then daughter Patsy and as she headed for university younger daughter Anne took over. Anne had left England over twenty four years ago spending some years in Hong Kong before settling in New Zealand with her husband, Geoff and their children. So it was a real treat to visit Anne and Geoff’s home to catch up with many lost years.

Geoff and Anne


Anne remains the lovely young woman that left our shores and I hope that a little bit of home coming to Kaukapakapa was fun for her. Geoff became an instant soul mate as we chatted wine. I related the tale of the wine found on the previous night and how good I thought it to be. Yes it was his favourite and he was quick to show me the photograph on his computer of the aforesaid bottle. Just as quickly I drew my camera and showed the shot I had taken the previous evening, almost identical. By now you must be wondering what this nectar is and I will hold you in suspense no longer, Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, if you spot it try it.

Sheila, Anne and the Old Man

The Wonderful Wither Hills

Our journey north ended up being somewhat different to the intended route. An accident had closed part of the main road north and in being diverted we encountered for the first time the unpaved roads that proliferate in the countryside, a bit more interesting than your average motorway.

Weariness is starting to take over and tonight could be an early one, oh no I see that Sheila has found the guidebook AND the maps. Tomorrow should be interesting.