Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Week 39 - North Island New Zealand, West Coast road trip

It was emotional goodbyes all round when we left Porirua, especially with unexpected tears from Isla, thankfully the promise of Kyle returning in a princess dress for her birthday got her giggling again…I think we’re both going to miss our Wellington family a lot! As we loaded up the car and got ready to hit the road Kyle, once again, got chatting to some locals, who established after a quick chat about football and a mutual hate for Chelsea that Kyle is a Kiwi now, bro. 

After a 2 hour wait in a shopping centre, where we weren’t allowed to buy anything, we finally set off to Whanganui with a shiny new windscreen and clean windows. It was like being in a new car, I don’t think the windows were this clear when we first bought Eric. The road was long and pretty dull, having travelled most of it on our return from Taupo we knew that we weren’t in for much excitement. But after a relatively quick 2 and a half hours we were soon at our new home, the Seaside Holiday Park…which was like a budget Butlins! There was kids everywhere, a downside to the summer holidays being in England’s winter. Wanting to escape the noise we prepped our car for the evening and made our way to the beach. A huge stretch of black sand, lined by cliffs and wavey water, the beach was stunning and perfectly warm just how I like it. After an hour of relaxing we made our way to the top of a sand dune to watch the sunset, which we missed as I was getting cold, and tired, and the sun had nowhere near reached the sea, I’m sure it looked well nice when it finally made it down.

A pair of old crooners with a guitar was enough to get me up and moving the next morning, if there’s nothing I hate more about social areas it’s a wanker with a guitar thinking they’re Bob Dylan. I had a better time on the drive to New Plymouth, having downloaded new music and with the view of Mt.Taranaki out of my window I had enough to keep me entertained. Mt.Taranaki sits in the middle of Egmont National Park, and is so high that we couldn’t even see the peak for the clouds, and we had a pretty good go of trying we pretty much drove all the way around it on our way to New Plymouth.

I instantly fell in love with New Plymouth, with the graffiti art, modern buildings, quirky shops and massive beach front, it makes for the perfect coastal town. The only downside, the sheer business, it’s crazy! It’s probably busier than Wellington and in fact I’d probably go as far as to say it’s one of the busiest places that we’ve visited so far. Still it was nice to stretch our legs and walk down the river to the beach front, we managed to see lots of sculptures on Puke Ariki Landing, including Len Lye’s Wind Wand, a huge red pole that moves in the wind. 

As we were planning on staying in New Plymouth for 3 nights we thought that it would be easier to get a tent, rather than re-organise the car every morning before we headed out. So equipped with our $35 Warehouse special 2 man tent we pitched up at Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park. Well I can only describe our tent as the runt of the litter, I swear people had 8 man tents for 2 people it was fucking ridiculous! You’re camping, not moving in, why do you need a tent bigger than a house? Kyle and I did get far too much pleasure over watching people struggle with the assembling of their tents though, especially a mother and daughter that spent more time pulling up their spanks and pulling down their dresses than actually worrying about their tent blowing away in the wind. There was also dumb and dumber who got that fed up, one of them fucked off for a swim leaving the other to wrestle with the gazebo on his own for half an hour, turns out he didn’t even swim either..I would have been well pissed off! 

The first night in the tent was a bit of a disaster, turns out $35 doesn’t make for much of a tent…it was getting blown all over the shop, I’m surprised the rain didn’t actually get inside the tent too. So feeling grumpy we treat ourselves to bacon butties before heading out on a 6km walk, which was actually my idea for once. We made our way down New Plymouth’s famous coastal route and were treated to stunning ocean views on one side with Mt.Taranaki on the other, we were even lucky enough to see the snow covered top this time too. The walk took us across the Te Rewa Rewa bridge, now i’m not sure what its supposed to be but to me it looked like some cool replica of a whales skeleton, anyway it was impressive and allowed us to continue our walk by the penguin reserve, (unfortunately, there were non there this time) and up to the look out with stunning views of New Plymouth and the coastline.

Our walk back was hot, sweaty and windy and left me feeling pretty tired so a nap was in order before making our way to Pukekura park for the annual Festival of Lights. We arrived way too early for the festival, but we were lucky enough to catch the end of the Smash Cricket finals. it was the Wellington Firebirds against the New Plymouth Stags, the Stags were up to bat and needed 100 runs from 74 balls. It was a close game with Wellington winning by a fiddly few points, apparently it was quite an achievement having lost their first 6 games at the beginning of the season. We stayed to watch them lift the trophy and were treated to a rendition of their team song, think of The Filnstones theme tune suitably adapted. 

The Festival of Lights was actually pretty impressive, it’s free and runs for 8 weeks each year, and sees the whole of Pukekura come alive with bright lights, installations and live music. As we walked around the park we were treat to all kinds of lights, including an LED light display on the bridge over the main lake, birds nest lights that played a different bird song as you passed by and a fountain of lights in the smaller park. They were stunning displays in a beautiful park filled with flowers, trees and bushes, we even relaxed and enjoyed some of the music on offer from Louis Baker, a young lad from Wellington, he was actually alright too. The whole evening had a great chilled out vibe, and it was cute seeing all the families huddled together with their pillows and blankets, enjoying the entertainment throughout the evening. 

Rain is one of the worst things when you’re camping/sleeping in the car, it’s not like you can chill out comfortably, so a rainy morning meant it was time for a dreaded museum. We tried to be open minded when we visited The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery but it just wasn’t of us. Now the outside of the building is pretty cool as it’s made from mirror like, curved stainless steel but the contemporary art inside did not appeal to us, it’s more of a space for the artsy types, and we were done in about 20 minutes. 

Upon leaving the gallery I was pleased to see that the rain had stopped, saving us from the horror of another museum or 2. Instead we drove 10 minutes out of town to the Meeting of the Waters, a small reserve next to Waiwhakaiho river. I must be getting good at walking, as here we did the 3km Araheke Bush Walk, we were able to cross the river on wooden bridges and follow the loop track through the forest of native trees, bushes and mosses, we even saw a cool red, green and blue bird that looked kind of like a small parrot. On the way out of the forest we happened upon a rope swing, I could see Kyles inner child fighting for freedom, but he was too lazy to put on his swimmers and swing into the river below.

It’s been a while since we’ve travelled on any windy roads over mountains, but the journey from New Plymouth to Waitomo took us up some pretty steep climbs, past limestone cliffs and the fields where scenes from The Hobbit were filmed, we obviously didn’t pay the $50 per person to go to the exact location, even if I do have a new found Martin Freeman addiction. Waitomo is probably the smallest place we have been to, there’s little more than a shop, a cafe, a pub, 5 tour booking spots and a handful of accommodations, it is cute though and I’m sure that the 41 permanent residents have all that they need to get by. Our main reason for visiting Waitomo was to go to the glow worm caves, but even arriving as early as 11.30am we found that all the tours for that day were full, leaving us with a day to explore and a 2 night camping bill.

After pitching our tent at, Juno YHA, we went back into “town” to walk to the Waitomo viewpoint, which unfortunately was up about 500 stairs and didn’t hold much of a view once we arrived at the top. Kyle wanted to press on and do the whole bush walk but with the impending rain I felt I’d seen enough for one day. Back at the hostel we found that there were now about 100 people staying the night, and with a water shortage crisis it was 2 minute showers for everyone or a dip in the pool…poor Dave the night manager was having a bit of a hard time chasing everyone up for using too much water on their dishes, and instead tried to ship everyone to a local restaurant for a $10 all you can eat buffet and free wifi. Having bought our food earlier in the day we got cozy on the sofa and relaxed before facing the run to our tent in the rain.

What morning is complete without a spot of babysitting? Over breakfast we were asked to mind 3 month old, Ezra, so that his mum could get ready for their afternoon walk. He was a treat, though I think us chatting away to him in English may have confused him a bit seen as though he was German.

We opted for Spellbound as our tour company for the caves, the $75 per person price tag and tea and biscuits made it the most appealing. Upon arrival we were met by our guide for the day, Norm, I think just by saying the name Norm you can probably picture what he was like, a cute grandad, with a passion for caving and a wealth of knowledge on the local area. The first cave which we went to was located on a farm site well far up a gravel road (drain), and when we got there we were handed safety helmets, instantly Kyle was not impressed. Inside the cave was dark, I mean pitch black dark, you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face, so we made our way through with head torches and Norms flashlight. We stopped to look at the glow worms up close to see the strings which they produce to catch their prey, these strings hang down like super thin crystals and are sticky like glue…think of a spiders web but shinier. As we boarded the boat to go deeper into the cave we were all asked to turn off our lights and cameras and allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness, what we saw next was actually brilliant. The cave was filled with tiny blue lights that reflected off the water and made it possible for you to see again, I mean you couldn’t read in this light but you could at least see the person next to you. These tiny blue lights produced by the clusters of glow worms had a similar effect to a stained glass window, the miss-mash of shapes they produced looked like they had been intricately placed but are actually just a sheer coincidence. Walking back out of the cave we left our lights off, this allowed us to see thousands more glow worms that we weren’t able to see due to our night vision not being fully adjusted. As a cliche and corny as it may sound, the whole experience was actually pretty magical….so good in fact that even David Attenborough has been for filming.

The Cave of the Spirt was our next stop of the day, and was once visited by an army doctor, Arthur Thompson, who was on the hunt for moa (a bird) bones to sell to a museum. This cave was similar to those we visited in Vietnam but a little smaller, filled with water made carvings and different coloured stone. We also got to see the famed moa bones, along with a goat and a few possums that had fallen through the caves entrances high above ground. It was pretty impressive and it was nice to know that our very own Norm had built the paths inside the cave. 

I woke this morning to grumpy Kyle, between the French in the tent next to us and the animals of Farthing Wood surrounding us he didn’t get much sleep (I think my snoring may have contributed a little too). Thankfully our journey to Raglan today was short and we were able to check in early to Sally’s Spot, our first Air B&B experience and a few nights out of the tent…buzzing! We’ll be sure to let you know how this experience goes.

Love Carrie xxx

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