Bits between Auckland and Rotorua

The hop-on-hop-off bus that I’m using in New Zealand doesn’t go everywhere that I want to go, so I’m taking a few side trips. The first of which was to the Coromandel Peninsula. I had booked a ferry ticket but due to some slightly dodgy weather the ferry was cancelled and a replacement bus service was put on.

When I arrived in Coromandel Town I had lunch and then had a trip on the Driving Creek Railway. This is a narrow gauge railway and was built pretty much single-handedly. It’s an impressive feat of engineering:

I met a chap who must have been in his 80s and he told me that he’d started backpacking when he was 70 and had visited 46 countries so far. His last trip was to India a couple of years ago and he had been planning on going to west Africa last year but Ebola put paid to that. An inspiring gentleman, and proof that you are never too old!

As the weather for the rest of the day was a bit damp, I just had a wander around Coromandel Town itself. 

Overnight there was torrential rain and it hadn’t  improved by the morning so I wasn’t holding out much hope for Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. However, by the time we had driven over to the other side of the peninsula, the rain and eased off, and after a cafe stop the weather had cheered up a lot.

Hot Water Beach draws crowds of people for a couple of hours either side of low tide who starts digging pools. The water under the sand is hot. And by hot I mean burning. If you dig in the right place, you can dig yourself a very nice spa pool:

After spending about 90 minutes here we drove the short distance to the Cathedral Cove walk. I’d been here 15 months since on the G tour and it was just as spectacular as I remember it:

We got back to Coromandel Town in the late afternoon and I went to see some more kauri trees before getting the ferry back to Auckland.

After a laundry day in Auckland, the following day I hopped back on the Stray bus and headed south to Raglan, and laid back surf town that is how I imagine Byron Bay would have been 30 years ago. No surfing for me this time though, just a chilled afternoon admiring the views

The hostel that Stray usually use in Raglan couldn’t take the whole bus so some of us ended up at a different hostel about 5 minutes up the road. Definitely lucked out with this as I had my own cabin with a double bed – result!! And my best nights’ sleep in almost 2 months.

The next day we went to Waitomo Caves to see some caves and glow worms. I’d been to Waitomo when I was here in 2004 but I went in some different caves this time and we were allowed to take pictures of the glow worms (last time I was here we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the caves). My camera is a bit rubbish, but you can just about see them here:

My eyes could see a whole lot more than this.

After Waitomo, we headed to our overnight stop at a Maori marae in Mourea, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. A marae is a meeting house. We were welcomed into the family and then had dinner (slightly disappointingly not a hangi) before watching a show of traditional dancing and singing. After this the guys in our group learned the haka and the girls learned the art of pui dancing.

Sleeping was interesting as we all bedded down in the meeting house. As there were 37 of us it was certainly cosy!

The next morning was an early start as we had to be in Rotorua by 8am so that people could go to Hobbiton. As I was staying in Rotorua for a couple of days, I went to Hobbiton the following day.

We arrived far too early for me to check into my hostel so I dumped my bags and wandered around Rotorua for the rest of the morning. It smells of rotten eggs here due to the sulphur in all the geothermal activity, but it’s not too bad. In fact the smell isn’t there all the time, and it’s easy to forget about it until you get a sudden whiff of it.

I’ve had 3 days in Rotorua and enjoyed not rushing around. I went to the museum on the first day, Hobbiton on the second day, and yesterday I went to Te Puia geothermal park to see the Pohutu geyser, apparently the tallest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. It erupts a couple of times an hour (compared to Lady Knox geyser, also near Rotorua, which goes off with some assistance as 10am each day), and while I was there it was erupting pretty much all the time.

Today I’m going onto Gisborne for a couple of days before going around the eastern cape.


I’m getting a bit out of sync with what I’ve done, but I wanted this to be a stand-alone entry…I’ll get back to the last few days tomorrow (hopefully!).

Today I finally caved in and went to Hobbiton. Why ‘cave in’? Well, I’m not a massive Lord of the Rings fan – I’ve only seen the first movie and my standard line when asked about it is ‘well that’s 3 hours of my life that I’m never getting back’. But, I’ve been to New Zealand on 3 separate occasions now, and as a lot of people do come here for LOTR, I thought I should see what the fuss is about.

Hobbiton is one of the major film sets for LOTR and The Hobbit, and was built on a working farm near Matamata, about an hour north of Rotorua (where I’m currently staying).

The set and the surrounding landscape is beautiful, and it’s cool to see all the hobbit holes. I might even go and watch the other movies now!



The obligatory photo…

I also enjoyed a nice mug of cider at the Green Dragon

Overall I’m glad I went. Even if you aren’t a LOTR/Hobbit fan it’s still a cool thing to see. It really makes me want to go and do the Harry Potter tour outside of London when I get back though! Anyone want to come with me?

The Bay Of Islands

I’ve had a week of relaxation in Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Paihia holds a special place in my heart as I spent around 3 weeks here back in 2004, and I really, really love it. This is the longest I will be in one place on this trip and it was always my intention to spend a good chunk of time here. Although my intention was to relax and take it easy this week, I still managed to get quite a lot done.

I went to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on my first day here. It had just been Waitangi Day (on the 6th February) which celebrates the signing of the treaty between the British and the Maori. Both the New Zealand and British flags are flown here:

The next day I took the short ferry ride over to Russell. Russell was the first capital of New Zealand, and had something of a reputation back in the day…its nickname was ‘the hellhole of the Pacific’. These days it has a much more genteel pace of life.

I went to the Pompallier Mission which was a tannery and printworks in the 1800s. The guided tour was very informative and gave a fascinating insight into how books were printed in those days. The majority of the books were printed in Maori, and it sounds like this helped relations between the Europeans (the printers had come over from France) and the Maori.

There is a gorgeous beach in Russell which I sat and spent a while at in the afternoon:

In the evening I went river kayaking up to the Haruru Falls. This was really good fun. We went part way up the river in a boat before getting into the kayaks and kayaking the rest of the way up the river to the waterfalls. After getting a bit damp under the falls, we kayaked back downstream and enjoyed the sunset and the stars. When it gets dark, the water in the river glows which is really cool.

The next day was an early start for a day trip up to Cape Reinga at the top of New Zealand. We drove up 90 Mile Beach:

And went sand boarding down some enormous sand dunes:

We went from the highest point on the right – don’t forget to keep your mouth closed or you get a mouthful of sand!!

After lunch we made it to Cape Reinga. This is the most northerly point you can drive to to NZ, but is not quite the most northerly point.

At Cape Reinga you can see where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea:

On the way back we stopped off for some ‘fush & chups’:

The following day I had a proper chilled out day following 2 fairly hectic days. I only left the hostel to go to the supermarket. Every now and then you need a day when you do nothing, even when you’re travelling!

On Monday I walked along the coastal walkway to Opua. Opua has a marina and not much else but the walk was nice and long and gave me lots of time to think.

Yesterday I went on a boat tour to the Hole In The Rock. The weather has been beautiful for most of the time I’ve been here but has just started to turn as the remnants of a cyclone are on their way. Because of this the sea was very choppy and the captain wasn’t confident that we’d be able to get all the way out to see the Hole in the Rock. Thankfully, even thought the sea was choppy, we were able to make it out to Cape Brett to see the hole:

We also stopped off at Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the bay, to admire the views:

I’m going back to Auckland this afternoon and then onto Coromandel for a couple of days. I’ve had a lovely time in Paihia. Possibly had built it up in my head to be more than it was, after all, almost 12 years have passed since I was last here, but it’s still been good, and it’s been nice not to have to cram everything into my bag every day.



For those of you who don’t know, I have previously spent quite a lot of time in Auckland. Well, relatively quite a lot of time considering Auckland is on the other side of the world from where I live. In 2004, as a shy and naive 19 year old, I spent 3 months in New Zealand on a working holiday visa. During that time I spent around 3 weeks in Auckland working in a call centre in Takapuna on the North Shore. It was for an outbound telemarketing company and it was just as awful as it sounds. I also seem to remember having a sore throat and croaky voice for most of the time I worked there…fond memories 😁

Anyway, the job was in the evenings so it gave me plenty of time during the day to explore what Auckland had to offer. I took the ferry to Devonport, went up the Sky Tower, took a tour of Auckland and walked up Mount Eden, went to the city suburbs of Ponsonby and Parnell, and walked miles and miles up and down Queen Street and around the harbour.

Having taken a holiday in NZ 15 months ago which also involved a stop in Auckland, you might have thought there was not a lot else for me to see in Auckland. Well, having decided to spend 5 nights here chilling after a hectic 5 weeks hot-footing it around Hong Kong, Australia and Fiji, I was keen to see things I’ve not seen before.

On my first day I took a long walk around the harbour to the base of the harbour bridge. Despite travelling over it many times when working at that call centre, I’d never seen it from this angle:  

It also gave a great view back over downtown Auckland, and you can certainly see how it got its nickname – the city of sails:

The next day I went to Waiheke Island, an island in the Hauraki Gulf, about 40 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland. In 2004 I didn’t have the money, and in 2014 I didn’t have the time to go to Waiheke, but now, fortunately, I had both. Waiheke Island is famous for producing wine as it has a microclimate which is much warmer and drier than Auckland and the surrounding mainland. I had booked myself on a ‘Taste of Waiheke’ tour which included visits to 3 vineyards (all with wine tasting, 1 with lunch and 1 with beer tasting) and an olive grove. We also saw some of the beautiful scenery on the island:   


The next couple of days I decided to try and be cultured. I went to the Auckland Art Gallery one day and to the War Memorial Museum the next day. As much as I try, I still struggle to appreciate art. I think I could produce some of the stuff in there, and I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in anger in 15+ years. 

The War Memorial Museum wasn’t just about war. It contained, among other things, a fascinating exhibit about volcanoes. I love plate tectonics, volcanoes and geological activity, and if I’d have done a degree in something I was interested in rather than something useful for my career, it would have been something down the geographical/geological line. I spent over 3 hours at the museum and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I also found time for a cinema trip, which was another feature of my travels here in 2004. I very rarely go to the cinema back home, so I actually quite enjoy going whilst abroad as it isn’t something I normally do. I went to watch The Big Short, which is about a group of traders who bet against the US economy during the financial crisis. Certainly an interesting story, and timely given what seems to be happening to stock markets at the moment (yes, I am keeping an eye on things, can’t completely switch off…if someone can tell me why Lloyds shares are tanking, I’m all ears!).

As I write this from Paihia, I will be back in Auckland in a few days on my way to Coromandel and further south. My NZ trip will finish up in Auckland in May, so I will be back again. I’m sure there are still more things for me to discover in AKL.


My flight left Melbourne at 11.50pm and arrived in Nadi, Fiji at 5.30am. Needless to say, sleeping was not a success! I arrived at my hostel/hotel (it was a slightly strange set-up. I was in a room with 1 bunk bed only. Many of the other rooms seemed to be doubles/family rooms like a regular hotel) at 7.15am. I was able to check in shortly after 9am so in the meantime I snoozed in the lobby. Once I got into the room, I had another couple of hours’ sleep before spending the rest of the day on the beach and in and around the hotel pool. The hotel was on the beach and faced west, so gave a great view of the sunset:

The next day was the start of my tour around Fiji with Feejee Experience. Our first stop was to Robinson Crusoe Island:

This is the view from the beach. In the afternoon I went snorkelling, which was fun, though I couldn’t see too much without my specs.

In the evening, we enjoyed some traditional Fijian dancing and fire dancing (don’t try this at home!)

The next morning we left Robinson Crusoe Island after breakfast and drove to Uprising Beach Resort on the south of Viti Levu. In the afternoon we went on a walk through the rainforest to a waterfall. The heavens opened and we all got soaked to the bone. Warm rain was quite an experience though. I persevered with an umbrella whilst everyone else just went for it. To be honest, in a tropical downpour, an umbrella becomes a bit useless after a while. It did help keep the rain of my specs though!

The next day we drove to Suva, the capital, in the morning. This chap was standing guard outside the president’s house:

It was extremely warm but he didn’t move a muscle. We then drove inland to a village to experience what Fiji is really like. We all had to cover up in sarongs and make sure our shoulders were covered. We were welcomed by the village and then had a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is a drink made from a root which looks like muddy water. It does not taste too good, and leaves a tingling sensation in the mouth. I definitely preferred the coca tea in Peru!

We had a delicious lunch of traditional Fijian food which largely consisted of spinach several ways – fried, fritters, rolls, sautéed with coconut cream – along with chicken, plantain, prawns and fruit. Also eaten in the traditional way with our hands…

After lunch we went bilibili rafting (bamboo rafts) before visiting a school. The kids danced and sang for us and were so happy and enthusiastic, asking us all loads of questions. This was actually quite a cool thing to do, and not something you normally get to see on holiday.

After we left the school, we drove to our accommodation for the evening on the north side of the island at Rakiraki.

The following day was a relatively long drive back to Nadi, with a stop off for lunch in the second largest city of Lautoka. We opted for the traditional Fijian ‘McDonalds’ 😁 We also visited the mud pools in the afternoon. It was good fun, but a bikini was sacrificed:


When we got back to Nadi, it turned out that we were staying in different hostels. We all met up for dinner and drinks in the evening as it was our last night as a group. Some were staying in Nadi, some were going to Mantaray Island, some were coming with me to Beachcomber Island, and some were moving on to New Zealand.

The following morning was an earlyish start to catch the boat over to Beachcomber Island. The Fijian islands really are like tropical islands you imagine in paradise.

Beachcomber involved a lot of chilling out and a little bit of snorkelling. The sea was a lot choppier here so I didn’t enjoy it as much as before. Mainly I tried to take in the view, and pinch myself that I really was here on this tropical island a long way from home.

I returned to Nadi late the following day and had 1 night there before heading off for the next leg of my trip to my favourite place in the world, New Zealand.

Adelaide to Melbourne

We arrived in Adelaide quite late on the Sunday evening, and as we left first thing the following day there wasn’t much (any) opportunity to have a look at Adelaide, which was a bit of a shame as I’ve heard it’s quite a nice city. I’ve also missed out on Perth. Nevermind, I’ll just have to come back next time the Ashes are on and take in the Adelaide and Perth tests…

We left Adelaide early to drive to the Grampians national park. We took a short walk to the MacKenzie Falls:    

The Grampians were very scenic, and welcome change following several days of vast nothingness in the outback

We stayed at an eco YHA in Halls Gap, probably one of the nicer places we stayed on the trip.

Another early start the next day – Australia Day (26th January). Australia Day is on the day that Captain Cook arrived in Australia. It seems that it is becoming a bit contentious with it being on that day as it is not very sensitive to the indigenous population. They view Cook as an invader rather than explorer. As it happened, we went to a cultural centre that morning to learn more about the indigenous people. It was a lot more informative than the one we had previously gone to a Uluru.

After that we drove to the coast and the Great Ocean Road. Bit of a hiccup on the drive – as it was Australia Day, very few shops and petrol stations were open. We had to resort to using the emergency fuel at one point…

The Great Ocean Road was one of the things that I was really looking forward to seeing in Australia. The sky was a bit ominous but it stayed fine thankfully. We saw the London Arch (formerly London Bridge until part of it collapsed) in the afternoon before heading to Port Campbell for the evening.

The next day (the final day of the tour) we carried on travelling east along the Great Ocean Road and saw Loch Ard Gorge and the 12 Apostles (apparently there weren’t ever 12 and there are even fewer now as the sea erodes the rock away). I really loved this part of the trip, great scenery and interesting rock formations appealing to my geographic/geological side.

We arrived in Melbourne mid afternoon, and I headed off to the Australian Open. I had decided on a whim in Cairns that as I would be in Melbourne whilst the tennis was on, I might as well go and see some. I bought a ground pass for after 5pm for $30 (about £15) online and the ticket was sent via text message.

It was about a 35 minute walk to tennis from the hostel I was staying at. I managed to luck out on Andy Murray playing his quarter final match so when I got there, I got a glass of vino and headed for the big screens (budget didn’t stretch to tickets in the Rod Laver Arena itself). As I arrived, they were in the process of closing the roof on the arena as a massive rainstorm was heading our way. I got my brolly up and waited it out sat in the open for as long as I could, but eventually I had to retreat indoors. I watched the conclusion of the Murray game on TV from the concourse inside the Rod Laver Arena. Shortly afterwards the weather cleared up and I watched the conclusion of a women’s doubles match before heading back to the hostel. 

My flight to Fiji was the following day but not until 11.50pm so I had a whole day to explore Melbourne. I went to the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was imprisoned, the aquarium (where I finally saw Nemo) and the Melbourne Museum. 

Also sat next to Lleyton Hewitt in Starbucks who was giving some tennis advice (‘you should work on your forehand’) to a bloke who I didn’t recognise but I assume must have been at the Australian Open. First celeb spot of the trip!

I had a great time in Oz. The bits I was looking forward to (Uluru and the Great Ocean Road) were as good as is hoped, and things which I hadn’t given much though to (Fraser Island and the Whitsundays) were excellent. I travelled with a great group of people who really added to the whole experience. Still a few things I’d like to see in Oz but they’ll have to wait until next time!