East Bro

For the last few days I’ve been travelling around the eastern part of the north island – lesser travelled by the backpacker, and as a result, much quieter and more chilled out.

The first day was from Rotorua to Gisborne. When we headed towards Whakatane (pronounced faka-tar-ney, ‘wh’ is ‘f’ in Maori), I got a little worried. Consult your map – Whakatane is in the opposite direction! It soon transpired though that in order to be on the main road to Gisborne, you do in fact need to go this way.

I have been to Whakatane before. In the dim and distant past on my first trip to New Zealand, I stayed for a few days in Whakatane with friends of my grandparents (hello Grandma *waves* – I know you’re reading this). This time we didn’t stay long in Whakatane, just long enough to stock up at the supermarket. We then headed along the coast to Opotiki before heading south towards Gisborne. Some beautiful coastline on the northern coast:

I stayed in Gisborne for 3 nights – essentially 2 days as it was the evening by the time we arrived. This area is famous for being where Captain Cook first sighted land and came ashore. His crew promptly shot and killed several Maori who were performing their traditional welcome – killing the indigenous population seems to be something of a calling card… This memorial marks the area where Cook came ashore:

Gisborne is quite a cute little town with some great beaches and lots of wine. Thought it would be rude not to give both of these a go:

Bit of a palaver trying to catch the bus out of Gisborne. In New Zealand I’m largely travelling on a ‘hop on – hop off’ backpacker bus. You can either do the circuit just spending 1 night in each place, or you can ‘hop off’ and spend a few days in each place. I’ve booked everything in to hop off and then hop back on the bus so that I know I can get back to Auckland in time for my flight out in May, and so I was booked back on a bus out of Gisborne on Monday morning. I had 2 different pick up times given to me – 10.30am and 11am – only slightly confusing. When the bus hadn’t appeared at 11.15am I was a little worried. After ringing the office I was told they would be along just after 12 – basically if I hadn’t have rung I’d have been left behind 😳

Once I got picked up we headed north up the coast from Gisborne, and stopped at Tolaga Bay. Despite having glorious weather in Gisborne, the rain arrived in force today and stayed with us for the rest of the trip around the east. 

Tolaga Bay has a very long wharf, which we walked along in the rain.

After this we headed to the overnight stop at Tokomaru Bay, another gorgeous bay, even in the rain.

The following day we carried on our journey round the coast, stopping off at a church which had a nice mixture of Maori and Christian themes

We then headed to East Cape and to the most easterly lighthouse in New Zealand. After climbing 785 steps up to it, this was the view:

We stopped in a cute bay for lunch before heading to Maraehako Bay for the night. The hostel was really quirky, nestled into the bay:

Some of the interior was a little dated, but the bed was the comfiest one yet.

This morning after the obligatory group photo we headed back to Rotorua, where the weather has cheered up. I’d forgotten about the smell though…

Tomorrow I’m off to Napier for a couple of days before coming back to Rotorua once again.

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.