Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Taupo and Waitomo

Phew! We had an unexpected interruption to life around Brisbane with another flood. Thankfully, this one was not as severe for us as the one in 2011. We still had flooded roads around us and some homes and businesses are starting the smelly cleanup of their properties now but there are much fewer impacted properties this time around. Our phone line and internet went down for a few days but we kept power. Other areas in Queensland were not as lucky and the flood had a worse impact on them. Right now, it looks like its Sydney's turn for a drenching.

We got internet back this morning so I'm going to go ahead an put up the last post on our holiday.

The final leg of our trip seemed to be on fast forward. We were there for a total of 13 days and after the 7th day, it felt like each day was passing faster than the one before. From Napier, we drove to Taupo, the town on the shore of Lake Taupo. Formed by a series of volcanic eruptions, this is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand and is about the size of Singapore. It is in this region that there are three active volcanoes, including Mt Ngauruhoe, better known as, Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The middle one is Mt Doom. To the right of it is Mt Tongariro which erupted in November 2012. It was smoking the entire time we were there but....no action.

While in the Taupo area, we visited Craters of the Moon, another geothermal site. This place was incredibly cheap ($12 for the family) to get into compared to where we went in Rotorua. It only had mud pools and steam vents but in a way, it was more exciting because the mud was bubbling more furiously and the steam vents were actually hissing. It was also a much smaller area so the children had a lot more fun exploring without getting worn out.

And finally, the last big touristy place for us was the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The main tour company here has been operating since the 1880s and they get up to 2000 visitors a day. We chose to go with a smaller tour company, Spellbound, and they were great. With the group size at 11, we didn't have to rush to get to the front in order to hear the commentary and we got to know our fellow tourists a little bit.

Adrian was absolutely thrilled because he got to wear a hardhat with a torch on it.

I didn't bother taking many photos because they would have turned out like this. 

This is one of the souvenir photos that Spellbound emailed us after the tour. They send it out to everyone since most people aren't able to capture photos of their own. Its not us in there but thats what we were doing. The place was of course completely dark and once our eyes adjusted, the entire ceiling was dotted with the glowing behinds of these fly larvae. 

The End. Thats it for our New Zealand North Island holiday. I'll definitely go back to New Zealand in the future, next time to the South Island. 

Back to blogging about daily life from now on. The school term was supposed to start today but the schools are closed due to the floods. So instead, we'll have a free day of doing nothing. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rotorua and Napier

After the very dream like visit to Hobbiton, we started on the down to earth, geothermal stuff. Our motel room faced a huge mud pool and bubbled through the night, letting off a smell that reminded me of rotten eggs. Strangely, by the second night, I found that the bubbling and the smell put me to sleep very peacefully. Still, we had fun calling the place Rottenrua. Aaron couldn't help telling us, repeatedly, that it was place that he could create other smells, and not be caught.

This is the mud pool that we woke up to every morning.

The kids found the idea of the formation of craters, mud pools and geysers interesting but they're still kids and could only take so much of walking around. I overestimated their attention span here and stretched them a little too far on a visit to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. It was nearly a 3 hour walk from one end of the park to the point where the bus would take us back to the start.

I thought the sulphur lake at the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, called Inferno Crater, was very pretty with that light blue. It was a 90 minute walk to get there though...

To keep things interesting for Aaron, I told him that we would try to make the Prince of Wales geyser at Te Puia shoot out his ears.

From Rotorua, we drove to Napier. This is supposedly the Art Deco Capital of the world. The town was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930s and when it was rebuilt, it was done in the Art Deco style of the day and the main part of the town has remained this way since then. We weren't there for architecture though. It was the bike ride that I was looking forward too. This was probably the second most anticipated part of the trip, after the dolphins, for me. It didn't disappoint.

We hired bikes for everyone except Adrian, he got a seat that attached to the front of Richard's bike. There are trails that hug the water, go through the vineyards or harder, off road ones that went all over the place. We chose the water trail. It was perfectly flat, with no need to share the road with cars and went for about 25kms one way. I had an awesome day. Everything was perfect.

 Adrian was a little grumpy at the start but he soon fell asleep and woke up a much happier boy.

Aaron couldn't have been happier. He wasn't very confident to start off because we haven't had a whole lot of practice with the training wheels off but once he realized that he could do it, he was showing off whenever he could. 

That's where we had to ride back to! 

But, it wasn't hard because the views were incredible...

The day of riding could have easily turned into a disastrous day with whiny kids so I am very thankful that it worked out so well and everybody enjoyed themselves.

I think I'll leave the final leg of our journey for my next post. One last easy post before I have to start looking around for interesting blog topics again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tauranga and Hobbiton

Our next stop was Tauranga. The main reason that this was on our list was because we wanted to go swimming with wild dolphins. In fact, these dolphins tipped the balance in New Zealand's favour when we were deciding where to go. So, there was definitely a lot of build up in my mind and expectations were quite high. You can probably guess that it didn't turn out exactly as I hoped it would. 

It was a beautiful sunny day but the water were incredibly choppy. Adrian was the first on the boat to get sea sick, followed by eighty percent of the other tourists. Even I had to throw up once and my childhood weekends were spent on old fishing boats. Surprisingly, Aaron didn't feel anything and was first mate for the day - he had a fantastic time.

The nausea I felt subsided momentarily when I saw the first dolphin - that was exciting. The law is that if we had to observe them for 20 minutes before getting in the water and if they had babies with them, or they were feeding, we wouldn't be allowed to go swimming. Well, I saw a beautiful little baby dolphin. Shortly after that, we lost the pod and couldn't find them again. I can't decide if I am justified in feeling disappointed since these are wild creatures and are not on a wage to show up whenever I want to go swimming with them or watch them play in the water. 

We had a free afternoon after the dolphin trip in the morning. It was not planned and had no expectations associated with it. Naturally, it turned out to be fantastic. We decided to walk up the very steep Mt Maunganui - an extinct volcano. There were no complaints from Aaron and he even enjoyed making it to the top. Adrian had nothing to complain about because Richard backpacked him up. The views from the top were definitely worth the 40 minutes of hard work.

Here we are on the way down, Adrian walked down himself but in a way, I found the return trip harder because there were a lot of loose pebbles.

No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a photo of at least one sheep. So, here is one of ours. They were quite fun to be around as the children were constantly trying to chase one down.

After the walk down the mountain, we headed off to Rotorua. Thats where the bulk of our touristy geothermal exploration was going to happen but before all that, we headed off to Hobbiton, about an hour's drive from Rotorua. 

Everybody needs to go to Hobbiton. Hobbiton is definitely one of my favourite places from our trip. Its exactly like what you see in the movies. It is full of detail, down to different door knobs for each house and mold on their signposts and it looked like Hobbits were living there. The tour was very informative and peppered with stories of the incredible efforts that Peter Jackson and his team took to make the place look authentic. The place had a slightly messy, lived in look, just like how you'd imagine Hobbits to be. The only thing I didn't like were the other tour groups before and after us. There were tours every 15 minutes starting at 8.30am in the morning. If I were to visit again, I think I would pick either the last or first tour of the day so there would at least be one direction that I could look in and not have my daydream of hobbits walking around be ruined by another tourist. I have plenty of photos of Hobbiton but when I look at the ones that I am in, I feel that I'm ruining the picture. (Oh, Hobbiton must really be a faraway land because the postcard I sent my brother Sydney, on New Year's Day, only just arrived on 17 Jan. Of course, I had to send Bilbo a postcard from his homeland but I don't know when its going to get to him.) 


Here is one of the many vegetable gardens we passed. They were planted a year before filming began so that they would look like real gardens. The cabbages you see are real but in the movie, the brought in many more cabbages and just placed them on top. 

 Bilbo, I tried to visit you but you weren't home.

We saw a 30 second window where there would be no other tourists in our photo, so here I am with Bag End in the background. The entire top of the hill was part of Bag End - a mansion by hobbit standards! 

Some other hobbit's house....

Thats Dragon's Rest where Frodo goes to meet Gandalf in the first movie. 

Sam Gamgee is my favourite character from the movies and here we are outside his front gate with a New Year's greeting.

The big round tree is the party tree where they had Bilbo's birthday celebrations. It was this tree, and the lake that caught Peter Jackson's eye on an aerial scout of potential sites in the area. Coincidentally, the road leading to this farm is Bucklands Road and has been that even before the idea of the movies. In the trilogy, Buckland, was one of the hobbit areas.

Ah, Hobbiton was magical. I wish they had kept the other filming locations around New Zealand as it was in the movies but this is the only one.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Devenport and the Coromandel Peninsula

We started our vacation in Auckland and as mentioned previously, the trip got of on a bit of a grumpy start. After a visit to the Kelly Tarlton Aquarium and some food at the Wynyard Quarter, we were feeling a little more up beat but we weren't raving about New Zealand yet. In fact, our observations at the end of the first day was something along the lines of there being more smokers in New Zealand and that their public toilets could be better.

Things changed when we visited Devonport on the second day. Early in the morning, we went to the Naval Museum at Torpedo Bay. The boys found it very interesting because there were displays of numerous battleships and of course, guns. I found it interesting because the displays told stories through the eyes of many of the sailors and their families. From the museum went to North Head. In the 1870s, there was a rumour of a possible Russian invasion and North Head was made into a fort with heavy armaments. The invasion didn't eventuate and the only shots fired at North Head were either practice ones or ones in salute to the Queen. Today, its an awesome tourist attraction for children with its numerous tunnels - there were normal tunnels and then narrower (and darker) tunnels behind the tunnels that were quite creepy. Those were actually used to light the candles that illuminated the rooms underground since they didn't want any open flames going near anything that might go off.

I think they should put up a replica gun in this spot so that it would have been easier for me to explain to Adrian. Still, Aaron is old enough now to have a wild imagination and he kept Adrian entertained with his interpretation of the area.

The views from the highest points were beautiful and the steep hill had many children sliding down with old pieces of cardboard and running back up again for another go. 

My ungrateful son, Aaron, said this when we were playing tag "I like you here, Ma. You don't usually play with us." WHAT?! I play with them all the time in Brisbane. To be fair, I do play with them but I rarely have races up and down hills with them in Brisbane. It was very cool in New Zealand and I didn't have to worry about what to cook, or things I had to clean, or think about everything else I wanted to get done. I had a truly carefree time with them at this old fort.

After all the laughing and exercise, it felt as if we were truly on a happy family vacation. We left Auckland for the Coromandel Peninsula that afternoon. It was a two hour drive, something to be dreaded with two kids. Surprisingly, they had no complaints, and were great for all the many drives we took during our time in New Zealand. We did try to plan things so that for most of the drives, they had active mornings and then could have an afternoon nap in the car. I loved the views from the car and never got tired of looking at the green hills, and the sheep. I have many, many shots of the country side.

The highlights of our time on the Coromandel Peninsula were some awesome mussels, one beautiful beach and another strange beach. I would post a photo of those mussels but of the two we have, the first one shows the platter already half eaten because we didn't think to take the photo before we ate. And the second  features the bread roll a little too prominently because we were so eager to start eating that we didn't compose the shot.

I do have a couple of hundred photos of the beaches though. We spent a morning at Hahei Beach before having a belated birthday celebration for Adrian with a slice of cake and three candles. I never thought of New Zealand as a place for beaches and while the sand wasn't as white or fine as the Gold Coast, it had something that almost no beach around here has - shade! We're not the sun bathing type so we need shade. The boys stayed out in the sun digging to their hearts content but I always had the option of going back to the shade when I needed to.


Hot Water Beach is one of the strangest places I've ever been to. Its name comes from the hot springs that filter up through the sand. When we first got there, the wind was blowing really hard and it was cold. Then, in this one area, there were hordes of people grouped together, digging, giggling and repeatedly standing and sitting. We had our own spades thanks to the boys so we joined in. Everybody tried out empty pools because it saved them digging their own one but you had to find one with the right temperature. And if it was empty, you can bet that it was either too cold or boiling hot. I felt a little like Goldilocks looking for the 'just right' one. Some areas were so hot you could see the steam wafting around the ground. We eventually found one that was shallow but had a good flow of 'just right' water - and I got my minions to start digging. It was nice once we were settled in our personal pool. We were on the edge and sometimes, the cold water would wash into our pool - that was always fun.

And that was our time on the Coromandel Peninsula. I do wish that it was just a 2 hour drive away from Brisbane. More photos to come...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

We Loved Middle Earth

Its a little late but Happy New Year everyone!

As expected, we had a wonderful 2 week family holiday in New Zealand. What I didn't expect was that New Zealand would be so enjoyable. I have to admit that it has been a country that I have always said I don't need to visit. Even as we were planning this trip, I wasn't particularly excited about it - I just wanted to go some place nearby, affordable and 'new'.

Even as we landed, I wasn't into full super-hyped holiday mode yet because it was 11pm and we found out that we booked our motel for the following night. (Hey! Its confusing to book a night's sleep when you're arriving at midnight.) Thankfully, we got that sorted out. The next morning, we found out that we had booked the rental car for the wrong day. I couldn't believe it! You can imagine the finger pointing that started up then. To top it all off, it was raining.

The car was the last of the bad stuff and it was all fun, amazement and full appreciation for New Zealand from then on. We took over 2000 photos and I've spent the past week sorting through them. Its hard work to pick the photos that I want to put in an album for our family. And of course, there needs to be some that gets posted up for family to see so I had to be even more selective because I understand how boring it can be to look through somebody else's holiday photos.

This blog needs some photos too but I won't put it up today. Instead, I have the safety video from the Air New Zealand flight we took. They call themselves The Airline of Middle Earth, the planes were painted with the latest Hobbit movie characters and this safety video definitely had me paying attention for the first time in years.

Thats the way to get my attention! I even watched it again on the return trip.

Its back to photo cropping for me now so that all will be perfect for my next post. Stay tuned :)