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  • Day43

    Sam's Birthday

    August 21, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    Sam's birthday today and she was given a chorus of Happy Birthday from the cuddly toys. We had room service continental breakfast then headed down to the harbour to take our seaplane flight. We arrived at Auckland Seaplanes about 8.45 just as the plane was tying up at the dock. We had to wait a few minutes for another couple who were on their way but having trouble finding it. They had the back row when we boarded and Tash and Edward played rock, paper, scissors to see who would sit in the front. Tash won, which made Edward whine, but actually I think the view was better from the middle row as the windows were bigger. Sam took one window, I sat in the middle and Ed had the other window.

    We started off and circled close to the quayside, with Tash given the important job of waving out of the window at the passers by - she got a few waves back. Then we taxied across the harbour, turned around and sped up for take off. The water was smooth so the take off was too, though it was strange to see the water spraying up from the floats of the plane. Once airborne we flew along the main Auckland shoreline, over Devonport on the left where Sam and I had got a ferry across too last time we were here and bought the picture that hangs in our bedroom.

    Then we went on to Rangitoto island, which is an old volcano, with the crater clearly visible, though covered in trees and vegetation - we circled this a coupe of times so we could all get a good view, then on to Waiheke island. This is the most populated island in Auckand and in summer is one of the most densely populated anywhere. It's about 30 minutes ferry ride to Auckland central.

    From here the flight continued out to some of the further islands, which had been used as addiction clinics amongst other things in the past - one was for sale for $35m, as was a grand house o another for $37m. We circled back and headed back to Auckland harbour, on the look out for dolphins or whales - Ed says he saw a dolphin but the rest of us were not so sure.

    The conditions had been perfect for the flight with sunny cloudless blue skies and no wind to create any turbulence - a great birthday memory. Landing was a little bumpy across the waves and again was strange to see the water splashing up under the plane. We tied up at the harbour, had a photo in front of the plance then headed off.

    Coffee beckoned and we went to a coffee shop/ice cream parlour on the harbour front. The ice cream was amazing and the sorbets even better - Sam had passionfruit and Ed lemon and they were so creamy we had to double cjheck they were dairy free. No wonder they had won many awards for their wares.

    I had decided to do the Skyjump from the Skytower and so we set off to do that. On the way we had to wait for the bridge in the mooring dock to lift up to allow a large motorised yacht to go through - looked a splended boat and must have cos tens of millions. We came out close to the i site we had been at yesterday so popped in to book the Adventure jet boat on the harbour. This was running at 1pm so we booked that, then booked the Sky Jump for 3.45 (3.30 check in). Have to say I had been hoping to do it quite quickly to stop being nervous, but actually having a set time did make me feel a bit calmer as up to then I had still been debating whetehr to catula go through with it.

    The Adventure jet was fun as ever. Half an hour of blasting a round the harbour - faster than others we had been on at 100kph and we went under the Auckland Harbour bridge and saw the factory where all of NZ's sugar is refined and the place where naval ships get their munitions. This was the wettest jet we had been on and our hair was soaked by the end (clothes not too bad due to splash jacket we were given) and was like a fast scenic tour of the harbour. We saw the bungy site under the bridge where you could go right into the water if you chose.

    When we got off the jet the guys gave us some vouchers for free McD's cheeseburgers, so of course we had to head there for lunch, then we went back to the hotel to drop off some of the things we had bought in the morning and wait to get back to the Skytower for the jump start time.

    We arrived at the Skytower and headed downstairs to the jump reception. This was also the reception for the Skywalk, which involved walking around a ledge on the outside of the tower, no rails or anything. No way could I do that! I was checked in, weighed twice and the weight written on my hand - felt a bit like I was going for soe kind of operation! We then had a few minutes wait until I would get kitted out. During this time we watched the looping video of people doing the jump and the walk and my biggest fear, the actual stepping off the top, didn't look too bad - people jusy seemed to almost fall off. Tash was watching this too and decided that she wanted to do it as well, so we asked if she could do it with me and that was fine, so she went through the same weighing in process. Then we were called to put on our jumpsuits and fitted into our harnesses - very similar to the ones we had worn for the ziplines in Queenstown and Rotorua. Tash had to take her Ugg boots off and use some of their converse trainers as you had to have lace up shoes to make sure they didn't fall off. We emptied our pockets of everything and took off all loose items, (wedding ring, St Christopher, even my Rugby World Cup wristband).

    Then it was off up in the lift to the 53rd floor - first test was the glass floor in part of the lift. Sam and Ed were taken out to the landing site. Tash and I found our way to the jump waiting area and there was a girl from the company doing a jump. We watched her get clipped on then hop off the side and fall down. The noise from the wire uncoiling from the drum was very loud, even in the room next door. Then Tash was up, she went through, got clipped on to a safety harness, had her harness checked by both girls in there and shoes pulled again to make sure they were tight. Photo 1, then out through the door onto the platform, stop to change to external safety wire, clip on go pro and have a look around with it to show the view d the landing site. Then out tot he end of the gangway and look back for a picture, then hold onto the side rail while the main wires attached. at this point Tash was right on the edge 192 metres up and turned to hold ono the sides before jumping, but she got nervous and so tried it backwards without looking, but couldn't get into position and got worried so came back inside to watch me and maybe go after.

    I went through the same process as Tash, taking photos and using the go pro - asked how I felt I said nervous, but the girl tried to convince me I was at least a little bit excited. Once clipped on I held onto a metal rail on one side, then the other and leant forward so I was looking down to the ground, feet right on the edge of the ledge. The girl unclipped me and said she would give me a 3-2-1 jump countdown. This seemed to take a long time and my hands were sweaty which made me worried i would slip off too soon! Eventually she gave me the count and i let go and sort of stepped forward and I was off. The harness was quite tight so you always felt suspended rather than falling, but the speed quickly picked up and the fall (as I expected) was enjoyable and the mechanism slowed me from about 10m above the ground for a landing on bended knees on the target. My heart was certainly pounding but it was good fun and was pleased I had done it and would do it again. Once unclipped the harness went back up and we waited to see if Tash would do it, but she said she didn't want to so she came back down in the lift - still an achievement to get as far as she did right on the edge.

    We went back inside to view my video and get changed and it was all over. We went back to the hotel to freshen up before heading back to the Skytower to the Orbit restaurant to celebrate Sam's birthday. We got up the viewing area about 5.30 ahead of th 6pm reservation. There were various segments of glass floor around the tower and Sam managed to walk across and stand on them despite her fear of heights, after photos of Auckland in daylight we went up tot he restaurant. A nice window seat (it rotates about once and hour) and the kids were fascinated by the rotation.

    The food and wine was nice (Snapper and linguine for Ed and I, Chicken for Tash and rabbit for Sam, with ice cream all round for desert, though not quite as good as the ones that morning)and gradually the day turned to night and we saw Auckland all lit up. At various points there were bad smells during the meal which we blamed on the next table. However after our meal we went down 1 floor in the lift back to the viewing level o take more pictures of the lights and the smell appeared again - it was Ed. We pitied the people left in the lift for another 51 floors. A quick visit tot eh souvenir shop, then to bed for our last night in New Zealand.
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  • Day42

    Goodbye campervan

    August 20, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    We managed to pack away the campervan before leaving the campsite this morning - the extra bag purchased yesterday was definitely needed. The kids had an hour on the pedal go carts while we packed. Final emptying of the toilet caddy and the grey water waste and we were off.The road from Coromandel to Thames down the peninsula was windy and slow as it followed the coastline for most of the way.

    We stopped in Thames for a coffee and the loo then headed to Auckland. The journey was faster now as the roads were straight and once we joined highway 2 it was motorway to Auckland. After filling up the diesel we got to the Wilderness office.

    I missed the fact the reception was upstairs so hung around for a few minutes downstairs before realising. The hand back was much less painless than the handover. I filled in the feedback forms and made comment about how long it had taken to get the van. The lady saw this and asked about it and came back to me and said they ha confirmed the time length and would pay for our cab to the hotel as a goodwill gesture. So it was worth complaining. They ordered us a cab (a 7 seater to cope with the luggage) and we were in it about 45 minutes after arriving. The driver was rather grumpy but got us to the Heritage Hotel where the staff were very friendly and helpful. They got our bags to the room before we got up there - the suite was great especially after the compact campervan. Two super king sized bedrooms (kids will have to share but should be OK given the size of the bed), 2 bathrooms a lounge and dining area and a kitchen.

    We headed straight back down , got a map and went for some food. We were only a block away from the Skytower (tallest building in New Zealand) and headed to Queen Street, the Oxford Street of Auckland. Ed saw Burger KIng and wanted that, so we did. I saw on the map there was an Ugg shop down the road and the kids had spotted a Lush so we went there too. Tash got some Uggs as a birthday present and Ed and Sam some gloves.

    Then we headed to the harbour front and Ed spotted a jet boat, so we'll be doing that at some point. we went on to the i site to get some ideas on what to do - a Seaplane ride over Auckland and surrounding islands appealed and we have booked for tomorrow morning. A Zipline tour was also talked about but needed a ferry ride to egt tehre and when I looked on line was booked up for the next couple of days. The Aquarium looks like an option for Saturday morning and we may do an open top bus tour around at some point if we get time.

    We took the leaflets and headed back to the hotel to relax a bit, enjoy the space and watch tv. The kids got hungry so we ordered some room service kids meals and pizza, then settled down to proper beds again!
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  • Day41

    Pottery and Railways

    August 19, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    We awoke at usual time and packed up heading off at about 9am. Halfway across the car park I remembered I hadn't unplugged the electric cable. I hoped out and it was trailing behind us, so I quickly unplugged it from the van, threw it inside and drove off. We didn't look back to see what state the post it had been plugged into was in - fingers crossed it was fine!

    First stop was the Warehouse store in Whitianga to get an extra bag or case of some sort to put in some of the things we had bought and enable us to clear the campervan tomorrow. We ended up with a brightly coloured hard shell case which Tash picked and which was marked at $129 but at the till we discovered was reduced to $59 - even better.

    Then off to Coromandel Town - only about 43km away but 1.5 hours - due as we discovered to some very windy mountain roads. We were on the lookout for a cafe for breakfast but didn't find one until about an hour later in a small village - the only one between Whitianga and Coromandel as it turned out. The food and coffee was great - I had Spanish eggs with Chorizo, peppers, onions and toast.

    we set off the remaining12km (still half an hour) and stopped at the viewpoint at the top of the mountain, looking out across Coromandel, then down the hill and parked up in the town. We walked aroud some of the independent shops and bought a few things, then back to the camper and went to the petrol station where I got the gas canister filled up ready for return tomorrow. It was now around 1 so we headed for Driving Creek Railway, just out of town.

    On arrival we bought our tickets, despite the torrential rain currently falling and looked around the pottery shop and watched a video on the formation of the railway. The land was bought by an artist Brian Brickell initially because of the clay on site. He built a small railway to get the clay down the hill, then expanded it over the years. Eventually the debts on the railway needed paying off and so he started to take passengers and gradually increased it until it is as it is today, going right up to the Eyefull tower at the top. The railway is NZ'sonly narrow gauge and climbs 100m or so vertically during the ride.

    Scheduled departure was 2pm but a phone call from a group of tourists close by delayed this for a few minutes to allow them to ride. Ed and I sat right at the front behind the driver (though on occasion the train went backwards) and had a good chat with him about rugby he was going to the All Blacks game in Newcastle in the World Cup. The ride up took about 25 minutes and was excellent, it wound through the Forest with 3 tunnels, bridges, a zig zag section and spirals to climb the gradient. Wall protection used tyres and glass bottles embedded in the walls. Trees were marked on the way up, including some Kauri and lots of silver fern (silver on the underside). Variious clay pots also decorated certain areas. At one point the train went out onto a track supported from below out over the valley, then reversed back up the slope again, a bit like the Yeti ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

    At the top we got off and climbed the Eyefull Tower for great views over the bay. The driver gave us some of the history of the railway and the nature reserve that has been established there with lots of wild birds now living in it. Barry is now 79 and still working, with the whole reserve to be left to the Government when he passes away.

    After photos at the top we went back down, another fun ride. Ed and I at the back this time and we chose to ride facing backwards rather than turn the seat around. At the bottom we went into the shop and bought a piece by Barry, a book about him and a cup for Sam whcih it turned out was made by the daughter in law of our driver today. Ed got a clay penguin and Tash an egg cup.We then headed to the Top 10 site just down the road and checked in.

    In town earlier we had purchased some nit shampoo as Tash was convinced she and Ed had nits. Sam applied this to her and Tash, whilst I got a call in panic from the lady at the railway who had realised she hadn't charged us for Barry's pot. She came down to the site and I settled up in cash, much to her relief!. Meantime Ed had managed to climb up a climbing wall and couldn't get back down from the platform at the top - I ended up having to lift him off on my shoulders.

    We then went back to the van and applied nit shampoo - turned out Ed had loads as did Tash, Sam maybe a few and me seemingly none! we would have to reapply over the next few days. Needless to say, Ed didn't take the nit comb well.

    I temporarily panicked everyone by losing the van keys, to find them in my coat pocket! We headed to the Peppertree restaurant for tea (10% discount with top10 membership) and had a good meal (paella a popular choice). Then back to the van for a dvd from the campsite this time (Madagascar) then bed for our last night in the camper - have to pack tomorrow, nightmare!
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  • Day40

    Choppy seas but no hot water

    August 18, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    The reception here called through to see if the Glass Bottomed boat tour would be running and it was, so we booked up and arranged to be picked up by the boat at Ferry Landing - needed to be there about 10.20. We decided to head off just after 9 to grab a coffee before thr trip. We drove to Ferry Landing but found the cafe shut, so went across the harbour on the ferry, arriving just as Mark the boat owner was launching the boat, so I told him we would now be boarding on this side of the harbour and we went off to grab a coffee at the nearby (open!) cafe.

    We were first to board the boat about 15 minutes latyer followed by a family of 5 from California and a German Couple. At the moment the floor was metal, which lefted up to the roof later to reveal the glass bottom.

    We set off and it was a little choppy as we left the harbour at maximum speed 5 knots, but once beyond the speed limit the engines were opened up and it became a bit like a jet boat ride for now. We were told a bit about the logging histroy of the area and how tourism now dominated, with the population of Whitianga growing from 4,000 to 40,000 in summer - its proximity to uckalnd making it a very popular getaway.

    First landmark was Shakespeare's Cliffs, named by Captain Cook as it reminded him of Shakespears Bluff on the cliffs at Dover. The rock was pumice - volcanic and very light - a sample was passed around which felt light enough to float. This softness meant it has been sculpted into very unusual shapes on the cliffs. The end of the cliffs from the side looked like the profile of person - a posh person said Ed and I could see what he meant.

    We then rounded the corner to enter a sea cave, or actually a blow hole since it had no top - you could see the trees growing in the upper parts. It was a popular spot in the summer for people to swim and jump off the rocks - Mark said he ahd once seen a rabbit fall from the top and swim around the corner to the beach!

    The nearby beach was called Cooks Beach and was one of the places Captain Cook landed when he discovered New Zealand. He watched an eclipse of Mercury there enabling him to plot the longitude and latitude of NZ - hence the name of the area, Mercury Bay. Opposite was Buffalo Bay, not because there are buffalos there but because a British ship HMS Buffalo had sunk there years ago.

    We were now in the Marine Reserve, where nothing can be taken out - the local fishermen set up lobster pots right on the boundary hoping to catch some of the protected creatures!

    We headed to Cathedral Cove now, so called because the roof looks like a cathedral. It is a big arch cut through a rock headland by the sea and used in lots of marketing for NZ and beyond and also in many films, notably the second Narnia film. Certainly a spectacular setting. By now, everyone time the boat stopped there was a big swell making it bob around a lot and Ed was feeling sick (the rest of us were a little too). We managed to pose for a family photo with the cave behind and were all smiles despite the swell - you'd never know! Next we passed Hahei beach and Mark raised the floor to reveal the see through keel of the boat below. We immediately saw a shoal of snappers under the boat - they were big, some of them 60cm or so.

    We watched them for a bit and the captain gave Ed a peppermint to suck to ease the sea sickness. We moved across to some offshore islands where the sea was calmer and this wirth the peppermint certainly helped. We saw several seals including a baby one basking on the rocks then saw various fish including Leather Jackets (remarketed as cream fish to make them sound more edible!), Yellow Striped Wrasse and others. The water was clear enough to see the bottom 5 or 6 metres below. There were also Gannets nesting in trees on the island - the trees looked bedraggled because the gannet poo is very acidic and will eventually kill the trees they nest in.

    We then left the shelter of the islands which didn't help Ed and headed for a peculiar rock formation called Champagne Rock, as it looked like a pair of Champagne bottles. Then we went further along through the roughest seas to visit a sea cave, about 15 m high. The boat went right inside and the swell could be seen on the cave walls, probably 3 or 4 metres.

    Ed was moaning byt his stage, but this was then end of the tour and we sped back to the harbour, taking about 30 minutes, but getting calmer as we went so by the time we landed all was well! We got dropped back on Whitianga side so we could have lunch in the coffee shop from earlier. The kids played in the waterfront playground a bit and we looked around the Whitianga Museum. This had won awads and we could see why. It was small but packed with stuff and had some good interactive stuff on New Zealand birds, an old schoolroom, a bach (holiday hut), Captain Cook and other stories about the area.

    We caught teh ferry back across and drove back tot eh campsite and hired a shovel from reception to go to the beach and dig for our hot water spa. We got to the beach about 5 minutes after low tide - perfect timing we thought. However the tide was not far out and some people were returning from around the rocks where the fissures that produce the hot water are and having to wade through the waves. They said their pools were just being washed away by the sea coming in and that the tide just wasn't low enough today. This was bad luck for us, but you can't control nature.

    We went back tot eh campsite and the kids went on the go kart bikes they had there and in the playground which had the obligatory jumping pillow. I went back down to the beach and took a few photos 0 the tide was still as before.

    About 6we went to the Purangi Winery, which did wood fired pizza as well as wine tasting. we were met by the host, a larger than life character in his mid 30's I'd say who's family had had the winery for 60 years - he had been born i Hong Kong. He gave us a free glass oif their cider "to get the party started", then explained the pizza menu - plain margarita or supreme with loads on (including an egg very NZ thing), or pretty much anything we wnated in between. We went for a supreme, half with cheese, half not and a ham and olive with no cheese for Ed. Tash had chicken nuggets an chips. He left the door tot he tasting room open for us (shame we had to drive home, they he did offer for us to freedom camp in the yard!)

    We went through to the restaurant room where there were various communal tables, a table tennis table in the centre, table football, darts and cards. We sat near the fire and I nearly sat on a black cat resting in a chair - we left him there and sat around him. We had a bottle of the winery Chardonnay which was very nice, then the owner came and chatted to us about Fejoia, a fruit NZ folks eat, with the Kiwi Fruit largely for export. Fejoia doesn't keep or travel well, but he had some frozen ones he brought out for us to try along with a Fejoia liqueur, a spritzer, some plum liquer, a port and limoncello as a tasting platter. Again if only we weren't driving!

    The kids played table tennis while the food came - when it did the pizzas were great - seasoned with fresh herbs from the garden. We ate the lot, then kids played more table tennis and darts, then we played a few gmes of cards, then more darts and table tennis before sadly leaving. Food, atmosphere, host all combined to make this the best meal out we had had in NZ - great place, shame it's not closer to home.

    We went hoem and watched Elle dvd (again) then bed.
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  • Day39

    Hobbiton

    August 17, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    We were up and off early about 8.15 as it was an hour or so drive to Hobbiton and we arrived about 9.25. We exchanged our tickets and had a quick drink in the cafe then it was time to board the bus that took us from the parking/cafe/shop area across the farm to the Hobbiton set.

    The bus drive took about 10 minutes and the scenery was good - rolling green hills that almost looked unreal, like a carpet across the land. The farm still had some Aberdeen Angus cattle and 15,000 sheep, very much a working farm. The weather was brilliant, warm and sunny without a cloud in the sky.

    We got off the bus (which was pretty much full, must have been 30 or so people on our tour) and met our guide Kelsey. She took us around the village and explained some things to us. The tree above Bilbo's Bag Ebd dwelling was the only artificial one it was pretty obvious at this time of year as the leaves just looked too green. We took some pictures outside the Hobbit holes before movin up the hill. The richer the Hobbit the higher up the hill they lived - Bilbo was at the top. We had a photo in one of the doorways, one of the only doors that actually opened. It was explained that the holes are different sizes to allow actors to look bigger or smaller when next to them, so hobbits and dwarves would be filmed next to big doors to look small with Gandalf tc filmed next to small doors to look big.

    This farm had been chosen from a list of 12 as it had a perfect party tree for Bilbo's birthday and a lake next to it which is what the screenwriters had envisaged.

    We reached Bilbo's hole at the top, then wended our way back down towards the party tree, past various different holes of florist, cheesemaker, carpenter etc hobbits, heading for the Green Dragon pub. Here we got a cup of beer, cider or ginger beer, all brewed specially for Hobbiton. The English Stout I had was bitter like Guinness but fizzier - very pleasant. Ed of course was hungry so had a yummy raspberry and chocolate muffin which was warm and soft in the middle.

    Then back to the bus and to our starting point. The whole tour had taken a couple of hours and was enjoyed by all of us. In the shop we bought some model Hobbit holes and Ed was inspired to buy the book and wants to read it.

    Our original itinerary had been to camp at Karangahake Gorge, but the campsite had been in touch to say they were too waterlogged, so we changed plans and decided to head straight to Hot Water Beach and have 2 nights there instead of 1. This was a 2.5 to 3 hour drive and so we set off after some lunch in the Hobbit cafe.

    The drive was uneventful - we pulled off about an hour from Hot water Beach to Pauanui, but the whole place seemed deserted, no cafes open, must be very much a summer resort so we pressed on. The scenery was very green now and reminded me of the islands you see off Thailand, covered in green vegetation. The road was also windy and we ended up all feeling a little queasy.

    We found the campsite OK and got checked in. We moved sites as the original allocation was very wet and was tough to get the camper into without the wheels skidding. The lady on reception was very helpful and contacted the glass bottom boat people, who advised checking back in the morning - they had run this afternoon but the choppy water had reduced visibility somewhat. The kids had a ride on the go cart bikes and a play in the playground.

    we were low on fuel so headed to Haihei to get some then intended to get the ferry across to Whitianga. The petrol station at Haihei was shut (only 5.30) so we decided to drive to Whitianga, about 25 minutes around the bay, can see why the ferry (foot passengers only) is popular. We got fuel (still struggling to work the diesel cap) and had fish and chips at the recommended shop - Snapper Jacks, then headed back, taking it relatively slowly on the dark windy roads.
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  • Day38

    Volcano and Trees

    August 16, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Gave a quick call to Volcanic Air at about 8.25 to make sure things looked good and they did, everything clear, so we headed down to their lakefront office. We filled in the forms, paid and were weighed and given a safety briefing. Our pilot and guide for the trip was Edine, known as Eddie and she brought the helicopter across from Rotorua airport to land on the lake jetty. We went out to meet her and stowed our coats and bag in the luggage boot then climbed in - Tash in the front going out, Ed coming back.

    Belted in and with headphones on for communication we took off - about a 40 minute flight to White Island, more or less half over land to the coast and half over sea to the Island. Eddie pointed out some key sites as we travelled. We saw how part of Lake Rotoru was a different colour due to the sulphur flowing into it. Roto is Maori for lake and Rua for second as this was the second lake the chief in that area came across. We could see White Island with its smoking white plumes almond as soon as we took off, showing how clear a day it was as it was about 100 km away. The island had been named by Captain Cook as he always saw white plumes of smoke coming from it. Later it was discovered to be a volcano and the surface was likened to being on the moon (once we were on it it looked more like the surface of another planet like Mars). Three rocks were pointed out to the left of the island which used to be used by the NZ airforce for target practice - thankfully this stopped a few years ago. There were still Gannets nesting on the side of the island, though most have left for the winter - in summer there are up to 5,000 there. Also outside the crater grows the New Zealand Christmas Tree - so called because it flowers red at Christmas.

    We circled the island and landed on a flat part on the opposite end to the crater lake. The helicopter had to cool down a bit before the rotor could be turned of and we could get out. Once out we were given hard hats to wear and gas masks to breathe through if the fumes made us cough. There were tow parts to the tour, the historic mining section and the natural volcanic section. We went with the mining section first and walked towards the ruins of the old Sulphur factory. Various mining attempts had been made over the years, none lasting long and some being disastrous (1914 when an explosion sent hot acidic mud through the miners camp - no one was ever found except Peter the Cat, who had sensed what was about to happen and fled to higher ground. The concrete buildings were ruined now and the iron smelting pots very corroded, certainly a tough environment to work in and make money from. Walking down towards the beach we saw a baby seal basking on the rocks - a relatively recent addition to the island. One of the original mine shareholders had bought the island for $1 and his family still owned it, charging for each visitor carried to the island.

    We moved on through sulphur mounds, where the gas from the earth deposited small amounts of sulphur as it left and formed a mound over time. The smell started to get worse here and Ed certainly was complaining and using the gas mask. We saw some bubbling mud pools - too hot to touch and were told that these moved around over time along with the sulphur vents as the magma below ground shifts around. We moved up to the biggest sulphur vent, where the smoke was really irritating tot he throat. walked up a bit nearer, the others declined and watched from outside the smoke. Tash got a small lump f sulphur to bring back. Then we moved to the edge of the crater lake. This was full of water from below at 90 or so degrees but also at ph 0.4 - not much would last long in there. We had to hold onto our hats as the wind was strong and gusts very strong at times. Sam lost a bit of paper from her pocket which blew down into the lake. On the far side of the lake was the main vent with lots of smoke coming from it - this was where ash and rocks came from when the volcano erupts - the last time was in 2013 when the water level in the lake had risen several metres then fallen sharply before the eruption of ash and smoke.

    We walked back and Sam's hat blew off - fortunately I was walking behind and managed to stop it with my foot before it ended up in the acid! We saw another mud pool where two hats had been lost and resurfaced once to everyone's surprise on a tour a few days later. We felt one of the streams which was running at about bath temperature. Then it was back to the helicopter for the return flight. Ed and I went for a quick wee behind a rock, so we can say we weed on a live volcano, hopefully it won't cause any seismic activity.

    Ed was in the front this time and got a guide as to how the helicopter worked and what the dials meant. The power can either go to forward speed or vertical movement, so as you move up you slow down. We were into a headwind and thought we might need to stop for fuel at Rotorua airport, but made it back to the jetty landing just before midday - a great trip to a really odd place.

    We had time to grab a quick bit of food at the Lakefront Cafe before getting picked up by the Canopy Tours minibus (the Volcanic Air people had kindly called to change our pick up to here from the Top 10 park). Sam was staying in town and the Campervan.

    We were picked up and taken to the tour office where we collected a Go-Pro to fit to our helmets and record the trips. We then met our guides (shane and Cam - who both turned out to be brilliant) and got our harnesses and helmets on. Then it was back in the minibus for the ride to the forest, 9 of us all together. We introduced ourselves with name, where from, hobbies, superhero you'd like to be and TV show you'd be trapped in for a month.

    At the Forest we were briefed again on not touching any of the metal parts of the harnesses (in case they came loose) then we were off on a fairly fast walk uphill through the forest to the first platform. This was enclosed like the ones we had done in Queenstown and after a bit more safety briefing Shane headed across to catch us and Cam clipped us in one by one. Ed went first then Tash then me and it was a fairly easy walk down steps until the harness tightened then away you flew. The platform the other side had no rails and we were just clipped on to a central metal safety bar. This made the next Zipwire a bit harder as there was nothing to hold onto as you walked down the steps to start the wire. The kids seemed to skip down, I was a bit more hesitant but got off and away we went.

    At the next platform we were told all about the birds they hope will eventually flourish in the Forest, with a funny name guessing game that involved catchphrase style clues "It's got long tail and comes out of a clock - long tailed cuckoo, "It's grey coloured and it warbles - it's a grey warbler!" The talk, as with all of them was fun and interesting. It was then another zipwire to the next platform, during the flight we were all told we had to flap our arms like a bird's wings!

    Then, for me, a scarier bit, we had to cross a rope bridge that was quite wobbly and not very wide. It had steel rope railings on the sides, but as you got to the middle these became very low and I struggled to hold on to them. I'm not good with walking across narrow things, but just had to plough on. I made it to the other side and managed a pose pointing to the sky on the photo spot. The kids managed to almost skip across without any problem.

    After this came the longest wire at 220m. Ed went first and as he neared the other end we could hear Shane's cries of grab the rope, grab the rope, which meant he didn't think Ed had enough momentum to carry him up the landing rope for Shane to grab, so Ed needed to grab hold of the rope handle on the braking block that Shane sent out onto the wire and then he could be pulled in. We heard another shout of grab again, then saw Ed sliding back 20 yards or so down the wire. This was cue for Shane to clip himself on while Ed dangled, slide out, attach a cable to ed and pull himself and Ed back in hand over hand like a monkey! Ed thought it was most amusing. When we all got over Shane explained that Ed had got the rope with one hand then it slipped out, then he got it with the other but couldn't hold on and so rolled back - very close to a grab but not quite.

    We then walked through the forest and stopped to learn a bit about the extinct birds like the Moa. Shane was great at talking about the loss of birds and the predators and very funny, keeping the kids engaged throughout. He had some worms with him, which were hand fed to the North Island Robin that appeared when Shane whistled. Ed put one on his hand and the robin flew in very quickly and grabbed it and flew away - too fast for me to manage to film it.

    Then we learnt about the pests that the company were trying to eliminate from the forest. Possums (originally brought in to farm for fur, now around 30 million in NZ, down from 75m at their peak due to all the trapping etc). Stoats brought in to kill rabbits (themselves brought in by Europeans) and rats that came in with Maoris for food and Europeans as pests on boats. Manual bait traps used to be used, but now automated ones that can kill up to 12 possums by shooting a bolt into their head and injecting CO2 into their brain from a canister. The dead possums drop to the floor which bizarrely attracts more possums to the traps. Most pests have now been eliminated from the inner area and traps are now removed to be put in a wider outer area. Shane told us that Captain Cook had recorded that he could hear the birdsong from NZ wen moored offshore and that when on land in the forest it was impossible to hold a conversation due to the noise of all the birds - just shows how many have been eliminated since that time unfortunately.

    Then onto the final two zips - the highest one at 40m above ground and 170m long - great view as going across. Then a short one to end with that we were encouraged to perform tricks on. I declined to go upside down but performed the salmon, lying back and shaking arms and feet like a salmon out of water. Ed had his rope twisted before clipping on so he spun round as he crossed.

    Then a final group photo with camera placed on the floor and the whole group of us peering down into it in a circle, which produced a surprisingly good photo. Back to home base to remove harnesses etc then we were dropped back to the lake front to meet Sam in the camper van. Ed wanted KFC for tea so we went there then back to the campsite to eat it, watch Cheaper by the Dozen 2 on the camp lounge TV, then a quick relaxing dip in the thermal pools on site before bed. Hobbiton tour booked for 10am tomorrow morning.
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  • Day37

    No Volcano today

    August 15, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    We were up early to head to Volcanic Air for 8.45 for our flight to White Island. When we got there it turned out they had wanted to contact us but had no phone number as the weather was poor at White Island despite being excellent in Rotorua. They suggested waiting until 10am to see if it cleared, so we went and got a coffee from a recommended shop called Picnic then wandered around the shops before heading back. Unfortunately the weather had worsned at White Island so we agreed to come back at 8.45 tomorrow to see whether it was OK then.

    The kids were keen to head to Agroventures to do the Agrojet, a small quick jet bot that goes round a tight racing circuit. We nought vouchers for 10 rides as they ahd other things tehre too and did the Agrojet first - Tash and Ed then Ed and I. It was good fun, three laps very quick around the circuit, much more nimble than the larger river ones we had been on before. Ed was grinning massively.

    Ed and Tash then did the Scjweeb, which was a monorail bike that hung under the track and was pedalled lying down racing one track against the other. Ed beat Tash in about 1 min 50 seconds. We then had another go where I raced against Ed and Tash in tandem. It was very close and I won in about 1.37 with them about a second behind. Tash had wanted to do the Agrofall, which was a free fall simulator, with a big fan that blew upwards with you 'sktdiving' in the upward draft. She ended up not doing it as she managed to scare herself and get worried by people watching her and not being able to do it, so we eventually left. This made Tash miserable as you could tell she was annoyed with herself for not doing it. We had vouchers for 5 more rides, so Tash and Ed did another schweeb, though Tash's heart wasn't really in it so she did just under 2 minutes with Ed blitzing his best time and doing 1.23. They then both did anther jet boat and then to use up the remaining token Ed did his fifth jet boat ride of the day! (I had bought 4 more tokens when we thought Tash was doing the freefall).

    We bought the videos and photos on a USB then left to head for Te Puia, the Maori geothermal place we had bought tickets for the day before at the isite. We had lunch in teh cafe on arrival, with Ed declaring there was nothing he would eat in there and proceeding to be miserable for the next hour or so, Eventually his moved improved and we looked around the mock Maori viillage, meeting house etc, then went to see the boiling mud pools before finally waiting to see the Pohutu geyser erupt. This is the largest in teh Southern Hemisphere and erupts once or twice and hour up to 30m. We watched for probably 40 minutes and saw some small water spurts, lots of steam and a couple of metres of watewr from the geyser next to the big one, but no big eruption unfortunately.

    We returned to the campsite just before 5 via gift shop and New World supermarket to await our pcik up for the Maori feast and show tonight - pick up between 5.10 and 5.20 from the campsite.

    We waited at the entrance to the campsite and the bus arrived promptly. We went via several more pick ups then were on our way to the village. The driver gave us some commentary and taught us some Maori words - Kia Ora which seems to mean lots of things but mainly hello. Also aye for yes, puke puke for applause and others. A chief was then picked for our bus (or woka as Maori transport is known after their traditional canoes). A gentleman from Washington DC was 'volunteered' and had to go to the front of the bus to lead us all in paddling our woka to camp. He was then taught the hongi - the nose rubbing greeting as he would need to do this when greeted by the chief of the village.

    On arrival the three elected chiefs from different buses went first and waited for the village warriors to rush out and perform their greeting challenge - this was similar to lots of individual hakas and ended with a peace offering branch being dropped. If the visiting chief picked this up then they would be welcomed in, if not battle would begin. Our chief picked it up and we entered the village, where groups of 15 or so of us went around 5 different areas getting talks from the locals. We started with battle training and volunteers had to run ladders like Ed does at rugby but across sticks. The guy talking was very humorous and it was, like all the areas good fun to listen.

    Next was an explanation about the houses and the tattoos. These were like a cv on your face saying what you were good at. They were done quite barbarically using bones on sticks to cut open the flesh and put ink in - ancient Maori flesh would have felt rough like carved wood.

    Then a haka demonstration - I took part and just about managed to follow it. The guy next to me had a great end face with tongue out and eyes bulging. Fourth was a demo of some games, including balancing sticks and running around to catch them before they fell to the floor. Then finally the women showing us a dance using traditonal balls on sticks - Tash demo'd this one and did very well!

    Then it was through to the Marae or meeting house for a show by the Maori folks of song and dance, ended with women's and men's haka. It lasted about 20 minutes and was enjoyed by all of us. Then through to see how the food was cooked in a hangi - a big pit dug, piled high with wood then stones on top. The wood is lit which heats the stones and as the fire burns down the stones end up in the bottom of the pit extremely hot. The food is then put in and the pit covered over quickly with wet hessian sacks - stops them burning and the water drips down into the pit and makes steam which is then trapped in the pit byt e sacks and soil piled on top of them. We saw our food taken out of the pit then went through to the dining hall.

    We were on table 4 and were the first up to the buffet. The vegetables had a real earthy flavour because of the soil on top of the pit and the chunky carrots and potatoes went down very well, as did the chicken and especially the lamb which was excellent. after everyone had had soem we went up for seconds, then started on the desert - steamed pudding and custard, fresh fruit and pavlova. Then our hosts sang a couple of songs and said a few words and the chiefs did the haka before we headed back to Woka Kea for the bus ride home.

    On the bus each nation had to sing a song for everyone else to join in with - we did Old McDonald for a couple of verses (The Aussies were a bit weird and refused to do anything and some of the other nations didn't really seem to want to take part. On the outskirts of town our driver announced that if everyone didn't join in with the next song they wouldn't be getting off the bus. She then started singing "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain" and we followed the bus in front round a roundabout - 6 times! Crazy stuff. We obviously saang enough as we then carried on our way to be dropped back at the campsite.
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  • Day36

    Tash's Birthday

    August 14, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 11 °C

    We had breakfast in the Savour Cafe at the Debretts reception. We had a look around the playground as Ed had left his coat somewhere - no luck, but fortunately he has another one with him. We set off for Rotorua, about an hour away, with the weather quite rainy.

    As we neared Rotorua we started to smell rotten eggs from the thermal gases. It had also fined up a bit at this stage. We spent a while trying to find somewhere to park - there were no obvious spaces until we got down to the lakefront near the Volcanic Air which we would be flying from tomorrow. We walked back to the i site ad picked up a few leaflets and chatted to the lady there. We decided to go to the Skyline Gondola place this afternoon and do some luge rides, a swing (Tash and me) and a zip wire (Tash, Ed and me).

    We went up the gondola after a bit of confusion queuing behind a large group of Japanese students and headed straight for the swing at the top. This involved been strapped into some seats and winched up to almost horizontal then released to swing down at 159km/h, then swing back and forth to rest. Tash and I were strapped in well, which became necessary quite quickly as we were winched up with all our weight being held by the straps!

    When we got to the top we were hanging facing pretty much straight down and the lady gave us a wave which was the signal top pul;l the release lever. Tash had wanted me to do this so I untangled it from the middle seat, gave a count of three then pulled. The clip released and we dropped, essentially free falling until the swing caught us at the bottom - took our breath away and was a crazy feeling. After the initial drop the swinging back and forth to rest was tame! We watched and bought the video and photos - our faces in the video weren't as crazy as I had expected. I had given a big shout of "woooaaah" as we took off which Sam and Ed watching heard clearly and laughed.

    We then went insde for some food to a buffet restaurant. The lady checking u in asked the kids ages and I mentioned Tash was 2 today, so she cleared us a table at the window with a good view. The buffet was good with a good selection, including quite a few Japanese dishes, presumably catering to the Asian market of tourist but tasty for us too. Ed had Fettuccine and Bolognese sauce, I had Japanese beef curry and sticky rice and also some tuna with Thai curry sauce as well as vegetable soup. The deserts were great too, pancakes, chocolate mousse, ice cream, jelly, fruit. Tash got a surprise when the waitress brought out a card signed by all the staff and a chocolate brownie cake with a candle and Happy Birthday iced in chocolate on the plate - very nice and she got her birthday cake!

    Full up we headed to do the zip wire - 400m long and 85km/h. They were just about to close because of the weather (wind and rain), but we said we were happy to do it (it was safe just not as comfortable as it could have been) so we got harnessed up and carried down our zip wheels. Two people could go together so Ed and Tash went first. They were strapped up (the harness formed a little seat) and shown the brake position, then released, Ed first then Tash. They sped down and were tiny dots by the time they reached then end. Then it was my turn, I was strapped in, sat back and waited for the all clear as the others were unstrapped. On release the acceleration wasn't like the swing earlier but still pretty fast and the speed built up. The launch lady had given me her sunglasses as rain eye shields as it had got heavier since the kids were released. This helped but I really needed window wipers on them to clear them from the rain. The brake was a bit harsh and I couldn't see the man giving me the signal to assume the brake position, but stopped OK anyway.

    Once unclipped the last part of the ride was free fall. This involved being strapped to a pulley, walking backwards down an 18 inch plank until your heels were overhanging the end then holding the strap and leaning straight backwards, falling off with a metre or two of free fall before the pully caught your weight and lowered you the remaining 8m or so to the ground. Tahs went first and was brilliant, walking straight out, heels over the end then falling backwards and down. Ed was next and while he really wanted to do it, his innate caution made him torn as has been the case before. He got as far as standing backwards on the edge of the plank which was very good, a lot of people don't even get that far, but in the end he just couldn't bring himself to lean back and so came back. This was despite all our encouragement and the great coaxing from Josh the guy in charge. Tash even came up to try and be persuasive. Then it was my turn. I was a bit more hesitant than Tash in getting to the end of the plank, but once there held on and leant back. The worst feeling was that the harness was going to pull very jerkily and rick my back, but the pull was smooth and I was lowered tot he ground. Tash liked it so much she did it again in place of Ed, though I do think much of the fear is the unknown and the second time would be easier than the first. The worst part of it all was the ride back up the chairlift to the top as by now the rain was torrential and we ended up getting wet. Once up the top we de-harnessed and went for a hot chocolate. We had luge ride tickets but weren't sure whether to do it. We gave it a while, buying some jelly beans from the jelly bean store, but it didn't clear up so Ed and I decided to do a luge to say we had done it. The track was much longer than the Queenstown one, probably taking 5 minutes to get down. We got even wetter going down and the track was running with water like a river at times and braking needed a lot of pulling on the lever. We were pretty wet and got wetter going up the chairlift again, but decided to do one more ride on the intermediate track to say we had done both available (the advanced was shut). We got even wetter on this, my trousers were soaked through to my pants, but at least we did it!

    We got the Gondola down and bought our pack of photos taken on the way up (The Queenstown photo had been poor as the kids couldn't be seen). The beauty of the Campervan came into play now as we could all get chnaged out of our wet clothes before driving to the campsite. This was only ten minutes away and we found our spot but immediately drove nack to the McDonald's we had seen a couple of kilometres away as this was Tash's choice for birthday tea. The rain continued to pound down and we had intended to go to the hot pools in the camp (they are outdoor) but decided to postpone until another night. The TV remarkably worked not too badly despite the weather and we settled in to watch the Voice Australia again.
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  • Day35

    Another Jet Boat and Waterpark in winter

    August 13, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    We started the day by driving the camper into town to the i site about 9am. We booked the Rapids Jectboat for the first slot at 12.30pm - this looked a bit different to the other rides we had done as it went over a patch of rapids in the river, so should be much bouncing up and down.

    We then went for a tasty breakfast before having a wander through the shops. We went into the All Blacks shop and came away with a rugby world cup shirt for me and Ed and a teddy that sang the Haka for Tash. With the shirts we got two free rugby balls, which we declineds to have pumpoed up to give us a chance of getting them on the plane!

    The weather was gloriou so the kids had half an hour in the playground in town before we headed off about 11.20 to catch the opening of the dam at the Aratiatia rapids. This is opened twice a day in winter at 12 and 2. We got there just as the ten minute warning siren was sounding and walked onto the bridge to see the gates open. A few more sirens sounded then they opened to allow water to flow through from the river which was much higher on the other side (we had jetboated up to this the previous day on the Huka falls jet). As the water built in the big pool below the dam the level started to rise and water began to spill down the rapids (described as the only level 6 whitewater in the world by the jet boat guy yesterday). he level contineud to rise and must have gone up 12 or 15 feet until what had been a gentle trickle was now a roaring torrent covering all the previously visible ricks.

    We then headed the couple of kms up the road to the rapids jet. On board we headed up to the end of the above rapids first and saw the water flowing out this end (by now the dam was shut so the torrent wasn't at its peak but still high). We did a few spins on the way, probably the fastest ones we've done with much sliding across the seats. Then we headed the other way across some small rapids with some bouncing until we hit the main rapid section. Probably only 100m or so long, but the water was raging and we did several circuits up and down them, each time getting faster and more intense until we were bouncing high in the air and out of our seats. On the way back upstream through them the boat sat on the rapids until more power was put on. I got pretty wet, including a huge mouthful of the (clean) water at one point. Ed loved it!

    We then went back upstream and stopped out the mouth of the narrowest section where water was forced under and bubbled up every few seconds near the bacnk as a mini eruption - and people swim and kayak this! More spins and high speed and the ride was over - the best one yet declared Ed and we agreed.

    From here we went back to our campsite to go in the hot pools, with Tash keen to do the waterslides. The water was heated but the climb up wasn't, but the sun was really warm now so it wasn't too bad out of the water. Sam booked a massage and Tash got a slide wristband - Ed wasn't keen and I was too heavy. After several slides Ed decided it looked like fun and got a wristband and proceeded to slide about 25 times! The water was nice and I just lounged in it - especially good was the bed like platform they had put in with bubbles of water coming through it. This stretch of river has been used in a few films we were told, most famously the Hobbit when the elves escape in barrels, this was filmed at the Aratiatia rapids, with 20 barrels being released each time the dam was opened for two days (no0one was in them!). A tree and the rapids we bounced in on the jet was in the Yogi Bear film when Yogi is on a raft. And for the film Without a Paddle a stuntman "swam" down them three times in full flow getting paid NZ$5k for each run, escaping with some stitches to a head cut.

    After a coupe of hours here we went back to the camper and the kids went to the playground (playing with tow other kids from Hawaii) and we waited for Matthew from Ed's class's mum Jen to come pick us up for dinner at 6. We went to Cobb and Co and had far too much food and a great chat with Jen, her mum and dad and friend Trudi. The kids had fun as there were playstations in the restaurant. There was confusion over the bill as another table had paid ours then been refunded so we all ended up having to pay in cash. We got back to the van about 9.15 a good night had by all.
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  • Day34

    Huka Prawns and Falls

    August 12, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 7 °C

    We left Napier campsite without breakfast aiming to stop at the first cafe we saw out of town. I emptied the dirty water (tough to get the cap back on( the toilet canister (still only wees) and we filled up the fresh water ( Sam got quite wet when the tank filled and spurted out).

    First stop was petrol, with warning light on and messages on the dashboard. Had tough job getting diesel cap on and off, but managed it. Filled up and went into pay, but attendant said there was nothing showing on my pump number 7. after bit of investigation turns out a previous customer had paid for number 7 rather than number 6 (think he was a regular) as the amount had been similar. So we paid for number 6, which was 4 or 5 dollars less than we had had.

    Ten minutes down the road stopped at a cafe, service wasn't great, they didn't seem to hear our requests for toasted sandwiches and there were few seats so we took food and drinks back into the camper. This was good as Tash had declared she ddn't like anything in the shop, but she coulkd have some cereal in the van.

    We then pressed on the couple of hours to Taupo. Some fairly high ascents and descents, with main problem being a car driver in front who was driving cautiously in terms of speed round corners, but also erratically in terms of not staying on our side of the road. Eventually we used a passing lane to overtake up a hill.

    In Taupo we headed straight for the Huka Falls Jet, which turned out to be right next to the Huka Prawn Park, another attraction we intended to visit. We arrived just beofre midday and the first jet boat available was at 2pm, so we booked it and headed into the prawn park.

    We were given guided tour of the facility - pump room where geothermal 90 degree ater from the power plant next door is used to heat the river water to keep the external prawn pools at 28 degrees. We then saw the breeding tanks, where the prawns are sed solely for breeding not eating. Then on to the tanks of baby prawns. We were given handfuls of food and dipped our hands into the tank and the small prawns (about an inch or two long) swam onto our hands and ate the food pellets. They tickled as they walked across your hand and nibbled at the food. I ended up with a dozen or so on my hand, very tickly.

    Then off to the ponds where the public can use a cane and a hook to fish for prawn, keeping whatever you catch to be cooked in the restaurant or taken home in ice. Bait was chunks of chopped up ox heart. Dipping the bait in and letting it rest on the bottom lead to the prawns grabbing it with their claws and tugging sharply on the line and cane. You had to allow them to run off a bit with it and wait a minute or two until they had eaten the bait and the hook before pulling them in. This proved tough and most times, whilst we got bites and strong tugs on the bait we either pulled it up too soon before the hook had gone in, or the prawn took the bait from the hook without getting caught. I managed to catch one big prawn early on and we put it in the little bucket of iced water we were given which sent them into a kind of sleep. The hook was tough to remove. We spent about an hour fishing then handed the rods back and the prawn was saved in the bucket until we returned after our baot ride.

    We got life jacketed and put iont e boat and away we went. This seemed to be the fastest we had been and the driver certainly did the fastest spins and we got very wet, especially Ed, who had asked to sit back left to get as wet as possible (think he was wetter than he expected). Highlight of the trip was going up to the Huka Falls, where we got right into the swirling water that had come through. we were told the Falls were running faster than they ever had in recent times due to all the rain and snow melt, the noise and the power of the water was fierce.

    Back to base after a few more spins and almost hitting a black swan and we then returned to our prawn fishing with no luck until we were just about to leave when Ed caught one. We took them to the restaurant just before it closed and ordered some extra food. Our prawns came on a separate plate (3 as someone had caught one and not wanted it) nd the waitress did comment on how large the one I had caught was.

    Food was tasty then we headed up the road to see the falls from land. The power was even more apparent here as you crossed the bridge over the gorge and walked down to the viewing points - very spectacular in terms of the power, quite different to the more attractive but less powerful falls we had seen in the South Island to date.

    We then drove back through town to Debretts our campsite. Sam had made contact with Jen, Matthew from Ed's class's mum about meeting up. The kids had gone to the jumping pillow and Sam and I were surprised by Jen, Matthew and her friend Trudy appearing in front of the van. I took Matthew off to play with Ed and Tash and we chatted with the others in the van until they really had to go (they had gone out for wine and chips and just called in as passing). We arranged to meet them for dinner the following evening and might do mini golf with them if we think Ed will play nice!
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