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  • Day74

    Napier to Wellington - 268 km

    February 22 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    The news today. Auckland's longest dry spell on record has finally broken. Rain started falling in Auckland this morning, the first time there's been more than 1 mm of rain in 47 days. There are cloudy skies but still no rain in Napier.

    Today, we are heading south to Wellington, the capital city of NZ. Donna will stay another day before starting her trip back to Auckland and then back to Canada. It has been fun travelling with her, once again.

    The drive to Wellington takes about 4 hours and there are a couple of ways to do this drive. Several people have said that the drive through Masterton is a nice drive so we decided to go this way.

    Driving on Hwy 2 was a breeze compared to some of the driving we have done. Very few twists and turns and a good road.

    We stopped for an hour, just north of Masterton, at the Puhaka Wildlife Centre. In 1962, the centre was established to breed and release endangered native birds. The first birds that were cared for were the Takahe, a very rare bird, thought extinct, but rediscovered in Fiordland. Then the brown teal, buff weka and kākāriki were released.

    In 2001 an. entire forest, 942 hectares, became part of the wildlife reserve. About 100 km of trails were cut and thousands of traps and bait stations were scattered, setting up an area for wildlife with low predator pressure - opossums, rats, mice, feral cats.

    We walked around the short trail, checking out the numerous aviaries and were fortunate to be there for the daily feeding of the massive eels that live there. The ranger was very informative and enthusiastic. The eels were like her pet puppies. We now have a completely new perspective on these amazing creatures.

    Wellington was only a short trip away through mountains. The hostal we are staying in is called the Dwellington and what an organized and well-managed place it is. The room we have is spacious and clean and even though there are a lot of travellers here, there seems to be room to roam. Everything that a traveller needs can be found here. Breakfasts are included, laundry facilities, tennis courts, bbqs, a well-stocked kitchen with refrigerator bins and boxes for each room and even a movie theatre! We watched the 2020 Oscar winning Parasite movie.

    We are here for 4 nights before crossing over to the South Island. For car insurance conditions, we have to return our car to Apex and pick up a new one 24 hours later. A day without a car in this city is easy, as there is a lot to do.

    Oscar winner Parasite
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  • Day73

    Memorial Flying Displays

    February 21 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    The Art Deco Festival continues but we really don’t want to be part of the huge crowds that are visiting the town. We found it hard to find parking there on Thursday when things were starting up. And we got a parking ticket. Today, with the big opening and the 20,000 anticipated visitors it will be a challenge.

    We did want to see the Airshow though, so we went and parked close to the Aquarium. The whole seaside was packed with new and old cars and campervans! But it was civil...

    We have a small car and snuck it in beside a bigger car. Perfect. A 20 second walk to the viewing area. Haha.

    We spread my sarong on the grass and sat down with hundreds of picnickers dressed in 1920’s clothing to wait for the show. And what a show it was!

    The old war planes could be heard before we could see them and what a wonderful display of flying skills! You had to be there though. The photos don’t do it justice.
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  • Day73

    A Bird Walk, Honey and Wine Tasting

    February 21 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Today is our littlest grandson’s birthday in Canada. Of course, we are one day later here. Nathan turned three today and is so excited for his birthday party tomorrow. He is a sweetie and we miss him...

    The weather here is warm, 32C, during the day. Rain is needed badly and farmers are worried about their crops and cattle. All the hills here are yellow and dry.

    Today is Friday and we are meeting up with Donna again. She is staying on the north side of Napier and we are in the south, in Taradale.

    Our hostess suggested that we visit the Pekapeka Wetlands for a pleasant walk. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council with community support have restored this area which is 10 minutes south of Hastings and it is lovely. Btw, Hastings and Napier are twin cities and are next door to each other. Taradale, where we are, is in a rural area Inbetween the two..

    Pekapeka swamp is all that is left of what was once a much larger wetland complex. Tree roots have been found beneath the peat that suggests the wetland was once forested – more than 10,000 years ago.

    Pekapeka is thought to be named after the bats that inhabited nearby caves as pekapeka is Māori for 'bat'.

    The three of us took a walk on the network of boardwalks and pathways through historical hunting and fishing grounds for the local Maori. Apparently three villages or Maori forts were here at one time. They used to fish for eels and we saw several in the water.

    We took our binoculars so were able to see lots of birds - Black Shags (cormorants), Little Shags, Black Swans, Blue Ducks, Pied Shag, Welcome Swallows, Australian Coots and a lot of birds that we don’t know the names of. We met some birders who helped us out with identifications.

    For a long time, wetlands were not valued for the important systems that they are. For many years Pekapeka was used as an illegal dump and, among other rubbish, the remains of two demolished hotels are here. Some of the rubble and reinforcing rods were left after the cleanup as a stark reminder of how badly this ecosystem was treated in the past.

    After a pleasant walk on the boardwalks through the wetlands, we drove our cars to the Arataki Honey Centre in Hastings.

    Arataki Honey is the number one beekeeping business in the Southern Hemisphere, with 20,000 hives across New Zealand.

    The centre has been set up so that visitors can learn interesting facts about honey bees, how they live, their role in the food chain and the products they produce. The centre has some large windows where we could observe hives.

    At the end of our visit we were able to taste the 10 distinct and delicious varieties of Arataki Honey, gathered from New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna. That was a sweet experience.

    The souvenir shop was stocked with all things to do with bees and honey. It was fun looking through the items.

    Lunch was on our minds and we decided that since we were in grape growing and wine country, we would have lunch and a wine tasting at Oak Estate Cellar Door and Kitchen.

    We sat outside in a vineyard and enjoyed sharing a delicious platter, all homemade, and accompanied by a generous side basket of homemade bread. We sampled beautiful pate, smoked chicken, fish pate, pork terrine, burnt butter - all with accompaniments.

    The wine samplings were all good but our favourite one was the Pinot Gris.

    “Grapes were selected from 2 vineyards in the Maraekakaho area. Gentle floral appeal on the nose, flowing into flavours of tropical fruits and citrus notes, with a rich texture and mouth feel, finishing with a crisp clean dry finish. Residual sugar: 5g/L”
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  • Day72

    Napier’s Art Deco Festival

    February 20 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    During the third week of February (this week), Napier hosts an Art Deco Festival and here we are. It’s mission is to “preserve, restore,celebrate and promote Napier’s Art Deco heritage”.

    The first festival was held 32 years ago and since then it has grown significantly. I think that there are around 300 events this year, some that cost and others that are free - dinners, dances, picnics, balls, bands, Gatsy-esque fancy dress. Children and adults get all dressed up in vintage clothes from the 1920s to 1930s and have a not too serious celebration of things Art Deco. Phil Crosby ( Bing Crosby’s grandson) will be presenting his Golden Age of Hollywood show on Friday night. They expect about 40,000 people to attend.

    When we walked around the town on Thursday, we saw lots of evidence of things to come.Jazz music was being played in the bandshell, beautiful Model Ts were scooting around, people dressed as flappers and bootleggers, zoot suits and more. What a lot of fun.

    The weekend is the big event so we hope to see a parade of vintage cars or dogs, see the airshow with old planes, as well as to listen to the Marine Band.

    So today’s photos, on Thursday, are a only a teaser for Friday’s collection.
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  • Day72

    Napier-Marine Parade & National Aquarium

    February 20 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    The Napier area has been settled since around the 12th century. James Cook visited the area in 1769. In the 1830’s, whalers established a trading post. In 1931, the city was levelled by a 7.9 earthquake. 258 people died and the town was now 40 square km larger, as the earthquake heaved sections of what was once a lagoon, 2 m above sea level. The city was rebuilt and ended up being the most uniformly art-deco cities in the world.

    We drove into town, thinking that we would just stroll on the lovely seaside avenue but the start of an Art Deco Festival was in progress so we saw more than just the seaside.

    Marine Parade is an elegant promenade. Standing on the walkway, we could see the turquoise Pacific Ocean in front of us, and in the distance we could see the dramatic curve of Cape Kidnappers on one side and the high Bluff Hill on the other side. Behind us, there was a “treasure trove of architectural delights”, all painted in soft, pastel tones.

    You can walk or cycle about 3 km on the promenade. There are lovely sunken gardens with lots of places to sit and read. The I-site (information) is located here as well as a free mini-golf course, a skate-park, a swim centre and a bandshell. Huge Norfolk Island pines line the avenue. It is very attractive.

    We walked down the road to the National Aquarium of New Zealand and did a little tour of this modern stingray-shaped building. It's home to a wide range of saltwater, freshwater and land animal exhibits from New Zealand and around the world.

    We especially the 1.5 million litre Oceanarium which showcased the fish that exist in Hawke Bay, including shark, stingray and other reef fish. We stood on a moving ramp and entered a underwater viewing tunnel with fish all around us.
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  • Day71

    On to Napier - Huka Rapids and Falls

    February 19 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    From Rotorua through Taupo to Napier, takes about 3 hours. We said a temporary goodbye to Donna, filled up our tank with gas (good idea) and started driving through flat pastures with cattle on Hwy 1. Soon, the land became rolling and then we were into the mountains, on winding roads. We stopped at one viewpoint and saw a beautiful waterfall.

    Our lunch-time destination was in Taupo on Lake Taupo, the great inland sea of New Zealand. I had read that as you “travel around the lake, you will find every landscape you can imagine. Snow-blanketed winter ski fields and alpine deserts. Ancient forests alive with birdsong. Trout-filled rivers and the thundering Huka Falls. Steaming geothermal valleys with rejuvenating hot springs. Three towering volcanoes in the awesome and otherworldly landscape of Tongariro National Park.” Sounded like a cool place and it was.

    But before having lunch, it had been recommended by several people that we try to see the opening of the dam at Aratiatia Rapids and then make a stop at Huka Falls.

    Sometimes plans work out beautifully and today was one of those days.

    We got to the rapids and the dam was opened. Wow! Thousands of litres of water are released from the Aratiatia Dam creating a spectacular flow of water through a narrow gorge. The surging rapids have been harnessed to produce environmentally sustainable hydroelectric power.

    What we learned from a Dutch tourist is that some of the most memorable scenes from Peter Jackson's movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, are when the dwarves are escaping from the captivity of the Elves by hiding in barrels which were thrown downstream. Filming was done at two locations, one of them being at the Aratiatia Rapids on the Waikato River.

    Aratiatia Rapids were an ideal setting for the scene because the spillway turned the otherwise dry gorge into a fast flowing waterfall.

    The film crew dropped 20 to 25 barrels down the rapids every time there was a dam release. They worked with a local river company to safely release and retrieve the barrels. The Hobbit crew spent two days shooting the scene.

    The Dutch tourists also recommended a 1 1/2 boat tour to the Huka Falls but that boat had already left so we drove to a short trail that led to the falls.

    The Waikato River, New Zealand's longest river, flows north from Lake Taupo between banks 100 metres apart. Just before the Huka Falls it enters a shallow ravine of hard volcanic rock. The river that had flowed gently now roars at great speed along the ravine before bursting out over Huka Falls. The water at the base of the 11 m falls is a beautiful aqua colour but very turbulent.

    We walked over a small footbridge at the top of the falls which put us pretty closeup close to the powerful display of water blasting by. The boat would have taken us right to the edge of the falls. I think that that would have been pretty exciting!

    We drove on to a very good Italian lunch in pretty Taupo and then ended our day by driving for another hour to our Air Bnb in Taradale near Napier.

    And talk about a small world ... I spent 5 years of high school with our Air BnB hostess’ sister in Mississauga!!!!!! Nancy Otley!!!
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  • Day70

    Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest

    February 18 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    As mentioned in the previous blog, we are staying 7 driving minutes away from the centre of Rotorua (away from the sulphur smell). And just down the street from us is one of many trails leading into the Whakarnewarewa Forest.

    This forest is one of the oldest ‘exotic’ forests in New Zealand. It was originally planted in the early 1900’s with 170 different species of trees. Today, only a handful of those original trees remain – but a 6-ha stand of Californian Redwoods continue to grow and they are huge. In the 1970’s, the forest was opened to the public for recreation.

    After our tour of Rotorua, we had a few hours to kill before dinner so walked into the forest and followed signs for the Mokopuna Trail. It took us about 1 hr to do the walk as it was 3.6 km long. It is well used and we met people riding their bikes, walking their dogs and just taking a quiet stroll through the woods. Our kids and grandkids would love it.

    About halfway around the loop, we came to a Visitors Centre. We had heard about an expensive
    night time canopy walk through the redwoods, but we were delighted to learn that we could come back at dusk and do the walk for $30 NZ each. Well, $25 Cdn sounded reasonable to us and it sure looked intriguing! We decided to go.

    This award-winning, eco-tourism walk is 700 metres long, has 28 suspension bridges and 27 platforms and takes about 40 minutes to complete. With the height of the walkway ranging between 9-20 metres, we were presented with a magical, birds’ eye perspective of the forest below and treetops above.

    I felt that the whole experience was amazing. A light artist from Napier , David Trubridge, had been hired to build and install 30 gorgeous lanterns in the forest and to set up a light show in the trees. Our first wow moment was when we walked on a suspension bridge and were surrounded by ‘fireflies’. An amazing effect. But then, we had many more wow moments.

    It was all very amazing and pretty spectacular. We would recommend this walk to anyone who is in the area. I don’t think that the photos will do it justice.

    P.S. Chris found a hat!!!
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  • Day70

    Rotorua - Part 2

    February 18 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    There are so many places to see in Rotorua. You could spend 2 weeks here and not see or do everything.

    We had heard about the Government Gardens, on the lake’s edge in downtown Rotorua, so we walked there.

    This site is of legendary and historical importance to local Maori people, for here many significant battles have taken place. In the late 1800s, the Maori people gifted 50 acres of this land to the crown "for the benefit of the people of the world". The land was a scrub-covered geothermal area with several therapeutic pools. The scrub was cleared and formal gardens planted. Several large trees remain from those early days, including multi-trunked Japanese firs and an unusual Californian weeping redwood.

    In 1908, the New Zealand government opened a large and elaborate bath house for tourists which was built in the Elizabethan Tudor style of architecture.

    Today this building houses a museum which has been closed for renovations. Two years ago, it was deemed unsafe in earthquake situations so it has been in the process of being fixed up for the past 2 years.

    In the early 1930s a second building, the Blue Baths, was constructed in an ornate Mediterranean style. Donna told us that she has soaked in those hot tubs. These were among the first baths in the world to allow both males and females in the same pool. Rather than medicinal, the purpose of the Blue Baths was fun - a chance to socialise in the style of Hollywood movie stars. Fully restored to their original glory, the Blue Baths offer tourists the chance to relax in heated waters in an architecturally stunning setting.

    By now, we were getting hungry, so we headed to Eat Streat where we chose to eat Thai Food in one of the many restaurants, the Wild Rice restaurant. Delicious food.

    The school teacher who we had met earlier had suggested that we go to Sulfur Point/Bay, so that is where we went before heading home.

    Sulphur Bay is a perfect example of Rotorua's famous geothermal environment.

    The constantly changing landscape around the bay is quite eerie and alien. Silica flats, rocky terraces, and sulphur ledges are next to active boiling mud pools and steam vents. Even the water is interesting. Its milky colour is the result of sulphur particles that are suspended in the water.

    The bay's closeness to feeding grounds and the warmth generated by the geothermal activity, means the area attracts many native birds. Apparently there are 60 different species of birds here including the banded dotterel, the scaup, and three types of gull in this protected wildlife reserve.

    We saw a lot of gulls. I read that many of them have damaged feet due to the sulphur water eating away at the webbing. No food can live in the sulphur waters so the birds have to look for it elsewhere. I did read that the gulls have learned how to chase fish into these water where they will die because of the lack of oxygen. I am not sure if that is true but if so, it is another amazing fact of nature.

    It was definitely a unique place to visit.
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  • Day70

    Rotorua Part 1

    February 18 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    Chris, Donna and I are in Rotorua for a few nights, but staying in an Air Bnb house, just on the outskirts of the town. You have to know that Rotorua is nick-named The Sulphur City as it has a rather unique, pungent aroma - somewhat like rotten eggs...

    The whole town is built over a geothermal area and apparently there is nowhere quite like this area in all of New Zealand. It is lovely. Numerous lakes, lush green forests, steaming hotspots and natural hot pools are inside and outside of this town. Views are always changing so we didn’t have fun trying to decide which photos to include.

    Rotorua can be an expensive place to visit but we were able to visit some wonderful places on a
    6 km walk, all for free. I will make this blog into two footprints as we have so many good photos.

    We started in Kuirau Park, a free public park in the northern end of Rotorua. Walking trails lead to numerous areas of vigorous geothermal activity. We were assured that as long as we stayed on the cool side of the safety fences, it would be generally quite safe. New eruptions do occur from time to time.

    In 2001 mud and rocks the size of footballs were suddenly hurled 10 metres into the air as a new steam vent spontaneously announced its arrival. Two years later, similar eruptions provided a real bonus for delighted visitors.

    In early Maori times the small lake in the park was much cooler and was known as Taokahu. Legends tell a story about a beautiful young woman named Kuiarau who was bathing in the waters when a taniwha (legendary creature) dragged her to his lair below the lake. The gods above were angered and made the lake boil so the Taniwha would be destroyed forever. From that time on, the bubbling lake and the steaming land around it have been known by the name of the lost woman, although the spelling has changed a little.

    In one area of the park, there was a long trough with hot water in it. We took our socks and shoes off and soaked our feet in the hot water. So nice...

    From the park, we walked to the Maori village of Ohinemutu. This place is home to the Ngāti Whakaue tribe, who gifted the land on which the city of Rotorua was built. The location was chosen for its lakeside setting and abundant geothermal energy, used for cooking, bathing and heating.

    The whole town seems to steam. As we walked along we could clearly hear hissing and bubbling sounds. Houses occupied by locals are dotted about amongst this bubbling activity and we kind of wondered how the villagers can live there. And then there is the rotten egg smell. I guess they have gotten used to it.

    We passed a community centre with lots of old carvings on it. Stories are told in the carvings (whakairo) with every swirl and cut having a meaning. This keeps the Maori history, culture and identity alive.

    A little further we watched a large group of kids on a school field trip learning Maori games with sticks. Wouldn’t you know, we met one of the teachers, Evan Harrison, whose sister teaches grade 1 at King George School in Guelph!!! That’s the school Chris taught at for his whole career and the school that our grandkids go to now. What a small world.

    Walking on we saw a pretty church and decided to go in. As churches go, St. Faith’s Anglican Church is tiny, but it packs a hefty punch. Once you step inside, your senses are assaulted from all sides.

    It is intimate and cozy and is covered with vibrant Maori carvings (whakairo), wall panels (tukutuku) along with Māori and European decorations of stained glass. One of the windows features a etched glass image of Christ wearing a Maori cloak, appearing to walk on the waters of Lake Rotorua, visible through the glass.

    Behind the church is a military graveyard and memorial. The tombs are above-ground due to the geothermal activity.
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  • Day68

    The Garden Party and Variety Show

    February 16 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    This is our last day in lovely Te Miro. Donna had arranged for all of us to contribute to a variety show in the afternoon, followed by a potluck dinner. It was a lot of fun.

    In the morning, the three MacQueen kids came to the cottage and we made sock puppets for our part in the show. We practiced before lunch and things were working out. Everyone listened and had a lot of fun. Then Chris worked with Liam, the mini engineer to make a chess/checker board that turned out great!

    Donna and I prepared some food for the potluck - chicken, corn on the cob, salads etc. and at 3:30, everyone who was coming, arrived with food and instruments, ready to go.

    Chris had set up our puppet stage in the garden and had arranged chairs for the audience. We were ready.

    It was a super show with all 13 people contributing an act - a Shakespeare reading, storytelling, puppets, clarinet solo, guitar playing, and singing. It was all fun.

    Our potluck dinner turned out well and we had a delightful afternoon with the wonderful MacQueen family!
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