Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kia Ora & Welcome to Aotearoa- North Island

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

This quote answers the question- Why travel to New Zealand when there such are beautiful unexplored places in India too? 

Yd and I asked ourselves this question too while we were planning our second international travel. We have spent more than a year in just thinking about an overseas trip but hadn't taken time to plan it seriously until one day we realized that it is high time . There was a major last minute change in plan regarding our travel destination.That's when the whole idea of travelling to New Zealand came up, exactly how this island nation rose from the Pacific Ocean years ago. 

This trip wouldn't have been possible without Pick Your Trail. I liked the whole idea of someone helping us to curate a personalized travel plan which could suit every traveller's taste. They made our travel plan happen with a very short notice and made a skeleton framework of our trip itinerary which could fit in our budget and also the few days we could give for a holiday. 

'Kia Ora' , which means be well/healthy in Maori language. That is how a Kiwi will greet you. The Maoris are the early Polynesian settlers of New Zealand who are responsible for the development of the unique culture and language in New Zealand. It is the initial Maori settlers who led to the discovery of a lot of scenic spots and places in the country. They started naming every place simultaneously as and when they discovered; which is why we have such sweet sounding Maori names of places in New Zealand despite the European influence.

Aotearoa( The Maori name for New Zealand) - A small beautiful country in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean which is divided into North Island( Te Ika-a-Māui)and South Island (Te Waipounamu) by the Cook Strait. This is a land of volcanoes, glaciers, numerous clean lakes, mountain ranges, thick lush- green national parks, beautiful long stretch of scenic routes through the countryside, fresh air, sparse population and of course the lovely Kiwis. 100%Pure New Zealand gives all the details that travellers would like to know. 

For a change, we decided to ditch the traditional research  that we carry out about the place and just went ahead with the basic plan we were provided with by PYT. It was a travel plan with minimal expectations which helped us a lot. Although we had kept in mind the cities we were going to stay in and had our accommodation sorted out , we did not get into the finer details about the places to visit there. We could have done a little more research if only we had so much time in hand before planning this trip.

The 15 hour long journey from Bangalore to Auckland and back ate into the travel hours we had for our New Zealand trip. It was a nostalgic feeling to see the board saying -Selmat Datang, at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia. 


So, we spent a nice time clicking cheesy airport selfies and I was posing with a cute teddy. How I wish I could have carried it back with me to India! We were welcomed at the Auckland airport by this huge statue which can give one a feel of being in the 'Home of Middleearth'.

We landed at the Auckland Airport, got our local sim cards, topped them with internet connection, picked up the travel guide pamphlets and went to Budget travels for renting our pre-booked car to travel in the North Island. If one has a valid Indian driving license and one can drive well, then New Zealand is the place to enjoy the driving experience. At least, I felt that way. Never had I fathomed when I had been to a driving school that I would get a chance to drive along such scenic routes. The experience was surreal.  We had asked for a manual driven car but ended up getting an automatic car. Just a simple lesson given by a Morgan Freeman look-alike man from Budget rentals helped us in getting over the fear of driving an automatic car. I enjoyed driving it a lot, although I felt I had better control over the vehicle while driving in the South Island where we had rented out a manual car. You can see me posing with the beautiful Toyota Yaris. I so loved the feel of the bright blue car against the colourful scenic surroundings of the North Island. 

Wish I could drive with such ease in Namma Bengaluru :-(
The route we took to go around place in the North Island

                 Auckland- Hahei-Coromandel- Thames- Cambridge-Waitomo-Rotorua

We covered this route in 4 days which obviously could never do justice to the place around but we had to make the best of what we had at hand. We were like backpackers, moving everyday in our car from one place to the other. The maximum time that we spent was in the car driving and taking a quick pit-stop to visit locations of interest on the way. 

Our first stop was in Auckland for half a day, just enough to relax and get over the jet lag. We stayed at an architecturally beautiful and very homely Airbnb stay 'FANTAIL ROOM - MILFORD MANOR' in Shakespeare Road, Auckland.  The place was around an hour drive from Auckland airport but with google maps in hand we did not have any problem in locating the place.  It was the best welcome one could expect in a new country. 

That evening of Day 1 we spent by walking down the streets and lanes appreciating the calmness around and also wondering as to why all the restaurants were closed when it was just 7:00 PM and the streets were deserted even though when there was ample light in the sky. Thankfully, a Kashmiri restaurant was open where we could get a  warm and delicious meal. To be able to find an Indian restaurant which served vegetarian meal was a very promising start to our trip. We walked around a bit exploring lanes and by-lanes appreciating the exquisite architecture of the houses around. When it was finally dark at around 10:00 PM we decided to head back and have a comfortable sleep. 

Milford Manor- In conversation with our host Heather

So we mastered the art of taking good selfies after this trip
Heather- Our wonderful host
Heather's house was just perfect for us to get over our tiredness and be ready for the next day's long drive. I loved the way she called ' Archaana'. It was so sweet, in fact everyone in NZ called me that way, so much that I started introducing myself that way to the others.

Day 2 - The bright sun was up sooner than we had expected. Waking up to the beautiful view from the garden and sitting by the window enjoying the mirth and the calmness in a beautiful New Zealand morning was something that I miss even now. After having a quick vegetarian breakfast( Uhhh... such a relief to find vegetarian food everywhere without much difficulty) and interacting with our host Heather, we headed to Lake Pupuke, which is a heart shaped fresh water lake that occupies a volcanic crater and  provides  drinking water for the residents there. 

Breakfast served to us was just the way it was told. Museli, fresh lime juice made from the huge lemons we picked from the garden, milk, multi-grain toasted bread, lots of fresh fruits like kiwi, huge succulent grapes, fresh oranges, and strawberry and of course coffee. It was nice to prepare breakfast although it killed a bit of our time. But I feel that only because of getting the freedom to prepare breakfast with our mini kitchen ware and the ingredients provided, we felt at home. 

Takapuna Beach  was clean, beautiful so serene in that bright morning. We could get a beautiful view of the volcanic islandRangitoto from here.  If we had an extra day to spend in Auckland we would have surely made a visit to Rangitoto Island and also another day trip to Waiheke Islandmainly known for its beautiful beaches and the vineyards.  There are timed  ferry tours which take travellers to these places from DevonportIn order to take a quick look of the city we took a short ferry ride from Devonport.  To explore the city one needs time as there are many things to do in Auckland. One could go to the Art Gallery, attend the Maori cultural performance at the Auckland War Memorial, Sky Jump and Sky walk from the SkyTower etc... There wasn't anything we could do being in the city for just half an hour, so we decided to head back, pack our bags and leave for Hahei, Coromandel. Our next Airbnb stay was waiting for us. 

Takapuna Beach, Auckland

Lake Pupuke,Takapuna, Auckland

Yd- pointing at the Rangitoto Island as seen from Takapuna Beach

View from the ferry

This is how the roads were all along to Hahei. 

Absolutely flawless roads, clear road signs, hardly anyone seen breaking traffic rules even on highways, rarely get to hear the constant honking which is seen in India and if you are slow everyone behind waits for you to give way at the slow bay area. There are designated places with roads signs that inform travellers about scenic locations of interest that they should look out for. All cars go speeding and only reduce speed when the sign boards tells them to do so. We were in awe of the roads and the scanty population that helped the government in implementing such fine work and road rules. Every traveller is handed over the ' Driving in NZ' rule book when they approach the car rentals. In NZ they also follow left side driving on the road we did not face much problem in adhering to simple rules and believing that the others would also follow suit. Apparently, everyone does follow road traffic rules here while driving no matter how empty a road might be. 

There were huge pine trees for a pretty long stretch during our journey. Travelling to the Coromandel route is a must do activity during NZ winters. 

Spotted while we were approaching closer to Hahei

The Alderman Islands seen behind

Clicked while beginning our walk towards Cathedral Cove

Since the route was so beautiful we stopped whenever and wherever possible to click pictures and relish our moments. We started in the morning and reached only late afternoon.  We stayed at the Hahei Gateway 2, where  our host Adair and Rick were quite accommodating when we informed them about our delay. In fact, the moment we reached the home stay in Hahei, Adair was kind enough to fix a Hahei beach explorer activity and also suggested us to head out for a short walk to the Cathedral Cove before it got too late. They suggested us a specific time at night when there would be low tide so that we could visit the hot water beach. There were too many things to do and we had very less time. We were also starving because the breakfast and the mid-way snacks which we had was not enough to subside our hunger pangs much. Since everyone closes down early here in the evening, our plan was to complete dinner by 6:00 PM. We had timed our plans for the next few hours. Hahei, had already begun to surprise us. Our hosts were one of the most chilled out Kiwis from Hahei. It was amazing to be able to get such hosts who could make our one day holiday extremely worthwhile. The typical accent in which they spoke brought out the mirth from within. This was the only home-stay among the ones we had selected, had pets in their property. I was initially skeptical about choosing this place considering that I am not comfortable with pets around. Thankfully nothing of this bothered us during the stay. The location of this Airbnb was perfect. We could take a short drive to the parking lot to start the Cathedral Cove walk and Hahei explorer and also the way to the Hot water beach at night. It was neatly kept and perfectly placed for us. Google map again brought us to exact address without any problem. Their house had a huge camper van parked which made it evident that they were the cool travellers. We liked the concept of hiring camper vans and going around to places. We saw many using camper vans and parking them at designated places which were meant only for camper van parking. These parking areas had bio-toilets around which made the process of camping more clean. The strict laws which they had a great hand in maintaining the cleanliness around. Apparently it was the Green Party which had a great hand in bringing in such awareness and forming strict rules.

Their house felt warm and welcoming because of the open and simple architecture. It was simple yet beautiful. The doors were made of transparent glass everywhere. I can describe this as a very beach like stay with sophistication. The room was small but adequate and well equipped. They did not provide breakfast but we could cook something using the microwave. Their pet dog Bao was cute compared to the other huge ferocious one. I was relieved because none of these pets bothered me. I remember this dialogue of Adair when she saw me freaking out at the sight of two dogs running towards me and ready to smell and lick me. She said in her very typical accent,' He won't hurt a fly......' 

This was from in front of our room- The common sit out

Our cute room

Our car parked

Our room was the one of the left

That's Yd who couldn't get enough of this place even after half an hour

This is the camper van parked outside their house

We parked our vehicle and headed over to the Cathedral Cove walking track. It took us around 1 hour thirty minutes to reach the Cathedral Cove which was the last stop on this route. There were multiple bays which we one could visit while walking to the main cove. The view was scenic and the walk was perfect with  bright shining sun clear sky and breathtaking views. The walk to the Cathedral Cove took almost an hour or two. To reach the Cathedral Cove we had to cross  Gemstone Bay, Stingray Bay, Champagne bay and the Mares Leg Cove. The Gemstone bay has a Snorkel trail which attracts a lot of marine adventure enthusiast. The Maori name for Cathedral Cove is Motauhi which means "a place to debate in". Above the Cathedral Archway was once a Pa site which is where local Maori gathered to discuss matters of Te Whanganui-a-Hei (the great bay of Hei). Cathedral Cove is also called as Te Whanganui-A-Hei. The marine reserve was started in 1992 where there are rich and varied habitats within its boundaries and the reserve is helping to restore, increase and maintain the diversity in this marine environment. The entire area is maintained by the Department of Conservation. 

The first view as we came to the Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

The evening view in Cathedral Cove

The best part of the day was yet to unfold. We went to the Pour House for dinner which was at around 6:30 PM and we were few of the last customers in the restaurant. The evening breeze had a slight chill which was perfect to enjoy a warm meal after a tiring day. We walked back to our room, got ready and drove to Hot water beach Hahei at around 9:00 PM carrying the spade which Rick had given us. It was a funny situation for us ; we had worn shorts with slippers, had a thick rain-jacket on,  warm skull caps and we were walking to a beach at 9:00 PM in pitch darkness with a spade in hand to enjoy in a hot water beach. We used our mobile lights to spot the location where all we could see was people in small groups huddled together in one place lazing around, lying down and enjoying the hot water springs. We were a little sad thinking that we had missed that crucial time of the low tide. But little did we know that the magic of that night was yet to unfold. We found a place for us where we made a huge moist sand mound and sat on it barefoot dipping our feet in a pit  full of cold sea water. We dug a bit with the spade when warm water started coming in slowly. In few minutes the temperature of the water increased and our legs were dipped in adequately warm water. Then the sea water suddenly started retreating and hot water started replacing it. Our feet were soaked in warm mud and suddenly hot water seeped in. It was so hot that we were doing a hop-skip and jump unable to stand there even more that a second. Finally, we found the perfect spot to sit at around 10:30 PM  where the hot water and the sea water started mixing. The temperature was just perfect and the place was perfect for us to sit in the open wearing raincoat and cap because the breeze was too cold to bear. It was a natural pedicure with warm sand around and water just enough to soak our feet till the ankle. Yd had set his tripod and camera by then and was getting his timed shots searching for something that could make his day worthwhile. Slowly, people started moving away and we were on our own. The sky had cleared up and it was pitch dark with a million stars scattered around. Nothing could beat the 360 degree view that we were getting. I had never seen so many stars in the sky. The last time I saw many stars in the sky was only in Kakkabe, Coorg. This was seeming just out of the world. 

It was that breezy and chilly night as I sat on a mound of mud with Yd holding his camera bag and gear under the starry sky enjoying the natural pedicure sitting in the hot water beach when Yd noticed a bright light where the stars seemed more concentrated and the light seemed bright at only one place. He felt that it could be the milky way which was ready to pop up any time. We waited and waited for almost an hour and more, downloaded the App for finding out about the position of the stars and constellations sitting there, tried finding out the apt spot and it was then that Yd noticed the milky way which was radiating its aura but was stuck to the horizon and had decided not to show its face to the thirsty eyes of the camera and the anxious photographer. This picture was one among those 50 odd pictures that Yd clicked in his attempt to capture the milky way. 

That moment was magical. It was just us, the stars and the lone tree. 

Day3 - The decision to walk to the Cathedral Cove the previous day and take the Hahei Explorer boat tour  the next day morning was a good one we had taken. The walk to Cathedral Cove is a must where we get to spend more time in the cove and also get an experience of the scenic route.  It certainly is a photographer's dream. Hahei Explorer is a timed 1 hour speed boat ride which takes us in the Pacific ocean which travels along 14km and is made of magnificent coastlines. It is a perfect place for Scuba, Snorkeling , fishing( specific to only one small area with prior permit), swimming, exploring the various stalactite and stalagmite formations. People go here for bird watching, enjoying a swim in the ocean, talking a walk along and also for spotting the Orca whales which are a very rare sight. 

This is the mighty Wai Ora Ana blowhole where one can feel the power of  Papatuanuku Mother Earth, Tane God of the forest, and Ranginui Sky Father. 

The Maoris believed that if they came to this place and absorbed the rays of the sun and spent time here it had a healing power in itself. One can feel the power of Papatuanuku Mother Earth, Tane God of the forest, and Ranginui Sky Father in the mighty Wai Ora Ana blowhole. It is a truly magical place. This sea cave is under a gigantic rock cylinder which is 80ft high.

Hahei Explorer boat tour

While we stopped on the way from Hahei to Coromandel 

We spent a couple of hours enjoying in the freezing cold Pacific Ocean after the Hahei explore tour. Adair and Rick were so cool about us walking into our rooms with sand all over. In fact, they suggested that we shouldn't go without having a swim in the Pacific ocean.  The experience was just out of the world, with no one to bother us and no valuables to take care off. We were so relaxed in the beach that we did not want to leave Hahei soon. 
I was enjoying driving this blue beauty

The route all along the Coromandel was so scenic that I was too excited to drive. Yd and I were competing for the steering wheel, just to get the feel of driving on one of the most picturesque routes all along our trip. We were romancing our company, the bright sunny sky with strong chilling breeze and stopping by wherever we wanted. There were hardly people around, which is what made us even more excited. It was a respite to our eyes and our soul to find places with very less people around. Yd picked up some beautiful shells from here, one of them being the Paua shell, which was available for more than 20 NZ dollars. I was lucky to have got a gift from nature directly.  We stopped by at places like these, to have our meal for the day, which was bread slices with cheese and chips. Simple and filling meal with water and fresh fruits. We had to cover a long distance  so we tried hurrying up by around 2:00 PM. We had to reach Cambridge , where our next Airbnb stay was booked.

The beautiful place from where Yd picked up many shells

We had our Waitomo Glowworm cave expedition booked by PYT beforehand. The advantage of staying in Cambridge was that , it was very near to Waitomo and Rotorua, which was our next destination. It was a quaint little town. After fuelling up our tank we reached our home stay. The Coromandel - Thames route was so captivating that we were delayed by almost 4-5 hours. We reached only by 7:00 PM when all restaurants and shops start closing down in NZ. Our hosts( Will and Narelle) were kind enough to give us the access to the room, despite us getting late. We stayed in their small sleep-out cottage which was cosy and comfortable, just perfect for an overnight stay. Only one Indian restaurant was open at 10:00 PM, NZ timing, Cardamom restaurant which turned out to be a desi restaurant with desi staff . We quickly packed rice, dal and chapatis which were smelling delicious even as they were being packed. The quantity was enough for dinner and the next day's mid-day meal. 

Day 4 - We were quick to get ready in the morning and have nice breakfast cooked and served with love by our host. 

Our beautiful home stay in Cambridge

We enjoyed playing with their son Kepler, did a quick baby shoot and left for Waitomo, which was a forty minutes ride from there. The ride was smooth and since we reached on time, we had enough parking space. The Glowworm Cave experience started and lasted for an hour. What we saw was nothing less that getting into the world of the movie' Avatar'. The experience was phenomenal, with a lady guiding us initially through the age old caves from where the water entered. The name Waitomo, means water Entering A hole in the ground.' It is home to an awesome underground world that has captivated millions of visitors for more than a century. The ancient labyrinth is made of limestone caves and formations. A silent boat tour takes us along the dark caves only to unfold this magic. 


So, how does this whole phenomena work?

Arachnocampa Luminosa ( spider-like, light -producing larva) or the Glowworm species, which is unique to New Zealand. It is the larval stage of the two winged insect which gives off the light to attract food in the form of other flying insects. To survive, the glowworm needs a special habitat like humidity- to prevent it from drying out, a sheltered surface to hang from and suspend its sticky, spider-like feeding lines, a calm atmosphere to prevent the lines from tangling, darkness to allow its light to attract food and a plentiful supply of insects to eat. The Waitomo Glowworm caves provides an excellent environment with an abundance of  insects brought inside the cave by the river. These caves have been formed over the last 24 million years , where the landscapes have been formed due to faulting, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Again, this place was discovered by the ancient Maori who was persuaded to explore it once again by an English surveyor, after which slowly it was known to all. 

There is also an Aranui Cave just around this cave, which is also open for exploration. 


Our tour operator just after the Glowworm cave experience
After having a light snack at the Waitomo cave canteen and picking up our Glowworm cave souvenirs, we kept looking for more options to go around as we had a lot of time in hand. Cambridge was just an hour away and Hobbiton , being so close was not one of those mandates in our travel itinerary. We went to  the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, which was one of the better things to do.  After taking a power nap in the car we left for this place, which was just a short drive from the Glowworm cave. The main reason that we came here was to have a closer look at the Kiwi, which is the National bird as well as the most endangered species there. Their population has been depleting so much because of the trouble-making possum's.  The best part of the experience was that I could hold the Kakariki or the parakeet on my palm and allow it to have its feed. One delicate and beautiful experience it was for the day!!! The money we paid was only to watch the Kiwi in its artificially created nocturnal environment and also having the parakeet close to me.  

Once, we were back from Cambridge, we left for Rotorua, which was just an hour and half drive from Cambridge town, Waikato. We wanted to reach there before afternoon so that we go spend time in exploring the place there.  Our accommodation was booked at the Bella Vista Motel, Rotorua ( By PYT), which was really comfortable and good for staying, make light snack like bread-butter- toast, coffee/milk. The room was well equipped with a mini-fridge, a toaster and all the cutlery that we needed. Because of our booking done at the hotel, we also got a 50% discount to visit Wai -O -Tapu, The Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua. It is a part of a scenic reserve administered by the Department of Conservation and has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system, in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. 

The zone is located right on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera( depression) within the active Taupo volcanic Zone , covering around 18 The volcanic activity dates back about 160,000 years. The Wai-O - Tapu stream forms an integral part of the drainage system which later flows into the Waikato river and to the Tasman Sea. Boiling springs and volcanic gases introduce numerous minerals into the water which account for no fish life in the stream. The water is boiling at around 300 degree Celsius. It seemed like a large scale Chemistry Lab with the pungent odour, rotten egg smell of hyrdogen sulfide and a wide range of colours from orange, yellow, green, purple, red-brown to black.

It took us 2-3 hours to go around 25 spots in this place. We were in the last slot for the day, as they close by 6:00 PM in the evening. After rushing through the entire place, we felt satisfied that we were able to cover this place in Rotorua. A must see place to make your five senses come alive :-) 

Before heading back to our hotel, we spent time exploring the Geothermal boiling mud pools of Wai-O-Tapu. With the extremely high thermal activity underneath the liquefied mud was bursting out in spurts, rising and falling in patterns only to amaze the eyes of the spectators. This mud is used as face-pack and had high cosmetic value; t is sold as the Rotorua mud. 

Te-Puia is also a must visit for its hot geysers, but we did not have enough time to go there. Overall, Rotorua was a very interesting place to visit.

Iron oxide deposits on the barks

Artist's palette


Boiling mud pools

Once , we were done with our visit to Wai-O Tapu, we came back to our hotel, relaxed a bit and went out in search for dinner. The hotel staff had left by 7:00 PM and we were finding it difficult to get something good to eat. We had returned our rental car back to the Budget help desk at the Rotorua airport so we walked around a bit. There was a petrol bunk  with a super market, again run by Indians, which was open 24/7. It was a relief to be able to get coffee, cup cakes, bread, jam and spreads at any time during the night. We found a contact for an Indian restaurant from them and ordered food to our hotel room. The Maharaja Take Away hotel served Indian food in the perfect way. The dal, rice, roti and sabzi provided were delicious enough to satisfy our desi taste buds. 

While we were walking back to our hotel, we suddenly noticed thick smoke outside many of the houses. The smoke was escaping from the drains which were just outside their houses. Initially , we thought it was some insect repellent but when we went close and realized how the odour was , we found that it was nothing but a thermal hot water pool in everyone's house. Many of them had used it to make a natural hot-water pool around and were enjoying the warmth in the cold weather. When in Rotorua, the Polynesian Spa is a must where we can enjoy a relaxed bath in the hot water mineral bath and spa therapy. We were so exhausted by the walk in Wai-O-Tapu, that all we wanted to do was to eat and sleep.We had to take the early morning flight to Christchurch the next day. Air New Zealand's small flight was ready for us the next day to take us to the beautiful South Island of NZ.


Ydntn said...

Thanks for being a part of this journey :) very well written.

Unknown said...

Beautiful description with pics of NZ. Narration is such that as if I am travelling. Thanks for sharing. :-)

Unknown said...

A virtual walk through of the beautiful New Zealand! Very beautifully written with good description of even the minute things. Keep it up Archana!

Unknown said...

Eagerly waiting for part 2 of the expedition.

GV Krishnan said...

Nicely written Archana..u have brought ur experience alive through ur narration 😊

Power of Words said...

Thanks a lot :-)

Unknown said...

The lake is encompassed by fruitless slopes, with the setting of delightful snow-shrouded mountains.
Car rental hire services in andaman
Andaman holiday tour packages