A Side Trip to New Zealand
Mon 3 Jan 2011 - Fri 14 Jan 2011 24 °C
Matamata was really just a place to sleep. Although, our caravan park had some really pleasant hot springs that Anita and I took advantage of at 7:00am in the morning. Very peaceful. After packing up, we drove out to HOBBITON! Yes we toured the leftover Hobbiton film set. It was oh so cute. I'm sure it would have been more meaningful to someone who had actually seen all of the Lord of the Rings movies, but I still enjoyed it. Trevor, Mark and Anita were all very joyous. It was also an interesting tour as at that moment they were building and renovating the set for the upcoming movie "The Hobbit" so we got to see two brand new hobbit holes.
Following Hobbiton we drove out to the East Coast and stopped in Whakatane (pronounced Fakatane). January 6 was the big day for our active marine volcano tour. PeeJay Tours took us and a handful of other eager tourists on a 2.5 hour boat ride out to White Island. It was a little rough going and Trevor and I both yaked - as did many passengers. White Island was a geothermal delight. We saw a decaying sulphur mine, bubbling mud pools, boiling streams, steaming hills, a green boiling lake and an acidic gas vent. Apparently the air there is so acidic the guides have to buy new backpacks nearly monthly. We also had to wear gas masks and candies to mask the dryness and sulphur taste, and were told that if the steam started blowing at us that we were to put on our masks, turn our backs to it and cover up our cameras. After the tour, some of us went swimming before having lunch on the boat. We then returned to Whakatane and sped off to Rotorua.
January 7 was geothermal excitement day. We drove down halfway to Taupo to visit Orakei Korako which is a geothermal park accessible by a small ferry across a river. We spent several hours wandering around taking in all the geothermal glory. The only feature that did not indulge us was the Diamond Geyser. We saw the eruption of the horizontal Sapphire Geyser, checked out various bubbling mud pools, a wall of white silica terraces called the Golden Fleece, gazed over large areas of colourful algae growing in the hot water that trickles over the land towards the river. There was also a small cave with beautiful azure blue coloured water that apparently can clean your jewellery. Unfortunately several large rocks came loose from the cave entrance and seriously injured some tourists so they had closed the cave off. We really enjoyed visiting this park as it was much less crowded than the other busier geothermal parks of Rotorua. After Orakei Korako we headed back up to Rotorua to drop Mark off at the bus station. Unfortunately for the remaining three of us, it set our forward travel back by an hour and a half and we were unable to find accommodation that night. We slept in the car at a rest stop.
Bright and early the morning of January 8 we (well, at least me) were woken by two rooseters in a nearby tree cockadoodle-dooing their hearts out. We could have killed them. It was so bright and early that it was not even bright when they began. It did, however, get us on the road a little earlier although we had to stop again down the road to take a nap. Eventually we arrived in Martinborough where we picked up some maps and information about the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve. The reserve is close to the south coast of the North Island. Once we found our way there, we hiked the trail up to see the Pinnacles - also featured in Lort of the Rings. They were quite stunning. Huge slender piles of hard-packed stones that looked like chimneys. We continued the trail to a lookout where we could see the pinnacles on one side and the ocean on the other. It was quite spectacular. The most interesting find of the day, however, goes to all of the fossilized shells we saw in the middle of honey-coloured boulders. Fantastic!
From the park, we drove back up through Martinborough and on to Wellington where we spent one very cold and windy night before our ferry trip from the North Island to the South Island.