Happy New Year! I’m playing catch up. Finally, my first post in a series of three to summarize our very busy three weeks leading up to Christmas.
One more walk up Cuba street, this time with our suitcases in tow, we go to the rental car office to pick up the car. Now with miles of scenic highway before us another journey begins. It’s a treat for us to step into the role of tour guides but as of yet we don’t feel quite qualified as this is virgin territory for us on the Northland. From Wellington we drive north for a ways along the coast, past Kapiti island and into Foxton before a Dutch windmill catches our eye and we pull in for lunch.
This turned out to be a rather lengthy lunch stop because when we went into the windmill we noticed they were open for tours and we could climb up to the platform for a look around. It was a very fascinating and educational tour, we walked up looked around and then sat and watched the video about the building of an authentic Norwegian mill after which the one we toured was designed. Everything from the outside in, the building structure to the cogs and wheels were built from wood. During the rest of the drive, LeeAnn and I captured the sights from the backseat as Bob acquainted himself with driving on the left side of the road. The landscape was brilliant green and the hills seemed to go on forever, rolling into eternity. We found out Lake Taupo is huge. At first sight of the shore we made our second stop, briefly snapped a couple of photos and rolled on around the edge into town to settle into the house. It was just up the hill from the edge of the lake with a beautiful walkway within steps of the front door. On our first outing to see the sunset a black swan and her babies posed for some lovely photos.
They were absolutely adorable.
The brilliant sunset helped distract our attention from the brisk cold wind. Huka Falls was first on my must see list for this region which was where we began the next day.
This boiling, rolling, turquoise section of the river was unlike any water feature I’ve ever seen, in nature or man-made. The rushing water was mesmerizing especially when the sun lit it up. Our route from the falls took us north to lake Rotorua for a short walk and a picnic lunch. This stop gave us a great opportunity to show Bob and LeeAnn many of the bird species that have become familiar to us.
Leaving Rotorua we drove south returning around the opposite side of lake Taupo, and making a stop at a thermal hot springs in the midst of the rich geothermal region where we also got to see mud pots and natural hot springs before soaking in the mineral water for a few luxurious minutes.
After warming ourselves through and through we all agreed it’d be a great time to try some ice cream from the Tip Top Dairy. MMmmmmmm. It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas time. The next day we were on the road again, this time across the North Island to Napier.
During our brief stop in this adorable little town we decided it would be a place we’d like to see more of in the future. We walked down the main street toward the beach. Napier lived up to the what we’d heard about the place, it was a very charming city with unique history that is an integral part of the community today. As we drove out of town we took a detour to the top of TeMata peak and we were rewarded with stunning views of the valley and ocean.
The sky was again a brilliant blue providing a perfect backdrop for the rolling green hills. Following the squiggly road, we descended back down to the valley and drove through miles of cherry, apricot, nectarine, and plum orchards. Unable to resist the opportunity to taste fresh fruit in December, we pulled into one of the roadside stands and picked up a delicious sample to enjoy along the next several miles to our destination for the night in Matinbourough.
The highlights from our two nights here include an exquisite dinner at one of the local wineries that chauffeured us to and from our motel. The next day we drove to Crown Point and walked to the lighthouse and along the beach.
It was another gorgeous day, but as we’d been warned the wind was extraordinarily strong and relentless. On our way back, we stopped into visit the Percy’s dairy. Paul and I met the Percy’s on a train ride in Dunedin in July where they invited us to stop by if we found ourselves on the North Island. They welcomed us just in time for milking and LeeAnn was able to check “milk a cow” off her bucket list.
The rest of us tried our hand at it too. It was a memorable day. After the second night in Martinbourough, we planned an early morning departure in order to make the drive to Cape Palliser before driving into Wellington to catch the evening ferry to Picton. We woke to cloud cover and the closer we got to Cape Palliser, which our hosts referred to as the “end of the world” it really began to feel like that’s exactly where we were headed. The fog thickened as we approached and the road showed evidence of recent destruction. I’m not sure what my traveling companions were thinking but I was certainly feeling uneasy about this venture. I am sure I’d have turned around if I were in the driver’s seat. Optimism was waning in direct proportion to the thickening fog, yet when we parked the car in the gravel at the base of the 200 step staircase leading to the lighthouse, tiny patches of blue sky peeked through the clouds.
Paul and I set out to run up the steps and as I hopped up on the first one, noticed the sign saying to “climb the stairs at your own risk.” All was going well, burning calories by the second, until about halfway up, where one of the steps was unexpectedly slightly higher than the last 100. I caught my toe on the front of the step and as my momentum carried my body forward my shin slammed into the next step. Ouch! Fortunately, painful but a shorter fall up that the potentially catastrophic tumble down. With my shin throbbing, I carried on up and up and up carefully focusing on placing my foot on top of every step. The pain and focus distracted my thoughts from my burning lungs. Getting to the top and looking back, almost straight down to the bottom certainly filled all of us with a feeling of accomplishment.
Before we descended, the blue patches grew considerably and you could watch the clouds clearing rapidly, and by the time we were standing on the beach again, the brilliant blue sky, highlighted by wispy white clouds pulled the turquoise out of the sea. This was such a surprise, an overwhelming gift. We picnicked on the rocks, listening to the splashing surf and watching the kelp swirling in the water below. Then it was time to make our way south to Wellington to catch the evening ferry across the cook strait to Picton.
Clouds returned as we arrived in Wellington boarded the vessel to depart, subduing but not hiding the view. We settled in for the three hour trip and then scurried to get the rental car and pick up Zed so there’d be space for all six of us to travel. Luckily we arrived at our hotel in Blenheim just before the office closed and soon we were snuggled in for the night anticipating the arrival of our friends Dan and Julie the next day.