North Island (November 3, - November 21, 2001)



New Zealand
North Island
South Island
Christmas and New Year's


We arrived safely in Auckland around lunch on Saturday, November 3. It was a 9.5 hour flight, a five hour time change, and about a 15 degree temperature drop from Singapore.

We checked into the Oakwood Manor Motor Inn near the airport and went to sleep for the afternoon. 

Renting a  motor home proved to be difficult as it is almost high season. Whereas the current world situation has decreased tourism in the other parts of the world that we have visited, I think New Zealand has seen an increase. On Sunday morning we arranged a 6 berth motor home rental from Paradise Motorhome Rentals for 15 days. It was to be dropped off to the motel on Monday.  

For the rest of Sunday, we rented a car from 'Rent a Dent'  and drove into downtown Auckland. We visited Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.  Formerly the area was used for holding tanks for storm runoff but the tanks have now been converted into excellent salt water aquariums with acrylic tunnels to walk through. After the aquarium, we visited Mt Eden, the highest (200m) one of the 48 grassy extinct volcanoes in Auckland. 

I did OK driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, but here is a warning to all you people used to driving on the left side of the road :  If you see a rental car with its windshield wipers going on a sunny day, it could be that they are signaling a turn! 

Here is the rest of our North Island trip in "daily journal" format.

Whangarei Falls

Day 3 (Monday) Got motor home. Drove to north to the Bay of Islands. Stopped at Whangarei Falls en route. Parked at Smith's Holiday Camp in Paihia. 

Day 4) Raining buckets & cold. The Information Centre confirmed that there is not much to do in the Bay of Islands when it is raining. We did some grocery shopping, spent time on the Internet, and fixed the leaky sink in the camper van. Spent the night at Bay of Islands Holiday Camp.

Day 5) Mostly sunny. Took King's Tours half day tour of Bay of Islands. We were to go to the 'hole in the rock', and if we saw dolphins, we would be able to swim with them. However, the boat had to duck in behind some of the islands to avoid the large seas for part of the trip. Some people were feeling sea sick but not us - our kids were jumping around in the bow with the waves. The waves were reported to be 4.5m at 'hole in the rock', so we did not get that far. We didn't see dolphins, but we saw Cormorants, Kiri te Kanawa's house (she wasn't there), and the Zane Grey's Odehai Bay.  

The tour guide talked about Scotland and New Zealand being quite similar - the scenery is  very rugged and green. By chance, Mark & Heather met 2 Scottish kids on the boat about the same age as them.  Mark pointed out another similarity between NZ and Scotland - he has trouble understanding both accents. I think poor Heather never even understood the girl's name. 

After the cruise, we drove further north to Kaitia. En route, we stopped at an orchard in Kerikeri where we all had fun looking at orange, avocado and macadamia trees. We did not realize that the North Island has such a temperate climate. We bought uglifruit (delicious oranges with funny looking peel that would be a Marketer's nightmare), tangeloes, macadamias, and mandarins. 

Camper Van

90 mile beach

Long way from home!

Chloe and Mark on tramp

We ate supper on the beach at Ahipara, but stayed the night at the Dune Safari parking lot in Kaitia, because we had an early start the next day for a tour.

Day 6) Mostly sunny with intermittent rain. We took Dune Safari's full day tour of 90 Mile beach. This is the long,  narrow spit of land running up to Cape Reinga on the northern tip of New Zealand. 

The first stop on the tour was a Kauri factory. Kauris are BIG trees. The largest are over 5m in diameter with a straight grain running for 30m or so before branches start. The amazing thing about them (other than their size and grain) is that old forests have been buried and preserved in swamps. Some of the dug up Kauris have been buried for 50,000 years and are still in remarkably good condition - no rot, or insect damage. Furniture and knick knacks are made from this 'swamp kauri'. We saw one sofa for $20,000 which was carved from one piece of wood. We also climbed up an enclosed circular staircase that was entirely carved inside one log. 

After the factory, we drove up 90 mile beach (about 90km actually) to the very tip, stopping to look at the kid's first car.  We then went 'dune surfing': sliding down sand dunes on a plastic toboggan. We visited Cape Reinga, where we realized how far we really were from home. After a picnic lunch, we went back down on the highway stopping at Rawawa Beach to admire the white powder sand, and the Wagener Museum in Houhora. The museum was very interesting with an odd collection of goodies: early typewriters, gramophones, chamber pots, player pianos, music boxes, a symphonia (a large music box that plays record-like metal sheet music), military cap badges, early telephone switches, stuffed animals including kiwis, and guns.  

After the tour, we drove south to Opononi for the evening. We stayed at the Opononi Holiday Park where the kids enjoyed the trampoline.

view from Maungaraho Rock

Day 7) Sunny & cool. We drove to the local museum and learned about Opo, a friendly dolphin who became a national celebrity and then died mysteriously in the '50s. We caught up on e-mail. We visited the Waipoua Kauri Forest where the largest remaining Kauri trees stand. 

We stayed overnight at Maungaraho Rock, the core of an extinct Volcano near Dargaville. At the rock, we overlooked a gorgeous rolling NZ farmland vista.

Day 8) Sunny and cool. Chloe and I tackled Maungaraho Rock. We made it about a third of the way before turning back - it was very steep and slippery and we were not properly equipped.  

We drove to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. This is a wonderful museum with full size displays of early sawmills and tools, some incredible old kauri furniture, and a great Kauri gum collection. Kauri Gum started a mini 'gold rush' - particularly in the north of the North Island. Gum was used in the early 1900's to make varnish. It could be harvested off trees or collected from the ground. Many immigrants, particularly from Yugoslavia, came to NZ to collect gum. 

We then drove to Auckland (stopping for lunch at Orewa and looked at kite surfing - cool!). We were hoping to visit Air New Zealand to sort out our lost Ansett flights in Australia, but their office closed at 1 o'clock on Saturday. Air New Zealand administer our round the world plane tickets. We continued on to Coromandel and stayed at Long Bay Motor Camp.

Cathedral grove

Hot water beach

Day 9) We went into Coromandel & bought a statue that both Sarah and I liked. Strangely enough, it is not made in New Zealand, it was imported from Zimbabwe. Mark spent some time on the Internet chatting with friends back in Canada. Mark also bought a fishing rod that telescopes into a very small package for traveling. 

We stopped at a roadside beach en route to Hahei where Mark lost his hook, line, and sinker - that didn't take long!  We camped in a parking lot at a beach - we don't think we were supposed to but no one complained.

Day 10) We went to Cathedral Cove and then Hot Water beach. We made a hot tub in the sand (the hot water bubbles up through the sand from an underground hot spring) and valiantly tried to stop the tide from running over it.

Drove to Tauranga and parked at the home of Murray and Rae Jamieson and their two kids; Emma and Thomas. Murray is the brother of Peter. Peter and Cathie Jamieson are very good friends from Vancouver. We parked in their driveway overnight. 

Day 11) Thomas turns 7! Heather attends school with Emma(9). Mark goes to Thomas's class to help make ice cream (a science project I think). We visit Air New Zealand to get info on our cancelled Ansett flights in Australia. We park overnight with Murray and Rae again. Met both sets of Thomas' grandparents at the birthday supper. 

Day 12) Drive to Mt Manganui for a quick stop then to Te Puke (rhymes with T-cookie)  to look at Kiwifruit Country. This is a tacky but very interesting explanation of the Kiwi Fruit Industry. Kiwifruit grow on female vines (as many as 1000 per vine - male vines just have flowers) and are picked in a very short period in the fall when the sugar content is right. They are sorted, packed, and stored in a cold room until shipped off to market over the next year. Zespri is the grower owned marketing arm that looks after all product sales for New Zealand. 

Tamaki Maori Village

We continued to Rotorua and visited Air New Zealand again - we're not having much luck getting what we want from them. We had a quick swim at the Polynesian Spa (a hot tub/ pool). At night, we went to the Tamaki Maori Village for Hangi dinner/ Maori cultural experience. The Hangi is the traditional feast cooked with hot rocks in the ground. We heard singing and learned a bit about their culture.

We parked by the lake downtown for the night. It was a bit noisy. 3 other camper vans were there so we thought they couldn't ticket us all... and luckily they did not. But someone drove slowly by honking their horn twice, and we discovered that the garbage truck empties the lakeside cans at 5:00AM. 

Waitomo caves

Day 13) We drove to the Waitomo Glowworm caves. With some excellent help from the Info centre, we got all organized. We signed up for the dry 'Black Water Rafting tour' and then ate lunch at the car park near the Aranui Cave. After lunch, we went to the Cave museum. The afternoon tour was fun - we saw a cave with glow worms (glow works generate a light to attract flies to its web like string). The glowworms made the roof of the cave look like a starry night.  

We stayed overnight at the car park for Ruakiri Scenic Reserve. Sarah and I went on the Ruakuri walk while Mark caught Eels with his fishing rod. He didn't use a hook (thankfully) - the eels would hold on to the bait even as he pulled them out of the water. Mark, Sarah and I went on the walk again at night and saw lots of glow worms just off the pathway.

Day 14) Mark was up early for more Eel fishing. We left Waitomo, with a short stop at the cave museum again, and then drove to the Otorohanga Kiwi House. The Kiwi is a symbol of New Zealand - I assume they chose it because it's kind of cute and is not found anywhere else in the world. Its other attributes are that it is nocturnal, sleeps 20 hours/day, can't see well, and can't fly. We saw lots of other native birds in this excellent aviary. 

We drove on to Taupo and stayed overnight at "Reid's Farm", a free campground in Wairakei Scenic reserve on the Waikato River. We met our first kiwi 'movanners' (camper vanners from New Zealand). They were very nice - they fed the kids marshmallows and gave Mark a raw oyster when they heard he liked seafood. Mark showed his diplomatic streak by swallowing it whole and saying "It was very nice, thank you... No, I do not want another one". 

Mark fishing on the Waikato

Day 15) We went to the Volcanic Activity Centre and Geothermal Information Centre. Taupo is on a line of volcanoes that divides the north island in two  - and it has seen some of the largest eruptions in the world over the last few thousands years. 

We went into Taupo so Mark could get a fishing license. The water is incredibly clear - no silt or algae at all. Mark didn't catch anything even though we told him to fish harder (sorry - that's a family joke). We spent the night at Reid's Farm again

Day 16) Drove to the Orakei Korako thermal area to look at some very colourful hot springs, and then to Hamilton where we stayed at the Bailey's overnight. The Bailey's are old friends of my parents and I last saw then 27 years ago went we went kayaking for the day on a river in Belgium. I don't think they recognized me, but Mark seemed familiar. He is about the same age as I was when I last saw them. We had a good evening and a great supper including Heather's favourite dessert - homemade Pavlova. 

Day 17) We said our "thank yous " to the Bailey's after lunch, and drove to Auckland. We dropped off the motor home and stayed at the Oakwood Manor Motor Inn again.

Day 18) We rented a car again from Rent a Dent and went to Waiheke Island via ferry. I had the best milkshake I've ever had - Lemon and Gin flavour. After lunch, we visited Stonyridge winery, where the wife of Chloe's English teacher from Toronto had worked a few years ago. It was not open to the public on the day we visited, but we had phoned ahead and got to walk around the grounds. The assistant manager gave us a short explanation of the growing and wine making operation.

Day 19) Sarah went to the Ellerslie Flower Show with Rae Jamieson and her Mum all day. The kids and I battled over homework in the morning. They sure fell out of the habit of doing homework in the camper van. To celebrate the hour or so of work they did do, the kids and I went to Rainbow's End Amusement Park in the afternoon. All the kids and I went on the 'Fear Fall' - a chair that rises 60m up a tower, and then free falls 50m before coming to a slow stop in the last 10 metres. It was the girl's first time on this kind of ride and they did very well - although it took Heather a while to talk again. 

Day 20) (November 21, 2001) We left Auckland Airport at 11:30AM and had a short and bumpy 70 minute flight to Christchurch on the south island.