McLaren Falls

Just outside Tauranga, McLaren Falls Park is a beautiful place. You can feed the ducks and kayak on Lake McLaren, surrounded by stunning trees. You can walk around the lake – so peaceful, and the path’s of a decent length without being strenuous. You can camp there, and it’s got so many wonderful picnic spots – you’re spoilt for choice. Best of all, it’s got the waterfalls.

Last time I went, a few weeks ago, the waterfalls were quite disappointing because it had been a long, dry summer. It was a good chance, though, to see the interesting rock formations that would otherwise have been hidden by water. We scrambled over the rocks and went across the top of the falls. Here, various natural pools just beg you to swim in them. You have to take your togs.

(Oops. ‘Togs’ – that was very Kiwi of me. I meant to say ‘cossie’. And by that, of course, I mean ‘swimming costume’.)

Falls4As you sit with your legs dangling in the water, you look up the wide river and the rocks and trees towering up either side of it, and you just have to appreciate the awesome power of nature. Then you look down. Brave young people jump often jump down the falls, but I’m not one of them. It can be fun watching them from the bridge, though.

Falls2The park has a strangely North American feel to it, although some bits also seem very English to me. It’s because of the trees – New Zealand natives aren’t much in evidence there.

It reminded me of the family picnics when I was a kid, back when we still lived in Britain. The sound of the ducks gossiping and the swans beating their heavy wings, accompanied by the wind in the trees… rippling over the water…

The only bad thing about McLaren Falls is the cornucopia of biting insects. I went well prepared last time. As soon as I stepped out the car I began vigorously applying repellent, but even as I did I was squashing mozzies against my legs. After that I was fine, though. I escaped the park unscathed.

Campervan2Despite the insects, McLaren Falls Park is a fantastic place to camp. Waking up to that scenery is an absolute privilege and it’s only $5 per adult – kids under 16 are free. You don’t need to book and you can stay for up to three nights. You’ve got free barbecues, an animal park next-door and, after dark, you’ve got glowworms. Check it out if you’re ever in the Bay of Plenty with a New Zealand campervan rental.

More from around Tauranga:

Top 10 Things to Do in Tauranga

Shopping in Tauranga

Te Puna Quarry Park

The Tauranga Airshow

Mount Maunganui

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The Mists of Kuirau Park

The geothermal wonderland of Rotorua is one of the best places to go in New Zealand. Some of its attractions, however, are ridiculously overpriced. Rotorua can be a real drain on the tourist’s pocket, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to see hot pools, mud pools, a geyser and a steaming lake – basically everything you go to Rotorua for – for free, look no further than Kuirau Park.

My family always goes to Kuirau Park, and we went again just a few weeks ago. It was raining, but that just made the steam more spectacular. Seriously, the lake looked like it was in The Mists of Avalon. I got some awesome pictures. See for yourself:

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Kuirau Park4

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And now for the lake:

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Kuirau Park7

And the rainy pic of the day:

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More on Rotorua:

Top 10 Things to Do in Rotorua

New Zealand’s Pompeii

Smells Like Breakfast

New Zealand Information

The Festival, the Campervan and the Cyclone That Wasn’t

All last week, New Zealand lived in dread of Lusi. The massive tropical cyclone had already killed people in Vanuatu and would hit us at the weekend. The very weekend my family was to attend WOMAD, the World of Music and Dance, a three-day open air festival.

The festival was in Taranaki, a part of the country I’d never been before, a long drive from Auckland. We’d booked three nights in the WOMAD campground, a racecourse-turned-city of tents right in the shadow of Mount Taranaki, and hired a campervan from Wendekreisen. We packed our umbrellas, (even though we feared it would be too windy to use them,) and set off.

WOMAD 002The campervan we’d hired was a six-berth. It had a solar panel on its roof – not that it’d be any use this weekend – and a full-length mirror on the bathroom door. It also had a proper gas oven, not just a hob, and more room than any other campervan I’d been in. The furnishings were a bit worn, but I had no complaints.

I was amazed how many bugs got splattered on our windscreen on the drive down to Taranaki. It took us about seven hours, including a break. It was during the break that I appreciated just how convenient it was to have a campervan. Here we were at the side of the highway, sitting round a table next to a nicely stocked kitchen with a fridge, grilling some ciabatta and boiling water for tea.

By the time we’d got to WOMAD and settled in at the campground, it was dark. I had no idea what to expect at the festival. As we walked towards it, the sound of African drumming heightened my anticipation. Then we entered: I hadn’t expected it to be beautiful, but it was.


WOMAD takes place in a large park. The trees around the edge were lit up all different colours, and the main stage was on a lake. Next to the main stage, upon the lake’s surface, were some statues of elephants and the illuminated letters of WOMAD. They looked amazing reflected in the water.

Now as you can imagine, WOMAD is a haven for hippies. There were signs everywhere that told you not to smoke, but let’s just say the night-time air was laced with something else. It wasn’t unpleasant – far from it – and if you felt you needed a detox, there was a stall selling shots of wheatgrass juice.

WOMAD 030croppedThe market was great, marquee-after-marquee selling hippie dresses and incense. There were even some people selling handmade leather notebooks with Celtic designs on them. They were wonderful, but too expensive for me.

Then there were the food stalls. All sorts of yummy food from around the world – I wanted to try everything! That first night, I ended up with falafel and goat curry and crepes. (I stayed away from the wheatgrass.)

If I’m honest, I enjoyed the environment more than the music. I liked some performances – this Scottish folk group called Breabach and a laidback Tim Finn, in particular, but I got a bit bored with most of the others. The park the festival was in – now that interested me.

WOMAD 010It had a Chinese garden that looked magical all lit up at night. There was a bar there, and a kitchen stage where various artists from around the world could demonstrate how to cook food from their home countries.

Best of all, if you crossed the lake behind the main stage, you came across a light trail through the forest. All around the edge of the lake and through the trees, different coloured lights were strung up. It was enchanting. That first night, I only did half the walk, but I promised myself I would do it all the next night.

WOMAD 017Back to the campervan we went, and the weather was still perfectly pleasant. It was muggy and cloudy, but that was it. On the way back through the campsite, I passed a tent that had a thick halo of pungent smoke around it…

The wind picked up through the night. It was raining slightly by the time we got up on Saturday morning and we thought, well, it’ll be here by tonight.

It wasn’t. Throughout the day, we barely had need to put our coats on. Far from the mud bath the media had predicted, the grass was fine to sit down on. With evening came almost scorching sunshine. Then sun set and I headed back for the light trail.

This is what I found.


For me, that waterfall was the highlight of the festival.

The next day, the last day, the weather got a bit wetter and windier, but in the park, which is a sort of natural bowl, you hardly felt it. It was a case of, “Cyclone? What cyclone?” All that panic for nothing.

All in all, WOMAD was a highly enjoyable experience. The atmosphere was excellent, as was the food and the location. I personally didn’t need three days of it, but lovers of live music would be left wanting more. This festival was definitely something New Zealand can be proud of.


New Zealand’s Pompeii

That breathtaking view is of Lake Tarawera. As I took that photograph, I couldn’t believe how peaceful it was, how much like paradise it looked. In 1886, it was the site of the most terrifying volcanic eruption in New Zealand’s human history.

Government Gardens

Modern tourists admiring a steaming hot pool in Rotorua’s Government Gardens

Back then, Rotorua was just as much a tourist trap as it is today. People came from all over the world to see its geothermal marvels – the mud pools, the geysers, the “healing” waters – all while breathing in the magnificent smell of rotten eggs. Most spectacular of all were the Pink and White Terraces, revered as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The Pink and White Terraces were naturally formed bathing pools. They were tiered, flowing with warm, silica-rich water. From the paintings, photographs and written descriptions of delighted tourists that remain, we know they were beautiful. They cannot be visited today because they were obliterated in 1886, along with the lives of about a hundred and twenty people, when Mt Tarawera blew its top.

Lake Tarawera

This is what Mt Tarawera looks like today, from across Lake Tarawera – a shadow of its former self. When it erupted, it buried several villages. You can visit one – Te Wairoa – that has been excavated from the ash, like Pompeii.

Nearby the Buried Village, on the shore of Lake Tarawera, lies a very nice café. The food’s surprisingly awesome, and you can sit on the deck and look out over the lake. Last time I went, it had just been raining heavily, so the lake, Mt Tarawera and the surrounding bush were swathed in mist. It was highly atmospheric. I could easily imagine the ghosts of the eruption drifting across the water. As we ate, the mist slowly cleared. Now we saw the lake in its full sparkling glory. We drove up to the lookout spot and stood amazed.

Blue Baths2 copyAfter that, we drove to somewhere we always go when we visit Rotorua: Government Gardens. I’ve written about Government Gardens before, but they’ve got even better since then. You’ll want to take your time exploring them – it’s easy to miss bits, there’s so much. On the gardens’ periphery is the gorgeous 1930s bath house of the Blue Baths. (That’s it in the picture.) My family loves it there. It’s less crowded than the more famous Polynesian Spa, and more sophisticated with its Art Deco décor.

Bringing us back to the Tarawera Eruption, the best thing about Government Gardens is they’re home to the Rotorua Museum, which has a fantastic exhibition on the subject.  I enjoyed it so much, the science, the history and the artefacts – including a pair of Victorian women’s boots I seriously wanted to steal, and a mummified cat.

Rotorua MuseumThe building that the houses the Rotorua Museum is beautiful. It was built to be a luxury bath house, offering mud baths and electroshock therapy, and some of the bathing rooms remain as exhibits. Rather excitingly, one of the exhibits is an underground labyrinth showing you all the pipes under the building. You’re offered a hardhat before you descend, but I’m so short I didn’t need one. I must say I found it rather creepy. In a good way.

You can also go up onto the roof of the building. As well as being a fascination in itself, it offers a 360° view that encompasses the Government Gardens and Lake Rotorua.

Being a history nerd from England, I often bemoan New Zealand’s comparative lack of interesting history. That day in Rotorua, visiting Lake Tarawera and then the museum, I found a new appreciation for New Zealand’s history. Besides, England doesn’t have bubbling mud pools or steaming geysers. Or quite the same danger of having lava rain from ash-darkened skies…

What to Do in Kerikeri

Guess what? I just spent four days in Kerikeri. (House sitting with my boyfriend, so free accommodation – score!)

Kerikeri is in the far north of New Zealand. It gets really hot up there. Everywhere you look it’s orchards and vineyards.

My family passed through it years ago, when we took a campervan up to Cape Reinga, but this was my first time properly exploring it.

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Rainbow Falls

I’ll start with the town itself, which is a lot bigger than I’d expected. (It has TWO supermarkets!) The main street is really picturesque. There are a few interesting shops, especially of the art and craft variety. It’s simply pleasant. Even the New World supermarket has an old-fashioned stone frontage.

On the Sunday morning, we went to the Kerikeri Farmers Market. It had wine, cheese, nuts, bread, crepes, blueberry ice-cream, avocados – did I mention cheese? It was incredible cheese. The Art and Craft Market was right next to it. One stall had handcrafted wooden toys; another had necklaces made of fossils and crystals.

The Stone Store

The Stone Store

We took our incredible cheese and walnut-and-honey bread to Rainbow Falls for a picnic. I was expecting a small waterfall, but this was awesome – so pretty! No wonder it’s the top tourist attraction in Kerikeri. Well, apart from Kemp House and the Stone Store.

Kemp House is the oldest European house in New Zealand. It was built in 1822. (That’s old for New Zealand.) The Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest stone house, built a decade later.

The Kemp House garden

The Kemp House garden

Kemp House has a beautiful (and very English) garden. It’s next to a river that has a lovely bridge, on the other side of which is Rewa’s Village.

Rewa’s Village is a replica Maori fishing village. If you want an idea of what the pioneering Europeans would have seen when they arrived in New Zealand, take a tour.

Other places to go in Kerikeri include Charlies Rock. It’s an interesting feature that you can jump off into a swimming hole.

Charlies Rock

Charlies Rock

The waterfall there isn’t as big as Rainbow Falls, but it’s pretty too. There’s also Aroha Island, where you can see kiwi, and the Parrot Place, which kids will love.

A somewhat less advertised attraction is the Edmonds Ruins. They’re not that impressive – you’ll only spend a few minutes there and it’s a little out of the way – but it’s nice to see the stone walls of a Victorian farmhouse in New Zealand.

Also a little out of the way is the Puketi Forest. It’s well worth going, though. The forest is full of enormous kauri trees.

Puketi Forest

Puketi Forest

I mean wow!

More Puketi Forest

More Puketi Forest

There are hardly any places to see giant kauri, as most of them were logged ages ago. The Puketi Forest has a short boardwalk that’s raised up above the undergrowth, making it the only wheelchair accessible bush walk in Northland. It’s raised up to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease, but there’s another advantage. Being up above the undergrowth gives you a whole different perspective as you walk through the forest.

The raised boardwalk

The raised boardwalk

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a beautiful bush walk.

Kerikeri and the surrounding area is a great place to go if you’re interested in New Zealand’s history. An easy drive north, you’ve got Matauri Bay, where the Rainbow Warrior was wrecked. An easy drive south-east, you’ve got Waitangi, where the famous (or infamous) Treaty was signed. A little further south, you’ve got the town of Kawakawa, which has glowworm caves and a vintage railway.

Edmonds Ruins

Edmonds Ruins

If you’re a booklover like me, I recommend you visit Village Books in Waipapa. It’s a rather good second-hand bookshop. I went crazy in there. I had a whole pile of classics before I realised I shouldn’t spend that much money and, painfully, I reduced the pile to just three.

A place we didn’t get to see was the Wairere Boulders. I would have liked to – it looks cool – but it would have been a long drive getting there. That’s why we didn’t go to Cape Reinga either.

A car or campervan is absolutely essential if you’re visiting Kerikeri. If you’re passing through on a New Zealand campervan hire holiday, try to do so on a weekend. That way you can visit the Farmers Market on Sunday morning.

Charlies Rock again

Charlies Rock again

One last thing: drop in at the Blue River Orchard for a fresh blueberry ice-cream or frozen yoghurt. So yum!