Mangapohue Natural Bridge

A natural bridge… Sounds cool, right? We thought so, which is why we went to see the Mangapohue Natural Bridge before leaving Waitomo.

The weather was lovely. Considering the especially rainy winter we’d had, we counted ourselves lucky. You might well ask why we’d decided to take a trip at that time of year. Simply, campervans are lot cheaper to hire in winter. It also makes for an easier trip, as you don’t have to worry about booking anything in advance, and a more peaceful trip, as you get beauty spots and sometimes entire campsites to yourself.

Mangapohue Natural Bridge was one such beauty spot. We began the twenty-minute walk with little idea what to expect. The path was gentle, leading us over a manmade bridge into a modest gorge. It continued as a boardwalk overhanging a stream. I remember the light being particularly pleasant: sunbeams had draped themselves amongst the branches above us like gauzy scarves.

As we made our way along the stream, a strange feeling started tingling inside me. “I’ve been here before,” I said. “With my parents.”

Then, as soon as the natural bridge came into view, I knew it. I didn’t remember being there as such, but I recognised the view from one of my own photographs! (I’d even used the photograph before on this blog!) How I managed to forget the sight of it, I’ll never know, because it was magnificent.

Straddling the stream was an enormous limestone archway, complete with scraggly stalactites.

From a certain angle, part of it seemed shaped like an old-fashioned lock, which gave me serious Alice in Wonderland vibes. Sunlight peered into the archway, jostling with a group of cabbage trees for a view.

We ascended a flight of steps curving up to a wooden platform, where we stayed for some time. It was a location straight from a fantasy novel, one of the more subdued scenes where the heroes stop to rest and the young would-be lovers sneak away for a moment, only to be interrupted by another party member as it’s too early in the narrative for them to kiss. If there had been any trolls under this bridge, they would have been friendly ones.

The rest of the walk wasn’t quite as epic, but that hardly mattered after we’d seen. As something free to do in Waitomo, the Mangapohue Natural Bridge is something you should definitely experience, along with the magical Ruakuri Walk.

When we got back to our campervan, it was time to get going to Tongariro National Park. We stopped for lunch in Taumarunui, a mostly dull town with a few quirky touches, such as this ornamental shop front…

We also popped into an antiques shop – because I can’t walk past an antiques shop – that turned out to be owned by a fellow British immigrant. We got talking, and even though she wasn’t a northerner, my accent started mimicking hers, getting stronger and stronger until we left the shop. Any other immigrants notice their accents doing that?

By the time we reached Tongariro National Park, it was almost sunset. We checked into what turned out to be an excellent campground, Plateau Lodge, in National Park Village, before driving into Whakapapa Village and up the side of Mount Ruapehu, a snow-covered volcano that’s popular with skiers. We didn’t enter the ski resort: we just wanted to catch some sweet views before bed. Which we did.

If you’re interested in hiring a campervan like this, by the way, visit www.wendekreisen.co.nz – that model’s also for sale, newly built, at Campervan Sales.

Anyway, cheers for visiting and make sure you pop by next week. I’ll be posting an article about what we got up to in Tongariro National Park, more specifically, High Tea at the Chateau!

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Marokopa Falls (and a Taste of Fame!)

I’m sitting in Hamilton’s Italian Renaissance Garden and my day has just been made.

It’s sunny, but cool. Tim’s working next to me and my parents are geocaching in one of the other gardens. It’s the school holidays, which explains all the children. Spring is very much in evidence.

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New ZealandI should be working too, but I can’t: my brain’s still swooning from the dizzying heights of fame.

It’s finally happened, you see.

A complete stranger approached me – here in the Hamilton Gardens – and said, “Are you Abigail Simpson? I read your blog!”

Oh. My. God.

Definitive proof that Poms Away isn’t read merely by friends, family and that person who keeps clicking on it after typing ‘amateur hairy chinese bush’ into a search engine! (One of my earliest posts describes the kiwi as a hairy fruit, also known as a Chinese gooseberry, that grows on a bush. I can only imagine the searcher’s disappointment.)

Marokopa FallsBut anyway.

I’m supposed to be writing more about mine and Tim’s recent campervan trip. We did so much in nine days. I’ve spent the last three Poms Away articles describing places in Waitomo alone! We were there two nights. Before leaving for Tongariro National Park, we took advantage of a sunny winter morning to see Marokopa Falls and the Mangapohue Natural Bridge.

You may as well, as we did, visit Marokopa Falls and the Mangapohue Natural Bridge at the same time, as they’re just up the road from each other. Marokopa Falls are at the end of a really short track. You pretty much just park up and you’re there. Here’s a picture of our two-berth campervan rental at the side of the road, with sheep in the background just so you can be sure it’s in New Zealand:

Campervan Marokopa Falls

I hesitate to say that Marokopa Falls are beautiful, if only because I always seem to be visiting waterfalls and they’re all beautiful. I mean I wrote an article about the best waterfalls to visit in the North Island for Not Australia and I can’t say Marokopa Falls are any better than any of those. They are fairly impressive, though. Marokopa Falls are quite wide and there’s an interesting rock formation down the side.

Marokopa Falls

I’m not saying Marokopa Falls aren’t worth visiting, but if you’ve only got time to do one or the other, definitely do the natural bridge. Mangapohue Natural Bridge… well, actually, I’ll leave that for my next article.

Marokopa Falls

Oh, just FYI: the picture at the top of this article wasn’t taken by me. It’s a public domain image from pixabay.com. The other photos are mine, though.

Also, I had a go at making an ad for one of my other sites, www.trippla.nz – what do you think? Does it look like a “real” ad?

New Zealand road trip itinerary ideas

The Cave at the Edge of Reality

Waitomo Glowworms

It wasn’t raining, but it had been. The air was as grey as the carpark behind us. Before us, the path disappeared into the moist, black trees. Everyone we’d met in Waitomo had told us to do this, so here we were. At dusk. In winter. Entering the bush at such a time went against everything we’d been taught about staying safe.

“It’ll be fine,” I said, turning my head torch on. “It’s a popular walk in a thickly touristed area. It’s bound to be well signposted.”

Waitomo CavesI must admit, I felt a shiver of excitement as we started down the path. We weren’t doing anything forbidden, but the hairs on the back of my neck strained against the darkness. I jumped at the shadow of a man that turned out to be a wooden post; again at the shadow of a snake that turned out to be a branch.

New Zealand doesn’t even have any snakes. I knew that. It must have been one of those deeply ingrained ancestral instincts…

“Tim?” I asked, just checking he was still near.

He was.

It was probably different in summer. In summer, the path was probably teeming with tourists and their torches. But in winter, the only sound was the river, amplified by the night.

The river was barely visible, even when I shone my torch directly onto its frothing water. It was like the silvery, gossamer ghost of a river.

Waitomo CavesSo far, we hadn’t seen any glowworms. Seeing glowworms was the whole point of this walk. It was why everyone had told us to do it at dusk. I used my torch as sparingly as possible, trying to get my eyes to adjust.

Through the black branches above us, the grey sky seemed like pieces of a shattered mirror. Gradually, they lost their lustre. Electric blue pinpricks began to appear in the fabric of the night. Then the path turned and rose. It was bordered on one side by a towering wall of earth that had, apparently, been festooned with blue fairy lights. They could have been leading the way up to a Christmas grotto.

As we climbed the slope, I leaned in to look at them. They were indeed worms, so tiny that Tim couldn’t make them out, but I saw one or two moving. They pulsated grossly, sliding amongst their silken hammocks. Many droplet-adorned threads dangled like beaded curtains, as though each glowworm was a fortune teller in a gaudy tent, crouched over a blue crystal ball.

I tried to get a decent photo. Tried.

Waitomo Caves Glowworms

We passed a few small caves before the path turned into a tunnel. A tunnel which was barely wide or high enough to walk through. A tunnel which, I slowly realised, was crawling with F**KING ENORMOUS TUNNELWEB SPIDERS. They were everywhere, either side of me and above my head! I hunched my shoulders and pressed my arms into my body, trying desperately not to scrape the walls, or touch a web with my face or hair.

“One question,” said Tim, turning to look at me in the tunnel. “Where’s Shelob?”

I laughed, but a certain piece of music started playing ominously in my head.

Lucky I’m not a true arachnophobe, I thought. When I write about this walk, I’ll include a warning.

We emerged from the tunnel with no arachnid-based incidents to report, onto a boardwalk. I think there was water below, but it was too dark to tell. I turned off my head torch and suddenly we were floating in space, surrounded by blue stars.

Waitomo CavesI hated to turn the torch back on, but it would have been dangerous not to. The stars disappeared, replaced by rocks and earth and ragged foliage. We made our way down some slimy, wooden steps and were soon at the mouth of a large cave. More steps wound down into it, into the stalagmites and stalactites and shimmering curtains of stone. Some of the stalagmites looked like big, dribbling candles, except they were growing up from the ground, rather than melting. Others looked like dildoes.

The steps ended on a platform overlooking an immense cavern. This was the end of the walk.

“Abby,” said Tim. “Turn your torch off.”

I did. Blue stars materialised on the roof, densely packed as though forming a celestial pathway. I wanted nothing more than to follow the pathway as it curved around a corner into the unknown, but, you know, I would’ve fallen to my death. I felt like I was standing at the very edge of reality. My heart was filled with the universe…

Waitomo CavesThen Tim kissed me.

In life, very few moments are as perfect as they are in stories. This moment was.

So, cheesiness aside, the Ruakuri Walk is well worth doing when you’re in Waitomo Caves – and make sure you do it in the dark. (And take torches.) It only takes an hour and it’s free. If you’re scared of spiders, however, be warned: it will take you a great deal of mental fortitude to make it all the way!

Into a Lost World

Lost World Cave Waitomo

We’d both visited Waitomo before, but this time it was different. This time, we were visiting as adults – without our parents!

It was oddly exciting. Here we were in this natural playground, this magical landscape of caves and glowworms, and we could do whatever we wanted.

Lost World Cave WaitomoThere was no one to tell me I couldn’t go black water rafting because my little sister was too young, and it wouldn’t be fair if I got to go black water rafting and she didn’t, would it? There was also no one to pay for me to go black water rafting. (Oh, the dilemma of adulthood!) Besides, it was winter. We weren’t too keen on riding a rubber ring down a subterranean river in winter.

Instead, we decided to do something even more expensive: a dry caving tour involving rock climbing and an underground flying fox. Because an underground flying fox sounded awesome.

Lost World Cave WaitomoThe tour was called ‘Lost World through the Window’ and, as soon as we descended into the cave, it was easy to see why. It was like passing through a faerie portal, entering a whole other world beneath the forest floor. A great hush came upon us; slowly our ears filled with the echoes of rushing water.

The cavern was so large that the bottom, far below us, was lost in mist. Looking back towards the silhouetted entrance, it seemed a giant maw with ragged stalactites for teeth. Shards of sunlight fell into it like rain, quickly swallowed. I could have inhaled the sight all day.

Climbing just feels right.

The flying fox came next. It was fun, but it would probably have been more fun if I had been scared. As a rock climber, I’m rather blasé about dangling from ropes. I hadn’t been climbing in ages, though, and this tour reminded me how much I love it. I mean there was no serious climbing involved – more scrambling, arse-sliding and balancing along ledges with only a couple of ‘cowtail’ ropes preventing a fall into the darkness – but it was enough.

Pretty sure Tim’s only pretending to be freaked out here…

I imagine some people would have freaked out at the thought of the abyss below them. I nearly slipped into it once, but, of course, that’s what the ropes are for.

At one point, we passed a large, dead spider. And then another large, not-so-dead spider. Tunnelweb spiders – not to be confused with the deadly funnel-web spiders of Australia – apparently take a ‘dead man’s shoes’ approach to real estate.

(One feels New Zealand’s first home buyers could stand to learn from this example.)

Waitomo Caves“They don’t like building their own webs,” our guide told us. “They prefer to wait around until some other spider’s finished building their web – and then kill them. There’re lots in this part of the cave.”

The tour finished with an ascent up a series of long, metal ladders, which were freezing on the fingers. I wished the journey could have lasted longer – I was just getting into it!

I burst into the daylight feeling utterly alive. I’m glad we were able to do something adventurous and out of the ordinary this winter.

Photos from Our South Island Campervan Trip

A Road in the South Island of New Zealand

The South Island of New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. My mum, dad, nana, sister and I travelled around much of it in a campervan; it was the best family holiday we ever had. (And yes, I am including our fortnight in Florida, visiting all the theme parks.)

The Christchurch Tram

The Christchurch tram

We picked up our rental campervan in Christchurch, having flown there from Auckland. I’ve already written an article about the trip – if you haven’t read it, you can do so here – so I won’t repeat myself. I just wanted to show you these awesome photos my dad took.

(If you read last week’s article, you’ll know that I’ve been going through my dad’s old pictures!) Enjoy.

Punting on the Avon River, Christchurch

Punting on the Avon, Christchurch

Castle Hill, New Zealand

Castle Hill

Kea

A cheeky kea, the world’s only alpine parrot

Weka Pass Railway

The Weka Pass Vintage Railway

Bungy Jumping, New Zealand

Watching a bungy jumper

Dunedin Railway Station

The grand, old Dunedin Railway Station

Taiaroa Head

Observing albatrosses at Taiaroa Head

A South Island Road

Just a regular South Island road

Old Cromwell, South Island, New Zealand

Old Cromwell

Old Cardrona Hotel, South Island

The old Cardrona Hotel

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary

Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary

And finally, a helicopter ride over the Southern Alps…

Helicopter

The Southern Alps

The Southern Alps

The Southern Alps

The Southern Alps

The Southern Alps

Our South Island Campervan Trip

To see more awesome photos of New Zealand, check out my New Zealand trip planner. And if you’re looking to book your own New Zealand campervan holiday, I recommend going with these guys.

Our First Year in New Zealand

I’ve been going through Dad’s old photographs, watching my sister and I grow up. The photos from 2001, our first year in New Zealand, brought back so many memories: places I’d forgotten we’d visited. I thought I’d share them with you now.

I was ten years old when we moved to New Zealand; my sister was seven. Dad emigrated six months before us, so when we finally arrived with Mum, he was bursting to show us the places he’d discovered. He couldn’t even wait for us to get over our jetlag!

It was the middle of winter, but the weather was still nice. Dad immediately took us to buy wetsuits and surfboards. I’d never been surfing before, as we’d lived nowhere near a beach in England, but I took to it at once. It was like riding a rollercoaster!

My sister enjoyed it too, at least until we realised her lips had gone blue! Maybe surfing in winter hadn’t been such a good idea after all. My sister had already thrown up in the local newsagent’s after OD’ing on kiwifruit, the first time we walked into town. She can’t stand kiwifruit to this day.

Despite the rocky start, and the frankly comical number of accidental injuries she gave herself that first year, my sister thrived in New Zealand. She’s a true nature-lover, so New Zealand is the perfect place for her. She’s currently down in the South Island studying wildlife conservation.

I, on the other hand, didn’t thrive. I missed England too much. I still managed to have fun, though, whether playing at Kariotahi Beach,

Kariotahi Beach

crawling through lava caves on the island volcano of Rangitoto,

Rangitoto

or pretending to be Merlin at the Waikato Museum.

Waikato Museum

We visited Auckland Zoo a lot,

Feeding Giraffe at Auckland Zoo

saw many of New Zealand’s North Island waterfalls,

Hunua Falls

had a ride on the Glenbrook Vintage Railway,

Glenbrook Vintage Railway

and found this old plane that someone had converted into a garage somewhere out in the wop-wops.

We went to Cathedral Cove,

Cathedral Cove

the Auckland Domain,

Auckland Domain

the Hamilton Gardens,

Hamilton Gardens

and so many other places – I’m not going to list them all. But I will mention Muriwai Beach so I can show you this picture Dad took.

Muriwai Gannet

It sure was an action-packed first year in New Zealand!

Finally, here’s a picture I found of our first Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s me and my sister jumping on our new trampoline. You couldn’t do that on Christmas Day in England!

Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

You know what’s great about my parents living in Tauranga? It’s less than an hour’s drive from Rotorua. Now I’m not saying there’s nothing to do in Tauranga – far from it, but Rotorua is a tourist mecca.

There are so many fantastic things to do in Rotorua that I’m not even going to bother listing them here. (See my Top 10 Things to Do in Rotorua and my How to Do Rotorua on the Cheap if you’re interested.)

Last weekend, I visited my parents for Mother’s Day. (For some reason, Mother’s Day in New Zealand coincides with Mother’s Day in the US; not the UK.) Given the year my mum’s had, I thought I’d better turn up in person.

I wanted to take her somewhere a bit different, so Rotorua was the obvious choice. But where in Rotorua? We couldn’t go to any hot pools, as she’s just had surgery on her leg. This also ruled out doing anything adventurous, or anything that would involve a lot of walking or standing around.

If you have any familiarity with Rotorua, you’ll know that doesn’t leave a lot of options.

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

Hamurana Springs to the rescue.

The walk around Hamurana Springs is short, easy and surprisingly beautiful. Before we’d even got to the springs, I was marvelling at the giant redwood trees bordering the path. It was perfect for my mum, who’s being given another dose of radiation even as I write this.

Redwoods at Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

When you get to the first spring, there are two viewing platforms, one high up and one at the water. You don’t expect it to be quite so clear, but it’s magical. It’s the deepest spring in the North Island – about fifteen metres, though it doesn’t look it.

You’re not allowed to swim in the springs anymore, but many people bring their drink bottles to fill up. I realised that this is the vision many foreigners have of New Zealand, of pure, sparkling streams we can drink from at will. Yeah. Sure.

You may notice something in the water that seems to glow: it’s a painted stone. There are a few such stones placed in various spots around the springs. Trying to find them all is a lovely little addition to an already lovely walk.

Hamurana Springs

I couldn’t get over the way the water rippled, and the way the light reflected upon it. When the sun came out, the water turned the most gorgeous shade of blue. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the glacial streams of the South Island. I couldn’t resist dipping my hand in.

Ripples at Hamurana

The second spring is called Dancing Sands. In order to see why, you have to spend a few moments getting your eye in. As the water rushes up through the sand, it creates a myriad of miniature cyclones that dance upon the streambed. They look like swirls of fairy dust.

Of course, the truly magical part of Hamurana Springs is the colour of the water. It’s not just blue. Beneath the surface lies luscious, emerald foliage. In places, it looks almost deliberate, like the hedges of an underwater maze. Ephemeral sapphires await the daring adventurer.

Foliage at Hamurana

This wonderful walk is completely free, and only fifteen minutes from the centre of Rotorua. You have no excuse not to go!